Written for the Spring 2020 Writer’s Weekly 24-Hour Short Story Contest. Received Honorable Mention.
“You know she’s just a renter, right?” Mildred Banes eyed the door of 1645 Jackson Manor with a hint of contempt even though the cookie cutter home was the same exterior color and interior floor plan of her own.
Tabitha Waterson, of the Sarasota Watersons, scanned the landscaping for errant weeds or unapproved plantings. “Of course, but if the Association is going to allow those kinds of people in the neighborhood, don’t you think we should at least find out more about her? This would not have happened while I was president.”
The women strode up the front walk and paused for a moment to gather their mantels of communal disdain before touching the doorbell. Inside, Miriam Gentrick glanced at the hallway mirror and smoothed her tea length, cream and bluebonnet print dress. Not a hair out of place, she turned to face the door and waited a count of 20 before answering the pleasant ring.
“Ladies, what a pleasant surprise! I had no idea this lovely neighborhood had a welcoming committee.” Miriam used her best Southern charm drawl and ignored the indignant looks of the two women. “My name is Miriam Gentrick, just down from Savanah.” The words slid off her tongue like silk sheets off a four poster bed. She extended a hand to Mildred. “And you are?”
Mildred gingerly took the offered hand and shook it lightly, just once. “Mildred Banes and this is Tabitha Waterson. We serve on the Home Owner’s Association board.” Mildred was certain to emphasize who ruled these tidy streets.
Miriam greeted Tabitha and stepped aside with a flourish. “Ladies, it is my deep pleasure. I was just having tea set out. Would you care to come in and join me?”
Mildred and Tabitha exchanged glances then stepped into the pristine foyer. The house looked as though it had escaped from the pages of Home and Garden. There wasn’t a box or wrapping to be seen even though they had watched the moving van pull away just the prior afternoon.
Tabitha broke the awkward pause. “My goodness, you certainly have settled in quickly.”
Miriam smiled, “Yes, my staff are well practiced at establishing my presence.” She showed the ladies through the study and the living room, commenting on paintings and small sculptures she’d acquired in her travels. Mildred and Tabitha nodded at all the correct times and asked all the properly polite questions.
Miriam ushered the women into a beautifully appointed dining room. The mahogany table was set for three and held all the accoutrements for a formal afternoon tea. In the kitchen, a woman in classic black and white maid’s attire was just lifting a steaming kettle. Miriam motioned for her guests to take a seat and waved over the maid to serve. “Now, do tell me all about your little HOA board.”
Mildred and Tabitha exchanged glances then relaxed. They recognized that Miriam, even though she was a renter, could be accepted as nearly one of their own.
Hours later, Miriam watched from the porch window as the two women walked away toward their homes. As she turned away, she plucked the pins from her coiffured hair and slipped off her high heels. Her maid finished up in the kitchen and drew the drapes closed. From the back bedroom, a man emerged, grinning broadly.
“Miriam my dearest, a triumphant return to Florida! You are amazing.” He strode to the kitchen and nabbed leftover tea sandwiches in both hands.
Miriam swept into a graceful curtsey. “Of course I am, Jake.” Her Southern drawl vanished. “This will be easier than 2010 in Sarasota. Those two will be eating out of my hand by month’s end. They already want me to head up the Fall Fling. Once I have access to the HOA accounts, we can wait until the quarterly payments are deposited to skip out.” Miriam smiled broadly as she continued, “You know…” She pointed at the maid. “We should play out that investor scam while we’re here. These folks are dripping in loose cash.”
Ashley pulled the dark wig from her head and shook out her cropped blond hair. She tossed the maid apron over the back of the chair and kicked off her shoes. “I don’t want to be stuck in Florida with these snow birds for Christmas. The investor thing takes too long. I can just find a few spouses who need a bit of fun and play out a romance or blackmail. Faster money.”
Jake swallowed the sandwiches. “I’m with Ash on this one. Let’s get this one done and head to Colorado for the January ski season. We can work the west coast in the spring. We haven’t been to San Jose in a few years.”
The trio of con artists kicked back on the couch in their suburban manor and chatted casually about their plans.
A few houses down, Tabitha sat at her business computer. She’d confirmed her suspicion the moment Miriam opened the door. Waterson Wealth Security had taken a blow to its reputation after the fiasco of 2010. Tabitha tapped into the live streams coming from the tiny mics she’d planted during Miriam’s tour and smiled gleefully. “This will be my most memorable catch yet.”