They were late.
Kathryn Snow placed a potted plant on the table as a centerpiece and checked her watch again. She held it to her ear. Maybe the crazy thing had fast-forwarded and she was early. She set a tray of new flowers on one end of the long table and another tray of potted plants beside them but her heart wasn’t in the preparations. It wasn’t like the unofficial garden club, the Tuesday Bunch, or her employee, Allen Cross, to be late.
A smile touched her lips as she headed to the back of the florist shop. The Tuesday Bunch met every Tuesday morning to discuss their flowerbeds, vegetable gardens, or the goings on in the community. She picked up the coffee pot and placed it on a rolling cart, added Styrofoam cups, plastic spoons, creamer, and sugar then rolled it up front beside the table.
Heading back to her office, she entered a short hallway and checked the clock on the wall. Allen was half an hour late. Kathryn stopped. He’s never late. She nibbled the inside of her jaw and said a silent prayer for his safety then she muttered to herself. “Maybe I should call him.”
The words had barely left her lips when the bell above the door jingled. Kathryn turned toward the sound. Thinking it might be Allen she headed back to the front of the store.
“Good Morning, Kathryn. Sorry we’re late.” Betty Wright announced as the small group of ladies entered the store and then clustered about the coffee pot. Betty’s brown eyes were bright and her round cheeks held a hint of pink. Excitement radiated about her. If her brown hair hadn’t been pulled back in a ponytail, Kathryn felt sure it would be sticking out in all directions.
Kathryn studied the excited faces. Nora Larson stood a head taller than the others. Her black hair touched the bottom of her ear lobes, revealing a throbbing vein in her neck. If her breathing hadn’t been normal no one would guess at the exhilaration that coursed through her. Charlotte Rattle’s big blue eyes sparkled. She nervously pushed her shoulder length blonde hair back. The only one in the group who didn’t exhibit any form of excitement was Molly Ward. She seems as uninterested as they came.
“I brought a new batch of muffins for us to try.” Molly sat the wicker basket on the serving cart beside the coffee pot.
“What caused you to be late?” Kathryn joined them. She picked up a cup and waited for the sugar.
“A murder!” Betty squealed unable to contain her excitement one moment longer.
Disbelief washed over Kathryn. “A murder? Here in Lacey?” She watched her friends nod.
One of the reasons Kathryn loved Lacey, Oklahoma was because of the low crime rate. It was like living in Mayberry USA. Nothing ever happened… but during the last few years it had started to grow. Sadly, with growth comes crime.
Nora bobbed her head up and down. “Yep, right here. I still can’t believe it.” Now she shook her head and looked down. Spotting one of Molly’s muffins she picked it up and nibbled on the edge. “These are good, Molly.”
“Thanks.” Molly stirred sugar into her cup and sat down. “It’s sad but I’m not surprised. Lacey has been growing. All kinds of people have moved into our valley.” She lowered herself slowly into a chair.
“What happened, Molly?” Kathryn picked up a muffin and then joined the others at the table. She sat down beside her old friend. Molly was a couple of years older than Kathryn with premature grey sprinkled within her black hair, clear blue eyes, and a no nonsense attitude.
Molly waited until everyone had their drink and muffin and were seated at the table before answering. “Do you know the Chef at Rio’s Italian Restaurant, Cody Monroe?”
Kathryn hadn’t actually met the young man but she knew his name. Everyone who lived in Lacey had either eaten the young chef’s cuisine or heard the wonderful raves about it. She hadn’t gotten over to the restaurant yet, but had planned to someday.
At Kathryn’s nod she continued. “Well, he was shot and killed on Sherry Hamilton’s doorstep last night.”
“She’s a teacher. I think she teaches first grade. Doesn’t she Nora?” Betty asked.
“Who shot him?” Kathryn looked about at the others.
“That’s just it, the police don’t have a clue.” Charlotte answered before anyone else could.
Not to be outdone, Betty spoke up. “Yes they do. He was holding a bouquet of flowers, bluebells and baby’s breath.”
“I wouldn’t call that a clue.” Molly said dryly.
“Well, it could be. Couldn’t it, Kathryn?” Betty leaned forward.
Kathryn didn’t know why Betty asked her but answered. “I have no idea.”
Molly sipped at the hot coffee. Her gaze seemed to be focused far away. “They may not have a clue but they do have a suspect.”
“Really? Who?” Kathryn pushed away from the table. She moved to the tray of flowers she’d brought in earlier and began setting them in front of the ladies. This was their normal way of doing things but none of the women seemed interested in the blossoms.
“Sherry Hamilton’s boyfriend,” Molly answered. She set her cup down and reached out to touch one of the red-violet petals before her.
Kathryn admired the Firewheel flower, too. “Why would they think he did it? Did he have the gun on him?” She asked setting another annual in front of Nora.
Betty answered. “They think he did it in a jealous rage.” She’d lowered her voice to a whisper and everyone leaned toward her except Molly who made a huffing noise.
Charlotte whispered dramatically. “I hear he gave them quite a fight.”
“Did they arrest him?” Nora whispered back.
Molly’s voice sounded really loud as she answered in a normal voice. “Of course not. They’re questioning him. They don’t have any real proof.”
“Oh Molly, you broke the mood.” Betty fussed. She sat back in her chair. “No, but they will. There isn’t anyone else that didn’t like him.”
Kathryn could tell Molly didn’t take well to the tone in Betty’s voice and hurried to ask. “Who says there isn’t?”
They all stared at her for several moments.
“See? I told you she could do it.” Molly took another drink of her coffee and looked pleased with herself.
“You’re right. Kathryn could do it.” Charlotte smiled and nodded at the other members of the Tuesday Bunch. They returned her nods and smile with their own.
Kathryn gave up on trying to interest them in the plants. “What could I do?” She demanded sliding back into her chair.
“Why, solve the case of course.” Nora answered as if that were the most likely answer.
Kathryn spilled the coffee she’d been raising to her lips on the front of her green blouse. “What? Have you lost your minds? I can’t solve it.”
“Sure you can.” Betty pressed. “You know all about how to solve mysteries.”
“I do not.” Kathryn mopped at the wet mess with a paper napkin that Molly handed her.
The room remained silent. Kathryn raised her gaze to find them all staring at her. After several long moments of silence, she asked. “What makes you think I can do that?”
They all moved in closer. Nora whispered. “Because, you read those novels. We all know how you love them. Allen says you know who did it before you’re half way through the book.”
Kathryn laughed. “That’s fiction. It’s not real.” They continued looking at her expectantly. Uneasy, she pushed away from the table again and began to pace. “Look, I don’t know the first thing about how to solve a real crime.” More silence filled the air. “Besides the authors give me the clues. No one is going to lay the clues out in this case.”
“Where is Allen?” Molly asked.
Happy that the subject had been changed Kathryn answered. “I don’t know. He hasn’t come in yet.”
“It’s not like we’re asking you to solve the mystery all by yourself, Kathryn.” Betty commented.
Maybe if she just ignored them, they’d drop the subject.
Charlotte picked up where Betty left off. “Yeah, don’t you have a police lady friend? What is her name?” She looked to Nora for the answer.
“Robin Gray. Remember she went to school with my Jonathan.” Nora answered. She spun the plant in front of her around. “What kind of plant is this?” She asked.
“That’s a Devil’s Ivy.” Kathryn answered.
Charlotte shook her head. “You can’t buy that plant Nora.”
“Why not, I like its dark green leaves?” Nora protested rubbing the shiny foliage between her fingers.
Kathryn wanted to smile. These women often reminded her of children with their playful bickering. “Because if Rusty gets a hold of it, it could kill him. Devil’s Ivy is poisonous to dogs.”
“Do you think I could make it a hanging plant? Rusty is a Cocker Spaniel, he wouldn’t climb up and get it.”
Kathryn smiled. “That’s up to you. If you do get it, make sure it hangs very high and that none of its leaves fall to the floor.”
“OK.” Nora stood and moved to one of the flowering plants. “Maybe, I’ll get something else. I’d hate for Rusty to sick or worse, die.”
“Speaking of death and dying, will you snoop around and tell us what happens with the murder?” Betty picked up a pot of pansies.
Kathryn took a deep breath, “No, I won’t.”
“Come on. What will it hurt?” Nora asked. She picked up a fern with little purple flowers. “Do you think this would look good hanging from my porch?”
“I do.” Charlotte answered.
“Because, I don’t want to get in the way of the police. I don’t have a clue how to find out who shot the poor man, and I have my hands full with the flower shop and green house without adding something else. And yes, I agree with Charlotte that fern would look beautiful on your porch.”
Betty opened her mouth to protest Kathryn’s denial of investigating.
Kathryn held her hand up. “No, end of discussion. I am not going to snoop around. This is serious business, not a novel.”
The rest of the meeting went pretty quick. Charlotte bought the fern. Betty the Devil’s Ivy, Molly went to the greenhouse and selected a Tommy Toe tomato plant, and Nora ended up with a beautiful new pot painted with chickens for her kitchen windowsill.
Molly was the last to leave. She turned to Kathryn. “Are you sure you won’t investigate just a little into the Monroe case? I’m sure Robin will help you.”
“No, I won’t. Robin could get into trouble giving out information. I won’t ask her to do that.”
Molly picked up her tomato plant. “Maybe you could just look into it, not involve Robin or get in the police’s way.”
“Really, I can’t. I wouldn’t know where to begin.” Kathryn walked her to the door.
Molly’s face registered disappointment but she nodded her head in understanding. “Okay, well I’m off to work. See you later.” Kathryn closed the door behind her. She leaned against it for a moment.
Would it really hurt if she did a little snooping?