Jasmine Oliver considered herself lucky on two counts. First, the body in the casket was Mark Zimmerman — her son-in-law — and second, someone else had killed him.
She patted a hankie to her eyes to wipe away tears of relief. She wouldn’t have personally murdered Mark. She would have arranged that through Vallie. It would have been expensive. Someone had done her a real favor. Probably someone at the service today.
She scanned the crowd. She knew most of the attendees but not the redhead who had just arrived in a form-fitting sequined dress and a pair of spiked six-inch heels. The redhead came straight down the center aisle. When she got to the casket she stopped and pulled a small plastic bag from her purse. She dumped its contents on Mark’s face, wheeled around and then marched out. It looked like dog shit. Mark had abused them equally, women and dogs.
Everyone but Jasmine gasped, even her daughter Celia, Mark’s widow. Celia, her lovely girl, had become an expert at covering up bruises. In winter she wore long-sleeved sweaters, skirts and boots. Summer brought extra challenges — gauzy eyelet cover ups and plenty of make-up.
Jasmine stood when the others stood to recite the Lord’s Prayer. At the amen the organ belched and then drenched the congregated with a fugue.
She followed her daughter out of chapel and into the alcove to join the receiving line formed by Mark’s family. Celia and Jasmine represented the Oliver family. Max Oliver, Celia’s father, a cheerful, portly man, went to play golf one day and fell over dead of a stroke. Jasmine missed his generous nature. Give him a martini, a home-cooked meal and a rousing night in bed, and his smile stretched from Seattle to Toledo.
Jasmine came prepared for curious glances. How Mark died made the front page of the Tri-City Clarion. Someone tied his hands together, took him to a cornfield near Othello last Thursday night and put two shotgun blasts in his groin.
Many of her acquaintances had a shotgun for bird hunting, a rifle for deer hunting and a pistol for the hell of it. Several might have motive, but few had her means and motive.
The suspicion didn’t surprise her either. Everyone knew her father’s seedy past. Money he invested for others often disappeared. He spent a year in the minimum security prison at Coyote Ridge. He knew people who knew people. The police hadn’t questioned her in detail yet, but she saw the knowing look in their eyes. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Jasmine had weathered worse storms. Now, thankfully, she had a widowed, childless daughter with a second chance at happiness. The sun would shine again.
Well, well, Jasmine thought. The sun came out sooner than expected.
“Larry Ballston. How nice of you to come.” Jasmine pulled the balding young man to her chest. Some men just don’t have good hair, even in youth, but he felt muscled and fit in her arms, a healthy sign.
“I’d do anything for Celia,” he said. “How’s she taking it?”
“Better than you might imagine.” Jasmine tucked his arm under hers and pulled him away from the line for a little chat.
“Really?” he said. “Good. I heard it was messy. No mystery what happened to Mark. The mystery I guess is who killed him.”
“Hmm,” Jasmine cocked her head to one side.
“I remember you used to love mysteries,” he said, “especially Mystery Theater every Thursday night on PBS.”
“Imagine remembering that,” she said. She shook her head in wonder.
“I have a knack for detail,” he said.
Jasmine liked him when he courted Celia, but he didn’t create sparks in her girl. He was too slow, too careful. Too bad that Celia didn’t heed warnings about marrying Mark. She learned the hard way to appreciate slow and careful.
“This last Thursday, in fact, I bet you were home watching that program?”
“I was.” She smiled into his grey eyes.
“I could’ve been.” Jasmine waited now, sensing the conversation had some purpose.
“A re-run,” she said.
“I can’t remember exactly what happened but he never gets the girl, does he?”
“No. He never gets the girl,” Jasmine agreed.
“Seems a sad life. Not ever getting the girl.”
The crowd thinned, passed through the alcove and down the stairs into the basement for the reception.
Jasmine stepped away from him, looked up and studied his face.
“Love’s a mysterious thing,” she said. “You can’t make it happen, not even Inspector Morse.”
“A patient fellow might make it happen if he had a chance,” he said.
“A chance?” A jolt of energy flashed up her spine.
“He was shot right in the balls.” Larry put his hands in his pocket and rocked back on his heels. “Who would do such a thing?”
Jasmine concentrated on his face like a stalking, hungry robin. She detected movement. Larry’s chin dropped a quarter inch then righted itself. She started the grin slowly and let it creep up her face, fluffing her cheeks, and filling her brown eyes with an understanding sparkle.
“Mr. Ballston. You’re such a thoughtful man. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he said.
“Have the police questioned you?”
“No,” he said. “I’ve heard that they don’t have any leads at the moment.”
Jasmine put her hand on his arm and then sniffed the air. “Coffee smells good. Shall we join the others?”
“Where’s Celia?” He didn’t spot her.
“Here,” Celia came up behind him. “Larry, it’s so nice to see you. I needed to get more tissue.” She raised a hand full of Kleenex.
“Celia, sweetheart,” Jasmine moved to stand between them. She slipped an arm around each waist. “Next Thursday you need to join me for the last episode of the Inspector Morse series. Larry dropped by last week and we had such a good time watching it together and reminiscing about old times.”
Jane Roop is a registered investment advisor living in Kennewick, Wa. She has published some poetry and flash fiction.