To a tourist, the sleepy village of Deception Bay appears to be an idyllic, peaceful retreat, anything but deceptive. But Larry, the bartender in the old, quaint, ivy-covered inn, and Brenda, his realtor buddy, know better. They discover the secrets lurking below the surface, such as who attends the occult meetings and who committed the unreported rape. They can guess who lit the mysterious fire, though there’s no proof, and they discover the motives of the man who is definitely not what he seems to be. And they are not above starting a few rumors of their own to make the local news more interesting!
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I – LAME DUCKS
A heavy mid-March rain slashed against my windows and battered a patch of daffodils at the edge of a lawn that was slowly turning to sludge. I crossed my fingers that the rain wouldn’t turn to something truly ugly, like hail, and tried to decide what to do with my Sunday afternoon. Clean house or copy the recipes I’d promised to give Cecilia?
I’d already been down to the grocery store to pick up the weekend Vancouver Island Times, which carried the syndicated New York Times Sunday crossword. Sadly, the crossword had only lasted through breakfast and half the morning. Usually I could count on it to keep me amused until Monday night. For a moment, I wavered between duty and pleasure, but the urge to curl up with a book proved far stronger than anything to do with dusting or vacuuming. I was headed for the couch when the phone rang.
“Hey, Brenda, it’s Charlie. How about dinner and drapes tonight?”
“I’d love to.” Charlie Farrow was a new boy in the village of Deception Bay, a lawyer who had an office in Breslow, a few miles to the south. We’d dated a few times and I liked his sense of humor. “Wait a minute, did you say drinks? Or was it drapes?”
He chuckled. “I said drapes, but I’ll provide drinks as well. I finally got the last room in the house painted a week ago and I need help with the finishing touches.”
“Great! Sounds like fun.” I’d sold Charlie the house on the corner of Winthrop and Jarvis when he’d moved to town a year ago. The house was old but had what’s called in the trade ‘a sweeping view,’ which took in the bay, two islands out in the Strait of Georgia, and the Coast Mountains to the east.
“Good. I know you like playing with other people’s houses.” There was satisfaction in his voice. “I’m cooking, so it’s my house, four o’clock, if that’s not too early. I have an eight o’clock bridge game.”
“Not a problem. I’ll be there.” Charlie had cooked dinner for me before and he knew his way around a kitchen much better than I did. Or wanted to.
His invitation inspired me to do my house cleaning after all. This wasn’t a big job since my job at Paradise Realty meant I didn’t spend much time at home, but dusting has always been at the top of my hate list. Consequently I arrived at Charlie’s house feeling virtuous and certainly deserving of a reward.
Since it was the weekend, I expected to see him in jeans but he was wearing a dark-blue v-neck pullover, pale blue open-collared shirt and sharply creased gray trousers. He looked as elegant in those as he did in a business suit. His hair was freshly styled, too. He’d probably had it done in Breslow, since Mickey, our local barber, couldn’t seem to manage anything beyond military cuts for those few men still interested in them.
He put his arm around my shoulders and drew me into the hall, then swung me around so we faced an oval antique mirror framed in fumed oak. “Make a handsome couple, don’t we?”
It was true. His black hair, pencil mustache and brown eyes contrasted nicely with my Nordic looks and the flawed glass made both of us look younger than mid-thirties. I did a double take at the mirror, then looked up at him. “Where did you find that beauty?”
He gave my shoulders a squeeze. “I invited her for dinner.”
“No, you idiot, the mirror.”
“Toby’s Treasures, right here in our own amazing little village of Deception Bay. Pretty cool, huh?” He led the way into the kitchen and took a bottle of gin out of the freezer and tonic out of the fridge. A lemon lay waiting on the cutting board. I sighed in appreciation. Not many people make drinks the way I like them.
Glasses in hand, we wandered around the house discussing color and style for window dressings in every room. When the decisions had been roughed out and I’d advised Charlie to take the paint chips with him when he was choosing material, we sat in the kitchen for another drink before dinner. Searching for blinds and curtain material was a time-consuming job, but I didn’t offer to help. I’d had more than enough of remodeling during the two marriages that were now thankfully relegated to the past.
Medium rare filet mignon and crisp salad were followed by cheesecake made of dark chocolate on a base of ground pecans, with icing, whipped cream and thin slices of marbled chocolate. I took a bite and moaned in pleasure. “Charlie, you’re incredible.” I made the experience last as long as I could, but finally we moved to the living room with coffee and brandy.
The rain had stopped and the last rays of sunset highlighted a dozen shining white seagulls perched on the flat, graveled roof of the next house below us on the steepest part of Jarvis. Every five minutes or so they soared up and circled over the village, then glided back to the roof and hunkered down again, facing the sunset. Their freewheeling flight reminded me how lucky I was to be able to do the same.
“So why the interest in playing bridge?” I asked. “I thought that was something people did to pass the time after they retired.”
Charlie palmed his forehead in mock dismay. “Let me enlighten you and divert you from your philistine ways. Bridge is a complex, fascinating game that takes every bit of memory, concentration and strategy you can bring to bear on it. It’s as difficult and absorbing as chess. Haven’t you ever played?”
“No, but with that kind of recommendation, I can see where it would make the hours fly by. How does one learn to play?”
“Mostly by playing,” Charlie said, “but I’d suggest taking a couple of introductory courses first, to get familiar with the rules and bidding and play.” He stretched his legs out in front of him and glanced at his watch. “I doubt if there are any night school courses here but there would be in Breslow.”
“I might look into that. Maybe bridge would be as much fun as the New York Times Sunday crossword.”
A few minutes later, at his insistence, I left Charlie with the dirty dishes and drove home, my hunger sated, my tongue happy.
A couple of nights later I took a mug of coffee into my home office, which doubles as spare bedroom, and googled the Web to see what it said about bridge. I got three million hits and sat back, amazed. Way too much information. Refining the search term to ‘bridge blogs’ brought five thousand hits, give or take. Still far too many, but I knew the first couple of pages would be the most relevant.
When blogs first became popular, I followed several but gave up after a few weeks. Some were literate, some sounded like the diaries of spiteful teenagers but most fell in the middle. All of them drove me crazy because the writers seemed to assume I’d been reading them since Day One and knew the back stories. It was like walking into the middle of a conversation and not having a clue what anyone was talking about. Or starting to watch a movie halfway through, with no idea of the plot. Sometimes it almost embarrassed me to watch a writer perform acrobatics with words, apparently unaware that his naked ego was hanging out. People say the most amazing things online, comments they wouldn’t dream of saying in person.
I clicked on the seventh listing, for luck. If I can’t think of any other way to make a decision, pretending to be superstitious sometimes works. The page that opened had a fan of playing cards decorating one corner and the title Bridge Talk. So far, so good. The preamble beneath the title appealed to me, too.