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Authors: Susan Sleeman

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Nipped in the Bud

BOOK: Nipped in the Bud
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Nipped in the Bud
Gardeg Gate Mystery [1]
Susan Sleeman
Barbour Books (2010)
Product Description


Life in full bloom, landscape designer, Paige Turner, scores her first landscaping contract to spruce up the park, her radio talk show shoots to number one, and her retail shop is simply blossoming. Yes, her life is a bed of roses. Until she finds City Manager, Bud Picklemann served up on the blade of her favorite shovel mere hours after she’s threatened to have his head on a platter, then the thorns come out. And there is none thornier than the local police chief declaring Paige the one and only suspect and threatening to plow her under.


Paige teams up with dashing attorney, Adam Hayes to weed through the list of suspects, and clear her soiled reputation. A bigmouthed Parrot who often spouts Mr. T-isms, and a giant pickle mascot join in quirky Paige’s quest to once again cultivate control of her life.

Spyglass Lane Mysteries presents:

Garden Gate Mysteries Book One

Nipped in the Bud





Copyright 2011 by Susan

Spyglass Lane Mysteries



Discover other Spyglass Lane titles at

Published in association with
Literary Inc., Portland, Oregon.


is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This
may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Chapter One

“This is
Davison, your host of KALM’s exciting new show,
Wacky World of Motorcycles,
hoping you’ll join us every Wednesday morning at ten and reminding you that Hogs, not dogs, are man’s best friend. Now we return to the locally acclaimed show,
Through the Garden Gate
, with host Paige Turner.”

“Weed Whacker!
You can’t possibly want to kill your husband!” I yelled into the boom microphone and looked for advice from my producer and best friend Lisa Winkle.

Tucked safely in her little booth adjoining mine, Lisa shrugged and twirled her finger in our signal that meant I should say something before dead air killed the show.

I shook my head. Her finger picked up speed as if she possessed the power to spin me around and force words from my mouth. But what could I say? What could an unmarried gardening expert know about killing a husband?

“Paige, are you there?” Weed Whacker’s tone bordered on desperation, elevating my concern.

I gave up on Lisa offering any assistance and punched the mute button then searched through the middle drawer of the ancient metal desk. If I could locate the station’s talk show schedule, I could refer Weed Whacker to the self-help program.

“Paige,” Lisa said through my headset. “What are you doing? We can’t have dead air like this.”

“You’re not helping,” I said. Words from my mother with her many years of advice, my pastor’s weekly sermons, and God, already fought for space in my head. I had no room for anything Lisa was saying. I punched the button again and adjusted the mike. “Perhaps you would like to call into our self-help show. If you hold on, my producer will give you the broadcast time.”

“Please, Paige. I can’t wait. I need your advice.”

“Don’t do anything drastic,” I blurted before she changed her mind, disconnected, and did something crazy. Eyes on the drawer, my fingers fumbled around for the laminated schedule. If I gave the wrong advice, how would I recover from being implicated in a murder? “There has to be an amiable solution to your problem.”

She sighed. “We’re way past working things out.
bad enough I have to do all the yard work myself, but to face the same thing inside the house? I’m losing it, Paige. I tell you, I’m losing it. I’m so tired of my husband sprouting up every Sunday in the same place, just like the weeds you described.”

I gave up on the search for the schedule and closed my eyes to think. Weed Whacker needed a counselor, not someone like me who only knew how to handle a plant’s 911.
. .counselor. I was a peer counselor in college. If I remembered right, I should repeat what I heard the distraught person saying so she’d know I was listening.

I cleared my throat, a no-no on radio, and charged ahead. “I can certainly empathize with your concerns, Weed Whacker. I understand that your husband pops up in the recliner every Sunday and watches football games. And yes, technically, this type of sprouting in an unwanted place week after week, no matter the effort you put in to stop it, sounds like most weeds.” I raised my fist in the air and shook it in victory over my professional counselor speak.

“Paige, please. I called for advice, not to hear you repeat everything I say.”

I slowly lowered my arm and gave in. If my suggestions ended with my incarceration, so be it. “If you need my advice, then I must caution you. This morning we’ve discussed two successful methods of removing weeds. The first is digging a
the width of the crown and pulling roots and all from the soil. The second is applying one of the many available herbicides on the market. We both agree your husband might be exhibiting weed like tendencies. Still, I must ask you to think long and hard about removing this particular species. If you have no other choice but to act, I recommend the plucking method, as the use of herbicides in this particular application could be misconstrued as murder.”

As my words aged on the airwaves like a pile of compost, I cut my gaze to Lisa. She slashed her hand across her throat, either telling me I was dead or to wrap it up. I chose to believe the second one. Barely able to contain my joy over the end of this Monday morning disaster of a show, I nearly shot up like a daffodil on a warm spring day. Weed Whacker was our last caller, and if another show tanked like this one had, she could be the last caller—ever. I needed to stick with plants. They didn’t conspire to kill each other. Sure, some of them were more aggressive than others, choking out their neighbors, but unlike Weed Whacker, their wayward tendencies were never premeditated.

Oops, right. Weed Whacker. I needed to close the show.

“Thank you for calling, Weed Whacker. I hope my advice has been helpful. Unfortunately we’re out of time.” I dug deep for my cheery broadcaster’s voice. “Thank you for listening. Join me again tomorrow at nine as we take another trip
Through the Garden Gate.
Be sure to stay tuned for
Success Serendipity Style,
where host Tim
brings you up to date on all the exciting activities planned for this weekend’s Pickle Fest.
But first, Ollie Grayson and the
Farm to Market Report

I flipped the switch that kicked off the prerecorded agriculture show and tossed my headset onto the desk.

“And we’re clear,” Lisa shouted, like some big-time producer, though it was just the two of us in a closet-sized studio.

On my feet, I charged toward her and kicked open the door separating our work spaces. “Where are all these
coming from, and why aren’t you screening them out?”

“Maybe it takes a wacko host to attract wacko callers,” Lisa said with a slight shrug of her perfectly postured shoulders. She turned away and shoved a manila folder titled
into one of the many file cabinets lining the walls.

Mouth hanging open, I watched her work. She’d effectively called me a nut job but seemed oblivious to my rage. The space was so small she had to stand to the side of the open file drawer to wedge another folder into the back. Perspiration sprinkled her face from an hour spent in the airless room. Her mouth wasn’t puckered in a sneer or flopping open in a big goofy laugh.

Lisa was serious. She really
think I was as wacky as my callers. I sighed much like Weed Whacker had. Lisa looked up.

“What?” She laughed and slammed the drawer. “All I’m saying is if you didn’t give such flaky advice, we might attract a different kind of listener.”

I’m the one who has to come up with something to say on the spur of the moment when these nut-jobs phone in. All you do is sit back and make gestures with your hands.” I yanked my backpack from the shelf behind her and pulled out my lip balm. Between the hours I spent gardening and licking my lips in nervousness for the last thirty minutes, they were as rough as my show had been.

“I do my job the best I can, and if you don’t like it, fire me.” Lisa pulled her crisply ironed jacket off the back of her chair and flicked me an irate look before exiting. My five-foot-three dynamo of a friend rushed down the long hall to the front entrance as fast as her fuchsia colored flip-flops allowed. I tromped behind, wondering how the two of us were going to get through the next three hours working on my landscaping job if all we could do was bicker.

I’d decline her free labor and send her home, but this was my first big project since I included landscape design in the services offered by my shop, The Garden Gate. I’d just landed a big fat juicy contract with the city of
, to renovate the play area and otherwise spruce up the park. Once the Pickle Fest visitors saw my professional work, they were sure to sign up at my booth for a little renovation of their own yards.

No. No way I’d let one of our many little tiffs blow my big opportunity.

I caught up to Lisa, who studied a chipped fingernail as she tapped her flip-flops in a snapping sound on the asphalt beside my Ford 150. I unlocked the passenger door and waited for Her Highness to slide onto the seat before slamming the door. From a
, or whatever they called those designer purses with the squiggly little marks etched into the
she pulled out a bag of sunflower seeds and attacked the tiny morsels.

I climbed behind the wheel and nudged her elbow. Eyes downcast, she ignored me and chewed a seed. Maybe I really had hurt her feelings. I’d been a bit testy since signing on to do this job with such a short deadline. The park renovation had to be completed by sundown on Thursday to set up for the opening of Pickle Fest. The whole community was counting on me.

So, testy or not, I needed my friend more than ever right now. That meant I needed to apologize. “Sorry for getting so mad at you. It’s not your fault these people end up on the air.”

“Don’t you know
” She snapped her fingers near my face then popped another seed into her mouth and grinned like the Cheshire cat.

“You weren’t really mad, were you?”

Her grin widened, giving her the impish look that her twins had when they were up to no good. “So, did I tell you about the problem at the girls’ preschool?”

“What problem?” I shifted into drive and hoped Lisa’s kids weren’t implicated in the current disaster. Last week her daughter Lori sneaked into the bathroom with the class hamster to see if he could swim. Fortunately, he could, but the teacher wasn’t too happy about returning a toilet-bowl-swimming hamster to the classroom.

“Well, don’t tell anyone, but they’ve got lice.
A big ole breakout of lice.”
She graphically described the painstaking process of shampooing then using a fine-toothed comb to remove the little nits from her daughters’ lovely blond hair.

I stifled a groan and said, “
” in all the right spots as she talked, but really, her fixation with these gross childhood stories was getting to be too much. The entire drive to the studio she’d yammered on about potty training mishaps and ear infections. A single, thirty-four–year-old woman like
should never be subjected to these gruesome topics. Not if there was any hope that I would aid in the future population of the human race.

“Once you have the little buggers free,” Lisa said in a tone she usually reserved for BOGO sales, “the rest is simple. You just drop them in the liquid medicine and flush it all down the toilet.”

“Aw, c’mon.
Please tell me they’re dead by then? Or do they live on and on, waiting to pounce on some unsuspecting person?” I stabbed my ragged fingernails into the spot right below my ponytail and scratched away.

She swatted at my arm. “You’re not taking this seriously. You can’t imagine the trauma of discovering your child has lice.”

“I can’t even imagine the trauma of discovering I have a child.” I gave one last scratch then turned left at
First Avenue
and pulled the truck into the empty lot at the park. The lot rarely held many cars, as most businesses, including The Garden Gate and the radio station, were within five blocks of the town center, where the park was located. Lisa and I would have walked to the park if the job hadn’t required a ton of tools. Tools we needed to move to the job site if I was going to meet the deadline. “How about forgetting your Lice
for a while and helping me unload the tools?”

Without a word, but with copious sighs, Lisa changed into beat-up sneakers then trudged alongside me, hauling shovels, rakes, and clippers to the play area. Whenever my hand was free, I pawed at the back of my head for imaginary lice. I needed to get the creepy crawlies out of my mind and get to work.

Today we would remove the old mulch from under the play structure. Tomorrow I would enlarge and deepen the fall zone. Despite my rush to get started, I could still appreciate the typical Northwest setting as we entered the playground section of the park. Tall swaying pines dotted garden beds that lined three sides of the area, hiding it from the traffic on Oak, one of the main retail streets in town, and home to my apartment located above the pharmacy.

After I applied my loving touch, the neglected garden beds filled with native
plants would be more in keeping with the healthy lawn adjoining the play area.
A quaint
old refreshment stand and picnic tables sat in the center of the clearing. Of course, Serendipity, home of the annual Pickle Fest, couldn’t resist sprinkling bright green trash cans in the shape of dill pickles across the park. They were stamped with the slogan, Listen to Briny. Keep our park shiny. Briny, the town’s mascot, showed up not only at the annual celebration, but at other events as well. I found it rather odd to see a child snuggle up to a giant pickle, but my fellow residents loved him.

“Hey,” I said as we made our final trip. “Did you do that?”

“Do what?”

I pointed at the heavy zip ties I’d used to secure the temporary fence after I installed it around the play area yesterday. They were scattered on the ground in tiny neon fragments. “Did you cut those?”

“Don’t look at me.”

With fingers once again wiggling over the back of my head, I stared at the gaping hole as if looking at it would clear up the mystery.

“Are we here to work, or are you just
stand there scratching?” Lisa pulled on her gloves and walked through the hole I was gaping at, grabbed my short blue-handled shovel, and started tossing mulch onto a tarp.

Normally, I would have rushed into the enclosure and hefted my shovel before she did, but I couldn’t get past the cut ties. I glanced around the park as if I would find the scissors-wielding culprit. I found a culprit, all right, but probably not the one who cut the ties.

“Check that out.” I pointed through the trees toward the
Main Street
entrance. “Today’s topic on weeds was right on target. Here comes the two-legged variety.” I said weed, but technically, I’d dubbed our city manager, Bud
, a globe thistle.

Not that he was special or anything. I gave everyone I knew a plant name. Case in point, Lisa, my perfect little Shasta daisy, rested her shovel and swiveled around to watch Bud storm across the lush green grass.
If divided regularly,
could be counted on to flower season after season.
Plus their creamy white color complements most flowers around them. Like the Shasta, Lisa’s personality is a perfect complement to mine, and I counted on her for the support I lost when my mother passed away.

Lisa looked up and rolled her eyes. “Great. Wonder what our fearless leader wants?”

“If his body language is any indication, I’m in for it.” To me, Bud’s clenched fists and red face were just outward signs that he was living up to his globe thistle name—a prickly, troublesome weed, whose painful barbs kept people at a distance. But I hadn’t a clue what set him off today. “He can’t be mad about this project yet. All I’ve done is put up a fence. That’s not enough to cause this kind of reaction.”

“If you’d listened to me,
for once
,” Lisa’s face grew smug, a look I’d learned to fear yet rarely reacted appropriately to, “you’d have expected this. I told you it’s never a good idea to work with a man whose wife would do anything to get back at you.”

“And if you’d listened to
, you’d know that I think Rachel has forgotten all about our little misunderstanding.”

“Hah!” Lisa pointed a gloved finger at me. “You don’t steal Rachel’s prom date and not live to regret it.”

“I did not steal Todd from her. He didn’t even ask her to prom. She just thought he was going to take her.”

“As did the whole school.”

“So what?
That was seventeen years ago.
Water under the bridge.”
I glanced at Bud. Wearing a short-sleeved white shirt cinched at the neck with a narrow black tie, he surged toward me like a bamboo shoot on a garden-conquering rampage. Was Lisa right? Was Bud planning on taking revenge for his still-embarrassed wife?
No way.

I turned back to her. “Even if Rachel wants Bud to fire me, he can’t. The city council signed my contract.”

“He can make things difficult for you.”

I could do this job in my sleep.” After twelve years in the landscaping business in
, I’d hoped my first job in Serendipity would be more challenging, but I believed this was only the first step. I pointed at the playground. “This project is cut and dried. How can Bud mess with that?”

“Okay, Miss Know It All. If everything’s so simple, why’s he glaring at you?”

“Doesn’t matter.
I’m doing this job no matter what. It’s going to get me the public exposure I need.” Bud picked up speed, and I hoped I’d be able to stand behind my words when he arrived.

My eyes locked on Lisa’s. We stared at each other as we often did when we hit an impasse. She was shorter by a good seven inches but made up for her height impairment in attitude. We frequently found ourselves nearly
it out until something happened to make us laugh it off.

Bud wouldn’t be the source of our humor today. His huffing and puffing arrival, as if he intended to blow my house down, guaranteed that. “Take a hike, Lisa,” he grumbled. “I need to talk to Paige. Alone.”

Lisa wrinkled her nose at him and stabbed her shovel into the soil. The bright blue handle wobbled back and forth as she came over to me and leaned close. “Watch your back,” she whispered. “Or you might be exposed in ways you never dreamed.” In full voice, and with a glare for Bud, she said, “I’ll head over to your shop and get a cup of coffee. Call me when he’s through.”

“Thanks for the help.” I glanced at my watch.
. If I was lucky, Bud would only snipe at me for a few minutes, and Lisa and I could get back to work.

As if he’d read my mind, Bud didn’t wait for Lisa to get far before he turned on me. “Well, you’ve done it, Paige, just like I predicted you would. I knew you’d mess up. Just didn’t think you’d mess up this fast.”

Caught off guard by the vehemence in his tone, I mouthed, “Huh?”

“Yesterday, someone saw kids playing inside this poor excuse for a safety fence.” He grabbed the top slat of the orange plastic and shook it until his face turned red from the exertion. Unfortunately for him, all he succeeded in doing was making his long comb-over flap up and down. “We can’t have kids on a construction site.”

BOOK: Nipped in the Bud
11.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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