The investigation continues in the hot tub with an examination of the motives of Burridge Fowler.
Unfortunately, on Monday the fog is just lifting and the temperature in and out of the pool is cool.
“Burrrrr,” says Clare. “It’s cold. But maybe it’ll get better.”
“I don’t think so,” says Jeanette.
Polly checks the temperature. “It’s only 82,” she says. “Let’s get moving.” She begins jogging vigorously. “Come on. I want to hear more about the investigations of the Aquacizers Murder Club.”
I had already told the story of Letitia’s and my visit to Albert and Bev. Letitia, who’s often late, hasn’t shown up yet. Harriet is uncharacteristically silent and jogging hard in her corner of the pool. Maude and Charlotte probably won’t be here because of the weather.
“Flex your right leg,” says Clare. I begin to work at it, my goose bumps becoming more prominent. I wish for jumping jacks. Now.
Letitia appears, walking slowly to the edge and looking down at me. “I just got a phone call,” she says.
“Candy. Winsome’s daughter.”
“What did she want? Why?”
“She said Bev warned her that we might come by and she wanted to tell us not to.”
“That’s weird,” is all I can think to say.
Letitia carefully takes off her robe, removes her earrings, and puts on a pair of black rubber shoes especially designed for pools. Everyone is waiting to hear what else she has to say. She steps into the chilly water.
“This is terrible. I don’t know if I’ll be able to stand it.”
“Just get in here, flex your right leg and tell us about the phone call.”
She walks into the water chest high, shivering as she goes, and when she speaks her voice has gone wobbly with cold. “Bev told her we’d come nosing around and practically accused her of murder. She wanted to warn us that she had children and she wanted no part of old ladies thinking they could find her mother’s murderer. We’d better not show up at her house. Period.”
“I thought Albert and his sister didn’t get along,” says Harriet.
“Maybe they’ve transcended their differences because of us,” I respond. “Touching, don’t you think? She didn’t mention the money, did she?”
“No. Not a word.”
“What money?” complains Polly.
“The money Winsome willed to Albert and Candy.”
“There wasn’t any money. Was there money?” asks Harriet.
“It’s rather clever of Bev really,” I think aloud. “To keep Candy from talking to us, and at the same time make certain that she never hears about the money.”
“Rotate your right leg from the ankle,” Clare calls out. “Do you think Winsome’s daughter-in-law did it?” she asks.
“It sure seems like a possibility,” says Letitia, not rotating, just standing still, shivering.
“What money?” asks Polly.
“It’s made up money. Don’t worry about it,” I respond.
“So what happened with Mr. Fowler?” Harriet asks.
Jeanette laughs. “We decided that he probably did it,” she says, and then interrupts herself. “Clare, I can’t stand this. I think we should all go to the hot tub. There aren’t that many of us.” She looks around and counts. “Just six.”
Clare doesn’t seem to hear her. “Rotate from the knee,” she says.
“The hot tub. I say we go to the hot tub.”
“I’ll second that,” says Harriet.
“Good idea,” says Letitia. “I’ll go turn it on.” She leaves the pool much faster than she came in, then limps to the switch, while the rest of us make our way to the tub, each as quickly as she can, careful not to slip, not to break a bone.
“It’s 104 degrees,” says Polly.
“God be praised,” says Letitia.
“So tell us about Mr. Fowler,” I say before Clare has time to find her place across from me. We’re six in the tub now, evenly spaced and comfortable at 104 but not with enough room to exercise, although I know Clare wants to and we will.
“We can do flex and rotate in here,” she says. Soon we’re flexing and rotating, looking more like a flower than ever, I’m sure, with the emergent sun lighting up the bubbles churning up around us. “Jeanette will tell you the story of Mr. Fowler.” She closes her eyes and concentrates on her movements.
“The three of us went to see him on Saturday afternoon. I called ahead and told him I had been admiring his roses for what seemed like forever, and that the council was thinking of buying some special rose bushes for the front of the clubhouse and wanted his opinion. He was deeply flattered; I could hear him preening on the phone.
“As it turned out, Maude had some real questions for him because she’s having trouble with rose wilt. So we were well-equipped. We could have asked questions about roses for hours, but the murder had to come up. We were in the back of his house near the patio, looking at his flowers. The path was only a short distance away with yellow police tape circling the place where Winsome was found. Maude was the first to say something. Clare and I were too busy being polite.
“It’s so awful to have to speak of it, she said, but is that where poor Winsome was found? That’s the spot, he answered. Hope they don’t keep the ribbon there much longer. I don’t much like being in CSI. Poor Winsome, sighed Clare. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to hurt her. She was such a nice woman.
“Burridge grunted something that might have been a yes, and took us to look at a white rose that needed more sun but since there was a large maple that shaded it in the afternoon he didn’t know what to do. Always so many problems, aren’t there? I said. I saw a way to get back to our subject, you see. I hear you had foxes living under your porch for a while. The babies must have been a delight to watch. I hope they didn’t make a mess? No. No, he responded. There were those that wanted to make them a problem. But they weren’t a problem, not at all. Cute little rascals, he added. I think he genuinely loved those foxes.
“Weren’t they after the ducks though? asked Maude. Fewer ducks would make a better world, he said. To be fair, he was within waddling distance of the pond and I believe they made a mess in his yard from time to time.
“I heard they killed a cat, Clare said to him, looking as innocent as a child.
Hah! he answered her. That was your Winsome. That stupid cat. Cat’s not supposed to be outside here. She didn’t care. The fox fed her babies good on that cat, I can tell you. And then that good for nothing woman tried to sue me!”
“I didn’t know that, I said, genuinely surprised. So things had gotten that bad. I hadn’t realized. How awful! I really did sympathize with him. It’s not as if you bought the foxes and put them there, I said.
“Right. That’s what I tried to tell her.”
“What happened with the lawsuit? asked Maude.
“Nothing yet, he said. Now that she’s gone I hope they’ll be calling it off.
“How long have you been dealing with this, Burridge? I asked, looking sympathetic.
“Way too long. Way way too long, he responded. I had to hire a lawyer with money I don’t have. Nasty, all of it. No, I’m sorry, my dears. I won’t miss Mrs. Smythe. Not at all. That’s what he said.”
“But that doesn’t mean he did anything like kill her,” says Letitia.
Clare grins and starts to bicycle in the hot tub. “I guess we should have talked about how we were going to handle everything before we went to visit the man. Maude can be a little deaf to nuances sometimes.”
“Yes,” says Jeanette. “She blurted out the question without a moment’s hesitation. Nothing. She just asked it.”
“What question?” asks Letitia.
“You didn’t kill her, did you Burridge?”
“Omygod,” I exclaim, wondering if a bunch of detectives can survive that kind of candor.
“What did he say?” asks Letitia.
“Well, he laughed, of course. He wasn’t going to say if he had. He looked at her like he was amazed that she would ask, but he was angry too.”
“And then,” says Clare, “he gave us his alibi, how he was inside his house reading the paper and hadn’t any idea what was going on outside his window. Bicycle on your right,” she adds.
“And he made the mistake of asking, ‘You don’t really think I could be a murderer, do you?’ We looked at him and thought about it, and that bothered him more, I think, than if we’d said yes. Before we could say anything more, he excused himself and went inside. We thought maybe to lawyer up.”
“So,” says Polly, bicycling energetically on her right side opposite me in the hot tub, “we already have two suspects: Bev Smythe and Burridge Fowler. I think, ladies, you’d really better leave it to the guys in blue. You might stumble on the real killer and get hurt.”
“I think we’re making real progress,” says Letitia. “I hope someone will volunteer to talk to Candy. There’s a memorial service tomorrow afternoon. She’s certain to be there.”
“As long as it’s not you doing the talking,” I smile.
“I’m to play the piano,” says Polly. “I’ve been put on notice by the management who told Candy about me. Not much money, but every bit helps.”
“Bicycle on your left,” says Clare.
“Why don’t Clare and I try?” asks Jeanette. “She already knows Clare, and I’m such a harmless looking person.”
“I’ll join you,” says Harriet. “I’m sure I’m every bit as harmless looking as you and I never ask awkward questions.”
In the next post, we attend the memorial service for Winsome Smythe – and more is revealed!!!