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 Seventeen – The end?
The morning after the big opening night performance, Eleanor slept in. She almost never slept past her regular as clockwork, early morning wake up time, but the combination of a fitful night’s sleep, and two celebratory glasses of champagne with Judy threw her body clock off. She woke, with a start, at 8am, feeling rather disoriented. Normally, Eleanor would lie in bed, enjoying the luxury of stretching out over the full, queen sized mattress, but this morning she got up straight away. Throwing on her fluffy blue dressing gown, Eleanor walked down the hallway to the kitchen, past Daryl’s discarded running shoes, very much looking forward to her morning cup of tea. In the kitchen, she was quite startled to see both Daryl and Kathy sitting at the table. Daryl was dressed in his usual office attire, and surprisingly, Kathy was also dressed in neat office attire, a black skirt and a neat teal blouse. Eleanor blinked a couple of times, but it was true. She was even wearing lipstick.
“Good morning, sleepyhead,” chirruped Daryl happily. Eleanor frowned at his impertinence, fighting the urge to tell him to get his smug grin out of her house.
“Morning, mum,” Kathy smiled. “Do you have a moment? We just wanted to talk to you before Daryl goes to work.”
Eleanor was alarmed. What could Kathy possibly want to talk to her about? It couldn’t be that someone had tipped her off about the plan, could it? “Of course, Kathy. Let me just make a cup of tea first.”
“Oh, let me make you one.” Daryl sprang up, switching on the kettle, before Eleanor could protest. After a few moments, he set the resulting cup of tea down in front of her. Eleanor took a sip. It was weak and lukewarm – the worst cup of tea she’d tasted in a long time. She wondered if it would be too rude to pour the entire cup into the sink and start again. Probably.
“Thank you Daryl,” she grimaced, taking a lukewarm sip. She steeled herself for whatever was coming. “Now what did you want to talk to me about?”
Kathy and Daryl exchanged glances. “Well,” Kathy began, “first of all, we wanted to thank you so much for welcoming us into your little home. We know you like your own space, and that this probably hasn’t been easy for you, so we’re grateful.” Eleanor smiled as graciously as she could manage, while Kathy continued. “I’m sure you’ll be happy to know, we’ll be moving out in a few weeks. We’ve found a house that we really like, quite close to Daryl’s office, and we’ve put in an offer. They’ve accepted, so in a few weeks, it will be ours.”
Eleanor was very surprised, but she tried to cover it. “Well! That’s wonderful for you. Congratulations.” She paused a moment. “Tell me though, are you sure that you can afford it? I wouldn’t want you to put yourselves in an unsustainable financial position.” Or, she thought to herself, I wouldn’t want to have to bail you out myself.
Daryl laughed. “Ah, Ellie, you worry too much. I’m a financial planner. If anyone should know what we can manage, it should be me, right? Plus, I know you might be a bit sceptical, but the business is actually doing really well.”
“You should be happy for us, Mum.”
Eleanor smiled a tight lipped little smile. “It’s great news, Kathy, really it is. It does come as rather a shock, though. I didn’t even know you were looking for a house.”
Kathy laughed. “Mum, didn’t you notice that I’ve been gone a lot lately? That’s because we’ve been looking at houses for the last few weeks. You’ve really been quite distracted, you know. It’s a busy place, this Tranquil Waters.”
Eleanor sipped her tea thoughtfully. Well, that explained Kathy’s strange behaviour lately, some of it at least. Of course, she was happy for them both, but it did rather bother her that they hadn’t told her earlier.
“There’s something else we wanted to talk to you about as well, Eleanor….” Daryl trailed off, looking at Kathy.
“Now mum, you must promise not to be cross with us.”
Eleanor felt a cold chill at her words. What were they about to confess to? “Of course. Go on Kathy.”
“We’ve been quite concerned about your finances. Well, Daryl has mostly. So we’ve been doing a bit of digging. I got your accountant to send us some details, and-” here she at least had the good grace to blush- “I also went through some of your files. Daryl was able to look at the investments which were being made with your money…”
“What did you say?” Eleanor interrupted. “You went through my files? Why would you do such a thing? And how dare you go through my own private information?” She looked from Kathy to Daryl, eyes flashing with anger. “I always knew you wanted to snoop through my financial affairs.” She glared at Daryl.
“Mum, that’s really not fair. I was the one who did the snooping, and Daryl did ask you quite a few times. You always put him off, and in the end, we felt like we had no choice but to snoop. We were really quite concerned.”
“I didn’t want to alarm you, Eleanor, and I know you feel loyal to the man, but there are a few rumours going around about John. He’s been mismanaging client funds. Not embezzling or anything as bad as that, but just charging a lot of fees, and not investing the funds well.”
“Daryl’s just heard a lot of rumours, mum. He works in the same field, of course. Everyone is saying that it’s just because John is getting close to retirement age. Well, really he should have retired years ago. So it’s like he’s stopped trying.”
Eleanor narrowed her eyes, and looked from Daryl to Kathy. She felt sure that this was still part of some elaborate plot for Daryl to get his hands on her money, but she really couldn’t understand his strategy. And she also didn’t understand why Kathy seemed to be in on it. She trusted her daughter, surely Kathy would not be in collusion with Daryl to rip her off?
“Look, mum,” Kathy continued. “We know this isn’t really what you wanted to hear, and I thought you might be a little bit suspicious, so take your time.” She handed Eleanor a plastic folder. “We got all the details from John about where your money is invested, and what fees he is charging. The security at his firm is rather lax as well, I must say. They were just happy to email me this information when phoned them. Daryl has also included in there a list of his recommendations for investing your money, and the fees that he would charge at his firm. Why don’t you find an independent person to take a look for you?”
Daryl leaned across the table, looking at Eleanor earnestly. He put his hand over hers. “Believe me, Eleanor, I don’t want to destroy John’s business. I know you’ve known him for a long time, and I’m sure he used to be a good advisor. In fact, I’m in negotiations with him at the moment to take over his client list when he retires.” He looked at his watch. “Well, time to go. Take your time, Eleanor, but when you’re ready, let me know and I’ll see if we can get those funds working a bit harder for you.” He winked at her, then left the room, letting the front door slam shut behind him.
Kathy smiled at Eleanor. “You can pour that tea down the sink now mum. Daryl means well, but he can’t make a decent cup of tea to save himself.”
Eleanor smiled, despite feeling very unsettled, and put on the kettle to make another cup. She poured Daryl’s terrible tea down the drain. “You’re right, it’s undrinkable. Oh, Kathy, I just don’t know what to think. I’m really rather cross about the snooping you know.”
“Mum, look, I know it’s a lot to take in, but why don’t you do what Daryl suggested. Get someone to take a look at the folder. And don’t blame Daryl for us going through your files, it was my idea.”
Eleanor felt as though her head was spinning. “But I….” She was about to say that she’d seen Daryl in her office on the surveillance camera, but she stopped herself. The less explaining she had to do, the better. She had to go and talk to Judy – she’d help her make sense of this entire mess. How could she have gotten things so absolutely wrong?
“Mum, I really wanted to say thank you.” Kathy’s voice broke through her reverie. “I know we haven’t really talked about it, but I’m sure you’ve noticed. I really haven’t been myself lately. It’s been a battle over the last few years, but I’ve been seeing a really good therapist for a couple of months now, and I’m on the right medication. It’s really helping me get this depression under control. Daryl’s been great, but it’s been tough on him too, you know. I just wanted to thank you for being so supportive.”
Eleanor smiled weakly. “Oh Kathy, my dear, of course. I’m just glad you’re getting on top of it.”
“I really am, mum. It’s been such a long struggle, but I’m really starting to improve, I think. In fact, I’ve got a job interview this morning, would you believe? Really, mum, I can’t thank you enough.”
Thomas peered at the file sitting in front of him, slowly flipping pages as he read. It was hard to believe that this man, with his beard and wire rimmed glasses, could actually be Roger’s grandson. Even harder to believe that Roger had a grandson who was a successful financial planner in the city. She was sitting in his office now, with Roger by her side. The office was light and airy, with a full length window looking out over the city scape. The chairs that she and Roger sat in were uncomfortable, but looked very sleek and modern. Eleanor felt very tense as she waited for Thomas to flick through the last few pages. Eleanor suddenly felt a sensation as though she was falling. She reached out and held on to Roger’s hand, which was lying on the arm of the chair next to her. He squeezed her fingers gently, and the falling sensation stopped. Finally, Thomas cleared his throat.
“Well, it’s all rather clear I think. The first investor, John, is it? Well, he’s been making some very questionable decisions. Investing in funds that are underperforming, staying loyal to an investment strategy which is clearly outdated. And the fees that he’s charging, really quite exorbitant. The second guy is using a much more innovative strategy. Some very careful choices there, I think. Most of them are blue chip stocks that are performing very well, and then there are a few other choices that are slightly more risky, but very well chosen. They’re performing very well at the moment. If you went with the second strategy, you should get a very good return on your investments.” He nodded at the file open on the desk in front of him. “Very competitive fees as well. Yes, I’d certainly be going with the second fellow.”
“Thank you, that’s very helpful,” she said to Thomas, who had the slightly distracted air of a very busy person with a lot of work he needed to get back to.
Eleanor and Roger got up to leave. As Thomas saw them to the door, she could see several people waiting to speak to him. She thanked him for his time, and he laid a hand on her shoulder.
“Of course, happy to help. And I must say, it’s great to see Grandpa looking so happy.” He smiled at Eleanor, and shook Roger’s hand goodbye. Eleanor raised her eyebrows, but decided against saying anything. It wouldn’t hurt to let the boy think what he wanted to about their relationship, would it?
At the doorway, she turned back. “One last question, Thomas. How can you tell if a person is actually investing the money as they say they are? How do you know that they’re not putting it in their own private account, or spending it on drugs or gambling it away, something like that?”
Thomas peered at her through his wire rimmed glasses, and chuckled slightly. “Well, this industry is very well regulated, you know. There are a great many checks and balances in place, and a lot of safeguards. But I guess if a person really wanted to get around all of that, it would be possible. So it really becomes a matter of trust. How much do you trust this firm? Or this individual? That’s the real question.”
Somehow, every one of them managed to fit into Judy’s lounge room. Maude and Barry sat on the lounge, with Giles wedged in between them. Judy and Vince each had one of the armchairs, and Eleanor and Roger both sat on kitchen chairs. Zara was seated on the floor, with her feet tucked underneath her. She was back to her usual dark makeup and clothing look, although her hair was still the pretty shade of brown that she’d dyed it to for the drama performance. The room felt very cozy, as there were still pieces of props and costumes from Hello, Dolly still lying here and there. Everyone had a cup of tea in front of them, except for Zara, who was sipping hot chocolate from one of Judy’s mugs that said ‘Not today, Princess’ on the front of it. Eleanor’s cup said ‘Yes, actually I would like another cup of tea, thank you.’
“Well,” Judy spoke loudly, over the chatter of the group, “we’d like to officially welcome Roger and Zara to the Tuesday Afternoon Murder Club. It certainly is a shame that this will be our last meeting, as we will be wrapping up after today.”
“Yes,” said Eleanor, “I asked you all here today, because I feel like I owe you an explanation. And perhaps an apology. I would really rather just explain things once, so I thought it might be best if everyone was here.”
Barry looked confused. “What? What did she say Maude?” he asked.
Maude patted his hand. “Never mind, Barry. I’ll explain it all later.” She beamed with pride at the fact that Barry was finally calling her by the right name. “Go on, Eleanor.”
Eleanor took a deep breath. “Well, it seems that I may have gotten a few things wrong. It all started with that set of silverware….”
Eleanor finished her explanation with a description of her visit to Roger’s grandson, the financial planner. “And there you have it. That’s the entire story.”
There was a long moment of silence before Vince suddenly snorted with laughter. Judy unsuccessfully tried to swallow a giggle, and then Maude joined in. The laughter was contagious, and before long, even Eleanor had joined them. Zara was trying to stifle a smile, and Judy was slapping her knee and wiping tears from her eyes. Only Giles was not amused, and he was snorting with alarm. After a few minutes of unbridled mirth, everyone finally stopped. Eleanor sighed. “I’m very glad that you are all amused, but truth be told, I feel like something of a fool. And just imagine if we had gone ahead with the plan….” She hesitated, realising that Zara didn’t know the full extent of their plot. “Well, let’s just say it could have been very bad.”
“Oh pisht,” Judy waved a hand. “Eleanor, the truth is that all of us are here because we trust your judgement. We trust your judgement, and we trust that you’re a good person. I’m sure you wouldn’t have gone ahead with the plan without solid proof. And besides, from what you say, he’s a person with some pretty bad habits. Would it have really been such a bad thing?”
“That’s right, Eleanor, I wouldn’t worry about it. The universe has a way of working these things out,” said Maude. “Things work out in the end, I think.”
Vince stifled another chuckle. “Well, one thing that I can say is that I was quite worried about boredom before I came to live at Tranquil Waters. I thought this was the kind of place that people came to die slowly. So it’s really made me quite happy to be part of such a plot, even if it turned out to be misguided in the end.”
Maude smiled at Eleanor. “And you’ve certainly helped us to feel included and a part of things. Even if it was a murder plot.”
“It was a what? I must really be loosing my marbles, I thought you said a murder plot,” said Barry.
Eleanor’s eyes widened, and she glanced at Zara. Zara smiled.
“Don’t worry Eleanor, I kind of guessed what you had in mind. Plus, this has been the most fun I’ve had in a while. All of the past few months.”
“See Eleanor?” said Judy. “I told you that everyone would understand. We’ve all got relatives and in-laws that are almost impossible to live with. And look at all of the good that we’ve done. Such as bringing us together as a group.”
“Helping out the young gardener.”
“Saving the drama production, more than once.”
“Introducing me to Joe,” Zara added shyly.
“And curing your young grandson of his video game addiction.”
“So there you go. All’s well that ends well.”
Eleanor looked around the group. She was lucky to have so many lovely friends. “Well, I guess you are right. All in all, it’s really rather been a lot of fun, and I’ll be sorry to bring this little adventure to a close.”
Eleanor had almost forgotten about Daryl’s awards night. She had promised Kathy that she would go, though, so she dutifully dressed up in a nice blouse and slacks, and put on some lipstick. At the local town hall, she and Timmy found a nice corner to sit in and munch on canapes while Daryl mingled with the crowd. He seemed to be in his element, greeting friends and meeting new people, laughing, telling stories, and drinking glass after glass of champagne. Kathy managed to join Daryl for some mingling for a while, but soon she also had to beat a retreat. She came and sat next to Eleanor and Timmy in the corner. “He’s just so relentlessly chatty. I can’t keep up.”
“I think he’s trying to win the congeniality award,” Eleanor agreed.
Timmy yawned, and stuffed another canape in his mouth. “So when can we get out of here?”
Finally, the awards part of the evening started. All of the glamorous attendees were seated on the uncomfortable foldout chairs filling the hall. Daryl sat at the back with Eleanor, Kathy and Timmy. The presentations, in categories such as ‘Best Customer Service’ and ‘Best Tourism Business of the Year’, seemed to go on forever. Timmy was heard to mutter, quite loudly, “How come Joe gets out of coming to this thing?”
Finally, it was the category that Daryl’s business had been nominated in, ‘Best New Business’. The MC announced “This year’s business of the year goes to one that I am very excited about. This business has worked hard, and provided their clientele a wonderful service. It’s a very well deserved award.” To Eleanor’s great surprise, Daryl’s name was called, and he leapt enthusiastically out of his seat. Up on the dias, he grabbed the award with both hands, and leant in to the microphone. “Thank you very much, I know that this has been a hotly contested award, so I feel very humbled and grateful to win the award this year. I just want to acknowledge my wife, Kathy. I would not have been inspired to start my new business, or to achieve as I have this year without Kathy by my side. My sons, Joe and Timmy, who is here tonight, you have also been so important to me.” Daryl took a breath. “And finally, there’s one more person I want to acknowledge. My mother in law, Eleanor, who has supported us so much this year, and put up with so much.” He turned towards where Eleanor was sitting, and beamed his megawatt smile in her direction. “We can’t thank you enough Eleanor, for all your kindness to us this year.”
Eleanor smiled back at Daryl, and applauded along with the crowd as he finished his speech and walked back to his chair. She was feeling particularly guilty, and didn’t like the feeling much at all. Here was the evidence right before her eyes that Daryl was not only good at what he did, and in fact, had received an award for it, but that he was also a kind and generous person. Certainly kinder and more generous than she herself. She clenched her fists tightly, chastising herself internally.
Then Daryl walked past her down the row where they were seated. He stepped heavily on her foot as he walked past. “Whoops, better not leave your feet there, Ellie,” he said, patting her on the shoulder with a patronising air. “Someone might step on them.” He laughed uproariously at his own humour, sliding into the seat next to Eleanor. He put his award down on the ground, directly in the path of anyone who might be walking down the row of seats. He made himself comfortable, spreading out his knees so that Eleanor had to move her legs to one side, and leaning back with arms behind his head, nearly knocking her in the temple. Suddenly Eleanor didn’t feel quite as bad as she had just moments ago.
“I guess there’s really only one thing left to do,” Eleanor said to Vince. “I need to give you back the vial of poison.” She glanced at Zara, sitting cross legged on the floor. “Well, I’m sure there’s no point in keeping secrets now, is there? I’m really sorry that you went to so much trouble on my behalf.”
Vince looked thoughtful. He looked around the crowded little room. Giles had his head resting on his paws, and was snoring slightly. Judy was pouring more tea from her teapot emblazoned with ‘Keep Calm and Make Tea.’ Maude was watching interestedly, and Barry seemed to be drifting off, his eyes slightly closed and his teacup sliding out of his hands. Maude caught it deftly before it fell to the floor.
“How about you keep it, Eleanor? Who knows, you might need it again some time? Or Daryl could really misbehave. It’s possible, I don’t really like the look of him.” Vince said.
“Or we could have to deal with another unruly relative…”
“Or Willoughby could get really out of hand…”
“Or Joe could fall in love with someone else….” All eyes turned to look at Zara, who had wide, innocent eyes. In the past week, she had turned 18, and she and Joe had announced that they were officially boyfriend and girlfriend. She laughed. “I’m kidding, everyone. Don’t look at me like that.”
“I’m serious though, Eleanor,” Vince repeated. “Hold on to it for now. You never know when one of us might need it.”
Eleanor nodded slowly. “Thank you all so much for supporting me no matter how crazy the plan was. I guess that’s it then, this is the final meeting of the Murder Club.”
Everyone looked very thoughtful, and Maude let out a long sigh. “Of course, I know we’ll see each other around, but I do feel a little sad. It’s been nice meeting regularly like this.”
“Although….” Judy started. She had a theatrical look on her face, brow furrowed in thought, lips pursed as though she was about to say something important. Everyone waited. “…Does it have to be our last meeting?” she said, slowly. “I mean, we’ve really been quite good at solving problems together. We don’t necessarily have to plot murder, but we don’t have to take it off the table, either…”
Eleanor smiled. “I for one would miss our meetings. So that’s settled then. The Tuesday Afternoon Murder club will continue to meet. All in favour?” The smiles and nods around the room were unanimous. Even Giles looked brightly at Eleanor as he panted and snorted and quietly passed wind.
“Well there you have it, folks,” Judy announced theatrically. “The Tuesday Afternoon Murder Club lives on.”