This book is copyright © 2015
Olivia Stowe asserts her right to be known as the author of this work.
First published by Cyberworld Publishing in 2015
Cover design by Cyberworld Publishing © 2015
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E-book ISBN: 978-0-9943805-3-1
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Blessedly Cursed Christmas
If how well—or, rather, not well—the Thanksgiving celebration had gone over at the Curtain Call movie colony retirement home was any indication, all of the elaborate preparations and expense going into the Christmas festivities there would go for naught. Not that the retirement community the senior box office leading lady, Brenda Brandon, and her now-spouse, retired FBI agent, Charlotte Diamond, were establishing on the banks of Maryland’s Choptank River was anywhere close to a doom-and-gloom nursing home. It was more of a nominal-cost resort, and that had been what Brenda had determined it would be (Curtain Call).
When Brenda, known in her childhood home town of Hopewell on the Choptank by her family surname, Boynton, had grown tired of and frustrated by her long, smash-hit run in Hollywood movies and had fled home to Hopewell to virtually hide from the possibility of a murder charge (Coast to Coast), she’d had no idea what else in life she wanted to do (By the Howling). She was still a beautiful, vibrant woman just past her mid fifties. She certainly didn’t know she would meet and fall in love with Charlotte, who had also escaped into early retirement to Hopewell from a highly successful career at the FBI and a failed marriage, had rescued Brenda from the suspicion of murder, and had married her as soon as Maryland opened up to same-sex marriages (Horrible Honeymoon).
Brenda had always had in the back of her mind, though, the desire to help and support other actors and production workers in the movie industry, who she considered were the true reason for her own success into a comfortable retirement. So many of them didn’t manage to save enough to support themselves when they left the film industry.
She was wealthy in her own right—not just because she had prudently saved while scoring big at the box office but also because she descended from the family that had been the big landowners in the Hopewell area back to before the American Revolution. The magnificent brick Federal-style house she and Charlotte lived in on the banks of the Choptank in Hopewell was the original family plantation house. But her dream of giving back to the workers in the movie world became possible when she won big in the Maryland lottery and a large tract of land became available at the river end of the street she lived on (What’s the Point?). Charlotte, although far less wealthy, had thrown her lot in with Brenda to develop Curtain Call.
The planned first-phase campus of the community was complete, with only the visitor’s guest house to be finished of the second phase. The workers were rushing to complete that before Christmas, although the weather had not been their ally in the effort. And the residents had nearly reached the thirty-resident capacity of the current facility in units that were luxurious suites, not just “rooms.” As an added feature, nearly all of the suites boasted a view of the water, which surrounded the peninsula compound on three sides—the Choptank on two sides and a tree-lined marshland and stream running into the Choptank on the third.
This was the second time the community had nearly reached capacity, and it would be the second Christmas since the first residents had arrived. And therein lay the rub of why the Thanksgiving celebration was such a disappointment. The community had been alarmingly depleted the previous Christmas, and this was when the newly minted retirement community administrators had learned a hard lesson of life.
Christmas was some sort of watershed, or goal, for those at the end of their life. For various reasons, in part because winter was a time of vulnerability to colds, flu, and pneumonia, but mostly because the terminally ill tend to hang on to “see another Christmas,” an inordinate number of the elderly succumbed in the weeks just following Christmas. Also, unfortunately, although it was a time of joy and hope for many, it was a time of sadness, loneliness, and painful remembrance for others.
After their experience of losing six residents to the ever after during the previous Christmas season, Brenda was determined not to have the same happen this holiday season. She had racked her brain, though, over what she could do. Charlotte had come up with the idea that they had been working on since returning from their late summer vacation at Hilton Head Island (Fowler’s Folly).
One of the residents who had died in the first year of the colonies’ existence was Betty Bentley, an actress who had thought she was in competition with Brenda for lead actress status for decades. But movie goers, directors, and producers had always thought otherwise. It had been an act of selfless generosity that had prompted Brenda to offer a place at Curtain Call to Betty, which was repaid by Betty being one of a perpetually reconstituted quartet known as “The Terribles,” whose sole function in the home was to criticize everything done there. Surprisingly, when Betty died, she left a considerable monetary gift to Curtain Call. Typically, though, it was left for the home “to do something nice for the residents at last.”
The bequest money had finally come through in the late spring. Charlotte’s suggestion was that they use the money to throw a truly memorable Christmas bash.
“That’s a good idea,” Brenda had said, “but I’m not sure how that would be that much better for the purpose of keeping their spirits up than any other Christmas party would be.”
“What we could try is to research each resident and bring at least one person here to be with them over Christmas. Someone who can affirm their lives and give them a reason to live on,” Charlotte had said. “I dare say that many who succumb at that time do so from the memories of what they’ve had, in contrast to the loneliness they feel now, because new friendships made at Curtain Call just don’t make up for loved relatives and old friends they now are isolated from. The one thing that Betty kept saying that struck home with me was that perhaps we really should have established Curtain Call in Hollywood rather than here in rural Maryland, far from the context these folks lived in during their careers.”
“All I ever heard from people I worked with in Hollywood,” Brenda countered, “was how much they wanted to get out of the madness and just live quietly in the country for the rest of their lives.”
“Which is really a pipe dream, isn’t it?” Charlotte asked gently, touching Brenda’s arm with her fingers from the need of the connection. “Look at us. You’re back making a movie anytime you’re asked (White Orchid Found) because of the obligations you feel to friends still in the business, and I have us off tracking down criminals (Follow the Palm) half the time. Most of us do want a deceleration of our lives, but not necessarily a total redirection of them.”
“Something to think about,” Brenda said. “Maybe the next time I win the Maryland lottery, I’ll set up a retirement community near Hollywood. Maybe I’ll learn from the mistakes being made here.”
“What mistakes?” Charlotte asked. “I think you’ve been doing a bang-up job here.”
“We’ve been doing a bang-up job,” Brenda corrected. “The two of us together—well, the two of us plus a dedicated staff. But not doing so well in another area where I wanted to succeed. I wanted Curtain Call to become an integral part of this village—to revive the economy and to be something the locals valued and benefited from.”
“They have benefited,” Charlotte objected. “Curtain Call brings them business. You even put in shops at the entrance of the compound—the beauty and barber shops and a convenience store and gift shop—and are letting the local people operate there rent free.”
“But we brought crime to the village and the village barber is dead because of us (Follow the Palm). And there are Joyce and Todd. They were already displeased with us, and now they’re saying the guest house we’re building will take business from them.”
The Vales owned and operated a B&B from Joyce’s ancestral home directly across the street from Brenda’s house. The two had been classmates through high school, and Joyce always felt she had been in Brenda’s shadow—and it didn’t help relations at all when Joyce’s daughter was swept up and killed in one of Charlotte’s investigations (By the Howling).
It was true that there had already been other rocky times as well. A bitter rival of Brenda’s had made Curtain Call a distribution point for drugs, and the village barber, whose wife was both the village beautician and town clerk, had died before Charlotte mobilized the authorities to close down the drug operation. But none of that was either Brenda’s or Curtain Calls’ fault, and Charlotte was quick to tell Brenda that.
“And Joyce is more mad at me than you,” she added. “Todd has always been more understanding. We can make the townspeople part of the plan, though. Just as you had originally planned, Curtain Call really is to their benefit. We can involve them in the Christmas celebrations and make it worth their while to be included. And, I’ve been thinking, we really don’t want to have to run a guest house ourselves. We could just let the Vales run it as an adjunct of their B&B—and let them keep the profits. We just want there to be accommodations for those visiting our residents. And Todd’s a gifted artist. We can ask him to paint Christmas-theme paintings that we’ll use to decorate Curtain Call during Christmas and he can put price tags on them to sell them to residents and those coming in for Christmas.”
And from this built the most elaborate part of the Curtain Call Christmas celebrations plan—tracking down and matching people from the residents’ past who they would love to be with over Christmas and convincing them to come to Hopewell for Christmas at Curtain Call’s expense.
It was a plan that was working out well, including bringing the Vales back into the fold—right up to Thanksgiving, when the marking of that day at Curtain Call nearly undid everything they were planning for Christmas.
Where it started was probably the storm on November 20th that put the power out. The generator kicked on in the main building, but it didn’t give full power. The lights were dim, which made the spirits of Curtain Call’s residents dim too and forced the staff to go into overdrive in cheerfulness, an effort the residents always were able to see through—with the help of backbiting by The Terribles.
It had been raining for more than a week at that point, it was chilly and gloomy both inside and outside, and the generator was as deficient in providing full heat as it was in providing full lighting. The view of the surrounding river that was so verdant and jaunty in the spring, summer, and fall, looked bleak and foreboding in the winter. It was, after all, November. The generator was only needed for a few hours and then electricity kicked back on in the main building, but just that short time out set a gloomy atmosphere for the next week.
The primary power didn’t come back on in some of the out buildings, though, including the large freezer in one of the storage buildings. This wasn’t discovered until the next Tuesday, and only then when someone went to the freezer to retrieve the Thanksgiving turkeys to start the thawing process.
The turkeys, however, had thawed days earlier and now were beyond hope.
Brenda, Charlotte, and Evonne Clagett, the petite redheaded dynamo executive director of Curtain Call, were in a meeting in Evonne’s office on Tuesday afternoon when a crestfallen Isaac, the head cook, came to them and reported that Thanksgiving dinner would be turkeyless. There wasn’t another turkey to be had within a hundred miles of Hopewell. He had already tried that.
“The best we can do is carryout chicken,” he said.
Evonne, always cheering and looking on the bright side, said, “There will be some who will see that as a treat and better than turkey.”
“Yes, but The Terribles will make a big deal of there being no turkey and will gleefully stir up the others,” Charlotte said, “even while they enjoy the chicken.”
“They would have complained about the turkey anyway,” Brenda said, and the women had a good laugh over the truth and irony that revealed.
But Isaac wasn’t laughing, and Brenda noticed that. “That’s not all of the bad news, is it, Isaac?” she said.
“No ma’am, it’s not,” he answered. “We’ve given a big buildup to there being homemade pumpkin ice cream for Thanksgiving dinner desert.”
“And?” Charlotte asked.
“And, the ice cream was already made and was in the same freezer the turkeys were in.”
“Then you’ll just have to spin your usual magic, won’t you, and come up with something the residents will see as equally impressive?” Evonne said.
“Yes, ma’am,” Isaac answered, mollified by the praise Evonne had couched the bad news in—that he was still on the hook for Thanksgiving dinner desert. “’Course we’re going to be right busy with the rest of the meal.”
“Bea bakes a mean pie,” Brenda said, referring to Brenda and Charlotte’s housekeeper, Bea Helgerson (What’s the Point?). “I’m sure she’d be happy to help with that.”
It wasn’t the best of solutions, but it looked good in theory. Unfortunately, it looked better in theory than it played out in practice.
The foul weather held out, an outage struck again on Thanksgiving afternoon, and the Thanksgiving dinner was eaten to the hum of the generator and dim light, augmented by candles. Evonne loudly exclaimed the lighting to be romantic, and The Terribles, in unison, more loudly declared the candlelight to be “the pits”—along with the greasy chicken—declaring the kitchen staff had dimmed the lights on purpose so that the residents couldn’t see that the chicken was moldy. Even while other resident were saying they couldn’t choose between the mince, pumpkin, and pecan pie, “they all look so good,” The Terribles were asking where the pumpkin ice cream was they’d been promised and looking forward to for weeks.
When the generator died in the middle of dessert and Evonne only then, in the silence, tuned into the sneezing and coughing floating across the room, Curtain Call’s on-call physician, Larry Stanton, was called in. Very shortly after arriving, he declared, “What you have here is a flu epidemic. I’m afraid all of the residents will need to be confined to their rooms and the entire facility put under quarantine.”
Charlotte’s response was a four-letter word beginning with an “S.” Brenda’s response was a sneeze.
Dr. Stanton turned to her and said, “And you too, Brenda. Off you go home and straight to bed. Don’t leave the house until I say you can. I’ll be along to give you medicine and instructions after I’ve finished here.”
Evonne’s response was a nearly perky, “Both of you run along. I’ll hold the fort here—and continue with the Christmas celebration planning.”
As Charlotte was walking Brenda home in the incessant chilly rain, her thoughts were stuck on how many residents were even going to be around for Christmas for celebrations that had been planned to have them still around after Christmas. She very carefully didn’t relate these thoughts to Brenda, though, who was struggling mightily to maintain her usually sunny disposition.
Over the next ten days Brenda was confined to her house and most of the time to her bed. The couple’s dogs, the Siberian husky Sam and the Boxer Rocket, thought that having one of their mistresses in the bed for such a prolonged period was the best thing that could happen—second only to having both of them there, although when they both were there, they rarely had attention to give to the dogs. Brenda, a woman who normally was perpetually on the move, didn’t agree, although she gave the dogs the attention they craved. Both Sam and Rocket had come to the women as abandoned dogs. Sam was acquired because Charlotte was looking after the dog of neighbors who left for an archaeological dig and never made it there alive (By the Howling), and Rocket had been abandoned to Charlotte by the man who previously owned the land Curtain Call was located on and who had feigned his death and pulled a disappearing act (Retired with Prejudice). However acquired, the women and dogs were now connected as devoted family.
Charlotte’s time was even more frustrating during this period. Even though the good news on the medical front at Curtain Call was that Dr. Stanton had pulled all of the residents through the bout with the flu without any losses, and although the Vales liked the idea of managing Curtain Call’s guest house when it was completed, it was increasingly obvious that the guest house wouldn’t be completed before Christmas. The primary culprit for this was the weather, which just wasn’t settling down to providing enough clear days to get the work done on time.
Of the other village residents, only Billy Zirkel, one-time juvenile parolee and now half owner, with Brenda and Charlotte, of the village gas station and garage (Curtain Call), was devoting time to the Christmas program plan. He was arranging travel for some forty guests they were bringing in for Christmas with the Curtain Call residents. And, as enthusiastic as he was, he was encountering trouble in bookings because the continuous foul weather was cutting down on the flights being offered.
On top of that the party store Charlotte had contacted for decorations for the hall and corridors of the main building had sold out their Christmas decorations already and the store of the caterer that had been contracted to bake the Christmas goodies for the party had burned down and the caterer had gone out of business.
Charlotte had been wandering around muttering about a “cursed Christmas,” while perky Evonne’s cheery “everything will work out fine” was growing more dubious by the day. As the days got gloomier rolling into December, so did the prospects for the Christmas program.
“How cold is it out there?” Brenda asked when Charlotte came up to deliver her breakfast in bed on Sunday, December 6th.
“The river is freezing up,” Charlotte answered. “It’s the first time I’ve known it to do that here.”
“And how are the plans going for the Christmas celebrations at Curtain Call?”
“They’re going along pretty well,” Charlotte said, hedging. She hadn’t burdened Brenda with how bad the plans had been going.
“You can’t fib with me, Charlotte,” Brenda said. “Thanks for trying, but I can tell they aren’t going well. Tell me how bad it is.”
Charlotte did just that, unburdening herself of all of the problems and stone walls she and Evonne had encountered over the past week and a half.
“I can see that it’s time for me to get out of bed and go to work then,” Brenda said. “I’m feeling fine now. And it’s been bleaker than this. Remember last Christmas when we were getting married?”
“Do I,” Charlotte said, with a laugh. “Snow up to our keisters at the church, our limousine being stolen from in front of the church, the difficulty in getting to the pier in Baltimore through the snow for our honeymoon cruise—and then the fire on board and the pirates (Horrible Honeymoon). And the Christmas before that with the robberies and murder on that Christmas market Rhine cruise we took with Marilyn and Chance (An Inconsiderate Death). God, we’ve had some horrible Christmases together so far, haven’t we?”
“No, they’ve been glorious, because we’ve had each other,” Brenda answered.
Charlotte leaned over and kissed her, feeling that, with Brenda just being Brenda, the plans for this Christmas had now hit bottom and could only be going up.
As if to accentuate that, both dogs went up on their haunches in the bed, pricked up their ears, and gave little woofs. At that moment the doorbell rang down in the foyer. Giving Brenda another quick kiss and remarking that it must be friend rather than foe based on the dogs’ behavior, Charlotte went downstairs and opened the door.
There, on the stoop, she found her brother, Chance, a Williamsburg physician, and his wife, Marilyn, a Methodist minister.
“Chance. Marilyn,” Charlotte exclaimed in surprise. “We were just talking about you and the infamous Rhine River cruise.”
“We heard about this fancy shindig you all are running for Christmas at the retirement home,” Chance said. “Evonne tells us you are bringing in special loved ones for the festivities. I know we’re early, but—”
“Evonne called you?” Charlotte asked, confused and not too quick on the uptake, “about the loved ones we’re bringing in are for the residents?”
“Well,” Chance persisted, “Evonne also said you were being run down enough by glitches in the planning for the party that you could qualify for being one of the old folks in the home.”
“Now, Chance,” Marilyn said, laying a hand on his arm. “Evonne said no such thing. And you called her to find out if there were problems here.”
“Yes, we accept. We need you,” Charlotte said, with a laugh, throwing the door all the way open. Chance and Marilyn Diamond indeed had been accompanying Charlotte and Brenda on many of their adventures (An Inconvenient Death, Horrible Honeymoon, Fowler’s Folly) and had been a great help each time. And she wasn’t about to turn down reinforcements now.
As they bustled in from the cold, Charlotte coughed. And for the first time she was fully cognizant that she had awakened this morning with a scratchy throat.
The arrival of the Diamonds indeed marked the beginning of an upswing in the planning. Soon after they arrived, Billy Zirkel called. “I hope I haven’t overstepped. I was in Ocean City yesterday and happened on a party store that still had Christmas decorations. Now they don’t. We have them. I hope that’s OK.”
“That’s perfect,” Charlotte said. “Thanks muchly. Can you drop them over to Evonne at Curtain Call?”
Next was Todd Vale. “Charlotte, I really don’t think the guest house is going to be finished to house the people coming in for this Christmas party. I hope you don’t mind that I’ve canvassed the village and I think we can manage rooms for them all with everyone pitching in.”
“Just what we’d hoped,” Charlotte said. “Thanks a million, Todd. Tell everyone that we’ll pay them hotel prices.”
“Everyone says that’s not necessary, Charlotte—that they all want to help out.”
“Thanks again. I couldn’t have gotten a better Christmas present. It’s the relationship with the village that Brenda has been hoping for. And say hi and a thank-you to Joyce too from Brenda and me. I know she’s been helping you do this.”
Following this was a call from Evonne. “Billy was just here dropping off party supplies and told me the airlines are dropping flights because of the weather. Just for insurance, I called out to Hollywood to Aaron Wooldridge, Brenda’s long-time movie producer (Coast to Coast, White Orchid Found). He’d told me to let him know if Curtain Call needed anything. I told him about the transportation problem and knew he had access to private planes. He couldn’t weigh in fast enough that he loved the idea and, if he got an invitation to the party, he’d see that everyone on the guest list got flown into Baltimore. He said the residents of Curtain Call were all his people too—movie people—and that he’d been trying to think up a way he could help financially with the retirement home. I hope I didn’t—”
“Evonne, you’re an absolute angel. We should have invited him from the get go—and the director, Howard Holton, too (Coast to Coast, White Orchid Found). You’re a doll for backstopping us on that.”
As she rang off, the doorbell sounded again. Half way to the door, Charlotte had a coughing fit, which produced a frown—an expression that evaporated when she opened the door.
“Zenna!” Charlotte exclaimed, looking up and down the street, pulling the former owner of Zenna’s Russian Bakery in the village into the house, and shutting the door. “You shouldn’t be here.”
She apparently hadn’t come just for a cup of tea. She had a suitcase with her.
“I’m sure it’s safe to come now,” Zenna said. She had been a spy for the United States in her native Russia and had been salted away here in Hopewell. The Russians had found her and she’d received a new identity and been moved up the coast to Chestertown. She hadn’t been back to Hopewell since (Retired with Prejudice, Curtain Call).
“I come to help. You have housekeeper who is good baker, yes?”
“Yes, Bea Helgerson. But I don’t understand.”
“You throw party at retirement home, yes?”
“And place where you ordered Christmas cookies and cakes for it burned down, yes?”
“Well, I’m here to do the baking you need—maybe with this Bea Helgerson, if she want to help.”
“That would be wonderful, Zenna. You’re a life saver. I’m sure Bea wants to help; she’s already said she’d do anything she could to help,” Charlotte said. “You can stay with us. We’ll see that no one knows you’re here.”
Everything was back on the road now. There was only one negative thing Charlotte had to report when she went back up to Brenda and her bedroom, where Brenda was holding court with Marilyn and Chance—and the pups.
“You said this was the day you could get out of bed, Brenda,” Charlottes said, as she entered the room. “Then I’m afraid that you’ll have to vacate and turn the bed over to me. I think it’s my turn with the flu.”
Prospects were looking up for the Christmas festivities at Curtain Call for the next ten days. Plans were falling into place. It was like someone up there was looking out for them after all.
Charlotte didn’t have the flu; she was just run down from the concern of little working out right up to that point and with Brenda having the flu. It was just a head cold that was gone in a week. Chance and Marilyn were a big help, and their presence, as always, was both calming and helped to bring humor back into the process, which had been challenged because the usual cheerleaders were Evonne and Brenda. Evonne had been stretched to her limits—everyone being surprised that the woman actually had limits—and Brenda had been physically miserable and separated from everyone but Charlotte.
“It’s always good to have both a doctor and a minister in the house” was a greeting Charlotte used whenever she opened to the door to her brother and sister-in-law. She found that to be a truism, and is was just as true in the current circumstance. Bea and Zenna were getting along famously and turning out the most tantalizing savories and sweets for the party. Evonne—a constant blessing herself and having gotten a second wind when the problems began turning around—had shipped in another generator, which was hooked up to the storage building with the extra freezers in it. So, there was little chance now that what Bea and Zenna were stashing away for finishing off later would be ruined.
The Vales had assigned housing in the village for all of the visitors expected to come from out of town. And the movie connections of many of these folks had put stars in the eyes of the villagers and made them even more welcoming of visitors at Christmas. There even was a slight chance that the guest house would be finished in time—the furniture for it was in a warehouse in Baltimore, just waiting to be put on trucks. The residents of Curtain Call were being enlisted to help decorate Curtain Call for Christmas, and, all but The Terribles, who were grousing when someone was looking but putting another ball on the gigantic tree in the day room when they didn’t think anyone was watching, were having a ball. They weren’t thinking of their infirmities and, only in moments of weakness, were worrying about surviving into the new year.
Although the residents were told about the party, set for the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and nearly all that was planned for it, and were told that there was a special surprise, they weren’t told that the surprise was that each of them would have at least one “best friend” visitor from the party through New Years. Evonne and Dr. Stanton had agreed that telling them of this beforehand would excite them too much. The downside was that The Terribles spent the time throwing out all sorts of disgusting possibilities of what the “surprise” would be, and the other residents—and certainly Evonne’s staff—got a little excitable about this razzing.
And it was good they hadn’t made promises on the surprise, because on Friday, the 18th, the weather asserted itself again. It began to snow that night. It came down so fast and furiously that the pastor of Charlotte and Brenda’s church, Don Dunkel, canceled church services on Sunday. This had almost never happened before. He did, though, trudge to Curtain Call in the snow and hold services there, with the singing of Christmas carols.
The snow continued into the week. When Billy Zirkel delivered fuel for the generators on Monday, he warned that that was all he had on hand at the village’s gas station and that everyone should pray that the electricity didn’t go out village wide for any length of time. He possibly should have suggested that this hope be covered in prayers on Sunday, the previous, day, because the electricity did go out Monday night. He’d told Evonne he thought the generators could run on what they had for two days, thus until sometime on the 23rd. The party was on the 24th. He’d also dropped the ominous news that, if the snow didn’t stop, the Easton airport would have to be closed down. That’s where Aaron Woolridge’s private jets, delivering the visitors, were set to land. And even if they could land there, Easton was a long drive, over snow-covered roads, from Hopewell.
Tuesday morning, Evonne called the gas station to try to find out from Billy about obtaining more fuel for the generators, which now were carrying the burden at Curtain Call. But no one answered his phone.
In the dim light and slight chill of the Curtain Call day room, more and more heed was being taken of the scenarios of disaster being spun and proclaimed by The Terribles, who took up position at the center of the room. Perhaps more damage was being done and depression was being spread by Hortense Fowler, resident and self-proclaimed fortuneteller, who set herself up at a table in a quiet corner, and, as she always was prone to do, gleefully served a good many bored and depressed residents fortunes foretelling their immediate demise during Christmas week.
A nurse’s aide discovered her, and she was whisked away to her suite, but not before she had spread considerable consternation and panic. This was an oft-played scene at Curtain Call. Like some of the other residents, in addition to readily predicting the demise of compatriots at the retirement home, Hortense openly showed satisfaction whenever someone passed on that it hadn’t been her.
On the evening of 23 December, it had stopped snowing, but the white stuff was some four feet deep outside. Bea and Zenna were in the kitchen at Curtain Call, bundled up and trudging a path between storage buildings and the Curtain Call kitchen and pulling what they’d prepared out of the storage room freezers to go ahead and get it thawed or baked, as appropriate, while there still was generator power. Brenda, Charlotte, the Diamonds, and Evonne were also at Curtain Call, preparing to shut down the generator to the storage room and transfer whatever fuel was left there to the main generator. They, and the staff members who had managed to make it through the snow from the staff apartments at the end of Spring Street, were also collecting blankets and candles and distributing them to the suites—Evonne letting them know which residents couldn’t be given candles for fear they’d burn the place down. Staff members were setting up a roster for sitting with these residents in their rooms to monitor the candles.
They worked quickly, anticipating that the generator would cough and die at any moment.
At midnight on the eve of Christmas Eve, with all of the residents tucked in bed, but everyone else still on the premises, preparing for the worst—at the nadir of their experience and expectations—their world started brightening up once more.
A whirring and grinding sound cut through the silence of the snow-covered night. Evonne went to the front door of Curtain Call and turned on the porch lights. Approaching, through the snow, was a snowplow, driven by Billy Zirkel, with Don Dunkel, dressed as Santa Claus, rising up over the roof of the cab and waving his arms.
A supply of fuel for the generators had arrived. Also being delivered was more good news from Billy.
“We passed crews working on the lines,” He informed the group gathering in the foyer. “They know there’s a retirement home down here, and they promise to have the electricity back up today.”
“You’re an angel,” Evonne said, reaching out to hug him.
“You both are,” Brenda said. “We couldn’t have done any of this without you.”
“There’s more,” Don Dunkel said, “and more because of Billy. We’re just the first snowplow. Billy services the snowplows for the county. Sheriff Haws and Deputy Burch, and a bunch of snowplow workers are coming behind us with every snowplow in the county.”
“My goodness, what for?” Evonne asked.
“Your guests,” Billy answered. “Your friend’s jets got them to the international airport in Baltimore, which is still open, and Ms. Diamond’s friend from her old FBI office in Annapolis got them on tug boats to cross the bay to Easton, which is about as far up the Choptank as the river is cleared. Snowplows are bringing them the rest of the way.”
So, the residents of Curtain Call woke up to the smells of Christmas wafting from the kitchens, long-unseen special personal friends, and a horde of new friends coming in from the village or driving snowplows.
The happy spirits that ruled the day would have been enough to spoil the fun of The Terribles, if the atmosphere of good will hadn’t been enough to sweep them up in the festivities as well.
On the last arriving plow, Brenda received her best Christmas present. She was urged to go to the door to welcome the plow to find that it carried her son, the Hollywood star Tony Trice, and his fiancée, the pro tennis player Michelle Minor (Retired with Prejudice, Coast to Coast, White Orchid Found, Curtain Call). When Brenda was able to calm herself, she turned to Charlotte and said, in a choked voice, “No one told me.”
“I racked my brain trying to come up with a Christmas gift for you, Brenda, but you have everything. We were bringing in someone for all of the residents, and Chance and Marilyn came in for me. So, we brought Tony and Michelle in for you.”
“You couldn’t have come up with a better present,” Brenda said, tears in her eyes. “And I’ll have a present for you later—at home.”
“I’m looking forward to it. You light up my life.”
As if on cue, the electricity came on.
Needless to say, the plan for a special Christmas for the residents of Curtain Call worked a charm. And afterward, when those who made it possible were savoring their success with mulled wine in the merry shambles of the day room and started bringing up all of the obstacles they’d had to overcome, Pastor Dunkel wrapped it up for them. “Overcoming problems has made it all the more worthwhile,” he said. “That could be said to be the Christmas message—the Christ star shining through adversity. I heard someone say that these Christmas plans had been cursed. If so, I say they were blessedly cursed. It’s a Christmas none of us will forget—and one that all of us can be proud we were a part of.”
As far as the basic purposes of all of this when Brenda and Charlotte came up with the concept, the two were sure that they had solidified the village and retirement home relations and they had nearly been successful in keeping the ghost of death from the homes doors for the season. Only one resident of Curtain Call died during Christmas week—Hortense Fowler, the fortuneteller who had made a practice of gleefully forecasting the deaths of all the other residents. She died peacefully in her sleep on Boxing Day. She was 104 and had been the only resident not to have caught the flu at Thanksgiving.
Olivia Stowe is a published author under different names and in other dimensions of fiction and nonfiction and lives quietly in a university town with an indulgent spouse.
You can find Olivia at .
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All Olivia’s books, except the “Bundles,” are available in paperback and e-book.
Restoring the Castle
The Charlotte Diamond mystery series
By The Howling (Book 1)
Retired with Prejudice (Book 2)
Coast to Coast (Book 3)
An Inconvenient Death (Book 4)
What’s The Point? (Book 5)
White Orchid Found (Book 6)
Curtain Call (Book 7)
Horrid Honeymoon (Book 8)
Follow the Palm (Book 9)
Fowlers Folly (Book 10)
Making Room at Christmas (Seasonal Special)
Cassandra’s last Spotlight (Seasonal Special)
Blessedly Cursed Christmas (Seasonal Special)
Charlotte Diamond Mysteries Bundle 1 (Books 1&2)
Charlotte Diamond Mysteries Bundle 2 (Books 3&4)
Charlotte Diamond Mysteries Bundle 3 (Books 5&6)
The Savannah Series
Olivia’s Inspirational Christmas collections
Spirit of Christmas
Curtain Call retirement home has received a bequest. Having received a bequest to do â€œsomething to make the residents happyâ€ movie star Brenda Brandon and her spouse, retired FBI agent Charlotte Diamond, owners of Curtain Call, a Hopewell, Maryland, movie colony retirement home, decide to make Christmas memorable. Motivated by the need to encourage residents to have the will to live through a season that is as challenging as joyful for the elderly and lonely, and also by the wish to integrate the retirement home into the village better, Brenda and Charlotte decide to bring in best friends and favorite relatives for each resident for a surprise Christmas Eve party. The plans are heartfelt, but they also are ambitious, and the weather has plans that challenge them at every step. Will Curtain Call get its Christmas miracle?