Read Gone With the Win: A Bed-And-Breakfast Mystery Online
Authors: Mary Daheim
Gone with the Win
A Bed-and-Breakfast Mystery
he story takes place in November 2005.
udith McMonigle Flynn pulled her aging Subaru into the driveway, smiled at the sight of her husband’s classic MG, and glanced up at the squirrel on the garage roof. “Ha ha,” she said out loud, “you can’t get me. No scampering around inside the walls, no taunting the resident cat, no digging up my flower beds will faze me. I’m a liberated B&B innkeeper, free of outside interferences. I’m focusing on my family and my livelihood. And no more sleuthing for me! The only dead body I’m interested in will be yours if you steal any more of my tulip bulbs. Take that, my furry little fiend!”
She got out of the car and started unloading her Falstaff Market grocery bags. The first day of November was off to a good start in every way. Not even the garden’s unfinished cleanup of fallen leaves, drooping dahlias, and faded chrysanthemums made her feel guilty. After saying good-bye to her Monday-night guests at Hillside Manor, she’d gone to St. Bruno’s noon All Saints’ Day Mass at the bottom of Heraldsgate Hill and then back up to the business district to restock the larder. Best of all, Judith had heard from her son, Mike, about his new posting with the U.S. Forest Service. Instead of being transferred to some far-flung outpost in Alaska or Florida, he and his wife and two sons would be at nearby Mount Tahoma, less than two hours away.
“Hold it!” Joe Flynn called from the back porch steps. “You shouldn’t do that!”
Judith smiled at her husband. “These bags aren’t heavy except for . . .” She stopped, realizing that Joe wasn’t talking to her, but to Gertrude Grover, who was racing her wheelchair after Sweetums the cat.
“Brakes!” Joe yelled at his mother-in-law. “Whoa . . . !”
Gertrude slammed into the birdbath and let out a yelp. Joe rushed across the yard. Judith set the three grocery bags on the edge of the driveway and hurried to see if her mother was seriously injured. Sweetums arched his yellow-and-white furry body before stalking off toward the Rankerses’ enormous hedge.
The old lady had landed facedown in the birdbath. Joe grabbed the back of her heavy cardigan and tugged. Gertrude lifted her head and turned this way and that, sputtering a bit. “I can’t see!” she cried. “I’m blind!”
Judith put a hand to her breast. “I’ll call 911,” she said to Joe in a strangled voice, and hurried to where she’d left her purse by the groceries. Her fingers seemed to have a will of their own as she watched Joe trying to get Gertrude into a comfortable position in the wheelchair.
“Now what?” the 911 operator said in a too-familiar voice. “You got another stiff?”
“No!” Judith shouted. “It’s my mother. She’s had an accident.”
“Okay,” the voice said in a jaded tone. “Hang on, the EMTs are nearby.” The fire station was only a few blocks from Hillside Manor. “Is Mrs. Grover still alive?”
“Uh . . .” Judith saw her mother take a swing at Joe. “Yes. But she can’t see. Maybe she has a concussion.”
“Any broken bones?”
Gertrude kicked Joe in the shins. “No,” Judith said, “unless it’s her ribs. She may’ve punctured a lung.”
Just as the first sirens sounded in the distance, Gertrude got her motorized wheelchair in gear, shook her fist at Joe, and began cussing. “Move it, noodlehead,” she shouted. “I’ll bet you tampered with my brakes, you no-good excuse for a son-in-law!”
“I never . . .” Joe yelled back, but stopped when he heard a crunching sound. “You just ran over your glasses, you crazy old bat!”
Judith winced. “Maybe,” she said into the phone, “you should tell the EMTs not to . . .” She paused, realizing they were already pulling into the cul-de-sac. “Never mind. I’ll ring off now. Thanks.”
Gertrude was sailing up the ramp into the converted toolshed that served as her apartment.
“Dammit,” Joe said under his breath, going past Judith to meet the emergency crew, “I’ll bet your ghastly mother did that on purpose!”
“I still want her checked out,” Judith called over her shoulder. “Don’t be so mean!”
Gertrude was already arranging herself at the card table. “Well?” she said to Judith. “Get my spare pair of glasses so I can see the jumble puzzle in the newspaper.”
“Wait,” Judith cautioned. “Here come the medics.”
“The . . .” Gertrude peered at the two men who were entering into the toolshed. “Hey, I didn’t invite you! If you expect refreshments, forget it!”
For once, Judith didn’t recognize the male and female EMTs. “Hi,” she said feebly, edging toward the door. “It’s kind of cramped in here. I’ll get out of your way. My mother crashed her wheelchair into the birdbath. She may have broken ribs or a concussion.”
“Concussion?” Gertrude rasped, gesturing at Judith. “That one must’ve had a concussion when she married Lunkhead.”
The medics chuckled obligingly. “Let’s check you out first, ma’am,” the fair-haired young man said. “We’ll start with your name, okay?”
“It’s Joan Crawford,” Gertrude replied. “But don’t call me Mommy Dearest. My dim-bulb daughter’s still trying to learn to spell before she can write the book.”
Judith escaped without enduring any more insults from Gertrude. To her dismay, Cousin Renie was rushing up to Joe. “Now what?” she yelled. “If you’ve got another corpse, I won’t give you any geoducks!”
“Calm down,” Joe said in his mellow voice. “The old bat crashed her wheelchair. The good news is that she doesn’t seem to be hurt. The bad news is that she doesn’t seem—”
“Skip it,” Renie snapped. “You want the geoducks or what?”
“No, we don’t want them,” Joe declared. “They’re the only clam that’s like eating an inner tube. Where did you get geoducks?”
“Auntie Vance and Uncle Vince brought them down from the island,” Renie replied. “You think Bill and I will eat them? They’re gruesome. How about the EMTs?”
Judith shook her head. “If they do, we’ll have to call more EMTs.”
Renie scowled. “Who do I hate this week?”
“How about some of your graphic design clients?” Joe suggested.
Renie wrinkled her pug nose. “I don’t hate them. They pay the bills. Besides, they’re too dumb to know a geoduck from Daffy Duck. Damn!” She glanced at her watch. “It’s garbage pickup day. If I hurry, maybe I can dump the vile stuff in the can. Give Aunt Gert my love. See you.” She practically ran down the driveway.
Joe leaned to one side to peer after Renie. “No cops? No firefighters? How come your mother doesn’t rate the rest of the emergency crew? Could it be that they’re tired of coming here?”
Judith glared at her husband. “Could it be now that you’ve finished your independent investigation of the city’s police department, somebody put a skull and crossbones by our address?”
“Hardly,” Joe said. “Woody Price wouldn’t let that happen. My old pal’s our precinct captain now, in case you’ve forgotten.”
“I have not. In fact, I was thinking about asking them to dinner this weekend. We haven’t seen Woody and Sondra socially for months. Maybe I should tell Renie to save those geoducks and we’ll invite the mayor separately. Has he seen your report yet? If he criticizes you for the lapses you uncovered in the ranks, I’ll make him eat geoduck fritters for his dinner. The smell alone would knock him out.”
“Good idea,” Joe murmured. “About Woody and Sondra, that is.”
“I’ll call Sondra this afternoon,” Judith said, casting a worried glance at the toolshed. “What’s taking the EMTs so long? Do you suppose Mother did break something?”
“Like what? The medics’ spirits?” Joe picked up the groceries. “You work it out. I’m putting this stuff away before the ice cream melts.” He started picking up the bags while Judith trudged back to the toolshed.
“Okay,” Gertrude was saying to the EMTs as she sorted out a hand of cards. “You’re in, Emily. Your bid, Jake. I usually start at two-fifty in three-handed pinochle. Have we got three quarters in the pot?”
Shaking her head, Judith retreated into the backyard.
ust before two-thirty, the EMTs apparently had another call. They had already reported to Joe that Mrs. Grover was in excellent shape for her age and that she was now four dollars and fifty cents richer after waxing them at pinochle. Judith listened to her husband’s news with gritted teeth. “Did they also find her charming company?” she inquired.
“Yes,” Joe replied with a stony face. “Do you think she actually has a split personality?”
“No,” Judith said sadly. “But she’s canny. She knows how to behave when she has to and she knows how to drive us nuts. The Rankerses like spending time with her.” She gave a start. “Where
the Rankerses? They didn’t show up when the EMTs arrived.”
Joe glanced out through the window above the kitchen sink. “They’re home now. Oh, Carl told me this morning they were going to a parish school event for one of their grandkids.”
“Just as well they missed Mother’s crash,” Judith said, taking frozen puff pastry sheets from the fridge. “Hey—I didn’t call Sondra yet. Would you call Woody instead? He’ll know more about his work schedule than she will. I’m a veteran cop wife. We’re always the last to know.”
“Sure. I’ll go up to my office to do that,” Joe said, heading down the hallway to the back stairs.
Judith checked her guest register. Four of the six rooms were full—not too bad for the first week in November. The Sutcliffes from Houston, the Epsteins from Los Angeles, the Porcinis from Basking Ridge, New Jersey—Judith hoped she didn’t call them the Porcines—and a Mary Smith from New York City. Renie had teased her about taking a reservation from anyone named Mary Smith, especially one living in a heavily populated area. Judith had laughed. Surely there really were dozens of Mary Smiths in the New York area.
Arlene Rankers showed up via the back door shortly after four. “New neighbors,” she announced. “Our Cathy finally sold the house on the corner. The family moving in is originally from India. Or Indiana. Or maybe Indianapolis. Or maybe all three.”
“That’s . . . good,” Judith said, opening a container of shrimp for the pastry puffs she was making for her guests’ social hour. “Children?”
“Only the younger ones,” Arlene replied, admiring the plump pink shrimp. “The parents are adults.”
Judith never knew when her neighbor was joking. “How soon are they moving in?”
“Immediately,” Arlene replied, still ogling the shrimp. “They wanted to be settled by today, but the closing was held up over the weekend. Their last name is Bhatt. With an
. Carl and I are going to take them a welcome basket. I wonder if the other neighbors would like to join us.”
“Count me in,” Judith said. “I bet the Steins, the Porters, the Ericsons, and the Dooleys will contribute, too. I don’t know about Herself’s current occupants. They’re standoffish,” she added, referring to the house owned by Joe’s first wife. Vivian rented the property while spending most of her time basking and boozing in the Florida sun.
standoffish,” Arlene agreed. “I’ve hardly talked to them. Frosch is their last name. He’s Herbert and she’s Elma. One son—Brick—who lives in Idaho. Herbert works for the Boring Aerospace Company. Elma is a cook at one of the public schools over by Teal Lake. They’re car-racing fans and she shops at Target and GutBusters. I don’t think they always pay their bills on time. Elma had gallbladder surgery last month. They’re a complete mystery to me.”
As ever, Judith was astonished by how much her neighbor knew about people she didn’t know. ABS—better known as Arlene’s Broadcasting System—was ever efficient. “Have you been looking at their mail?” she asked with a sly glance.
Arlene gasped. “What a naughty idea! But you know how Newton gets things confused in the cul-de-sac since he took over our route.”
That much was true, as Judith had learned from frustrating experience. “Come to think of it, I did get the Steins’
magazine last week. Joe read three articles before he took it over to their house. Oh—and the Porters’ light bill.”
“Newton has poor eyesight,” Arlene remarked. “I must go home and fix those geoducks Serena left. Very generous of your cousin. I wish Carl didn’t loathe them so much.” She started for the back door, but stopped. “How much was it?”
“What?” Judith asked.
Arlene frowned. “The Porters’ light bill, of course.”
“I don’t know. I didn’t open it.”
“Didn’t you want to compare? I always do.”
Judith shrugged. “I know ours is high. The guests, of course.”
“Of course.” Arlene left.
Twenty minutes later the first guests arrived. Alan and Deirdre Sutcliffe might be from Houston, but they weren’t wearing cowboy hats and boots. In fact, they were bundled up like Eskimos.
“When will the snow start?” Alan asked, struggling with the hood on his fur-lined parka.
“I’ve no idea,” Judith replied. “Some years we don’t get snow.”
Deirdre’s green eyes widened in shock. “But how do you have the dogsled races?”
“We don’t have dogsleds,” Judith said. “Maybe you’re thinking of Alaska. Are you heading that way from here?”
The Sutcliffes exchanged glances. “We could,” Alan said. “Would we get back in time for dinner tomorrow if we left early in the morning? We’ve got a reservation someplace downtown.”
“Ah . . . no.” Judith kept a straight face. The newcomers weren’t her first geography-challenged guests. Recently at least two couples had insisted they could visit the White House between breakfast and lunch. A pair of retired schoolteachers had wondered why they hadn’t gone through customs since they were now in Canada. “Even Ketchikan in southeastern Alaska is almost seven hundred air miles from here,” Judith said.
“Oh my!” Deirdre exclaimed. “Are you sure? It looks so close on our globe in the study.”
Judith refrained from suggesting they buy a bigger globe. Calling upon her well-honed tact, she further enlightened the visitors with the usual brochures, maps, and other local information including the five-day weather forecast. By the time the Sutcliffes headed for Room Three, they had gotten over being upset because they’d forgotten their earmuffs.
The Epsteins had no illusions, being from the West Coast and having once lived in the city during their college days. The Porcinis didn’t arrive until almost six, due to an unexpected layover in Minneapolis. Judith was setting out the hors d’oeuvres on the living room buffet when she realized that Mary Smith hadn’t yet arrived. Apparently she hadn’t flown out of Newark as the Porcinis had done, but had left New York via JFK. Late arrivals were not unusual, especially via plane—or train for that matter.