Setting: Maudy’s lake house a few weeks after a girl was murdered and dumped in the lake. Maudy’s adult children Trevor and Patty and their friends, April, Rich, Edward and Mary Anne are visiting for the weekend. The boys are helping with an experiment to discover where the body went into the lake. Because of the murder, Mary Anne, the petite and beautiful daughter of a foreign president, has been teaching April martial arts. Mandy is Maudy’s cousin, who lives with her.)
Student and Master
My children got home from church before I did. As I came through the door Trevor met me in the hall. “You have messages on your phone.”
I immediately checked and found a half dozen messages, about the experiment. “I found one of those pieces of wood on my beach this morning. Do you want me to bring it by?”
“I found a piece of wood with nails in it and a number on it. Is that something important?”
“If you are looking for those pieces of wood you had in the middle of the lake, two of them are on my beach.”
While the girls started lunch, the guys shuffled out the patio door to retrieve the pieces of wood and record where they came ashore.
April set the stack of plates Patty had handed her on the table and followed her brother to the door as if to go with him. Rich blocked the open door and snarled at his sister, “You, stay here. No sister of mine is going anywhere near that side of the lake, and don’t leave the yard here. We don’t know where the killer came from.”
April scowled at her brother and retreated to the dining room. After he left she muttered, “I can take care of myself.”
“No you can’t.” Mary Anne narrowed her eyes and scowled until I felt uneasy. “Some of these men who kill are unnaturally strong, and they won’t hesitate to do something a sane person couldn’t bring themselves to do. I plan on being very careful, and I have two bodyguards.”
April pouted as flames of color flared in her cheeks. She began to slam plates at each place on the table while keeping her back to Mary Anne.
Mary Anne glanced up at April then scowled at the salad she was making. Both girls maintained an uncomfortable silence, while Patty and I quietly conferred over sandwich filling.
Mary Anne finished tossing the salad before she said, “April, I don’t want you to feel bad about what I said. I used to think I was pretty good with my martial arts. One night, someone attacked Papa. Papa is a great master. Nobody has ever beat him, but this man cut Papa open very bad. None of us are as good as my Papa, and he got hurt. Remember, if the master can get hurt the student is no better.”
April didn’t meet Mary Anne’s eyes when she nodded. She didn’t say much to anybody through lunch, and I wished I knew what she was thinking.
After lunch, we started a game of sort-of-extreme-croquet. Trevor picked the most difficult places in the yard to place the wickets. One pole he planted under the laurel at the east corner of my front yard. The other pole sat in the mud at the edge of the lake on the west side of my yard. The house served as a huge obstacle in the middle of the course.
Mandy and I had the advantage of having practiced during the week. The young people had the advantage of agility and a lack of ethics.
I wondered about April when she chose to play her ball last. Being extremely coordinated and strong, she had no trouble catching up to Mary Anne’s ball and croqueting it to the back of the rose bed. April laughed and danced as Mary Anne tangled her hair in rose briars and got a bloody scratch on her leg when forced to play her ball where it landed.
Mary Anne took the abuse well. “You want to play rough. You better watch out.”
April waited until the game had moved to the back of the house before taking her frustration and embarrassment out on her brother. Since she’d wasted part of her first turn, going after Mary Ann’s ball, April was still in the front yard when the rest of us were in the back. I thought it would take her two turns to catch up with us. As we waited for April to play, I wondered what was taking her so long. Just before I went to check on her, her ball came bounding out through the patio doors. She’d managed to play the ball through the house over both thresholds. Her ball landed in a great position to go after Rich.
Rich didn’t have many choices for playing his ball, but he managed to position it to put April at a disadvantage if she went after him. She went after his ball anyway and croqueted it into the lake, then demanded he play from where it lay in 3 feet of water.
As Rich struggled to play his ball out of the deep water, April laughed at him. I thought she’d settled her earlier discomfort in a harmless manner. I watched Rich put his face in the water to get a better position for hitting the ball and remembered the pollution and stench the night I was called out to the scene where the body was found. My side of the lake smelled fresh, the water was clear and the lake bottom more sandy than mucky. I wondered how many septic systems had failed on the far side and if they were really the cause of the odor and muck.
I still felt slightly uncomfortable over April’s abuse of Mary Anne and didn’t want my guest to feel hurt or unwelcome. Foolishly, I thought April was the better athlete of the two. Delicate, fragile, little Mary Anne rose to the occasion and sent April’s ball through the juniper hedge and into the Hull’s yard while loudly proclaiming April had to play from where the ball lay under the Hull’s sprinklers.
I relaxed thinking both girls would be okay until Mary Anne sent my ball into the lake. She called out over my protests. “Oh, don’t whine. It’s obvious you and Mandy have been practicing, while we’ve been slaving away in the city.” Mandy’s ball joined mine in two feet of water.
Mary Anne forced Trevor to play his ball out of the Hull’s yard, he complained, “Edward, do something about your wife.”
“I am. I’m smart enough to stay well out of her way.” Edward shrugged. “You have no idea what you are up against.”
By the end of the game, we were all wet, except Mary Ann. Even Edward had to play his ball from under the Hull’s sprinklers. She won the game easily, and April conceded with a wet hug. April is a good sport, so I hoped she’d learned the lesson that her teacher was right.