Who would leave a newborn baby in the bathtub of a condo in Sunset Acres, a retirement community, and why?
And was a young woman slain behind the convenience store across the highway it’s mother?
Janie and the Bunco Biddies want to find out, but soon they discover sleuthing can get a bit dicey.
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“Did you say she found a baby?” Janie stopped mid-roll, the pink and white dice warming in her clutched fist. “Here in Sunset Acres, a retirement community?”
Babs, seated to her left at the Bunco table, nodded. “That’s what Mildred told me as we were walking up to your front stoop tonight. Right, Mildred?”
“I went to collect a few more of my things since I’m staying with Ethel, and no more than three minutes later the leasing agent pounded on my door. ‘Come see,’ she motioned to me. Her eyes grew as wide as those mega donuts at the Crusty Baker.” She thumped her pencil against her score pad and groaned. “It took every ounce of gumption to follow her into that—ugh!—place next door.” She quivered her shoulders.
Janie shifted her gaze to the woman sitting across from her. “Ethel, you knew about this?”
“And you didn’t tell me?” Her voice elevated to echo-off-the-ceiling volume. She harrumphed and pivoted to face the storyteller. “Mildred. What happened?”
The other eight ladies halted their Bunco round. Each swiveled to listen in, their eyes fixated on the first card table.
Mildred leaned back and raised her voice for all to hear. “I paused at the steps, determined to not go inside. Only peek in from the front door. Then high-pitched, frantic cries came from the direction of the bathroom. Well, I had to rush to its aid. Every motherly fiber in my being dictated it.”
Murmurs and head bobs filtered through Janie’s living room.
Mildred sniffled. “Poor little thing. Alone, scared, and red as a beet from wailing so hard. That house is cursed, I tell you.”
Janie patted her hand. “Now, dear. Just because someone murdered Edwin soon after he moved in there doesn’t mean...”
Mildred shot from her seat and paced, her arms flaying in circles, resembling the duck windmill on top of the antiques store down the road. “Ever since I relocated into Sunset Acres it’s been one thing after another. Edwin murdered, then my nephew Bobby arrested, and now an abandoned newborn in a bathtub? This is supposed to be a quiet retirement community.”
“Maybe because you live on Solar Boulevard.” Annie huffed. “Nothing weird ever happens on my street, Sunrise Court, except for an occasional stray golf ball. Then again, if you kept your nose out of everyone’s business...” Her voice trailed off with a smug cock of her head.
The other ladies mumbled to each other.
Ethel blew a whistle through her teeth. “OK, everyone calm down. We all lived through the ruckus of one of our neighbor’s brutal murder last month. It’s not Mildred’s fault. Nor mine or Janie’s that this happened...”
Betsy Ann raised her hand, as if her legs once again dangled from under her desk in Ms. Everett’s kindergarten classroom.
Janie rolled her eyes. “What?”
“Well, it is sort of our fault.” She pointed to Janie, Ethel, and herself. “We helped solve the case and Bobby did wind up in the middle of all of the commotion. That’s why he threatened you and tried to break into your house.” She folded her hands and gazed down at them. “I’m just saying...”
“Duly noted.” Janie felt the healing, pinkish wound on her neck where his knife had grazed her skin. “I must add, my dear son-in-law, Chief Detective Blake Johnson, appreciated all of our”—her hands encircled the room—“research, sleuthing and cunningness. He told me so.” A smile curled along the edges of her mouth. “Besides, it did beat back the doldrums for a while, right?’
A few silvery heads bounced in agreement as the condo sprinkled with giggles. Annie crossed her arms and harrumphed.
Janie led Mildred back to her designated chair. She patted her on the shoulders and scanned the room, making certain every slightly glaucoma-pressed or cataract-corrected eye fixated on her. “Now we must figure out who placed a newborn baby in a vacant garden home bathtub and why?”
Babs cocked an eyebrow. “We do?”
“Absolutely. Let’s face facts. Someone put the little thing in a home in our community so she would be discovered. Therefore, it is our responsibility—”
“Well, now. I’m not sure...” Mildred frowned.
“We are all over fifty-five, correct? The child certainly doesn’t belong to one of us. If so, we should be renamed Sarah after Abraham’s elderly wife in Genesis.”
“Or Elizabeth in the New Testament.” Betsy Ann added, this time with a forefinger, not a full hand, aloft.
“Exactly. Therefore, unless one of you wants to confess...”
Janie allowed the cacophony to settle, her eyes glimmering with escalating excitement. “I, for one, do not think this is a coincidence that this wee one ended up in Edwin’s old garden home. There may be a connection we overlooked. Blake never discovered who left long, black hairs in that comb or ruby red lipstick on those empty beer cans when the police searched Edwin’s place for clues.”
Ethel scoffed. “Pffft. We all can guess what she was, even if we don’t know who.”
The women eyed each other and chuckled.
Annie shook her head. “But the officials only released him from prison a couple of days before he died, right? Last I heard, it takes nine months to make a baby.”
Mildred arched her eyebrow. “I thought it only took one night.”
Several of the elderly ladies laughed so loud Janie’s china tea service jiggled.
Janie pumped her hand toward the floor. “All right. All right. Even so, someone knew that home remained unoccupied.”
Babs flipped up her palms. “His demise dominated the local news for several weeks. Which means thousands of readers learned about it.”
“More than that,” Roseanne Rodriguez spoke up. “Hundreds of thousands. It was all over the nightly news, too.”
Mildred flayed her arms. “That narrows it down a bunch.”
Janie tapped her fist to the card table. The hum of comments faded. “True, Roseanne. However, I don’t recall them specifically giving out the address, even if everyone heard Betsy Ann and I discovered him in the community dumpster here at Sunset Acres.”
“So, whoever dropped the baby girl off cased the joint and determined no one lived there anymore.” Ethel, the one with the massive cataloged mystery paperback collection, offered the proverbial gumshoe response.
“Which means they planned to leave her at that garden home.” Janie snapped her fingers. “Yes, that has to be it. So a person or persons unknown, who wouldn’t attract attention as they wandered around our senior retirement village, knew about this pregnancy and somehow persuaded the mother to give up the poor thing.”
Babs clucked her teeth. “Well, it does happen.”
“Yes, but what gets me is they figured someone would find the infant fairly quickly.”
“A ‘For Lease or Sale’ sign is planted plain as day on the front lawn.” Annie shoved the last bite of butterscotch brownie into her mouth.
Janie gave her a nod. “Good point. Still, there must be homes all over this area for sale or rent. Why our little corner of the world? A fifty-five plus community. Why not a neighborhood with young families? That’s what we must discover. Something tells me the answer might be the key to the whole dilemma.”
Ethel leaned into Betsy Ann. “Get a load of Janie. Proud as a peacock and giddy as a school girl. She’s in her element. A new game’s afoot.”
Betsy Ann lowered her auburn, curly head into her hands. “Here we go again. Bunco Biddies to the rescue whether anyone wants us involved or not.”