Ten Little Lesbians
Ten women, guests at the lesbian-owned Adelheid Inn, are stranded in the Cascade Mountains after a mudslide closes the only road out. One goes missing. One is killed. More than one is not who she pretends to be, and every one of them has a secret. When another woman is attacked, it become clear there’s a killer in their midst, and it has to be one of them.
Is it Beatrice, the judge, surly and sad after the death of her long-term partner? Or her niece, Tish, angry and sullen at being kept under Beatrice’s thumb? Or is it Carmen, Beatrice’s childhood friend who lured her to the Inn under false pretenses?
It couldn’t be the Mormon girls, Amy and Dakota. Or could it? Perhaps it’s Paula, the gallant butch, or her date, the lovely and silent Veronica. A blind woman couldn’t do it, but is Jess really blind? And what about Holly, the hotel manager who is just a bit too perky, or Lila, the mysterious owner of the hotel?
One thing quickly becomes clear. They’d better find out, before there are none.
BEATRICE WAS THE first down for breakfast but someone, either Holly or the invisible Lila, had transformed the dining room into a breakfast buffet. A tray of ice on the sideboard held milk, juice, hard-boiled eggs, jam, and butter. Beside that was a coffee maker, an assortment of coffees, a toaster, three kinds of sliced bread, a tray with donuts, and several boxes of cereal. On the table were stacks of bowls, plates, utensils, glasses and cups.
Beatrice tucked a brew pack into the coffee maker and moved to the French doors. She opened them and looked out at a partially covered patio with white wicker chairs and tables. The sun was shining and the air was still and warm. Probably too warm. Heavy clouds hovered over the mountains, which were very near, and promised a storm later on. She took her coffee to a round table for four in the shaded half of the patio and sat. It might be her last chance to have coffee outside until spring, so she might as well take advantage of it.
She had been there only a moment when she heard movement from the lounge. She looked up, and Paula appeared in the doorway with a mug in her hand.
Drat. Of all people.
“Good morning, sunshine.” Paula sat in a swing lounge on the edge of the patio.
“Morning,” Beatrice said.
“Oh come on, Bea, you can act a little better than that. At least pretend you don’t hate me.”
“I don’t hate you,” Beatrice said.
“Well, you don’t love me.”
“No, I don’t love you.”
“Damn, you’re honest.” Paula kicked the ground to set her swing in motion. “Anyone else up?”
“I haven’t seen anyone,” Beatrice said, “but someone set out the breakfast things.”
“I meant guests.” Paula took a sip from her mug. “So what’s the story about your niece? Trish?”
“She’s kind of cute. Probably get fat when she’s older, though. Curvy girls do.”
“Leave her alone,” Beatrice said. “She’s too young for you. Besides, you have a date here, remember? A skinny one.”
Paula made a face. “She’s a dud. So how are you doing? I haven’t seen you since Leigh’s funeral. Are you dating yet?”
Beatrice felt like she’d just been punched. A lot of people had asked her if she was ready to date, and it was common for people to mention Leigh’s death, but no one had ever linked the two together like that, as if one were the cause of the other. “Shut up,” she whispered harshly. “Don’t talk about Leigh.”
“Geez, I’m sorry,” Paula said, but not like she was sorry at all. “It’s been four years, hasn’t it?”
It had been three years, seven months, two-hundred and fifteen days, but Beatrice didn’t bother telling Paula that.
Jess stepped onto the patio at that moment and Beatrice was spared from having to respond. Jess carried her cane in one hand and a bowl with a spoon in the other. She wore cargo shorts and an orange T-shirt that said “Caution: Slippery When Wet.”
“Good morning, Jess,” Beatrice said, and added, “There are two tables out here, one round and one square, and eight chairs. And a swing.”
“But I’m on it,” Paula said. There was room on the swing for three people, but Paula spread her legs wide, like a man, to claim it all.
“Good morning.” Jess moved forward and guided herself around the chairs until she found one in the sun. She sat and ate her cereal without speaking again.
Beatrice finished her coffee and tried to quell the painful throbbing of her heart caused by Paula’s thoughtless words. She was about to rise and get another cup when Carmen appeared in the doorway. She had a glass of milk in one hand and a plate with donuts in the other, and she was grinning. She joined Beatrice at her table. Beatrice settled back down. She couldn’t leave Carmen to fend with Paula by herself.
“Look,” Carmen said. “They’re homemade.” She took a bite.
“Donuts for breakfast?” Paula asked.
Carmen looked up, saw Paula, and her face turned brick red. She spit the bite of donut out onto the plate.
Beatrice felt her stomach turn, not at the gooey mess on the plate, but at Carmen’s whipped puppy demeanor around Paula.
“It’s not your business what she eats,” Beatrice said.
“It was my business when we were together,” Paula said, “but she wouldn’t listen to me then either. She just kept getting fatter and fatter.”
“It was not your business then either,” Beatrice said. “Unless you’re feeding a small child, it’s never your business what someone else puts in her body.”
“No, it’s all right,” Carmen said, pushing the plate away. “I don’t need to eat this.”
“It’s my business when I’m putting my business in her body,” Paula said and laughed.
“God, what are you, sixteen?” Beatrice pushed the plate of donuts back at Carmen. “Eat what you want.”
Carmen blinked at the plate and bit her lip.
A thumping signaled the arrival of Tish. She paused in the doorway and rested her armpits on the crutches. Her denim skirt was already short, and the crutches hiked it up even further so that her ass nearly hung out. Paula was right. Tish had a cute little body now, but she would probably be fat someday.
“Can somebody get me some breakfast?” Tish asked.
Not even a please. When did the girl become so graceless? She’d been such a sweet kid. She had rough times, of course, and her coming out had been brutal, but she’d always been polite, at least. Beatrice had let her go the last few years. Things seemed so much easier for gay and lesbian youth these days, and she’d thought Tish didn’t need or want guidance from an aunt thirty years her senior. That was a mistake, she realized now. Somehow during that time, the Tish she knew had gotten lost.
Nobody responded to Tish’s plea, and Beatrice felt the others eye her. She was the correct person to help, but she didn’t want to reward Tish’s rudeness.
“Aunt Bea?” Tish asked, disrespect in the very tone of her voice, and Beatrice wanted to send her to her room without any breakfast at all.
Jess stood. “I’ll help.”
Beatrice flushed and rose from her chair. “No, no, I’ll do it. Sit down, Jess. You too, Tish. I’ll bring you something.”
Tish clomped onto the patio and joined Jess at her table.
The breakfast room was dark after the brightness of the patio, and it took a moment for Beatrice’s eyes to adjust. She popped a couple slices of raisin bread into the toaster and poured a glass of orange juice. She turned to lean against the sideboard while the bread toasted and was surprised to see Veronica sitting at the table. She wore crisp yellow capris and a white top, daisy fresh, but when she looked up Beatrice saw that her eyes were swollen. Either she hadn’t slept much the night before, or she’d been crying.
“Good morning,” Beatrice said.
“Good morning.” Veronica’s voice was husky, and Beatrice guessed crying.
“Paula’s on the patio,” Beatrice said.
“I know,” Veronica said. “That’s why I’m staying in here.”
Beatrice liked Veronica, she decided. “If you need to get away from her,” she said, “just let me know. I’ll help.”
The toast popped up, and Beatrice was still buttering it when Dakota barreled into the room clad in nothing but a thin ribbed tank top and boxer shorts.
“Have you seen Amy? Have you?”
“No,” Beatrice said. “Not today.”
Veronica shook her head.
Dakota ran out the French doors. “Have any of you seen Amy this morning?”
Beatrice heard a chorus of no’s. She followed Dakota outside and set the toast and juice in front of Tish.
“She’s gone,” Dakota said.