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 Thirteen – Spinach and Silverware
At the craft group on Tuesday morning, a whisper went around the room that Joan had returned from her trip away, and both she and Clara would be at crafts that morning, having served their three week ban for fighting. Patrick greeted everyone very brightly, with a huge smile and cheery comments. Eleanor thought that he was nervous and overcompensating. “Good morning everyone! Come on in, find your seats. This morning we’re going to be making some fabric flowers with some scrap material and buttons. We’ll use them to decorate cushions, bags, and wall hangings.” The tables in the craft room had piles of fabric offcuts and scraps in bright colours and patterns. Joan arrived with a friend of hers, Sara, and said good morning to Patrick very politely. A minute later, Clara walked in, leaning heavily on her stick. She nodded to Patrick, and then turned to Joan. “Joan. How lovely to have you back, it’s certainly been quieter around here without you. Are you well?” She carefully embraced Joan, without seeming to actually touch her at all.
“Oh, Clara, it’s so lovely to be back, and to see you as well. Goodness, have you been ill? You look tired, dear.” The two ladies smiled through tight lips at each other, and took their seats. They were separated by about three seats, but certain still within earshot of each other. Eleanor smiled to herself. She privately thought that both ladies enjoyed their sparring and rivalry, and missed each other when one or the other was away.
Everyone was very slow getting to their seats, with Patrick trying to hurry them along to little avail. It seemed like the craft group was in high spirits, and didn’t really want to concentrate on making little flowers. Patrick tried to demonstrate, but he kept getting interrupted. “You see, first of all you need to cut the fabric into the circle shape- oh, Clara, yes, you can use that material over there. Yes, just a circle shape, like this. And then you need to sew a button into the middle…. Ah, well I guess if you need a button to replace the one that you’re missing, you’re welcome to take one for your shirt, Jenny. There should be of scissors to go around, there’s no need to get- No, it doesn’t matter what colour flower you do.” Eleanor could see Patrick getting frustrated.
“It’s like trying to herd cats,” Judy said in a stage whisper, next to her.
“He’s getting frustrated with all the interruptions, poor man,” said Eleanor.
“Well of course he is. He’s never had children, he’s not used to being interrupted all the time,” Judy smiled.
“Um, if I could still have your attention, folks, I haven’t finished explaining yet,” Patrick tried to talk over everyone. “I still need to show you how to-”
“Excuse me Patrick,” Judy interrupted loudly. “If I might have a word. We’ve all made these flowers before, we all know what to do, what colours to use, and where the scissors are. And if we don’t, we can ask you. Don’t let them bother you, they’re all being deliberately difficult today.” Everyone laughed, including Patrick, who stopped trying to explain how to make the flowers.
“Well, I’ll be hovering around if anyone gets stuck. Please just ask if you need me.” Patrick took a step backwards, letting everyone get on with their chattering.
“Poor dear,” Judy whispered to Eleanor. “He thinks he’s here to show us how to do crafts, but we’ve all been making these kinds of things for years. He’s really here to keep the peace, and God knows we need that.” She raised her eyebrows at Clara and Joan, who were each reaching for the same piece of material.
“Oh, my dear, I’m afraid you are too late. I got this piece first.” Joan had a hand firmly on the bright yellow fabric.
“Oh, like hell you did, Joan,” said Clara loudly. “Plus you’ve already cut out three purple circles. This yellow would clash horribly. You’re just going for it because I wanted it.”
Patrick hustled over to the two ladies, ready to break up a fight, when Maude stepped in. “Oh, ladies, this is a perfect colour for my sunflowers. Thank you for finding it for me.” She gave the fabric a swift tug, pulling it out of both Joan and Clara’s hands, then turned away before either of them could protest. She winked at Patrick as she stepped back to her seat. Clara and Joan both grumbled, but they chose new pieces of fabric and sat down.
As everyone settled in to sewing their flowers, Judy leaned over to Eleanor. “Eleanor, I’ve got a favour to ask you.”
“Of course, Judy, what is it?”
“Well, you know that Vince is working on the, ah, the, well let’s just say it. The poison.” The noise levels in the craft room were so loud that no one could have overheard them if they had wanted to. “Well, I wanted to ask you if you’d hold off on using it until after the drama production. I just know it will cause a scandal, having a death at Tranquil Waters, particularly the death of a not-very-old person, and I wouldn’t want anything to overshadow the drama production. I was thinking maybe we could tell everyone that we are going to delay things for a few weeks when we meet this afternoon?”
“Oh, of course, Judy. I had to show Daryl some of the paperwork for my investments yesterday. He insisted, practically threatened me if I wouldn’t show him. But I think I can hold him off for a while. There’s no immediate danger, I don’t think.”
Judy’s eyes widened. “Oh Eleanor! What did you show him? Do you think he’s seen enough to siphon off some of your money?” She spoke in a dramatic whisper.
“Well, I showed him where some of my money is invested. Just some of the paperwork, though. I managed to keep most of it from him, I told him that my accountant had all of the details, and I didn’t really know where all the paperwork was.”
Judy winked and tapped the side of her nose. “Ah, playing the helpless, ‘I really don’t know what’s going on, you’ll have to ask my accountant’ strategy. Good one.”
Eleanor laughed. “Well, it’s not going to hold him off forever. He seemed quite cross that I didn’t have all of the information, and threatened to go and see my accountant himself. I told him that I would get the information soon.”
Across the room, Joan and Clara had both finished sewing their first flowers, and took them up to Patrick for inspection.
“Is this how you make them, Patrick?” Clara fluttered her eyelashes at the handsome young man. Eleanor rolled her eyes – she had seen Clara make those flowers plenty of times before. “Does it look like a daffodil? That’s what I was going for.”
“Oh, is it supposed to be a daffodil?” said Joan, archly. “I thought it was a common yellow daisy. Mine, quite obviously, is a violet.” She held it out for inspection.
“Oh, is that what it’s supposed to be? I wasn’t sure.”
“Ladies, ladies,” said Patrick brightly. “There’s no need to fight. They both look lovely. Now why don’t you see if you can get another one done? We still have plenty of time.”
As Joan and Clara turned back to their seats, Eleanor caught sight of their faces. They truly must have missed each other, she thought. Both ladies now looked like cats who’d had their fill of cream.
On the way home after the craft group, Eleanor walked past the pond. It was a beautiful day, and the garden looked lovely, despite a few obvious patches of neglect. Ahead on the path, she saw Mrs. Willoughby, standing with her hands on her hips. She certainly was a formidable looking woman. She was broad shouldered, wearing a severely plain shirt and boxy skirt, with her hair pulled back tightly from her face. “Hello Mrs. Willoughby. Is everything ok?” Eleanor asked, as she approached. Mrs Willoughby was frowning. Although that was her normal expression, Eleanor could tell she was more displeased than usual.
“Would you believe it? I asked that boy to replace the border along this path, as the plants were looking quite tired. I told him to just pick out a suitable variety for the border, and look what he’s done. The boy has planted spinach! Spinach, as a border.” Eleanor looked at the garden, where different coloured stalks of spinach stood, waving their dark green leaves in the breeze like flags. She laughed.
“Well, Mrs. Willoughby, it’s certainly a change. And I think they look quite nice.” Mrs. Willoughby did not look impressed.
“I thought maybe a nice border of petunias, or some kind of decorative grass. Even agapanthus, at a pinch, although that’s a little old fashioned these days. And the boy plants spinach!”
Eleanor took a closer look. “They are rather handsome plants. I believe it might be rainbow chard, not just spinach.” The stalks were different colours, some red, some yellow and some white.
Mrs. Willoughby raised her eyebrows. “I don’t care what fancy name you give it, it’s still spinach. And it shouldn’t be in my garden. And do you think I can find the boy to talk to him about it?” She gave a long sigh, then turned on her heel and walked away. Eleanor looked at the garden again. While it was certainly unusual, she quite liked the spinach. She made a mental note not to buy spinach at the shop any more, as it looked like there was plenty available here.
At Judy’s house that afternoon, Eleanor told the group about her encounter with Willoughby and the spinach. Everyone laughed.
“Well, it’s certainly something different. Maybe the boy did it on purpose to shake things up a bit?”
“Did you see what he did with the hedge out by the bowling green?” chimed in Maude. “It’s supposed to be a regular straight hedge, but he’s trimmed it so that the top goes up and down in a kind of zigzag pattern.”
“Oh yes, I saw that last week,” said Barry. “I must say, it put me off my game. I usually line the ball up by that hedge to make sure I’m bowling straight. I certainly wasn’t bowling very straight last week.” Eleanor laughed. Barry was notoriously bad at bowls, once managing to bowl straight into a spectator’s ankle by mistake. “Well, I must say it’s nice to have a change around here. Just because we’re old doesn’t mean we have to keep things the same forever.”
Judy handed her a mug that said ‘Make tea, not war’, and Maude passed the cookies, which were gingernut this time, and very nice.
“Now, Eleanor, down to business,” said Vince. “I’ve nearly completed the job, and the poison should be ready in a day or two.”
Eleanor glanced at Judy. “Well, actually Vince, Judy and I have discussed it, and we have decided that we will put off the plan until after the drama production is finished. I wouldn’t want any kind of scandal to overshadow the performance.”
“Eleanor is too kind,” said Judy, “but it was me who didn’t want anything to overshadow the performance.”
“Naturally,” said Vince, with a theatrical wink. “Nothing should be allowed to get in the way of greatness.”
“So we need to ask you, will the poison keep until then?”
“Oh yes,” said Vince. “It should be relatively shelf stable. It will keep for a few weeks, certainly.”
“Well then it’s settled. We will carry out the plan after the drama production.”
“And Eleanor, I must ask. Do you have proof against this Daryl character? It wouldn’t do to make a mistake in these matters.”
Eleanor felt irritated. “Well, of course I have proof. We have someone on camera snooping in my office. The tape is a little dark, but who else could it be? We have Daryl trying to get access to my investments. I’ve seen him both neglect and berate his own family, unreasonably so. He’s threatened me…” Maude gasped at this, and put a hand over her mouth. “…well, not directly, but he’s threatened to deal with anyone who stands in his way. He’s recruiting clients from Tranquil Waters, and you know that will put a lot of people’s investments at risk. And don’t forget that my very expensive watch has been stolen from inside my own house.”
“Hm,” Vince murmured. “Now, Eleanor, I would never doubt your instincts, but the proof is all slightly circumstantial. Perhaps you could use the time between now and when we actually carry out the plan to see if you can find anything a little more solid?”
Eleanor frowned. Vince had a point, but she knew that she was right about Daryl. She knew that he posed a threat not only to herself, but to many other people that she cared very deeply about. Still, it couldn’t hurt to find more proof. Perhaps that would help the others in the group to feel better about their own involvement in the plot. “Well yes, I guess I can do that. It won’t hurt, I suppose.”
“Good, that’s settled then.” Vince smiled. “Oh, I must tell you all. I went to visit Gladys this week, following Judy’s instructions carefully, of course. Well, what a gardener! She has quite the collection of orchids. I was most impressed.”
“Do you think she’s getting better?” asked Maude.
“Oh, it’s so hard to tell,” said Judy with a sigh. “She is so very pale and thin though. She does seem to be in better spirits though.”
“It’s all of the visitors, I think, and your carefully orchestrated visiting schedule, plus all the treats you’ve been taking. You’re a meddling old busybody, Judy,” said Eleanor affectionately, “and we are all eternally grateful for it.”
At dinner time, Daryl and Kathy both seemed out of sorts. Kathy was moodily pushing her food around her plate again, and Daryl seemed snappy and distant. Only Timmy was in a good mood.
“Oh, guess what Gran?” he asked. “I went and did some more gardening for Gladys today. She gave me some pocket money. Isn’t that cool?” Eleanor was very proud that he had been sticking to his limit of one hour a day on his video game.
“That’s great, Timmy. I think she likes your company too.” Eleanor patted him on the shoulder. “There might be other people around here who need you to do weeding or errands for them too? You could always earn some more pocket money if you like.”
Daryl frowned. “What do you need pocket money for, Timmy? We buy everything that you need for you, don’t we?”
Timmy looked down at his plate. “Yeah, ‘course dad. I just sometimes want some other kinds of things that you guys don’t buy for me.”
“Oh yeah? What is it that you want, son? If you need anything, you tell us, and we’ll get it.” Daryl ate his dinner in big, shovelling mouthfuls. Eleanor held herself back from rolling her eyes dramatically, and from lecturing Daryl on allowing Timmy to learn to earn money for himself.
Timmy saw an opportunity. “Well, dad, there’s this new video game console that’s been released. It’s the latest one, sooooo much better than the one that I’ve got. All the kids at school have one. Could you get it for me?” He smiled disarmingly at Daryl.
Daryl frowned again. “Maybe later, Timmy.”
“Oh dad, when? Everyone else already has one.”
Kathy looked up. “I guess we could get him one, Daryl. You know his console was the one we bought for Joe. It was a hand me down when Joe got a new one, so it’s probably time we got him his own.”
Daryl finished the last mouthful of his meal, and got up from the table. “Not now Kathy. It’s just not a good time with the business. Things are a bit… tight. I’m sure things will change soon enough, but not now.” He slammed his plate down on the sink and walked out of the room.
That night, Eleanor went to bed early, feeling really rather tired. Everyone else had also retired for the night, and she could hear tiny whistling snores coming from Timmy’s room. She had perfected her night time routine, and after half a glass of warm milk, and reading a book for half an hour, her eyelids were usually drooping. She had to make sure to choose a book that wasn’t too exciting, but it was usually a foolproof routine. She was settled into bed, in her snug nightgown, dentures in a cup beside the bed, and lamp turned out, when she heard the floor creek. It must be someone going to the bathroom, she thought. Eleanor knew her own little house, and knew the sound that every door made. She heard the unmistakable creak of the office door that she had been intending to oil for some time now. Perhaps she had been putting it off because she wanted to be alerted if anyone went into her office at night. She heard the light click on, and a few more little noises coming from the direction of the office. Daryl. She felt a surge of anger. How dare he go rummaging around in her office? She thought about going to confront him, but then she remembered what Judy had said about the possibility that Daryl might be dangerous if someone got in the way of what he wanted. Better to be safe than sorry. And now she would have proof on camera, and maybe she could even tell from the camera what he had been looking for. She was certainly not sleepy now. She lay in the darkness, gritting her teeth in irritation until finally she heard the office door creek again, and the light click off. Quiet footsteps went back down the corridor. After that the house was quiet, but it still took her a long time to fall asleep.
The next morning, after everyone had left the house for the day, Eleanor tried to access the video camera feed on her computer. She could work out how to open the program, and see what the video camera was recording at the time, but once again, she couldn’t work out how to access the recorded video from last night. She sat in frustration, watching herself on the video camera, before giving a long sigh. She would have to get Zara to come and help again, and this time, she would have to pay more attention to what the girl did. She checked the clock on the wall, feeling the flash of irritation that her watch was still missing. She would have to buy herself another watch, perhaps a cheaper one this time. She still had some time before she had to leave for lawn bowls. Normally, she would sit down with a cup of tea and a book if she had some time to kill. Today though, she felt too anxious and irritated to sit down and read. That Daryl. How dare he come into her peaceful, enjoyable life and meddle with the way things were. Her shoulders felt tight with tension, and she had to remind herself to keep unclenching her fists. She decided that she would do some cleaning, as that was always a good way to keep her mind off unpleasant things. Eleanor dusted the lounge room, and tidied the already clean kitchen. The small dresser in the hallway could probably do with a tidy as well, she thought. She kept spare china and silverware in there. Her good china and silverware hadn’t been used since Kathy and Daryl came to stay. Daryl was enough of a bull in a china shop without giving him the good china to use. She dusted the dresser, then tidied the china on the shelves, making sure everything was displayed neatly and was dust free. She opened the drawer to check that the silverware was in order – it should be, as no one had touched it since last time she polished it all. She looked into the drawer, and at first, couldn’t understand what she was seeing. All of the spoons and all but two of the teaspoons were missing. She blinked, and looked again. They were definitely missing. How odd. She counted the knives and forks. There was one knife missing and two forks. How odd. If someone was going to steal her silverware, why wouldn’t they take all of it? She had a sudden vision of some television program she’d seen, with a drug addict heating a spoon to prepare a hit of some drug. She didn’t know what kind – she had turned it off. But Daryl didn’t seem to be a drug addict. He was a terrible person, certainly, but he didn’t fit her idea of a drug user. She frowned with irritation. The silverware was only silver plated, so it was valuable, but not hugely so. It had more value to her because it had been a wedding present from a friend, all those many years ago that she had been married. The set was worthless without the spoons, and she wouldn’t be able to use it for special occasions. She thought about Daryl’s comments the previous night, about being short of money. Maybe he had been selling her silverware, bit by bit, to a pawn shop? Wouldn’t it be better to sell the entire set? It didn’t make sense. She thought about confronting him. No, it wasn’t a good idea. Maybe he might be dangerous. And the man lived under her roof, where she was most vulnerable. No, she simply had to stick to the original plan. She felt tears well up in her eyes at the loss of her beautiful silverware set, but she blinked them away and closed the drawer.
On the way to lawn bowls, Eleanor saw a familiar figure crouching down beside one of the hedges. The gardener. She watched him for a moment or two. He had a pair of gardening sheers in his hand, and was chopping half heartedly at the hedge, pausing every so often to glance over the hedge. He looked terribly suspicious. Eleanor felt a surge of irritation. She was sick of things being mysterious, or people acting strangely, and she was sick of all the intrigue. She wanted things to go back to how they normally were around Tranquil Waters, rather dull, with just a bit of gossip and a good clean fight between Clara and Joan to liven things up. She marched up to the part of the hedge that the gardener was hiding behind, reached down, and pulled the boy up by his ear.
“Young man, what is it that you are doing?” She asked, sternly.
“I, ah, I um, I was-” stuttered the poor boy. His face crumpled, and he suddenly looked close to tears. “I was actually watching out for Mrs Willoughby. She’s shouted at me three times already this week, and I really didn’t want to get shouted at again.”
Eleanor felt a twinge of sympathy for him, but then remembered her earlier irritation. “Look here, young man,” she hissed. “You have been slinking around this place for days, acting strangely, hiding and doing all kinds of suspicious things. I don’t care for mysteries, I’ve realised. You are going to tell me exactly what is going on. Unfortunately, I’ve had a busy morning, and I very much don’t want to be late for bowls, so here is the situation you find yourself in. You are going to meet me for lunch, at the cafe down the road, tomorrow at noon precisely, and you are going to tell me exactly what is going on. If you don’t do that, then I will make it my mission to find out all the strange things you have been doing, and then I’ll be going directly to Willoughby. Do I make myself clear?”
The gardener, ear still pinched between Eleanor’s fingers, stared at her wide eyed. When she had finished her tirade, he paused, as though about to protest, then thought the better of it. He nodded, “Yes ma’am.” Eleanor let go of his ear.
“Good. See that you are not late. I can’t abide lateness.” Then she turned on her heel, and stalked off to lawn bowls, arriving exactly on time.
At the dingy little cafe down the road, later that afternoon, Eleanor sipped gratefully on a cup of tea. It had been a very emotional day. Surprisingly, she’d bowled better than usual that morning. Even the other players had noticed, with Clara commenting that she was having a particularly good day. Perhaps she had managed to channel all of her anger and frustration into her game. She sighed, and smiled gratefully at Roger, who was sitting calmly opposite her, across the decidedly wobbly table.
“You look like you’ve had a hard day, Eleanor. What’s going on?”
She thought that it was a very lovely thing to have someone who would listen to the things that concerned you, and not only that, but someone who genuinely seemed to care. Roger was a very good listener. He would tilt his head to the side, and nod thoughtfully as she explained what was going on. What was even better was that he didn’t cut her off to offer a whole lot of unsolicited advice, but instead, let her finish. She told him all about the missing silverware, and he patted her hand sympathetically when tears welled in her eyes. “Do you think it’s the grandson? The one who took your credit card?”
“No, I don’t think he would realise that it was anything but ordinary cutlery. Not that it is worth a great deal, but I certainly think it would fetch some amount at a pawn shop. Certainly a lot more as a full set though.”
Roger raised his eyebrows. “Perhaps you’re not giving him enough credit Eleanor. Maybe he does realise its value?”
Eleanor thought of Timmy’s efforts to pay back the money on her credit card, and the way he smiled with pleasure when Gladys or Judy complimented his hard work. “It’s possible, although I would like to think he’s learnt his lesson. I rather suspect my son in law.” She was worried that Roger would start to ask prying questions then, and she wanted to keep her plot against Daryl a secret from Roger. She changed the subject, telling him all about her encounter with the gardener, and her plan to get the truth out of him at their lunch the following day. Roger laughed as she told him about twisting the poor boy’s ear. “Outside the bounds of what one is allowed to do, I’m sure, but at my age, I’m sure I don’t care that much,” she said. “Everyone in Tranquil Waters has some kind of theory about what the boy is up to, surely it’s high time that someone sat the boy down and asked him. Especially since Willoughby is out to get him now. Surely it won’t be long until he’s fired, at this rate.”
Roger chuckled again. “Well, Eleanor, I’m sure that if anyone can get to the bottom of the mystery, it’s you.” He smiled fondly at her. “Do you need some help with confronting the young gardener?”
“Oh no Roger. I think I’d be better off talking to the young man myself. But I’ll be sure to let you know all about it as soon as we’ve talked.” She smiled at him. He was really a very nice man. She sipped her tea. And it was also a very good cup of tea. Maybe this day wasn’t so bad after all.