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Getting Old Is the Best Revenge
By Rita Lakin
Random HouseRita Lakin
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Death by Double Bogey
Margaret Dery Sampson, sixty-four, always said the seventeenth hole would be the death of her, and she was right.
Let's not mince words. Margaret cheated at golf. After all, being wealthy (inherited, not earned) meant being entitled. It meant always getting what she wanted. And what she wanted was to break the women's record for the course. She had a feeling today would be the day.
She was with her usual perfectly coiffed and outfitted foursome-rich women who played every Friday at the exclusive West Palm Beach Waterside Country Club. It was a beautiful, perfect Florida day. The lawns glistened in the sunlight. The weather was not too muggy. Margaret was playing brilliantly. All was right in her world.
One of Margaret's techniques for enjoying the game was to golf only with women who played less skillfully than she did and were easily intimidated.
She knew her caddy saw through her, but she didn't care. He was the caddy everyone wanted, so she paid triple in order to get him at her convenience. He was worth it. The money bought his loyalty. When things went wrong, she blamed him.
So here was the dreaded seventeenth hole and all she needed was a bogey. Unfortunately, here too was a troublesome serpentine water hazard. She routinely selected her bestballs for this hole, but that never helped. Invariably she'd hook the ball before it cleared the water, and it would land in the trees. Today was no different. With angry, imperious strides, she marched into the foliage, leaving behind her the timid catcalls of the gals. "Meggie's done it again!"
As her caddy began to follow, she waved him off.
Yes, Margaret thought, I'll get out of it! No way would she take a penalty.
To her dismay, she discovered her ball wedged hopelessly in a clump of decaying turf. Without hesitation, she kneeled to pick it up.
"Naughty, naughty," a strong baritone voice chastised.
Startled, Margaret turned her head to find a pair of snappy argyle socks at her eye level. She stood slowly, preparing her defense. When she saw who the other golfer was, her expression turned to happy surprise.
"Well, look who's here. I didn't know you belonged to our club."
Abruptly, he grabbed her, pulling her against him with one hand as he expertly shoved a hypodermic needle into a vein with the other. Moments later, Margaret stopped struggling and sank down onto the dark and mossy rough.
Her last, dying thought was that she should have used the three iron instead of a wood.
One parting shot was irresistible to the killer. "Sorry I ruined your day, Meggie, but you shouldn't toy with a man's game."
I'm Still Here
Never Trust Anyone Under Seventy-five! We Take Care of Our Own." That's the motto of our brand-spanking-new Gladdy Gold Detective Agency. Because, if I've learned anything from the traumatic last two months, it's that once you are "old" you become invisible.
It opened my eyes to the fact that senior citizens had no representatives in the crime department. They were sitting ducks. No one cared. Who could they turn to when in trouble? Who was old enough to understand their problems? Me. If not me, who? If not now, when? Tempus was certainly fugiting. I was their only hope.
It all began when I realized someone was murdering the elderly widows of Lanai Gardens, Phase Two, Oakland Park Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale. Right in my own backyard. I did go to the police, and although Detective Morgan Langford was young and adorable, he treated me like I was faded wallpaper. He didn't believe me. There was no motive. The women were all over seventy-five, so naturally they must have died of old age. Besides, who'd want to kill old ladies? he asked me. The general attitude? We're all on the checkout line anyway.
Well. I showed him with the help of the girls: my sister Evvie and my friends Ida, Sophie, and Bella. I use the term "girls" loosely. They're so old, they think they invented Medicare.
I proved there was a killer. And guess what? I identified the killer. And guess what else? Along with the somewhat decrepit senior residents of all six phases of our condo complex, we actually captured said killer.
It woke us up. No more sitting around waiting for the day we leave this mortal coil and go wherever it is we go from here. We're not dead yet and there's lots more living to do. That's why I started our detective agency. Boy, did it get the juices running again. We can't wait to get up in the morning and see what new adventure awaits us. Hey, we're the new "Old."
My experience for calling myself a P.I.? I read mysteries. I've read hundreds of them. With Carl Hiaasen and Edna Buchanan as my Florida gurus, how can I fail? Though, hopefully, I won't run into any of Carl's creepy alligators.
We made the headlines in the Broward Jewish Journal and got on local TV, and now the phones won't stop ringing. If you missed us the first time around-well, I haven't got the strength right now to tell you the whole story. But if you happen to be in Fort Lauderdale, ask anybody to direct you to Lanai Gardens, and drop by for a Danish and a cup of coffee. I'll be glad to fill you in. That is, if I'm not napping.
By the by, I picked up a boyfriend along the way. The very sexy, very tall Jack Langford. Not bad for a gal who sees her eighties looming ahead. But oh, when the girls found out-what aggravation. . .
Well, enough gossip. So, say hello again to Gladdy Gold, now the oldest living private eye in Florida-or anywhere else, for that matter.
Nothing Has Changed. Everything Has Changed.
It's eight a.m. and my girls will be stirring. I walk outside my apartment and do my warm-ups. Evvie, perky and raring to go as usual, pops out of her apartment door across the courtyard, one floor down. I see her glance very quickly at my door and just as quickly avert her eyes, and I know what she's thinking. Is my new boyfriend, Jack Langford, in there? Falling in love has complicated my life. But not to worry, I will tell all. I won't leave out a single juicy detail.
I call out to her, "Morning, Ev. How goes?"
"Same old, same old," she calls back to me.
Thanks, Evvie, for not asking the question I know you're dying to ask.
Some sisters can look at one another and it's like staring in a mirror. Not the two of us. I've got Dad's looks, with straight brown (now gray), boring hair. I inherited his ways of thinking, too-logical and conservative and bookish-and his temperament-easygoing.
Evvie takes after our dramatic, excitable, emotional mother, as do her fiery red curls. She was always addressed as "my pretty one." Thanks a lot, Mom. I was pretty, too. So just because you were always mad at Dad, you ignored me?
I traveled down here from New York because Evvie's husband, Joe, was leaving her and she needed my support. I never intended to stay, being a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker. But I needed a change of pace. I'd allowed myself to wallow in the tragedy of my life much too long. I could not shake the horrific circumstances of my husband's death and I was sick of my own self-pity. Even my daughter, Emily, told me to go, though it was very hard leaving her and my grandchildren.
I was sure I'd miss New York, but I never looked back. Instead, I became a stuck-in-the-swamp retiree, taking care of a bunch of gals in their second childhood who insist they need me. They drive me crazy sometimes, but I do love them.
Speaking of the gals, here comes Ida, sprinting down the walkway behind me. She has this way of shooting out of her apartment like a rocket, her tight, skinny body ramrod-straight, her stiff gray bun bobbing.
"Is he here?" she snaps in that snippy tone of hers. No subtlety with Ida. She has no problem staring at my door as if she has X-ray eyes.
I always ignore the question. But that doesn't stop the asking.
Next, Bella, our dear, oldest member, with her wispy silvery hair always elegantly coiffed, barely squeezes open her door to make sure Evvie is already on the landing, then tiptoes out. Taking little mincing steps, she walks behind Evvie. Bella's my only ally. But she joins the Jewish Greek chorus anyway. Smiling at me sweetly, she calls in her little, wavering voice, "Where is he, that darling mensch of yours?"
Sophie is always last. In the old days, pre-private-eye business, she had to be bandbox perfect before she'd let one exquisitely shod tootsie step out her door. Now she's so afraid of being left out of any new development, she's less careful. There might be only one eyebrow penciled in, or one cheek rouged. Her hair, this month's color, Wild Strawberry Blonde, is flying every which way. But she will make it to exercise on time.
With hands on hips, Sophie takes her turn to confront me. "So where's Jack? Did he sleep over last night?"
Sleep over? I feel like I'm fifteen again and all my teenage friends are jealous because I have a boyfriend and they don't. I met Jack at the grand opening of a new mystery bookstore while waiting to have my car fixed. I took one look at him and tried not to drool. Wow! Tall and elegant, waves of salt and pepper in his gray hair. Eyes that you could sink into and never come back. And he admitted he'd lusted after me years ago when he saw me at a New Year's Eve party in Lanai Gardens. Instant fireworks!
When I got home I was too chicken to tell the girls that some good-looking guy had picked me up. A man who lived in Phase Six! I knew how they'd kvetch and I didn't want to hear it. Now that they know, boy, have they been laying on the guilt trip. Not that I don't have enough guilt of my own.
Yet, how can I be mad at them? Their men are gone. Just about all the men around here are gone. We lost three more last year, and three more lonely widows joined the rest of us.
On the other hand, what am I supposed to do? For the first time in many years, I find myself feeling something for a man. And yet, I'm still torn. How can I love again, even now?
"Nice day," I say pointedly.
"Let's get the show on the road," says Evvie, trying to move us along.
Sophie grumbles. "I still don't know why we have to exercise. All we'll do is die healthier."
"I like jogging," says Bella helpfully. "It's nice to hear heavy breathing again."
And so we begin our daily fifteen-minute version of exercise. We head downstairs, walk around the apartment building once or twice, each at her own speed. It's not much, but, as my darling Francie used to say, something is better than nothing. It was she who encouraged us to exercise to keep healthy. She was my best friend. Francie died two months ago and I still cry for missing her.
Today, like every day, the girls and I walk. We talk. We rest. We walk and talk some more. And nowadays there are only two topics that hold the girls in thrall: Jack, and our new private-eye biz.
"You're not doing too badly for a start-up company," Jack told me. "It's looking good." He was kissing me long and hard at the time he said that, so all I could do was mumble my agreement. Gee, is this man sexy . . . but I digress.
Business. Last month we found a lost pocketbook for a hysterical senior in Wilton. We retraced her steps and found it where she left it, hanging with all the other purses in the handbag department at Kmart.
We solved the mystery of the elderly cousin from Sunrise who disappeared. Turns out the relatives had a fight and she spitefully didn't tell them she was going to the Bahamas for the weekend. Like that. And more of the same. It's really nice helping people, but I'm waiting for a case that gets the heart racing.
We have a business meeting every morning after exercise and swimming. Need I say, it's what the girls live for. So, naturally, they try to rush through the exercise part.
"Is it time to quit yet?" Ida asks, puffing away, her flip-flops flapping.
"Yeah, oy, am I exhausted." This from Sophie, who has hardly flexed a muscle.
"Me, too," Bella, the jogging maven, adds as she sways daintily along.
The girls begin their cool-down exercises. Sophie halfheartedly bends. She complains, "If God wanted us to touch our toes, he would have put them near our pupiks." Two bends, she's done.
Four sets of eyes look up at me hopefully.
"Swimming first," I remind them.
"Do we have to?" Pouting, Sophie repeats this every time.
But they disperse, hurrying back to their apartments to get into their bathing suits.
So here they are, my girls. My business associates. I already have nicknames for them-my private eye-ettes: my sister, Evvie Markowitz, a regular female Sherlock Holmes; Ida Franz, Miss Stubborn, great for in-your-face confrontation; Bella Fox, the Shadow, dressed always in pale beige or grays, hardly anyone ever notices her. Perfect for surveillance. And last, but certainly a major player, Sophie Meyerbeer, our Master of Disguise. She lives for color coordination.
I dread today's meeting. Jack said he was dropping by with a present for me.
That should make the fur fly.
And here we are at the pool. And there they are, the other early morning so-called swimming enthusiasts. Their lounge chairs parked in their usual spots on the grassy perimeter of the pool, guarding their tiny turfs jealously.
Plump Tessie Hoffman, the only real swimmer among us, is energetically doing her laps.
Enya Slovak, our concentration camp survivor, has her nose buried in the inevitable book.
The Canadian snowbirds are gathered together in their familiar clique. They are doing what they love most, lapping up the sun and reading their hometown newspapers and comparing the weather. Thirty degrees in Manitoba, fifteen in Montreal. They chuckle smugly.
We have new tenants, Casey Wright and Barbi Stevens. Bella shudders, still unable to believe anyone would want to live in an apartment where there'd been a murder, but the price was so low these gals found it irresistible. They've only recently moved in and it's nice to have young people around. They're cousins, originally from San Francisco. Barbi must be in her twenties, Casey in her thirties. They don't look the least bit alike. Casey is kind of chunky and wears her dark, curly hair very short. Barbi is a tall, skinny blonde, and very cute. Casey seems to live in blue jeans, but Barbi loves frilly sundresses. They told us that they had a small business of their own and handed us all cards. All the cards said was "GOSSIP? Call Casey & Barbi. We know everything!" along with a phone number to call for an appointment.
Excerpted from Getting Old Is the Best Revenge by Rita Lakin Excerpted by permission.
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