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Fiction Mystery

The Case of the Passiflora X

By

O. S. Snead

           One Monday morning in August, private investigator Edgar Nikephoros Huntinger received a telephone call from Franklin Harrington, an agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

           “Good morning, Edgar, this is Agent Harrington. How are you on this hot Miami morning?”

           I’m doing well, thank you, Franklin. The air conditioner is on full speed this morning.” Huntinger said cheerfully. “But you’re not exactly calling to chat, right?”

           “You’re right, Edgar. Oh, before I forget. I want to thank you again for your help on the Scribner kidnapping case. And that’s one reason we are asking for your help again. Naturally, we will compensate for expenditures. It concerns a flower and extortion.”

           “It must be a remarkable flower.”

           “It is, Edgar. The Latin name science gave it is Passiflora X. Its most recognized name is the Passionflower. The hybrids are endless, but the species we’re concerned with is the original. It was extinct.”

           “You said it was extinct.”

           “Yes. I’ll give you a brief history.” There was a pause. Edgar heard the rustling of papers. “In 1610 an Augustine monk presented a sketch of a flower to a monastic scholar. It was a drawing of a passionflower. In Christianity, it symbolized the suffering, or the passion, of the Christ. The monk pointed out astonishing features. For example, the twisted and plaited corona filaments represented the crown of thorns; the stigmas represented the nails; the ovary and stalk represented the cup of the last supper; the five anthers represented the five wounds;

the ten petals represented the ten apostles present at the crucifixion; the old leaves represented his persecutors; the young leaves represented the point of the sword that was thrust in his side; and the tendrils represented the whips.” The agent paused, rustling papers. “Are you familiar with the passionflower, Edgar?”

           “No. Is it considered a common flower? And you mentioned cross breeding that produced hybrids.”

           “Yes. Most species grow in the tropics, and there’s a species that’s common here in Florida. It’s called Passiflora X Caerulea, and it’s the closest hybrid to the original. It is known as the blue passionflower. For years, scientists cross bred the flower to find the original. The Passiflora X Caerulea lacks the pink that represented the blood of Christ, which was present in the original. And the original had a spear-shaped leaf with dark spots.” The agent paused.

“If I may interrupt, let me guess. Someone succeeded in cross breeding to the original Passiflora X.”

           “That’s right, Edgar. A Franciscan monk discovered it, here in Miami. Someone has stolen it, while it was on display at the monastery.”

           “And you mentioned extortion?”

           “Yes. A note was sent to the monastery demanding fifty thousand dollars, or the sender will destroy the flower. We want you to help find the thief and bring the flower back. May I come to your office? I want to give you a retainer and show you the evidence of the crime.”

           “Yes. Will ten o’clock tomorrow morning be convenient for you?”

           “Yes, Edgar, that’s perfect.”

           “I look forward to seeing you, Harrington. Goodbye.”

           “Goodbye.”

           Tuesday morning at ten o’clock, Huntinger, donned in white shirt with quarter length sleeves and jeans, his prosthesis hidden in white sneakers, opened the door to a handsome brown African American.

           Agent Franklin Harrington of the FBI regarded Huntinger with astute grey eyes and a warm smile. He wore a light cotton black suit complemented with open necked white dress shirt. He carried a brown leather briefcase.

           “Hello, Edgar. You look well.”

           “Thank you, Franklin. It’s good to see you. Please come in.”

           The tall agent went past Huntinger into the living room.

           Huntinger shut the door, and he motioned him to sit on the plush white sofa. He sat across from him, the glass table between them.

           “Edgar, this case is priority because the passionflower is an important Christian symbolism especially in the Roman Catholic church, as I mentioned to you on the phone. They consider it a miracle because it has all the features of the original. The agreement among the clergy, is that it will never reappear in cross breeding. So, you can imagine, the monk grieves its loss. He is not ready to reveal the theft to the people. And he is afraid of who may have stolen it as well. He has asked for our discretion.”  The agent paused. “We have a clue, found at the gate which surrounds the monastery. It’s a small ring, with the initial ‘G’” He produced the ring in a small evidence bag, and he handed to Huntinger.

           Huntinger peered at a small solid gold ring, a gold initial “G” engraved on an oval onyx background. He handed the ring back. “An impressive ring.”

 The agent put it back in his briefcase. He handed Huntinger a typewritten note.

           Huntinger took the letter, and read:

           You didn’t think anyone would want the flower, did you? Isn’t it holy to you? Isn’t it the symbol of the Passion of Christ? Well, I have it now. If you want it back, deliver to me $50,000 in small bills wrapped in burlap, and bring it to an old shack on 11 Collins Avenue at 12:00 midnight, on August 31. If you don’t, I will destroy it.

           Huntinger looked up, his iced blue eyes questioning. “Where was the flower when it was stolen?”

           “It was on display at the monastery on August 13.”

           “Do you have a list of the visitors that day?”

           “Yes. There were tourists, clergymen, collectors, and scientists.” The agent handed him a list. Huntinger took the list and laid it next to the ransom note.

           “Do you have any suspects?”

           “Forensics couldn’t find fingerprints. The perp must have used gloves.”

           Harrington leaned back, reached inside his pocket, and he pulled out a check. He handed it to Huntinger. “Here’s a thousand. Let me know if you need more.”

           “Thank you, Harrington.”

           The agent snapped his briefcase shut. “Good luck, Huntinger.” He left.

That afternoon, Huntinger drove to the Coconut Grove Branch Library, because he wanted to check a hunch. The idea of a collector stealing the flower was flabbergasting, because why would he ask for money, unless he needed it, and didn’t intend to return the flower. Only a person of distinction would own such a ring. He got out of his blue Buick, and he walked up the gravel walkway, and entered the library. He saw a serious looking blond librarian sitting at a desk and working on a computer. “Excuse me. Where can I find the Who’s Who in America?” Huntinger said.

 “Just a moment, and I’ll check the computer, “she said. She checked the data base, then got up and went to a bookcase. She pulled out a thick book. “Here it is, Sir,” she said, and handed him the book. Huntinger went to a table, and he opened the book. Under Collectors of Christian artifacts, he found two names, which concurred with the initial on the ring. The names were Gregory Van Rheinhardt, and the other was Geoffrey Grinstein. He jotted these names down, then returned the books to the librarian. He thanked her and left.

           Wednesday morning, Huntinger sat across from Brother Jude in his office at the Good Shepherd Monastery.     The monk had intense brown eyes set in an ivory-seamed face and frame with brown hair. He wore a long black cassock with a sash tied around a slightly rounded belly. He spoke in a soft well-educated voice. “We kept the Passiflora X in a potted vase, enclosed in a moisture-filled glass domed case.” He shifted in his padded brown office chair. “Did you wonder why we would contact the FBI?”

           “I presumed that it was because of its strong religious symbolism, and because blackmail is a federal crime.”

           “That’s right. We appreciate your discretion. We hope that you will find the flower intact. The discovery of the original Passiflora X through crossbreeding was a miracle and brought much celebration among the clergy. we are certain it will not occur again.”

           “You can trust the FBI, and I will do my best to bring the flower back to you intact. Do you have a picture of it?”

           “Yes.” Brother Jude opened the top drawer of his desk and pulled out a color photograph. He handed it to Huntinger.

           Astonishment crossed his features as he studied the photograph. “A most stunning flower,” he said. “May I keep this?”

           “Of course. Here’s an envelope to keep it safe.” The monk took out a brown manila envelope, and he handed it to Huntinger.

           Huntinger carefully placed the photograph into the envelope. He stood. “I have a hunch, and I may need your help. I will let you know after I’ve given it more thought.”

           “Thank you, Mr. Huntinger. I’d be happy to assist in any way that I can, to assure your success.” He stood and shook Huntinger’ s hand.

           “Thank you, Sir. I’ll be in touch.”

           On Wednesday morning, Huntinger called Brother Jude. “Hello, Brother Jude?”

           “Yes, speaking.”

           “This is Huntinger. I’ve got a plan I’d like to try. What’s the name of the species closest to the original Passiflora X?”

           “It’s called, Passiflora X Caerulea.”

           “Would you know the name of a flower shop that might sell it?”

           “I don’t know of any flower shops that carry it. You might try online on etsy.com.’

           “Thank you, Brother Jude. I’ll be in touch with you.”

           Thursday morning, Huntinger got up and washed. As he looked in the mirror, and combed and oiled his dark thick curly hair, he thought. The Passiflora X Caerulea is certainly difficult to obtain, despite it being a common flower. It may take a little time. If I succeed, I’ll ask Brother Jude to accommodate my undercover plan, which will involve displaying an imitation original Passiflora X.

           After breakfast, Huntinger called all the florists in Miami. Not one sold the passionflower. He decided he was going to exercise patience and order it online. He ordered the potted Passiflora X Caerulea from etsy.com. The flower was delivered in five days.

           The following Monday, Huntinger called Brother Jude. “I have purchased the Passiflora X Caerulea. I have a plan that involves undercover. May I request that you announce at your services that it will be on display this Sunday? Also, please have a spare cassock ready for m. I’ll need to mingle with the guests.”

“I’ll have everything ready for you, Huntinger.”

“Thank you, Brother Jude. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye.”

On Friday, Huntinger delivered Passiflora X Caerulea delivered to the monastery.

           Brother Jude announced on Friday and Saturday, that the magnificent Passiflora X Caerulea, a great symbolism of the Passion of Jesus Christ, would be on display again on Sunday only.

           Sunday, Huntinger, donned in a black cassock, the hood pulled to hide his noticeable high forehead and dark hair, smiled, and mingled among the guests. Afterward, Brother Jude put the flower in the garden, because the stifling August heat would help it to stay healthy.

           Huntinger watched behind the drapes in the Visitation room, where he could see the flower through the entrance to the garden. He saw a tall man dressed in black enter the garden, who grasped the potted Passiflora X, and retreated. He followed him silently.

 The man placed the plant in a large duffel bag, slung it over his shoulder, and he climbed the fence that surrounded the monastery garden. He entered a black car.

Huntinger got into his blue Buick and followed him, until he stopped in front of a mansion. He wrote down the address and left.

On Monday, Huntinger went back to the library, and compared the address to the two collectors. The address belonged to Gregory Van Rheinhardt.

That night, Huntinger donned a black cap, black long-sleeved shirt, and black sneakers. He thought, “I may need that bag of gadgets Agent Harrington gave me, when I started on the Scribner case.” He retrieved it from the closet in his bedroom and left for the thief’s address.

Huntinger used a skeleton key and opened the padlock on the gate. He moved cautiously behind palm trees, until he saw one close to the main house. He climbed it, and he leaped onto the ledge. He inched his way close to the building. Not surprisingly, he found locked windows. He moved to another and to another until he found it. A window was partially open. He slowly raised it and went in.

The house was silent. He searched one room and then another until he came to an office. Suddenly, the lights were on.

The tall dark-haired man, dressed in beige cotton pajamas, held a gun in his hand. A sneer dwelt on his fine features. “Well, an intruder,” he said.

“Mr. Rheinhardt, I presume?”

“I don’t know how you know me, but I don’t appreciate you breaking into my house. Who are you, and what do you want?”

“My name is Huntinger. I’m a private investigator. I want the Passiflora X, the original one, not the imitation one, that you’ve stolen from the monastery,” said Huntinger hoarsely.

“M-m-m. And what makes you think that I have it?”

“Because I watched you as you took the Passiflora X Caerulea on Sunday. You’re a known collector of Christian artifacts, and the flower became an obsession. And your name has the same initial as a ring, which police found at the gate.”

“And why would I want money if I wanted the flower in my collection?”

“Maybe you have a financial problem, maybe you didn’t intend to give the flower back.”

“Well, you won’t live to know what my reasons were, or whether I have it or not because you broke into my home.”

Quickly, Huntinger advanced, and kicked Rheinhardt’ s leg. The man swayed, raised his arm, and pulled the trigger. Huntinger fell, his good leg hit. Skillfully, he thrust himself off the floor, grabbed the man, and punched him. The gun clattered as the thief fell. Huntinger felt his pulse. He was alive.

Huntinger’ s prosthesis foot was unharmed, but the left leg was bleeding. He pulled out his cell phone. “Harrington, I have the thief. He’s a well-known millionaire in Miami Beach. I’m in his mansion. He shot me, but I was able to overcome him. He’s unconscious. The Passiflora X is here somewhere. Come and get him. Here’s the address…”

The next Wednesday, Huntinger sat in Brother Jude’s study.

“I don’t’ know what to say to express my gratitude,” the monk said.

Huntinger sat across from the monk, his leg bandaged. He smiled. “Well, the case was interesting and challenging, and educational. And I’d say it has an apt name, ‘Passiflora X’ A worthy case. And I have a souvenir, the most splendid and most fascinating flower that I’ve ever known. Thank you for allowing me to keep the imitation. It will grace my home.” He stood and shook the grateful monk’s hand.

April 22, 2022 17:39

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