Chapter Twenty-Six

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"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust." Poppy took a long pull from a fifth of Jack Daniels before wiping her mouth on her sleeve and handing the bottle off to Bea. If either of them thought it was an odd sendoff, guzzling whiskey and scattering Poppy's grandmother on the front lawn of the Aberdeen Bingo Hall, they didn't mention it.

Neither did Asprey.

He stood as unobtrusively as he could on the outskirts, drinking when the bottle came his way, otherwise nothing more than an observer, a man holding a little dog with quiet stoicism.

It seemed wrong to intrude on Poppy's grief, somehow. He hadn't been invited to this funeral, but he hadn't been not invited either. It made for an interesting memorial dynamic—a situation not exactly helped along by Poppy's mourning clothes, which were composed of a short, tight black skirt, gray striped tights and, of course, her teal cowboy boots.

"What are you kids doing out on that lawn?" An overlarge matron in a floral blouse and a navy skirt hiked up to her armpits appeared on the steps of the bingo hall. "You can't loiter here."

Poppy held up the box of ashes like it was a trophy. "It's Grandma Jean. We're bidding her farewell."

"Grandma Jean? Jean Donovan?" The matron lumbered down the steps. "You her granddaughter?"

Poppy nodded and offered the woman a drink, which she promptly declined with a whole list of dietary restrictions.

"I heard she went real quiet," the woman said kindly, flanking Poppy as the last of the ashes fell onto the grass. It wasn't a very windy day, so most of it clumped in little heaps on the ground. "We miss her."

"Me too," Poppy said. Unable to help himself, Asprey put an arm around her waist. She tensed but didn't push him off, so he stayed there.

"She owes me about two hundred bucks," the woman added. "She cheated at bingo, you know. We didn't even know a person could cheat at bingo until she joined the club. Made her own score sheets at home."

Poppy laughed, her smile misty. "Everyone knew that." She jerked her head toward the south side of the street and added. "I opened a tab at Ludwig's Hole. You and everyone else she owes money to can feel free to drink every last penny she cheated you out of. Just say a few toasts for her while you're in there. Please?"

The woman gently pushed Asprey out of the way and engulfed Poppy in a swell of pink chiffon. He couldn't hear what the woman whispered, but it must have been the right thing because when she pulled away, Poppy had abandoned the misty stage and fallen into a laugh-sob.

"What do you suppose she said?" Asprey asked Bea. Poppy's roommate and friend was a hard woman to read, but if he had to guess, he'd say he was begrudgingly accepted by her. That seemed pretty par for the course, though. Begrudging acceptance from these women seemed to be the most he could ever hope for.

Bea eyed him warily. "Probably that there isn't enough booze in the world to cover Grandma Jean's outstanding tab. Good thing Poppy was able to recover that eighty grand her grandmother invested."

Asprey nodded, not sure how much he was supposed to divulge of Poppy's exact recovery methods.

"All the money not going to Ludwig's Hole is yours," Poppy said, interrupting their conversation. "I mean it, Bea. It's for you and Jenny—it always has been."

Bea's mouth, already scarily firm, grew even tighter. "Absolutely not. There's no way you're giving me money in addition to everything else. I won't take it."

"Then it's a good thing I had a lawyer friend put it in a trust fund in Jenny's name, huh?" Poppy asked, triumphant. "You can't get around this one, Bea. I know fancy people now."

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