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Murder at the B&B. An Ophelia Perhaps Mystery.

I guess it can’t be the guy from Dover.

Eustacia Vye of Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native

“Dad! You scared me out of my wits!” I’m panting, clutching my heart. “Why didn’t you phone that you were back in Oxford?”

“Oh, come on, honey, you know sometimes I get called last minute for lectures. Tomorrow night it’s Thomas Hardy, the Industrial Revolution, and the Steam Engine. Anyway, I thought I’d surprise you.”

“Well, you did.” I’m grumpy that I got called Pumpkin and that my sleuthing will be put on hold.

The Wine Café is really crowded. We can’t get up to the bar, much less get the bartender’s attention, so we sit down at a table in the front. Dad tells me about the lecture and asks me a bunch of personal questions, all involving Robert. I only answer a few. Finally, Judy the bar girl comes over.

“A small glass of that Pinot Grigio I really like, please, Judy?”

Dad looks at me. “You know I like the reds better.” He looks up at Judy. “I’d like to try your house red. And could you also bring us some mixed nuts? And some black and green olives?” He looks around at me a bit sheepishly, then back up at Judy. “And do you have any pretzels?”

“Sure,” says Judy with a small smirk. “I can put together a nice combi plate for you.”

Looking back at me, he says, “Your mother always said I shouldn’t have all that salt, but I find the combination,well, it . . . “

“I know. You like how it complements the wine.” Actually, so do I.

We talk over the Thomas Hardy lecture he’s going to give. I tell him I probably won’t go, but, because I’m not a stellar daughter, sometimes I change my mind about his lectures. Actually, he’s pretty smart, though I hate to admit it. He even lived in Dorchester for a few years after Mom died to get a feel for the countryside Hardy wrote about. Mom was more of a Sylvia Plath gal. She didn’t get the romantic writers.

After a while, Judy brings the bill, and Dad quickly pays and stands.

“I’m in town a few more days, Punkin’. Can I buy you lunch somewhere? The Eagle and Child?” I look into his eyes. Eyes that are light brown like mine.

“Well, how about 2 o’clock at the Eagle and Child?”

He stands and shakes my hand. Dad’s not a hugging kind of guy. I watch him take his coat from the rack and go out the door. Then I watch him go into Mamma Mia Pizza, kitty corner across the street. Pizza was another thing Mom thought he shouldn’t eat, but is he meeting somebody? Maybe asking them questions about me? Or just hungry? I finish my wine and, as I pull down my cardigan from the rack, I notice Dad’s coming back out the pizzeria door with a large pizza box. Is he meeting someone who likes pizza? Parents can be such a mystery. He turns south toward the bus stop. At least I assume he takes the bus somewhere. Some fancy hotel probably.

I circle north around the wine café to avoid Dad seeing me watch him. It’s just starting to drizzle as I let myself into the entry to the house and climb the stairs to my room. My cell rings. My caller ID says “Robert Perhaps.” I sigh and pick up.

“Hey, Ophelia. It’s me.”

“I know.”

“Well, yeah. Um, well, how are you?” I’m silent as I count to ten.

“Okay, well, I’ll just get to it. I wondered if you could take care of Ti Jean a few more days.”

“Like till when?”

“Well, over the weekend. Till Monday. Wednesday at the latest.”

“So, is it Monday or Wednesday?”

“I’ll call you when I’m back in town. How’s that? Okay?”

“Wednesday at the latest, Robert. You can’t do this to me again.”

“I won’t. I’ll call by Wednesday at the latest.”

“No, you’re going to be here to pick up Ti Jean on Wednesday at the latest.”

“Yeah, sure, Wednesday. Whatever you say.”

“And I took him to the vet, so your half is 30 pounds. And I’d like that in cash.”

He starts to say something, but I hang up.

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