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Jill Churchill

Mulch Ado About Nothing

One

Note on Jane Jeffry's kitchen door: Jane, you got flowers but you weren't home. I've got them. They're beautiful! Where are you? Shelley

Note on Shelley Nowack's kitchen door: Shelley, just phoning in my summer PTA excuse. Couldn't hang up to answer the door when I was beg? ging off. I want my flowers.

Jane Note on Jane's kitchen door: Just ran to drop off a couple books before the library police send out a squad car for them. What's the occasion for the flowers? I wouldn't dream of opening the card, of course.

Shelley Note on Shelley's door: Had to drive to Jenny's house to give Katie lunch money. What kind of flowers? And don't you dare open the card!

Jane Note on Jane's door: Sorry, I wasn't gone. I was washing the dog after he got loose and rolled in something revolting. I want to know why you're getting flowers.

Shelley Note on Shelley's door: I want to know, too. I've got to make a smash and grab at the grocery store or we'll have stale bread and crystallized jelly for dinner. Mike's getting cranky about having so much mac and cheese.

Jane Note on Jane's door: I haven't opened the note yet. But I've held it up to a strong light and the envelope is too thick to read through. I'm following you to the grocery store. Shelley

Note on Shelley's door: Didn't you hear me honking at you in the parking lot? If you didn't drive twice the speed limit, I'd have caught up with you. So I came home and you aren't here. Do you have flower preservatives? They're going to need it if I'm ever going to see them. I'm going to sit in a lawn chair in my driveway until you get home. Jane

Jane didn't do quite what she'd threatened, but she settled in to read the paper on the top step of her kitchen-door deck. When Shelley's minivan turned in — not quite on two wheels, but almost — Jane flung down the paper. 'Where are my flowers?' she demanded.

“In the kitchen,' Shelley said. 'I'll fetch them for you. What are they for? Who are they from? What have you done to deserve flowers that I don't know about?'

“I have no idea,' Jane said. She hoisted herself up, grimacing at a twinge in her knee, and went into her house, leaving the door open for Shelley, who reappeared a moment later, almost concealed by a huge flower arrangement.

“Oh, they are beautiful!' she exclaimed as Shelley set them on the kitchen table.

“Read the card,' Shelley said, shoving it at Jane. The card looked a bit worn and was scorched on one corner. Jane started laughing. 'What's so funny?' Shelley demanded.

“What a spy you'd make! You spent the day trying to find out what the message was and didn't read the envelope. The flowers are for Julie Jackson, that stylish woman who lives at the same number address as mine, but two blocks west. You know, the one who's doing that garden class we're starting on Monday.”

They looked at each other for a long moment, then Jane said, 'Have you tried steaming the envelope open?”

Their 'better selves' prevailed and they didn't steam open the envelope, but instead Shelley drove to Julie Jackson's house with Jane clutching the flower arrangement and sniffing the heady odor of the white lilies in it.

Shelley said, 'You've got pollen from the lilies all over your face. You look jaundiced.”

Jane tried hanging on to the arrangement with one hand while hastily brushing her face off. 'Better?' she asked, looking at her hands, which were bright orange with pollen.

Shelley had just turned the corner on the street they needed and slowed almost to a stop. 'Jane, look.'

“Look? I can't even see around these flowers. What?'

“There's a police tape around Julie Jackson's yard. And three police cars and an ambulance.' 'Oh, no!”

Shelley pulled over to the side of the street one house away. Jane got out and set the flower arrangement on the grass and dragged a tissue out of her pocket to wipe more pollen off her face. Two people came out of the house Jane and Shelley had been heading for. A woman who looked like Julie Jackson and a man who was a headtaller than she and wearing a suit that looked too hot for such a warm day.

A uniformed police officer was following them, almost herding them out of the house.

“Rats!' Jane said. 'I just caught a glimpse of Mel inside that window by the door. What do you suppose is going on? And who are that couple?”

Shelley, having no more information than Jane, said nothing. They just stood there, transfixed and wondering what to do with the huge flower arrangement.

Detective Mel VanDyne had spotted Jane as well, and came out the front door a moment later. Scowling fiercely, he had a brief word with the unknown couple and the officer with them and turned and headed toward Jane and Shelley.

“What are you two doing here?' he snapped. 'Gawking?”

He should have known from the sizzling silence that met this inquiry that he was going to be sorry for that remark. But he compounded the looming problem by adding in an unfortunately demanding tone, 'Well?”

Jane said coldly, 'I don't normally carry around a huge vase of florist flowers when I'm just out for a 'gawk.' Perhaps you've noticed that about me over the years? These flowers,' she said, pointing at the arrangement, 'were delivered to me by mistake and were meant for Julie Jackson. Shelley and I were merely bringing them to her.”

Shelley was about to butt in, but thought better of it. Jane was doing fine by herself. She picked up the flower arrangement and handed it to Mel.

He was trying to figure out how to apologize without actually saying the word 'sorry' and feeling very stupid holding a vast arrangement of flowers at the crime scene. In a more pleasant voice, he said, 'I see.'

“They're probably evidence,' Jane said, turning on her heel dramatically to get back into the car. She tripped over the curb and came down hard on her right foot, and her shoe turned sideways with a sickening popping noise that made her yelp involuntarily.

Mel set down the flowers, and he and Shelley rushed to scoop her up.

“Are you okay?' Mel asked.

“Aside from ruining my exit, I think so,' Jane said, grimacing with pain. 'I'm feeling a tad faint.”

Mel opened the car door, shoved her into the passenger seat, and made her take off her shoe and felt her foot. 'No obvious break. Can you move your ankle?”

Jane felt like crying, not only because her foot was hurting horribly, but because she'd made a bit of a fool of herself by flouncing off like that. She wiggled it around and said, 'My ankle's fine. Just leave me alone.”

To her dismay, Mel and Shelley took her at her word. Jane put her shoe back on, muttering to herself, 'Stupid, stupid, stupid.”

Mel looked at the flower arrangement sitting unevenly on the grass. 'Who are the flowers from?”

Shelley shrugged. 'We don't know. The envelope is sealed.”

He pulled out the little clear plastic stake and glanced at the card. 'Why's it scorched?'

“How would I know?' Shelley said airily.

Mel held the envelope by one corner, slit it open with a penknife, pulled out the card with a pair of tweezers, and glanced at it. 'Hmm.”

Shelley craned her neck to see what the card said. There was no signature.

“What does it say?' Jane asked from inside Shelley's van.

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