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Judith Grover McMonigle Flynn stared in horror at the slashed beige drapes, the shredded down comforter, and the tattered petit-point chair. Hillside Manor's choice bedroom was a shambles. Judith understood why her current guest had been thrown out of the Cascadia Hotel.
"It's that awful bitch," Judith groaned to her husband over the telephone a few minutes later. "She's wrecked the place. She even piddled on one of Grandma Grover's braided rugs."
Joe Flynn's voice was seemingly sympathetic. "So what's your mother doing in the guest rooms? I thought she was getting used to her apartment in the old toolshed."
Judith gritted her teeth. "You know I'm not talking about Mother. I mean the awful dog that belongs to Dagmar Delacroix Chatsworth. That woman and her wrecking crew haven't been here twenty-four hours, and they've already put me out of pocket. I'm going to have to charge for damages.
"Is that legal?" Joe now sounded serious, his policeman's mind obviously at work.
Leaning against the kitchen sink, Judith ran a nervous hand through her silver-streaked black hair. It was noon, straight up, on a muggy Wednesday in August. She felt short of breath, and on the verge of a sneezing spell. During the five and a half years that Judith had been running the bed-and-breakfast on Heraldsgate Hill, the old family home had suffered occasional misadventures. Soiled carpets, broken dishes, clogged drains, even a minor flood, had all cost Judith money, but she'd never yet asked a guest to pay for damages. She had insurance, although the deductible was two hundred dollars.
"Mother did the petit point on the chair years ago, when her eyes were still sharp,"Judith said with regret as her cleaning woman, Phyliss Rackley, stomped into the kitchen. "The needlework is irreplaceable."
"But your mother isn't," Joe went on ingenuously. "Why don't we trade her in on a nice recliner?"
"Joe. . ." It was hopeless, Judith knew, to discuss her mother with her husband. Or vice versa. Joe Flynn and Gertrude Grover didn't like each other. They never had: not in the beginning, almost thirty years earlier, when Judith and Joe had met; not when they had become engaged a few years later; certainly not when Joe had run off with another woman; and definitely not after the pair had finally reunited and married the previous summer. Gertrude had announced she wouldn't live under the same roof as Joe. Compromises were attempted, but proved unworkable. For a time, Gertrude had lived with her sister-in-law, Deborah Grover, but that situation also had turned out to be untenable. So for the past ten months Judith's mother had been living in the renovated toolshed next to the garage. It was the most feasible arrangement so far. While Judith was elated at finally becoming Joe's wife, the incessant wrangling between her husband and her mother was a constant irritant, like a bunion.
"Hey," Joe said, his usually mellow voice suddenly brusque, "I've got to ran. I just got a call for the My Brew Heaven Tavern over on Polk Street, possible homicide. See you tonight."
Wearily, Judith hung up the phone. Joe was doing his job, which was that of a homicide detective with the metropolitan police force. He had better ways to spend his time than consoling his wife about her marauding guests and their vicious dog. Judith should never have allowed anyone to bring a pet into Hillside Manor in the first place. Ordinarily, it was against her rules. But Dagmar Chatsworth's secretary, Agnes Shay, had begged so piteously that Judith had given in. And now she was very sorry.
"The Lord didn't like dogs, either," Phyliss Rackley asserted, waggling her dust mop. "Have you ever seen a picture of Him holding a cocker spaniel?"
Judith gave a faint nod of agreement. She was used to her cleaning woman's skewed theology. "I'll take the braided rug to the dry cleaner's," Judith said, stifling a sneeze and adding the errand to her list of afternoon duties. "I've got some old drapes in the basement that'll have to do until the August white sales. Will you have time to help me hang them before the guests get back?"
"I'd hang the guests, if I were you," buffed Phyliss, her gray sausage curls bobbing in time with her dust mop. "They're an ungodly lot, and not fit company for that nice couple from Idaho and those nurses from Alberta."
Judith didn't argue. Dagmar Delacroix Chatsworth might be a nationally syndicated gossip columnist who had become as much of a celebrity as the people she parboiled in her thrice-weekly articles, but she was also a world-class pain in the neck. By contrast, Dagmar's secretary, Agnes Shay, was a meek, mousy woman with an appallingly put-upon manner. The third member of the party, Freddy Whobrey, was Dagmar's nephew. A former jockey, Freddy was small, dark, and feral, with a prominent overbite. Judith was reminded of a weasel. Or maybe a guinea pig. His nickname was Freddy Whoa, for reasons Judith could only guess.
But the most exasperating member of the Chatsworth entourage was Dagmar's fuzzy black-and-white Pomeranian. At the moment, the nasty little animal was locked in the bathroom that adjoined the front bedroom where Dagmar was staying. All of Judith's guests were out. Dagmar was signing her new book, Chatty Chatsworth Digs the Dirt, at a downtown bookstore. Freddy and Agnes had accompanied her. The couple from Idaho and the nurses from Alberta were sightseeing.
"If only the Carlsons hadn't canceled," Judith lamented, "I wouldn't have had an opening for these creeps." The Carlsons were annual visitors from Alaska who always brought along their two grown children and spouses; they all would have filled the three rooms required by the Chatsworth party...