May in Battle Lake is a beautiful time of the year. The new green of the leaves convinces people that maybe winter wasn’t really that bad, and the lilac blossoms perfume the air with a sweet purple honey. Why Mrs. Berns had allowed Pastor Winter to talk her into leaving all this beauty to head north to Bemidji, Minnesota, for the All Church weekend retreat was anyone’s guess. Well, really, it was her guess: she wanted a little action, and she’d already run through all the decent prospects in Battle Lake. With the motto, “You’re never too late for a coed slumber party” in the forefront of her mind, she’d boarded the orange school bus and headed upstate toward the land of Paul Bunyan.
The All Church weekend retreat had begun ten years ago, the idea being to bring together church-going Minnesotans of all denominations to celebrate faith and forge common ground. It being Minnesota, the retreat drew Presbyterians, Catholics, and Lutherans. Mrs. Berns could pick out a Presbyterian at 100 feet by the way the ladies clutched their purses. The Catholics were harder to identify as they went to great lengths, she thought, to blend in, but more often than not, they couldn’t leave the house without a cross around their neck and an apology on their lips, so they were easy to spot if you got close enough. The Lutherans, well, they were her people.
The first thing Mrs. Berns had noticed after dropping off her bags and upon entering the main hall of the retreat was that the gender ratio was 70/30 women to men, an imbalance she’d grown accustomed to in the last decade or so. It turns out that life is a race won by women, a fact that gave her the giggles every time she thought about it. The second thing she noticed was a ruckus up front. Never one to sit on the sidelines, she elbowed her way through the whispering crowd.
Her form-fitting, black t-shirt read “80 is the new 30.” She wore elastic-waisted pants, not because she was large but because at her age, every second counted. She was, in fact, a trim woman whose hair was currently the color of an overripe apricot, who couldn’t see past her nose without her thick-rimmed cat eye glasses, and who didn’t stay in the lines when she colored and so certainly wasn’t going to bother when she applied lipstick. She’d lived long enough to recognize that life was always good, even when it was bad. This is why she had a slight twinkle in her eye as she broke through the crowd and found what had them chattering like chickens: a dead body, face up. She kneeled next to the corpse in the bright light of the afternoon sunshine and uttered these three grim words:
“Clearly, it’s murder.”
You can read more about Mrs. Bern in December Dread, the eighth book in the “Murder-by-Month” mystery series. The first book in the series is May Day.
Meet the author
Jess Lourey is the author of The Toadhouse Trilogy: Book One, the first in a young adult series that celebrates the danger and excitement of reading. She also writes the critically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month Mysteries for adults with a sense of humor. December Dread, the latest in the series, hits bookshelves the end of September 2012. She’s been teaching writing and sociology at the college level since 1998. When not gardening, writing, or hanging out with her wonderful kids and dorky dog, you can find her reading, watching SyFy-channel original movies, and dreaming big.
The “Mrs. Bern’s Ponderings” post is an excerpt from the short story, “Death by Potato Salad,” which can be found in the upcoming anthology The Minnesota Crime Wave Presents: Fifteen Tales Of Murder, Mayhem And Malice From The Land Of Minnesota Nice. Mrs. Berns can also be found in most of the Murder-by-Month Mysteries.
Books are available at retail and online booksellers.