Tuesday Afternoon Murder Club is a fun project that I’m working on, a lighthearted story set in a retirement village. I’m going to publish the story as a serial, so stay tuned for more episodes. You can find Chapter One here.
Chapter Twelve – Crime and Punishment
The next morning, Eleanor slept late, well past the time that she normally got up. Her head felt heavy, from the wine, she presumed, and the late night. She brushed her teeth, and looked around the house. Timmy and Daryl were already gone for the day. She was not sure where Kathy was, perhaps still sleeping, or, unlikely but still possible, gone out for the morning. Eleanor thought that perhaps, just for this morning, she would have a cup of coffee instead of tea with her breakfast. Just as she was pouring the coffee into the cup, the phone rang with an insistent trill. She thought for a moment about ignoring it, but instead, answered. “Good morning, this is Eleanor.”
“Eleanor, this is Casey, how are you?” The cheery voice was familiar, but Eleanor couldn’t place it.
“I’m sorry, Casey who?”
“Casey from the bank. I said I’d call you back with some information on those transactions on your credit card.”
“Of course. Thank you for getting back to me.”
“Well, I made the enquiries that we talked about, ma’am. Do you remember, I said I’d find out what kind of a company E R Holdings was?”
“Yes I remember. It was only yesterday, you know.” Eleanor noticed that her tone was a little sharper than she had intended. She made a note to speak more gently.
“Of course. I’m sorry ma’am. Well, I was just ringing to tell you that ER Holdings is a gaming company.”
“A gaming company?”
“Yes, you know. Online games. Specifically, a game called Wasted is their most popular product at the moment.”
Eleanor frowned. She understood all of the words that the girl was saying, but she couldn’t make out the meaning. “I’m sorry, I don’t really understand. Do you mean gambling? On the internet? Is that what those purchases were for?”
“Oh, no, ma’am, it’s an online gaming platform-.” The girl stopped. “There are these games that people play, they connect with other players through the internet. One of these games is called Wasted, and it’s owned by a company called ER Holdings.” The girl paused.
“I see. Go on? What does that have to do with the charges on my credit card?”
“Well, the players can make purchases as part of the game. Weapons, for example, or upgrades to their avatar. Oh, an avatar is the character that a player uses in the game. Those purchases are charged to a credit card, and the charges will appear under the name ‘ER Holdings’. Which is what, I presume, has happened on your credit card.”
“Oh, I see.” Eleanor was still confused. She understood what the girl was saying, but not what it meant for her. How would Daryl use this to steal money from her? And why would he do this? She didn’t understand.
“Ma’am, are you still there? I’m guessing that it wasn’t you that made those purchases. Is there anyone else in your family who might use your card, perhaps someone who plays video games? Because if the charges were fraudulent, I can put you through to the crime team. They’ll take some details in order to investigate, but we can make sure you get your money back.”
Eleanor was silent a moment. Someone who plays video games? She didn’t think that Daryl played video games.
“Ma’am? Would you like me to put you through to the fraud team?” The girl asked again.
“Oh, no. Thank you, you’ve been very helpful, but I think I might be able to handle things myself from here.”
“Of course. If there is anything else we can do, please be sure to phone again.”
Eleanor hung up the phone, her head still feeling fuzzy. Online games. Video games. Timmy.
Eleanor arrived early at Judy’s house on Tuesday afternoon. She squeezed down the hallway, past a pile of props for the play, and an excited, bouncing Giles. “Well, darling, how did you pull up after Sunday night?” Judy asked. “I must admit, I had somewhat of a headache on Monday morning.”
“I was quite fuzzy headed myself,” Eleanor admitted. She told Judy about the phone call from the bank.
“Ah, so it was Timmy? Look, Eleanor, I know you’re rather one eyed about that boy, but surely even you can see that this is a serious issue?”
“Well, yes it is. Of course. His father really doesn’t give him enough time or attention, you know. He lets the boy get away with everything, when surely he is crying out for a a strong hand.”
“So how are you going to deal with it? Are you going to tell Daryl what he’s done?” Judy had the kettle on, and was getting the tea ready.
“Oh no, I certainly don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“So what are you going to do? You can’t let him get away with using your card like that. It’s stealing, Eleanor.” Judy poured water into the teapot, and put on the lid.
“Oh of course not. I’m working on a bit of a plan, you’ll see.”
Judy raised her eyebrows. She poured Eleanor’s tea into a cup that said ‘I like my tea like I like my men – strong and hot’ on the side. “Do you like the cup? It’s new. My granddaughter gave it to me.”
Eleanor smiled politely. “Its- well, it’s very interesting.”
Vince, Maude and Barry arrived on time for the meeting of the ‘tea appreciation society’. Vince kissed Judy’s hand as he said hello, and beamed fondly at Eleanor. “Lovely night on Sunday, wasn’t it? Fantastic food, good conversation, great scotch. What more could one want?”
“You made quite an impression as well, Vince.” Eleanor said. “I’m sure you’ll be put on the guest list for all of Catherine’s dinner parties in future.”
“Dinner party?” Barry said to Maude. “Did we go to that dinner party, Sally?” They were seated on the couch with Giles nestled happily in between them. Maude patted Barry’s hand.
“No, Barry. But remember, I came to your house for dinner, and your daughter cooked for us?”
“Oh, that’s right.”
“That sounds lovely, Maude. What did Barry’s daughter cook for you?”
“Spaghetti and meatballs. It was really quite delicious, wasn’t it Barry?”
“I must say, you’re quite the cook yourself, Maude,” added Vince, biting into one of the white chocolate and pistachio cookies she had bought. “These cookies are delicious!”
Barry looked confused. “I say, why do they keep calling you Maude?”
Eleanor and Judy exchanged glances. Judy gently took Barry’s hand, and said “There’s something we should have told you a long time ago. Her name is Maude, not Sally.”
“Oh,” Barry replied. “Well if that’s so, why didn’t someone tell me? Goodness, I’ve thought your name was Sally ever since I first met you.”
Everyone had bought the ingredients that Vince had requested, including Barry. Eleanor suspected that Maude had probably helped him out with the purchase. Vince rubbed his hands together. “Ok, Eleanor, I should have this ready for you in a week or two. I won’t tell you any more details. Plausible deniability, you know.” Eleanor was not really sure what this meant, but she also didn’t want any more details from Vince. As long as the poison did what it was supposed to do, she would be happy. She was also happy to have someone else take care of the details, while she took care of Timmy. She somehow felt the occasion deserved some kind of speech. “Thank you Vince. I’m very grateful to you, not only on my own behalf, but also on behalf of my daughter and her family, and all the other people whom Daryl is planning to defraud. It might be too late for me to get my watch back, or possibly even save my retirement funds, but hopefully I can save some other people from loosing what they hold dear…”
Judy waved a hand impatiently. “Of course, of course, you want to be rid of him, you’re grateful. But now can we move on to talking about my problems?” Everybody laughed, and Judy looked slightly affronted. She wasn’t deterred though. “It’s this drama production. It’s threatening my sanity, I tell you. Not only have I had such issues with the costume designer who is making my costumes, but one of the ladies who was supposed to be making the props has suddenly taken ill. Now we’ll never be finished the sets on time.”
“Oh, who has taken ill?” Eleanor asked.
“It’s Susan Jones, but that’s not the-”
“Oh, yes I heard about that. Very ill, she is, the doctors can’t work out what’s wrong with her.” Maude interjected.
“Yes, but that’s not what I-” Judy tried again.
“Do you think we should send some flowers to her in hospital?” Eleanor asked.
“Well yes, but I wonder what hospital she is in? Do you know, Judy?”
“We should send tulips, they’re particularly lovely at this time of year-”
Judy threw her hands up in frustration, and dramatically moaned. “You’ve all missed the point. We’re supposed to be talking about my problems. Could you please all stop being so thoughtful and think about me for a bit.”
Everyone laughed, and Judy had the grace to look at least a little bit sheepish.
“Now, I might be able to help out a bit, Judy. I can sew passably. Would you like me to take a look at your costumes?” Maude offered.
Judy sighed in relief. “If you could, that would be wonderful. The costume designer has threatened to cut me with her sewing scissors if I so much as set foot in her room again, but I’m simply not happy with the costumes she’s made for me.”
“I can help with some of the props.” Vince offered. “I’m sure Barry and I can do some of the heavier lifting.”
“Well, that’s very kind of you, but some of it is fussy, kind of boring work that will take a lot of time and a sharp set of eyes,” Judy replied. “No offense to either of you. It’s things like pasting individual leaves onto trees.”
“Well, that puts me out of the running,” Vince said. “My eyesight is certainly not ideal.”
Barry held up a trembling hand. “I’m probably not going to be able to help with the fiddly things either.”
Eleanor smiled. “Ah, now Judy, I think I have an idea. Leave it to me. I’ll have the props sorted before you know it.”
When Eleanor got home, the usual video game noises were coming from the lounge room. Kathy was sitting at the kitchen table with a cold cup of coffee sitting in front of her. “How are you, dear?” Eleanor asked, coming in and putting the kettle on.
“Oh, not too bad mum. How about you? Had a nice day?”
Eleanor sighed melodramatically and clutched at her side. “Oh, not too good dear, to tell the truth. I’m really very tired. I have a bit of a pain here, and my knees are playing up.” She sank down into a chair.
“Oh, mum. That doesn’t sound good. Is there anything I can do?” Kathy sounded alarmed.
“Oh, well now that you mention it. Would you be a dear and go get my prescription filled at the chemist? You know, the chemist down by the supermarket, they’ll do it for you there.”
“Oh of course mum.” Kathy took the script that Eleanor held out, and picked up her purse. “Will you be ok?”
“Oh yes, dear, of course. Are you going to do your hair before you go?”
Kathy put a hand to her hair, which looked like it hadn’t been combed all day. “Oh, yes. I almost forgot.”
When Kathy was out of the way, Eleanor got up and made a cup of tea. The chemist she had sent her daughter to was notorious for being slow, so Kathy would be out of the house for a while. Eleanor took her cup of tea and went into the lounge room.
“Hello Timmy dear, how are you?”
Timmy was still in his school uniform, hunched over the games controller. He didn’t take his eyes off the TV screen. “Hi Gran. Good thanks.” He spoke in a monotone.
“Timmy, I just wanted to talk to you for a moment. Could you please turn that off?” Eleanor used her best, sugar sweet tones.
“Aw nah Gran, I’m right in the middle of something. I’ll talk to you later.”
Well, thought Eleanor, at least I asked him nicely first. She walked to the corner of the room, and pulled both the TV and the games controller plugs out of the electrical socket.
“What! What’s going on- Gran! How could you? Now I’ve lost all the stages I’ve already passed.” Timmy shouted. Eleanor moved so that she was standing directly in front of him. She spoke in a soft voice. “First of all, Timmy, do not shout at me. Not ever. This is my home, and I am your grandmother, you will treat me with respect.” She held out the credit card. “Now, secondly, do you recognise this card?”
Timmy’s eyes grew wide. He paused for just a moment too long. “No, Gran, never seen it before.”
“Well, now you’re lying to me as well. I did expect better from you, Timmy. As you already know, this is my credit card, and it has been used to make some purchases in a game called ‘Wasted’, incidentally the very game that you were playing right now. I don’t think I need to tell you that using someone’s credit card without their permission is stealing, and it is a very serious offence.”
Timmy’s face had gone white, and he had lost all of his teenage bluster. His eyes were very wide. “What are you going to do about it, Gran?” He said, in a very soft voice.
Eleanor put one hand on her hip. “Well, as I see it, we have two options here, Timmy. The first option is that I tell your father what you have done. Your father can punish you as he sees fit, but whatever he decides, I will ban you from ever playing games in my house again.” She paused, to let her words sink in. “The second option is that I deal with the situation myself. You will do chores that I set for you, in order to pay back the money that you have stolen from my card. You will not play computer games until all of the money is paid back. After that, you will be limited to only one hour of playing per day. Perhaps more time on the weekends, if I find your attitude acceptable.”
Timmy stared at her wide eyed, sinking back into the couch. “Please, Gran, don’t tell my dad,” he whispered. “I’ll do whatever you want.”
Eleanor allowed herself a small smile. “Very well. You can start this afternoon. My friend Judy needs some help making props for the drama production, and I think you will volunteer your services to help her. I’ll go with you to meet her at the drama hall to find out what you need to do. Tomorrow after school, you can go and visit another one of my friends, Gladys. Gladys is very sick at the moment, and so I think you will volunteer to help weed her garden.”
“Ok, Gran.” Timmy said very meekly. “Are you going to tell my parents?”
Eleanor smiled. “No. I think we can work this out between us. But just remember that I will expect you to help my friends out with a very good attitude. If I’m not happy with the effort that you are putting in, then I may decide to tell them after all.”
Eleanor thought that she could see tears in Timmy’s eyes. For a moment, her resolve weakened. Perhaps she was being too hard on the boy? No, she told herself. If Timmy didn’t learn this lesson now, he might go through his whole life thinking he could get away with theft, deceit, and disrespectful behaviour. She must be firm. “Well then, Timmy, if we have a deal, I think I will hold on to this until I’m satisfied that you have worked off all of the money.” She stepped over to the video game machine and disconnected the power cord from the back of the box. “I’ll give it back to you then. Come along, let me take you to Judy’s house.” She turned to walk from the room, tucking the cord into her handbag. Timmy grabbed at her elbow. “Gran,” he said in a small voice. “I’m sorry.”
Eleanor smiled. “I’m glad you are, darling. Now let’s go.”
As they were leaving the house, Kathy arrived back, red faced and flustered. “Mum, I’m so sorry I took so long. There was a horrible queue…. Are you feeling ok?”
“Yes dear. I’m feeling much better. We’re just heading out. Darling Timmy here has volunteered to help out with the props for the drama production. Isn’t that great?” Eleanor smiled.
Timmy weeded Gladys’ entire front garden bed, with Gladys watching carefully to be sure he didn’t pull up any of her flowers. Before long, he was able to tell the weeds from the plants himself. By the time that Eleanor came back to see how he was getting along, the work was done, and Timmy was sitting at Gladys’ table drinking hot chocolate and eating a generous slice of cake. “Timmy has done such a lovely job, Eleanor. I’m very relieved to have my yard looking a bit better. Can I offer him some money to pay-”
“Absolutely not.” Eleanor cut her off. “Timmy was very happy to help out this time, weren’t you my dear?” Timmy nodded meekly. “Perhaps next time you need some work done in the yard, though, Timmy would be happy to come and earn some pocket money then.”
Timmy looked up eagerly. “Oh, yes, that would be great Aunty Gladys. If it’s ok with Gran.” Eleanor patted him on the head. He was really a good boy, after all.
It took four afternoons and a whole day on the weekend until Judy was satisfied with Timmy’s work on the props for the drama production. He had cut out cardboard leaves and glued them on to the the backdrops, painted tiles on roofs and cobbles on the road in the streetscape backdrop, covered hat boxes and pinned lace onto painted windows. All was done under the strict supervision of Judy and Giles. Judy was in raptures over all the work that he had put in. “Really, Eleanor, I didn’t think we’d get this done in time, and now look. We still have two weeks to spare! I can’t believe it. And he’s done such a good job as well. What a hard worker.” Timmy smiled shyly at the praise. “Now we just have to get it all into place, and Vince and Barry have promised to help with that.”
“How about your costumes, Judy? Are they done as well?”
“Oh, nearly dear. Maude has been wonderful. Just the right amount of frills, flounces and gloriously pink lace to make me look the part. I can’t believe it’s finally coming together. Wonderful!” She insisted on slipping Timmy some money to reward him for all of his hard work, despite Eleanor’s protestations. “The boy has really worked hard, Eleanor. You can’t deny it. And I know, I know, he did it as a favour, but I can still reward him can’t I?” She winked at Eleanor, who had filled her in on Timmy’s misdemeanours.
As they walked home, Eleanor took the cord for the video game from her handbag, and handed it back to the boy. “Well done, Timmy. You’ve earnt this back. Now, don’t forget, only one hour of that game per day from now on.”
Eleanor made a roast for dinner that night. “Excellent dinner Ellie.” Daryl said, through a mouth full of beef and gravy. Eleanor shuddered at the small bits of food that launched from his mouth as he spoke. “Now, I really want you to set some time aside tomorrow so that we can have a look at your investments. I won’t be put off again this time.” He smiled, and something about his smile reminded Eleanor of a shark. “It’s about time we get that money working properly. Isn’t that right Kathy? After all, it will be your money some day.” He winked at Kathy, who was pushing her food around listlessly on her plate. “Or should I say our money, if Ellie here doesn’t spend it all.” He laughed, showing a mouthful of half chewed food. “Kathy and Timmy can go out for the day tomorrow, and you and I will get to work.”
“Oh no, Daryl, I really don’t think…” Eleanor tried to speak. She felt a shiver of panic at the thought of being alone in the house with her son in law.
“Nonsense, Eleanor. It won’t take long. You just need to show me all your paperwork, and I’ll do everything else myself. You should know by now that I don’t let anything stand in my way once I’ve got my mind set on something.” Daryl shovelled another forkful of beef into his mouth, and his words hung in the air ominously.