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Authors: Mary Daheim

Loco Motive

BOOK: Loco Motive
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Loco Motive

A Bed-and-Breakfast Mystery

Mary Daheim

To David, with thanks for the more than
forty-four years of love and laughter, and for making me
not just a better writer, but—I hope—a better person
RIP

Contents

Chapter One

Judith McMonigle Flynn hurried out of Hillside Manor, stared up…

Chapter Two

It was after six o'clock when Judith was able to…

Chapter Three

As Judith slipped Justin's IOU into the strongbox where she…

Chapter Four

The next two days passed in a blur of activity…

Chapter Five

Judith and Renie almost fell over each other trying to…

Chapter Six

The four-handed pinochle game with the Downeys had gone so…

Chapter Seven

Judith was aware of nearby shouts and a shriek that…

Chapter Eight

Good God!” Judith cried, staggering to her feet. “Is Pepper…

Chapter Nine

Why,” Judith asked, “do you think Willie's death is suspicious?”…

Chapter Ten

Judith almost dropped the phone. “Could you repeat that?” Justin's…

Chapter Eleven

Renie looked only mildly surprised. “That almost makes sense. But…

Chapter Twelve

Jim Downey knelt next to the unconscious young woman. “Good…

Chapter Thirteen

If,” Judith said to Wayne, “you're worried about Pepper, we…

Chapter Fourteen

Tiff's detail didn't seem to mean anything to Pepper. “Sideburns?”…

Chapter Fifteen

Judith's worst fears for Roy were confirmed. “Was he murdered?”…

Chapter Sixteen

What the hell are you doing?” Dick Z demanded.

Epilogue

Judith and Joe strolled arm in arm along Boylston Street,…

 

J
udith McMonigle Flynn hurried out of Hillside Manor, stared up at the second-story window, and screamed, “Don't jump! You'll kill yourself!”

The small man with the slicked-back hair crouched on the ledge and waved a sinewy hand. “Move it, lady! Here I go!”

“No!” Judith cried. “No, no!”

The man ignored her. He leaped out the window, somersaulted in midair, and landed upright in a rhododendron bush. “See?” he shouted, brushing glossy leaves off his chamois shirt. “Your better half just lost fifty bucks. Doesn't he know who I am?”

“Unfortunately,” she murmured, “he does, but he didn't think you'd be stupid enough to try that stunt at my B&B.”

“Where is Whazisname?” Wee Willie Weevil said, gazing around the quiet cul-de-sac.

“He knew I'd jump at”—he peered at his watch's hodgepodge of numbers and symbols that Judith figured could launch a NASA spacecraft—“thirteen hours.”

“Mr. Flynn told you he had a lunch meeting,” Judith said.

“He should've canceled. I do what I do when I say I'm going to do it.” He belched.

“I'm off to run up and down that steep street you folks call the…what?”

“The Counterbalance,” Judith replied wearily. “It's the steep
est part of Heraldsgate Avenue. Years ago, a kind of cable car went…”

Weevil had taken some deep breaths and counted to three before taking off like a shot toward the cross street that led to the avenue. Shaking her head, Judith walked over to the porch steps.

“Yoo-hoo!” a voice called. “Judith! What on earth was that?” Turning around, Judith saw her neighbor Arlene Rankers emerge from behind the gigantic laurel hedge between the two properties. “Wee Willie Weevil, jumping out of room two,” Judith replied. “Why did I let Justin Weevil talk me into letting his uncle stay at my B&B?”

Arlene joined Judith at the porch steps. “Because Justin is a very nice young man and a friend of your son's? Because you're kindhearted and had a vacancy the week before Halloween? Because you're insane?”

“All of the above,” Judith agreed. “Weevil checks out Friday. I'm booked for the weekend because Halloween falls on Sunday this year.”

Arlene's pretty face was sympathetic. “Then you've one more full day to put up with Willie.” She gestured at Judith's porch decorations. “Your gourds look better than mine. That jack-o'-lantern reminds me of Marie Klumpf from church. So many missing teeth. The Dooleys' witch was stolen last night,” she went on, gazing at the big white house looming behind the cul-de-sac. “It's a shame their front porch faces the other street. I feel safer where we are. Too many cars cruise around here lately, but so far they haven't come near us since Carl's been Block Watch captain. He's always alert. Unless he's taking a nap.”

Judith was used to Arlene's contradictions. “Carl's very reliable,” she agreed. “Too bad he couldn't ban Willie. No decent hotel will let him in, which is why he's here. I wish I'd known that before I agreed to let him stay at the B&B. Mike thought it'd be fun. As a kid, he idolized Willie's daredevil antics, including his movies and cartoon shows.”

Arlene clapped a hand to her cheek. “I'd forgotten about his early exploits,” she said. “He'd come to town on publicity tours and visit his relatives. Our kids were big fans, too. But every time Willie was in town, his shenanigans upset the local hotel employees and their guests. The newspapers and TV were full of his wild stunts.” Arlene paused, appearing to revel in the memories. “He never used the elevator when he stayed at the Cascadia. He'd climb up the hotel's exterior and swing into his penthouse suite on a rope. At the Naples, he rode his motorcycle up and down the hall at all hours. Oh—I forgot the Wetmore, where he walked a tightrope between the hotel's two towers.”

“How did I miss all that?” Judith asked, her head swimming. Arlene frowned. “This was almost thirty years ago when you were living out south on Thurlow Street. Did you take a newspaper back then? Or watch TV?”

The memories of Judith's disastrous first marriage were stashed in a dark corner of her mind where she seldom ventured. “Those last years before Dan died were like living in exile. He wouldn't let my relatives visit and pitched a five-star fit if I spent time with them. Not that I had time to spare while working two jobs and Dan not working at all. The newspaper canceled us and the TV was repossessed. Even though he was in charge of paying—or not paying—bills, he got furious, especially about the TV. He couldn't watch
Crusader Rabbit
with Mike. For six weeks Dan tried doing finger puppets to amuse Mike but gave up when his hands went numb. Dan had poor circulation due to his diabetes and weighing four-hundred-plus pounds.”

Arlene looked puzzled. “That doesn't sound right. Are you sure?”

“Sure of what?” Judith responded, feeling chilly as the wind picked up off of the nearby bay. “You know my pathetic life story.”

“Yes, certainly,” Arlene agreed. “But wasn't
Crusader Rabbit
on TV much earlier when we were kids?”

Judith smiled ruefully. “You're right. Whatever it was, Dan
and Mike couldn't watch it.” Maybe, she thought, it was one of Willie's action cartoons.

Arlene nodded. “Rags the Tiger, Crusader Rabbit's faithful sidekick. Rags was a good sport, the boon companion who didn't mind playing second fiddle. And speaking of companions,” she went on before Judith could start up the steps, “is Willie married to that redheaded floozy who's with him?”

Judith sighed. “Who knows? Maybe she's a circus acrobat.”

“That sounds like Willie's type,” Arlene said. “Flash and dash, danger and…contortions?” She shrugged. “I'd rather not think about that, though Willie was popular with his marital arts movies.”


Martial
arts,” Judith corrected.

“Oh.” Arlene frowned. “Yes, I know. Carl and I just had a big fight. I misspoke.” She glanced toward her house, where only the second story could be seen above the hedge.

“It's turning cold and windy. I should go make up with Carl—if he's regained consciousness.”

“Okay.” Judith didn't ask for details. She was never sure when Arlene was exaggerating. Her neighbors had been married for over forty years, a devoted couple who enlivened their wedded state with an occasional rumpus. Passing through the entry hall where Sweetums was hissing at her, she went into the dining room, where she heard the phone ring. A woman answered the call in the kitchen. Pushing aside the swinging half doors, Judith saw Pepper, the wife, companion, or God-only-knew-what to Willie.

“Who?” Pepper shouted, dancing around the orange and white blur of feline fury as Sweetums streaked to the back door. After a pause, Pepper barked, “Never heard of her,” and hung up.

“What was that?” Judith demanded.

“Who cares?” Pepper snapped. “It wasn't Wayne. He should've called by now.”

Judith didn't know who Wayne was and didn't care. “The guest phone's in the upstairs hall,” she said pointedly. “Don't you have a cell?”

“It needs charging.” Pepper's freckled face was hostile. “I'm a guest. Why can't I use any damned phone that's handy?”

“My phones are for professional and personal use. You're welcome to use the guest phone upstairs on the end table by the settee. It's right outside your room. There's a charge for long—”

The phone rang again. Pepper reached for the receiver. “No!” Judith shouted. “Don't!”

The younger woman snatched up the receiver. “Wayne?” she barked into the phone. “Hey—knock it off with the calls, you moron!”

Fuming, Judith glared at Pepper. “Give me that. Now.”

“Oh, for…here.” Pepper shoved the phone at Judith. “It's that same idiot. You deal with it.”

A volley of obscenities bombarded Judith's ear. Recognizing her cousin's voice, she waited until Renie ran out of steam—and cusswords.

“It's me, coz,” Judith said as Pepper stalked off down the hall that led to the back stairs. “Sorry about guests who don't follow house rules. What's up?”

“I'm down,” Renie replied, suddenly sounding glum. “Bill and I had a huge fight about his Boston trip. I can't fly there with him unless I'm really drunk. He swears that if I guzzle a pint of Wild Turkey before I get on the plane and sit in the lap of another Olympic gold medalist, he'll kill me.”

“You only did that once,” Judith said.

“He was so good-looking,” Renie asserted. “He'd won the decathlon, for God's sake!” She paused. “Maybe I never told you about the Argentine tenor or the American League MVP. If God intended humans to fly, He'd have tucked a fifth of Wild Turkey in with the fetus.”

“You're not making sense,” Judith pointed out, trying to obliterate other embarrassing incidents Renie had caused when the cousins had flown together. “Are you sure you haven't gotten a head start on the booze?”

Renie grimaced. “I hate the stuff. The odor's too strong.”

“You've taken several plane trips. Can't you do it sober by now?”

“No.”

“Then you'd better stay home.”

There was a pause before Renie spoke again. “Bill already bought the tickets. We leave Tuesday. The psychology conference starts Thursday.” She paused again to clear her throat. “But I have an idea.”

Judith was afraid to ask. “What?” she inquired.

“Well…I called Amtrak to ask if the Empire Builder had sleeping car availability Sunday. They did, so I reserved a sleeper for two.”

“Bill doesn't mind going by train?”

“Uh…he does, actually.” Renie paused again. “Bill sleeps poorly on trains. I don't know why—I sleep like a baby in a cradle. But he's giving a speech the first day and has to be well rested. That's why he booked a Tuesday flight; he insists sleepless nights on the train would ruin him for the entire conference.”

Judith was wary. “So you take the train and he flies.”

“And pay for four round-trips to and from Boston?” Renie started speaking very fast. “It's foolish to waste all that money. You and Joe could join us. Our husbands can fly while you and I—”

“Whoa!” Judith cried. “You're asking me to drop everything on short notice and go to Boston? Why would Joe want to tag along with Bill to attend a nutso conference? This is your goofiest idea yet!”

“It's a not-so-nutso conference,” Renie said. “The focus is helping patients get normal. Or pretend they're normal. Or…something.” Her voice had grown uncertain, but she rallied. “Boston's wonderful. You've never been there, and neither has Bill or Joe. There's so much history and the rest of New England is—”

“Stop. Please.” Judith held her head. “I'm sorry you're in a bind. There's no way Joe and I can put our lives on hold and take
off for…what? At least ten days if I were to travel with you on the train?”

“Twelve,” Renie said, uncharacteristically meek.

“I pass. Find another pigeon.” Judith looked up as Joe came through the back door.

“My husband's back from lunch with his new client. I have to go.” She broke the connection.

Joe took off his dark green suit jacket. “Was that Willie I saw running the Counterbalance?”

“Yes.” Judith reached for the Excedrin bottle on the windowsill. “He jumped out the second-floor window. You owe him fifty bucks.”

“Take it off his bill.” Joe said.

“I will.” Judith poured a glass of water. “How was your meeting?”

Joe frowned. “If you've got a headache, I'd better not tell you.” Judith's dark eyes widened. “It didn't go well?”

Joe sat down at the kitchen table. “Too well. Brewster Cartwright's a golf buddy of a Wirehoser timber biggie. The Wirehoser guy was impressed by my background work in choosing their new CFO, so Brewster asked me to do ditto for SANECO Insurance.”

“That's great,” Judith said after swallowing the Excedrin.

“Wirehoser paid you big bucks. I assume Cartwright will, too.”

“Oh, yes.” Joe passed a hand over his ruddy forehead. “I'd be an idiot to turn him down. But there's a problem.”

“What?” Judith asked, sitting down across the table.

He sighed. “In two weeks, the candidate at Bullfinch Life & Casualty is off for a month in China. Brewster wants him checked out ASAP so everything is settled by year's end.” Joe's gaze avoided Judith. “I have to leave Tuesday.”

“Leave for where?”

Joe finally looked at his wife. “Boston.”

 

T
here's a crow on the telephone wire outside,” Judith said, standing on her cousin's doormat. “Can you shoot it and roast it for my dinner?”

Puzzled, Renie ushered her cousin into the entry hall. “Why?”

“I'm eating crow.” Judith flopped into a brocade armchair by the hearth, but avoided looking at Renie. “We're having a Boston Tea Party after all.”

Renie gaped at her cousin. “You're kidding!” She shook her head. “No, no, of course you aren't. Are you that desperate to get away from your mother?”

“I had nothing to do with it.” Judith heaved a big sigh. “I'll make this quick. I have to go to Falstaff's Grocery before my new guests check in. Joe came back from his lunch meeting and told me that…”

Renie was grinning by the time Judith finished her explanation. “Coz, that's great! This could be fun.”

Judith's expression was wary. “It could? With us? When was the last time we went anywhere and had fun?”

“Might you be referring to your penchant for finding dead bodies?” Renie inquired archly. “If so, I suggest you avoid any potential murder victims. I realize that with your history, you'll probably come across a couple of corpses somewhere between the Pacific and the Atlantic, but I'd enjoy a trip with you that didn't involve fleeing from a crazed killer.”

BOOK: Loco Motive
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