Last week felt like it lasted an entire month. It was physically and mentally draining I took Friday off as a self-care day. I spent the weekend relaxing, sitting by the fireplace in my apartment reading a book, listening to classic jazz, and watching movies. Even my dog “Gillespie” seemed to want to sleep the weekend away. I was irritated that it was Monday again so soon.
I heard my opinionated Pomeranian, Gillespie, come back through his dog door in the living room. He made sure I was aware that his breakfast was past due. I really did not want to go into the office on this icy cold morning. “I still need to pay the bills don’t I Gillespie?” I spoke to the dog.
Putting his food on a plate. I rushed to the bathroom for a quick shower. I needed to get a move on. It was snowing, and I was already running late. I decided an oversized sweater and a pair of casual pants would be the outfit of the day.
A typical January day I mused. Saying goodbye to Gillespie. I called my neighbor to let her know I was leaving for work, so she could keep an eye on the dog for me.
I entered the office with my usual cup of coffee and bagel from Bob’s Bakery. I had the privilege of writing a story about the engagement of Bob Schlagel, the owner/manager of Bob’s Bakery and his fiancé Lillian Hyde. Part of this story was the unsolved death of her first fiancé, Finn McCarthy.
One day an anonymous email came to me at the newspaper office sending me, Lillian, Bob, and the local sheriff’s office on a journey to find the truth about who was driving the vehicle that struck Finn's car head-on leaving him to die.
The most recent chapter of this story sent me to Erie City where Deputy Axel Persson and I uncovered the fact that one of the county’s most prominent families was almost certainly involved in a cover-up of Finn’s death. That was Thursday of last week.
I stood staring at my desk. There sat a very unusual bouquet of flowers in a vase.
The card read simply, “The meaning is in the flowers.” I must have had quite a look on my face because my boss said
“It's not often that a lady gets a very unusual, shall we say, bouquet of flowers in an expensive looking vase.” I replied
“The cleaning crew informed me that they were delivered at about 7:00 am by a florist in Applefield, of all things.” Mr. Franklin said.
Just then my desk phone rang.
“Hello?” I said, absentmindedly into the earpiece.
“Tracy, it’s Lilli. Thank heaven I caught you. I tried your cell, but I didn’t get any answer.” she said. Lilli’s voice was shaky. She sounded upset. Lillian Hyde, genius baker and owner of Ginny’s Cookie Jar Gluten Free Bakery, wasn’t one to get upset.
“Lilli? What’s wrong?” I replied
“Did you get a bunch of flowers today?” She asked
“Yes I’m looking at them right now! Why?” I said.
“I did too! What was written on the card?” Lilli asked, her voice was still strained.
“The meaning is in the flowers.” I replied.
“That’s what was typed on my card too. Have you checked your email?” Lilli inquired.
“No, I haven’t even had a chance to sit down at my desk yet.” I said
“Do me a favor? Check your email right now while I’m on the phone.” She requested with such an edge to her voice, I knew what was waiting for me wasn’t good.
I opened up my laptop. An email read: “I hope you like the flowers I sent this morning. If you study you will see the bouquet has meaning. I suggest you heed the warning. Leave the Finn McCarthy investigation alone” Your Floral Friend.
I picked up the phone handset. “Lilli?” I said, almost shouting. “What the heck? Have you checked into these flowers to glean the “message?”
“No, and I really haven’t the time! I have been baking all morning. I sure don’t want to scare Aunt Pauline or my cousins. Obviously I will have to tell them sometime but not until I’ve talked to Axel and Bob. Bob isn’t going to be happy.” She replied.
“I won’t be intimidated. There’s no way this person, whoever it is, is going to keep me from reporting on this story. Especially now that our 'Floral Friend' confirmed our suspicions,” I said, vehemently.
Mr. Franklin looked at me. My face must have been beet red because he suggested I take a few deep breaths.
“Okay Miss Blane, what’s all this now?” he said with his RP British accent.
I explained that Lilli had received a bouquet of flowers with the same note on the card and that we both received an email warning us off the investigation into Finn McCarthy’s death.
“Okay first thing you’ll do is go see Mrs. Blais at Fleurs de La Clair to ascertain the message hidden in this bouquet. Then you go over to see Miss Hyde at Ginny’s Cookie Jar to photograph her bouquet. We want a record of this and get a copy of her email.” He directed.
Mr. Franklin was used to dealing with these situations. He was calm and I was not.
Mr. Rembert Franklin, owner and publisher of The Linoak County Gazette, was a former correspondent with Reuters. The threats and intimidation tactics didn’t work on him either. However, he knew I always ran hot when it came to being threatened by members of the public who won’t divulge their identity. It was like a red cape to a bull.
“Please take this new cellphone with you. Here is the number. You know the procedure.” He said as he handed me a 3x5 card. "Please give that number to Miss Hyde. Ask her to come by the office this afternoon at 6:00.” He said, his British accent more obvious as he became more determined. He continued, "Turn your personal cell phone off until we’ve had a chance to talk with the Sheriff".
“Okay I’m on it!” I said to Mr. Franklin.
I turned off my personal phone, depositing it in my desk drawer. I had not done the cloak and dagger stuff since I left the city. I took the flowers out of the vase and stuffed them into a plastic bag with disdain. The Next stop: the florist.
Mrs. Blais has owned a floral shop in Bushwick since forever. She knew everything there was to know about flowers.
I stepped into Fleurs de La Clair with a smile on my face.
“Mrs. Blais, are you up for a bit of a floral puzzle?” I said chuckling to keep up the deception.
“Puzzle?” She asked “Of course! I like a good puzzle,” she said smiling.
I reached into the bag and pulled out the bouquet.
“A source for one of my stories was sent this bouquet anonymously. The card with the flowers indicated that the flowers had some hidden message.” I explained.
“This is very disturbing! It is not a message, it’s a threat. Historically flowers have been used to send messages of various kinds. Most are messages of esteem or affection, I’m afraid this one is not.” She shook her head as she spoke.
Mrs. Blais gave me a brief history of symbolism in flowers. She also lent me a book on the subject.
“My dear, whoever received this bouquet should use some extra caution. The sender holds animosity towards them!” She began.
Pointing to each flower she listed the names and what each symbolized.
Yellow Carnation- foolishness
Tansy- hostile thoughts
Butterfly Weed- let me go
Yellow Roses- Infidelity-liar
Poppy- eternal sleep
And finally the Rhododendron leaves symbolize danger.” she said with a sigh.
“Wow you are amazing Mrs. Blais! You had all that memorized? I’m impressed! I think I’d better make a phone call to my source, don’t you? Thank you so much for your time Mrs. B.” I said beating a hasty retreat out the door.
I put in a call to Bob’s Bakery. His mother answered the phone.
“Bob’s Bakery, Katrina speaking, how can I help?” She said
“Hi Katrina! It’s Tracy. It’s been a beastly morning, and I am in desperate need of a coffee and a cheese bagel for lunch… Any chance you have a cheese bagel left?” I said into the phone.
“Tracy! Yes of course we have a cheese bagel for you.” She said calmly.
I needed to speak to Bob about the flowers and I needed food. I was already exhausted… it was barely noon. First, I sent Mr. Franklin a text to let him know that I had talked to Mrs. Blais and that I was headed to get coffee.
Walking into Bob’s Bakery and slumped down at a table. Katrina Shlagel hurried over with my lunch.
She said, “Tracy dear, you look awful! Are you quite alright?”
“I know Katrina, I know. No, I’m not. Something is wrong with my cellphone, I was late getting into work, and I just had so much piled up on my desk I had to get out of the office. I almost wished I hadn’t taken that self-care day. I’m just in need of food and coffee. I’m sure I’ll feel better.” I replied.
Katrina Shlagel rubbed my shoulder comfortingly. “I’ll send Bob out, a friend might be the medicine you need”
“Thank you so much!” I said.
Bob and Lillian were my best friends. Just knowing I could talk to Bob made me feel better, safer, already.
“Torchy!” Bob exclaimed “Mom says you need a friendly face.” He said with a big smile.
Bob started to call me Torchy after he heard Axel Persson use that name. I have to say it makes me laugh because Torchy Blane, the movie character, has been one of my heroines.
I giggled. “Bob, how are things? Can you sit down and chat? I have an update on the Finn story. It involves Lilli.” I said quietly.
“Sure!” He said.
The Sheriff had spoken to Bob and Lilli about events in Erie City. Now, there was this new wrinkle. I told Bob everything that occurred at the office today. He asked me to drive over to Lillian’s bakery after I ate. He would meet me there.
Lilli opened up the back door. “Tracy I’m glad to see you. Bob called to tell me you were on the way. I called your office. Mr. Franklin gave me your new phone number, he said that I couldn’t use your cell phone! I’ve been so worried! She said in a low voice.
Just then Bob walked through the door into the shop. Lilli placed the “closed for lunch” sign on the door. Lillian, Bob, Lilli’s Aunt Pauline, along with her cousins Rachel and Bethann, gathered at the back of the store. Lilli explained what happened with the flower arrangements and the emails that she and I both received.
It was important that I remain calm because Lillian had a heart condition. Neither she or I wanted to get her tachycardia started nor did I want her cardiac alert dog upset. I simply explained that someone was either trying to insert themselves into the story or they really did want us to stop digging. Probably the former rather than the latter. The flower arrangements were their way of creating shock value. I told everyone that the Sheriff was already investigating.
I took pictures of the bouquet sent to Lillian. I was exactly like mine except for the vase. She also gave me a copy of the email she received.
Lilli pulled me aside. “I’m going to grab Ginger and stay with Aunt Pauline until there’s a way to catch this person. You are welcome to come too.”
“Can I let you know? I’ve got to get this stuff back to the office. Mr. Franklin asked if you and Bob could be at the office at 6:00 for a meeting with the Sheriff? I’ve just come up with an idea. I have to dash!” I said, breathlessly.
I hopped in my car and headed back towards the office.
The office was humming with activity when I walked in with coffee for everyone. I gave Mr. Franklin a box of cookies from Ginny’s Cookie Jar Gluten Free Bakery.
Mr. Franklin took one look at me and commented, “Miss. Blane what idea has popped into your mind? What are you thinking of doing now?”
“I’m so glad you asked Mr. Franklin!” I replied.
He raised an eyebrow and motioned for me to join him in his office.
“Please sit down.” he said motioning to a chair. “I must say I’m curious.” He said with a smirk on his face.
“The ‘Floral Friend’ intended to cause fear and discomfort with these bouquets and threatening emails. They intended for Lillian, Bob, myself, and everyone associated with this investigation to stop probing. What if we turn the tables on them… maybe I should say turn the page?” I said with enthusiasm.
I pulled the book Mrs. Blais let me borrow from my bag. Setting it on Mr. Franklin’s desk.
“I could write an article on the sentimentality and symbolism in flowers. With the wedding season coming up it would be a typical story for the paper. In the article we place a color picture of a bouquet designed to convey a message to our anonymous malcontent, informing him or her that we fully intend to keep looking into this story until Finn’s killer is named.” I continued.
“Of course, I would interview Mrs. Blais on the history of floral symbolism for the article. However, we will need to find an out-of-town florist to create the arrangement. I wouldn’t want to make anyone else a target of ‘Floral Friend’.”
“What do you think?” I said to Mr. Franklin. I was very out of breath from talking so fast!
“That is intriguing, Miss. Blane. Might this inflame our ‘Floral Friend’? We don’t want an escalation to violence.” He replied.
“Horse feathers! You know as well as I do that people who come up with these elaborate schemes are rarely brazen enough to do anything up close and personal. Once they are confronted they back down. Especially if it’s an attempt to keep their own role in an event from being exposed. It may be an attempt to get attention. Why don’t we run the idea by the Sheriff when he gets here?” I said.
“Yes, okay we’ll present the idea to everyone. They’ll be here in about an hour. In the meantime we have work to do. Cast your eye over the stories I placed on your desk please.” He said with a slight grin.
All parties involved with the Finn McCarthy case arrived at 6:00 sharp. Sheriff Reynolds opened the meeting.
“I’m sorry that you all have been put under such stress lately. Sadly people often try to insert themselves into an investigation. Some are genuinely afraid they’ll be discovered and others are just cruel people who want to grab a few headlines. I promise we’ll do everything we can to find out who is doing this and why. My office is continuing to follow up on any and all leads regarding the accident that took Finn's life.” He said with conviction
The Sheriff continued. “I’m given to understand Miss. Blane and Mr. Franklin have an idea that might help discover the identity of the ‘Floral Friend’.
Mr. Franklin explained, “The credit goes to Miss. Blane however, the Linoak Gazette is prepared to be responsible for any costs incurred and coordination between different parties.”
“The plan is as follows. Miss Blane, using the Spring wedding season as a lead in, will write a story on the meaning or symbolism of flowers and the role it has played in history. The article will appear in the Sunday supplemental paper. In which there will be a color photograph of a bouquet that we shall design especially as a message to our ‘Floral Friend’.
I interjected, “We need to find a florist who does not know any of the parties involved. They only need to know I’m working on a story. Any ideas?”
Bob said, “I know a guy.”
We all chuckled.
Sheriff Reynolds said, “Please remember this is close-hold information. We do not want anyone getting the information about ‘Floral Friend’ before we have had a chance to identify them. They are guilty of making threats.”
The group thought it might be better to design the bouquet right then and there so that Bob could phone his contact.
The chosen flowers included:
Black-eyed Susan- Justice
Chamomile- Patience in adversity
White chrysanthemums: Truth
Yellow zinnia- Thoughts of absent friends
Bob called his contact to place the order for flowers to be delivered on Thursday.
As promised a beautiful bouquet of yellow and white flowers highlighted by sprigs of ivy was delivered to the office Thursday afternoon.
The Sunday supplemental paper was a society page exclusive. On the front cover was a stunning picture of Lillian and Bob sitting at a round table, covered with a bright yellow tablecloth. Lillian dressed in a champagne colored, designer suit accented by bright yellow pumps. Bob wears an eggshell white colored jacket and shirt, black pants, highlighted by a bright yellow bow tie. The arrangement we designed sat in the center of the table. This time the message in the flowers was all about loyalty.
Monday I went into the office feeling just perfect. We’d done what we’d set out to do. My ‘Floral Friend’ sent me a potted cyclamen plant which symbolizes resignation. The card read: “For now”.