Read Judith Alguire - Rudley 04 - Peril at the Pleasant Online
Authors: Judith Alguire
Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Country Hotel - Ontario
|Judith Alguire - Rudley 04 - Peril at the Pleasant|
|Rudley Mysteries |
|Signature Editions (2013)|
|Tags:||Mystery: Cozy - Country Hotel - Ontario|
Peril at the Pleasant
Doug Whiteway, Editor
© 2013, Judith Alguire
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, for any reason, by any means, without the permission of the publisher.
Cover design by Doowah Design.
Photo of Judith Alguire by Taylor Studios, Kingston.
This book was printed on Ancient Forest Friendly paper.
Printed and bound in Canada by Hignell Printing Inc.
We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Manitoba Arts Council for our publishing program.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Alguire, Judith, author
Peril at the Pleasant / Judith Alguire.
(A Rudley mystery)
Issued in print and electronic formats.
ISBN 978-1-927426-26-5 (pbk.). — ISBN 978-1-927426-27-2 (epub)
I. Title. II. Series: Alguire, Judith. Rudley mystery.
PS8551.L477P47 2013 C813’.54 C2013-905424-3
P.O. Box 206, RPO Corydon, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3M 3S7
To my great-niece Molly
and in memory of
Wendy Piper (Trew)
KGH School of Nursing ’71
Six weeks before Christmas, Donnie Albright, administrative assistant and general gofer, lost his job when the small company he worked for in Fredericton succumbed to the recession and managerial ineptitude.
Margaret and Trevor Rudley, co-proprietors of the Pleasant Inn had a conversation that, to the latter, seemed inconsequential at the time.
Margaret came to the front desk with a bundle of mail. She proceeded to open the letters. She paused over one and smiled. “Rudley, look.”
Trevor Rudley, who had been rummaging under the desk for his pen, stood up and smacked his head against the edge. “Damn.”
“This card is from Mr. Morgan,” Margaret said. “He writes a lovely note saying he has never enjoyed himself as much as he did during his stay. He especially mentioned Music Hall. He says he was delighted at the opportunity to play the piano in public. It’s been a dream of his since he began lessons with Mrs. Scott in the first grade.”
“Somehow, a card, however lovely, seems inadequate compensation for the torture he put us through.”
She waved him off. “The quality of the performance doesn’t matter. The idea of Music Hall is for people to enjoy themselves.”
“Margaret, the man played for twenty minutes.”
“We often have extended performances at Music Hall.”
“But not by someone who knows just one song. Now, Margaret, I revere ‘God Save the Queen’ as much as any man, but twenty minutes is a bit much.”
She tilted her head. “I found it rather stirring.”
“If you say so.”
“Mr. Morgan also comments on the beauty of the floral arrangements. I agree. Mrs. Blount did a wonderful job with the holiday flowers.”
He crossed his eyes. “Yes, Margaret. After I laid down the law. ‘Christmas, Mrs. Blount, red, white, and green with only the occasional subdued bit of gold, brass, or silver. No fuchsia, no teal, no chartreuse or anything else that looks as if it came out of a Hawaiian cathouse!’”
Margaret pretended not to hear him. “Frances is a wonderful businesswoman.”
“Margaret, the old bat couldn’t make a living in a brothel if she were the last woman on earth.”
“Frances is creative. She believes in pushing the envelope — for those whose tastes have not fossilized.”
“The only thing that’s fossilized is that woman’s grey matter. Teal and fuchsia,” he fumed. “It’s as if she went on an
trip in the sixties and never recovered. I suspect she’s still on something. Probably narcotics prescribed by her doctor for no other reason than to get her out of his office.”
“And here’s a postcard from the Sawchucks,” Margaret went on, ignoring what he had said. “They’re having a splendid time in Florida.” She passed the card to Rudley.
“And a note from Miss Miller. She’s planning a wilderness adventure.”
“Better her than me.”
“Yes, dear.” She gave him a peck on the cheek and took off into the dining room.
As the weeks wore on, Donnie Albright realized something had to give. His unemployment insurance would soon expire. He had exhausted his savings. He had no prospects. His job search had yielded only two interviews and no return calls. Time was running out. He knew he would soon have to consider taking a McJob, but the idea of flipping burgers paralyzed him. Worse was the reality he would have to give up his pricey apartment.
He opened a new file on his computer and began to type in the address of yet another company that wouldn’t want him. He stopped.
… The letters he’d typed disappeared into the screen saver.
He had grown up as the only kid of a single mother. They were always moving from one lousy place to another. He spent time in foster care. The foster houses were nice, but he didn’t belong in them. He turned his chair to look out the window. His apartment was on the second floor above a boutique pharmacy on a pleasant street that ran parallel to the main commercial avenue. The apartment consumed an exorbitant portion of his salary, but it was the only place he had ever lived that felt like home. His mother would say he was trying to live above his station.
He swallowed hard. He liked to think he had risen above his station. There’d been times he could have fallen in with the wrong crowd. Those summers at the fresh-air camps helped. He looked forward to them every year like an addict to his next fix. Then he got older and they wouldn’t let him come back. He spent a couple of summers at a wilderness camp for teens, then the wrestling coach at the high school took him under his wing. He wasn’t big enough for football or tall enough for basketball, but he was quick and strong and turned out to be a good wrestler. He worked hard to get into a business program at the community college, convinced the diploma would lead to what he craved — a decent life and security. And now, looking out the window, he knew that was threatened.
He watched as a young couple emerged from Pritchard’s Jewellery. The woman held out her ring finger. The man laughed and put an arm around her.
During these weeks of typing job applications — punctuated by lengthening periods of staring out the window — Donnie had ample opportunity to view the passing show. He observed many things. Mr. Pritchard opened his store at nine a.m., five days a week, and closed at five every afternoon. He did not do business on Sundays. On Wednesdays he closed at noon and did not reopen until nine the next morning. Donnie didn’t understand why Mr. Pritchard kept the Wednesday routine. He was too young to remember the convention of the medical half-holiday. Doctors traditionally had taken the half-day to go golfing. Mr. Pritchard had, for many years, golfed with Sam and Bert, a pair of
s, and Mike, an orthopedic surgeon. Those days were long past. Doctors no longer took the half-holiday on Wednesdays. Bert and Mike had passed on. Sam had moved to Victoria to be near his children. On those half-days, Mr. Pritchard would hand the shop over to his apprentice, Tommy Wells, and after Tommy moved to Toronto, to his wife, Effie. After Effie died and everyone else either died or moved away, Mr. Pritchard no longer went golfing, but he continued his habit of closing early on Wednesdays. He would put up his closed sign at noon and pull down the shade. Fifteen minutes later, he would reappear, walking through the breezeway that separated his shop from Around The World With Tea. He would turn left and not be seen until nine the next morning.
Donnie thought — idly at first — how simple it would be to rob Mr. Pritchard. The shop, like several others on the block, had entrances off the rear parking lot in addition to those facing the street. How simple it would be to walk in and wait in the shadows by the back room until the last customer had left and Mr. Pritchard closed up. A gentle tap on the head, grab whatever he could get, and exit through the rear door.
He wasn’t sure how much money Mr. Pritchard would have on hand, but it would be more than he had now, which was almost nothing. He took a deep breath. It had been a long time since he hadn’t been a few dollars ahead. He remembered his mother opening a can of creamed corn and telling him that was supper for both of them. When he saw the can of creamed corn on the counter, he knew that meant the wolf was at the door — as his mother would say. That meant there wouldn’t be enough money to buy food until the end of the month, sometimes several days away. He was part of the breakfast program at school and that meant having other kids looking at him as if they felt sorry for him, which wasn’t nice, but better than the ones who made fun of him. It meant being dragged down to free dinners at whatever church was offering. By the time he was ten he thought he had seen the inside of every church in three towns. He dug his knuckles into his eyes to hold back tears. He had worked too hard to go back to that life.
Margaret Rudley bustled up to the desk with a letter in her hand. “Rudley, I’ve got a note from Miss Miller. She’s researched the wilderness canoe excursion and thinks it would be a splendid adventure for the Pleasant.”
“Wonderful, Margaret. Can you imagine lugging the Sawchucks through the woods? They have enough trouble getting around the grounds.”
“The Sawchucks wouldn’t need to go on the trip, Rudley.”
“What are we going to do with them? Leave them here to run the inn?”
Margaret smiled. “Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to offer a week-long adventure as part of the regular package. We’ll hire a professional guide. Those guests who choose not to accompany us will be looked after by the remaining staff.”
“What if the staff wants to come?”
“Why do I get the feeling that this venture has already been discussed behind closed doors and is a virtual
Margaret reached into her pocket and took out a handful of brochures. “It’s going to be wonderful, Rudley.” She opened one of them and pointed to a map of Northern Ontario. “Miss Miller selected this as the most feasible route.”
“And who do you propose to accompany you?”
“Miss Miller and Mr. Simpson, of course. Norman and Geraldine Phipps-Walker. And a few others, I expect. We’ve added the brochure as a supplement to our usual announcements for the summer season.”
“How did I miss all of this, Margaret?”
She patted his arm. “We didn’t want to worry you with the details, Rudley. We wanted to have a firm proposal to put before you.”
“What if I were to squelch the whole thing?”
“You wouldn’t. Not with everyone so keen.”
He considered this, then brightened. “I agree, Margaret, it’s a splendid idea. I think you should go ahead and enjoy yourselves.”
“Let’s be sensible, Margaret. There’s no reason I need to come. I’d just be in the way, a wet blanket.”
“I know you would, Rudley, but do it for me.”
“I’d do many things for you, Margaret. I can’t say this is one of them.”
“Rudley, you’ll love it. I want you to at least think about it.” She pushed the brochure in front of him. “If anyone’s looking for me, I’ll be at the High Birches.”
Rudley planted his elbows on the desk, letting his hands form a ledge for his chin. The High Birches, Margaret’s sanctum sanctorum. She was clearly annoyed with him. She hadn’t deserted him for the High Birches — the cabin so named because it perched on the rise near the woods — for over a year. She’d stayed away two days that time and all he’d done was telephone Mrs. Blount and question her aesthetic sense. He thought he’d been remarkably restrained when he’d viewed the floral arrangements for that year’s Valentine’s Day Ball. She was lucky he hadn’t gone down to the flower shop, leapt across the counter, seized Mrs. Blount by the throat, and roared out what he thought sounded so much more restrained on the telephone: “Who in their right mind could imagine that dusty rose and cream would be an appropriate combination for Valentine’s Day? Red, Mrs. Blount. White, Mrs. Blount. Those colours only, Mrs. Blount. The red is symbolic of the human heart. If your heart were dusty rose, Mrs. Blount, you’d be completely dead instead of just from the neck up.” He put his hands over his ears and let his forehead sink down onto the desk. Margaret had been furious for his outburst. So angry he hadn’t dared yell at Mrs. Blount since. He knew such restraint wasn’t good for his blood pressure. He paused, brought his head up, and stared at the wall.
He was standing there when Tiffany Armstrong, the housekeeper, came out of the drawing room. She stopped in front of the desk. “Mr. Rudley?”
He looked at her, morose. “Do you need to do something here? Dust the desk, for example?”
Tiffany shook her head. “I’ll do that later. I just wanted to let you know I’d be at the High Birches.”
He regarded her with hound-dog eyes. “You too?”
Her eyes widened with bewilderment.
“What did I do to offend you?” Rudley continued.
“Nothing in particular. I promised Mrs. Rudley I’d help her take some measurements.”
Rudley’s forehead crimped in perplexity.
“Mrs. Rudley is making new curtains for the High Birches.”
Rudley sighed with relief. “I thought it had to do with this wilderness thing.”
Tiffany clapped her hands. “Oh, won’t that be exciting? I’m sure you’ll love it.”
“So, you plan to go?”
“If you’re so sure I’ll love it, why aren’t you going?”
“I know you’ll love it, Mr. Rudley. I wouldn’t care for that sort of thing at all.”
He looked after her, dumbfounded, as she headed down the back stairs, then slumped over the desk.
Tim passed the dining-room door with a stack of napkins. Gregoire followed, gesticulating wildly. Rudley clapped his hands over his ears.
Tim McAuley, the young Paul Newman, and Gregoire Rochon, the incomparable chef, had been working together for several years. They were a bit of a Laurel and Hardy act. Rudley doubted if a day passed without the two of them having an argument. Tim was always cool; Gregoire was always frazzled. Tim worked hard and had a talent for pleasing the most difficult guests. He was handsome and fit. Rudley was sure Tim could have had a significant career on stage. He had done a terrific Macbeth at the inn’s summer theatre, Margaret having successfully made the leap to Shakespeare.
Rudley paused in thought. He hoped she would take a leap out of it soon. As much as he appreciated the Bard, he had had quite enough of him in high school. “Give me Broadway any day,” he said aloud. He loved the choreography. “How much dance do you see in a Shakespearean play?” he asked Albert, who had rolled over on the rug in the middle of the lobby and was regarding him fondly.
The commotion in the dining room faded as Tim and Gregoire retreated to the kitchen. He cocked an ear but caught only the occasional word, none of them particularly illuminating. “Albert,” he said, “I think it’s time for a cup of coffee.”
As he approached the kitchen door, the conversation came to a halt. He opened the door. Tim was sitting on a stool, picking at crumbs from a cookie sheet. Gregoire was leaning over the stove, peering into a saucepan.
“What was all that commotion about?”