The Aquacizers Murder Club

XII

The murder is solved:  the Brand New Beginnings Band concert and the end of our story

The Brand New Beginnings Band plays a concert twice a year at the auditorium in the Universalist Church, one of those large antiseptic spaces with cushioned seats and adequate acoustics. There are usually about fifty people in the band and a few hundred in the audience – no one counts but the place always seems about right – everyone fits. Although none of us plays an instrument, we try to attend the concerts since Charlotte’s husband is one of the conductors. The band is rather good, depending on your listening experience and what you’d expect since anyone who thinks he can play is welcome to try. A few of the players were music professionals once, before they got old and retired. They’re all very focused and lively.

We aquacizers plus one – Frances has come – sit together at the concert, front and center. Safety in numbers, I guess. The tension among us is palpable, as if we each had a special grandchild playing her first tuba solo, instead of a murdering acquaintance playing a glockenspiel. By the time we’re all here, most of the band members are in place, blowing out their horns, tapping on their drums and rumbling on the tympani, practicing a phrase from Sousa or Gershwin, laughing at each other’s jokes. Adele Monk hasn’t appeared yet.

“Lily, did you see who just came into the room?” asks Letitia.

“No. Where? Who?”

“To the left of us, in the front row.”

“How weird. What is Candy doing here with her brood?” I watch as she gets the children settled, one on either side and the third half-asleep in the stroller, and wonder how she’ll keep them quiet during the concert. Of course, if the band plays loud enough maybe no one will be able to hear Wally yell.

“She just lost her brother,” growls Harriet. “Why doesn’t she show some respect and stay home?”

“Maybe she’s here to taunt Adele,” says Letitia.

“Or take revenge,” suggests Frances.

“Maybe Candy doesn’t intend to stay long with her unruly kids, maybe just long enough to do something awful,” says Harriet.

“There must be a plainclothes policeman here somewhere,” says Clare. “Keeping an eye on Adele. Making certain she doesn’t hurt anyone else.”

“Yeah,” says Charlotte. “For sure. My husband promised it.”

“Let’s not worry then,” says Jeanette. “There won’t be any violence, the proper authorities are already here.”

“But where is Adele?” I ask.

The sound man, an old geezer from the church, turns on the mike and it squeals like an out-sized wild pig; we jump in unison. Which is when Adele chooses to appear on stage behind her glockenspiel. She looks down at her music, up at the conductor who is arguing with the geezer, out at Candy and her children, and then-finally – at us. We all glare at her.

She still wears a red wig, but her face doesn’t seem as lined, and she’s wearing an excessive amount of eye makeup so that her eyes are large and dangerous; her expression is terrible. I shudder. I’ve never done that before. To be seventy and shudder for the first time is unsettling.

Adele turns back to her music as the band quiets, waiting for Charlotte’s Ollie  to appear and conduct. Finally, Ollie walks out and nods to the audience, a broad smile across his face as everyone applauds and the band stands. He gives a short military bow, then turns back to the waiting instrumentalists who, at his signal, sit in broken unison. He taps his baton on the music stand in front of him, and everyone readies their instruments. Adele raises her glockenspiel hammers. Ollie lifts his arms, and we’re off on a rousing rendition of  “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

We keep watch on Adele through the next four selections, almost as if we expect her to turn her glockenspiel on its side, and – lo and behold – it’s a machine gun, it’s been one all along, and she’s shooting up the audience, beginning with us. She must be aware of our communal glare, but she doesn’t look at us again. She just looks at the music and hammers away, smiling when she taps out an especially clever phrase.

I look over at Candy who’s staring at us. Is she sizing us up to make sure we’re not a threat to her intentions, whatever they are? Probably. That’s what she’s done ever since her mother died. Her intentions never made too much sense to me, but I can understand why a bunch of old ladies, an Aquacizers Murder Club, for God’s sake, might alarm her, hanging out around her children, catching her off guard at the drugstore.

It’s while I watch her, some time into Bernstein’s “On the Town” medley, that I begin to think about Bustamenté again. Why did Candy come to see her on the day of Winsome’s murder? It made sense that Adele would visit Bustamenté to buy an alibi. She already almost owned the big vet. It made sense that Blue Hair couldn’t remember who had visited that day because she didn’t know what Adele looked like. Not in disguise. The visitor had to be Adele, not Candy.  And yet, Blue Hair assured me it was Candy.

That was when I had my epiphany.

What if it was Candy who had come to buy an alibi? What if Candy was the killer, first of her mother, then of Albert and Bev? What if she had been the real embezzler from the beginning and what if what Blue Hair heard as threats from Adele were also declarations of innocence? What if Adele had come back in disguise to try to convince Winsome of her innocence? We don’t know that Winsome didn’t know who she really was. They seemed to have gotten close. Winsome would be the easiest to convince, if there was any doubt at all. And even Blue Hair had admitted there was some.

The music ends. While Ollie introduces Victor Herbert’s “March of the Toys,” I start a rumor on one side in Frances’s ear and on the other, in Letitia’s: “Adele isn’t the murderer. Candy is.”

I know I’m taking a chance because, after all, I could be wrong. But no, I know I’m right. I look over to find Candy, and I spy only two sleeping children. “Where’s Candy?” I ask as Ollie signals the downbeat for the “March of the Toys.”

“She took the youngest to the bathroom,” says Letitia. “It’s okay. She’s not guilty of anything but being a mother.”

“No, no,” I whisper, panicky now as I try to explain. “I found out this morning that it was Candy who visited Bustamenté after Winsome was killed. It was Candy who wanted an alibi, not Adele.”

“Are you sure?” says Frances. “Are you certain it’s Candy?”

“Oh, come on,” whispers Harriet. “She’s a mother. She wouldn’t kill her own mother. She wouldn’t kill her very own brother, no matter how awful he was. You’re just overwrought about this whole thing, Lily.”

“Hush. I’m trying to hear the music,” breathes Charlotte.

“We jumped to conclusions. There’s no reason to think Adele killed anyone. She didn’t even do the embezzling. It’s Candy who did it. Her brother and mother tried to protect her and her children by blaming it on Adele.”

“Are you sure?” asks Letitia.

“Of course not. But sure enough so that I want to check that Candy’s gone to the bathroom and not the back stage.”

Harriet gives me a quick nod and heads up the aisle to the back to look in the bathroom. Frances, who is the most confident of all of us socially, heads for the stairs to the stage with Clare in close pursuit. While the band plays on, they creep up the right stage stairs and slip behind the curtain. Adele, suddenly aware of them, stops playing her glock in amazement. Then continues. The “March of the Toys” is her big number and it’s time for her solo.

The rest of us sit impatiently listening to Adele’s spritely glockenspiel solo, waiting for godknowswhat to happen next. The band burnishes the solo with a rollicking flourish and applause overwhelms all of us. It’s time for intermission. Waving her program high above her head, Harriet sprints clumsily down the aisle to us. “She’s not there,” she shouts. Most of the audience, those still sitting and those making their way to the back for refreshments, ignore her. She’s clearly a nutcase and most of us have seen lots of her kind by this time in our lives.

“Watch and shout if you see Candy,” I tell Letitia. “Maybe she’ll go around back and down the left stage stairs.” She nods. I can see excitement forming in little beads of sweat across her forehead. Charlotte and I make a dash for the right stage stairs. Adele has disappeared behind the curtain with the other percussionists.

“She’s back here somewhere,” Frances tells me when I catch up to her. “She was standing here behind Adele when we came for her. I don’t know what she was going to do. Anyway, she’s still here back stage; we lost sight of her when all the musicians came back.”

“Is there a door to the outside? There must be one.”

“The cops have that staked,” says Frances, grinning. “She’s not going anywhere.”

“The kids,” says Charlotte. “She won’t leave without the kids.” She whips the curtain back and stares down from the stage. “They’re still there. Letitia!” she shouts. “Watch the kids!”

“And Adele,” I ask Frances. “Where is she?”

“I think she’s afraid of us, poor thing. She’s mixing with the musicians to avoid us. Clare’s looking for her.”

I can see her now: Clare following Adele through a labyrinth of black-skirted-and-slacked, white-shirted musicians.

“What was Candy wearing?” I ask Frances.

“What else?” she answers. “Black slacks and a white shirt.”

“Let’s separate and look for her.”

“What will we do with her when we find her?”

Frances shrugs.

She and I begin to move quickly around the back stage, each of us taking a section. It’s a big space and, in addition to fifty musicians, it’s filled with scenery for an upcoming production of “Music Man.” Everywhere Candy’s gone, she’s knocked things down: pieces of the town square, the basketball backboard, the whole town library and everyone has to scramble over and around them. We can almost follow her by tracing the path of destruction.

Worse, after just a few minutes everyone looks like her; it’s a band of Candys. If she plays an instrument, she can pick up a horn and sit with the rest and we’ll never find her.
Letitia is the first to spot her, stage front and center, fiddling with a horn, signaling to somebody, oh yes, to her kids, signaling to them to come join her.“Watch out for the kids,” Letitia shouts.

Moments later, they’re scrambling onto the stage. Wally screams and beats double-fisted on as many drums as he can get to, while his little brother throws one of his old-fashioned tantrums. The girl clashes the cymbals together like a skilled percussionist. The loudest I’ve ever heard. It’s as if this had been the plan all along – children running interference for their murdering mother.

The band members try to stop them; poor Ollie stands precariously atop his conductor’s perch, waves his baton and yells; women try to cajole the children, their mewling voices mixing with the percussion. Candy laughs, picks up a horn and blows a Wagnerian howl.

While the band is tumbling all over itself to stop the chaos, the audience crowds to the edge of the stage to watch. Is this part of the program? Or is something going wrong? Candy puts down the horn and with her youngest child wailing at her side, picks up the glockenspiel, raises it above her head, and as Adele comes out to stop her, throws it as hard as she can at the woman – who goes down, clutching her instrument, her red wig askew, her costume jewelry flashing, her scarlet nails clawing at the air. Clare grabs the toddler and Charlotte tackles Wally. Frances grasps Candy from behind and the two of us hold her, while the little girl, suddenly bewildered and trailing a cymbal behind, comes over to be near her mother.

The police take charge, thank God. Candy is in cuffs and the kids, still bleating, have been placed in the capable hands of lady cops. The band wanders around the stage, righting chairs, music stands and instruments. We, a sorry bunch of old women, the Aquacizer Murder Club, limp off stage and up the aisles to be interviewed while hundreds of other old people stare and wonder why we’ve made such a fuss on such a lovely night for a concert.

“So many crazies, and I think they’re all from Garden Path.” “I’m certain of it; I recognize some of them.” “Remind me never to move there.” “Poor old ladies; they’ve all gone bonkers.” “Must be something in the water at that park.”

Adele goes back to her place to finish playing the concert. The glock is only a little bent and she compensates. We meet with the police who confirm that Candy is the one they wanted all along. They thank us for not letting them botch it. I think they’re kidding, but I can’t be sure.

_______

In conclusion….

We’re unusually silent at our next aquacize, as if the social energy that ties us together has lost its zest. The case has been solved.

“You know, we’re pretty amazing,” says Letitia finally. “We solved a murder; we helped seize a murderer. Not bad for the first time out.”

“I hope you’re not suggesting that we do this again any time soon,” says Jeanette.

“I think we‘re all due a long rest,” says Maude. “Did Clare say to change sides?”

“Left side,” Letitia and I say together. We’re doing rocking horse.

“You’re going to tell us everything you’ve found out, Lily, when you and Letitia went to The Nutty Irishman with Adele. What did she tell you?”

“What did you have to drink?” asks Maude.

“She treated us to daiquiris,” says Letitia. “Strawberry and lime. They were sublime.”

“Oh, my,” says Jeanette.

“As we’d surmised,” I pant, breathless from rocking horse, “Adele came to the Garden Path in disguise to get to know Winsome and to convince her that she, Adele, was innocent. That meant she also had to convince her of Candy’s guilt. That was the hard part. How do you persuade a mother her daughter is the thief and not you?”

“That must have been a project,” says Charlotte.

“Not that hard given Candy’s record,” says Jeanette.

“Candy killed her mother when Winsome confronted her about the embezzling and threatened to go to the police.”

“But in the beginning, why did Winsome and everyone else think Adele did the embezzling? Why not Candy?” asks Harriet.

“Toy soldier,” Clare sings out.

“What did she say?” asks Maude.

“Toy soldier,” Letitia says.

“Candy was just a volunteer at Puss’s Emporium. To help her mother out, she said. But really she was helping herself out, and it wasn’t the first time. She did have a record,” I report.

“Candy’s oldest was a baby then, and all the elderly ladies thought she was just the cutest. Adele, on the other hand, wasn’t a very nice person.  You know how we felt about her, and with us she was even pretending to be someone else! Polly. A nice person.”

“The kind of person who buys other people daiquiris,” murmurs Maude.

“No one really likes Adele,” I continue, ignoring her. “So it wasn’t that hard for Candy and brother Albert to frame her, with a little innocent assistance from Winsome.”

“I would have bet on Candy’s innocence over Adele’s any day of the week,” says Harriet. “Shows you just never know.”

Everyone is silent, contemplating the sinful ways of human beings. Clare calls out “the other side,” and we all follow suit.

“So, did you have more than one daiquiri?” asks Maude.

“Oh, yes,” says Letitia.

“Many more,” I report.

“What I don’t understand is why Candy killed Bev and Albert,” says Harriet, slashing at the water haphazardly.

“Albert had never forgiven Candy and her mother for not vouching for his innocence in the embezzlement,” she explains. “Candy had promised him little or no jail time and then he got a longer sentence than Adele. She’d double-crossed him and sent him off to prison in her place.”

“But as much as he hated his mother and his sister and blamed them for everything, Albert was never a murderer. Just a creep and a thief,” I add.

“Jacks,” Clare calls.

“What did she say?” asks Maude.

“Jacks,” several of us respond. We begin to jump so vigorously we don’t notice someone has come poolside. “Good morning, ladies,” says Burridge Fowler.

“Good morning, Burridge,” Jeanette and Clare say both at once.

“I wanted to thank you for solving Winsome’s murder. It makes me happy I can tell you. I brought you all some early Gravensteins.”  He puts a paper bag-full on a table.

“Thank you, Burridge. What a sweet thing to do,” says Jennifer.

“You’re such a gentleman, Burridge,” Clare adds.

“They look delicious,” exclaims Harriet. “I think I’ll make you a pie.”

“Why that would be wonderful,” Burridge blushes. “Just fine. But you don’t have to. You ladies deserve every apple and then some. Just help yourselves.”

“They’re beautiful apples,” says Charlotte. “Good apples for pies,” she adds.

“Everyone jig,” says Clare.

“So go on, Letitia. Lily. Why did Candy end up killing Albert and Bev?”

“Albert and Bev knew that Adele was around. They’d heard her threats to retaliate, and she’d just gotten out of prison,” says Letitia.

“When Winsome was murdered, they assumed Adele had done it,” I continue.

“So when Albert caught sight of Adele, he panicked. He figured she’d be out to get him next,” Charlotte guesses.

“Right,” says Letitia.

“Hula hoop,” calls Clare, and we all begin to hula.

“At first he and Bev were going to run,” I say, “but poor Albert came up with a scheme instead: why not just confess that he’d help frame Adele? He could go to the police and tell them everything. He’d get time served and Candy would go to prison. Adele would be grateful for his help and willing to forgive and forget.”

“But someone, probably Bev, had already told Candy that Albert caught sight of Adele at the swimming pool. Candy went to see her brother, hoping, probably, to incite him to do something about the woman before it was too late. Maybe she could get Albert to murder Adele, whatever….”

“Albert’s planned confession didn’t sit well with her.”

“And so,” says Charlotte, guessing again, “she figured she had no choice but to kill Albert and Bev.”

“Oh, my,” says Maude. “It’s all so complicated, isn’t it?”

“Lovely hula hands,” sings Jeanette, trying to change the subject which isn’t, and never has been, to her taste. Everyone joins in humming. “Graceful as the birds in motion, Gliding like the gulls over the ocean…” Gradually, the humming fades but we keep hulaing.

“Why in the world did she come after Adele at the concert?”

“By then the police were closing in, she didn’t care anymore. She just wanted to make Adele’s life hell. Or at least that’s what I think. What do you think, Letitia?”

“I think she never gave up, I think Candy thought she’d come out on top until the last minute. Somehow she was going to make it look like Adele was threatening her life, not vice versa. Her kids would help save her. It would all be fine.”

“What about the kids? What’s going to happen to them?” asks Harriet.

“They’re with their paternal grandmother,” Letitia answers, “who, as it turns out is soft, warm and sticky sweet. It’ll all be okay.”

“To the wall for knee bends,” calls out Clare. “Let’s get on with it.”

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