By Nancy Carlton

Chapter One

     When Joe and Lena Crafts moved into Warm Springs Village, they were certain they had found the perfect place to live out their “mature season” in peace and happiness. They had checked out several other retirement communities before they discovered that the one closest to their birthplaces seemed to fill the bill better than all others.

     The village had twelve lakes and nine golf courses, none of which would be used by Joe and Lena since they neither boated nor golfed, but the aesthetic of those amenities added to the warmth of the place.

     The walking trails appealed to Joe. Lena, on the other hand, set out to discover all the opportunities to sing with various ensembles. The village provided plenty of these delights.

     Anyone who may have thought that a retirement village would be filled with dull old people who had finished their life’s work and now sat in rocking chairs dispensing unwanted free advice on every subject, would be wrong. Oh, sure, you could still get free advice, but there were no rocking chairs for this active bunch. Instead, they would advise you while dancing, hiking, playing pickleball, singing in various genres, staging plays, golfing, partying, or raising money for some charity or another. The thing about free advice is, folks, you get what you pay for.

     With no less than twenty-one churches in the sprawling twenty-six thousand acres of Warm Springs Village, Joe and Lena felt snugly secure knowing that no crime could possibly be perpetrated in a place where everyone was so obviously devoted to The Lord. They wondered how the village police department filled their hours of boredom with nothing to do but watch out for the occasional speeder or show up to the scene of the car-vs-deer collisions that happened every few days.

     Poor, poor naïve Joe and Lena.

     The rude awakening came in the middle of one of those peaceful, secure nights. Joe and Lena were used to hearing nothing but the “white noise” of Joe’s sleep aid sound machine, so the screaming sirens pierced the night like a gargantuan mosquito had somehow invaded the bedroom and was wailing an opera aria directly into their ears. 

     Lena was pulled unwillingly out of a dream about her younger, slimmer days. Joe sat bolt upright in the bed and groped the nightstand in search of his eyeglasses. He knocked a lamp and the alarm clock to the floor before he located the spectacles.

     By the time they had both located their slippers and arrived at the picture window in their living room, Lena’s cell phone was ringing. It was her friend, Maureen. Of course it would be, because nothing ever happened in the village that Maureen didn’t know about. It put her in a position of great trust, for she was not a gossiper. She was merely the fount of all knowledge in the village, and the first person that everyone went to when anything, whatsoever, happened.

     “Spill it, Mo!” is how Lena greeted the caller. “Give me the scoop!”

     “I’m not just calling with news,” Maureen responded, her voice somewhat shrill with the effects of the adrenaline coursing through her body. “I’m calling to give you a warning! Are your doors locked, and is your burglar alarm set?”

     “Well, yes, but why?”

     “There’s a killer loose in the village! Someone managed to sneak into the Benevolent Sam high-rise after incapacitating the security guard. He ran through the lobby swinging a huge knife, jumped into the elevator and rode it to the third floor, where he kicked open the first tenant’s door he came to, and began ripping the furniture to shreds, while shouting, ‘It’s not fair! It is just not fair!’

     When poor old Mr. Jansen confronted him, the vandal turned and ran back to the elevator, rode it back down, and dashed out of the front door, just as the security guard was beginning to come to from being thumped on the head and tied up.

     The bad guy ran off into the woods to the right of the building, still swinging that huge knife. The police haven’t found him yet. He could be anywhere in the village!”

     Lena was on full alert by this time, and Joe had come up beside her, taking in all of the conversation that he could hear without the benefit of his hearing aids, which he had left on the nightstand. 

     “But you said there was a killer, Mo! Who got killed?” she queried.

     “Well, nobody yet,” said Maureen, “but that was certainly his intention, don’t you think? Why else would he be carrying that huge knife?”

     Lena reasoned, “You’re probably right, of course, but so far, he’s more a marauder than a killer. Still, we had better be prepared for every possibility. This is our first major crime in the village and we won’t just lie down and let the bad guy win!”

     “First major crime?” Maureen let out a nervous chuckle. “Lena, Sweetie, you haven’t lived in the village very long. Chief Middler has his hands full with the goings-on in this village. Pretty much anything that happens in any city happens here, too. Drugs, theft, vandalism, fraud – why, there have even been whispered rumors of the occasional sex-related shenanigan!”

     “Gee, thanks, Mo. This really makes me feel safe – not! I guess I have been living in a delusional dream world.”

     At this point, Joe made a dismissive wave gesture as if to signal that he was done worrying about it all. The sirens had quieted down, and nobody was dead, so he was headed back to bed.

     Lena, on the other hand, began to feel a little prickle of excitement up and down her spine. She had always enjoyed a good mystery, and tonight’s events had begun to bring out the long-buried inner sleuth inside her. 

     “Say, Mo,” she half-whispered into the phone. “Have you ever done any investigation of crimes, just as a hobby? Just for fun?”

     “Lena Crafts, are you about to tempt me to get involved in something covert and dangerous? Are you thinking of going all Sherlockian, right here in the village?”

     “Well, I don’t know, Maureen…am I?” responded Lena, with an increasing tinge of mischief making its way into her voice. “If I were — might you care to join me?”

     “You know good and well that our husbands wouldn’t approve of this, Lena,” Maureen had a feigned cautionary quality in her voice.

     “Who, in her right mind, would tell her husband anything about this?” Lena asked, keeping her voice down so she wouldn’t be overheard by her sleepy Joe.

     “I’ll tell you what. Meet me at the Arkansas Club restaurant tomorrow at ten o’clock. We will have coffee and a cinnamon roll. Then we will decide whether or not we should stick our noses into the case of the Knife-wielding Marauder. After all, the police might be busy with other cases, and how dangerous could it be?  No one has died – yet!”

Stay tuned for more to come…

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