The Aquacizers Murder Club

VIII

The aquacizers are threatened

Later at the pool, after telling my story, I realize how absurdly I acted. How did I become so obsessed with murder? Am I so bored in my old age that I have nothing to do but frighten mothers with small children?

“Now, now,” says Letitia. “Any of us would have done the same.”

“We’re all a little crazy,” says Harriet. “Maybe we should give this project up. Maybe it really is dangerous. I don’t like the idea of a murderer waiting to strike again.”

“Neither do I,” says Jeanette. “If you want, Lily, we can go to the police and tell them everything we know. Maybe it will help them, even though I do think our information seems awfully disjointed. But I think we’d do better go back to doing the things we do best.”

“Like what?” asks Letitia.

“Like exercises!” barks Polly. “Like going to Jeanette’s wonderful Bible studies. Like taking walks. You’re making fools of yourselves.”

I didn’t know Polly had been going to Jeanette’s “wonderful” Bible studies. It strikes me as odd somehow.

“I did try talking to her,” Jeanette says. “To Candy.”

“What happened?”

“She was very sweet. She didn’t say anything about feeling threatened. Just that she wanted to be left with her thoughts of Winsome for a while. It’s hard to mourn your mother when you have three lively children to care for. She wanted time. Without her mother’s old friends swarming around her.”

“I say, let’s give the poor woman a break,” says Charlotte.

“Go to the wall,” calls Clare. I’ve only just finished telling my story and we’re already almost through with our routine.

“Knee bends,” calls Clare. And here we are again, dropping gracefully into the water and rising up again while we mumble to whoever’s nearest our arguments for or against the Aquacizers Murder Club.

“I don’t think we should stop investigating anything,” I say to Letitia.

“Of course not,” she responds.

“You’re not quitting?” Maude yells at us.

“No,” I yell back.

“Good!” she shouts. “What are we doing now?”

“Plié,” calls Clare.

“Plié,” Letitia says to Maude.

Everyone is silent for a few minutes. That doesn’t happen very often and when it does it’s almost religious, all these old women doing something in unison, silently. A mockingbird makes up a new song, the water is lit up with midday sunlight. Then it all suddenly turns shadowed and cool as a something crosses in front of the sun.

“A bunch of frumpy flowers, all right. Wilting, too, I’d say.” The voice is rudely, terribly male, and familiar besides. I look up, blinking at the blurred form of a big man backlit by the bright sky, and then he laughs, the image clears, and I realize with a start that it’s Albert Smythe.

“My God, Albert,” I say. “Couldn’t you have called first or something?”

“You didn’t. Why should I?”

“Everyone,” says Letitia. “This is Albert Smythe, Winsome’s son.”

Murmurs go up all around: “Hello.” “We’ve heard about you.” “We’re so sorry.”“Miss your mother.”

Then everybody’s quiet again until Clare says: “Leg raises. Right leg.”

Albert Smythe is looking straight down at Letitia and me. “Do you have some particular reason for your visit?” asks Letitia.

“Yeah. I do. I want all of you to stay away from me and my sister. Got it?”

“Yes,” Letitia says in a big brave voice. “But I’m not sure why, Albert. You didn’t kill your mother, right? And neither did your sister. So what are you worried about?”

“None of it’s your business, ladies. My old lady ain’t your business.”

I look across to the other side of the pool to see what the other aquacizers think. They’re all in profile, staring ahead, not looking at him, their legs going up in unison to Clare’s count. All except Polly who’s facing the other direction to block the sight of him completely. I don’t blame her. Even after a shower and with a clean flowered shirt that oddly matches his tattoos, he’s a sight to behold with his bulging stomach, his shiny face and bald pate.

“I hope I’m not making you uncomfortable, ladies. God, you are a sight—wheezing and kicking, sagging and slumping. What a bunch.”

“We don’t mean to offend you, Albert. If you’ve finished threatening us, why don’t you leave?” says Letitia.

He doesn’t reply immediately, and while I don’t think repartee is his strong suit, I look up to find out why. That’s when I discover him staring at Polly. And Polly staring back.

“We wouldn’t mind if you left now, Albert,” Letitia says again.

“Yeah, yeah. Just remember what I said. I’m going. Be careful, ladies. Stay away from us. All of you!” He turns on his heel and walks away. For a few minutes, we all forget about aquacize, we’re so glad to see him leave. We just lean back on our respective walls and gently jab at the water.

“What a jerk,” says Harriet. “He makes me want to keep working on the case. Poor Winsome. She couldn’t have deserved a son like that! And if he killed her….”

“I agree. Let’s keep on working on the investigation,” says Jeanette.

“Why? Just because that idiot mocked you?” asks Polly.

“Maybe. Well, why not. He made me angry! I don’t like being threatened,” says Charlotte. “I agree. Let’s keep looking into this thing.”

“I’m with you,” says Clare.

“You’re all crazy,” mutters Polly. “If you want to keep at it, I guess you can. I hope it’s harmless. But, for God’s sake, don’t do it just because of that bastard.”

“Not such a bad reason, really, says Charlotte. “What would you and Clare like to do next, Jeanette?”

“What if we see if we can make any connection between Burridge and Albert Smythe? I didn’t remember until  now when I saw Mr. Smythe, but sometime ago I saw Burridge and him talking together on Rose Thorn Lane, close to where Winsome met her end. I didn’t think of it before because I’d never seen Albert and it seemed so inconsequential when I didn’t know who he was.”

“Another lead! We’ll talk to Burridge again this afternoon,” says Clare.

“Wonderful.” For the first time I think we might actually solve this case. “Letitia, what if we go back to the Pussy Emporium and talk with Blue Hair some more.”

“I’ll go with you,” Maude exclaims.

“And I,” says Polly, “or rather Charlotte and I, will see what we can find out about Candy. I think there may be more going on there than meets the eye.”

“I think you’re right,” says Charlotte. “My son’s a computer geek. I’ll bet he can find out if there’s anything online to know about her.”

“I thought you wanted nothing to do with any further investigation,” murmurs Letitia in Polly’s direction.

“Oh, what the heck,” Polly mutters. “I don’t want to be left out.”

In the next post the investigation heats up at Puss’s Emporium.

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