An excerpt from Custom Decorated Corpse, “Finding Kate’s Body”
Annie and Lizzie headed down to their tennis match on Saturday morning. Annie wanted all the details of Lizzie’s dinner with Nick; Lizzie was uncommunicative. She had a screaming sinus headache with throbbing cheekbones and an aching jaw. The air was oppressively still and the sky a bleak gray. Crows were cawing in a large maple tree nearby. They stepped into a large crowd of laughing, chattering women resembling tropical birds in their brightly colored tennis gear. Suddenly, the crowd parted and a head to toe hot pink Kate Woodward came storming up to Lizzie.
“Lizzie Christopher, I want you out of Jericho this morning. You stole my money and haven’t installed the blinds and curtains I need in my houses.” She hissed in Lizzie’s face, “How dare you have dinner with Nick? Nick belongs to me, not you.” She raked her hot pink talons down Lizzie’s face.
Lizzie cried out, and stepped back, shouting, “Help me.”
“You deserve more, bitch,” Kate spat, “I should have had Joel finish you off yesterday.” She turned and stormed off.
Annie called for the first aid kit, led her over to a bench, and deftly cleaned her face.
“Lizzie, I’ve stopped the bleeding and you won’t scar. It’s time for our warm up, if you still feel like playing. They’re hurrying the matches this morning, trying to finish before the thunderstorm hits.”
Lizzie registered curious and sympathetic looks from most of the bystanders. She could almost hear their thoughts: did you hear about her fight with Tiffany Taylor on the shop stairs? And what about Kate? Did she really cheat Kate out of her blinds and curtains? And what happened yesterday? Joel Stone was carted off to the hospital with a bloody head. Did she really attack him with a baseball bat? And why did Kate take a sledgehammer to the windshield on her van?
She played her match in a fog, with Annie keeping score and prompting her about service order. The stands were packed with gossiping women; Lizzie’s jaw ached with her effort not to break down and cry. Her face throbbed, her head hurt, and she dragged herself around the court in slow motion, willing herself to finish her first tennis match.
A very sweaty Nick and Jerry met them after the match; Nick gently checked her wounds and they started back to Lavender Cottage. Claire was with a group of friends, riding their bikes down to the local ice cream parlor.
“Lizzie, do you want to talk about what happened?”
“Yes, but not now. If we talk about it I’ll start crying and I’ve already wept oceans in front of you.”
Nick smiled and took her hand, “Crying can be therapeutic. But I know something that will be even more beneficial.”
He indicated a private driveway on the college grounds, lined with post war brick bungalows.
“Remember the garden we briefly saw last night while we were out with the dogs? Let’s visit it again before the storm.”
The peonies stood tall in their supporting cages, in full robust bloom. Lizzie gazed in delight, “So beautiful, so short-lived in a bouquet, soon to be flattened by a storm.”
She looked at Nick, taking his hand again, “Which is a lesson to celebrate each day in the garden. Thank you for bringing me here. I’m glad I could visit before the rain batters the flowers.”
The thunderstorm was rapidly approaching; the wind picked up, whipping tree branches into a frenzied dance. The sky turned almost black, then an eerie green. Thunder rumbled ominously and they heard the first cracks of lightening.
“Nick, that’s a tornado sky. Let’s hurry.”
They continued down the lane, walked around the barrier chain, finally reaching a lavender painted gate that Lizzie realized was the back entrance to Lavender Cottage. Nick pulled out a key ring and started to unlock the gate when it blew open.
Nick said, “This gate is always kept locked. I wonder who has a key.”
Raindrops hit with a splat and the wind picked up. The hanging baskets of ferns and fuchsias rocked in the wind. Red petals from the climbing roses twining the porch columns whirled in the air.
Kate was stretched out on the porch floor, still wearing her tennis gear, her neck wrapped in half inch scarlet and gold drapery cording, with two tassels draped on her breasts, stripper style. Her eyes were half open and her mouth slightly parted; the wind had scattered rose petals on her body.
“Nick is she asleep or passed out?”
Nick checked her carotid pulse, “No Lizzie, she’s dead.”