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Authors: Elaine Orr

Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Real Estate Appraiser - New Jersey

Elaine Orr - Jolie Gentil 06 - Behind the Walls (20 page)

BOOK: Elaine Orr - Jolie Gentil 06 - Behind the Walls
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THE DOOR TO NEWHART’S Diner was almost slammed open. Betty Fowler looked as if she was in a foul mood. Aunt Madge was at the salad bar, but Betty saw Harry and me and came straight to our table.

She stopped and pointed a finger at me.
“Jolie Gentil. I just heard you were undermining me by referring Clive Dorner to Lester Argrow.”

“Nope.”
I said this calmly.

Harry started to say something but I gave him a quick wink, so he didn’t.

“You referred Clive to him.” Gone was the big smile and she sure wasn’t calling me sugar.

“I did.”

“How is that not stealing sales from me?” She asked this in as close to a snarl as I’ve seen anyone do.

“It would be if I had had even the faintest idea that you were working with Clive.
I didn’t know that until the day I saw you talk to him in Java Jolt.”

“That rat bastard!”

“Betty,” Harry said, quite coolly. “The man is dead.”

“Ahem.”
Aunt Madge had come up behind Betty.

“Oh, Madge.”
Betty calmed down about ninety percent. “Of course, I would not have used that term if
you
had been here.”

“And yet you use it in front of my husband and niece,” Aunt Madge said, as she slid into the booth next to Harry.
She only glanced at Betty, but it was a quelling look.

Betty stiffened and flushed.
“Good day.” She turned and left, high heels clicking on the old tile floor.

Harry looked at me.
“You told Lester that he and Betty were both working with Clive?”

“Nope.
I was hoping neither of them would figure it out. I wonder how Betty would take it if she found out that Clive initially asked me to show him around town?”

“I wonder how she found out?” Aunt Madge mused.

I shrugged. “Lester runs his mouth at Java Jolt and Burger King. I doubt Betty goes to Burger King, but I know she goes to Java Jolt. I don’t really see how she can be mad at me about it.”

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

 

AS IF IN ANSWER to my assumption, Betty called on my mobile phone promptly at eight o’clock Friday morning. “Jolie, I am really, really sorry about yesterday. The last six months have been so upsetting, and my income’s gone down so much…” her voice trailed off.

I actually wasn’t mad at her.
As a citizen of New Jersey or the world, I can refer anyone to any agent I want, but it would be really rude for someone connected with the real estate industry to deliberately try to steer business away from an agent who was already working with a client.

“I know how it is, Betty.
So many fewer sales since Sandy. Don’t worry about it.”

“Let me buy you coffee and a muffin at Java Jolt.”
Her tone was almost pleading.

I was half amused.
Betty no doubt regretted her public display of temper, but a lot of that regret would be because she had no idea who had seen her in Newhart’s last night. She wanted to be seen being nice to me so she wasn’t the fodder for as much gossip. So, while I didn’t really care to have coffee with her, I agreed to meet her. As one who has embarrassed herself on many occasions, I didn’t mind helping her save face.

Java Jolt was crowded when I walked in.
Betty was at a table near the back of the small shop with a chocolate chip muffin and an extra mug of coffee in front of the vacant chair next to her.

“I asked Joe what you like,” she said, still with her penitent air.

“Thanks Betty. Honest, I’m not mad. If I’d been you I’d have been furious with me if I’d tried to steer Clive away from you.”

She relaxed a bit.
“I worked so hard with that SOB.”

I laughed.
“If you talked directly to Lester he probably told you he had, too.”

She rolled her eyes.
“He doesn’t know I worked with Clive. Lester was boring Joe with his woes about working with a client who was going to buy several properties and passed away. Of course Lester said kicked the bucket.”

“Of course.”

“All of a sudden it hit me that Lester was talking about Clive. I didn’t say anything. I was so mad I was afraid I’d throw coffee on someone. I went back later and Joe said he thought you referred Clive to Lester.”

I frowned.
“Joe…should maybe talk to me before he throws my name around.” Since we were in Java Jolt, I said this quietly.

“He was quick to say he doubted you knew I’d worked with Clive.
I just didn’t believe him.”

“Ah.”
I wasn’t sure what to say. “This will be a chance for us to get to know each other. I don’t think we’ve appraised one of your sales, have we?”

She shook her head.
“My firm is solidly in Stenner Appraisals’ corner, I’m afraid.”

“It’s a good firm.
Jennifer and I are friends.” I smiled. “We are a bit less expensive, though.”

Her eyebrows shot up.
“I’ll remember that.” She paused. “So, did you know Clive well?”

I shook my head.
“He tried to get to know me. He called one day and then stopped by at the office another. He wanted to give me pointers about fixing up the bungalow I bought.”

We chatted about my house and what I’d done to get it ready to move into.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw someone with red hair and it reminded me of Fiona. “Did Clive actually buy anything with you?”

Her eyes looked shrewd, but just for a moment.
“He was close, but we were still negotiating some offers.”

“I just wondered.
A friend of mine said he had approached her to invest with him.”

“What?”
Betty’s question was harsh, and I stared at her.

She flushed.
“I’m sorry. He never let me know he had co-investors. That could have helped or hindered financing.”

“That’s true.
He was a wheeler dealer. Who knows if any of his contracts would have even made it through financing?” I was kind of asking her this, and watched her expression.

“He led me to believe his finances were strong.” I picked my purse off the floor as Betty asked, “Did you know that Clive Dorner was Norman Fitzgerald’s nephew?
Awfully sad for one family to lose two people in such a short time.”

I nodded.
“I went to Mr. Fitzgerald’s funeral. You know where he died, right?”

She nodded.
“I didn’t want to bring that up.”

Yes you did. That’s why you asked if I knew they were related
. Everyone was curious about a murder.

 

I THOUGHT I’D PULLED one over on the Harvest for All Committee at our Saturday meeting. No doubt they expected me to participate in the scavenger hunt as a contestant rather than as a spot that had something game players needed to find. If Monica had not been the one keeping track of suggested locations and clues to find them, Dr. Welby would have learned what I wanted to do. He probably would have overruled me, since he was the chief party planner.

Scoobie certainly would have pestered me until I changed my mind.
He and George had planned to do the hunt in teams of Ramona and George and Scoobie and me. Until they found out that Bill had asked Ramona to work with him. Serves them right, making assumptions. I figured they’d either team up together or con Jennifer into working with them.

“It’s already in the list of scavenger sites,” I said, to an annoyed Dr. Welby and the others at our last meeting before the event.
“And we’re getting it ready to go to the printer.” This was not one hundred percent true. There were a lot of clues left to write.

“What is it, find something smelly and come away with a treat?” Lance asked.

“ You’ll find out.”

“Are you giving away Pebbles to the first person who knocks on your door?”
Scoobie asked.

“I wish.
Jazz sleeps with her.”

Sylvia looked at me.
“Pebbles and Jazz…?”

“My skunk and my cat.”

Sylvia looked to the heavens.

“Are you giving anything away?” Megan asked.

“I’m not telling.”
I planned to give any scavenger hunter who came to the house a photo of Pebbles and Jazz sitting in her cat bed, plus a package of black licorice. The back of the photo would be the clue for another item on the scavenger trail, and some information about Harvest for All.

“Do you think committee members should actually go on the hunt?” Aretha’s question more or less implied she didn’t think so.

“Just the birthday members,” Scoobie said, with an engaging smile that took in everyone at the meeting. “We won’t be part of the group that comes up with the scavenger hunt clues.”

Dr. Welby cleared his throat, which meant the rest of us stopped talking.
“Scoobie, I was counting on you to develop some of the clues.”

“Yes, I’m not sure our minds are devious enough,” Megan said.

Scoobie looked at Sylvia, and Dr. Welby interrupted. “What if each of the birthday people is the answer to one of the clues? You, Ramona, Bill, Daphne and Jennifer?”

Lance gave me a little head bow, “That’s basically what Jolie wants to do.”

“Yeah,” Scoobie did an exaggerated sigh. “We’ll do it Jolie’s way. But we can’t tell each other what our clue is. And the committee has to vote on which one of us had the best riddle to lead to us.”

Lance kind of groaned.
“You’re setting us up.”

“I’ll vote,” Sylvia said.
She gave Scoobie an and-it-won’t-be-you look.

“So, if the birthday kids only work on their own clues, who will finish getting all of the clues together?”
Lance asked.

Megan snapped her fingers.
“Alicia and her friends. But everyone has to feed them ideas.”

This met with immediate agreement, probably because it meant less work for everyone on the committee.”

 

“OKAY, JOLIE
AND SCOOBIE, you have to act like adults.” This from fifteen-year-old Alicia, who was sitting on the counter at the food pantry looking down on us as we sat on the floor, laughing.

It was just before one of our monthly Sunday-afternoon food distribution times.
I was writing a press release and Scoobie had drafted a public service announcement for radio stations and the paper.

 

Come to the Harvest for All birthday party and scavenger hunt at the Ocean Alley Tennis Club on Saturday. Individual and team play will improve your eye-hand coordination and critical thinking skills as you scavenge for clues and aim lightweight foam at one another.

Please bring a nonperishable food item or cash donation and wear very casual clothes.

A sense of humor and a change of clothes would also be good.

Games and refreshments at
1 p.m.

Scavenger hunt begins at
2:30

 

“Prizes,” Alicia said. “More people will come if you say you have prizes.”

“Good point.”
I wiped my eyes. “Jennifer’s going to have to tell us what some of them are.”

“You can put a lot of detail in your Craig’s List ad,” she offered.

The chime above the door dinged and Megan walked in. “Where is Jolie?” she asked. Alicia pointed to the floor on the other side of the counter and hopped down to begin unloading a bunch of canned food from a Girl Scout drive.

Megan leaned over the counter.
“Like it down there?”

“Jolie does,” Scoobie said.
“I’m just keeping her company.”

I started to stand and Scoobie said, “What if we said people should bring cans of food and leave their half-baked ideas at home?”

I had to sit back on the floor to laugh. After the tension of moving and adding a skunk to my household—to say nothing of finding a dead man on my porch and opening a door to find a fire—it felt good to be silly.

Megan had walked behind the counter and was putting on an apron as she nodded to Alicia.
“I thought you and your friends were coming up with some of the scavenger clues.”

“We are, but they’re coming after Jolie and Scoobie leave, or we won’t get anything done.”

As Alicia said this, Scoobie saluted her, and stood.
“I gotta get to the library to study. You’re on your own, Jolie.”

“Just in time for the pantry to open,” Megan said.

I scrambled to my feet. “Okay, but look at our list of scavenger sites.” I put my list on the counter and Megan and Alicia read it.

-
Burger King with Lester

-
Park behind Mr. Markle’s store, with Bill and Jennifer

-
George and Scoobie, at the paper

-
Library, with Ramona and Daphne

-
Harry’s house, with him

-
Final spot. Jolie’s house, with info on the food pantry

My spot in the lineup, as Dr. Welby had decreed, was to be last, to emphasize the food pantry.

“What’s so special about the park?” Alicia asked.

“That’s the one with a huge crab painted on the wall of the picnic shelter.
We thought that might be good for clues. Plus, it gives Mr. Markle’s store some attention. He’s always good to us.” Bless his sour face.

“Okay. We can think of stuff,” she said.
“Especially for Lester.”

“For that one, I think you’ll need three clues. Everybody will be starting out at once, and we want it to look as if they’re going to different places.
And we don’t want Lester writing clues.”

“Why?” she asked.

“We thought if they were all the same they’d all just follow one person.”

“I meant why not Lester?” Alicia asked.

I gave her a raised eyebrow look, and she laughed. “They would be funny.”

“Yes, but this is a family event.”

The bell chimed as our first customers for the afternoon arrived. We let people pick a small box, in which case they can come twice per month, or a large box, meaning they can only come once. I spent the next half hour scurrying among the shelves to get the items on each person’s grocery list. We can’t always get them everything that they need, but we try to come close.

At the end of the first hour Max came in and insisted he could help me.
It added a lot of time to my tasks, but people are very patient with him.

 

ON SUNDAY EVENING I had the TV on and a to-do list for the fundraiser on my lap. I was propped up on pillows on the couch and Jazz was supposedly sitting in my lap, but in reality she kept trying to attack my pencil every minute or so.

“I can’t play until I’m done with this list, and you’re making it take longer.”
She moved up to my collar bone and tried to take a swipe at my nose, claws in of course.

“Okay, you’re on the floor.”
I gave her a small push on the backside and she walked away very nonchalantly. I figured her little mind thought that if she acted as if getting down was her idea she could impress Pebbles, who was sitting outside the door to the bathroom, staring at us.

BOOK: Elaine Orr - Jolie Gentil 06 - Behind the Walls
11.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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