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Authors: Mary Daheim

Hocus Croakus

BOOK: Hocus Croakus
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MARY DAHEIM
HOCUS CROAKUS

A BED-AND-BREAKFAST MYSTERY

CONTENTS

ONE

J
UDITH
M
C
M
ONIGLE
F
LYNN
staggered out of the car, dumped a…

TWO

J
UDITH HAD NO
choice but to accompany Renie and Aunt…

THREE

I
HATE MAGIC
acts,” Gertrude declared. “They're phony. They never…

FOUR

T
HE FLASHING LIGHTS
and honking horns and ringing bells seemed…

FIVE

F
ROZEN IN PLACE
by Grisly's grisly announcement, Judith put a…

SIX

J
UDITH HAD NO
idea what time Joe returned that night.

SEVEN

T
HAT'S IMPOSSIBLE
,” G
RISLY
scoffed. “Freddy would've known if someone had…

EIGHT

T
HE GLASS DOOR
swung out, almost knocking Judith down. Inga…

NINE

J
UDITH DIDN'T COMMENT
on the possibility of Sheriff Costello taking…

TEN

J
UDITH WAS ALMOST
crushed by the panicky guests, who started…

ELEVEN

R
ENIE WAS STILL
looking at the note. “Who do you…

TWELVE

J
UDITH CAUGHT HERSELF
before speaking too loudly. “No,” she said…

THIRTEEN

I
T'S GOT TO
be here somewhere,” Judith said, frantically searching…

FOURTEEN

Judith needed to clear her head. And despite the late…

FIFTEEN

J
UDITH TOOK A
Kleenex from her purse, carefully removed the…

SIXTEEN

T
HE “INQUIRY” SIGN
was flashing on the tote board from…

SEVENTEEN

J
UDITH COULD HARDLY
believe that Freddy would be able to…

EIGHTEEN

J
UDITH AND
M
ANNY
sat down at a table next to…

NINETEEN

T
HIS IS AN
outrage!” Renie exclaimed. “We should call the…

TWENTY

J
UDITH STARED AT
Renie. “Inga is Freddy's mother? Why the…

TWENTY-ONE

A
MID THE APPLAUSE
and cheers, Judith numbly accepted a sip…

J
UDITH
M
C
M
ONIGLE
F
LYNN
staggered out of the car, dumped a foil-lined paper cup of cigarette butts into a big stone ashtray, and found herself looking up at an imposing white-haired Native-American man who was wearing more gold braid than General Douglas MacArthur.

“I'm Bob Bearclaw, the doorman here at the Stillasnowamish casino,” the big man announced in a deep, pleasing voice. “Welcome to our resort. May I help you, young lady?”

Judith smiled. “You can help my mother. She's in the backseat and is rather crippled. She'll need a wheelchair, if you have one available.”

“Of course we do,” Bob replied. “I'll get it right away.” He snapped his fingers and made a complicated gesture with his hand. A young valet with a long black braid nodded deferentially before racing inside the casino.

Joe Flynn had finished speaking with a bellman who was now unloading the family's luggage from the Subaru.

“They're getting a wheelchair for Mother,” she told her husband.

Joe scowled. “You mean we have to let her out of the car?”

“Don't be mean,” Judith scolded. “We don't want to get off to a bad start on our vacation. I'm the one who could hardly breathe with Mother smoking her head off in the backseat.”

“And bitching the whole way because there wasn't an ashtray there,” Joe grumbled. “She should have thanked me for fixing that cup for her.”

Judith refused to argue further. Besides, Joe had to deal with the parking attendant as well as the bellman. And Judith had to deal with her mother.

“A wheelchair is on its way,” Judith said, poking her head into the smoky car.

“Don't let Lunkhead push me around in it,” Gertrude Grover snapped. “I wouldn't let him haul me from a burning building.”

“Don't mention that!” Judith exclaimed. “And stop calling Joe ‘Lunkhead.' He's the one who had to load the car and drive for almost two hours to get to Lake Stillasnowamish.”

Gertrude hadn't budged from her place in the backseat. In fact, she was lighting another cigarette. “Two hours, my foot. What was he doing, pedaling with his feet? I can move faster with my walker. It used to take us only an hour and a half to get to the family cabin. And that was before they put in the freeway.”

“It was the freeway construction that held us up,” Judith replied, gnashing her teeth. “Besides, we're ten miles from the cabin.” She glanced behind her where the doorman was approaching with a shiny yellow wheelchair. “Here, Mother, I can help you.”

“No, you can't,” Gertrude retorted. “You'll pop your
phony hip. At least my joints are the originals. Not that I couldn't use a few spare parts.”

The reference to the artificial hip rankled with Judith. It had been over a year since the replacement surgery, and though she had to be careful not to dislocate it, Judith felt she was getting back to normal. Gertrude, however, liked to remind her daughter that she wasn't normal and never had been.

Judith felt a gentle tap on her shoulder.

“Mrs. Flynn, isn't it?” Bob Bearclaw asked. Seeing Judith give a jerky nod, he leaned into the car. “Then you must be Mrs. Grover. Wait until you see the speedy little number I've got for you. Here, let me help you get out.”

A moment later, Gertrude emerged, still smoking, but far from fuming. “You're a good boy,” she said to the doorman, who was probably close to seventy. “Your mother must have raised you right.”

With remarkable ease, the doorman put Gertrude into the shiny yellow wheelchair and began pushing her up the handicapped ramp. Joe finished his business with the attendants just as his mother-in-law disappeared inside the glass doors of the casino. Judith took a deep breath and surveyed her surroundings.

The Lake Stillasnowamish Resort Casino was located in a spectacular setting. In early March, the cottonwood, alder, and vine maples were just beginning to bud. But the stately evergreens were reflected in the jade-green lake that nestled in the bosom of Mount Nugget. Although Judith had never visited the resort complex before, she knew the area well. Every year until her first marriage, she and the rest of the Grover clan had spent their summers at the family cabins ten miles west of Lake Stillasnowamish. In those days, no
one would have dreamed of a gambling establishment in the area, let alone one owned by members of the Stillasnowamish tribe.

“Are you ready?” Judith asked Joe, who was putting the luggage and parking receipts into his wallet.

“Let's wait,” Joe said. “If we stay out here for another, oh, twenty minutes, the casino might have raffled off your mother.”

“Joe!” Judith exclaimed, but her exasperation was halfhearted. “Please stop making those remarks. You know I didn't want to bring Mother with us, but we had no choice since the toolshed is being renovated along with the bed-and-breakfast. She couldn't stay with Aunt Deb. We tried that once, and they almost killed each other.”

“It was sheer perversity of the Rankerses to go to Palm Springs in March this year instead of January or February,” Joe declared, referring to the Flynns' next-door neighbors. “Carl and Arlene actually enjoy your mother's company. I've never been able to figure out why. That's perversity, too.”

“They're good people,” Judith said, starting up the stone steps to the casino entrance. “Besides, they had a problem with the time-share. That's why they had to change their plans.”

“Why,” Joe mused, “can't they have places to board old people when their kids want to get away? You know, like a kennel. When the Steins on the corner take a trip, they always put Rosie in a boarding—”

“Rosie is a dog,” Judith broke in. “Please stop. As for our neighbors, they've had to put up with a lot of inconvenience during the B&B construction. Of course it's been hell for us trying to live in the house since the fire last fall, but it hasn't been easy on anybody in the
cul-de-sac,” she continued as they entered the lobby. “I don't know why contractors can't keep to a schedule or at least start when…Oh, my!” She caught her breath as she took in the casino's glorious glitter.

The Lake Stillasnowamish complex was one of the newest and reputedly the most lavish of the Native-American-owned establishments in the state. The brochures didn't do it justice. Described as a “Wondrous Wilderness,” the trees and waterfalls and streams were unlike anything else in Mother Nature's treasure trove. Fir, pine, cedar, and spruce trees were covered with gold and silver lights. The ceiling was the sky with moving clouds, twinkling stars, and an amber moon. Rainbow and Dolly Varden trout swam in gentle streams and reflecting pools. The gaming area was divided into the four seasons with artificial snow falling at intervals in the Big Buck Bonanza section. Judith was so enthralled that she didn't realize Joe had already gone to the knotty-pine registration desk.

She hurried to join him in the line of arriving guests. “It's gorgeous,” she enthused, holding on to his arm. “It's every bit as spectacular as Vegas.”

“They feature a magic show,” Joe said as they moved up a few paces. “It must be terrific. They've already made your mother disappear.”

“What?” Judith gasped, looking in every direction. “Oh, good Lord! Where
is
Mother?”

Joe was unperturbed. “With any luck, they won't be able to reproduce her when we check out Saturday.”

“Please.” Abruptly, Judith let go of Joe's arm and stepped out of line. She scanned the lobby, but couldn't spot Gertrude. Moving quickly, she went past the carrental kiosk, the show-ticket booth, the specialpromotions area, and the recreational director's desk.
At last, in an alcove by a bank of telephones, she saw Gertrude sitting in her wheelchair and looking angry.

“Mother!” Judith cried. “I thought we lost you!”

“Lost is right,” Gertrude shot back. “I've already lost money here.” She clutched her purse with both hands. “You know me, I only like to play the single-nickel machines. These things want thirty-five cents. Well, I decided to get risky and put in seven nickels, but I didn't win. What a gyp!”

“Mother,” Judith said, pushing the wheelchair back into the lobby, “those aren't slot machines, they're telephones.”

Gertrude scowled at her daughter. “Telephones! You know I hate telephones! Why didn't somebody warn me?”

“I told you,” Judith said, “you need new glasses.”

“I need new eyes,” Gertrude retorted. “Not to mention new ears, new…”

Judith didn't hear the rest of her mother's usual litany about body parts. Joe had finished the registration process and was beckoning her toward an archway that led to the guest rooms.

“Did you ask if Renie and Bill had checked in yet?” Judith inquired as they found the elevators that went to the Summer Tower.

“They haven't,” Joe replied, punching the elevator button. “They're probably still at the cabin, seeing what the contractor's up to.”

Judith glanced at her watch. It was almost one. The Joneses had left more than half an hour ahead of the Flynns. But Judith knew from her own recent and harrowing experiences with building contractors that dealings with them were often difficult.

The elevator arrived. Joe started to push Gertrude in
side, but she waved him off. “I got a motor on this contraption. Look, I can go by myself.”

Gertrude managed the motor nicely, but she forgot about the brake. Fortunately, the elevator was padded in leather. The collision was a gentle one.

“Okay, okay,” Gertrude grumbled. “I need a little practice, that's all. Hey, I learned to drive on one of those cars you had to crank. If I could do that, I can run this thing.”

“You'll be fine, Mother,” Judith said, patting Gertrude's shoulder as the elevator purred up to the fourteenth floor. “Can you reverse?”

“Let's see.” Gertrude fumbled with the controls. At last, she moved the shift to the right position. The wheelchair all but sailed out of the elevator. Luckily, this time she found the brake. “What did you say about the cabin?” she asked as they progressed down the long, lushly carpeted corridor.

“The cabin?” Judith was glad that she was standing behind her mother lest the old lady notice that her daughter was taken aback. Gertrude sometimes heard conversations that weren't meant for her deaf ears. “Oh—Renie and Bill thought they'd check things out. They haven't been up to the cabin in several years.”

“Who has?” Gertrude retorted as Joe opened the door with his key card. “The place has probably fallen down by now. I blame all of you kids for letting that property go to pot,” she added, zooming into the room and stopping just short of the windows. “Lazy, that's what your generation is. Your grandfather and your grandmother and your father and Uncle Cliff and Uncle Corky and Uncle Al worked every spare minute to build those four cabins on the river. Times were hard, it was the big Depression. People were living in
tent cities, shantytowns. We had to scrimp and do without just to have our own summer vacation place.”

Judith had heard the lecture many times. Long ago, she'd stopped reminding her mother that four hundred feet of riverfront property for the purposes of rustication had been quite a luxury back in the thirties. Not that any of the Grovers had ever been wealthy, but at least they'd been employed during the lean years. And, because it was the Depression era, the four lots they'd purchased had cost a hundred dollars apiece. Unfortunately, a flash flood had swept away three of the cabins almost fifty years earlier.

“Huh.” Gertrude stopped her tirade as she gazed around the spacious room. “This is kind of pretty.”

It was more than pretty, Judith thought, it was beautiful. The room's theme was Pacific Northwest wildflowers—trilliums, ginger, rhododendrons, jack-in-the-pulpit, foxgloves, and several varieties she didn't immediately recognize.

“The room is designed for handicapped guests,” Judith explained as she indicated the bathroom off the entry hall. “We'll be next to you.” She pointed to another door. “That leads into our room.”

Before Gertrude could reply, a knock sounded on the outer door. Joe went to answer it, and let the bellman in. After depositing Gertrude's two suitcases and her walker, the young man received a generous tip from Joe.

“Shall I put your luggage in the room next door?” he asked, pointing to the suitcases on the cart.

“Sure,” Joe said, all but racing out of his mother-in-law's room. “We don't want to delay winning fabulous riches any longer than necessary.”

Judith was torn. She didn't know whether to follow Joe or help her mother unpack. Joe was able to handle
the Flynns' chores, but Gertrude could use some assistance. Dutifully, Judith stayed behind.

“Honestly, Mother,” she exclaimed as she opened the first of Gertrude's suitcases, “how much underwear did you bring?”

“You mean my bloomers? Oh, twenty, twenty-five pairs, I guess.”

“For six days?” Judith asked in disbelief.

Gertrude shrugged. “At my age, you never know.”

“Mittens? Eight pairs of mittens?”

Gertrude continued to sit at the window enjoying the lake-and-mountain view. “It's early March, it's still winter, we're in the mountains.”

“Do you plan to go skiing?”

“You never know about that, either.” The old lady turned the wheelchair around. “Does that TV have cable?”

Judith found the remote and clicked on the set. The first screen welcomed them to the Lake Stillasnowamish casino. The second ballyhooed the Great Mandolini and his stupendous magic act. The third showed how to play keno from your very own private hotel room. Finally, Judith got to the regular stations that did indeed include cable.

“Keno,” Gertrude said as Judith shut off the set. “I remember that game from the time your father and I went to Reno. He won six dollars. We had a steak dinner on that money.”

BOOK: Hocus Croakus
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