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Jill Churchill's A Groom with a View
A Jane Jeffry Wedding Mystery
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A Groom with a View
First Chapter

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It was very early in the I morning, but the station wagon was loaded to the gunwales. Jane had all her notebooks full of lists, and a suitcase full of clothes for the couple days she'd be at "command central," a.k.a. the hunting lodge ne monastery. She double-checked her notebooks while Shelley stumbled about sleepily putting her few belongings in the car. It was only about an hour and a half drive, but Jane didn't want to have to waste time coming home for anything she'd forgotten.
"I still don't quite understand why we have to go up there a couple days early," Shelley said with a fairly ladylike yawn.
"Because there's a lot to do on site," Jane answered.
"'On site! My, that sounds professional," Shelley commented. "I have to admit you've been pretty cool about this whole thing. I expected a lot more whining."
" I don't whine," Jane said. "Well, not as often as I might. It's just a matter of being really organized. I appreciate your coming along to help out at the end though."
"So what's the plan?" Shelley asked as they buckled their seat belts and Jane handed her a map. Shelley held it out in front of her at a significant distance. Jane considered opening a discussion about bifocals, but decided it wouldn't be politic when Shelley was being helpful.
"Today we just look everything over," Jane said. "I've got a rough sketch of the house plan, but I've never actually been there. I drove out there last week, but couldn't get the guy who lives there to come to the door. I should have called ahead."
"Somebody lives in this place?"
"A man Livvy calls 'Uncle Joe.' A family retainer who takes care of the building and grounds. For the time being, at least. The place is scheduled to be torn down this summer to put in a country club. Let's see-what else is happening today? The caterer is coming to look over the kitchens and move in his own cooking paraphernalia and the food, and the florist is also coming out today to figure out where to put all the arrangements. Then there's the seamstress." Jane waved good-bye to her mother-in-law, who was staying with the children while Jane was gone, and pulled out into the street.
"The seamstress is coming early?"
"Well, that's the only problem I foresee," Jane admitted. "You see, the bridesmaids' dresses aren't done yet. I've nagged and nagged and she keeps assuring me they'll be finished, but I have my doubts. So I insisted that she bring her sewing machine up to the lodge to finish them so I can stand right over her and keep on nagging."
"And maybe have to finish the dresses yourself?" Shelley said. Then her eyes widened. "Oh! You think I'll finish them!"
"It had crossed my mind," Jane said, grinning. "You're awfully good at sewing. Much better than I am."
"Jane, you know I don't sew! When have you ever seen me with a needle and thread in hand?"
"But you're so good at everything," Jane said with gooey sweetness.
Shelley snorted. "You don't have to bribe me with false flattery. I'm already in this with you. So what did the place look like? I'm a bit wary of lodges of any sort."
That was understandable. The previous fall, Shelley and Jane had been part of a committee investigating a resort facility that had put in a bid to provide a camping experience for their local high school. The weekend had quite incidentally included a double murder and the two women had spent a number of harrowing hours in the main lodge of the resort.
"Nothing like the Titus place," Jane assured her. "It just looks like a monastery that was turned into a hunting lodge. Really big. Old. Sprawling every which way. Additions that look like they might peel off the main building any second. The Thatchers must be very fond of the place to want to have a wedding there."
" I thought you just said they were letting it be torn down."
Jane nodded. "Fond enough, at least, to have one last big party there before making a killing on the country club deal."
After an hour, they stopped at what they judged to be the last outpost of civilization that served breakfast and Shelley asked, "Has the seamstress finished the wedding dress?"
"Oh, yes. And it's beautiful. Mrs. Crossthwait is a very difficult woman, but her work is fantastic. It's just the bridesmaids who might have to wear pattern pieces and swatches. They all agreed to come today for their final fittings."
"What are their dresses like?"
"All different. I picked a cherry pink slubbed silk and let them each choose whatever kind of dress suited them."
"Jane! What a good idea. Bridesmaid dresses usually are to the taste of the bride, not the wearer, and hang around useless in closets the rest of their lives. I still have the revolting yellow pinafore thingie I had to wear in a cousin's wedding just because I can't stand to get rid of something I've only worn once. Can you picture me in a pinafore-style dress?"
Jane laughed at the image. "I understand these girlsthere are three of them-are very different shapes and sizes. One is wearing a little slip dress with a matching shawl scarf. The plump one picked a boxy jacket and Aline skirt and the third is froufrou. Sort of 'plantation prom,' from the looks of the pattern. But at least they'll all have the same color and fabric. And the bride is carrying a bouquet of matching pink tulips."
"Jane, I hate to admit it, but I'm really impressed. You figured this all out yourself?"
"I'm not a complete cretin. And it's fun when somebody else is not only paying for it all, but paying me as well."
"What are these girls like?" Shelley asked.
" I've never met them. I just sent them samples of the fabric, told them to choose a style and go to the seamstress. It was a breeze ... until I called each of them last week to see how their dresses had turned out and realized Mrs. Crossthwait was falling behind in her sewing. I think we're almost there. Check the map."
There was a split rail fence running along the right side of the road with heavy woods behind it. The turn into the drive was unmarked and almost invisible. The long drive twisted and turned through the woods and emerged at the erstwhile monastery. It was an old unadorned clapboard building, suiting the simplicity of the religious order by whom it had been originally constructed. It had a vaguely barn-like look due to the scarce and small windows on the first floor, but the second floor, while obviously old as well, was clearly an addition. It had a steep roof with scattered dormers. There was a long wing to the left of the two-story section. It, too, looked like the ground floor was original and the upper story was an addition. The structure had a number of outbuildings and additions as well.
"It's not where I'd pick to get married," Shelley said. "What would you call this style? Midwestern wooden Gothic?"
" It looks vaguely Russian to me," Jane said. "All it's lacking is the onion dome."
As she spoke, an old man came shuffling around the corner of the house, stopped abruptly, and eyed them with suspicion. Jane hopped out of the car and approached him. "You must be Joe," she said, feeling the honorific "Uncle" was inappropriate and having no idea what his surname might be.
"That's right, missy," he growled. "And who might you be?"
"I'm Jane Jeffry. The wedding planner. I wrote you that my friend and I would be here today."
He scratched his head. "Yeah, I reckon you did. I got everything ready for the big day. Had the plumbing looked over and took all the covers off the furniture like Livvy told me to."
Like many old men, he'd lost any sense of pattern he might have ever possessed. His trousers were a faded, but formerly colorful polyester checked pattern, his flannel shirt was brown plaid, and his jacket was a dark striped item that reminded Jane of old-fashioned prison garb. This was topped off by a thatch of wild white hair, a grizzly two-day growth of beard, and a fierce scowl.
"Could you show us around?" Jane asked, before introducing Shelley, who had joined them.
He gave a curt nod. "This here's the house proper. Reckon that's all you need to see." He opened the heavy front door and shuffled inside, leaving them to follow. The door caught Shelley on the elbow on the back swing and she uttered a very rude remark. There was a dark entry hall with a lot of doors opening to heaven knew what rooms.
Uncle Joe opened one and said, "Here's the main room where I reckon they'll have the wedding."
It was vast and dark. A huge chandelier that appeared to be made of antlers and fitted out with 25-watt light bulbs cast a faint glow. There were two fireplaces, one at each side of the room, and a good deal of substantial old furniture grouped around each. At the far end, there was an impressive staircase with a large landing at the top.
"Good grief!" Shelley said quietly, goggling at the furniture. "Do you know what this stuff goes for in the antique market? A fortune!"
"Shelley, brace yourself," Jane whispered back. "Look at the walls."
Shelley glanced around, inhaling with a gasp. There was a virtual herd of mounted dead animal heads. Mostly deer, but a few elk, a matched set of moose heads, and one enormous buffalo taking pride of place above one of the fireplaces. She gaped for a moment, then said, "Well ... you did say it was a hunting lodge, but I never imagined . . ."
Uncle Joe had disappeared into the gloom. They heard the faint sound of a door opening somewhere.
Jane said, "I guess we're on our own to explore further. It looks fairly clean in here, don't you think?"
"It's so dark it's impossible to tell. What are you doing about seating for the ceremony?"
Jane peered toward the far end of the room. "That's a nice wide staircase down there, isn't it? Livvy can come down that way-it would really show off her dress and we can shove the furniture that's here back against the walls farther. I have a company bringing in and setting up very nice folding chairs the morning of the wedding."
"Is this room, huge as it is, going to hold everybody?" Shelley asked.
Jane sat down on a big leather sofa that enveloped her like a grandmother's hug, and said, "That's the odd thing, Shelley. There aren't that many guests. I only sent out seventy-five invitations and a great many of them were outof-towners who sent gifts but aren't coming. Business associates, I assume. There are only about forty people coming--plus the staff that will be staying here. You, me, the seamstress, caterer, and florist. And the immediate family members, of course."
"Don't forget Uncle Joe," Shelley said. "Doesn't it seem a bit odd to go to such trouble and expense for such a small wedding?"
"It's what Livvy wanted," Jane said. "Who am I to argue with a bride?"
"Where are the rest of the guests staying?"
"There's a smallish motel quite close. I've reserved the whole place. And most of the family will stay here. Let's look at the bedrooms. If we can find them."
They groped their way through the big main room, and found a passageway opening off the left side. Along it were twelve tiny rooms on each side of a long hallway. "These must have been the monks' rooms," Shelley said, opening the closest door with considerable trepidation.
It was a very small room with a single bed, a nightstand with a kerosene lamp, a wardrobe closet, and a chair and small rickety table by the window, which was square, but hardly larger than a porthole. The furniture was old, solid, and plain. The bed had a rather flat pillow and a noticeably dusty quilt on it. Its colors were drab; it was the sort of quilt people used to make out of old dress suits. A second door led to a bathroom the same size as the bedroom, which had ugly, but clean, workable fixtures that looked as though they'd been installed in the 1950s. It had slightly peeling wallpaper with faded roses and a pink linoleum floor. The opposite door in the bath led to another identical bedroom.
Shelley stepped out into the hall and opened a few other doors and came back. "They're all exactly the same," she said. "I'll bet these were the monks' rooms and one out of every three was turned into a bathroom."
"They're certainly..."Jane sought the right word. "...serviceable."
"It was meant for hunters, Jane, and whatever few misguided wives who might occasionally come along. It's a 'guy' place. They'd go out killing
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things all day, come back, and eat and drink all evening and tell fabulous stories of the woolly mammoth that got away, then fall into bed halfsoused. A great-uncle of mine had a place like this when I was a kid. Not as big as this, but pretty much the same. My dad took me on one of the hunting trips when I was about seven. I had to sit around with my dad and uncles in a cold, wet duck blind all day. Worst trip of my life, but the men seemed to love it."
"I want to make a quick sketch of the rooms and assign them to the people who are staying here instead of the motel. Then let's go see what's upstairs," Jane said.
"Ghosts of monks, I'll bet," Shelley said cheerfully.
Jane glared at her. " If you try to tell me a ghost story in this spooky old place, I'll go home and stick you with the job of putting on this wedding!"

 

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