Sheltering in Place at the Magdalena Arms: Episode XXI

Previously: When Mrs. DeWitt’s will revealed a missing daughter, Pam found a project to pull her out of her pandemic doldrums. But just as the unemployed career girl swings into action to organize the hunt for the missing girl, an unexpected obstacle derails the former doyenne of dress!

Missed the earlier episodes? You can find them all hereOr start from the beginning with Episode I and use the “next” button at the top the screen to move between episodes.

Making Plans

“You know Lois,” Pam said as she buttered her toast, “No one’s living in Mrs. DeWitt’s apartment now. I was thinking that it might make sense to turn it into a kind of command central.” She made a note on the pad next to her plate. “I’ll ask Dolly about it.”

“Yes,” said Lois, helping herself to the marmalade. “That makes more sense than transporting files over here.”

She would have applauded Pam’s idea, no matter how picayune, so pleased was she to see her partner once more full of pep. “More coffee?” she held the pot poised over Pamela’s cup.

“Please.” Pam scribbled another note on her pad. She was dressed in a crisp polka-dotted blouse this morning, with a matching lime green cardigan tossed over her shoulders. She’d even pressed her pants. The couple had spent the previous evening pleasurably organizing supplies for today’s tasks. Lois had applied alphabetical labels to accordion files and assembled bankers boxes, then filled them with pre-labeled hanging folders, color-coded to match the spreadsheet she’d created.

She ticked off items on her own list: Blank labels, markers, staple remover, manila folders.

It was intoxicating, the old filing frenzy, flowing from brain to fingertips.

“I wonder how long this will all take,” Lois speculated. “Weeks? Months?”

“Oh, I don’t think it will be near that long,” Pamela disagreed, with robust confidence. “Mrs. DeWitt left so many papers and with so many of us combing the files, and you and I tabulating results, we’re bound to make rapid progress. It’s only a matter of time before someone stumbles across a vital clue. Why, if Phyllis and Laura find adoption papers at the city records office tomorrow, we’ll be done before we’ve started!”

Pamela paused, and frowned as if realizing what that would mean.

“That seems unlikely,” Lois reassured her. “If Mrs. DeWitt gave no one a hint the whole time she was the Magdalena Arms house mother, it stands to reason any details on this secret daughter are buried pretty deep. I still can’t believe she wouldn’t have said something to the older tenants like you and Dolly, who knew her before—” Lois coughed delicately, “That is, when she was in better health.”

Before her unfortunate attachment to gin, Lois had been about to say, before she remembered not to speak ill of the dead.

“She was pretty far gone when I moved in, in fall of ’55,” said Pam bluntly. “You know—kind of in a haze, reciting poetry when you came to her with a plumbing problem. Mrs. Payne-Putney had just died, and I guess she was still pretty grief-stricken.”

“The school friend,” said Lois. She made a note on her steno pad: Schooling—school friends—names

“I remember one verse she was always repeating,” Pamela reminisced. “About how earthly joys have fled and all the flowers of youth lie withering and dead. Something like that. I did wonder,” she paused, “well, if she and Mrs. Payne-Potter might have been—an item,” Pamela chose her word carefully, “at boarding school.”

Lois tried to picture Mrs. DeWitt as a young boarder in love with the future Mrs. Payne-Potter, and failed. She kept imagining a girl with Mrs. DeWitt’s disheveled gray pompadour. Still–her landlady had been young once, and with her penchant for poetry….after all, everyone knew that boarding schools were hotbeds of same-sex lust!

The phone rang, interrupting their silent ruminations on Mrs. DeWitt’s possible past passions, and Lois jumped up to get it. Pamela rose, too, taking the breakfast dishes to the sink to scrape. 

“We should get going soon,” she called after Lois. “If that’s your Mrs. Pierson, don’t let her keep yakking about the end of the world for too long.”

Pam hummed a little tune as she rinsed and stacked the dishes. She was drying her hands on a dishtowel when she heard Lois exclaim, “Oh no!”

Pam poked her head into the hallway. Lois was clutching the phone to her ear. “Poor Beverly!” moaned Lois. “Is she…” she listened. “Well, is there anything we can do?” Another pause. “No, of course not. No, you must follow protocol…I agree, that would be best…I only wish there was something we could do to—well, keep us posted.”

Lois hung up the phone and turned reluctantly to Pamela, dreading the effect of her news. “That was Dolly,” she said. “It seems…well…”

“Something happened to Beverly?” Pam prompted. 

“Beverly’s come down with Covid,” Lois told her girlfriend. Ignoring Pamela’s startled, “What?” Lois rushed on, “and under the circumstances…well, Dolly thinks, and of course she’s right…” Lois couldn’t delay any longer—the bad news had to be broken: “We’ll have to postpone our daughter-detecting project!” she blurted, and then watched as Pamela sagged, like a rag doll with it’s stuffing suddenly sucked out.

Next: Dolly holds a meeting and Laura makes a phone call.

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