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Though lurching through London is ever so jolly, hostess-on-holiday Judith Flynn and her cantankerous cousin Renie are looking forward to an unharried weekend at a real English country manor. But when old Aunt Petulia dies unexpectedly, Judith and Renie are up to their American necks in a muck of murder most British. Original.
Judith Grover McMonigle Flynn climbed into a taxi, collapsed onto the leather jumpseat, and told the driver to take her to Buckingham Palace. The vehicle zipped into London's madcap traffic and hurtled pell-mell down Pall Mall.
"Buck House, yes?" the driver said, accelerating around a double-decker bus.
Judith had expected to bear the Cockney accent of her previous trip to England some thirty years earlier. Instead, the driver's voice was layered in rich Middle Eastern tones. It seemed to Judith that nobody in London spoke the Queen's English anymore.
"You see changing guard?" the bearded driver asked cheerfully.
Judith didn't remember taximen talking at all in 1964. "I will?" she replied in surprise. Her intention was to meet Cousin Remie in front of Buckingham Palace at 11:30 A.M. She hadn't realized dud their rendezvous would coincide with the changing of the guard.
"Many visitors, much crowd," the cheerful driver said as he whizzed past Marlborough House.
"Oh, dear." Judith squirmed on the small seat. How would she find Renie in such a mob? On this Tuesday in April, her cousin had gone to breakfast with a former graphic design colleague. Judith had spent the morning with her husband at the National Gallery. They hadparted company in Trafalgar Square, with Joe Flynn heading for a tour of Scotland Yard.
"American?" The driver was looking at Judith in the rearview mirror. The taxi drifted perilously into the next lane of streaming traffic. "Canadian?"
"American," Judith gulped as they screeched to a stop at St. James Street.
"Ah!" The driver turned to give Judith a big grin. "Ihave cousin in New York. Mustafa. You know him?"
"Uh — no. I don't know New York," Judith admitted, having visited the city only once. "I'm from ... somewhere else." There was no point in trying to explain U.S. geography to foreigners. Outside of New York, they never seemed to know anything except Los Angeles, which Judith couldn't explain to herself. At present, she was still trying to comprehend London. There were new high rises, though they hadn't yet overwhelmed the skyline. But signs of change were everywhere, from the golden arches of McDonald's to the homeless pushing grocery carts. The world was not only growing smaller, it was becoming too similar.
Buckingham Palace and the Victoria Memorial loomed before her. So did several hundred milling tourists, some of whom were forced to leap out of the taxi's way as the driver squealed to a stop by Green Park.
Nervously, Judith counted out the proper fare in English money, added what she hoped was an adequate tip, and thanked the driver. She also thanked God for arriving in one piece.
Feeling forlorn, Judith scanned the crowd. Cousin Renie was nowhere to be seen. Every nationality seemed to be represented, with Africans in flowing robes and Indian women in elegant saris. There were Americans, of course, but these days it was hard to identify them by sight. The visitors in jeans and T-shirts could just as well be Germans, Swedes, Aussies, or Argentinians.
Indeed, as Judith accidentally bumped into a middle-aged Chinese man in a dark suit, she apologized in careful English. "Please excuse me, sir. I'm so sorry."
"No biggie," he replied. "This place is worse than BART at rush hour."
"Oh!" Judith grinned at the reference to the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. "You're from San Francisco!"
The man shook his head. "San Mateo, actually. But I work in The City. I'm here for a shrink convention. In fact, I'm playing hooky from the morning session. I figured this was something I had to do, just like the tourists in San Francisco can't go home without riding a cable car."
Judith's dark eyes widened at the man's reference to the convention. "You're attending the International Mental and Neurological University Therapists Society convention, too? That's why I'm here. I mean, my cousin's husband is attending it."
The man from the Bay Area nodded. "It's a big deal. IMNUTS brings together academic psychologists and psychiatrists from all over the world. It's an honor to be invited."
Judith knew that Renie's Bill had been gratified by the invitation. Indeed, his attendance had prompted the trip to England. Back in January, when Renie and Bill Jones had decided to attend the conference, Judith and Joe Flynn had jumped at the chance to go along. One of Joe's brothers, Paul, was posted to the American embassy in London. Joe had three weeks' vacation coming on his job as a homicide detective for the metropolitan police force. Except for Easter weekend, which had already passed, April wasn't exceptionally busy at Judith's bed-and-breakfast. If ever the Flynns and the Joneses were to visit England during good weather, it was in the spring.
The guard-changing ceremony had begun. The man from San Mateo was swallowed up by the crowd. Trying not to get swept away, Judith dug in her heels in front of the Victoria Memorial. Again, she peered at the colorful crowd, which was constantly shifting for camera shots and better views.
If only, Judith thought, Renie wasn't so small. At almost five-nine, Judith had always been grateful for her height. In middle age, she also had grown comfortable with her statuesque figure. An extra five pounds was never cause for...
Posted January 1, 2010
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