Kathleen Delaney is the author of four mystery novels and a retired real estate broker. Her latest book in the Ellen McKenzie mystery series, Murder Half-Baked, is set for release May 15th, 2011 (Camel Press). Set on California’s central coast, Ellen and Dan Dunham plan a New Years Eve wedding, but two dead men and a burned down house are not helping with the festivities. Kathleen Delaney now lives in South Carolina where she is working on the first book in a new series.
The vintage Cadillac sailed slowly through the cemetery gates like a battleship looking for its berth. The elderly driver peered over the long hood, carefully navigating the narrow roads, searching for the parking lot he always used. The walk from there to the grave was a little longer than he liked, but there was enough space to easily turn the car around. Today, cars were short. Compacts, they called them. Or SUV’s, whatever that meant. Everyone stuffed them full of kids, dogs, and toys. In his day, the dog stayed home. So had the kids, if you could swing it. No one drove big, comfortable cars like this one anymore. Why, he had no idea. Didn’t know what they were missing, that was for damn sure.
He was in luck. The lot was empty. Last time there had been that stupid woman. He’d never understood why she made such a fuss. Her silly little car was barely dented. Slowly he maneuvered so that he faced the exit and stopped. He sat for a moment, took a deep breath, and pushed open the door.
Gravel crunched. He hated gravel. Why couldn’t they pave this lot? The roads were paved. Didn’t the groundskeepers know gravel could trip people? Especially people who used canes. Not that he had to, of course. Use his cane. It was just that, well, sometimes lately…He hung onto the driver’s door as he inched his way to the back one, pulled it open, and took out the hated cane. There was a small hill to climb, and, as much as he didn’t want to admit it, he’d need it to get himself and his flowers to the grave he’d come to visit.
Flowers Where were the flowers he’d brought? Damn it. They’d fallen over. Water had seeped onto the mat, soaking the back floorboard. He’d told that fool girl to prop them up with something. She hadn’t listened, of course. No one did anymore. He took the roses, red as usual, out of the container, examined it to make sure there was some water left, and placed them both on the ground. He pulled out the floor mat and laid it flat beside the car. Maybe it would dry a little while he was gone.
He stuffed the roses back in the plastic vase and picked up his cane. He wondered if he should fill the container from the faucet at the head of the path. No, it’d just slop over and get his trousers wet.
This was the old part of the cemetery. Families who had lived in this town for over a hundred years were buried here. Granite monuments were scattered liberally over the slight hill, many with generations of names inscribed on them. Others, like the family plot he headed for, had marble statues on pedestals. Angels mostly, guarding the dear departed, waiting to take the next in line to heaven. He wondered if he would get into heaven. A small smile turned up the corners of his mouth. Sure he would. Francis would lobby for him. Almost there. Just up the path a little way and around the bend. He paused for a moment to get his breath. He loved this moment, going toward her, being with her again.
Everyone said that time would dull the ache, but it hadn’t. Even after two years, the hole she had left in his life was so huge, the cavern so great, he couldn’t see the other side. Francis. He had been everything to her. The children she’d wanted had never come, so she had devoted her life to him. He wondered fleetingly if she thought he’d devoted his life to her. Stupid. Of course she had. He’d never looked at another woman. So what if he hadn’t been much on sweet talk. She knew.
Something was wrong. He struggled forward, staring ahead. Was he in the right place? There should be an angel standing there, almost directly over Francis’s grave. But there was no angel. The pedestal was there. Where was the angel? Oh, God. There it was, lying on its side. What happened? Kids. He hurried forward, anxiety filling his chest. That was Francis’s angel He’d always hated the damn thing, but she loved it. Her parents were buried under it, and her sister, May.
A branch lay across the fallen angel. A big branch. He looked up. A white scar marred the side of the old oak tree that sheltered the graves. That storm on Thanksgiving night. Must have broken off then, landed on the angel, and knocked it right off its pedestal. It seemed intact. No. It was missing an arm. He looked around. No sign of it. He leaned heavily on his cane as he examined the angel. Probably could be fixed. If they could find the arm, of course.
A shadow fell across the grass, and a figure emerged from behind the neighboring monument. He stared at the person for a moment, surprised. He squinted a little, trying to focus. Eyes weren’t as good as they used to be, but after a moment he was sure.
“What are you doing here?”
“Waiting for you.”
“You’re supposed to be…”
He never finished. The missing angel arm hit him across the side of the head, crushing his skull, splashing brain tissue and blood on the grass, the path, and the body of the fallen statue. He had time only to think “why” before he folded slowly onto Francis’s grave.