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Friday, June 14, 2013

Group, Photo, Grave

Group, Photo, Grave
The seventh book in the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series
By Joanna Campbell Slan

Copyright 2013 Joanna Campbell Slan/All rights reserved

Chapter 1

I wouldn’t say that my mother-in-law Sheila’s wedding was ruined by the discovery of a corpse in the catering tent. After all, the ceremony itself had been lovely. But I will admit that the appearance of a dead man put a damper on the festivities.

Sheila had obsessed about every little detail of her nuptials from the rose petals scattered along the flagstone pathway to the type of Spanx she insisted that I wear. So when the festivities were interrupted by a police investigation, Sheila was fit to be tied. The corpse by the cooler ruined her good mood, and on a personal note, made the wedding very difficult for me to scrapbook.

I mean, really? Can we talk?

How on earth would I handle this calamity in her wedding album? How would I stick with the pink, navy and white color scheme—and include photos of an lime-green ambulance, EMTs in green and orange, and a medical examiner in a bright blue cycling jersey? I’m pretty good at coming up with unique embellishments, but it’s hard to create an adorable black body bag. Trust me on this.

Of course, things could have gotten a lot worse.

Luckily for all of us, the groom was none other than St. Louis Chief of Police Robbie Holmes or the blushing bride might have been taken away in handcuffs. Once the dead dude was identified as Dr. Morrie Hyman, folks began whispering about the fight he’d had with Sheila the week before at the Bellerive Country Club. The fact that she’d had a celebratory flute of champagne on top of taking pain killers made her more irritable than usual. When Morrie (that’s what Sheila called him) bumped into her and spilled a glass of merlot down her new silk dress, she lit into that man like a mad raccoon going after a house cat. 

I wasn’t there at the country club when the argument happened, of course, but I heard all about it after the fact. While Sheila was dining out, I was punching out, sort of. Actually I was using punches (miniature die cut tools) to punch my heart out, trying desperately to finish up the table decorations she’d decided on. Decided on at the last minute, I might add. The tiny pink and red hearts I created were to be mingled with small white doves and sprinkled the length of the navy table runners, which matched the name tents, which matched the goodie bags, which matched the handmade programs, which matched the invitations with their matching envelopes. You seeing the trend here? Yes, my darling mother-in-law had taken me up on my offer to help with her wedding. In short order, she had turned me into a one woman papercrafting factory. I worked practically around the clock, spitting out all sorts of elegant enhancements.

To my friends at Time in a Bottle, the scrapbook store I was buying, I groused long and loud. “When I’d offered her my help, I hadn’t realized I was signing as an indentured servant.”

“You should have guessed it would be like this,” said my friend Clancy Whitehead. “It’s not like Sheila is an unknown entity.”

Fortunately, Sheila also had other concerns. And she ran out of friends. (More of the latter than the former.) So the number of new invitations dwindled.

So picture this: The wedding party was gathered around my landlord Leighton Haversham’s newly installed goldfish pond, waiting to have our photos taken. Sheila had insisted on hiring Calvin Vincent, a photographer whose work appeared in the glossy local gossip newspaper. I’d worked with a lot of local photographers, but not with him. All the pros seemed to have their own plan for getting the best shots, but I thought that Calvin was taking his sweet time with his equipment. Of course, that might have been because I always have to pee these days and the Spanx was making me hot.

Of course, I started snapping pictures even as we waited for the official photographer to get set up. Sure, his photos would reflect professional composition and artful posing, but mine would also tell a story, one of interpersonal relationships. That’s why candid pictures are so revealing. We can stare at them and see a freeze-frame of how people interact. As I took my photos, I paused to swat away a pesky sweat bee. I hate sweat bees, and they seem to know it. To me, they are the most spiteful insects on earth. They zap you for no reason at all!

Why were we outside in the first place? Due to her injuries, Sheila had decided to postpone the wedding while her bruises faded and her broken collarbone healed enough for her to be mobile.

When the ceremony was moved from its original date, Sheila had to look for a new venue. Leighton offered his newly landscaped backyard. So all of us were standing around, dressed to the nines, in a backyard in Webster Groves, a suburb of St. Louis. My sister and mother had just posed for a photo when I heard a scream from over by the catering truck. As per his training, Detective Chad Detweiler, the father of my unborn child, went running toward the sound.

Being twelve weeks pregnant, I don’t run so well. Instead of following Detweiler, and leading with my curiosity, I sank down into one of the folding chairs graciously provided by the catering staff and sipped the mint tea they’d served me. I figured that someone had spotted a garter snake or a large bug. Uninvited guests like that will crash your party when you choose to hold a wedding out-of-doors in Missouri in July. In fact, I could already feel chiggers nibbling at my ankles.

While Detweiler investigated the source of the yell, Robbie and Sheila posed with each other. The rest of the bridal party and I waited our turn for pictures, although I waited more happily than most because I kept taking pictures of my own. Around us swarmed a large crowd of well-wishers. Eventually, the guests would be directed to go and sit down at their tables. Meanwhile they were enjoying the beautiful day, the fabulous profusion of flowers in bloom, and the free flowing champagne.

Calvin Vincent had just snapped a picture of Robbie kissing Sheila, when the groom pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. After watching his expression change, I suspected something was seriously amiss. Sheila had been joking with one of her three maids-of-honor, so she didn’t see Robbie as he stared at the text message.

He whispered something in Sheila’s ear and motioned my twelve-year-old daughter Anya to come take her grandmother’s arm. Sheila was still recovering from what we euphemistically called “the shoot-out at the slough.” Her broken collarbone wasn’t completely healed. The blow she’d taken to her head had impacted her balance. Anya’s help in propping up her grandmother was important.

There was yet another reason that Sheila needed support. Sheila had insisted on wearing kitten heels that sank into the lawn with every step. The footwear looked terrific but threw off her balance. Anya noticed her grandmother wobbling around before the ceremony. I was proud of my daughter for realizing that Sheila might never ask for help, but she needed it.

Anya performed her duties as support personnel cheerfully. What a lovely pair they made, my mother-in-law and her late son’s daughter, my child Anya. They shared the same denim blue eyes, the thin build, and the same oval shape to their faces.

I brushed away a tear of joy. Sheila looked over at me and beckoned me to join the photo. Our own relationship had come a long way. My heart filled with love for my mother-in-law. In fact, it’s entirely possible that I jinxed all of us, because I recall thinking, “What an absolutely, positively, perfect day!”

That’s when sirens warbled in the distance.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Win a Tea Party in a Basket

Join me for a grand tour, blog style to celebrate because Death of a Dowager is a finalist for the Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence! Starting Monday, June 10, I'll be visiting the wonderful blogs listed below. And by stopping by the blogs, you can accumulate points toward winning this awesome Death of a Dowager Tea Party Basket.

You can enter to win the Tea Party in a Basket by going to this link.  (If the link won't work, try )
The winner will receive a tea cup and saucer, a box of Yorkshire tea, a box of Walkers Shortbread Cookies, a tea coaster, and the basket.

Monday, June 10 — Omnimystery

Tuesday, June 11 — Socrates Book Reviews

Wednesday, June 12 – Book Lady’s Booknotes

Thursday, June 13 – A Chick Who Reads

Friday, June 14 – Melina’s Book Blog

Saturday, June 15 – The Mystery Playground

Sunday, June 16 – Cozy Mystery Book Tours

Monday, June 17 – Kaisy Daisy’s Corner

Tuesday, June 18 – Shelley’s Book Case

Wednesday, June 19 – Melissa’s Mochas, Mysteries and More