By K. Di Prima
When Gladys Malone turned up, face down in the water hazard bordering the thirteenth green, her friends were convinced: something nefarious was afoot at Loving Arms Retirement Village.
No ordinary octogenarian, Gladys had approached life the way she’d addressed her Titleists—from the men’s tees. Others ambulated on manufactured knees and hips; Gladys charged the course on her original body parts. She ate like a buffalo and slept like a baby. Gladys wasn’t just “good” for her age. She was spectacular.
Her demise, the third death at The Village that year, had made the community skittish. Facility Director Glen Dornblaiser voiced clichés to soothe the residents. “Gladys was getting on in years,” he said in the tone he used for visiting great-grandchildren. “It was just her time. Be happy she lived a great life.”
Most Village residents accepted Dornblaiser’s pronouncements the way they resigned themselves to blankets across their laps on seventy-degree days. But for Gladys’s friends Enid, Martha, and Harvey, platitudes didn’t satisfy.
Enid, a former university professor whose arthritis relegated her to a mobility scooter, scoffed, “Douchenozzle’s speech sounds canned. Something’s fishy and it isn’t yesterday’s lunch.”
Retired CPA Martha concurred. “The Mercedes, after Rose. The European cruise, after Sid. On his salary? Doesn’t add up.”
Enid added, “Now Mrs. Douchenozzle’s sporting a diamond that could choke a horse. Coincidence? I think not.”
Martha scowled. “When the niece came to clean out Gladys’s rooms, she seemed almost giddy. And chummy with Douchenozzle, too. Smiles and yuk-yuks all around. Just like the son trading jokes with Douchenozzle at Sid’s funeral.”
“Douchenozzle!” said Harvey, a PTSD-scarred Vietnam vet and former Marine Colonel whose impaired speech belied the fact that his brain synapses continually fired on all cylinders.
As they puzzled over how to proceed, opportunity presented itself when a uniformed policeman crossed the lobby. Enid pounced, cranking the Hoveround to full throttle. Head down, eyes laser-fixed ahead, she aimed the scooter like a nine-mile-an-hour bullet toward the exit, and bellowed, “Wait! Officer, wait!”
Officer Stankovitch pivoted with a smile, but his jaw dropped and his eyebrows shot up to his hairline as he beheld the motorized female hurtling toward him. “Ma’am?” he said, jumping out of the way.
“It’s about Gladys!” Enid gasped, then jerked her head toward Harvey, shuffling with a walker, and stooped, snowy-haired Martha tottering alongside him.
Stankovitch’s eyes rolled skyward. He mouthed an expletive followed by “Why me?”
“Say again?” Enid tapped her ear. “Battery’s low.” She squinted at his nameplate. “Officer Skanko-bitch?”
“Stankovitch, Ma’am. Peter STAN-ko-VITCH.”
“How about that, I was right! Skanko-bitch.”
Suddenly surrounded by the scooter, the walker, and the aroma of Mentholatum, Stankovitch said, “Let’s sit.” He hurried to a table and, while waiting for the motley trio to catch up, plucked his notepad from his pocket and thumbed to an empty page.
Enid made the introductions. Then she hissed, “We think Gladys was murdered.”
“Murdered,” Harvey repeated, placing his liver-spotted forearms on the table for emphasis.
Stankovitch blinked. “What? Why? How?”
Martha said, “She’d never be on the course that early. Her standing tee time is nine-thirty.”
Enid said, “She’s as healthy as a pig. Last year’s Crossfit champ, senior category.”
Martha said, “Her mind’s a steel trap. She’s a genius at bridge. Her Grosvenor Gambit’s a thing of beauty—I mean, was.”
Harvey said, “Cream Brew Lay.”
Puzzled expressions ringed the table until inspiration struck Enid. “That’s right, they switched.”
“Switched?” Stankovitch scratched his ear.
“It’s usually Crème Brule on Wednesday, but they served tapioca pudding instead. There were extra, she had three—and boom! Thursday morning, she’s dead as a doorknob.” Leaning forward, Enid whispered, “Didn’t you know? If it’s not cooked right, tapioca can contain lethal amounts of cyanide! I saw it on Wives With Knives on the ID channel.”
“Cyanide?” Stankovitch clicked his pen closed and shoved the notebook into his pocket. “Folks, there’s nothing unusual about eating dessert, or getting to the golf course early for some practice swings.”
Harvey’s face crumpled. His withered arms receded onto his lap.
Enid protested, “I’m telling you, Gladys dead-lifted one-sixty. She wasn’t just a good eighty. She was spectacular!”
Stankovitch glanced at his watch, stood, and pushed his chair in. “I’m sure she was a nice person. I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do. Please excuse me. I have an appointment.” He doffed his cap and walked away.
Martha sighed. “He thinks we’ve lost our marbles. Maybe he’s right, Enid. We’re just a bunch of old idiots.”
“We’re old, but we’re not idiots, Martha.”
“Idiot!” Harvey said, his cloudy eyes fixed on Stankovitch’s retreating back.
Stankovitch drove to the brick Colonial inside the entrance to The Village, and parked his patrol car behind the shiny S-Class in the driveway.
Dornblaiser shook his hand. “Welcome back, Peter! Where to this time?”
“Miami. Bought a sweet condo. Beachfront.” He followed Dornblaiser into his office and shut the door.
Dornblaiser handed Stankovitch an envelope wadded with cash. “A token of appreciation from the Malone family. Your usual cut.”
Stankovitch fanned the bills, then stuffed the envelope into his pocket. “By the way, that broad Enid, the one with the scooter. Thinks she’s CSI. We got a problem?”
“Problem? No,” Dornblaiser smirked, “opportunity. Enid’s got a hefty portfolio, two sons drooling to get their hands on it, and a grandkid with an Oxy habit. Trifecta.”
Stankovitch shrugged.“Ask me, that scooter’s seen better days.”
“Accidents happen,” Dornblaiser agreed.
“Way I see it, everybody kicks the bucket sooner or later. Doesn’t have to be later.”
Both men nodded solemnly. Then they chuckled.