The Aquacizers Murder Club ponders the evidence. We witness a violent encounter between Lily and Candy Smythe at Walgreens.
The members of the Aquacizers Murder Club are deeply impressed with our story. Harriet’s dark eyes lighten up; Clare forgets where she’s at in the exercises again and again; and a frustrated Maude moves to be near Letitia so that she can catch every nuance. By the time we finish telling our story, we’re at the wall for knee bends.
“It does sound less and less like Burridge did it,” says Jeanette, rising and falling like a ballerina at her bar.
“But don’t count him out yet,” says Polly. “Winsome’s old problem at Puss’s Emporium probably has nothing to do with the murder. That was years ago.”
“True,” says Clare. “And besides Winsome’s daughter seems so certain the murderer is someone who lives here in the park. That would mean Burridge, I think,” Winded from talking through kneebends, breathlessly, she calls out “Plié.”
“Blue Hair doesn’t think Candy thinks he did it,” remarks Letitia.
“And who does she think Candy thinks did it?” asks Polly, with a rusty chortle, adjusting her feet for the plié, and gazing into the warm blue sky as she bends gracefully into the water.
“I don’t know. I think she’d like it to be Albert.”
“Sounds right to me.”
“It’s too obvious,” says Charlotte.
“This isn’t a mystery novel,” retorts Polly. “The most obvious suspect could very well be the guilty one.”
“It’s too bad Candy won’t talk to any of us,” Jeanette murmurs.
“What?” asks Maude. “Have we changed feet yet?”
“Change feet,” calls Clare.
“It’s hard to think about anything except this awful murder,” exclaims Harriet.
“But please, please try to remember the Brand New Beginnings Band is playing Sunday night,” says Polly. “We want a sizeable audience.”
“Polly’s glockenspiel is one of the highlights,” says Charlotte.
“Maybe Candy would talk to you, Jeanette,” Letitia suggests. “You haven’t tried, have you?” Jeanette is clearly the most gentle-mannered of all of us. It comes from her church training, I suspect.
“Not really. I’ll give her a call if you like.”
“Please do,” says Letitia. “I can’t imagine she’d think you were one of the enemy.”
“If Candy really thinks someone in the park is the murderer but doesn’t know who, I can’t imagine she’ll talk to any of us,” remarks Polly. “She’ll be too afraid.”
We all bend in the water quietly—lap, lap on the sides of the pool. Mockingbirds dialogue above us; a mallard drake comes in for a landing at the nearby pond with a female bird in close pursuit. We’re all trying to imagine anyone we know murdering Winsome.
There are days I pick up Frances at Walgreens when the store is like a carnival. Small brown children dash everywhere, chattering to each other in English while their haphazard mothers call out to them in Spanish. Teenagers lounge in cosmetics, looking for the longest eyelashes, the plushest maschera, the coolest color for their cheeks and nails. Old people patrol the aisles looking for bargains. In the greeting card section they get their daily hugs from Frances, sympathy for the sicknesses they must address and deaths they must mourn, and enthusiasm for the births, confirmations, graduations and marriages they’re expected to celebrate. Pop music from a concealed radio makes everything bounce.
When I come to the Hallmark aisle, Frances is bent over the 99-cent cards, helping someone blond who’s trying to thank as many people as possible at as low a cost as she can. I stop short when I see it’s Candy. I don’t want to scare her away. Her daughter is clinging to her, looking up at Frances who, I’m sure, has already had a conversation with her about her age, her favorite color, and her best subject in first grade. The toddler is standing up in a stroller and banging on it with a toy his mother must have bought him for the job. The other boy is farther down the aisle listening to sound cards, and putting them back in the wrong slots. I try to calm myself. Frances knows enough to ask the right questions if only she will, but what if she won’t? If I go to the aisle next to where they’re talking I might be able to hear what they’re saying. Frances has a hearty voice. If I’m very careful…. I skitter over, trying not to attract the attention of one of the friendlier employees who always wants to talk about how I am, how she is.
“Do you think this will be all right? I can’t afford much but I don’t want to seem cheap,” Candy worries.
“I think it’s a very tasteful card. Just right. Don’t you worry. No one looks that closely at thank yous. Most people don’t even remember to send them. They’ll be impressed that you thought of them at all.”
“Thank you,” sighs Candy. “It’s all so stressful.”
Frances looks down the aisle towards Candy’s other son who’s laughing and dancing to the chicken song on a greeting card. “What’s your boy’s name?” she asks. “He’s got so much energy.”
“Yes, I’m afraid so,” Candy says, and turns to call to the kid, “Wally! Put that card back now and come over here. I want you to meet Grandma Fran.”
So Frances has already become “Grandma Fran.” That’s good. She’s won Candy over, granted, at some cost to the merchandise.
“Wally, I want to talk to you,” says Grandma. I hate to think what she’d rather do to him as I watch him trundle towards her, expectant, a little anxious. “Wally, if you can make sure all the cards that play music are in their right slots, so all of the same kind are together, your mother will give you a reward. Am I right, Candy?” she asks the bewildered mother who would have had to buy Wally something anyway to get out of the store without a tantrum.
“Grandma Fran is right, Wally. Do you think you can do it?” The boy nods gravely and wanders back up to the card section to begin his work. I can see he’s worried he’s been had.
“Thank you, Fran,” says Candy. “I know they’re out of control sometimes, but they mean well.”
“It’s hard being a single mother,” says Frances. “I can remember how it was when I got my first divorce.”
“Oh, it is. It is hard. Not that my husband was ever any help.”
“I know what you mean,” says Frances. “And now you have to deal with the death of your mother. Do you have any other family, Candy?”
“Just my brother.”
“Was he at the memorial service?”
“No. He and mom really hated each other. He said he was no hypocrite so he wouldn’t go.”
“Even so. His own mother?”
“I think he just didn’t want to leave his beer and a ball game. But his wife came to the graveside.”
An old man with one of those metal, hospital supply canes, is trying to look at diuretics where I’m standing, but I have no intention of moving.
“It was something. I don’t like her. I know you’ve heard about her. She’s a lot like him. But she’s right, we should be sticking together now.”
“You say that like there’s something to be afraid of. You’re all okay, aren’t you? You don’t think whoever murdered your mother would go after you?”
“Oh, I do. I do. Albert and me.”
“Excuse me,” growls the old man, raising his nearly lethal cane at me.
Wisely—but helplessly—I hop into the aisle. Candy looks up, sees me and, as fast as I can say “excuse me,” to the scary old man, her face reddens to a color I remember from Albert’s not dissimilar visage. “She’s one of them,” she cries out to Frances. “She and her friend are snooping around, I don’t know what for, but they’re everywhere. I can’t go anywhere and they turn up.”
Hyperbole, I think.
“Wally,” she calls to the boy who’s already lapsed and is playing “Heartbreak Hotel” over and over.“ You’ve done enough. Come on. I’ll get you some candy on the way out. Thank you, Fran. I’m out of here.”
Frances glares at me. “I would have told you all of it. You didn’t have to spy. Now, look, we’ve lost her.”
I ignore her and head down the aisle after Candy. “Candy,” I almost yell and people begin to stare at the old lady who’s chasing a mother and her kids to the cash register. “We’re just dithering aquacizers, not murderesses. Who do you think is after you?”
Candy stands in line, resolutely looking at the two people ahead of her. Her daughter is staring wide-eyed at me and clinging to her mother again. Wally thinks it’s a game. He likes it.
“Please,” I say in softer tones now. “Let us help you. We can be part of your defense against whoever you think is after you and Albert.”
“Please,” says Candy. “Just go away.”
“Yeah,” say some kids behind us. “Let her alone, lady. Let her be. What’s wrong with you?”
“Go way!” yells Wally.
I leave the line and head for the outside and Candy’s car. I’ll catch her where there’s not so much audience.
The poor woman comes out of the store, sees me and shakes her head in despair. But since I’m an old lady and she’s younger and fitter, she decides to risk going for the car. Gathering her brood around her, she comes straight at me.
“Candy,” I take a wild leap out of her path,. “Are you afraid of Adele Monk?”
She stops, and pulling her children even closer, asks, “What do you know about her?”
“Your mother’s friend, Della, told us about her. How she robbed Puss’s Emporium, and Albert tried to blackmail her and testified against her when she got caught. Along with your mother. That’s all we know. We don’t know her. We’ve never seen her.” I’m breathless from running and trying to say as much as possible as fast as possible.
“Look,” says Candy. “Della is a big mouth. Always was. You and your silly aquacizers are not only a pain in the ass, excuse my language, but you’re helping the killer. So stop, now. Please. Let the police handle it.”
“And let you keep running?”
“Yeah. You’ve got it. Now go away, old lady.”
“Go away,” yells Wally. “Yeah, you go,” yells his sister. Full of righteous menace, the teenagers from the store head our way to see what’s happening. I smile weakly and move away from the car. “Be careful,” I say.
“You too,” Candy says, laughing weakly as she stuffs the children into their seats one by one. She backs up without looking and roars off. Seems to me the killer isn’t as dangerous as Winsome’s daughter.
In the next post the aquacizers are threatened!