The Accidental Tryst

A Granny and Jezabelle from Fuchsia and Brilliant fame, cozy tale, continues. Chapters 1 – 12

An Accidental Tryst

By Julie Seedorf

©Julie Seedorf June 2020

All rights reserved

This is a work in progress on my blog. It hasn’t been edited and I don’t know the ending. This is a way to show my readers what goes into my writing and what things look like before I send them to an editor and before I finalize things. I share this with you.

Lol, you are all my beta readers now. Kind comments only please but constructive as well. Thank you.


Chapter One

Granny and Jezabelle

          “Mavis, what in tarnation are we doing here? Who takes someone on a promised relaxing spa weekend and takes her to a cabin in the wood by a lake called Weed Lake? And from the view on our porch, it looks like it’s aptly named.”

          “You wanted to get away from the men and I knew you would miss your shysters so I thought with all the wildlife here by the lake you wouldn’t get homesick. Look.” Mavis pointed to a dock hidden through the weeds and bulrushes. “We have a dock and they gave us a boat we can use to go fishing.”

          “Fish? You told me we were going to a spa. Fishing isn’t a spa and do you remember what happened the last time you drove a boat?”

          Mavis ignored Granny’s questions and prattled on. “They have great mud at the bottom of the lake. I thought we could grab the mud and rub it all over our body and have a mud bath at the end of the day.”

          Granny looked out a side window. “Let’s hope the other cabins are empty or have quiet occupants so they don’t witness you disappearing in the mud, never to be seen again.”

          Mavis stuck a brochure under Granny’s nose. “The pamphlet says it’s the perfect place to relax, write or just let your hair down, or get naked and relax.”

          “Are you sure this isn’t a nudist colony?”

          “No.” Mavis peered out the window located over the sink in the little kitchen that occupied the same space as the living room. “Our neighbors are on the porch. It looks as if they’re writing something. We should go see what they are doing. It’s safe. They have their clothes on. We have more neighbors interspersed throughout the woods, but we’re the only two cabins next to the lake and we have the private access to the lake.”

          “That’s good. They won’t see you, and you won’t scare them when you wash the mud off in the moonlight. Just sayin the sight of all those wrinkles hanging with mud won’t be pretty.” Granny’s face broke into a crooked smile that complemented her words.

          Granny began to open the drawers in the small kitchen. “At least they have a coffee pot and we’re stocked with coffee.”

          She opened the fridge and Mavis heard her let out an ah and ooh when she found a bottle of wine on the shelf.

          “Ah ha! We have wine. I don’t have to hide it. No kids or Silas here. Let’s see, do we have any wine glasses?”

          “I’m going next door to meet the neighbors and see what they are writing. Don’t you want to come along?”

          “I’ve met the only neighbor out here I want to meet and that seems to be you and I’m not always sure about that.” Granny settled down on the couch which faced the large window looking out onto the weedy lake.

          “I’ll be back. Then we can plan our itinerary.”

          Granny’s eyebrows almost reached the top of her head hearing the words itinerary.

          She said, “There is an itinerary on Lake Weed? Poison Ivy today? Itch Weed tomorrow. Poison Oak the next day and if it gets really exciting, we might have some live snakes visit us just to ramp up the excitement. Maybe we’ll be able to inhale the lovely aroma of skunk. Or would you like to change the days around and start with the skunk? Which excites you more?”

          The door slammed, Mavis taking her leave after hearing the words snakes and skunks. Granny tipped the glass to her lips, which curled into a smile before almost choking on a chuckle.

************************

“What was the precise measurement of the pecans we put into those muffins?” Lizzy asked Jezabelle as she tapped away on her computer keyboard.

Jezabelle’s forehead crinkled into lines as she thought about it. “We put half a cup but maybe we should try the recipe over again and tweak with a few different types of nuts.”

“This was a great idea getting away from Brilliant and the Bistro so we can put together a cookbook to go along with our grand opening of the new Brilliant Bistro redone once we get the basement opened up for our wine cave downstairs,” Lizzy said.

“It was impossible getting things done, especially with the carpenters getting ready for the remodeling and the rest of the neighborhood embroiled in a hot romance or two. I’m surprised you wanted to take some time away from Warby.”

Lizzy blushed. “Warby and I are not having a hot romance. When are you and HH getting married if you want to talk about a hot romance? You wanted to come on this retreat too.”

Jezabelle paused what she was doing and looked at Lizzy. “I don’t know if I’m the marrying kind.”

Lizzy frowned. “It appears we have neighbors who must have snuck in when we were inside. I hope whoever is renting that cabin is quiet. We have to get this cookbook done without interruption.”

“Don’t forget our stash of liquor so we can concoct our own new drinks for our wine cellar and only serve the finest collection of wine and spirits.” Jezabelle reminded her.

Lizzy laughed. “What would our Brilliant friends say if they knew we were not teetotaling while we were here?”

“They would have followed us here if they knew.” Jezabelle eyes squinted almost shut as she gazed at the cabin next door. “Who’s that on the porch coming our way? It can’t be. No, it can’t be. How did this happen? Are they spying on us?”

Lizzy followed her gaze. “Um… I think it can be. I recognize her. She was having coffee while we were visiting your niece, Delight, in Fuchsia. It’s Granny’s  friend Mavis.

Chapter Two

Mavis had one foot off of the porch when she realized who she was seeing. At that moment the screen door opened and Granny was about to join her. Mavis did a full whirl and slammed her hand on the screen door, preventing Granny from coming outside.

“Mavis. What are you doing? I decided to join you to meet the neighbors. It has to happen sometime during this week.”

“Don’t come out here. Wasps. Yes, there are wasps out here. Aren’t you allergic? Won’t you get bit?”

“Mavis, I’m not allergic, you are. If there were wasps out there you would be screaming and I do mean screaming to get in.”

“Well, maybe I  mistook them for wasps. But there are big bugs out here. It’s best for us to stay inside. I guess I’ll come in.”

“Aren’t there always bugs if you sit by a lake called Weed Lake?” Granny countered. “Let me out to see what you don’t want me to see.”

Mavis reluctantly took her hand off the screen door and stepped back.

Granny took one step onto the porch and saw what Mavis had been trying to prevent. “Jezabelle.  What is Jezabelle doing here? Isn’t it enough that the woman thinks she is an amateur detective over there in that Brilliant, but now she is here too? She’s following us and trying to figure out how I am so successful in catching all those lowlife scoundrels. She thinks we are here solving a crime.”

Granny was still ranting as she went down the steps and across the yard to confront Jezabelle and Lizzy. Mavis quickly followed.

“Oh, oh,” Lizzy said to Jezabelle as she saw Granny barreling across the space in between the cabins.

Jezabelle, seeing Granny coming, stayed at her keyboard and continued working on the cookbook recipe.

“You followed us here. We are trying to have a spa weekend and you followed us here.”

Lizzy stepped out of the way and took a step back as Mavis joined her after finally catching up with Granny.

Jezabelle calmly looked up from her computer. “I would say you followed us here since you arrived after we have settled in. Is there something you want?”

“I want you to leave so we can have a restful time. No puzzles or no mysteries here except for whether Mavis will look good in mud!”

“It appears we are the restful ones. You are the one ranting. How my niece Delight gets caught up in your shenanigans  I will never know.” Jezabelle returned her attention to the keyboard.

Mavis and Lizzy’s whispering gained both women’s attention.

Granny frowned. “Did I hear you both talking about Delight? Mavis, how did you hear about this place?”

Jezabelle lifted her gaze to her best friend, Lizzy. “Yes, Lizzy, I would like to know that as well.”

Lizzy stepped forward. “Well… um.. ah.”

“Just blurt it out, Lizzy. We didn’t know. We are the innocent parties here,” Mavis said.

“We just realized it was Delight. Delight made the reservations for us,” Lizzy explained.

“She put us here for a writing week and you for a spa week in cabins next to each other? She knows that would not be a peaceful week for either of us,” Jezabelle said.

“I can’t stay in a cabin for an entire week next to this wannabe amateur puzzle solver.” Granny countered.

Jezabelle stood up, addressing Granny,  “We need some ground rules. May I suggest you and I walk out to the end of the dock alone and hammer out boundaries so we don’t have to see each other?”  

“I think that’s a great idea. You two stay back here and don’t drink all of my wine.” Granny started for the dock.

“We can’t let them go alone, they’ll hurt each other,” Mavis said

“I don’t think we have much choice, they’re already on their way. Let’s have a glass of wine.”

Mavis plunked down into the chair Jezabelle vacated. Looking at the computer, which was left open, she said, “A cookbook. Maybe we better edit it. It would make a great reality television show with what those two are probably cooking up.”

Chapter Three

“No lights on after 8:00 p.m. to shine on our cabin,” Granny said.

8 p.m.? Nighttime is a writer’s dream and although I am a baker this is a cookbook, so that makes me a writer. And… I do my best thinking and tweaking recipes after midnight. Sorry, I can’t agree to that. And you can’t tell me you go to bed at 8:00 p.m. Delight has told me of your crew’s nighttime escapades.”

“Mavis has plans for us to have our mudbaths in the moonlight and the light will disturb us.”

“It’s not even dark at 8:00 p.m. so there is no moonlight.” Jezabelle pointed out.

“There is preparation time you know. Meditation on the dock.”

“When have you ever meditated?” Jezabelle came closer to Granny. “Oh, I have heard about that menagerie of animals you have. It’s kind of impossible to meditate when they are howling at all times of the day and night.”

Granny met Jezabelle head to head. “Are you dissing my shysters? Why, they have helped me solve more crimes while you have been burning all those baked goods and trying to sell them to your customers.” Granny’s finger tapped Jezabelle’s chest.

Jezabelle moved back. “Are you attacking me?” I told Delight she doesn’t know the real you. You hide under the guise of a feeble old woman but you are the Godzilla of Grannies and now you are showing your true colors. Get off my dock.”

Granny followed Jezabelle’s backward movement, making Jezabelle step back more. Jezabelle’s foot reached the end of the dock and she lost her balance, reaching out to steady herself by grabbing Granny’s arms. Granny, unprepared, fell into Jezabelle and they both tumbled off the end of the dock.

The loud voices and splash startled Lizzy and Mavis.

“Oh, oh,” Lizzy said.

Mavis was already running toward the dock.

When Lizzy caught up to her, Mavis had her cell phone out and was filming what she was seeing.

Lizzy laughed.  “This is your way of settling things. I think you both got a mudbath.”

Granny and Jezebelle, standing in the water, were both covered in mud and trying to wipe their eyes so they could see.

“You couldn’t have picked a clearer lake to vacation at Mavis?”

“Mudbaths Granny, mudbaths, but you started without me.”

Jezabelle was still trying to see through the mud covering her eyes. “Granny move over. Quit bumping against me, trying to push me back in.”

“I’m over here. I am nowhere near you.”

“Um… Um…” Lizzy pointed next to Jezabelle. “There’s a big lump underneath the water bumping into you Jezabelle. Is it a dead fish?”

Granny, who had her eyes wiped off, tromped a few steps in the chest deep water. Reaching down, she tried to move the object bumping into Jezabelle. “It’s a fish alright. A dead one, it appears, but it’s a human fish. Call the sheriff.”

Chapter Four

Granny and Jezabelle, wrapped in towels, stood to the side as the group of rescue people pulled the body from the water. They watched as the sheriff kneeled down and shook his head. The resort owner, Maridee Shelby, stood by his side wringing her hands. No one else staying in the cabins tucked in the woods seemed to notice anything out of the usual was going on and didn’t add to the fracas.

Mavis and Lizzy had gone back to the cabin to get some coffee for Jezabelle and Granny.

“How did you know there was going to be a dead body in the lake when you followed me down here to learn how I catch crooks? You knew before I did. I’ll give you that. You might have one-upped me on this. Or did you plant the body?” Granny asked Jezabelle.

“What? What? I don’t plant bodies. I’m writing a cookbook. Did you plant the body just so you could have a murder to solve and try to prove to me that you could do it?”

“Look at it this way. At least my son, Thor, and the Tall Guy aren’t here to tell me I can’t investigate this,” Granny said.

Jezabelle nodded her head in agreement. “And at least HH isn’t here telling me I can’t have my friends help me put the pieces together.”

Granny watched the sheriff as he instructed his deputies. “He probably doesn’t know about our skills and that he needs our help.”

“Should we tell him? I guess it would be kind of silly not to do this together.”

“They might try to send us home so if I faint just go with it. Plead the fifth if he asks you anything incriminating. I’ve had plenty of experience with this.”

Jezabelle poked her. “Watch out, here he comes. We need to make sure Lizzy and Mavis don’t give us away when they come back down here.”

“Ladies, should we go back to one of your cabins and discuss how you found George?”

Mavis and Lizzy arrived with the coffee. When Mavis heard the word George, she tripped. The coffee went in the air and landed directly on the shirt of the sheriff.

“George? That’s my George. Oh my. I knew I shouldn’t have gone away for the week, leaving him alone. He followed us and now he’s dead.” Mavis’s loud voice ended in a wail.

“Who’s she?” The sheriff asked, trying to brush the stain of coffee off his uniform.

“Our friend,” Jezabelle answered.

“Who’s her George and why does she think she knows George Prank?”

Mavis quit her caterwauling and looked at the sheriff. “Who’s George Prank?”

“He’s the George dead in the water,” the sheriff answered.

“That’s not my George?”

“Lady, I don’t know who your George is, but if it’s not George Prank, it’s not your George.”

Granny turned to Mavis. “Mavis, get a hold of yourself. The sheriff is here to interview us. Why don’t you two go back to the cabin and drink some wine? We’ll be up in a few minutes.”

Lizzy, seeing they needed some time, took Mavis’ arm. “Come on, Mavis. Why don’t we get to know each other a little better and let these folk figure this out?”

“As long as you’re sure that’s not my George.” She took one more sniff and then went with Lizzy.

The sheriff watched them leave. “Should we go up to the cabin too?”

“No, we’re fine right here officer,” Jezabelle answered. “Is Ms. Shelbee ok? What a thing to happen.”

“She’s fine. Just a little shook up,” the sheriff answered. “Let me introduce myself. I’m Phil Puxatawny.”

Granny’s eyes went wide. “Such as in Puxatawny Phil the groundhog?”

“One and the same. I was born on Groundhog Day and my mother thought it was a fitting name since our last name was Puxatawny. Trust me. I’ve heard all the jokes.”

“So you know the man in the lake?” Jezabelle asked.

“Yup, he’s been missing since yesterday.”

“Were you looking for him?” Granny asked.

“Nope.”

“He was missing and you weren’t looking for him?” Granny spit out the words.

“Nope. Weren’t too alarmed, it was just George. We’ve looked for him so many times it was getting old. Always found him. He’d wander off from his wife from time to time. We always found him fishing somewhere. Said he needed peace and quiet, eventually when his wife called him missing we just quit looking. Figured he was fishing. He always turned up alive. Guess I miscalculated this one. Spose I better tell his missus. Hate to break it to her that he’s going to be fishing for good now. No use to report him missing anymore.”

Jezabelle took one look at Granny and knew she might have to hold her down. So she said, “Your concern overwhelms me, sheriff.”

“Overwhelms? Overwhelms!” Granny shouted. “And the cause of death?”

Phil Puxatawny answered, “It’s clear. He fell in the lake and drowned while fishing. It looks like he was only there a few hours. Must have happened sometime this morning. Well, if you don’t have anything more to contribute, I guess I better get the body out of here and take myself out to the missus place.”

Jezabelle asked, “You didn’t ask us any questions.”

“What’s to ask? You fell in the lake and found George. Seems pretty cut and dried to me.”

“You don’t think that perhaps there should be an autopsy? Or ask yourself, if he fell in fishing, where’s his fishing equipment? His bait? His pole? His tackle box? Even I know you have to have fishing equipment. What do you think he did, try to catch fish with his hands?” Granny stepped closer to the sheriff.

Jezabelle grabbed her arm and pulled her back. “Granny has a point.”

“He probably had a few sips too many and maybe instead of fishing was trying to clear his head and fell in. He didn’t know  how to swim. It was always a concern of his wife that if he went fishing and fell in, he would drown. I guess it happened. Well, I see my deputies are ready to go. Enjoy your stay and you can use the dock area now. In case you didn’t know, the mud is great for naked mudbaths in the moonlight.”

Jezabelle turned to Granny after watching the sheriff walk away. “He didn’t just really say that did he?”

“Here’s what I say. I know we have our differences. You don’t know what you’re doing when it comes to sleuthing, but I guess I can teach you. My crew isn’t here and neither are your neighbors. The four of us need to put our differences aside and find out if George ended up in the lake because he liked to eat fish, or because someone thought his fishing days should come to an end.”

Jezabelle thought for a moment. “As long as we don’t tell that niece of mine that her suspected plan worked. I think we should call her when we get back to the cabin and let her think a Fuchsia- Brilliant War is about to start between us.”

Granny laughed. “Jezabelle, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I like how you think.”

Chapter Five

“Hurry Mavis. We need to get to the wife of the dead guy and talk her into an autopsy and we don’t want the next door nosies to see us.”

“I thought we agreed to work together,” Mavis said, obvious confusion in her tone.

“No… I never used those words worked together. I just told her what I thought she wanted to hear to throw her off. Now is that casserole ready to take with us?”

“I think it is. You know you and I aren’t exactly the cooking type. I just threw in everything I could find from the cans in the house and mixed it together. I didn’t want to taste it to spoil the surprise of seeing Mrs. Prank. That is the oddest name. Consider the jokes.”

“Get it out of the oven and wrap it in this towel. We have to hurry.” Granny spread a towel on the table.

“Can I film our visit for my next reality show?” Mavis asked as she lifted the hot casserole out of the oven and set it in the middle of the towel.”

“Mavis, snap out of it. Your reality shows are just for fun. Imagination. You don’t do it for real.”

“I think I should start and what better than with this. George isn’t here to tell me the same thing. Besides, I don’t know what you think makes this mysterious or something, other than Mr. Prank falling into the lake when he was tipsy. Why would you want to put that poor woman through an autopsy?”

“Cause that there sheriff seems a little slow. He’s never had a murder up here. Think about it. Maybe there are more and he just passed them off like he did Mr. Prank. We need to find out. No booze, no shoes, no fishing rod, no bait, not great.” Granny went into one of her rhymes. “Are you ready to go?”

Mavis picked up the warm casserole and started for the front door.

“Back door, Mavis, back door. We don’t want them to see us. Our car is in back, anyway.”

Granny saw movement by the car as she came out of the house. “What are you doing?” Granny asked the two women who were getting into their car, which was next to Granny’s.

“Um… just going for a drive,” Jezabelle answered.

Lizzy raised her eyebrows and sighed. “We have cheesecakes.”

“And just where are you going with those cheesecakes?” Granny asked.

“It’s none of your business.” Jezabelle got in the car and slammed her door shut.

Instead of getting in the car, Lizzy tromped in between the cars and said, “That’s enough for you two. We are going to Mrs. Prank’s seeing if we can talk her into an autopsy. We think something is fishy, pardon the phrase, and it needs to be looked into more. I assume that is where you two are going too. Can’t we all work together? Delight would love that, wouldn’t she?”

Mavis joined Lizzy. “I’m with her. That would make a fabulous reality for my first live show on Deckbook.”

“You do reality shows?” Lizzy asked.

“No, she doesn’t. Only in her head,” Granny answered. “Fine, I will if you will.” She looked across at Jezabelle, who was still in the car.

“Back to what we said before. We will put aside our differences for the good of the Pranks. And this time I will mean it. Will you?” she gave Granny a pointed look.

“I’ll drive,” said Granny.

“I’m already in the car. I’ll drive.”

“You’re not even in the driver’s seat.” Lizzy pointed out. “I’ll drive. Get in. I’ve heard about your driving, Granny and Mavis, I know you can’t even drive a boat, and your speed on a street is 15 miles an hour. It’s ten miles to the Pranks. At your speed, it would take us all day. No arguing.”

Granny sputtered as she got into Lizzy’s car. “I told you that you drive too slow. Look, now it has us driving with the Brillianites. I never thought I’d see the day. Don’t tell anyone in Fuchsia. They’d think I got soft in my young age.”

Chapter Six

“And who are you?” The big woman that answered the door looked at them suspiciously.

Jezabelle stepped forward before Granny had a chance to answer. “We brought you some food. The four of us are staying at the resort where your husband died. In fact, he died right off our dock and we thought we should come by and pay our respects.

The lady, dressed in a long flowing bright pink flowered muumuu looked them up and down, taking in their appearance. “I guess I can trust wrinkly folks, especially the one in back. She looks like she’s been around for 100 years.”

“You talking about me?” Granny asked, getting ready to add to the sentence with a more belligerent response, but Mavis put a hand over her mouth.

“Yes, I am. The wrinkles look good on you. No need to pay your respects. That man didn’t have the sense to be able to put two words together when he was drinking. I was always having to tell him what to do. He was always disappearing when I had to work for him. At least now I don’t always have to go lookin for him or report him missing. I know where he will be. Right out back scattered amongst the trees.”

“You’re not going to bury him by the lake since he liked to fish?” Lizzy asked.

“Bury him. I’m going to scatter him right back in the forest.  He always had so much trouble staying home to help me with the herbs that I needed to be harvested, and now he’ll be here permanently. I guess I have the last say after all.”

“Can we come in?” Jezabelle asked.

“What for?”

“So we can get acquainted. We might like you. First impressions can be deceiving.” Granny pushed her way past the woman. “Where do you want me to put this casserole and what’s your name?”

“My name’s Matilda. I guess you can come in since you’re already in.”

Lizzy, trying to calm things down, asked, “You have an herb business?”

“Yup, I call it the Herbal Horrible Haberdashery.”

“That is certainly an interesting name,” Lizzy replied.

“If the taste doesn’t  kill ya, it’ll cure ya. That’s my motto.”

“That sounds like a great motto. Do you want to be on my reality show?” Mavis asked.

“I have enough reality here. Who’s gonna help me with my business now that the Prankster is gone?”

“Ya, well, that’s what we want to talk to you about. Don’t ya think you should have an autopsy done?” Granny asked.

“Nah, if he’s dead, he’s dead,” Matilda answered.

“But what if it was some of your herbs that knocked him off?” Granny asked. “If he inhaled them before he left, maybe they made him tipsy. In fact, did you ever see him take a drink while he was here at home before he left?”

Matilda frowned. “Come to think of it, I never let him drink at home, only herbal tea. He needed to try out my concoctions so I could see if my customers would buy them. Do you really think my tea was the cause of him falling into the lake?”

Jezabelle patted the woman’s hand. “Sadly it could be and you’ll never know if you don’t have an autopsy done.”

A knock on the door interrupted their conversation.

Matilda ambled over to see who it was before opening the screen door. “What ya want, Sheriff? I thought I told you everything I knew about the Prankster earlier.”

“We’re done with our investigation so we wanted to know what funeral home you wanted to use? Weed Lake Funeral or Peaceful Pathways?”

“I want an autopsy,” Matilda blurted out.

“Why?” Sheriff Phil Puxatawny asked.

“I want to make sure he wasn’t murdered.”

“Murdered? He wasn’t murdered. He fell in the lake and drowned.”

Sheriff, are you telling me I can’t have an autopsy?” Matilda asked.

“For what? Waste of money if you ask me,” the Sheriff answered.

“It’s my money. And I want to know.”

“She does and you heard her. She wants to know,” Granny said.

“Why are you all here? You don’t even know Matilda and you didn’t know George,” The sheriff answered.

“I know George.” Mavis piped up. “I know my George and if he kicked the bucket while trying to swim in a lake I would want to know why. Did a fish bite him? Did he succumb to seaweed? That’s it. It’s Weed Lake. A weed killed him.”

“Calm down, Mavis. You have to excuse her, she’s a little out there but never here,” Granny said. “If Matilda wants an autopsy, she should have one.”

“Remind me again why you are here?” Puxatawny asked.

“We just came to pay our respects and meet Mathilda. We brought her some food. That’s what we do in Minnesota in case you have forgotten. When someone dies we bring food. And in case you’ve forgotten again,  it was Granny and Jezabelle who found George Prankster and they feel responsible.”

“I’ll get the body to the morgue and we’ll have Knifewoman see what’s up?” Phil Puxatawny answered.

“Knifewoman? Knifewoman!” Granny’s eyes were wide open not believing what she heard.

“She’s our medical examiner. We call her the Knifewoman since she does the autopsies. It’s easier than saying her name, which is S-a-o-i-r-s-e. The sheriff spelled the name rather than saying it. Her last name is M—o—l-0-u-g-h-n-e-y. She’s a stubborn red headed Irish woman and don’t contradict her autopsy or you will see the temper.”

“She sounds like a woman I want to meet,” Granny said.

Matilda opened her front screen door. “Out, out! All of you, out!”

Jezabelle said, “Did we do something to offend you that you want us to leave?”

“No, I need to go out and look for another husband. I need help with my herb business,” Matilda answered.

“Wouldn’t it be easier just to hire someone?” Lizzy asked.

Sheriff Puxatawny answered for Matilda, “Nah, Matilda likes bein married. George was her third husband. I’ve been out here many times before. They always seem to disappear. George is the first one we actually found.”

Chapter Seven

“Who would have thought the four of us would be on the front porch sipping on wine in the moonlight?” Lizzy asked as she closed her eyes and savored the taste of her Indian Island Dream Catcher wine.

“I think Mavis is imagining it and we somehow are dreaming this. Just like the new wine flavor you introduced us to. This is all a dream and tomorrow I’ll wake up in my bed with all my critters. Maybe they should have named that wine, Nightmare,” Granny said.

Jezabelle rolled her eyes. “We have critters here too. Can’t you hear them rustling by Weed Lake? It’s been quite a day. Did you believe Matilda’s story? She’s already looking for another husband.”

“Matilda’s strong enough and tall and muscular enough and she could have knocked the Prankster off the dock and held his head underwater,” Granny answered. “Maybe he wasn’t an excellent herb farmer and she wanted to look for someone new. Or someone that wasn’t always disappearing. What do you suppose happened to her other husbands?”

Mavis was quietly sipping on her wine. Suddenly she stood up, her glass flying out of her hand and crashing against the side of the porch.

“Mavis! It’s not time for one of your shows. That was a waste of superb wine.” Granny shot up from her chair and brushed her clothing, making sure there were no glass shards that flew into her attire.

“It’s… it’s… run… run!” Mavis pointed into the darkness to the right of the porch.” Then she tried to get past the other women but tripped over Granny’s foot. Pushing herself up she jumped up on her chair and said, “Go away, go away. Shoo!”

All the women were now on their feet.

Mavis! Calm down. What are you yammering about? I can’t see anything.” Granny peered into the darkness.

“That’s because you’re blind. You only see what you want to see. And you don’t want to see what Mavis is pointing at,” Jezabelle said. “I think we  need to skedaddle.”

Lizzy wrinkled her brow and looked into the darkness too. “I must be as blind as Granny because I see nothing.”

“There it is. Run. Run. I’ll take the hit but just don’t forget about me when I give my life to protect you,” Mavis said.

Lizzie gasped. “I see what you see, Mavis. I think it’s too late to run. Nice kitty. Nice kitty. Don’t spray us. We like animals.”

“A skunk! A skunk. It figures. We already knew there were skunks of the human kind at Weed Lake and now we will experience the critter kind. Don’t move and plug your nose. Stay still,” Granny instructed.

The women became statues with only their eyes watching the movement of the striped creature.

The skunk waddled up on the porch and sniffed before moving to inspect each woman.

Mavis began to crack. Granny could hear her trembling wail beginning to start. “Mavis can it or we are all going to have to force ourselves to take baths in tomato juice  rather than that mud you planned on.”

“You hoo. Sylvester, where are you? Sylvester?” Meridee Shelbee came around the corner of the cottage.

“Don’t move Meridee,” Jezabelle warned. “We have a striped visitor and we are trying to not get sprayed. Is there someone you can call to trap him?”

Meridee joined them on the porch. The women gasped, waiting for the smell they knew was coming.

“No fear. Sylvester, are you scaring these friendly ladies?” Meridee reached down and picked up the furry skunk. “He’s harmless and he can’t spray anyone anymore. I raised him from a baby. He just got away from me tonight when we were going for a walk. I am so sorry he scared you.” She cradled Sylvester in her arms.

Mavis got down off her chair. “I was just observing from above trying to get the best angle for my reality show.”

“We are all relieved and happy to meet Sylvester,” Lizzy said as she stretched out her stiff muscles after trying to not move to avoid getting sprayed.

“Lots of hoopla around here today,” Granny said.

“Yes, well… I guess it happens but it has never happened to me,” Meridee spoke in a soft voice. “I like things to be quiet. That’s why I live here. I don’t go out much except here in my resort. I like peace and quiet. I’m kind of shy so if I don’t always seem friendly it’s just that I am usually at a loss for words.”

“You should hook up with Mavis here,” Granny said. “She is never at a loss for words. She could teach you a thing or two.”

“Look who’s talking,” Lizzy answered.

Granny ignored the barb and asked Meridee, “Did you know George Prank?”

“Uh, well… no. I mean, I knew him because he asked if he could stay at one of my cabins. He rented the one in the most solitary part of the property. He would pay me in cash and I wasn’t to tell anyone.” She put her hand to her mouth. “Oh no. I just told you. Pretend you didn’t hear that.”

“Did you tell the sheriff about that?” Jezabelle asked.

Meridee shook her head. “No. The identity of those who rent my cabins is private. Besides, he didn’t ask. He didn’t ask me any questions, just removed the body.”

“Figures,” Granny said.

Meridee fidgeted. “Should I tell him? I really don’t want to get involved. I have to go home. All this conversation is scaring me.” Turning, she ran down the steps and disappeared along the side of the cabin.

“That was interesting. What time is it? I’m thinking I’ve had all the togetherness I can stand. It’s time for my beauty sleep.” Granny yawned.

“Midnight. It’s midnight. It’s time for our mudbaths.” Mavis turned and asked Lizzy, “Are you two going to join us?”

“No, we lost an entire cookbook writing day. I’ll take a rain check. I need to get some sleep so we can be up writing early.”

“I’ll take a snow check,” Jezabelle said. “It’ll be a cold day before I take a mudbath in Weed Lake. I don’t like blood suckers and mud always has blood suckers.”

Mavis eyes grew wide. “They suck your blood?”

“Yup,” Granny said. “Leeches. They leech right onto you and suck the blood right out of you. Blood transfusion, Mavis. What type of blood do you have so we can tell the doctor when we haul you in?”

“I ah… think I’ll skip it to another night. I suddenly feel tired.” She quickly disappeared out the cabin door.

Granny chuckled before saying to Jezabelle and Lizzie, “Something I said?”

Chapter Eight

A thud woke Granny up. Not hearing another one, she closed her eyes again, hoping to put off rousting herself out of bed until she heard…

“Help, no…. it’s dead! It’s dead.” Mavis voice was getting louder.

Granny hopped out of bed not taking time to steady herself with the bedpost as she usually did, since mornings made her balance a little tipsy. She tilted out of her room to find Mavis standing in the middle of the great room of the cabin holding something smelly. “Mavis, is there a dead mouse in here?”

“No, no… it’s this.” Mavis threw something at Granny.

Granny reached out and caught it just before it would have hit her in the face. “It’s a dead fish. Why did you bring a dead fish into the cabin and by the smell, I would say it’s been dead for a coon’s age?” Granny moved to the open door and tossed it out on the lawn. “And why did you leave the door open?”

“I didn’t. Well, I did, but I didn’t.”

Granny shoved Mavis down in the nearest chair. “Take a deep breath, Mavis. In… out… in… out.”

Mavis whooshed her breath in and out until she could speak. “I head a thud and I got up to see what it was. When I saw nothing I opened the door and there it was; a dead fish laying on our porch. I picked it up and then realized how dead it was and then I got scared. How did a dead fish get on our porch?”

“He didn’t jump all the way from the weeds to here. I would guess someone left us a present.”

“But why? Why a dead fish?”

“For once in your life, Mavis, you came up with a good question.” Granny meandered out the front door to look over the lakefront from their porch. After a few minutes, Mavis, after taking another deep breath, got up and followed her.

“That’s quite the attire for an old woman,” Jezabelle called over from next door. “Did you buy those PJ’s just for this trip? I heard your nighttime wardrobe runs toward the more risque.”

Granny skewered up her face into a scowl. “I was to be going to a spa according to the reality queen here,” Granny yelled across the space between the two cabins. I thought I would dress appropriately.”

Lizzy, standing next to Jezabelle on their porch, decided she needed to bring it down a notch so the two women trading jibes didn’t get into a full-blown tizzy fit. “I think you look very nice. Bright pink silk PJs with Snazzy Woman written on them fits you and I mean that as a compliment.”

“See, see,” Granny said to Jezabelle. “Someone appreciates suitable bedtime attire. What do you wear? A night hat and long flannel flowered gown?”

“We have a fish,” Lizzy quickly held up a dead fish in her hand to break up the conversation. “Someone threw a very dead fish at our door. Right as were we writing the ending of an important recipe we heard the thump,  but didn’t get outside fast enough to see who it was.”

“We got one too. We got one too.” Mavis pointed to the fish laying in the grass in the front of the cabin.

“And I would say it wasn’t room service for our breakfast,” Granny said.

“We’ve got coffee already made. Come on over and let’s talk about this,” Lizzy said.

“You’re inviting the pink flamingo for coffee on our porch? Shouldn’t she change clothes first?” Jezabelle gave Granny another jibe. “I’m only kidding. Come on over. It’s hard to get used to the fact we may have to get along for a little while. We are so different, but I will try to stop making comments about you if you will.”

“She will. She will.” Mavis grabbed Granny’s arm and pulled her down the steps.

“I will?”

Mavis stopped pulling on Granny long enough to give her an usually sharp look.

Realizing that was out of character for Mavis, Granny said, “I will.”

“Do you think this has anything to do with George Prank’s death?” Lizzy asked as she poured coffee for Granny and Mavis.

“Even in my wildest imagination or Mavis’s I don’t see what throwing a dead fish at our cabin would have to do with it,” Granny said.

“Maybe it’s a warning or part of a puzzle?” Jezabelle answered. “Something’s fishy around here. That could be a clue.”

Granny rolled her eyes. “I forgot. You and your crew are into solving the puzzle of Brilliant that the Brilliant Brothers left you all. It only took how many years or the brilliant people of Brilliant to realize they left you all a puzzle. Brilliant!”

“And we’ve solved them all so far.” Jezabelle stuck out her chest. “And we’re proud of it. If you don’t like puzzles what do you think it means?”

“Obviously you have looked up the meaning of a dead fish in a dictionary. I’ll leave you to do that. I didn’t know I would have to teach sexual education 101 on this trip. Maybe George died because someone decided he was a dead fish.”

“Huh?” Mavis wrinkled her nose in confusion.

Chapter Nine

“We should have gone into town with Lizzy and Mavis.” Jezabelle swatted at her arm, trying to get the big Minnesota mosquito to go away.

“They thought we should bond or how did they put it… come to an amicable sharing of ideas,” Granny said. “Fat chance but I guess we could try. I love your niece but don’t tell her I said so. I guess I could try to get along with you for her sake.”

“Why is it we don’t get along?” Jezabelle asked.

“I have no idea. Probably because I think your way of sleuthing isn’t as good as my way and you think the same.”

Jezabelle wrinkled her nose in thought. “I think my way of sleuthing isn’t as good as your way?”

“No, you think you are better at it than me because you are a puzzle sleuth, and to you that seems more complicated, but let me tell you we have complicated cases in Fuchsia too.”

“I don’t think that way. I don’t get along with you because you don’t get along with me. I really don’t know why,” Jezabelle said.

“Enough conversation about this. I’ve gotta go.” Granny stood up.

“Where are you going?” Jezabelle asked.

“I want to meet the neighbors in the woods. Don’t you?”

Jezabelle nodded in agreement. “I think that’s a good idea. It’s hard to see the other cabins and I understand this property is pretty large. Let’s meander the path and see what we find.”

“Or who we find,” Granny said. “Wait a minute I have to get something.” Granny shuffled off the porch and over to her cabin, disappearing inside.

“Now what?” Jezabelle muttered to herself.

“I got em.” Granny came out of the door holding up two long sticks, one in each hand.

“What are those things?” Jezabelle yelled across the space so Granny could hear her.

Granny joined Jezabelle on her porch. “Walking sticks.”

“I don’t need a stick to help me walk,” Jezabelle answered.

“They’re only for us to pretend to need them. Old women need help walking. At least that’s what other people think and to be honest, sometimes I do. These will be our weapons. There’s a murderer loose. We may have to protect ourselves so we can go under cover as feeble old women.”

“We are old women.” Jezabelle reminded her. “And right now I feel pretty feeble thinking we might need a weapon. That’s not how I roll. We solve crimes in Brilliant with our heads not our weapons.”

“There’s a first time for everything. Here.” Granny handed her one of the walking sticks. Let’s get walking.”

“I didn’t realize there were so many trails to follow. Which way shall we go?”

Granny threw her walking stick in the air.  “Follow the stick into the sticks.”

The walking stick came down next to the trail that went left. Granny took the trail and picked up her walking stick.

“We don’t know this was a murder.” Jezabelle reminded Granny.

“No, but look at it this way, we have a head start if it is.”

“Who would send us a dead fish and why?” Jezabelle said, more to herself than Granny.

“It’s not like a dead fish is deadly, at least to us,” Granny said.

“No, I think someone was telling us something is fishy.”

“There you go again, always thinking in puzzles.”

“Look, there’s our first cabin.” Jezabelle pointed to a shadow further into the woods down the path.

“What is that on the porch?” Granny stopped to peer through the trees. “I should have brought my binoculars. Haven’t used them since George moved in with Mavis.”

“You watched George and Mavis with binoculars?” Jezabelle asked.

Yup, the ole spyglass helped me keep an eye on them so I knew they were alive in the morning, but when George quit hanging his boxers outside his house and they were hanging from Mavis’s flagpole, I decided they didn’t need me watching them. That was too much information I didn’t need.”

“Is someone out there?” A voice came through the trees.

Granny and Jezabelle carefully put down their walking sticks and used them to go the rest of the way toward the voice calling our further down the trail.

“I knew I heard voices. What are you doing here?” The bundle of white from head to toe asked them.

“Um… walking,” Granny answered. “Did you fall into some flour?”

Jezabelle stifled a laugh.

“I am doing my daily at home or at my cabin spa treatment. It’s called white clay. And it’s none of your business. Who are you and why are you here?”

“Again, we were just exploring the woods. This here is Jezabelle and I am Granny. Who are you?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“You can’t tell us?” Jezabelle asked.

“I won’t tell you. I am not to be disturbed and you are disturbing me and… you will not tell anyone you saw me. Understand?”

“We can’t tell anyone we saw you if we don’t know who you are, so how about you tell us who you are so we know who we can’t tell anyone we saw,” Granny said.

The white slathered face said, “What?”

“Oh, don’t worry about her. She always talks like that and her memory is a little off so she won’t remember you the minute she turns her back. In fact, watch this.” Jezabelle slyly winked at Granny. “Turn around Granny.”

Granny turned to go back down the trail since the trail stopped at the cabin.

“Now turn back the other way,” Jezabelle instructed.

Granny turned back and looked at the slathered white creamed woman. “Oh, hello. Is this your cabin? Why do you look like a white fluff ball?”

Jezabelle nodded. “Do you see my point?”

“Yes, I guess I do. But what about you?” The unnamed woman asked Jezabelle.

“Lady, we were just out for a walk. But since we know you are here but don’t know who you are, could you answer one question? Do you know George Pratt?”

A thud could be heard inside the cabin. Granny peered at the cabin window next to the unnamed woman. “You have company?”

The woman answered, “No… no. Yes, I mean yes. That’s my masseuse. He was setting up his table. I have to go. And if you bother me again, I will let Meridee know. She promised me privacy so my fans couldn’t find me.”

“Fans? You have fans? Who are you? Are you famous? Are you sure you didn’t know George Pratt and he was visiting you here in the woods and you decided to get rid of him so he couldn’t tell your fans where you are?” Granny took a breath.

The woman squared her shoulders and stood straight as a stick. “I am warning you.”

“Granny, turn around,” Jezabelle ordered.

“I’m going. I’m going. Are you coming Jezabelle? It’s time to move on.” She pounded her walking stick on the path and began to follow the trail back the way they had come.

“Um… we are sorry we bothered you. Enjoy your massage and if you don’t want people to know who you are, I would recommend you always wear that face cream and that fluffy white robe. Perhaps add some rabbit slippers to go with the environment and you might be good.”

Jezabelle followed Granny back down the trail.

……………………………….

“We might not make a bad team after all,” Granny said when they were far enough away to not be heard. Good idea to make me forgetful.”

“You are forgetful. I didn’t have to make that up. But it got us some information. She has fans so she might be famous. That’s a clue we will have to work on. The puzzle might be coming together. We have a dead fish  and a person with fans, plus a mysterious visitor in her cabin she is passing off as a masseuse.”

“Or it could really be a masseuse. No puzzle there. Lots of famous people have to get out of the limelight to put their lives back together or just to relax. After all, I know from experience. It’s hard to get away from your fans. I have fans from my crime solving experience,” Granny said.

“Do we want to quit for the day or continue on?” Jezabelle asked.

“Let’s see where this path leads,” Granny said.

The women started down the trail next to the one they were on. The path forked off into an angle starting at the point in the woods near their cabin.

“Watch out for the poison ivy,” Granny warned.

“Do you know what poison ivy looks like?”

“No. But I know you should watch out for it. We’ve outlawed poison ivy in the woods near Fuchsia so I haven’t seen any.”

“How do you outlaw poison ivy?” Jezabelle asked, shaking her head at the nonsense.

“I leave that up to the leaf enforcers so I don’t rightly know,” Granny answered.

“Leaf enforcers? You have leaf enforcers?”

Granny pointed up ahead. “Look, another cabin.”

“It appears each cabin is at the end of the path. We need to keep an eye from our windows as whoever is at these cabins would have to exit right near our cabin.”

The women moved closer to the next cabin.

“Isn’t that fresh tilled ground? It is exactly the size of a coffin.”

Jezabelle sighed. “You have an active imagination. There’s an older couple planting flowers in the soil in the fresh tilled dirt.”

“An older couple. Older than us? Looks to be the same age so I would say old couple.”\

“Speak for yourself. I am at least ten years younger than you so to me that is an older couple. You might want to say younger couple since they appear to be younger than you,” Jezabelle snipped.

“Hey there.” Granny raised her hand in greeting when the couple saw they were watching.

“Hi there.” The woman took a break from her planting her flowers and stood up.

“Good day. We don’t see many people around here. We like the secluded atmosphere for a get away,” the man said.

“We’re just out for a walk and investigating the paths in the woods. We have a cabin right on Weed Lake,” Jezabelle said.

“Which side?” The woman asked. “If you go far enough, there are a few big cabins on another part of this lake that belong to the resort. The side without weeds.”

“There’s part of the lake without weeds?” Granny asked. “Delight sent us to the weedy side of the lake?

“That must mean you are here for the mud baths. I understand they are great naked in the moonlight mud baths?” The man said.

“The word seems to have gotten around,” Granny answered. “I’m Granny and this is Jezabelle.

“We are Lester and Mimsy Farmer. We come here every year to bury our loved ones,” Lester said.

“You bury your loved ones every year here?” Granny’s eyes were wide with disbelief.

“I thought people only rented their cabins here,” Jezabelle said.

“Yes, that is true but we have been coming here for years. The former owner was my best high school friend and she always rented us this cabin and she let us bury the ashes and sometime the bones of our beloved animals and family right here. Those flowers over there are my mama’s handiwork. I know she is under there just pushing them up through the dirt.” Mimsy wiped her eyes.

“And those flowers over there are Dotty, our Dalmatian. May he and his bark Rest In Peace.” Lester bowed his head.

“Um, just how many stiffs, ah I mean loved ones, are buried here?” Granny asked.

“We’d have to count,” Lester said, and started to count.

“No, that’s fine. We don’t have to know.” Jezabelle held up her hand to stop him.

“We’ll leave you in peace but would you answer one question,” Granny asked.

“If we can.” Mimsy’s soft voice was hard to hear.

“Did you know George Pratt?” Granny asked.

Lester frowned. “George Pratt, George Pratt. That name seems to ring a bell but not the right one because I’m not sure. Not sure where I’ve heard the name.”

“Oh, I know. I know,” Mimsy said.  “Wasn’t he the man at the office the day we checked in? So I guess we can’t say we know him but I think Meridee called the man George. Does that help?”

“It does. Do you need some help here?” Jezabelle asked. “It must be hard getting up and down off the ground at your age.”

Granny bristled, “Their age? You insult people when they are burying their loved ones? Really, Jezabelle.”

“No, it’s fine,” Mimsy’s sweet soft voice answered. “We embrace our age and our creaky joints and our saggy skin. We earned all of these old bones. Soon we will join our loved ones here on this property.”

Looking at Granny, Lester said, “I imagine you feel the same way and have a special place picked out for your final resting place.”

“I’m not ready to rest yet. See ya!” Granny turned around and scurried down the path holding her walking cane in the air.

“She’s aged badly. She’s younger than you think,” Jezabelle said before turning around and following Granny.

Chapter Ten

“I’m hungry,” Granny said as they got to the fork of the paths near their cabin.

Jezabelle looked at her watch.

“You wear a watch?” Granny asked. She held up her cell phone that she had tucked in her pocket. Cell phones are much easier.”

“I don’t have my phone along and I love my watch,” Jezabelle looked at the watch face “It’s noon. Should we have some lunch and see if Lizzy and Mavis are back?”

When they got to their cabins, there was a note by the back door of each cabin along with an insulated food container.

“It appears we have another suspicious package,” Granny said.

Jezabelle left Granny’s side to walk over to her cabin. “It smells like food. What does your note say? Mine is from Lizzy and she says it’s from some eatery in town. She thought I might enjoy it. She and Mavis are having their lunch there and they had a delivery service, so they sent us lunch.”

Granny read her note. “Yup, Mavis says eat to beat the heat. We’re having a ball, hope you’re not having a brawl. See ya later and stay away from the alligators.”

“Do you want to bring it over and we’ll eat on the front porch of my cabin?” Mavis asked.

“I guess we haven’t killed each other this morning so a little more time together won’t hurt. We can see if the autopsy report is in.”

Mavis held the door open for Granny so they could go through the cabin to the front porch. “And how do you propose we do that? Puxatawny certainly won’t tell us.”

Granny set her food on the table. “Watch this.”  She picked up her cell phone, pulled a card out of her pocket with the sheriff’s phone number on it and punched in the number. “Could you direct me to the coroner’s office please? Thank you.”

Jezabelle listened as Granny was connected to another voice. Granny’s voice also changed into a sweet lilt. “Hello. This is Weed Lake funeral. Can you direct me to whoever is doing the autopsy for George Pratt? Yes, thank you. I’ll wait.” Granny smiled and winked at Jezabelle. “” Yes, this is Weed Lake Funeral Home. We were expecting to get the body of George Pratt here this morning but it hasn’t arrived. Yes, I see. I understand. I am so sorry to hear that. Thank you. We will be patient.” She disconnected. “Aha, it was murder.”

Jezabelle indicated with a lift of her eyebrows that she didn’t believe her. “They told you that? I don’t think they would tell you that.”

“They said they weren’t done with the autopsy because they didn’t find any water in his lungs so they would be doing more tests before they could release the body.”

“That means he was dead before he hit the water,” Jezabelle said.

“It does and now the question is what, who and why?”

“That’s three questions.”

“No, it’s one. All in one sentence.”

Jezabelle finished her salad. “This was a fantastic salad. I wonder what those crunchy things were in it. Now for the desert.” She lifted up a square of chocolate covered with bits of hazelnut and some sort of cream. “This is beginning to be quite the puzzle. A dead body, no fishing gear, someone sends us a dead fish and now no water in the lungs.”

“It’s time to go.” Granny stood up. “Eat that on the run.”

Jezabelle set the chocolate concoction back on her plate. “Aren’t you going to eat yours and where are we going?”

“To visit the next cabin. Let’s see who else is hiding in the woods. Grab your walking stick.”

“I think I’ll leave mine behind. It was pretty mellow out there this morning. I’m going to take my notebook and phone instead to document our journey. I may draw a map of the paths and see later if I can figure out what clues have been left for us.”

“No, one’s leaving us clues. But this time we need to load up with the mosquito and tick dope. I found a few of those critters on my body and my welts are blowing up faster than a balloon. I forget that in the sticks they have mosquitos,” Granny said.

“Don’t you have mosquito’s in Fuchsia?”

“We do but they don’t bite. We feed them and they leave us humans alone. We have houses for them. It’s Fuchsia. We don’t follow what you Brilliant people do. Kill them.”

Jezabelle raised her eyes to the heavens and said, “Heaven help me with this one so I don’t swat her like a mosquito.”

Chapter Eleven

“It’s a good thing we’ve got water. How long have we been walking?” Jezabelle stopped to take a drink.”

“Watch the water. No bathrooms or outhouses out here. Of course, you can always use the Poison Ivy toilet in the woods.”

“Maybe we should go back. We don’t seem to be finding anything,” Jezabelle suggested. “Wait, look at this. There is a scrap of white cloth off to the edge of the path up ahead.”

“The path seems to be going closer to the lake. Maybe it goes around the lake.”

“There’s a number on the cloth. Number three. What do you suppose that means?”

Granny bent down and looked closer. “There’s a piece of paper under the rock next to the cloth.” She picked it up.

Jezabelle grabbed it from Granny before she could read it. “It might be a piece to the puzzle and I don’t want you loosing it.” She opened it up and stuck it over a page in her notebook. “It says 5:00 a.m. on the dock.”

“That’s curious. Let’s go.”

“Go where?” Jezabelle asked. “We’re already somewhere.”

“Onward. This was left for someone and maybe they are up ahead. Move it. Move it. Move it.”

“You are not my drill sergeant and that’s funny coming from you since you have left most of us to believe walking is even a stretch for you. You’re a fraud. An old, wrinkled fraud,” Jezabelle said.

Granny ignored the barb and plowed ahead hitting tree branches out of the way with her walking stick. “Look another white flag with the number two.”

“And another note.” Jezabelle picked it up and read, “By the lake. I’ll bring the cake. A rendezvous with my number two.”

“Can’t be all bad if they rhyme like that. I could give them some pointers when we find out who it is to spark up their notes,” Granny said.

“In your terms, Granny. Move it. Move it. Move it. We must be onto something.”

The two women continued walking for another fifteen minutes following the path.

“Wowza. Look at that cabin. It’s not the little tiny that we’re in. It’s on the lake with a private beech and no weeds. Weed Lake with no weeds. Let’s see if anyone is around.”

Granny sprinted for the house before Jezabelle could stop her.

“Is anyone here? Is anyone here? Avon ladies. We were delivering your mosquito product.”

Jezabelle caught up to Granny. “Why don’t you just knock on the door instead of yelling? That’s the polite and neighborly thing to do.”

“Didn’t want to sneak up on them. I don’t imagine they get many visitors out here.” She picked up her walking stick and tapped on the door.

At the first tap the door opened by itself.

“It must not have been latched,” Jezabelle said.

“You hoo,” Granny yelled into the space.

“Hello!” Jezabelle added her voice to Granny’s.

“They must not be home or maybe something happened to them. We need to check on them.” Granny started into the large cabin.

Jezabelle grabbed her arm. “You can’t just go in there. We could be arrested for breaking in or trespassing.”

“The door was open. Oops.” Granny fell forward through the open door into the cabin.

“Granny, are you ok?” Jezabelle moved into the cabin to help Granny up.

“How did that happen? Look we’re in. I fell through the door. I couldn’t help it if anyone asks.” She stood up and looked around.

“This is a nice open area and the bedrooms must be upstairs. there five doors surround the circular loft.” Granny pointed up ward.

Jezabelle looked up. “Maybe this is where George hung out when he disappeared. Look three of the doors have names on them.”

“Yup, George, George and George. He had to have three rooms?”

“I wonder if Meridee told Phil Puxatawny about this. I think we need to see if he knows about George’s little hideaway,” Jezabelle said. “The pieces are coming together.”

“Stop with that puzzle, let’s go with the flow. Those notes must have been left for George Pratt but he didn’t pick them up because he decided to take a permanent bath in the lake.”

Jezabelle nodded her head. “That’s a nice way of putting it. We better go. It’s getting late and it’s going to take us time to follow that long path back. If this is where George hid out that could be the reason the notes were still there. I guess we don’t have to worry about that trespassing charge.”

“We are not trespassing. I fell. They should have fixed that doorstep. Could I help it the door was open and when I tripped I fell inside? We’ll grab Lizzy and Mavis and figure out our next step. Maybe we should revisit Matilda and see if she did know about this place. Maybe she is the one who gave George his bath.”

“We better not tell her about the notes we found. If she finds out the next one having a permanent spa might be the note writer. Or the killer left a love letter in the mud in the form of George’s body.”

Chapter Twelve

“Oh my,” Jezabelle said when they got back to the fork in the trails at the back of their cabins. “It seems we missed something.”

“What’s all the hoopla?” Granny asked as she gazed upon all the emergency vehicles sitting near their cabins.

“The ambulance, sheriff and it looks like the water rescue is here again. I hope someone else didn’t drown.”

“Death seems to follow you Jezabelle,” Granny said. “Maybe you should go home.”

Jezabelle rolled her eyes and took off in between the cabins. Granny followed her.

Mavis and Lizzy were standing halfway down to the lake staring at the emergency crews down by the water. Mavis was also wailing loudly and Lizzy was trying to comfort her.

“They’ll find them, Mavis. I am sure they are just out there somewhere on shore. The boat capsized and they had to swim to shore.”

Mavis sniffed, “Granny does know how to swim? Does Jezabelle?”

Granny and Jezabelle heard Lizzy answer, “I don’t know. I don’t know. All these years and I don’t know if Jezabelle can swim.”

Jezabelle looked at Granny, raising her eyes and shrugging as they two women came to stand behind Mavis and Lizzy.

“I can swim. Why do I have to know how to swim?” Jezabelle asked.

Mavis and Lizzy turned around and gasped and then grabbed the two women in a bear hug.

“You’re alive, you’re alive!” Mavis screamed.

“Of course we’re alive. Why would we be dead?” Granny asked.

“Because you’re missing,” Mavis sniffed.” Your boat capsized and you are missing.”

“Our boat?” Jezabelle asked.

“Yes, didn’t you and Granny take the boat out while we were gone?”

“Lizzy, why did you think we took the boat out?” Jezabelle took her hand to calm her down.

“Because when we got back, you two were missing. The boat was missing. We found one shoe from each of you under the boat lodged in a seat cushion. And Granny your pink sweater was caught on the corner of the boat,” Lizzy explained.

“Your car was here. Your food was half-eaten. Someone left the full desert on the table. So we put two and two together,” Mavis explained.

“Mavis, you never could put two and two together. We better tell that Puxatawny person we’re alive,” Granny said.

…………………………….

“You’re alive!” We’ve wasted all this time looking for you in the lake and you’re alive?” Sheriff Puxatawny greeted the women.

“Don’t sound so excited to see us,” Granny said.

“You could have left a note, so we didn’t spend all afternoon looking for dead bodies when you’re alive,” he answered.

“Well… you didn’t exactly spend all afternoon. You’ve only been here thirty minutes,” Lizzy reminded him.

“This yours?” The sheriff threw the pink sweater at Granny.

She caught it. “It is.”

“Then why was it in the lake connected to the overturned boat?”

“Last I saw it the sweater was hanging on a coat hook in the cabin,” Granny answered.

“It was, I saw it there yesterday,” Jezabelle said.

Granny skewered her eyes up and looked at Jezabelle. Jezabelle winked.

“This your shoe?” He held up a pink stiletto high heel.”

“Do I look like I wobble along on these stiletto heels?” Granny asked.

“Yes, she can barely walk in her normal glittery high top tennis shoes.” Mavis nodded in agreement.

The sheriff looked at Mavis. “Then why did you tell us it was hers?”

“Because it is Granny and you never know what she is going to do.”

“What’s all the ruckus going on here? Another missing husband?” Matilda Prank joined the group.

“Matilda what are you doing here?” Phil Puxatawny asked.

“Can’t a woman visit her friends?”

The sheriff frowned. “I didn’t know you had friends except for your husband.

“These kind ladies brought me food after George died and gave me some good advice. I decided to get to know them better. I brought them some herbal tea.” She held up a basket to show him.

“I heard the result of the autopsy are in. Haven’t had a chance to check with the Knifewoman to hear the results,” the sheriff motioned for his crew to come in while he was talking.

“No need. He drowned just like you said. Now I know so there is no reason to investigate,” Matilda said.

“Well, that’s nice to know. I have enough to deal with because of false reporting. These women seem to have come here to stir up trouble. I’d stay away from them.” Phil Puxatawny turned to Granny. “And when did you say you are leaving?”

“That’s on a need to know basis and you don’t need to know what we know but don’t want you to know just because you know what you think you don’t know.” Granny used one of her famous sentences.

“What?” The sheriff wrinkled up his nose in confusion.

“Don’t ask,” Jezabelle said. “It’s Fuchsian for time for coffee.”

“It is?” Mavis said. “I didn’t know we had a Fuchsian language all our own. I’ll have to use it in my reality show.”

“You do that Mavis,” Granny said as she took her arm to lead her back to the cabin. “Come on ladies, I’ll give you a language lesson.”

Chapter Thirteen

            “Coffee or Wine?” Jezabelle asked Matilda as the women all settled in the great room of their cabin. “Or we can mix you a drink and you all can be our guinea pigs for some new recipes we are trying out for the Brilliant Bistro.”

            “Tea for me please if you have it,” Matilda said. “I should have brought you some of mine.”

            “We do have some.” Lizzy said. “I like a cup myself once in awhile but we are mostly coffee gals but we do serve tea in the upstairs of the Bistro. We are working on turning our basement into a wine cave once we get back home. We have all the plans drawn up and we are just waiting for the carpenters.”

            “Let’s get down to business,” Granny said. “You told ole Puxatawny that you heard from the Knifewoman and not to bother because your George drowned?”

            “Can you keep a secret?” Matilda asked the women.

            “I can speak for me but I can’t speak for Mavis. She sees reality show in everything,” Granny said.

            “No I don’t. Do I?” Mavis asked. She caught the look Jezabelle and Lizzy gave her. “Well, maybe I do but what can a girl do if she thinks the world needs to know something?”

            “Then leave the room, Mavis. We want to find out what Matilda wants to tell us,” Granny took her arm to lead her out to the porch.

            “Ok, I promise. No reality show thoughts.” Mavis removed her arm from Granny’s hand and sat down.

            “I’ll see she keeps it quiet. Now spill.” Granny looked expectantly at Matilda.

            “I apparently killed George but I didn’t do it intentionally. In fact, I don’t know how it happened.”

            Jezabelle frowned. “You don’t seem to upset about it.”

            “I will miss him but these things happen,” Matilda answered.

            “How did you off him and why are you telling us? Are you going to off us next because we suspected all is not right with George’s death? Just a minute. Don’t answer that. I have to get something.” Granny got up and went out the back door, walked over to her cabin and picked her walking stick which she had left by the back door when they got back. Reentering the house she said, “Now you can tell us.”

            Matilda frowned. “You’re going walking when I finish my story?”

            “You never know when I might topple even sitting down,” Granny answered.

            Jezabelle knowing why Granny got her walking stick so she could use it as weapon said, “Sticks not stones might keep her from breaking bones. Hers at least.”

            “Go on.” Lizzy brought the newly brewed tea over and poured Matilda a cup.

            Matilda took a sip, savored the taste in her mouth and said, “My tea killed him, although I don’t know why he drank it. George knew it was a bad batch from weeks before  and was poison. He was supposed to destroy it.”

            “You made poison tea? On purpose?” Mavis asked, thinking she needed to rescind her promise.

            “No, it grows wild near my place in spots. When George was helping harvest the herbs for my tea he accidentally picked some hemlock.  I was already into the drying process and he was helping me. I didn’t notice that the dried leaves were hemlock. George usually hung them to dry. We have a place labeled for each kind of herb. He accidentally put the hemlock in the wrong place and I didn’t notice at first. When I was mixing my herbs I threw some in with the batch. I decided to experiment with another herb and when I was looking at my dried plants I thought the one didn’t look right. That’s when I started questioning George and he took me where he found the plant. I knew right away I had to get rid of the batch so I put it in a paper bag and gave it to George to toss out into the woods. How he ingested it is a mystery to me.”

            “Did George regularly drink tea?” Jezabelle’s asked.

            “No, he would never drink it unless I made him taste it. After the Knifewoman told me what happened I tore my cupboards and my inventory apart. None of it is from that batch,” Mathilda said.

            “Why are you telling us this? You don’t even know us.” Lizzy asked.

            “The old wrinkly one over there has a reputation and so does she.” Matilda nodded toward Jezabelle. I was hoping you would help me figure it out before Puxatawny thinks I murdered George. The Knifewoman has to tell him about the autopsy.”

            A knock interrupted their conversation.

            The women all turned to look at the door at the sound of the knock. They could see the sheriff standing on the other side of the screen.

            “He knows. I know he knows.” Matilda whispered to the women.

            “Hey ladies, I have some news,” Phil Puxatawny said as he peered through the screen.

            “Come in sheriff. We can’t wait to hear your news,” Granny said. To the others she whispered, “Let me take care of this. I got this. Just catch me before I hit the floor when he announces he knows you killed your husband.”

            “What?” Matilda asked.

            “You want reality, wait until you see Granny’s reality,” Mavis said. “She’s good at this.”

            The sheriff entered the house. “I am sorry to tell you this Matilda but George died of poisoning. He must have ingested some hemlock. Maybe he set his sandwich down in the weeds when he was fishing or accidentally thought it was one of those herbs you use for your tea and he decided to chew on it like tobacco. I do that once in awhile when I am fishing. Pick a blade of grass to chew on. Case is closed. The Knifewoman said you can pick up his ashes.”

            “I can?” Matilda asked, eyes wide in astonishment.

            “You think is was an accident?” Granny asked.

            “We don’t have no murders around here. I know you four might be from some high faulting big cities where it happens all the time. Yah, I looked you people up. Got to keep on top of the tourists we let in around here especially when we have suspicious circumstances. Since you seem to be the good guys you got wiped off my list and no one up here would harm a hare on anyone’s head. So case closed. Have a good day ladies and I hope I don’t see you again before you leave at the end of the week.” He turned nodded, and walked out, letting the screen door slam behind him.

            The women were quiet for a moment digesting what they had just heard.

            “I guess you’re off the hook Matilda. Good-bye. We need to get on with our vacation. Good luck finding husband number four,” Granny said.

            “No, I want you to find who did this,” Matilda answered. “I don’t want it to happen to my next husband.”

            “Maybe it was an accident.” Jezabelle suggested.

            “No! George got confused once in a while and he disappeared on occasion and I would have to have the sheriff look for him. He liked his drink but he would never ingest that bad tea. He didn’t like tea so he would never drink it on his own.”

            “We have to get to our cookbook. We are behind schedule.” Lizzy reminded Jezabelle.       

            “And we have to let Mavis get to her mud bath with the leeches but we will consider what you said and get back to you,” Granny said.

            “We will?” Mavis asked.

            “Clues, Mavis. Clues. We have to look at the clues.” Granny opened the screen door so Matilda would get the hint that it was time to leave.

            “It’s a puzzle alright,” Jezabelle said. “Lizzy and I do like to solve puzzles so we will definitely look at all the pieces later today.”

            “She’s always puzzled,” Granny said. “We solve mysteries with clues. She sees it as a puzzle putting together the pieces. It could be a puzzling mystery.”

Chapter Fourteen

            “What kind of clues do we really have?” Mavis asked Granny as she wiped the mud off her body down by the side of the lake.

            “We don’t look at the clues the same way Jezabelle does.” Let the mud dry instead of wiping it off. Then we can go up and use the outside shower thingy by the side of the cabin. That’s probably what that is for”

            “I can’t go up to the cabin like this,” Mavis answered. “I have to put my clothes on first. Someone might see me and I don’t want to get my clothes all muddy.”

            “Believe me if they see you like that they will run the other way and not tell a soul. They will think you are the mud creature from Weed Lake. Besides, with all this mud on us they wouldn’t even recognize that we don’t have clothes on.”

            “It’s a good thing we brought this bag to put our clothes in. We would have to go and use the resort laundromat and I didn’t plan on washing clothes while on vacation,” Mavis said as she started for the cabin.

            Granny followed, stopped and peered into the darkness. “Mavis, Mavis,” she whispered. “Someone’s sneaking around the cabins. Give me that bag. Quick, we need to put our clothes on and catch them.”

            Mavis handed Granny the bag after taking her own clothes out. “Ooh, this is squishy,” Mavis said softly.

            Granny pulled her top over her head while dropping her pants on the ground to slip her feet into the legs so she could pull them up quickly. “Let’s go. Quietly. The person is by our front door. They are leaving something?”

            “I hope it’s not another fish. That thing was smelly. We couldn’t even eat it.” Mavis trailed behind Granny.

            Granny crouched down low, as close to the ground as she could without toppling over. Mavis followed her lead. When they got to the steps for the porch they saw the person was turning around to come down the steps. Granny moved to the side of the steps so the person couldn’t see them. She indicated Mavis should go behind her. Granny saw she had left her walking stick by the side of the porch where she was crouching. She grabbed the stick.

            As the person came down the steps she jumped up, stick in hand and yelled hi ya!” Granny was about to bring the stick down on the person’s head when she heard a soft  voice say, ” Stop!”  The voice got louder and started screaming, “Someone’s attacking me. Help! Help!”

            Granny just caught herself in time, before the  “stick connected with the person  “Meridee, what are you doing here in the middle of the night skulking on our porch?”

            “I was ah… ah… bringing you a good morning package but I am always sleeping in the morning so I did it at night. See, I left me next door too. I did it for all my guests. If you look I left fresh cinnamon rolls, loose tea from The Herbal Horrible Haberdashery. and also some specialty coffee from the Brewers Coffee Cave in town. What did you think I was doing?”

            “Leaving us another dead fish,” Mavis said.

            Meridee wrinkled her brow. “A dead fish? Why would I leave you a dead fish?”

            “Because someone left us a dead fish the other day,” Granny answered.

            ‘What’s all the racket over there. Is everyone ok?” The lights came on in the cabin next door and Jezabelle and Lizzy were standing on their porch in their nightclothes. Jezabelle had her walking stick in hand too.

            “Do you have something on your porch?’ Granny asked.

            Lizzy looked around and picked something up. “Yes we do. Cinnamon Rolls and tea and coffee.”

            “I guess we can let her go. She’s telling the truth. We are sorry Meridee. I didn’t hurt you did I?” Granny asked.

            Meridee started to giggle. The light from the cabin next door illuminated Granny’s and Mavis’ attire. “Did you take a mud bath with your clothes on?” The giggle turned to full burst laughter.

            “No, we were naked but then Granny made me put on my clothes to capture you and look at the soggy mess of my beautiful clothes.” Mavis began to sniffle.

            “They’re clothes, Mavis. Get under the shower thingy over there and rinse off. I’ll go next.”

            “Thank you for the rolls and tea and coffee, Meridee. We appreciate the hospitality,” Lizzy yawned before saying to Granny and Mavis. “I’m going to bed but let’s have breakfast together on the porch in the morning and take a picture to send to Delight so she thinks she succeeded in making all of us friends.”

            “Good night,” Meridee said.  I need to get back to my home and pick up the rest of the goodies and distribute them tonight to the other guests.”

            “You tramp through the forest in the night?” Mavis asked. “Aren’t you afraid the critters will get you?”

            “It’s beautiful walking in the forest at night. I stay on the path and we have some lights hidden among the greenery to light the paths for the guests if they want to use them at night. I turn them on. And I have a secret weapon just in case,” Meridee said.

            “What’s your secret weapon?” Granny asked.

            “It wouldn’t be a secret if I told you would it?” Meridee chuckled as she disappeared alongside the cabin.

Chapter Fifteen

            The pounding on the front door woke Granny up. “Mavis, get the door.”

            The pounding continued with no sound of Mavis stirring. Granny threw the covers off and sat up in bed. She took a moment to clear her head which was hard considering the pounding was getting louder.

            “Mavis, where are you?”

            Mavis was snoring softly on the couch as Granny went past her. She had a headset on her head and it appeared music was blaring into her ears.

            Granny threw open the door. “What.”

            “Finally. We had another overnight visitor.” Jezabelle stuck white pieces of paper in Granny’s hands. “These are just like paper we found on the trail in the woods while we made our way to George’s cabin, or at least what we think is George’s cabin.”

            Granny looked at the pieces of paper in her hands. “They’re blank. Where did you find them?”

            “Underneath the rocks someone put on both our porches when I wen tout to set up for breakfast on the porch.” Jezabelle looked at Mavis,  who was dead to the world on the sofa. “Is she ok? I know she’s alive. She is snorting. Why didn’t we wake her up?”

            Granny went over to jiggle Mavis shoulder. “Wake up, Mavis.”

            Mavis snoring changed to a softer sound.

            Granny took her ear phones off and help them away from her, hearing loud music coming out of the headset. “Maybe because this is loud!!!” She shook Mavis again and said, “Mavis, we’ve got company.”

            Mavis kept softly snoring.

            Jezabelle frowned. “What’s the matter with her? She’s not waking up.”

            “We didn’t drink any wine after we came in. I went straight to snooze land. Mavis was going to listen to some music and then head to bed. And the music she was listening to certainly wasn’t something to put her to sleep.”

            “What’s in the cup next to her?” Jezabelle asked.

            Granny picked up the cup and held it to her nose. “Smells like some sort of tea.”

Looking down she saw the tea that had been in Meridee’s gift package. “She drank Meridee’s tea. There must have been something in the tea.”

            “We need to call an ambulance and the then Phil Puxatawny,” Jezabelle said.

            “You call the ambulance. Leave Puxatawny out of this. I’m going after Meridee. She’s trying to off us because she must have figured out she left George in the drink.”

            “I found something else.” Lizzy came in the front door. “What’s wrong?”

            “We’re calling the ambulance. Mavis won’t wake up. We think Meridee put poison in our tea to get rid of us just like she did George before she pushed him off the dock,” Granny said.

            Lizzy came over and checked on Mavis feeling her pulse. “To me it looks like she’s just sleeping, very soundly if I may add.” Have you checked which tea she drank? There were two different kinds. One was for our breakfast and one was to help us sleep if we needed it.” Lizzy went over to the basket. “Yup. Here it is. If you read the directions, you are just supposed to use one teaspoon in each cup. The entire packet is gone. She must have drank the entire package.”

            Granny looked down at Mavis. “Well, she is breathing, and it looks like she’s dreaming right now. See that smile. She must be dreaming about her George.”

            A knock sounded on the door. They could see Meridee through the screen. “You hoo. I just wanted to tell you that if you drink the nighttime tea I left, Mathilda left strict instructions you shouldn’t drink too much of it or you may be out for days. I couldn’t remember if I put that in the instructions.”

            “A little late now,” Granny said as she opened the screen door to let her in and indicated Mavis asleep on the sofa.

            “Oh my, how much did she drink?”

            “The entire package,” Lizzy answered.

            “I’m going to go and call Mathilda and see if there is something we can give her. That’s where I got the tea. I’ll be right back. I have to do back home. I didn’t bring my cell with me. Oh my, oh my. Please don’t tell anyone. This will hurt my business. On no. What if I didn’t put a note in all the other packages? I was a little distracted as I (she blushed) had a visitor coming in the early morning.”

            “You have visitors in the early morning?” Granny asked.

            “Well, just last night because I wanted to deliver the baskets. I have to warn everyone not to drink too much of the tea.”

            Lizzy put her arms round Meridee. “Calm down. You go home and call Mathilda since you have her number, and I will stay with Mavis and Granny and Jezabelle will go and check with your other guests.”

            “We will?” Granny and Jezabelle said together.

            “You will.” Lizzy gave both of them a stern look. She turned to Meridee and said, “No go and I’ll wait for you back here with what we might give her to wake her up.” She all but pushed Meridee out the door.

            “What are we supposed to say ‘Meridee wanted to put you to sleep, so she left the right instructions out of your gift basket? Or she is trying to kill you?” Granny asked.

            “Granny. Let’s look at this sensibly. There has a be a piece of the puzzle here.”

            “Puzzle, puzzle, fuzzle.” Granny declared.    

            “Actually it might be.” Lizzy pulled a pink piece of paper out of her pants pocket. I found this under another rock. One on your porch and one on ours. This one actually has a word on each one.” She held out the papers.

            Granny grabbed one.

            Jezabelle grabbed one.

            They both looked at it at the same time and said, “George?”

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