Sheltering in Place at the Magdalena Arms: Episode IX

In our last episode, Lois, Pam, and Dolly found Mrs. DeWitt’s will while cleaning her apartment — and discovered that their beloved landlady had a daughter no one knew about. The flabbergasted trio begin to speculate as to when and where Mrs. DeWitt produced the mysterious Gertrude DeWitt.

Missed the earlier episodes? You can find them all here (in reverse order) Or start from the beginning with Episode I and use the “next” button at the top the screen to move between episodes.

Missing Heiress

Dolly burst into the hallway, will in hand, Lois and Pam six feet behind. She couldn’t stay in the stuffy parlor a second longer—the flood of emotions had her spinning like a whirligig. She wanted simultaneously to shout the news from the housetop and to rush down to the sub-basement storeroom and tear off the rest of the molding as an outlet for her astonished joy. Mrs. DeWitt had a daughter! Dolly’s heart twanged with new hope. Somewhere, there was a younger version of Harriet, waiting to be found. There could be no better bequest than this living, breathing descendant, no, not even the walnut bedroom set and bust of Shakespeare Mrs. DeWitt had left her!

“I bet this was why her family kicked her out!” Dolly exclaimed.

“Or did it happen during her wild years in Berlin?” Pamela asked, evidently following her own train of thought.

“When did she reunite with Mrs. Payne-Putney and get put in charge of the Magdalena Arms?” Lois demanded. “Does anyone know?”

All the tenants had heard stories of Mrs. DeWitt’s colorful past; how she was cast out from her wealthy family, the years working as a chanteuse in Berlin nightclubs, her more genteel association with the Bay City Shakespeare Company, and the boarding school friendship with Lily LaPorte (later Mrs. Payne-Putney) that had led to the establishment of the Magdalena Arms.

The had all listened to their landlady’s burbling stream of reminiscence with half an ear. Now it was too late to ask questions, to fill in the gaps, or untangle contradictions. “How on earth are we going to find this person?” Lois broke the silence that had fallen as the three women pondered Mrs. DeWitt’s hazy history.

“We’ll hire a detective,” Pam began in her old take-charge way, then paused, “except, I’m not sure if they’re essential workers.”

Dolly smacked her fist into her other hand. “Listen! We don’t need to hire any private dicks, essential or not! We’ve got a whole houseful of brainy girls just twiddling their thumbs!” Before either Lois or Pamela could stop her, she strode to the back-hall doorway, where the old-fashioned breakfast gong still hung, and sounded it with a quick clang-clang-clang that echoed through the building.

“Dolly no!” Lois exclaimed. “No large gatherings!” She tugged at Pamela. “I think we’d better be going!”

But Pamela wasn’t paying attention. She was staring, mesmerized, over Dolly’s shoulder. Lois gasped and clapped a hand to her masked mouth. Dolly swung around to see Lon, who’d evidently just emerged from Angelo’s hair salon. Lon’s stylish, close-cropped head made it plain what they’d been up to! Behind them was Angelo, key in hand as he turned to lock the salon door.  At the sight of his unexpected audience, he froze.

Next: The Magdalena Girls Rally ’round

Finding a missing heir is just the sort of puzzle the tenants need to distract them from their pandemic woes, but is there more serious trouble secreted in one of the small apartments — something more basic than boredom, anxiety, depression, irritability, rebelliousness and a mad desire to break free of all strictures? Is someone at the Magdalena Arms going hungry?

Tune in every Friday (or even oftener) for a new episode!

Find all the previous episodes here; or start reading from the first episode.

Sheltering in Place at the Magdalena Arms: Episode III

Missed the earlier episodes? You can find them all here. They’re in reverse order until our overworked IT staff fixes this minor frustration, but if you can count, you can figure out which episode to read first, second, third, etc.

Irregular Hours, continued

It was almost noon when Phyllis closed her computer.  Getting up from her desk with a sigh, she conscientiously went through a series of stretches designed for the sedentary office worker: she rolled her head from side to side, shrugged her shoulders, clasped her hands behind her arched back, bent forward, backward, sideways. 

From her spot on Phyllis’s bed Maxie watched with interest. When Phyllis stood upright again, breathing hard from her exertion, Maxie asked, “Is that the same workout as yesterday?”

“Yes it is. It’s important to follow a regular routine in these irregular times,” Phyllis glanced at her wristwatch. “For example, now It’s time for lunch.” 

“I’ve just finished breakfast,” said Maxie.

Phyllis refrained from comment as she went to her icebox and pulled out the day’s lunch, already prepared and labeled Tuesday. She’d long ago learned that Maxie just couldn’t follow a regular schedule. It was a waste of breath to try to make her understand the many benefits of routine.

Maxie got up and slid her feet into a pair of marabou-feathered mules as Phyllis opened her door, then followed the statistician into the hall. Across the way Kay was playing “Lush Life,” the clarinet mournfully dreaming about the very gay places. 

Phyllis turned right towards the stairs. Maxie followed. Phyllis moved faster, widening the gap. Maxie sped up, closing it. “Maxie!” Phyllis held up a warning hand. “Six feet!” 

Maxie slowed obediently, but complained, “Oh Phyllis, we’re practically co-contaminants! Shouldn’t we just think of everyone in the Arms as family?” 

“Maxie, I’ve explained,” Phyllis began with threadbare patience, but Maxie backed down. 

“All right, all right. You don’t have to go into that guff about large groups again.”

“It’s not guff!” Phyllis said hotly. Nothing incensed the statistician more than lack of respect for data. “Honestly Maxie, you must take this pandemic and the health protocols more seriously. If you don’t, I’m not sure I want you visiting me in my room, even with the six foot rule and washing your hands first.”

“Oh please, Phyllis,” Instinctively Maxie stepped forward and then caught herself and retreated. “Don’t cut me off! The lack of company is giving me the heebee-jeebees!”

Phyllis was standing on the landing between the fourth and fifth floor, and Maxie was on the flight above. Speaking as quietly as she could and still have her voice carry, Phyllis asked, “But you’ve got Lon for company. Or are you two having…difficulties, again?”

Maxie shrugged. “Not so’s you’d notice. But Lon hates being cooped up even more than I do,” she wasn’t sure the serious scientist could understand how confinement, even with a long-time lover, affected the intensely secretive student of sea creatures. “They’re used to having a whole ocean to roam and being alone on a boat for weeks at a time.” As Phyllis still appeared unconvinced, Maxie fibbed, “I think they’re having flashbacks to that stint in prison back in 1964, so I’m trying to give them space. That’s why I’ve been visiting so much.”

“Well,” Phyllis relented. “I guess we can continue as we’ve been doing. If you take precautions.” She began to descend the stairs again, then turned around, struck by an idea. “Perhaps we should take our temperatures each morning?” 

“Whatever you say,” Maxie agreed. Now was not the time to remind Phyllis of the Iceland study and the possibility of asymptomatic contagion.

She waited dutifully until Phyllis had left the landing, before descending the rest of the flight and letting herself into her fourth floor loft, which her friend’s had nicknamed “Maxie’s manse.”

“Hellooooo?” she called. Her mules clacked as she crossed the polished marquetry floor of the entryway and then were muffled by the turkish rugs that layered the living area. She tapped on the door to the spartan room she thought of as ‘Lon’s little hidey-hole.’ “Lon?”

After a moment she opened the door. The single bed against the wall was neatly made up, the bedclothes pulled tight enough to bounce a quarter. The orange crate next to it held an alarm clock, cigarettes, a paperback book. Lon’s standard equipment. 

Briefly, Maxie debated poking into Lon’s armoire, to aid her speculations about where her lover had gone and what they might be up to. But instead she backed out and closed the door. 

It was better not to know. Then she wouldn’t have to lie to Phyllis.

Next: Phyllis’s Weak Spot

The serious statistician is tempted to break the very health protocols she advocates when it comes to luscious downstairs neighbor Laura! How long can she repress her unsettling impulse to close the distance between them?

Tune in every Friday for a new episode! (or maybe even oftener!)