Friday, July 10, 2009

Part Four: Creating The Rune Stone Murders

Well, so much for knowing your characters! In my last blog, I mistakenly said there were seven women living at the Rhineburg Boarding House and Home for Gentle Women. Actually, there are only six. But these ladies do hang out with a seventh resident of Rhineburg, Bertha Meyer, and she’s the one I’d like to introduce first. This is how I describe her in THE RUNE STONE MURDERS:

"Mrs. Bertha Meyer, the baker's wife, resembled one of the sugary delicacies displayed in her husband's shop. A diminutive woman in height, she was amply proportioned in every other way, with a face as round and plump as a Bismarck, punctuated by twin dots of licorice for eyes. Her head was capped by a crown of short fluffy hair the color of vanilla butter-cream frosting. Below a set of double chins, her figure rolled downward in ever broadening stages, her imposing bosom topping a torso aptly described as butterball in shape. All this magnificence was firmly encased in a starched white apron peppered with splotches of strawberry jam beneath a fine dusting of powdered sugar.

"Standing in the doorway with the morning sun bouncing off her shoulders, Mrs. Meyer resembled nothing less than a shimmering three-tiered wedding cake festooned with red roses and baby's breath."

Of the six residents of the Rhineburg Boarding House and Home for Gentle Women, Eleanor Naumann is probably the most assertive of the bunch. Eleanor is the President of the Rhineburg Historical Society, and as such, she appears not only in THE RUNE STONE MURDERS, but also in my short story "The Case of the Fugitive Farmer" from the anthology MISSING. I describe her thus in that story:

Tall and angular, Eleanor moved with the speed of a thoroughbred, her sturdy black oxfords click-clacking on the hardwood floor like Spanish castanets.

"The war years were troublesome for German-Americans," the horse-faced Eleanor remarked in a voice made hoarse from years of smoking.

Elderly librarian Sarah Sonnenschein has none of Eleanor’s assertiveness. Looking out at the world from dim blue eyes hidden by thick-lenses glasses, Sarah speaks mainly in whispers, a trait acquired after years of reminding noisy children that silence is golden in the library. Sarah may be considered timid by some, but she’s a whiz on the computer and still works part-time in Rhineburg’s library.

I’ve described some of Sarah’s fellow residents in the following passage from THE RUNE STONE MURDERS.

"First of all, there are a few of you here whose names I don't know, even though we shared a cup of tea at the post office this morning." Caroline smiled at the silver haired lady she'd last seen wearing sunglasses. "Why don't we start with you?"

"I'm Marie Moser," the woman said nervously. "I'm a widow, and I've lived here since I sold my house seven years ago."

"Very good. You see, ladies? It's not all that hard to tell the truth." Caroline turned to the woman seated next to Mrs. Moser on the sofa. "And you?"

"Myrtle Jennings," came the reply. "I'm Marie's sister. I moved in a year ago when Angela Cummings died and her room came up for rent. I used to live in Ohio. I'm single by choice."

"Welcome to Illinois, Miss Jennings." Caroline pointed to a third woman huddled on the couch. "I've seen you at the hospital, but we were never formally introduced."

"I'm Emily O'Hara, and I'm the medical librarian at St. Anne's. I also work part time in Accounts and Billing."

"How long have you boarded with Mrs. Hagendorf?" Caroline asked the rosy-cheeked little woman.

"Ever since Mr. O'Hara passed on four years ago. My children wanted me to move in with them, but I'm young yet, and I prefer my freedom."

Mrs. O'Hara was sixty-five if she was a day. Despite that, she was the youngest of the lot. Caroline appreciated her desire to remain independent.

Last but not least, we have Agatha Hagendorf, the blue-haired proprietor of the Rhineburg Boarding House and Home for Gentle Women. Agatha uses the telescope she inherited from her dead husband to keep watch on the activities of her fellow Rhineburgers. In THE RUNE STONE MURDERS, what she sees while gazing through the telescope from her second floor window lands her in big trouble.

"Oh, dear," whispered Miss Sonnenschein.

"Be quiet," commanded Mrs. Naumann.

Caroline ignored the two ladies and continued to grind away at Agatha.

"You own a powerful telescope, but you don't always use it to look at the stars. Sometimes you aim it at the alley behind the post office." She paused to let her words sink in. "One night you saw people passing in and out of that alley. When it happened again, you began to suspect they were visiting Emma Reiser. Eventually you got up the nerve to ask her about it."

Myrtle gasped when Agatha nodded. The others appeared equally shocked, but Caroline gave them no chance to speak.

"Emma was forced into telling you her secret. She paid for your silence by giving you tips on betting, and you began making money on the deal. No one can blame you for wanting some extra cash, Mrs. Hagendorf. A widow's life can be difficult, especially when you have a large house to keep up and very little income."

Agatha sighed. "Harold's pension didn't even cover the utility bills. With him gone, I only get a minimum payment from Social Security."

"So what you won on the horses helped a great deal."

"Oh, I never played the ponies, Mrs. Rhodes." Agatha seemed shocked Caroline would even think that. "It's much too risky. I just threw a few dollars in the football and basketball pools, and I was lucky enough to win."

"You gambled on sports?"

Agatha's head bobbed up and down. "Harold was a great fan of the Bears and the Bulls. He taught me all about statistics and averages. Since he died, I've also kept up with baseball and hockey."

As you can probably guess, Agatha isn’t alone in her nefarious practice. The entire crew of the Rhineburg Boarding House and Home for Gentle Women engages in illegal betting as a way to supplement their Social Security payments.

If you’d like to learn more about these women and how their activities affect the plot of THE RUNE STONE MURDERS, please order a copy of the book from your local bookstore or library. You can also buy the book directly from Echelon Press in print or e-book format by going to I’m pleased to announce that the book will also be available in Kindle format sometime next month.

Thanks for joining me in this four-part series on "Creating The Rune Stone Murders". Next week I’ll be blogging on Homes For Our Troops, an outstanding organization that provides modified housing for injured members of our Armed Services, and two young men who organized a Chicago event to help build a new home for a local soldier.

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