“Are you sure I bought it?” queried Bradley as he stood and looked at the plant alongside the estate dealer’s delivery driver.
“Yes sir. One Nineteenth-century French Louis XV Gilt Bronze-Mounted Side Cabinet…and plant.” The delivery man checked the manifest and double-tapped his pen on the sheet with a firmness that confirmed his absolute accuracy.
“I don’t recall saying,” Bradley persisted.
“It’s all here in black and white. Shall we take them inside for you sir?”
Bradley scratched his temple and nodded his head. “Yes. The cabinet will go in the living room right there.” He pointed to where the hardwood was covered by a “Persian rug” not more than fifty feet from the entrance. There was a large sliding glass door opposite the entrance where two reading chairs stood on the rug and faced the outdoor view. A modest reading table stood betwixt them, supporting several periodicals and books in various states of literary consumption.
The deliveryman cleared his throat. “And the plant…sir”
“Right…By the sliding glass door.”
“Very good sir.” The delivery driver turned to his men and sent them on their way to deliver the goods purchased by one Bradley Singleton with a quick nod of his chin.
The delivery men gone, Bradley stood in the living room and surveyed the two new additions. He felt lucky to have stumbled on an estate sale not too far out of the city where the recently deceased, Mrs. Eleanor W.S. Farnsworth, III. It cost more than he made in a month, but it was worth it. His Great Uncle Anton had always told him that a solid piece of furniture, especially a bar cabinet, made a man someone to be reckoned with. This made Bradley that man, no doubt about it. He walked to his kitchen and returned with a bottle of brandy and a highball and placed them on the marbled top. He poured a glass and took a sip. He missed his uncle. Years ago, Anton had simply disappeared without a trace. It was a family mystery. A private detective, part of his grandmother’s will, was kept on retainer and had been for years to no avail. No Anton. No clues.
He leaned against the cabinet and instantly felt more confident. He turned towards the chairs and there stood the other purchase. If oozing confidence was the bar cabinet the plant was most decidedly at the absolute, opposite end of the spectrum. The planter was glazed pearl and more than a foot and a half high and almost as wide. The plant stood another four feet high and was almost eye-level with Bradley. It wasn’t a ficus or a palm, that was for sure. It had a sturdy trunk with large leaves with holes in them that didn’t look natural. The leaves drooped and the branches were spindly at best. The leaves were green but they lacked a healthy luster. Had it been made of plastic he wouldn’t have been surprised. He rubbed one of the leaves again and checked its underside. Sure enough, still a plant. He sat in his chair and took another sip of brandy. What if I simply chuck the thing? No one will know. He didn’t have the heart though. It seemed as if it was looking at him pondering its newfound fate in Bradley Singleton’s apartment.
“I do hope that the window is to your liking.” Good god, I’m talking to a plant, he thought. He drained the brandy and grabbed a glass of water, pouring it into the soil in the plant, returning both glasses to the counter. He grabbed his jacket and headed out for the remainder of the afternoon with the prospect of seeing friends, with any luck Diana would be there too. Diana, who also worked at the agency but in the design and layout department, was as beautiful as he imagined her Greek namesake was. Not quite of this earth with a laugh that made a man sigh despite himself.
Bradley strolled through Boston Common on his way to Bistro du Midi. The expanse of lawn interspersed with clumps of leafy elm trees and people enjoying the sunshine was a relaxing tonic. He skirted along past the Central Burying Ground and popped out onto Boylston Street. Bistro du Midi was the perfect combination of old-world charm and quaint, springtime patio bordered with ivy and pansies separating patrons from the passers-by.
“Bradley! Brad! Over here!” shouted Martin. Bradley steeled and reminded himself that congratulating Martin for securing the new account was the right thing to do no matter how much it bothered him. He came around the entrance corner and there was Martin with Diana. Beauty and the Beast he thought. He smiled cordially and shook Martin’s hand and then smiled Diana’s way.
“Congratulations. Really well done.” Bradley said as he sat next to Diana.
“Next time it’ll be you, right?” he laughed and smiled as he waved over to the waiter.
“Everyone! Champagne? Cocktails? What are we doing?” There were only the three of them and Bradley smirked at the grandiose request. Diana caught Bradley’s smirk and smiled in return.
“Ooh I’d love a Kir Royale,” she said. Bradley thought what a perfect drink for an ethereal gal.
“Bourbon, neat,” said Bradley.
“Sophisticated gentleman. Make it two.” Martin rounded out the trio and the waiter departed with the drink orders in hand.
They managed to order hors d’oeuvre when the waiter returned with the drinks. The conversation ran the gamut of work, vacations, family, work again, what shows were in town, what books were they reading, and back to work. Bradley tried to maneuver the conversation his way so he could talk about his recent find.
“I was at an estate sale this weekend and found the most amazing” Martin cut him off.
“An estate sale? Isn’t that for blue-haired ladies who have run through their old man’s fortunes?”
“Not quite. I happened on a beautiful, mint-condition, Louis the fifteenth cabinet with inlaid wood and a marble top. Makes a great bar cabinet.” Bradley relaxed in his chair as he swirled his bourbon around in its glass.
“Nice find. What did that set you back?” Martin inquired.
“Well, it was the plant that set me back.” Bradley joked.
“A plant? What kind?” Diana jumped in with rapt curiosity.
“I wish I knew! It looks a bit sad really, but it arrived with the bar cabinet…how could I say ‘no’? You should come to see it and the cabinet” he suggested.
“I’d love to. I’m no botanist although my mother was when she lived in Vermont. I find plants creatively inspiring. Don’t you?” Bradley blinked and realized it was a question for him.
“Absolutely. Perhaps you could tell me what kind of plant it is. Maybe, next Saturday?” Diana smiled and nodded. Success thought Bradley.
Martin, tired of the conversation revolving around something other than him, had wandered off to the bar in search of other female companionship. Diana and Bradley were left on their own.
“I guess I should be heading home. Things to do before work tomorrow.” Diana uttered as she looked for her purse.
“My treat.” Bradley whisked out his wallet and paid for the drinks even though it was a bit more than he could handle immediately given his purchase. He didn’t want to seem incapable. This was Diana after all. What’s a little brown bag lunch for the week or two, or skipping lunch altogether, for this evening and next Saturday to come?
They walked out, and at the corner, parted ways.
“I’ll see you tomorrow” Diana called.
“And next Saturday!” Bradley echoed in return making sure he had heard her correct and leaving nothing to chance. Diana smiled and nodded as Bradley worked hard not to swoon on the sidewalk right then and there.
Back at his apartment, Bradley flipped on the lights to find his botanical friend in dire straits. The leaves, if it were possible, seemed to have drooped more than before he had left. He’d never had plants or cats or dogs for that matter. He felt responsible for it though.
Over the next few days, in the morning and evening time, Bradley worked to keep the plant upright and with any luck, thrive a bit. He swung by a local garden shop near his office and bought a variety of houseplant fertilizer sticks, a small bag of gardening soil, a watering can and mister, a book on how to have a green thumb, and a bag of ladybugs in case there were mites. He had no idea what a mite might look like, but he wanted to be prepared. When he arrived home, he placed his gardening treasures onto his dining room table and set to work. He added fertilizer and soil. He grabbed his mayonnaise and a paper towel and rubbed the leaves till they shined. He gave it a thorough misting. He let loose the ladybugs on the leaves but that was a mistake. Ladybugs started flying everywhere in his apartment. Bradley shrieked as he opened the sliding glass door to let them fly free somewhere outside his four walls. Some of the ladybugs exited and a few stayed on the plant and other various surfaces in the apartment, but Bradley was in no mood to hunt ladybugs. By Friday, the plant looked a bit better than it had on Monday much to his relief.
Saturday afternoon Diana arrived, dressed in a citrus lime sheath and cream slingback heels. Gorgeous he thought.
“Can I come in?” Diana said with a smile.
Bradley blushed and said, “Entre-Vous mademoiselle” in his most cheesy French accent.
“Champagne?” He had a bucket of champagne on ice on the bar cabinet, his showpiece.
“Sure! Oh, is this the plant?” Diana strolled over and touched the leaves.
“Yes, this is it,” Bradley said handing her a glass of champagne in the process.
“It looks like a cross between a fiddle fig and a coleus or maybe a swiss cheese plant. It’s kind of sweet looking in an odd way.”
“Swiss cheese plant?”
“It’s a real thing, I promise.” Diana moved to sit in one of the chairs facing the sliding glass door and Bradley took a seat in the other.
“Your mother was a botanist?”
She sipped her champagne. “Mmhmm, yes, she was. She lived in Putney and was well known for her exotic and lethal collection of plants. Larkspur, foxglove, lilies of the valley. I was never into it.”
“I placed the bar cabinet over there to keep it out of the light.”
“Hmmm…it’s very nice.” Bradley beamed a bit at the acknowledgment.
“It’s such an odd plant. Like a hybrid or some Frankenstein-created monstrosity.”
“Oh, it’s not that bad, is it? I’ve grown rather attached to it already” he said with a wistful smile.
Diana stood up and stroked the leaves with her index finger and thumb. As he watched her, Bradley felt his pulse race. All of the sudden, a small swarm of ladybugs came out from the far side of the plant toward Diana. Not realizing what they were, she squealed and spun around trying to get them off her. Amid the squealing and waving at the air, she kicked her heel back into the glazed pearly plant pot.
Bradley almost knocked over all the books and periodicals on the modest reading table as he stood to help. The plant toppled in slow motion towards the floor in an epic death scene as dirt poured out slowly from the crack in the pot. Bradley didn’t know where to start. He ran to the kitchen and fetched a dustpan hoping to scoop up the dirt getting all over the floor. He tried to stand the plant back upright but that made matters worse as the pot strained under the shift in weight.
“What’s that?” Diana pointed at a metal box sitting in the dirt under the root ball in the glazed pearly pot. Bradley reached in and pulled it out. There was no label or writing. He wriggled it open to find a bag filled with ash. He dug within when he felt something hard like a pebble. Pulling it out, he dropped the bag on the floor.
“Is that a tooth? Oh my god please don’t tell me those are…. someone’s ashes.” Diana was visibly flustered and while Bradley could have thought of nothing better than to comfort her in his arms now was not the time.
“Call the police, would you?” he asked as he plopped the tooth back in the bag and curled down the bag edges as he closed the lid. They sat together until the police arrived and explained every moment since the plant had arrived until they had discovered the remains.
“We’ll need to take those with us to try and identify them,” the policeman said. Bradley nodded and handed him the box. Diana turned and thanked Bradley for a lovely time.
“Not exactly what I had planned.”
Diana smiled. “See you on Monday.”
As the long summer days passed Bradley had all but forgotten about the box. The night it all happened he found a stockpot in the back of his kitchen cabinets and filled it with dirt until he could get a new pot for his plant. He didn’t want to see it die and, in the days since, it had started to grow, its leaves were less droopy and the color a bit brighter albeit still holey. It was a surprise then on a Friday evening when an unexpected knock came at Bradley’s door.
“Hello.” Bradley opened the door to find the policeman who had taken the remains. “Come in. Do you have news?”
“We have. We thought you might be interested.” The two of them stood in the living room. “Those remains have been a part of a cold case. How they ended up at the bottom of that plant may always be a mystery. But we know who it was.”
“Who?” asked Bradley with a slight tone of exasperation.
The policeman referred to his notebook, “Anton Marcus Singleton.” Bradley went slack-jawed at the name.
“Uncle Anton? Dead? Cremated? Hidden away at the bottom of Mrs. Farnsworth’s plant?” He tried to puzzle it out but it was simply too much. “How?”
The policeman nodded. “Well, we tested the tooth, which was unusual to find with cremated remains, and ran a toxicology report along with the DNA test. We discovered that he had been poisoned with Larkspur. The last known location for Mr. Anton Singleton was in Vermont. Putney to be exact. Do you know anyone in Putney?”
Bradley thought. Where had he heard about Putney?
“No. No one comes to mind” he said as his heart pounded in his ears.
“No family? No friends?” the policeman continued.
“No. Our family is from Boston.” Bradley chuckled with a nervous breath.
“Your plant looks better.”
“Thanks.” Bradley walked him to the door and locked the top lock as soon as he was gone. He grabbed his phone and rang Diana.
“Diana. It’s Bradley. Any chance you’re free tonight?” He wiped the sweat off his upper lip as he waited for her response.
“Sure. What time?” They settled on seven-thirty pm.
Diana arrived in a lavender gingham tea-length dress. Bradley for a second forgot all he had learned earlier in the afternoon.
“I brought some crab dip and baguette and….” She looked at his face which had gone quite pale. “Are you alright? Sit down.” She motioned to the chair, setting down the basket of appetizer goodies.
At last, he gazed her in her eyes as he sipped the bourbon she had brought him and said, “Did you know him? Anton?”
“Why of course I knew Anton. He was a very close friend of my mother’s.”
“When?” He didn’t want to know but he couldn’t help asking.
“I was young. He was a fan of her garden and her beauty.” Diana sipped her bourbon as well.
“Were they? I mean, did he?” Bradley stammered as he tried to ask the obvious.
“Were they lovers?” Diana said with a lilt in her voice. “Yes, I believe they were. He left my mother in his will. Of course, she’s gone, but I’m still here.”
Bradley downed his bourbon and Diana reached for the bourbon she had brought along with the crab dip and baguette and poured him another glass. He sipped at that one as well feeling momentarily better.
“He’s family. Now that we have found his remains, his will with our lawyer will be settled out of probate.”
“Perhaps. But I don’t think you’ll be there to see it.” Diana breathed deeply as she brushed the hair out of her eyes. “You see the bar cabinet may make the man Bradley, but the larkspur in the bourbon will do him in.” She swallowed the rest of the bourbon in her glass and smiled.
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Amazing! Gotta love that ending!
Brilliant! Love the twist. Brava!
Poison Ivy indeed. I liked how you dispersed little nuggets of evidence along the way.
Oh my! I didn't see any of that coming! Very Well Done! I love it!