Garden Gate Mysteries – Bk 1
February – 2012
IF YOUR LIFE IS A BED OF ROSES. . .
Recovered from her near death at the hand of a killer, landscape designer Paige Turner is certain her life will soon be a bed of roses. That is, until her employee, Daisy Rose Plant, finds a dead body, and the thorny police chief looks no further than Daisy for a suspect. Paige digs in and weeds through the list of potential killers, and before long, her sweet smelling rose of a life is soundly trampled.
YOU’LL HAVE TO SURVIVE THE THORNS. . .
Paige would be much happier working over-thyme on her budding relationship with handsome attorney, Adam Hayes, but it soon becomes clear she’ll be in a hoe lot of trouble with him if she continues digging for the killer. Does Paige risk all and try to unearth the killer? Or does she settle down in peas-ful bliss with the man of her dreams?
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“Welcome to KALM’s Farm to Market Report. This is your host, Ollie Grayson, reminding you to keep your radio dials tuned in for the last week of our Seeking Singles month. All of our wonderful KALM shows continue with programming, allowing you to call in and ask for dating advice. As a special treat on Friday, Paige Turner, KALM’s single gardening gal and host of the locally acclaimed show, Through the Garden Gate, rounds out our special month with sage dating advice.”
Sage dating advice?
Did Ollie know me at all? Clearly not. The only sage advice I could offer was how to grow the plant, both as an herb and a decorative perennial. Not that I should expect Ollie to understand me if my best friend Lisa could stand there all innocent-looking and accuse me of murder.
I snapped off the radio and watched her attack an overgrown garden bed, clawing at dense clay soil with a heavy-duty rake. Beads of sweat from the Oregon summer sun glistened on her forehead. Her eyes were clear and childlike as if calling me a murderer was an everyday occurrence.
Handle stilled in midair, her eyes zeroed in on me. “What? Do you think I’m kidding, Paige? I mean it. How do you decide which ones to kill?” She rested the rake on the soil then stabbed a gloved finger at my hand. “I really like those cute white flowers. So why’d you kill it?”
“This one?” I crossed the patio holding out wilted chickweed. “This is a weed.”
“But why? I mean, who said so?”
I grinned. “Maybe the same people who convince women it’s a good thing to wear pointy-toed shoes with obscenely high heels.”
Guilty of boosting her five-foot-three stature with said shoes, Lisa crinkled her freckled nose. “I’m not kidding here, Paige. My kids pick similar plants all the time and give them to me as flowers, so I think they’re pretty.”
I tossed the greens onto a compost pile and retrieved my shovel. “Wouldn’t happen if Perry did a better job of weeding.”
Her face softened at the mention of her husband, but her eyes remained determined. “No, really, Paige. You’re the expert. I don’t know what’s a weed and what’s not. Might as well pay me back for all this hard work by explaining how to tell the difference.”
Before I uttered another flip comment, I studied her earnest face. At the very least, for all of her diligent effort on my latest landscape project, I owed her the same sincerity. “Okay, you asked for it. Horticulture 101. Technically, any plant is considered a weed when it sprouts where you don’t want it to.”
“Great. Like that helps. I don’t grow anything on purpose.”
“Okay. . .more specifically, you can often tell a weed because it needs no help to flourish. No fertilizer or water. It’ll thrive on its own and spread like crazy, no matter the location. Even a sidewalk crack.”
“What if one of your precious perennials popped up in a crack?”
“Then I’d yank it out and—” My cell chimed the daily alarm set for 11:30. “Time to go. Roger will kill us if we’re late for the show again.” My gardening talk show, produced by Lisa, aired at noon in the summer months.
I clicked off the alarm and leaned my hoe against the fence. “Hey, here’s a thought. Why don’t you listen to the show today? You could pick up a few gardening tips.”
“Tis my job to screen callers for Your Highness, not to listen.” She rested her rake near mine then arranged tools in height order, perfectly spaced apart.
“A producer who cares.” I laid the back of my hand over my forehead. “My kingdom for a producer who cares.”
“As if you’d let any producer have a say in the content of the show.” She stretched her back and sighed. “This work is killing me. It would be so much easier if I went to the gym instead of counting on your projects for exercise.”
“But I’m a lot cheaper than a gym membership.” I crossed the yard near a freshly planted flowerbed to get to my truck.
“Cheap is definitely the right word for you,” Lisa said as she followed.
“Practical, Lisa. I prefer the word practical. You want to regain your pre-baby shape. I want to keep my costs down. It’s a win-win situation.” I punched the remote button to unlock the truck.
As she pulled the door open, the hinge grated like fingernails on a chalkboard. “So what are you gonna do if we move?”
Cry, whine, lose sleep. “If you leave me, I’ll have to hire someone.” I wanted to be supportive of her potential move from Serendipity to Portland, and I tried, honest I did, but my tone came out a bit snappy. Snappy enough to turn Lisa’s smile into an adorable pout as she climbed onto the dusty seat.
I fired up the engine and aimed my landscape-weary vehicle down Main Street, the aptly named central thoroughfare of Serendipity, Oregon. Morning and a Monday to boot, Main Street was deader than the plants I keep putting in Lisa’s garden and she fails to water. A sanitation crew dressed in bright green uniforms cleaning up after a busy weekend of shoppers provided the only disruption near the quaint row of restored buildings.
Snuggled in the middle of the Willamette Valley and surrounded by a plethora of wineries, Serendipity had reinvented itself to attract the tourist trade. The town capitalized on being the home of Pacific Pickles by dotting the streets with bright green trashcans in the shape of pickles. But did they stop there? No. Someone’s very creative mind birthed Briny, a giant pickle mascot who attended local events, and an annual pickle festival also took over the town in May.
I glanced at Lisa. She’d been far too quiet. Shoulder propped against the window, her lower lip had grown. Maybe I’d upset her. Despite my desire to lock the whole Winkle family in their home so they couldn’t leave me, I found my supportive friend tone. “So how’s the job hunt going? Has Perry decided which offer to accept?”
She shook her head, sending the lip back to a normal position. “No, and I don’t get it. He says he’s bored by his practice here then keeps dragging his feet about choosing the firm he wants to work for. I wish he’d make up his mind so we can get going.”
Yes, keep dragging. “Sounds like you’re in a big rush to get out of here.”
“Me? You know I don’t really want to move, but if we’re going, I want to get it over with.” She exhaled with enough force to send dust flying on the dashboard. “There’s just so much to do. It takes planning and organization to move a household.”
I patted her knee. “You need to relax a bit. Once Perry makes a decision you’ll have plenty of time for your usual obsessing.”
“I have to obsess if I’m going to get everything done. You only have yourself to worry about. I’ve got twins and a husband to organize.” Her tone sounded mean-spirited, but I knew she wasn’t demeaning my single status, just trying to emphasize how overburdened she felt. Usually easy to get along with, my perky little Shasta daisy had been a bit cranky for the last month.
More at home with plants than people, I classified everyone by typical plant traits and dealt with them accordingly. Most of the time Lisa was carefree and relatively trouble free like the Shasta daisy, but this potential move had catapulted her out of her comfort zone.
Take now for instance. Her pout had morphed into a big ole scowl. If one of my daisies behaved this way, I’d pamper the poor baby with more water, maybe give it a good dousing of compost tea. Not something I could do with Lisa. Drenching her with any liquid, especially one made from fermented garden clippings, would surely end our friendship.
Maybe the show would cheer her up. I stepped on the gas and kept quiet lest I say anything to worsen her mood until we pulled into a parking space outside KALM radio station. “Ready for the really big shoooe,” I asked in a bad Ed Sullivan impression that Mr. T, the parrot at my shop often quoted.
Lisa groaned, but before she jumped out an impish smile broke free. Thankful for the return of my sunny daisy, even if I knew it might be short lived, I met her on the sidewalk leading to the poorly landscaped building that I’d often begged our misery station manager to improve.
She looked up at the station’s call signal posted in large neon letters above the glass door. “Any idea who’ll replace me?”
Was she never going to stop with the moving thing? All I wanted after having a recent run in with a killer was for my life to take on a normal kind of boring routine. I couldn’t possibly achieve peace of mind if my anchor moved away. Still, I had to keep my feelings to myself and let my little daisy pull up roots if she needed to.
I shrugged as if Lisa filling the producer spot was of no consequence to me. “I’m sure Roger will find someone.” Truth be told, I hadn’t even talked to our capable station manager about replacing Lisa. I hoped the Winkles would change their mind and we wouldn’t need to find a replacement.
A fond expression creasing her face, Lisa yanked the door open. “Oddly enough, I’m really gonna miss this place.” She laughed. “And I’ll especially miss your crazy callers.”
“Seriously? No way I’d miss them if I left here.” I swung past her into the stuffy building. “Let’s hope today’s show is weirdo free.”
“You can hope, but don’t hold your breath. Blue is not one of your best colors.” Her high-pitched laugh echoed down the narrow hall.
We entered our respective booths and settled into the miniscule spaces. A large window mounted to the right of an adjoining door allowed us to use hand signals for communication during the show. If the station manager would get over his tight-fisted ways and update the studio with modern electronics, we could communicate over the headsets during the show. As it stood now, sign language would have to do while the on-air light flashed red.
Lisa rapped on the window then started her countdown with ten raised fingers. As her last stubby digit dropped, I took a deep breath. “Good Monday morning. This is your host, Paige Turner, welcoming you to the next hour of Through the Garden Gate. In a moment, we’ll open the lines for your gardening questions. First, I want to remind you of our Seeking Singles theme. So come on singles, call in so we can offer advice on finding your perfect someone. Don’t be shy. Prepare your questions, and when we come back from the weather report, we’ll take our first call.”
I waited for the on-air light to turn yellow then pivoted toward Lisa and stared at her through the doorway. “This may be the last week, but I still need your help with these dating questions. I don’t know why Roger is making us do something so foolish.”
“Relax. I’ve gotten you through the first three weeks, haven’t I?” The phone light started blinking, and she picked it up.
I sat back and pictured station manager Roger Freund stepping into the booth and announcing his crazy idea of featuring dating questions on every show. He’d been on a kick to attract a younger crowd. We might attract them, but our lame advice surely would send them running in the other direction.
“We’re back in ten,” Lisa called out. “Weed Whacker on line one.”
I sighed, long and sonorous. A regular caller, Weed Whacker frequently misunderstood my advice and found herself in unbelievable jams with her husband. If anyone needed relationship advice, it was Weed Whacker, but I tossed up a quick prayer for God to spare me from such a disaster.
I punched the on-air button and put a smile in my voice. “Go ahead, Weed Whacker, you’re on Through the Garden Gate, and this is your host, Paige Turner.”
“Oh, Paige.” Weed Whacker’s voice gushed over the airwaves. “I’m so glad I got a hold of you. I don’t know what to do. I found a. . . a. . .a. . .dead body.”