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This Old Souse
A Bed-and-Breakfast Mystery
Judith McMonigle Flynn hurried to answer the front door, took one look at the hideous drooling green creature on the porch, and screamed. Panicking, she slammed the door and leaned against it. The thing was six feet tall, with gaping holes for eyes, viscous green scales, and sharp yellow fangs. Judith was so shaken that she couldn't move to call 911.
"Hey!" shouted a voice from outside. "Open up! It's me! Renie!"
Judith held a hand to her racing heart. Renie, along with other family members and friends, always used the back door. The front was reserved for guests at Hillside Manor. "Coz?" Judith croaked, and slowly turned to open the door just a crack. There, next to the gruesome green creature, stood Serena Jones, more familiarly known to her family as Renie.
"Did SuperGerm scare you?" Renie asked, brown eyes wide.
"Good grief." Judith wilted against the doorframe. "I thought I was going to have a heart attack. What is that awful thing?"
"I guess I shouldn't have stood behind it," Renie said, looking apologetic. "I would've gone to the back door, but this guy is kind of awkward to carry around." She gave the creature a pat on one of its long, scaly arms. "It's just a cutout. I created it for the county board of health's antigerm campaign. Garth Doyle made this model in his studio. The county will put posters of SuperGerm in all public restrooms to remind people to wash up."
"I'm about washed-up after that," Judith said, regaining some of her aplomb. "How about getting that thing off the front porch? It's not good advertising for a B&B."
"Hmm." Renie examined the cutout from stem to stern. "Probably not. But don't you think it's good advertising for hygiene?"
"Yes, fine, super," Judith retorted. "Now put it back in your car before you come inside."
Renie, who was on the small side, struggled a bit as she carted SuperGerm off to her car, which was parked in Hillside Manor's driveway. Waiting on the porch, Judith surveyed the cul-de-sac. Just three days away from the start of summer, the spring shrubs, trees, and bulbs had faded away. The grass was green, the leaves were glossy, and some of the roses were in full bloom. But the sky was overcast, the temperature lingered in the midfifties, and there was a 40 percent chance of rain. It was, Judith knew, a typical June day in the Pacific Northwest.
"All gone," Renie announced, bounding up the steps. "I could use some strong drink. You got any Pepsi?"
Judith nodded. "I just got back from Falstaff's Grocery. I have a full house tonight, so I had to fill the larder. Now that school's out, the B&B reservations are pouring in. I'm pretty well booked up through early August."
"That's great," Renie said, sitting down at the kitchen table. "I'm not so busy. Summer's always a slow time in the graphic design business. Everybody goes on vacation. Good for you, bad for me."
Judith took a can of Pepsi and a diet 7UP out of the refrigerator. Even after more than a year, she was still delighted with the renovations -- particularly in the kitchen -- that had been made following a disastrous fire almost two years earlier.
"Say," Renie said as Judith joined her at the table, "have you got time to take a little ride with me?"
Judith frowned at her cousin. "And with SuperGerm?"
"Well ... " Renie took a deep drink before finishing her reply. "Yes, actually. I have to drop him off at Garth's. He needs some fine-tuning. SuperGerm, I mean, not Garth."
Judith looked skeptical. "And why would I want to help chauffeur SuperGerm to Garth's studio?"
Renie reached into the sheep-shaped jar on the table and filched three oatmeal raisin cookies. "Booyoommerthathouthnmoo fle?" she inquired with her mouth full.
Judith was accustomed to her cousin's voracious appetite; she had also grown adept at translating Renie's food-marred speech. "The house on Moonfleet Street? Sort of. Why?"
"Oh." Judith nodded. "You've always been obsessed with that place, ever since you were a kid. What about it?"
Renie finally swallowed. "Garth lives in my old neighborhood, about four blocks from that house. As you may recall, it's Spanish-style architecture, very unusual for this part of the world."
"I recall." Judith turned as her cleaning woman, Phyliss Rackley, stomped into the kitchen carrying two black plastic bags. Upon seeing Renie, she stopped and glared.
"You," Phyliss breathed. "Don't start in on me with your Romish ways."
"Bite me," Renie snapped.
Phyliss kneaded the plastic bags with her skinny fingers. "False gods. Painted idols. Craven images."
"Funny," Renie remarked, about to pop another cookie into her mouth. "I thought they were graven images."
"You're a blasphemer," Phyliss declared, pronouncing the word as if it were "blass-FEMUR." She turned to Judith and shook the black bags. "I don't like giving these to the St. Vincent de Paul. What's wrong with the Salvation Army?"
"Nothing," Judith replied, ignoring the long-standing religious animosity between Renie and Phyliss. "I'm the one who's giving that stuff away, and it'll go to whichever charity calls first. For now, I want those bags out on the back porch. They're cluttering up the second-floor hall."
With one last dark look for Renie, Phyliss proceeded down the narrow hallway to the porch.
"The pope has spies everywhere," Renie called after the cleaning woman. "Better check the recycling bin, Phyliss." Judith shook her head. "I never bait Phyliss the way you do," she admonished Renie. "I don't rile her. She's too good at her job."
"I didn't start it this time," Renie responded.
"You didn't need to," Judith said. "You've done it often enough in the past. Which," she went on as Phyliss returned from the porch and headed down the basement stairs, "brings us back to the house on Moonfleet." This Old Souse
A Bed-and-Breakfast Mystery. Copyright © by Mary Daheim. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.