Read This Old Souse Online

Authors: Mary Daheim

This Old Souse

BOOK: This Old Souse
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This OLD Souse




JUDITH MCMONIGLE FLYNN hurried to answer the front door, took…


ON THEIR RETURN trip to Moonfleet, Renie found a parking…


JUDITH DIDN'T SLEEP well that night, tossing and turning, fretting…


JUDITH KNEW SHE shouldn't tamper with evidence, but she slammed…


GREAT!” JUDITH CRIED, slamming the door behind the departing detectives.


AS SOON AS Glenn and Trash had left, Judith called…


JUDITH WAS SPEECHLESS. “I d-d-don't understand,” she stammered at last.


DOES TERESA KNOW more than she told us?” Renie asked…


JUDITH REMEMBERED TO fix Gertrude's lunch before leaving. Although Phyliss…


JUDITH WAS DIALING a number on her cell phone. Renie…


JUDITH WAS FLUMMOXED. There was no Caller ID feature on…


WHEN JUDITH FINALLY had time to look at the morning…


IT DID NO good to try to explain it was…


JUDITH HAD TO choke back tears when Mike and the…


YOU'RE KIDDING!” RENIE exclaimed when she and Judith rendezvoused outside…


FRAU STEINER HAS to be Sally,” Judith declared, “Jane's sister.


JUDITH COULDN'T HIDE her astonishment. “For sale? What about your…


OKAY,” RENIE SAID with only a hint of skepticism, “tell…


BOTH COUSINS IMMEDIATELY switched off their flashlights. Despite Renie's caution…


AFTER A HALF century of inertia, the house on Moonfleet…

hurried to answer the front door, took one look at the hideous drooling green creature on the porch, and screamed. Panicking, she slammed the door and leaned against it. The thing was six feet tall, with gaping holes for eyes, viscous green scales, and sharp yellow fangs. Judith was so shaken that she couldn't move to call 911.

“Hey!” shouted a voice from outside. “Open up! It's me! Renie!”

Judith held a hand to her racing heart. Renie, along with other family members and friends, always used the back door. The front was reserved for guests at Hillside Manor. “Coz?” Judith croaked, and slowly turned to open the door just a crack. There, next to the gruesome green creature, stood Serena Jones, more familiarly known to her family as Renie.

“Did SuperGerm scare you?” Renie asked, brown eyes wide.

“Good grief.” Judith wilted against the door-
frame. “I thought I was going to have a heart attack. What is that awful thing?”

“I guess I shouldn't have stood behind it,” Renie said, looking apologetic. “I would've gone to the back door, but this guy is kind of awkward to carry around.” She gave the creature a pat on one of its long, scaly arms. “It's just a cutout. I created it for the county board of health's antigerm campaign. Garth Doyle made this model in his studio. The county will put posters of SuperGerm in all public restrooms to remind people to wash up.”

“I'm about washed-up after that,” Judith said, regaining some of her aplomb. “How about getting that thing off the front porch? It's not good advertising for a B & B.”

“Hmm.” Renie examined the cutout from stem to stern. “Probably not. But don't you think it's good advertising for hygiene?”

“Yes, fine, super,” Judith retorted. “Now put it back in your car before you come inside.”

Renie, who was on the small side, struggled a bit as she carted SuperGerm off to her car, which was parked in Hillside Manor's driveway. Waiting on the porch, Judith surveyed the cul-de-sac. Just three days away from the start of summer, the spring shrubs, trees, and bulbs had faded away. The grass was green, the leaves were glossy, and some of the roses were in full bloom. But the sky was overcast, the temperature lingered in the midfifties, and there was a 40 percent chance of rain. It was, Judith knew, a typical June day in the Pacific Northwest.

“All gone,” Renie announced, bounding up the
steps. “I could use some strong drink. You got any Pepsi?”

Judith nodded. “I just got back from Falstaff's Grocery. I have a full house tonight, so I had to fill the larder. Now that school's out, the B & B reservations are pouring in. I'm pretty well booked up through early August.”

“That's great,” Renie said, sitting down at the kitchen table. “I'm not so busy. Summer's always a slow time in the graphic design business. Everybody goes on vacation. Good for you, bad for me.”

Judith took a can of Pepsi and a diet 7UP out of the refrigerator. Even after more than a year, she was still delighted with the renovations—particularly in the kitchen—that had been made following a disastrous fire almost two years earlier.

“Say,” Renie said as Judith joined her at the table, “have you got time to take a little ride with me?”

Judith frowned at her cousin. “And with SuperGerm?”

“Well…” Renie took a deep drink before finishing her reply. “Yes, actually. I have to drop him off at Garth's. He needs some fine-tuning. SuperGerm, I mean, not Garth.”

Judith looked skeptical. “And why would I want to help chauffeur SuperGerm to Garth's studio?”

Renie reached into the sheep-shaped jar on the table and filched three oatmeal raisin cookies. “Booyoommerthathouthnmoofle?” she inquired with her mouth full.

Judith was accustomed to her cousin's voracious appetite; she had also grown adept at translating Renie's food-marred speech. “The house on Moonfleet Street? Sort of. Why?”


“Oh.” Judith nodded. “You've always been obsessed with that place, ever since you were a kid. What about it?”

Renie finally swallowed. “Garth lives in my old neighborhood, about four blocks from that house. As you may recall, it's Spanish-style architecture, very unusual for this part of the world.”

“I recall.” Judith turned as her cleaning woman, Phyliss Rackley, stomped into the kitchen carrying two black plastic bags. Upon seeing Renie, she stopped and glared.

“You,” Phyliss breathed. “Don't start in on me with your Romish ways.”

“Bite me,” Renie snapped.

Phyliss kneaded the plastic bags with her skinny fingers. “False gods. Painted idols. Craven images.”

“Funny,” Renie remarked, about to pop another cookie into her mouth. “I thought they were

“You're a blasphemer,” Phyliss declared, pronouncing the word as if it were “blass-FEMUR.” She turned to Judith and shook the black bags. “I don't like giving these to the St. Vincent de Paul. What's wrong with the Salvation Army?”

“Nothing,” Judith replied, ignoring the longstanding religious animosity between Renie and Phyliss. “I'm the one who's giving that stuff away, and it'll go to whichever charity calls first. For now, I want those bags out on the back porch. They're cluttering up the second-floor hall.”

With one last dark look for Renie, Phyliss proceeded down the narrow hallway to the porch.

“The pope has spies everywhere,” Renie called after the cleaning woman. “Better check the recycling bin, Phyliss.”

Judith shook her head. “I never bait Phyliss the way you do,” she admonished Renie. “I don't rile her. She's too good at her job.”

“I didn't start it this time,” Renie responded.

“You didn't need to,” Judith said. “You've done it often enough in the past. Which,” she went on as Phyliss returned from the porch and headed down the basement stairs, “brings us back to the house on Moonfleet.”

“Yes.” Renie finished the third cookie before she resumed speaking. “All the years my folks and I lived in that neighborhood, I wondered about that place. When I was in junior high and high school, I'd walk by it sometimes. It's basically a beautiful house, in a beautiful setting, with the original evergreens surrounding it. But nothing about it ever changed. I never saw anybody inside or outside. Oh, once in a great while I'd see a tricycle in the yard or a fresh load of wood in the shed, but otherwise, it seemed deserted.”

Judith's memory stirred. She had grown up on Heraldsgate Hill, in the same house that she'd turned into Hillside Manor after the death of her first husband, Dan McMonigle. Renie and her parents had lived across the canal, in the neighborhood known as Langford. Judith recalled Renie talking about the house and even driving her past it a couple of times.

“So what's your point?” Judith asked her cousin.

“Working with Garth Doyle has taken me by the property several times in the last two months,” Renie
explained. “Going on fifty years later, it hasn't changed a bit. The trees are bigger, the house's exterior is shabbier, but otherwise it's the same. I asked Garth about it. He knows the place, of course, but hadn't given it much thought. Garth agreed he'd never noticed anybody outside, but it wasn't falling down, and it's never been for sale or for rent in the twenty-odd years he's lived in the neighborhood.”

Judith toyed with her soda can. “Stop. It's beginning to sink in. You smell a mystery. How come? It's not like you, coz.”

Renie grinned a bit sheepishly. “I know. It's more like you. Maybe I've got too much time on my hands. What with business slowing down for a couple of months and the kids finally married and living away, I suppose I could be bored. Bill's so self-sufficient. He seems almost as busy now as he was before he retired. He's like Joe—our husbands still keep occupied.”

Judith allowed that was so. Bill Jones retained a few patients from his psychology practice and occasionally consulted at the University where he'd taught for over thirty years. Joe Flynn had his own detective agency, taking on as many—or as few—clients as he wished. Neither man was the type to follow their wives around, pleading to be entertained.

“You're at loose ends,” Judith murmured.

“Not entirely,” Renie replied. “I do have one big project, but the deadline isn't until late August. I'm doing the artwork on a brochure for your old buddy Bart Bendarik. He wants line drawings of every style of architecture in the city. The Moonfleet house is perfect. None of the wear and tear would show in my il
lustration. But if I have to get permission, I'd like to scope out the place first.”

Judith sighed. Bendarik Builders had done the B & B renovations. Bart had extended deadline after deadline and seemed to prefer embracing problems rather than solving them. In some cases, Judith believed he'd actually invented difficulties, not merely to make more money, but for the sheer joy of passing the bad news on to the Flynns. He had also had the nerve to ask Judith if he could oversee her plans to build an inn and guesthouses on the former site of the family's summer cabins, but she'd turned him down. The river property could wait. She had, as Joe kept reminding her, enough on her plate as it was.

“Okay,” Judith said. “I'll ride over to Garth's with you. None of the guests are due until late this afternoon. I'll make Mother's lunch and then we'll go. It shouldn't take us long, right?”

Renie brightened. “Less than an hour.”

Judith stood up. “Just this once, though. You may not be busy, but I am. If I go with you today, at least I'll know what you're talking about when you jaw my ear off about your new obsession.”

Renie finished her Pepsi while Judith prepared Gertrude Grover's lunch: egg salad on white, with butter, mayo, and lettuce; a half-dozen fresh strawberries, liberally doused with sugar; a few potato chips—the plain, old-fashioned kind. Gertrude didn't like any ruffles, riffles, or additional flavors.

“What's that?” Gertrude demanded when her daughter arrived with the tray.

“Your lunch,” Judith replied, juggling the tray. There
wasn't a bare spot available. As usual, clutter was everywhere—decks of cards, magazines, newspapers, TV schedules, mail advertising that had been opened but never discarded, and a box of Granny Goodness chocolates. Judith was forced to place the tray on top of some typed papers her mother had apparently been reading.

“Stop!” Gertrude cried, holding up her gnarled hands. “Move that thing! It's on my movie script!”

“Oh!” Swiftly, Judith obeyed. “Can you move the script to make room?”

Gertrude placed her hands on the script, as if she expected Judith to whisk away the pages. “No! I'm making changes. They've got my life story all wrong. That writer fella in Hollywood keeps getting things mixed up. When did I ever fight in the Spanish Civil War?” Gertrude's wrinkled face was suddenly puzzled. “Or did I?”

“No, Mother,” Judith replied. “It was Uncle Corky who wanted to fight in Spain, but Grandpa and Grandma Grover wouldn't let him. That happened around the time you and my father got married.”

Gertrude brightened. “We eloped.” She tracked the script with an unsteady finger. “This says we met in a rebel camp on some river. E-B-R-O. Ebro. Never heard of it. Your father and I met at a pinochle party at Doc and June Workman's houseboat on the ship canal.”

“I warned you,” Judith said. “So did your agent and the screenwriter. If your life story as a member of the Greatest Generation was to be made into a movie, they'd change things, even basic facts.”

“I don't like it,” Gertrude declared, stabbing at a
sugar-covered strawberry. “They describe your father as having wavy hair. Even when we first met, he'd already waved most of his hair bye-bye.”

“Do you want to wave your money bye-bye?”

A year ago, Gertrude had received fifteen thousand dollars for the rights to her life story. She'd put every cent into her regular savings account and hadn't made a single withdrawal. “I'm saving it for a rainy day,” she'd declared when Judith had hinted that her mother might want to spend some of the money to help pay for improvements to her apartment in what had once been the toolshed. Judith and Joe had benefited from their homeowners' insurance as well as from a generous sum given them by the film company that had been involved in the fire. But the Flynns had gone well over the original estimates. Still, Gertrude wouldn't budge. “If you hadn't married Lunkhead in the first place,” the old lady had asserted, “I wouldn't have to live in the toolshed.” It had done Judith no good to argue that if Gertrude hadn't been so stubborn about not living under the same roof as Joe Flynn, the old lady would still be occupying the third-floor family quarters. So she remained in her apartment, which—as Joe perversely put it—at his mother-in-law's advanced age, they might as well call the “drool shed.” It was no wonder that the two couldn't coexist in the same house.

“I don't like it,” Gertrude repeated. “I'm going to have my say.”

“Go for it.” Judith smiled. Gertrude always “had to have her say,” no matter what the consequences.

As Judith went out the door, Sweetums came in. The
big orange-and-white cat sneered, sneezed, and made a beeline for the divan. To avoid hearing the cat's scratching and clawing at the floral fabric, Judith quickly closed the door behind her. She was halfway to the back porch when Phyliss, on the run and screaming, suddenly appeared from around the corner of the house.

“Beelzebub! Satan! The Archfiend!” She threw her apron over her head and collapsed on the bottom porch step.

Startled, Judith approached Phyliss. “What's wrong?”

But Phyliss could only shriek and moan. Her thin body shuddered. The cleaning woman was clearly on the verge of hysteria.

BOOK: This Old Souse
9.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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