So there I was, churning up the hill toward Memorial Cemetery, the wrought-iron gates looming up through swirling fog like disapproving sentinels. My BFF Toni was riding shotgun, while stuffed in the back seat were four enormous baskets of flowers. Somehow, we’d been tapped to deliver the decorations for the cemetery’s big Sesquicentennial Celebration.
“There it is,” said Toni, pointing. “Dead ahead.”
“Lovely choice of words,” I responded. I wasn’t thrilled with the early morning hour and worried about the two of us getting back to the Cackleberry Club in time to help with breakfast.
“Careful,” Toni warned as we chugged our way through the oldest part of the cemetery where early settlers lay in quiet repose.
“Where are we supposed to drop these flowers?” I asked. Weeping willows hung damply down and swept against the sides of my car, making strange whispering sounds. The overly fragrant aroma of the flowers reminded me of a funeral home.
“Near the Civil War memorial,” Toni responded. “That’s what the folks at the Historical Society told me.”
Being unfamiliar with this part of the cemetery, I had the feeling I’d temporarily lost my way. Every time a marble obelisk or mausoleum floated into view, I felt jittery.
“Pull in over there,” Toni said, cocking a finger.
We scrambled out of the car, ducking heads and hunching shoulders as rain pelted down.
“This is miserable,” I cried. Three seconds outside the car and we were already drowned rats.
“Lucky I brought my handy dandy umbrella,” said Toni. She grabbed a little black lump that looked like a bat with folded wings, pushed the button, then yelped as a gust of wind grabbed it and sent it tumbling among the gravestones. “My umbrella! I got it free with my subscription to Hollywood Tattle-Tale!”
“Grab it,” I called. Toni was one step away from catching her umbrella when it spun crazily and whooshed away from her again.
“This is like a hare and hounds chase,” said Toni, breathless and red-faced. “Every time I get remotely close, the doggone wind spins it away!”
“What we have to do,” I said, “is circle around. Try to get ahead of the darn thing.”
“Outguess it,” said Toni. “If that makes any sense.”
“There!” I called. “Over there. Your umbrella’s hung up on that wrought iron cross!”
Pushing herself into an all-out sprint, Toni stretched an arm out and grabbed the handle.
“Excellent,” I said, edging my way around a large granite tomb. “Glad to see you’re . . .”
I skidded to a halt. There, directly in front of me – six inches from where I was about to take my next step – was an open grave. Pitch black earth yawned up at me, daring me to come closer. The smell of fresh dirt, peat moss, and mildew assaulted my nose even as rain continued to patter down.
“Suzanne?” Toni called. She walked toward me, twirling her umbrella as if she were in a Gene Kelly movie. “You look like you saw . . .”
“A body!” I gasped. A man was lying down there in a couple inches of water, crumpled on his side. His clothes were soaked through and his face and hands, what I could see at first glance, were practically bone white, leached of all color.
“What!” said Toni, seeing my look of horror.
“There’s . . . it’s . . . ” I stuttered, back-peddling away from the grave. My voice sounded high-pitched and strangled. “Someone’s really down there!”
Toni moved cautiously toward me. “You mean like a dead body?” She grasped my arm, afraid to look down. “In a coffin?”
“No, not in a coffin!” I said. “That’s the crazy weird thing. A man is just . . . sprawled there.”
“You’re sure he’s dead?” Toni gibbered.
“Yes. No. I mean I think so . . . he didn’t seem to be moving or breathing or anything.”
Nervously, Toni shuffled forward and poked her head over the edge of the grave. “It is a body,” she gasped. “But . . . whose body?”
As I took another horrified look, I suddenly recognized the knotted muscles, tribal tattoo encircling one wrist, and the smooth, shaved head of this man who lay on his side, in uneasy and awful repose.
“I think I know who that is,” I choked out hoarsely.
“Who? Who?” said Toni, sounding like a startled owl from the nearby forest.
“It’s Lester Drummond,” I whispered.
“The prison warden?” asked Toni, stunned.
I gave a tight, wooden nod as I fumbled for my cell phone. “The former prison warden.”
You can read more about Suzanne in Eggs in a Casket, the fifth book in the “Cackleberry Club” mystery series, published by Berkley Prime Crime. The first book in the series is Eggs in Purgatory. Books are available at retail and online booksellers.
When Suzanne and Toni, two of the Cackleberry Club partners, deliver flowers to a local cemetery, they discover an open grave along with the crumpled body of a not-well-liked local. There wasn’t a funeral – there aren’t any mourners – so it has to be murder! Halfway between a cozy and a thriller (a thrillsy!), Eggs in a Casket delivers mystery, romance, suspects galore, and a dash of spirituality. This New York Times bestselling cozy café series from Laura Childs intrigues with quirky characters as well as recipes for chicken meatloaf, bacon cornbread, and cranberry muffins.
GIVEAWAY: Comment on this post by noon EST on January 14, and you will be entered for a chance to win a hardcover copy of Eggs in a Casket, her brand new Cackleberry Club Mystery. Two (2) winners will be chosen at random. Unless specified, U.S. entries only.
Meet the author
Laura Childs is the New York Times bestselling author of the Tea Shop Mysteries, Scrapbook Mysteries, and Cackleberry Club Mysteries. In her previous life, she was CEO/Creative Director of her own marketing firm and authored several screenplays. She is married to a professor of Chinese art history, loves to travel, rides horses, enjoys fund-raising for various non-profit organizations, and has two Chinese Shar-Pei dogs.
Visit Laura’s website at www.laurachilds.com