Loco Motive: A Bed-and-Breakfast Mystery - By Mary Daheim

Chapter One

Judith McMonigle Flynn hurried out of Hillside Manor, stared up at the second-story window, and screamed, “Don’t jump! You’ll kill yourself!”

The small man with the slicked-back hair crouched on the ledge and waved a sinewy hand. “Move it, lady! Here I go!”

“No!” Judith cried. “No, no!”

The man ignored her. He leaped out the window, somersaulted in midair, and landed upright in a rhododendron bush. “See?” he shouted, brushing glossy leaves off his chamois shirt. “Your better half just lost fifty bucks. Doesn’t he know who I am?”

“Unfortunately,” she murmured, “he does, but he didn’t think you’d be stupid enough to try that stunt at my B&B.”

“Where is Whazisname?” Wee Willie Weevil said, gazing around the quiet cul-de-sac.

“He knew I’d jump at”—he peered at his watch’s hodgepodge of numbers and symbols that Judith figured could launch a NASA spacecraft—“thirteen hours.”

“Mr. Flynn told you he had a lunch meeting,” Judith said.

“He should’ve canceled. I do what I do when I say I’m going to do it.” He belched.

“I’m off to run up and down that steep street you folks call the…what?”

“The Counterbalance,” Judith replied wearily. “It’s the steepest part of Heraldsgate Avenue. Years ago, a kind of cable car went…”

Weevil had taken some deep breaths and counted to three before taking off like a shot toward the cross street that led to the avenue. Shaking her head, Judith walked over to the porch steps.

“Yoo-hoo!” a voice called. “Judith! What on earth was that?” Turning around, Judith saw her neighbor Arlene Rankers emerge from behind the gigantic laurel hedge between the two properties. “Wee Willie Weevil, jumping out of room two,” Judith replied. “Why did I let Justin Weevil talk me into letting his uncle stay at my B&B?”

Arlene joined Judith at the porch steps. “Because Justin is a very nice young man and a friend of your son’s? Because you’re kindhearted and had a vacancy the week before Halloween? Because you’re insane?”

“All of the above,” Judith agreed. “Weevil checks out Friday. I’m booked for the weekend because Halloween falls on Sunday this year.”

Arlene’s pretty face was sympathetic. “Then you’ve one more full day to put up with Willie.” She gestured at Judith’s porch decorations. “Your gourds look better than mine. That jack-o’-lantern reminds me of Marie Klumpf from church. So many missing teeth. The Dooleys’ witch was stolen last night,” she went on, gazing at the big white house looming behind the cul-de-sac. “It’s a shame their front porch faces the other street. I feel safer where we are. Too many cars cruise around here lately, but so far they haven’t come near us since Carl’s been Block Watch captain. He’s always alert. Unless he’s taking a nap.”

Judith was used to Arlene’s contradictions. “Carl’s very reliable,” she agreed. “Too bad he couldn’t ban Willie. No decent hotel will let him in, which is why he’s here. I wish I’d known that before I agreed to let him stay at the B&B. Mike thought it’d be fun. As a kid, he idolized Willie’s daredevil antics, including his movies and cartoon shows.”

Arlene clapped a hand to her cheek. “I’d forgotten about his early exploits,” she said. “He’d come to town on publicity tours and visit his relatives. Our kids were big fans, too. But every time Willie was in town, his shenanigans upset the local hotel employees and their guests. The newspapers and TV were full of his wild stunts.” Arlene paused, appearing to revel in the memories. “He never used the elevator when he stayed at the Cascadia. He’d climb up the hotel’s exterior and swing into his penthouse suite on a rope. At the Naples, he rode his motorcycle up and down the hall at all hours. Oh—I forgot the Wetmore, where he walked a tightrope between the hotel’s two towers.”

“How did I miss all that?” Judith asked, her head swimming. Arlene frowned. “This was almost thirty years ago when you were living out south on Thurlow Street. Did you take a newspaper back then? Or watch TV?”

The memories of Judith’s disastrous first marriage were stashed in a dark corner of her mind where she seldom ventured. “Those last years before Dan died were like living in exile. He wouldn’t let my relatives visit and pitched a five-star fit if I spent time with them. Not that I had time to spare while working two jobs and Dan not working at all. The newspaper canceled us and the TV was repossessed. Even though he was in charge of paying—or not paying—bills, he