Friday, July 29, 2016

Friday Flash Fiction: Death Among the Dahlias

Yet another week without a prompt from Chuck Wendig. Fortunately, after days of backpacking and watching my son produce page after page of stories, I was motivated to at least start a story. It took another kick in the seat of the pants to finish, but summer vacation or no, here we have an all-new mystery. I have heard you should never hurt an animal in a story, so I apologize, and I swear that no cats were actually injured in the creation of this story.

Death Among the Dahlias

“That’s a job for the police.” I said it with all the conviction I could muster, but Marta brushed my objection aside.

“The police in this town haven’t solved a case in years. And they aren’t going to start with this one.”

I’d known she’d argue, of course. Marta always has an answer to my efforts at sanity. We’ve been best friends since about 10 minutes after I came to this town six years ago, and she’s talked me into more crazy stunts than I managed in the whole 45 years before that. But this one took the cake.

“Why on earth wouldn’t they investigate a murder? And how am I supposed to do it?  I don’t know thing one about police technique or chains of evidence or any of that!”

“How hard can it be? Chief Roberts solved a case once,” she said, undercutting her earlier argument. “Remember? That time when someone stole his car?”

The police chief’s ’51 Chevy received quite a bit more love and attention than his wife, who had turned to gardening for her comfort. But for all that—

“He bungled the evidence and the perp got off.”

“Of course he did. It was the Mayor’s son, and they’ve been playing golf together for decades.”

I nodded, because she was right.

“And you’ve solved other mysteries around here,” Marta drove home her argument.

“Locating a missing purse and a runaway dog aren’t quite the same as solving a murder.” I was already planning how to approach it, though. “So who’s been killed?” I hadn’t heard, and even though I’m usually the last to know things, that seemed odd. Word of a murder should have been all over town in about 3 minutes.

“Mrs. McGillicuddy.”

“Who?” I didn’t know anyone by that name. Then, “Oh!” I glared at Marta. “Isn’t that your neighbor’s cat? You can’t murder a cat!”

She had the grace to blush, but protested, “Someone killed the poor thing, and Karl is very upset.”

I could believe that. Karl Haalverson grew prize daffodils, dahlias, and delphiniums. And he doted on his cat, though he didn’t talk much to his neighbors. Leave it to Marta to be the exception.

“It probably got hit by a car. Or died of natural causes.”

“Someone laid it out on his porch on a bed of cut flowers.”

“Probably they found the animal dead and were trying to be nice about it.”

“I don’t think so. They used his best dahlias. The ones he was cultivating for the flower show.”

I was running out of protests. Even if the cat died of natural causes, someone was using it to threaten poor Karl, who was harmless despite a tendency to think his reluctance to talk meant he wasn’t all there.

“He thinks it’s Mrs. Patel,” Marta added.

“Just because she’s Indian,” I began. Marta knows how to yank my chain, and the small-town narrow-mindedness of this place sometimes gets to me. She let me run on a minute about prejudice and hate.

“She’s his main rival for the flower show.”

I shut up. That made sense. I still didn’t believe she’d done it. Mrs. Patel was an inoffensive widow of about 75 years, and her own flowers were remarkable. She treated them much the same way Karl Haalverson treated his cat—lavished love and good food on them, and talked to them more than to her neighbors.

 “What about Kathy Fields? She’s been trying to unseat those two for years.”

After ten minutes, we had a list of seven people who might have a grudge against Karl. It made me wonder who all might resent me or Marta, given how very much more involved we were in town activities. I turned my mind away from that thought.

Marta led me down the street—she lived a block over from me, which is to say, halfway across town—to see the scene of the crime.

“Karl’s locked himself in his kitchen and won’t come out. I said I’d take care of things.”

I didn’t answer. I was staring down at the still form of what had been a magnificent marmalade cat, and to my surprise I was crying.

It was only when I worked up the courage to touch the corpse that I got myself under control and began to see clearly again, literally and figuratively. I examined the injuries thoroughly before gently lifting the animal and laying her in the basket Marta had brought for the purpose. We’d see later where Karl wanted her buried. Then I looked at Marta.

“I’m pretty sure she was hit by a car. So it’s not murder.”

“Thank heavens for that. But who laid her out here, and why?”

“It might have been meant to make Karl feel better?” I didn’t really believe it. I bent over again and picked something out of the nest of flowers. A few were stained with blood, and I shuddered despite myself.

Marta studied the button I was holding out. “That’s from Agnes McDonald’s sweater. She drops buttons wherever she goes.” We looked at each other, confused. Marta said it. “Why would Agnes hurt Karl? She grows tomatoes, not flowers.” And won first prize every year, too.

“Maybe she really was being helpful?” Somehow I couldn’t believe it. Agnes wouldn’t cut Karl’s best flowers even for this. I stared at the pile of flowers a while longer. Some had been ripped up by the roots, destroying the whole plant. I ran over the list of suspects in my mind, until I found the answer. Someone who would destroy the flowers and leave the false clue.

“I know who did it,” I said.


“Oh, come on. Who stands to benefit from ruining Karl’s flowers and turning people against Agnes?”

We both gazed down the street at the one house where flowers and vegetables competed for space in the painfully neat garden.

Mrs. Roberts' garden.

No, the police would never solve this crime.

I don't have any pictures of dahlias, but here are some lupine, alpine daisies, and a columbine in the background.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2016
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

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  1. Very nice, although I can see everyone except Mrs Roberts, until I check back and clock the Police Chief's name. D'oh, I'm slow this morning. :)

    1. She was a last-minute inspiration as I was trying to figure out how to end it. I saw that comment about the Chief liking his car better than his wife, and it all clicked...

  2. Nice. I like how you solve the case and then subtly explain why the police won't. Great story. Thanks for sharing with this hop.

    1. Thanks. I sort of cheated on the hop--this is a new story; it's the last 2 weeks when I recycled stories! I meant to put a comment to that effect at the top, but forgot. As noted, I've been in the mountains, frying my brains with too much sun and not enough oxygen :)


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