Authors: Joyce,Jim Lavene
Tags: #Mystery, #Poison, #Women Sleuths, #Gardening
Joyce and Jim Lavene
A Peggy Lee Garden Mystery
Book coach and editor—Jeni Chappelle
Copyright © 2015 Joyce and Jim Lavene
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission from the author. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the authors’ rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
Table of Contents
The first rhododendron to be classified and named was the Alpine Rose. It was discovered by the 16th century Flemish botanist, Charles l'Ecluse and introduced to Britain in 1656. The Japanese were raising rhododendron hybrids in the 17th century, known as Satsuki Azaleas today.
At four-twelve a.m., Peggy Lee’s cell phone buzzed.
She sighed, turned over, and tried to go back to sleep.
“Don’t you need to get that?” her husband, Steve, asked in a husky whisper.
“No. It’s Sam’s turn to find out if a bird flew into a window at the garden shop and apologize to the police for bringing them out for nothing.” She patted his side. “It’s early. We don’t have to get up yet.”
He put his arm around her. “Not
early.” He kissed the side of her neck. “We could be awake but not get up.”
She turned back to him with a smile. “But you have that conference today. You’ll be exhausted if you don’t go back to sleep.”
Steve drew her closer. “So I’ll be tired, but it’ll be worth it.”
Peggy kissed him, but her cell phone sounded again—this time ringing.
“That can’t be good.” She picked up her phone from the bedside table. Sam Ollson’s face came up on the screen. He was her partner at their garden shop, The Potting Shed. “Good morning. I guess something big happened.”
“You have to get down here, Peggy. You’re never gonna believe this.” Sam didn’t give anything away.
“Okay. I know you wouldn’t do this to me if it wasn’t important.” She yawned, and put down her cell phone. “I’ve gotta go to the shop, Steve. I guess I’ll see you later. Rain check?”
“You bet.” He kissed her slowly. “Definitely rain check. What’s up?”
She had already slipped away and was finding clothes to wear. “I don’t know. But you know how unflappable Sam is. It must be bad for him to want me down there too.”
Peggy hurriedly pulled on jeans and a green Potting Shed T-shirt. She brushed her white tinged red locks and rolled her expressive green eyes at her image before she stuck her feet in sandals, grabbed her handbag, and went downstairs.
Her Great Dane, Shakespeare, followed her every move with an inquisitive look on his intelligent face.
“Sorry.” She patted his massive head. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. You can come next time. Steve will let you out before he leaves today if I’m not back in time.”
He made a soft whining sound and pushed at her hand with his nose. She bent and kissed him goodbye before she walked out the door.
Even though Sam was Peggy’s partner, The Potting Shed was
baby. She’d opened it with her first husband’s life insurance policy and every penny she could scrape together. He’d been killed working as a homicide detective for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
John Lee had a strong affinity for growing things, as Peggy did. It had been their joint dream to open an urban garden center in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina. After his death, she’d put all their resources into getting the business going. It had been lean at first, but as the years passed, she’d developed a strong customer base.
Sam had come onboard later after working for her for a few years. His participation in the landscaping part of their business was flourishing and had been vital to the shop staying alive.
Peggy pulled her car in the parking area behind The Potting Shed. The shop was located in Brevard Court behind Historical Latta Arcade. It looked as though every light was on inside the shop. Dozens of blue and white police cars were parked on the street.
Her heart pounded as she realized that this was no random incident. Something big had happened that could be disastrous to her livelihood.
Sam met her at the stairs. Two stern police officers that she didn’t recognize held out their hands to keep her from joining him.
“It’s okay, guys,” Sam said. “This is the owner of the shop. Let her through.”
They moved aside with curt nods in her direction.
Peggy sighed as she realized how many new police officers didn’t know her from John’s time on the force. Every time she went to the downtown office where he had once worked, there were always officers she’d never met. It felt odd and still slightly unreal to her even though he had been dead for many years.
“What happened?” she whispered to Sam as he put his hand on her arm to help her up the metal stairs that crawled along the side of the old red brick building.
Sam was a big man, more than six feet tall, with massive shoulders and a broad chest. He’d always been large, but years of hard physical labor had made him more muscled. He wore his long blond hair tied away from his handsome face and bright blue eyes, a gentle soul who loved plants as much as Peggy.
“Someone broke into The Potting Shed.”
“What did they take? I closed last night. There was only about a hundred dollars in the register. I suppose they got the laptop.”
On the steel landing that met the open door, Sam stopped and stared earnestly into her face. “I don’t know if I can prepare you for this or not. I almost lost it when I walked in and saw everything. Just remember, we have insurance. Okay?”
She was even more afraid after his warning. What could be in there that Sam would be so upset about? He never lost it—well, almost never.
They walked in through the back door which led into the storage area where large bags of peat moss and heavy items like shovels, wheelbarrows, and the like were kept. Sam also stored live plants here for landscaping the next day. She knew he had a large job coming up with one of the million-dollar houses on Queens Road.
Peggy gasped when she saw the devastation. Every plant and shrub that Sam had purchased for the job had been hacked to pieces. Dirt and plant matter were scattered everywhere. Dozens of rhododendrons had been destroyed. Not a single thing was spared. There was nothing usable left of the expensive shipment.
She blinked back tears, as much from her amazement that anyone could do such a thing as her monetary loss. Sam was right. They had insurance that would cover this. The job would have to be put off. The customer wouldn’t like it, but they’d get through it.
“It looks like someone just went crazy in here,” Sam said. “Lucky for me that Mrs. Hood is a very nice and understanding lady. She’ll be willing to give me time to order more plants for her yard.”
. The heart of pine floors squeaked as they walked across them into the front of the shop from the storage area. Everywhere they looked was complete chaos and destruction.
“I’m so sorry about this,” Sergeant Eve Malcolm said when she saw Peggy. “Sam said he didn’t think anything was actually missing. There’s still money in the cash drawer. It looks like this was just serious vandalism.”
Peggy knew Eve well. She’d been a rookie just starting out when John was still alive.
“I don’t understand how so much damage was done.” Peggy looked at her broken rocking chair. Every shelf had been emptied and smashed to pieces. Each box of fertilizer and plant spikes were destroyed too. Everything was gone. “As soon as the person broke in, the security alarm should’ve been activated. They wouldn’t have had enough time to do all this.”
“I’ve made a note of that.” Eve’s dark eyes glanced at Sam. “We don’t know the answer to that yet. We were actually alerted to the break-in by one of your neighbors in the shops. We never got word from the alarm company.”
Sam walked over to the front door. “You can see someone wanted to make a statement with this.”
Peggy examined the wood and glass door that looked as though it had been hit with an axe or a sledgehammer. The lights were on at The Kozy Kettle Tea and Coffee Emporium across the courtyard. No doubt she had her friends and neighbors Emil and Sofia Balducci to thank for alerting the police. They were in early every morning to bake their wonderful pastries for the day.
“This doesn’t seem like something a few teenagers did for fun,” Peggy remarked.
“I know some raunchy teenagers who do things a lot worse than this,” Eve confided, her dark hair cut in a pageboy style swinging in front of her face as she moved. “I’ll definitely check with the alarm company though. All of you here in the arcade use the same company, don’t you?”
Sam lifted the smashed alarm touchpad that had been severed and dropped to the floor. “This should’ve activated an immediate response.”
Eve acknowledged his concern. “We’ll get to the bottom of this, Sam. I promise. For now, make a good inventory of your losses, and contact your insurance company. I’ll get back with you after we’ve processed the scene and I have some answers from the alarm company.
She handed Peggy and Sam business cards. “If you think of anyone who could have done this—maybe a competitor or a disgruntled employee—let me know.”
There were two men and a woman wearing crime scene jump suits already searching through the rubble for clues. They nodded to Peggy.
The only thing that had remained intact was Peggy’s pond. The little pond was still full of water. All the expensive water plants had been yanked out and strewn around the room. Even the seven pretty koi had been taken out of the water and left to die on the floor.
“I don’t think they got the lizard, do you?” Peggy carefully searched around the pond, but there was no sign of the lizard that lived there, alive or dead. She took a ragged breath, and wiped her eyes.
Sam put his arm around her. “There’s nothing we can do here right now.”
“Eve said we should do inventory. I’ll look for paper and a pen.”
“Let’s get out of here and let them work. We can come back later and do inventory. I don’t know about you, but I could use a cup of coffee. I’ll make you some tea, and we’ll be okay.”
She nodded, not trusting herself to speak. “You’re right. Let’s go home.”
Also known as the Christmas rose. The black hellebore is a perennial with dark, smooth leaves and white blossoms that are a favorite in gardens. It is deadly poisonous, thus its Greek origins, elein (to injure) and bora (food).
They went back to Peggy’s house on Queens Road. The lights were on inside. Steve was walking Shakespeare in the early spring chill.
Most of the old houses that surrounded theirs in the historic Myer’s Park area were dark and quiet. A few cars had begun their workday traffic patterns, hustling into the downtown area of the city.
When Peggy saw Steve and Shakespeare, she wiped her eyes and held it together long enough to tell him what she’d found at the shop. Sam’s voice wavered, too, as he added to her story.
Steve Newsome was Peggy’s second husband. She’d been alone for years when she’d met him. She never expected to marry again. How could she find a man that she’d love as she had loved John?
But while John and Steve were very different—and Steve was ten years younger than her—love had found her again in the form of this vibrant man.
He immediately put his arms around her and held her tightly. “I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do?”
Sam shook his head, rubbing his nose with his hand. “I don’t think so. The FBI doesn’t look into vandalism, do they?”