The Wurst Is Yet to Come

BOOK: The Wurst Is Yet to Come
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Dedication

To my granddaughters, Maisy and Clara, who give me hope that the future is in good hands. You are much loved.

 

Author's Note

The story takes place in October 2005.

 

Chapter One

J
udith McMonigle Flynn heard the knock at Hillside Manor's back door, wondered which friend or family member had forgotten the key, and hurried to see who was on the porch.

“Joe!” she cried, looking through the small window and turning the doorknob. “Why can't you . . .” The knob fell off in her hand. “Come to the front,” she said to her husband, whose round face looked miffed—and wet—from the October rain.

Joe Flynn narrowed his green eyes at Judith as he held up the other half of the doorknob. “Warzdadamtolbag?” he shouted.

“I can't hear you,” Judith replied, gesturing at the leaky downspout where rainwater dripped with a noisy
plop-plop-plop
into a steel bowl by the steps.

Joe tossed the doorknob aside and stomped off the porch. Sighing, Judith trudged back down the hallway, through the kitchen, the dining room, and the entry hall. She opened the front door just as Joe appeared on the walkway.

“What did you say?” she asked, irritated by her husband's scowl.

“I said,” Joe responded, dripping rainwater off of his navy-blue raincoat, “where's that damned Tolvang? Your handyman was supposed to be here today.”

“He couldn't come,” Judith replied. “His truck broke down.”

“No kidding,” Joe muttered, heading straight for the kitchen. “Did the crank fall off, so he couldn't start that old heap?”

Judith traipsed after him. “The crank is leaving mud on my clean floor. Bad day or did you stop off to see Mother first?”

Joe was in the back hallway, hanging up his raincoat. “Why would I want to see your ghastly mother? Wasn't it bad enough I had to go through about a million background checks for the police department all day? Why did I take on this job? It's not worth the money.”

“Because we
need
the money? Because you like your former partner, Woody Price? Because you're still a cop at heart?”

“Hmm.” A faint smile tugged at Joe's mouth. “All of the above?” He entered the kitchen and put his arms around Judith. Brushing her lips with a kiss, he sniffed. “You smell like a lemon.”

“I've been squeezing lemons for a meringue pie,” Judith said, leaning against Joe. “Renie gave me a whole bag of them.”

Joe tipped Judith's chin to make eye contact. “Why would your goofy cousin do that? No,” he said quickly, putting his finger on her parted lips. “I don't want to know. Let me guess. She's growing lemons in the basement instead of sweeping out the dirt she tracks in?”

Judith shook her head.

Joe frowned in concentration. “Somebody sent her a bag of lemons after trying her god-awful Shrimp Dump recipe in the parish cookbook?”

Judith shook her head again.

Joe sighed and released his wife. “I give up. And by the way, I hate lemon meringue pie.”

“So does Bill,” Judith said, referring to Renie's husband. “I'm making it for Arlene and Carl Rankers when they arrive tomorrow to take over the B&B while I'm in Little Bavaria.”

“Damn, I forgot you were leaving so soon,” he said, moving to the family liquor cupboard. “I keep thinking this is Tuesday.”

“You could've gone with me,” she said accusingly.

Joe shook his head. “Not with this unique assignment. I've got until Monday to wind it up. I feel as if I've still got another three, four million records to go through. No wonder I thought it was only Tuesday. Drink?” he asked, holding a fifth of Scotch.

“Yes, please,” Judith said. “Renie thought they were onions.”

Joe paused, bottle in hand. “What did she think were onions?”

“Lemons,” Judith said, checking the oven to see if the pie was done. “Renie was in a rush at Falstaff's and grabbed a bag of lemons she thought were onions, but didn't notice until she got home. She wondered why her bill was fifteen bucks more than she expected. Lemons cost a lot more than onions, so she gave some to me.”

“Why didn't she return them?” Joe asked, pouring their drinks.

“Because . . .” Judith frowned. “Renie doesn't like making exchanges. She gets all mixed up with numbers.”

“She gets all mixed up with lemons and onions,” Joe said, handing Judith her Scotch-rocks.

“She has a deadline today for designing a corporate Web site,” Judith explained, opening the oven and removing the pie. “I baked individual meringues for the guests' social hour.” Glancing at the old schoolhouse clock, she saw it was ten to six. “I'd better set everything out on the buffet. We're full tonight, thank heavens. The economic downturn is hurting the hospitality industry. Ingrid Heffelman was chewing off my ear today, saying how everybody at the state B&B association is complaining about vacancies.” She shot Joe a sharp glance. “As usual, she told me to give you her best.”

“Wish I knew what it was,” Joe said breezily. “Maybe I'll find out while you're gone.”

Judith glared at Joe. “Don't even think about it. Have you ever seen Ingrid Heffelman up close? Renie calls her Inbred Heffalump.”

“Renie's got a bad mouth,” Joe said in his usual mellow tone. “I've seen Ingrid a couple of times. I'd describe her as . . .” He took a sip of Scotch and gazed up at the high kitchen ceiling. “Rubenesque.”

“You mean she looks like the painter? Maybe it's her beard.”

“Hey, when have I ever given you cause to be jealous?”

“How about the twenty years you were married to Herself instead of to your fiancée, who happened to be me?”

“Good God,” Joe muttered, “that was another twenty years ago. Now
we've
been married that long.”

Judith removed a tray of crab and mushroom hors d'oeuvres from the oven. “Are you crazy? It's only been sixteen. You can't count any better than Renie. And don't you dare say it
seems
longer.”

The gold flecks danced in Joe's green eyes. “It seems like only yesterday.”

“Right.” She transferred the hors d'oeuvres onto a serving platter. And berated herself for being waspish. Judith and Joe had managed to make unfortunate first marriages that had kept them apart for two decades. Fate had not been kind—until a homicide case at Hillside Manor brought them together again. “I'm sorry,” she said, platter in hand. “I just wish you were going with me to Little Bavaria instead of Renie. In fact, I wish I'd never taken on the task of helping out at the state's B&B booth during the Oktoberfest. I'll be working and Renie will be bitching. She gets bored easily. And neither of us likes beer.”

“Nothing wrong with good beer,” Joe remarked, swiping an hors d'oeuvre off the platter.

“Nothing right about this whole gig,” Judith said. “Ingrid made it her own little project to get the B&B booth. I got the impression that the organizers weren't all that crazy about the idea because they wanted to focus on tourism in their own part of the state. But Ingrid persevered, probably by being her usual obnoxious self.”

“Gosh,” Joe said in mock surprise, “you don't like her much.”

“That,” Judith responded, heading for the living room, “is true—and the feeling is mutual.”

Five minutes later, as she was setting out the meringues, the Wilsons and the Morgans from Omaha showed up for the social hour. They gushed appropriately and Judith chatted with them for a few minutes before the businessman from St. Paul arrived along with the newlyweds from Salem, Oregon. Judith returned to the kitchen just in time for yet another confrontation between Joe and her mother.

“See here, buster,” the old lady said, wagging a finger at her son-in-law, “just because you
claim
you had to work late doesn't mean my supper should be late. I had to ram the back door to get inside. It's busted. Where's my useless daughter?” Gertrude Grover leaned from her motorized wheelchair to see beyond Joe. “There you are. Well? Did you ruin whatever slop you're going to feed me?”

“Mother . . .” Judith began, dismayed that Gertrude hadn't bothered to put on any rain gear except for throwing a sweater over her head. You'll catch cold. Your hair's wet.”


You're
all wet. What's for supper?”

“Beef Stroganoff.” Judith noted that Joe had left the kitchen and Sweetums had entered it. The cat rubbed his wet fur against her leg.

Gertrude glowered. “Like my niece Serena makes?”

“Renie uses about a gallon of sour cream,” Judith said. “It's not good for your cholesterol.”

“You know my cholesterol's perfect,” the old lady declared.

Judith did know, and couldn't understand how her mother, who considered grease a food group and smoked like a chimney, could have such a low—and healthy—reading. “I use a different recipe, and that's—ow!” Judith jumped as Sweetums clawed her leg. “Damnit, you've trained that wretched beast to attack upon silent command!”

Gertrude looked smug. “Okay, we're even. Dish it up and bring it out.” She turned the wheelchair around and headed back to her converted toolshed apartment. With a last malevolent look at Judith, Sweetums followed, his big plume of a tail waving in triumph.

Judith rubbed at her leg, thankful that the cat hadn't torn her slacks or drawn blood. After Judith delivered her mother's dinner, Joe strolled in with the dregs of his drink and sat down.

“Your mother's off base,” he said after Judith had dished up their servings. “As usual. I like your version better than Renie's.”

Judith avoided looking at Joe's slight paunch. “It's much less fattening and the wine adds some zing. In fact,” she confessed, sitting down opposite her husband, “it's not beef Stroganoff. It's beef bourguignon. Mother doesn't trust food with French names.”

“I figured as much,” Joe said. “I know my way around a kitchen.”

Judith smiled. “Yes, you do. You're a good cook.”

Joe shrugged. “I'm not a chef like Dan was. When Dan worked at being a chef—or at anything else. Why him? I always wondered.”

“He was the only one who asked me. What else could I do when you left me knocked up with Mike?”

Joe lowered his eyes. “Don't remind me. I haven't gotten drunk since the night Vivian hauled me off to the JP in Vegas.”

Judith jumped as she heard someone come through the back door. “Arlene! Are you here to get prepped for your B&B stint?”

“No,” their neighbor replied. “I stopped to see your mother. She's excited about the fun Carl and I'll have with her while you're gone.” Arlene's pretty face beamed. “What a sweetie! You must exaggerate how she upsets you, Judith. I've never heard her utter a harsh word.”

“That,” Joe said, “is because she saves them up for us.”

Arlene shook her head. “Joe's such a card. May I borrow a can of cream of chicken soup? I don't want Carl to have to go up to the store. He's worn out from painting the kitchen and he still has to fix the upstairs plumbing and check out the roof. That windstorm last week loosened some of the shingles. Oh—he should come over and fix your back door. It's broken, you know.”

Judith was used to Arlene's contradictory reasoning. “Sure, you know where to find the soup. Pantry, third shelf. Joe can repair the door.” She shot him a meaningful look.

Arlene started back down the hall, but stopped. “By the way,” she said, “where will you be staying in Little Bavaria?”

“A B&B called Hanover Haus,” Judith replied. “I'll write it all down for you. Several of us who are manning the innkeeping booth will be staying there, too. I've never done anything like this before, but Ingrid Heffelman talked me into it.”
Cajoled, badgered, browbeat
were the words that rushed through her mind. And
compensation
for Ingrid not pulling her B&B license after so many dead bodies had shown up at or near Hillside Manor since Judith had been an innkeeper.

“You'll have a wonderful time meeting new people.” Arlene said. “I hope none of them are murderers.” She kept on going down the hall.

“I'll work through the weekend, either here or at city hall, to wind up this job for Woody. The last few months have been a big headache since he was appointed a precinct captain just as the mayor ordered a departmental investigation. I assume you haven't forgotten what happened last January?”

Judith sighed. “Hardly. Having you supposedly under arrest drove me to the brink. In fact, that episode almost got me killed.”

“I figured you'd recall our nerve-racking start to the new year.” Joe polished off the last of his dinner and stood up. “What time does the train leave tomorrow?”

“Nine-thirty,” Judith replied before taking a last bite of broccoli.

“I'll drop you off on my way to headquarters.”

Judith shook her head. “Bill volunteered.”

“Bill can un-volunteer,” Joe said. “The last time he took you and Renie to the train, she had him so confused that you almost missed the damned Empire Builder. I'll call him. He'll thank me.”

Judith didn't argue. Renie's weird rationale for changing clocks to and from daylight and standard time the previous October had been so confusing that Judith had tried to forget it ever happened.

“One thing, though,” Joe said, putting his plate and cutlery in the dishwasher. “Promise me you won't get into trouble.”

Judith smiled ingenuously. “Don't worry. I won't have time to do that. I'll be busy with the booth and making nice with potential guests.”

Joe frowned. “What's Renie going to do?”

“Who knows? I'll probably spend the rest of the time keeping her from antagonizing people that I'm making nice with.”

Joe didn't look convinced. “You didn't promise.”

“That's dumb,” Judith said. “I already told you what I'd be doing. Isn't that good enough? We'll be coming back Monday morning.”

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