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Authors: Ann Ripley

Summer Garden Murder (28 page)

BOOK: Summer Garden Murder
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36
L
ee Downing tapped his forehead, trying to remember who that general was in the Vietnam War known for proclaiming that he was beginning to “see the light at the end of the tunnel.” Ah, yes, his excellent memory prevailed. It was Westmoreland. However, the general had been wrong about that war, because America didn't win it. But Lee was going to win his little war. Indeed, he could see light at the end of the tunnel, a flood of light.
Granted, he'd been through a bad patch recently. Outside of a little fun he'd had with Mike Cunningham and those party girls, the month he'd spent in Washington, D.C., had been a nightmare. To be cheated so royally by two other businessmen had made him lose some of the faith he had in himself; it had shaken him to his roots.
But things were looking up. His two adversaries were dead. Now it seemed as though he'd get out of this SEC mess with a fine—a huge fine, but a fine was better than going to court any day.
Getting the SEC off his back left him free to deal with Peter Hoffman's widow. The woman was sitting on millions, but several of those millions were his. If she had a reasonable attorney, they ought to be able to settle, especially if a mediator was brought in. The outcome of this messy Hoffman Arms deal was extraordinary. To think that both Hoffman and Cunningham were removed from the scene by a mere girl! So much better than if he'd been stuck with getting rid of the two. Of course, he would have had no hesitation in doing so. Peter Hoffman was already dead by the time he'd figured out the extent of the scam. Lee was about a day away from calling in his muscle men to get rid of the other cheating bastard, Cunningham. But Hilde Brunner—or whatever her real name was—did it for him.
Hoffman's little blond wife shouldn't be that much trouble. After all, she was only a woman. Then, with a twinge in his chest, he remembered Hilde, who was also only a woman.
How had she fooled them all? She'd murdered swiftly and smoothly, and almost gotten away with it. Had it not been for Louise Eldridge's constant little pickings at the scab, no one would have known who'd killed the two men, and Lee would have remained under suspicion. So he could thank the Eldridge woman for that much.
The twinge faded, and he began to feel more confident. He had nothing to fear from Phyllis Hoffman except a prolonged lawsuit.
 
 
Phyllis Hoffman sat straight-backed on the living room couch, a couch that would soon be given to the Goodwill. A pad and pen were on her lap, for when one moved one's household, one needed a list. She wrote down “Buy new house,” “Set date for moving,” “Get movers,” “Buy new furniture.” Fortunately for her, after Mike Cunningham's demise, Peter's and her mansion was available again. The realtor was holding it for her.
But first things first. She'd close on the house soon, but she didn't intend to get into the mundane job of sorting and moving her household effects until she found out what Lee Downing was up to. Mort Swanson had warned her that Downing might act fairly quickly, suing Peter's estate to get compensated for overpaying for Hoffman Arms.
Phyllis stared out into the street and thought about the possibilities. She could settle with Downing. That might be the best way, since it seemed Peter had generous offshore accounts to be dipped into. Mort would prefer this, of course, instead of having to fight it out in court.
If the man became a major pest and wanted too much, Phyllis had another recourse. She could call up her Russian friend Sophie. Seeming to know that Phyllis had lots of challenges since Peter's death, Sophie had approached her again with some enticing details. She'd said that her brother was a sophisticated man. He didn't only work on the East Coast. He traveled in his job and was perfectly willing to follow someone home to West Texas to get the task done.
A GARDENING ESSAY
WILLING VOLUNTEERS IN THE GARDEN
V
olunteers among the human population are special people who step up and help others who need them, easing their suffering and making their lives more enjoyable. Volunteers among the plant population are much the same. They spread themselves around our gardens and yards, making our labor less arduous and at the same time brightening our lives. They are particularly helpful to the busy gardener, the lazy gardener and the gardener with emerging back problems. They're less suited to the neatnik gardener, for a garden where volunteers have their way can get out of hand unless carefully controlled.
We're talking here not only about plants that seed themselves or otherwise manage to move themselves to other places in the garden, but also those that enlarge themselves through root, tuber or bulb development, multiplying themselves from one plant into a drift of plants.
Some varieties need little encouragement in these natural processes of nature, but the best environment in which to generate volunteer plants is a soil with good tilth that has been nurtured with compost and fertilizer.
Plants that seed themselves can provide constant surprises. Imagine how you might feel to see your garden turn scarlet in the spring. This can happen if you allow the beautiful deep red seedlings of the herb red orach to spring up unchecked. It is just one of scores of self-seeding plants that will make your garden a constantly changing delight. Scores of colorful volunteers will emerge if you allow even one plant go to seed in the fall. Seedlings can be thinned, with extra plants going to friends and relatives. Or you could leave a patch of them to grow up through various dramatic stages into a five-foot-high red jungle!
Similarly, chartreuse will predominate should you let dill spread in your garden and artistically fill in the spaces between such perennials as lilies, clematis and roses. In maturity, they have a lacy splendor that can't be rivaled. Shake a packet of seeds onto a patch of garden, and you'll create enough potential dill plants to last for years. Plants will not only reseed, but spread far and wide.
Another willing garden volunteer is the beautiful bronze variety of the fennel plant. It will reappear vigorously from seed in your garden. With its fine filigree foliage, the plant grows five feet tall and, best of all, will attract the parsley worm. Gardeners in the know will plant both fennel and dill for the express purpose of attracting this creature. The parsley worm is fetching, with white, yellow and black stripes. When disturbed, it has a cunning defense weapon. It pulls up a Y-shaped horn from behind its head that emanates a rancid-butter smell and discourages its enemies' approach. But the magical thing about it is that it turns into the swallowtail butterfly. And there is nothing like having beauteous butterflies fluttering through the garden in late summer.
The beauty of letting herbs such as dill and fennel prosper in the garden is that they're handy to be harvested for culinary purposes. There's nothing nicer than going out to snip off plant tops to put in a green sauce or a salad.
Those who wish to be spared the job of thinning seedlings should remember this simple rule: deadhead the seedpods that form on your plants, and you'll have few seedlings. The prudent gardener allows a few seedpods to mature and disperse, removing the rest.
To control those plants that spread by root growth, use the murderous overhead ax method. This easy way of dividing plants works especially well with tough clumps of iris, aster or polygonum.
Few plants exceed the snapdragon in range of color. It willingly reseeds itself, sometimes cross-pollinating and creating new color tones of surprising subtlety. After a couple of years, plants in these special hues may disappear, never to be seen in that exact shade again. Another good thing about snaps is that deer don't seem to like them as part of their diet.
For vigor, nothing exceeds the cosmos. One packet of seeds is all you need to have a lifetime of cosmos plants. This annual is not fussy about soil, and it comes in a variety of colors—the familiar white, pink and rose, as well as vibrant orange shades and the new chocolate-hued plant. The same is true of sunflowers, which, with their bold blossoms, make colorful punctuation marks in the perennial border.
Some wildflowers will positively wallow in good garden soil. One example is the native white yarrow, with its filigree foliage and rather insignificant flowers. A few clumps of it add special grace to a garden's texture. Garden experts might sniff to hear that volunteers such as native yarrow are allowed in one's garden, for they deplore this lack of discipline and even term some of these plants weeds. Yet, one gardener's weed is another gardener's treasure. Grasses such as miscanthus will also spread, given the right environment. This is another case where control is needed.
It is always good to have a groundcover willing to spread and proliferate. Among the willing are wooly thyme, snow-in-summer, creeping phlox and basket-of-gold. They like to go places and clamber over rocks, and in so doing make a wonderful show. Think twice, however, about letting English ivy loose, remembering that it has roots as tough as steel. In contrast, other plants with shallower roots can be removed with a quick swipe of the gardener's gloved hand.
Volunteer plants work their wonders in shade gardens, too. A patch of
Anemone sylvestris
, with its twelve-inch-high white nodding flowers, will grow bigger and more handsome year after year, as will plants such as May apples. So will prominent-leaved hosta plants and little beauties like grape hyacinths. The columbine is another reliable self-seeder.
Oriental poppies proliferate over time, until eventually from just one poppy you will have a field of poppies. Of course, we all know about iris and how they reproduce, sometimes so rapidly that they overwhelm us with their needs. These plants need division about every three years and should be reset with space between them on rich little mounds of soil.
Another robust grower that spreads both through roots and seed is lamb's ears or
Stachys byzantina
. Its gray, fuzzy leaves make a nice contrast to green-leaved plants and look splendid when teamed with pink roses. When it volunteers in some offbeat place, you can just let it grow unless it threatens to smother another nearby valuable specimen.
The tall, well-structured plume poppy (
Macleaya microcarpa
), which does well in many parts of the country, is as architecturally pleasing as a plant can be. It has large, handsome, lobed leaves, grows about five feet tall and produces pale peach flowers in late summer. As an additional bonus, it volunteers readily, popping up here and there by virtue of its long, horizontal roots. But still it does not overwhelm the place.
The plume poppy's leaves are classier, but similar in contour to the hollyhock's. Unlike the hollyhock, they are not prone to rust and bug injury. Yet hollyhocks have their place in the volunteer-oriented garden bed, too. They are among the most dependable volunteers, springing up in odd and delightful situations—and sometimes exactly where you don't want them. They deserve to live until and unless their leaves begin to deteriorate. Then, you can just chop them down. Newer hollyhock strains, incidentally, do not seem as sensitive to insect damage.
If volunteer plants appear in places where they are not needed or welcome, don't forget your fellow gardeners. While some variety may be proliferating in your garden bed, a friend or neighbor might be longing for some of these plants. Extra volunteers can be moved, given away, or thrown into the compost pile.
And you can purchase plants with the express purpose of having them spread and take over a portion of your landscape. It's always a challenging experiment. And a gardener who doesn't mind being surprised in the spring will love being part of it.
Please turn the page for an exciting
sneak peek at Ann Ripley's
DEATH IN THE ORCHID GARDEN
coming in hardcover in November 2006!
1
Late Wednesday afternoon
 
L
ouise Eldridge floated on her back and gazed up at the rustling dead fronds of the palms overhead. In this state of casual dishabille, the trees looked like ladies who'd failed to comb their long, tan hair. She smiled contentedly, for her favorite daydream had always been floating in a lagoon in a tropical jungle. Now here she was, the daydream a reality. Except
this
lagoon was put together like a Hollywood movie set, one of the amenities of Kauai's premier luxury hotel, Kauai-by-the-Sea, where she'd checked in a scant hour ago.
The heart of the lagoon was a big, shallow pond with a man-made sand beach designed for families with small children. From it branched out several isolated channels and deep pools. She'd sought out and found the most remote one for her solitary swim. Around her arose an imported jungle of palms and lacy casuarina trees, Norfolk pines as tall as a five-story building, giant-armed monkey-pods, blazing philosophy trees, and snakelike cactus growing on random walls. Ringing the lagoon itself were splotches of croton, ginger, plumeria, guava, ficus, and hibiscus.
She knew all the plant names, because she'd studied them before she left home. It was her business, since she was host of the PBS garden show,
Gardening with Nature
, in Washington, D.C.
Louise turned over and dove far down into the water's green depths, emerging in the middle of the pool. In her high-cut navy blue speed suit, she easily crossed the pool in six strokes, then headed down a connecting stream into still another breathtakingly beautiful tropical scene. From the promotional literature at the check-in desk, she knew that she could swim two miles in this serpentine waterway that lay between the Art Deco–style hotel on the one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. In all, she traversed three serene, flower-bedecked ponds without meeting another swimmer. She swam back to the first pool, then flipped over on her back again. Floating as if dead, she closed her eyes in total relaxation and nearly drifted off to sleep.
Suddenly something slammed hard into her shoulder. The impact threw her underwater and for a moment she was filled with terror. Had she run across some large sea monster that she hadn't been warned about when preparing for her trip to Hawaii?
She reemerged sputtering and flapping her arms to regain her balance. “Augh!” she yelled and looked into the amused blue eyes of a big, barrel-chested man. Masses of white hair stuck to his head like bits of plaster. Even his massive white eyebrows were in disarray, looking like dollops of meringue. He reached out his huge arms to help support her and they trolled together in the middle of the lagoon like two bobbing tops.
“My dear, I'm so terribly sorry,” he boomed. “Are you hurt?”
She was still gasping for breath. “No, I don't think so.”
“I wasn't paying the least attention to where I was going,” he said. Despite the water cascading off his well-formed face, she recognized him from the photos sent to her with his vitae. The sea monster was Dr. Bruce Bouting. He was a plant explorer and owner of Bouting Horticulture, the biggest company of its kind in North America. His presence here at this elite botanical conference was one of the reasons she'd come to Kauai.
“Dr. Bouting?”
“Yes, my dear. And you are ...”
“I'm Louise Eldridge,” she said and noticed that he still held her with his ham hands. “You can let me go. I'm all right.”
Bobbing on his own now, he pointed a finger at her and gave her a slightly puzzled look. “Louise Eldridge? I'm beginning to recognize you, too. You're the TV garden show lady.”
“Yes. My producer and his wife and my cohost are already at the conference cocktail party on the terrace. But I needed a swim more than a drink after flying five thousand miles.”

Aloha
, my dear,” and he reached out a big hand and shook hers, formally, as if they were at the party going on a few hundred feet and a few artificial waterfalls away. “I'm so looking forward to being on your show ... uh, what's it called?”

Gardening with Nature.
It originates from WTBA-TV, in Washington, D.C. But it's aired on most PBS stations every Saturday morning.”
“Yes, yes,” he said, nodding his head vigorously as he treaded water, then broke into laughter. “I was told all that but forgot for a moment. And you have some other botanist wonder boys from our conference appearing on your show. Matthew Flynn. Isn't he one of 'em?” Again, a big laugh, but a barely masked undertone of disrespect.
“Yes.” They swam slowly, side by side, in the warm, salty water.
“Huh,” he said. A polite but noncommittal “huh.” Bruce Bouting, she knew from his bio, was famous for making plant discoveries in the farthest reaches of the globe. The story on him was that he co-opted foreigners easily with that charm and coaxed them for plant samples and seeds. She was curious to know what he thought about the flamboyant Eastern University professor, Dr. Flynn. Flynn couldn't be more different from Bouting: He spent months at a time in the Amazon, looking for plants that promised a cure to mankind's diseases. Flynn tested the plants and pitched them to American drug companies.
“I do not wish to be unkind, my dear Louise,” said Bouting, “but I was told this conference was to talk about ways to promote and preserve tropical plants. Dr. Flynn's set the conference on its ear with his outrageous claims and we've been arguing about that instead of what we came for.” His quiet voice turned into a bark. “Shaman, indeed—the man's a
sham
. Why, he gives a bad name to ethnobotany.”
Louise must have looked dismayed, for he quickly added, “Don't worry. I'm just fed up with the fellow after a whole day of his bragging. That's why I'm being frank with you. Whatever else I am, I am a consummate professional. I can get along with him through a four-day botany conference and the filming of your show. Who else is on the roster for this program? I believe I heard it was going to be Reuter from UC Berkeley.”
“Yes, Dr. Charles Reuter.”
Another skeptical “huh!” straight from Bouting's barrel chest. “So I guess Reuter represents your environmentalist view.”
“He's an outspoken environmentalist and I admire him. I'm sure you've heard him speak, or read what he's written on preserving native species. He's a tiger on that topic.” She took several strong strokes and opened the distance between them.
“A purist, my dear,” Bouting bellowed, splashing in an awkward Australian crawl until he caught up with her. She gave him a break and turned on her side and did the sidestroke.
Once he'd caught his breath, Bouting said, “Reuter's one of those priggish, angry pedants who wants non-native plants relegated to the scrap heap! Rotten point of view. The man's on the wrong track entirely. I told the conference that today and I intend to reiterate it over the next couple of days. We ought to amend the conference's mission statement to read, ‘to promote and preserve tropical plants and to make some of them into market winners.' You see, dear, I'm all for market winners: That's what makes me the biggest frog in the North American pond.”
Louise paused to be sure she chose the right words, for she realized she was dealing with a giant ego. She flipped over onto her back, drifted slowly backward, giving him a confident smile. “We know with all your strong and sometimes divergent views, the three of you will make a great program.”
A grin spread over Dr. Bouting's face. “You're a little politician, aren't you? As long as you understand you've got yourself three divas. Sparks are bound to fly.” Just for fun, apparently, he flapped an arm as if it were a flipper and sent a crest of warm saltwater into the air. “But what the heck, you people are masters in the editing room. You can cut out the rough stuff.”
“Yes, thank heavens for that,” she replied with the same casual air. She looked at the sun, which seemed to be hurrying toward the horizon. “Now I see I'd better go and get changed to meet my friends. People at the hotel say it's de rigeuer to watch the sun set when in Hawaii.”
“Indeed it is. Now, you hurry off. It was a pleasure, Louise, to swim a few strokes with you. See you at tonight's session?”
“I'd like to, but I'm not sure. I'm a little weary.” She swam quickly to the edge of the pool. Pulling down the sides of her bathing suit, she climbed up the underwater stone steps to the short-clipped emerald grass. As she turned to bid another good-bye to her pool mate, she saw he was still treading water in the middle of the lagoon, staring at her figure as if he'd never seen a half-clad woman before.
“Good-bye, Dr. Bouting,” she said, in a firm voice.
The man snapped out of his trance and moved his gaze from her buttocks to her breasts. “
Aloha
, Louise. See you soon, I hope.”
BOOK: Summer Garden Murder
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