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Bantam of the Opera
"Joe," she called, coming out of the toolshed, "I can't stand it any more. We've got to get rid of Dan and put Mother here instead."
Joe turned his round face toward Judith. "But she's still alive," he said, not without a trace of regret. "Shouldn't you wait until
"I mean," interrupted Judith with a shake of her silvered dark curls, "redo the toolshed, expand it, turn it into an apartment for Mother. The situation with her and Aunt Deb living together just isn't working out. I can't stand any more of Mother's bitching and Cousin Renie is driving me nuts with her complaints about their complaints." Judith plopped her statuesque form into the matching lawn chair. "When Mother said she wouldn't live under the same roof with you, she meant it. But I don't think she ever dreamed she'd be the one to live somewhere else. In a way, it's not fain This was her home. If we turned the toolshed into an apartment for her, at least she'd be on her own turf."
"Turf," mused Joe, sipping at the mug of coffee that had been resting on a small wooden table between the two chairs. "How fitting. Your mother with a poleax. Your mother defending the goal line. Your mother spraying me with mustard gas. How did I know it would always come to this?" The round face with the magic green eyes grew vaguely morose.
"Knock it off, Joe," said Judith. "Don't be so damned Irish. At least we got rid of Mike and Kristin," she pointed out, referring to her son and his girlfriend. Both were forestry majors at the state university, a convenient three hundred miles across the mountains. But through an error in job assignments, they had ended up not in Montana as planned, but working at the local city zoo. Naturally, they had settled in at Hillside Manor for the summer, disrupting Judith and Joe's hopes of newlywed privacy. Not, Judith reflected with a wince, that there was ever a great deal of privacy in a home that was also a bed-and-breakfast establishment. Still, after their late-June wedding, Joe and Judith had hoped to have the third-floor family quarters to themselves. Instead, Mike had taken over his old room and, at Joe's somewhat old-fashioned insistence, Kristin had been ensconced in Gertrude's former hideaway. The guests, as usual, used the bedrooms on the second floor, and hardly a night had passed right up through Labor Day without the B&B being full.
Joe was now staring at the toolshed, still looking gloomy. "It'd cost a bundle," he pointed out. "Plumbing, rewiring, kitchen facilities. It'd take months to get permits from the city. In fact, I suspect you'd have to start with a new foundation . . ."
"Joe ..." Judith spoke in a soft, cajoling voice. "You work for the city. You're a big shot homicide detective. Don't you think you could get somebody downtown to wink a bit at our plans?"
"Wink?" Joe gazed at Judith, the gold flecks in the green eyes glittering. 'They'll blink. Hey, Jude-girl, I'm an honest cop, remember? Do you really think I'd try to pull the wool over the building permit guys' eyes?"
Judith's strong features set; her chin jutted. "Of course you would. Besides, I doubt we'd have a problem. I had this whole house redone when I converted it four years ago." She made an over-the-shoulder gesture in the direction of the blue-and-gray Edwardian saltbox that was, along with Mike, her pride and joy. Hillside Manor nestled in the shade of russet-leafed maples and two tall evergreens, high above the heart of the city, overlooking the bay, offering ease in the cul-de-sac of a stately residential neighborhood. "I didn't have that many problems. If you don't change the original exterior too much, the city doesn't make a fuss. The fireworks those kids set off didn't do any structural damage, except to the roof," Judith went on, referring to the Fourth of July accident perpetrated by their paperboy, Dooley, and some of his buddies.
And Mother wouldn't need a kitchen, just a bathroom and a bed-sitting room. It wouldn't take up much more space than the toolshed does right now."
"What about a place to park her broom?" Joe was still looking unhappy.
"Joe!" Judith was beginning to lose patience, an uncharacteristic occurrence, especially with the man she had waited twenty-five years to marry. "Look, we knew this wasn't going to be easy. We even talked about buying a condo and running the B&B from there. But that wasn't practical. Then we conned Mother into moving in with Aunt Deb, which was a great plan on paper but a terrible idea in, reality. Mother and Aunt Deb get along only if dime's two thousand feet of phone cord between them. The bottom line is that it isn't fair. My mother has lived in -this house since she was a bride in 1936. She and my father came to stay with my grandparents to get on their feet during the Depression. They never left. Until now."
Your father left. Quietly," said Joe, brushing at his faintly receding red hair.
"I know. He died," said Judith between gritted teeth. "And quit looking like that."
Joe's expression had changed from glum to hopeful. But he had the grace to give Judith a sheepish grin...Bantam of the Opera
. Copyright © by Mary Daheim. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.