My friends, Bob Schlagel and Lillian Hyde, had finally started to plan their wedding. As community and church leaders, they always help others, so when they began receiving invitations to celebrate their upcoming wedding, neither felt comfortable with the idea of others planning a special event just for them. Therefore, I offered to help organize the events for them. As Society and Lifestyle page editor/reporter for The Linoak County Gazette, I had all the tools necessary to create a planner. This job wouldn’t be easy but no job with doing is easy.
Most people were excited for Bob and Lillian, this engagement had been a long time in coming. Bob had cared deeply for, even been in love with, Lillian since high school. Lillian however, had fallen in love with Finn McCarthy. Finn and Lillian were engaged following high school. Soon afterwards his life was cut short in a head-on, hit and run collision with a motor vehicle. His untimely death coupled with the fact that no one discovered or disclosed who was driving the car that killed Finn left Lillian with a gaping hole in her heart. That is until October when the most unlikely thing happened. Bob finally professed his feelings to Lillian and she slowly opened her heart to his affection. The whole town was a bit shocked at the announcement of their engagement on Christmas Day. This was the biggest Christmas miracle since the Advance Twentieth Century Limited drove through the Great Blizzard of 1935 to arrive in Bushwick, with passengers and Christmas mail still intact, pulling into the station at 12:01 in the morning on Christmas Eve.
There was just one sticking point but it was a big sticking point. After the news of Bob and Lillian’s engagement hit the paper I received an anonymous tip from a source telling me that I would find information leading to the identity of the person who struck and killed Finn McCarthy at the Belden Summer home outside of Bushwick. We found it very odd indeed. Yet the tipster was as good as they said, and although the information was not specific, it left a breadcrumb trail to follow. The first of those crumbs led me and the police to a hospital in Erie City. Following that came threatening messages in the form of bouquets of flowers, attempting to scare Lillian and me off the investigation. We ended up beating the “messenger” at his or her own game.
While we still have no idea who the messenger is, the last time they gave me a floral gift, they announced resignation but attached a card which read "For Now". Whoever it was hadn’t finished. I will continue to help the police investigate even as Lilli and Bob begin to solidify the plans for their big day.
To say I have a lot of work ahead of me was a bit of an understatement. As well as continuing to explore Finn’s death and writing the special features for the Spring wedding season, I still have my regular Sunday column to write. Lillian and Bob both have thriving businesses that help this community. It's going to be a real pleasure to help them as their wedding and party planner.
I arrived home that evening to a very happy Pomeranian barking at the top of his lungs. Mr. Gillespie the most opinionated fur covered companion I’d ever owned. I found him to be a great listener, but only after he’d been fed. After feeding the dog, I made myself a pasta salad with fresh herbs and grated parmesan. It felt so good to sit in my own kitchen to eat. I settled in to study the calendars that Bob and Lillian had given me together with the invitations to engagement parties. There were invitations from both friends and organizations in the community. It was Bob and Lilli’s intention to hold their wedding ceremony on June 1; this was the birthday of Lilli’s Aunt Ginny from whom she inherited Ginny’s Cookie Jar . There were a lot of invitations, and only so many openings in the calendars (Including my own). I began to highlight dates on a master calendar. I sat for a moment looking at the impossibility of coordinating all these parties, events, dinners and intimate gatherings with close friends. I looked at a contented Mr. Gillespie.
“Gillespie we have got to start thinking out of the box!” I said aloud
The first order of business however, was the Linoak County Bridal Show to be held this Saturday and Sunday. I would be there to get facts for my story. Both Lillian and Bob would be displaying their various wedding cakes and sweet confections made by their bakeries. Ginny’s Cookie Jar Gluten Free Bakery, was noted for the traditionally decorated cakes. Bob’s Best Bakery was noted for being a little more daring in their cake recipes and decorating style. Besides her own display, Lillian said she was planning to shop for a gown and a suit for Bob that would match her vision for the wedding. She asked me to help her find the right shop, of course I was thrilled. I know most of the bridal and fashion shop owners in the county from past articles I’ve done for the paper.
I penciled the bridal show in on the master calendar and then went to the living room to watch some TV.
I’m not a morning person so when the alarm went off Friday morning I nearly turned it off. However, I remembered I was to head over to the Convention Center in Applefield to look over the preparations for the bridal show. I hauled myself out of bed, fed the dog, dressed, then I drove to Applefield .
I drove into the parking lot and I saw that the antique front doors had been transformed to a bridal bower. It truly was stunning. I walked through the old wooden doors to see decorators doing their best to make the whole room inviting. Ray got pictures while I spoke to the decorators about the theme for this year’s show “Give Me Your Answer True”. A take on the old song “Daisy Bell”. I took a moment to speak to a few of the bridal boutiques about helping Lilli pick out a wedding dress. They were all too happy to help.
Friday evening was spent firming up facts for my Sunday Supplement story on the bridal show. I never went into a story of this size without marshaling my facts first. By 9:00 pm I was ready for bed. I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
The alarm went off early Saturday morning. It was a very chilly day for the last week in February. I followed my usual morning routine, stepping out of the door promptly at 7:30 to meet Ray at the Convention Center. I pulled my Mini Cooper out of the garage then called Mrs. West to let her know I was leaving. She’s my dog sitter and all around wonderful neighbor.
When I arrived at the center Lilli was already there waiting for me at the door. She looked very upset. She was shaking. Pauline looked angry, the girls just looked terrified.
“Lilli what the heck.” I exclaimed.
She handed me a box with my name on it, the sort of plain white boxes in which flowers come. From the look on her face I knew it wasn’t a good thing. I opened the box and inside was a black rose. While it’s called a black rose it’s really a very dark purple rose that looks almost black. A threat in the form of a flower.
“My gosh! Where did this come from!? I asked, louder than I had intended to.
“It was waiting on the table with mine.” She said.
She was flushed and looked as though she was holding back tears. No doubt she was tachycardic.
“Does Bob know?” I asked.
“No he doesn’t, he had to go back to the shop. He should be here any moment.” She said. “I would break down in tears but I’m not giving this low-life any more satisfaction today.”
Just then Bob came through the door. Lilli grabbed his arm tightly and ushered him back out into the parking lot to tell him what had happened. He grabbed her around the waist just in case the tachycardia got the best of her.
Then he told Lilli, “Well that’s it! That does it! No matter what, we won’t give up on our wedding plans, we won’t stop searching for Finn’s killer, but it won’t be business as usual either.”
He motioned for me to join them.
“I think you should place that wonderful rose in a vase, don’t you? I believe you should inform that fool that scare tactics won’t work. Moreover, this whole idea of going to every party under the sun won't work. It is unclear how much, if any, information he or she has about our movements. Tracy we’ve got to come up with a plan to nail this person once and for all!” He said vehemently “Lillian don’t worry, I’m calling Axel Persson right now. He’s not on duty today. He’ll come if I ask, and of course I’ll pay his daily rate.” Said Bob as he took his cell out of his pocket.
Lilli and I found a vase and put our “gifts” on the table.
We felt safer with the presence of Deputy Axel Persson (not that I felt unsafe. The coward wouldn't even face me but Lillian was a different story.)
I began to circulate within the building taking notes for my articles on the show while Ray took photos. One designer, new to the area, designed a bridesmaid gown that reminded me of Glynis Johns's dress from The Court Jester, one of Lillian and Bob's favorite movies. A costume party was the answer! It would take some doing to keep it secret but it’s the only way to ferret out the person threatening my friends. I raced back to the table to talk to Lilli.
“Lilli, can you step away for a second. It's important.” I asked breathlessly. Her table was busy but this could not wait. Her Aunt Pauline nodded. The gluten free bakeries were set up in a small room off the main showroom floor.
I sent a text to Bob and Axel asking them to meet us in the annex on the back of the building. It was empty and we could have a conversation in private.
I discussed my idea for the engagement party with Axel, Bob and Lilli. It would be a great way to protect Lillian while also being a lot of fun to plan.
“In short this is the idea. I have looked at all the invitations that Lilli and Bob have received. Essentially all the invitations are from close friends or organizations to which they belong. I’m not so concerned about the party at the Elks Lodge or the Northern Lights Bakers Assn. I think we could short circuit all of the scheduling by holding one big party with a twist. I think we should plan a themed costume party. Only the theme will be absolutely close hold information. Only certain individuals will be invited. Individuals that the Sheriff has already vetted. The invitations will go out by encrypted emails from my office address and through a secret group on social media.” I said excitedly. One designer created a costume that looks exactly like the one worn by Glynis Johns in “The Court Jester''. That theme would be perfect. There are plenty of costumes available in that genre. I added, “We let it be known that the party is a costume party but not the theme. Bob and Lillian’s circle of close friends will cooperate. Since I know the Editor, I am confident that the newspaper will cover the cost of the costumes in exchange for exclusive rights to the story. What do you think of the idea?” I continued. “I just happen to know a costumer in our city who can help us.”
Axel said “All that from seeing one dress in a sea of dresses? That’s amazing! Speaking from a security standpoint, any members of security staff would be able to blend in with the party goers. Maybe you should send out some fake invitation postcards. You know how many people read those without permission. Word will get around that way for sure!” I suggest everyone be given some kind of identification.”
Bob chimed in “The purple pimpernel.”
Lillian burst out laughing (it was good to hear her laugh) “That’s perfect! Everyone will be sent a purple pimpernel on a small chain. One simply shows the flower at the door” We can create those ourselves! I love it!”
“A party that will be like a grown-up version of Hyde and Seek.” I said
As the day wound to a close I could see the relief on Lillian’s face. She was happy and smiling. She and I spent the last hour of the show looking at dresses and tuxedos. Her favorite dress was a Regency Style wedding dress. Her colors would be dark purple, light people and a subtle yellow to match the viola flowers she’d be carrying. The perfect dress for her personality and figure. She will look gorgeous.
She confided in me that she was looking forward to her engagement party even though it had been years since she attended a party just for fun. She said with a laugh, “I am sure that Bob will get a huge kick out of dressing in a Tudor costume. He’s really a big ham.” she continued “I know that there’s no guarantee that this party thing will work to catch our “floral friend” but I think this is a great trap! You are just brilliant.”
In the showroom, I ran into Axel, who offered to see me safely home. “It seems that Bob and Lilli are both looking forward to their party. This is a very slick idea from a devious mind. You’ve got a devious mind Torchy.” He said as we walked out to our cars. (a nickname I inherited from an old movie series about a female newspaper reporter)
“Yes, since the party isn't really about them, they are not as hesitant to share the joy with others.” I said “What do you mean devious? Me? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet Deputy Persson” I smiled broadly.
After following me home, Axel checked the house to make sure Mr. Gillespie and I were safe. As a thank you I invited him to stay for coffee and a fresh bagel from Bob’s Best Bakery. Just then my cell phone rang. It was Lilli.
“Hi Lilli what’s up?” I said.
“Hi Tracy. I arrived home safe and sound. No creepy messages or flowers left around my house or the bakery. Say thank you to Axel for his help today.” She said laughing.
“How the devil did you know…” I asked my voice trailing off
“Let’s just say I recognize the signs.” Lilli responded “Just don’t play Hyde and Seek for too long Tracy. Take it from someone who knows.”