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 Sixteen – Dirty Silverware
Before she came to stay at Tranquil Waters, Eleanor thought that living in a retirement village might be rather dull. She was prepared for long periods of quiet solitude, reading her favourite books and knitting some rugs and jumpers. She even thought she might watch some daytime television, a habit she had never before indulged in. Now, she thought that the reality couldn’t be more different. She had Judy phoning her to help with some last minute catastrophe that threatened the success of the opening night of Hello, Dolly! She had her lovestruck teenage grandson arriving from university for the weekend, ready to moon over Zara, the cleaner’s daughter and one of the stars of the show (second, of course, to Judy herself). She had to stop Daryl before he siphoned off her retirement funds. She had a murder to plan. She had a vial of poison safely tucked into the back of her underwear draw. And she could not work out what was going on with Kathy. It was certainly not the tranquil existence that she expected. She sighed. She wouldn’t mind being bored, just a little, every once in a while.
Eleanor gathered her purse and keys, and hurried out of the front door, heading over to Judy’s house. Judy had phoned her that morning, wailing down the phone line about 100 different disasters, and tomorrow was the opening night. Eleanor promised to come right over as soon as she’d finished her morning cup of tea. She knocked on Judy’s door. Judy opened the door, looking rather more dishevelled than usual. “Oh, Eleanor, it’s a total disaster.” Giles wound around her feet, whining. “What am I going to do, what am I going to do?” She was wringing her hands and looked utterly distraught.
“Well, the first thing that we need to do is put on the kettle and make a cup of tea. And then you can tell me all about it. I’m sure we’ll work out a solution.”
Judy settled down enough to make tea, and as they were each sipping their tea, the story came out. Walter, who was playing the character of Ambrose, had fallen sick and been taken to hospital by ambulance. Apparently he had suffered a small stroke, and was absolutely not allowed out of bed for any reason, despite Judy’s pleading with the nurse who had answered the telephone when she phoned the hospital. “So that’s one of our main characters gone. How are we going to put on the play without him?” Judy wailed. “And to add insult to injury, one of the set pieces fell over during our dress rehearsal yesterday. It almost landed on top of me, and tore my skirt. And it needs some major repairs, and no one has any time to do it today.”
Eleanor squeezed her friend’s hand. “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear about Walter. I hope he’s going to be ok.”
Judy shrugged. “His doctor said he should make a full recovery, according to his daughter. But that doesn’t help me much.”
Eleanor laughed. “So that’s it Judy? No other catastrophes?”
“Well, no. Just those. But I can’t see how we can possibly proceed with the opening night. And it’s an entirely sold out show! What are we going to do?”
Eleanor sipped her tea thoughtfully. “Well first of all, let’s call Maude and ask if she can repair your costume. I’m sure she’ll be happy to help. Then young Jordan owes us a favour, so let’s get him to work on the set. Surely he’s capable of that, don’t you think?”
“Well, yes. But that still doesn’t solve the biggest problem. Without one of our main actors, what are we going to do? We simply can’t go on with the show.”
Eleanor pursed her lips in thought, glancing at her tea cup. It said ‘I’m not quiet, I’m plotting.’ A very appropriate cup, she thought. “Ambrose is the character who is in love with Ermengarde, Zara’s character, right? If you had someone who could take the role, is there much to learn? Would there be time to do a few quick rehearsals?”
Judy looked doubtful. “Well, if we could find someone – and that’s a big if – then it might just be possible. It’s not a very big speaking part. But they would have to be a quick learner.”
“Look, I’m not sure that we can pull this off, but I’ve got an idea. Let me make a phone call.”
Eleanor met Roger for lunch at their usual cafe. Eleanor slid into the seat across from Roger a few minutes late, and feeling quite flustered. “Oh Roger, I’m so sorry I’m late. What a morning!”
Roger smiled his usual calm smile. “That is perfectly all right, Eleanor. Don’t worry at all. Now, why don’t we order, and then you can tell me all about it.” Eleanor sighed with relief. There was something about Roger’s steady nature that she found very calming.
Eleanor ordered the Minestrone, and Roger ordered a club sandwich, and then the two of them settled in to drinking their tea and talking. “Ok Eleanor, tell me all about your busy morning.”
Eleanor sighed. “Well, I’ve just been helping Judy with a last minute emergency. But to be honest, I feel tired most of the time at the moment. There’s too much going on around here.”
“So what’s the emergency?” Roger sipped his tea, looking at her with his concerned manner.
“Well there are three emergencies really.” Eleanor told Roger all about Judy’s torn costume and broken props. “It seems as though we’ve solved those problems. Maude is doing some emergency repairs on Judy’s skirt, and we’ve enlisted Jordan to fix the props. He’s getting so much help with the gardening from all of the residents that he’s got a bit of spare time to help.” She smiled.
“Ah, yes, I’ve been meaning to ask you about that. How exactly have you managed to turn things around for the young man so quickly and completely? Last thing I heard, he was at risk of being fired, and the rumour mill was working overtime with all of the wicked things that he was supposedly doing. And now, he’s the darling of all of the residents, and the gardens are looking glorious. How did you manage it?”
Eleanor smiled, widening her eyes with mock innocence. “Oh, really it was nothing. All I did was tell a few strategic people that the poor boy was really having a hard time because his grandmother was so sick, and he was worried about her. I might have also mentioned that Willoughby was going to fire him if the gardens didn’t smarten up soon. As you know, Willoughby is not very popular, and a lot of people take great joy in foiling her plans. Particularly if it means helping out a young man who is devoted to his grandmother.”
Roger chuckled. “Ah, Eleanor, you’re a very good judge of character. What else has been happening? You said that there’s too much going on around here. I thought it had actually been rather quiet lately.”
Eleanor looked at Roger with his open, honest gaze. Could she possibly trust him enough to tell him all about her issues with Daryl? Would he judge her for wanting to murder her own son in law? Probably. But even more of a risk, would he try to stop her plan or even tell the authorities about her? Somehow, she felt that she could trust him. Perhaps it was worth the risk?
“I think it’s mostly my own life that’s making me tired,” Eleanor started. “Do you remember me telling you about my daughter and son in law who are living with me at the moment? I think I’ve told you a little bit about my concerns about Daryl.” Roger nodded. Eleanor took a deep breath, and started to tell him all about her worries and concerns. She told him about how she’d become convinced that Daryl was plotting to drain her retirement funds, and about the video camera that she’d had installed in her office. She told him all about catching Daryl on video, going through her paperwork, and about the phone calls from her accountant. Their meals came, and they started to eat, as Eleanor told Roger all about her fears that Daryl was affecting Kathy’s emotional state, and crushing Timmy’s emotional development. Roger gave her his full attention, listening as he ate his sandwich, and then ordered another pot of tea.
She told him about her expensive watch going missing, and some of her antique silverware also going missing from the dresser. “It’s quite an expensive set of silverware, but that’s not the point. It has a lot of sentimental value to me, and I’ll never be able to replace the pieces that are missing. It also seems almost insulting that he would sell it off piecemeal like that. It’s probably being melted down for the silver,” Eleanor said forlornly. “And if all of that wasn’t enough, the man is terribly untidy, and never puts anything away. How can Kathy possibly put up with it? I can understand why she is moody and difficult sometimes. Living with Daryl would make anyone like that.” She sipped her tea, then continued on with the story. She told Roger all about making the decision that she had to kill Daryl, enlisting Judy’s help, and how Maude, Vince and Barry got involved. “And now,” she concluded, “I have a vial of poison tucked away in a drawer at home. As soon as all of the excitement of the drama production is finished, then I’m planning to slip it into Daryl’s coffee.”
Roger took a long, slow sip of his tea, then smiled at her. “Well, I can say this for you. You’re certainly a surprising woman, Eleanor.” He chuckled. “And you’re sure this is what you want to do? Haven’t you thought of just telling your daughter what’s going on, and convincing her to leave him?”
Eleanor sighed with frustration. “I’ve talked to her about Daryl in the past, and it’s always put a wedge in our relationship. She thinks I’m meddling.” Roger laughed at this. “I’m sure she can’t love him, but she has some kind of misguided loyalty to the man. I don’t understand it.”
“Well, surely you were young and in love, Eleanor? If anyone had tried to interfere with your relationship, surely you would have been upset as well?”
“Well, yes,” Eleanor conceded, “but I’m sure I always had a balanced view of what my husband was like. I didn’t put him up on a pedestal, like Kathy does. And besides, my late husband would never do the kinds of things that Daryl does. He wasn’t perfect, but at least he provided for his family honestly.”
Roger looked thoughtful. “I’m trying to put myself into your shoes. I guess that if it was my daughter and grandchildren who were being affected, and my life savings that were threatened, well, I would probably want to do the same kind of thing as you’re planning to do, Eleanor. I only hope, for your sake, that there aren’t any unpleasant consequences. I’ve grown to quite enjoy our little chats.” He smiled at her, and took her hand across the table. Eleanor smiled back at him, and gave his hand a small squeeze.
“Do you know what this means, Roger? You’re now an honorary member of the Tuesday Afternoon Murder Club.”
Roger chuckled, and released her hand. “Well, what an honour to join you. And now, I really must go, Eleanor. I’ve had about four cups of tea since we got here, and my bladder is not what it used to be.”
He got up from the table, then paused. “Oh, by the way, you didn’t tell me. What is Judy going to do about filling the gap in the drama production? Is the show going to go on? I’m hoping so, because I’d like to escort you to the opening night, if you’ll join me.”
Eleanor smiled. “It looks like we might have solved the problem. I phoned my grandson, Joe, this afternoon. I told him all about our dilemma, and about how Judy needed someone to play opposite Zara as her love interest. He’s agreed – it’s amazing what young people will agree to when there’s an attractive young lady involved. They’re having an emergency run through of his scenes right now. He might be very unprepared, but it’s better than having no one in the role at all.”
Roger laughed. “Eleanor, you’re a genius. Is there a problem that you can’t solve?”
Eleanor left the cafe feeling as though she was walking on a cloud. It felt wonderful to have told Roger all about her plans, and rather than judging her, as she had feared, he had understood her motivations. She felt reassured – she was on the right track, and making the right decisions with her plan to poison Daryl. The man was certainly up to no good, and the world would be a better place without him. Without Daryl around, she would be able to rest easily, knowing that her money was safe and that her daughter and grandsons were not at risk of emotional harm. She walked with her head held high, thinking that perhaps this is what superheros felt like, ridding the world of evil one villain at a time. Of course, she thought humbly, she couldn’t take all of the credit. She would not have been able to concoct her plan or carry it out without Judy, Vince, Maude, and even Barry. She smiled. What a good team they were!
Eleanor glanced at the gardens as she walked, feeling again that she’d managed to do some good in the world. She’d managed to save a young man’s job, and she and the other residents were now teaching him gardening skills that would hopefully serve him for a lifetime. She looked over to Gladys’ house as she walked past. Her grandson had done a wonderful job keeping Gladys’ small front garden bed tidy, and it had also done him wonders. He was much less cantankerous, and spent time doing things for other people, rather than just playing his video games all of the time. Another good deed that she had done. She mentally patted herself on the back, and floated home as though on a cloud. Back in her own little house, Eleanor noticed that everyone was out. Daryl was presumably at work, although for all she knew, he could be taking a nap in his car somewhere, or having a pint at the pub. She had no idea where Kathy was, and Timmy was still at school. Joe was still at rehearsals, although he would also be staying in the cramped little house for the night. Eleanor felt energised by her conversation with Roger, and perhaps from all of the caffeine in the tea she had drunk. Perhaps it was a perfect time to clean the house before Joe came to stay for the night, and probably for the whole weekend. When he arrived, he would spread out his things over the lounge room, and there would be no chance to clean. Eleanor dusted the lounge room, tidying away a few things that Timmy had left out. Once more, she took Daryl’s running shoes from the lounge room and put them in the laundry, thinking that soon she would not have that problem any more. After Daryl’s demise, she presumed that Kathy would probably have to stay with her for a little bit longer, until she was able to stand on her own feet again. Eleanor didn’t mind that, although she thought that one day it would be nice to have her little house back again. Perhaps she could help Kathy to find an apartment close by, she thought, once she had had a chance to grieve, and sort out her affairs. Maybe Daryl had life insurance, she thought. Perhaps she should check? It could be helpful for Kathy, although she certainly wouldn’t want to poison Daryl just for the sake of money. And she certainly wouldn’t want any kind of suspicion to fall on Kathy. She thought that maybe it would be better to not even enquire about Daryl’s life insurance and just let the chips fall where they may. Eleanor took the vacuum cleaner out of the hall cupboard, and ran it over the floor in the kitchen and hallway. Her home was just small enough to be easy to keep clean, which she was very grateful for. She went into the lounge room and vacuumed over the floor there as well, thinking how wonderful it was that she didn’t even have to change where the vacuum cleaner was plugged in to reach all around the whole house. It really was quite wonderful, her little home. She lifted up the ruffle of the lounge couch to vacuum underneath the couch, and suddenly, something bright caught her eye. Eleanor knelt down, and ran her hand over the carpet underneath the lounge. Her hand touched something cold. She pulled it out. Her diamond Cartier watch lay in her palm, glinting slightly in the sunlight. For a moment she didn’t know what to think. She had been so sure that Daryl had stolen her watch. Perhaps somehow it had fallen off her wrist and been kicked underneath the couch? She frowned. It wasn’t very often that she was wrong about something, and the feeling was unsettling. She was very glad to get her watch back though, and she fastened it around her wrist with a little click. Still, she felt vaguely off balance. Never mind, she thought. She would finish the cleaning. Eleanor continued to vacuum down the hallway, giving her office a quick once over, and then vacuuming her own room. Every now and again the sunlight would catch on the watch on her wrist, reminding her that something was not quite right. She couldn’t really put her finger on it. Surely she should be happier to have her watch back?
Eleanor bypassed the spare room where Daryl and Kathy were staying, deciding to give them their privacy. She thought she might give Timmy’s room a quick vacuum. It could certainly do with a clean, she thought. Teenage boys were notoriously messy, and Timmy was no exception. Thankfully though, she seemed to be making some inroads into teaching him to clean up after himself. Eleanor opened the door. The room was untidy, but not as terrible as she expected. She picked up a few items of clothing off the floor, and then ran the vacuum over the carpet. It was a small room, so it only took a moment for her to vacuum. She was almost finished when she thought she might as well vacuum under the bed just a little. On the first pass underneath the dust ruffle, the head of the vacuum cleaner struck something under the bed with a small clink. Odd, she thought, and tried again. Again, another clink. Eleanor turned the vacuum cleaner off, and knelt down next to the bed. She lifted up the dust ruffle, and gave a small gasp. There, under Timmy’s bed, were half a dozen dirty bowls, encrusted with the remains of soup, cereal, custard, and other various foodstuffs, eaten long ago. There were a few plates under there as well, and two mugs. In each bowl, plate, and mug was a piece of cutlery. Silver cutlery. The missing cutlery from her silverware set. She took a quick inventory. Every single missing piece was there, encrusted with little bits of food, underneath Timmy’s bed.
On the opening night of Hello, Dolly!, Tranquil Waters was buzzing with excitement. Outfits were being tried on, curlers carefully taken out, and lipstick liberally applied. Ties were tied, dentures fitted, and clouds of cologne sprayed. Blanche and Barry had colour coordinated their outfits, and were admiring themselves in the mirror. The purple of Blanche’s blouse really brought out the matching purple in Barry’s tie. Joan and Clara had declared a temporary detente, with Clara loaning Joan a scarf that went perfectly with her dress, and Joan loaning Clara her spare pair of glasses, as Clara had sat on her own pair earlier that day, with disastrous results. Marjorie was smoothing her curls, admiring the new colour that she had had put through her hair earlier that day. She had heard that Walter, one of the main characters of the play, had taken ill, and she was quite intrigued to see how they had managed to replace him at such late notice. She didn’t want the play to fail, of course, but she couldn’t help but feel a small thrill of delight at the prospect of some kind of scandal to discuss. Judy had somehow transcended her earlier panic, and was getting dressed backstage in a state of zen-like calm. Meanwhile, Giles was at home, fast asleep in his basket, thoroughly exhausted by the day’s excitement. Gladys looked mournfully at her reflection in her bedroom mirror, sad that the chemotherapy was causing her to loose her once-thick hair. She looked at the bed behind her. Five separate friends had been to see her in the past two days, enquiring tactfully if she wanted to borrow a wig, or a scarf, loaning her an eyebrow pencil to fill in her now-sparse eyebrows, and giving her plenty of gentle admonishment to not push herself too far. Maude had visited the day before, and had told Gladys about her previous bout of cancer. “It’s been three years now, and so far it’s staying in remission,” Maude knocked on the wooden table. “So I thought I’d give you this. When my hair was falling out, this was my favourite scarf. It always made me feel glamorous.” Gladys held the soft blue scarf in her hands now. It was shot through with silvery threads that caught the light, and reminded her of the sea. She tied it around her head, thinking with gratitude of funny, awkward Maude, so kindly giving her the pretty scarf. I might not have much hair, but at least I have lovely friends.
Roger straightened his tie as he walked up the short path to Eleanor’s front door. He, too, had been saddened by his lack of hair earlier that evening, but he reassured himself that at least he didn’t have to use a walking frame or a stick yet. He knocked on Eleanor’s door, thinking of the hapless Daryl, and feeling quite amused at the story Eleanor had told him the previous day. He would admit to some slight internal warning bells at the thought of her killing her son in law, but at his age, Roger was more inclined to feel curiosity that concern. Perhaps it was the right course of action after all. People shouldn’t be allowed to sneak and steal and be generally untidy and rude, it just wasn’t on. There should be consequences for those kind of actions, he thought, and if Eleanor was decisive and strong willed enough to impose those consequences, well, who was he to judge? After a moment, Eleanor answered the door, looking lovely in a silvery coloured blouse and black pants. Her hair was swept back from her face, and held with a small, silvery clip, and she was wearing very tasteful makeup. She really was an elegant woman, he thought. “Eleanor, you look lovely. Are you ready to go? It’s a bit night for you. Not only is your friend starring in the show, but your grandson is also making his Tranquil Waters acting debut.”
Eleanor smiled. “Oh, Roger. I feel quite sick with nerves about it, to be quite honest with you. Let’s go before I change my mind and decide to stay at home.” She tucked her hand into Roger’s arm, and they set off down the path. Their first stop was Gladys’ house, where she met them at the door, looking resplendent in a pretty dress, if a little pale. She had a blue scarf wound around her head, which brought out the blue in her eyes. Eleanor smiled at her. “Oh, Gladys, you do look very lovely. Here, there’s just one thing missing.” She handed Gladys the coral coloured lipstick. “Why don’t you try this? It will bring the colour out in your face a little bit.” Roger agreed. The touch of lipstick was a perfect addition to the outfit.
After a short stroll to the Tranquil Waters hall, Eleanor, Roger and Gladys sat down in their front row seats. They were suitably early, but the hall was already buzzing with chatter and people trying to find their seats. “How did you get such good seats?” Gladys asked.
Eleanor winked. “Ah, it’s all about flirting with ticket seller.” Gerald Watkins was in charge of the Tranquil Waters ticket booth, and he was notoriously cranky and impatient. Gladys raised her eyebrows, and Eleanor laughed. “No, not really. Judy organised the seats for us. Not even Gerald Watkins can stand in the way of that woman.”
As if on cue, Judy peered cautiously around the curtain at the side of the stage. She caught sight of Eleanor in the front row, and waved dramatically. She winked in their direction, and then disappeared from sight. All around them, the hall filled with happy, chattering people, buzzing with anticipation. Before long, every single seat was taken. It was a sell out crowd. Right at the appointed time, piano music started to sound from behind the curtain, and the lights in the hall were dimmed. The nose level fell, and the curtains opened with a dramatic swoosh. The play began.
Judy was resplendent in her wide, tiered skirt, ruffled shirt, and dramatically large, feather topped hat. She captivated the audience entirely. She pranced across the stage, singing loudly, and confidently. Eleanor felt a swell of pride in her friend. The moment of truth, though, came when Joe appeared on stage, dressed in a suit that was slightly too large for him, as the mopy, artistic Ambrose. Eleanor was tense with nerves, but Joe managed to get through his first few lines with a casual grace. In one scene, he seemed lost for a moment, but managed to ad lib a few lines. The audience laughed, and his confidence grew. He played to the audience, saying the lines he knew, and ad libbing the ones that he missed, helped out by the other actors. Zara as Ermengarde was absolutely beautiful, in a simple period gown that suited her entirely. The audience was captivated, and she carried off her part to perfection. She was also a perfect ‘straight guy’ to Joe’s goofy comic improvisation of the part of Ambrose. When the final curtain fell, the applause was deafening, and the cast had to come out for two separate bows to the audience, with Judy beaming from ear to ear and flourishing her giant hat as she curtseyed to the audience. As the audience started to depart, Joe appeared from the side door. “Gran, Judy has told me to get you to join us for a toast backstage. Bring your friends.” He disappeared.
Backstage, the cast was exhausted, relieved, and happy. Brian was already snoring softly as he napped in an armchair. Judy, who could not normally be accused of being organised, had somehow thought to bring along champagne for the cast, as well as some sparkling apple juice for Zara. Joe, who had already turned 18, and probably spent a good deal of his time at university drinking alcohol, was drinking the apple juice in solidarity with Zara. Eleanor smiled to herself – it was amazing what one would do for young love.
”To Joe, who stepped in at the last minute, and saved our show!” toasted Judy. “And to all of the rest of the wonderful cast. You are all stars!”
”And to Walter,” someone else chimed in. “May he recover quickly!”
“And to Judy! The star of the show.” Champagne glasses clinked, and Judy seemed as though she was about to burst into tears with emotion. Even Brian woke up for long enough to take a sip of champagne.
After some excitement, revelry, and a glass of champagne, everyone was ready to head home. Roger escorted Gladys home, and Eleanor stayed to walk home with Judy.
“It really was a wonderful performance, Judy. You should be very proud of all your efforts,” Eleanor said, walking arm in arm with her old friend.
“Oh, I am, certainly, but I couldn’t have done it without you, Eleanor. And Joe, of course, but we have you to thank for that. Wasn’t he wonderful? Such a natural.”
Eleanor agreed. Perhaps the boy had a future as an actor?
”You’ve been very quiet this evening, Eleanor,” Judy added. “Is there something bothering you?”
Eleanor sighed. “Oh, it’s nothing that I want to bother you about tonight, Judy. Let’s not spoil such a lovely evening.”
Judy stopped walking, and turned towards her friend. “Nonsense, Eleanor. If it’s bothering you, then I want to hear about it. Now what is on your mind?”
Eleanor paused for a moment, then sighed. “Judy, what if I’m mistaken? What if I’m entirely wrong about Daryl?”