Happy Holidays Readers! ! Here is our annual Musea Christmas Story. Take a rest from your busy schedule and find out about the latest case of the detective, Leo Mars. On this, Musea's 20th year, I wish you all a great Christmas season and an even better New Year - Tom.
My name is Leo Mars. I'm a private investigator. I tried to be a cop but couldn't pass the tests. Better for me though. I can charge more and do what I want.
Two things happen when someone hires me. They're desperate and they don't really expect much. It's an easy con to charge a lot and do little. Some other detectives do. But I don't. You'd loose out in the long run. All of us have dry times and if I wasn't very good, I'd be starving in a food line like most detectives these days.
My case came about this way. Mr. Harcourt called me up. He sounded like one of those powerful men, take charge, no nonsense, guys. He didn't want to come down to my office. Wanted me to go up to his home for a check-see. OK. That's fine. So I go to his address up in the hills.
He lives in a very ritzy part of town - but the mansions on this street are not squashed together like some rich areas closer to downtown. Lots of room for this house, with a wall around it, and a gate at the front. Note, no real security at gate. I'll mention that.
He answers the front door, though I see a maid in uniform walking down the hall behind him. He leads me into a room off the hall and we sit down. He asks if I want a beer or something. I'd like it but it may be a trick question. "No", says I. "Now how can I help you?" He sits down, covers his mouth, and coughs - a mean cough - and lights up a cigarette; though throughout our talk I don't think he inhaled once. He finally had to put it out, when it had turned to ash.
"Leo, It's about my son. He committed suicide and I want to know why."
"I'm sorry to hear that...."
"I thought these cigarettes would take me first for sure... We weren't close. But he's my son. That counts. The last few years we didn't even talk, not even for Christmas. But I thought there would be time to patch things up... See what happened for me, will you?"
The facade of a tough man fell down from his face, and I saw an old man in distress. "Sure. Let's see what I can do." Over the next 30 minutes I got the details: suicide, carbon monoxide poisoning, neighbors got worried and called the police, they came out and found the body in the still running car in the garage, note on desk. "I am one in a sea." The body had been removed and no one else had been in the place since.
The next day Leo went to the son's townhouse. The sky was gray. Snow flurries were predicted for later that day. He took out his notebook and started a new page. 'Suicide of Mr. Evelyn Harcourt. Notes Dec. 1 [Details are important thought Mars].
Townhouse - young neighborhood - uptown - small but expensive looking - 'new' type architecture - modern looking - minimal style but pretty - two floors - 4 outside windows, all different sizes. He unlocked the door after a few attempts, wiped his feet off and walked in. The first thing he noticed was the sound of a vacuum cleaner.
"Hello. Anybody here?... Hello?"
The vacuum turned off and a middle aged woman in a white apron, came out from a back room. "Hi, yes?" as she wiped her hands.
"I'm Leo Mars, a private detective, looking into the death of Mr. Harcourt. Who are you?'
"Marie Mendez. I was Mr. Harcourt's cleaning lady. I thought I'd clean up one more time in memory of Mr. Harcourt, and for the family. He was very nice to me."
"Did you move anything?"
"No. I just vacuumed and a little in the kitchen. Are you looking for fingerprints?"
Leo laughs, "No, not in a suicide. I'm trying to find out why he ended his life."
"Oh. Should I stop? I really wanted to just do it one more time for him. And look I found this." She handed Leo an envelope from her apron with 'Marie" written on the front.
Leo opened it - two hundred dollar bills. Leo gave it back to her. "He paid me even from after." She began to tear up and wipe her eyes.
"No," Leo said in a softer voice. "Go ahead and finish up. But while you are here I want you to tell me about him."
Marie: [Took a deep breath] The first time I cleaned he hovered over me everywhere I went. He'd say no, do the toilet paper this way, or hang the towels like this. After two hours, I was ready to get out of there and never come back. But he says, 'OK now come in every week and do as I showed you. From then on when I would get here he would never bother me, just give me a quick 'Hi Marie,' or 'Do I need to move for you?' And that was it. He always left the money in an envelope. Never forgot. I never had to ask...
Do you know when the funeral is? [Leo, " No".] No? Oh, I left this for the family. [she walked into the small dining room and pointed. On the table was a small silver cross on a wood pedestal about 6' high with a red bow.] I and my husband made this for the family. I wanted to do something.
Marie went back to work, and Leo began to look around and take notes: Living room - everything in muted tones except antique? furniture - yellow flowers, slightly faded - no card - arrangement centered on empty table - b/w prints on the wall - originals? - table, rich woods - valuable? looks it - walls textured - mostly bare - minimal clutter everywhere. Bedroom - small bed, nightstand, floor lamp - where is fun stuff - pictures of girls?, family? friends?- closet suits, not in different colors but different shades - black, grey, blue, + one camel colored (cashmere!) - each hung exactly 3" apart on same type of hanger! - 2 shoe trees - no sports stuff - only 1 painting on walls - Victorian style woman's portrait - original? relative? - drawers neat but normal stuff - pretty packed - some unopened underwear. Library room - strange - all walls, bookcases floor to ceiling - in center one red wing backed chair - not leather, padded foot stool, floor lamp with shade (Tiffany?), book table, sq. windup clock wound down - reading glasses in case. Bathroom - Marie says hypochondriac - lots of med bottles, most half full - for stress, vitamins, allergies? Kitchen - clean and clean! - looks unused - cupboards, nicely arranged - trendy foods - fancy spices, some not opened - refrigerator wine, sodas, juices, - eat out? Garage - rack of wines, reds - garage bland, ordinary - no tools!. Spoiled? Anal? Fussy? Lonely? - Where is everybody?
Back at his apartment Leo was heating up slices of smoked sausage in a pot of beans with the TV on and the sound down. He made a plate, added some apple sauce in a bowl and sat down in front of the TV. Phone rang.
"Dad, wanted to make sure you were back. "
"Yeah Judy, come on by."
"Can't stay long. I have to pick up the kids in 2 hours. I'm at the store - need anything?
"No, I'm fine."
Judy got there and gave her dad a gift. "Brought a cake - half's for you, I know you like German Chocolate. Let me cut you a slice... I'm going to pass ... watching my weight again."
As Leo was eating his cake with a glass of beer, he told Judy about the Harcourt case and handed her his notes. A minute later, "What do you make of this guy?"
"Wait a minute. Not done.... She finally put the notes down and took a breath. "Let me think a minute.... Dad this is one bachelor. There's no woman here for sure. Is he gay?"
"I don't think so - I'll find out for sure."
"This is a guy with a very regular life. What was it that upset the apple cart? Something changed. Find that out. Oh and what kind of books were they?" (These were good points to consider, thought Leo). Judy interrupted his thoughts, "Got to go. Did you like the cake? Yes? Good luck with the case. Let me know how it turns out. Look at the time!" Her phone rings. "I'm on my way dear. I'm with your grandfather..."
Next day, more snow. Now it was starting to build up on the lawns and stick to the streets. And more notes: Many ideas - did he order flowers or were they sent - who sent them - why. (Leo never ordered flowers for himself, but this guy could have). When did they come - what florist - Marie says flowers NOT there Tuesday week - favorite florist?, she didn't know.
Using his cell phone Leo found 3 flower shops in the same zip code: Harry's Flowers, Bob's Flowers and Weddings, and Marie's Bouquet. Marie? thought Leo. maybe that's no accident. He tried Marie's shop first. Nothing. Harry's Florist? Nothing. Bob's Flowers and Weddings? Leo had luck.
They had often sent flowers to Harcourt. He drove over. Working at the counter was a 30's something, short, slightly overweight, brunette woman with the name tag, 'Mona'. Leo asked for the manager. Mona replied she now owned the place. Leo told her the story. "Any delivery information for that day or around that day Mona?"
Mona, without looking it up said, "I remember that order. It was very specific, yellow roses with one yellow tulip smack dab in the center - NO CARD and no babies breath or filler of ANY KIND. (What's babies breath?) It's a tiny white flower that is often added to rose bouquets. (Who sent it?) It was a wire order - that means another out of town flower shhop called it in for their customer. I can tell you that shop, Maxie's out of Fort Worth. Here's there phone number - it's a *800 number. We trade orders all the time. What's this all about? "
Leo finished writing down the Fort Worth flower shop number and said, "These were delivered to Mr. Harcourt on the day or a day or two before he committed suicide. I wondered if there is any connection. Do you know of any?
"Wow," I'm sorry to hear that. I didn't know him - all phone orders. But I do remember they were very specific - no babies breath, no filler, and NO CARD - like he would know who they were from! That happens more often than you would think." Leo, laughed, thanked her, got her business card, and headed back to Harcourt's townhouse.
Afternoon traffic was starting to get heavy, late school zones, and early rush hour traffic. Snow still coming down.( Kind of pretty if you had time to watch it, thought Leo).
He finally made it, let himself in, stomped off the snow from his shoes. The first thing different was that the place seemed colder now. Turned on a lamp. Walked to the table and re examined the flowers. They felt dry to the touch. He went to the kitchen, filled a jar with tap water, and poured it into the arrangement. Then he dried the jar and put it back in the cupboard.
Notes: Count flowers - 11 roses, yellow, now fully opened - one drooping tulip in the center - clear glass container. He smelled the roses - nice fragrance. It reminded him of his first wife, Betty - a sort of flower herself - liked perfume.
Betty was also very very superstitious. She said prayers at night - night, never in the morning. He teased her about it. "Think God sleeps late?"
"Leo, I know you think I'm flighty, but everything has a reason for someone. Just because you don't KNOW it - doesn't mean it has vanished - thin air is still air! Signs are everywhere: tea leaves to stars, head bumps to lines on your palm."
Leo looked around some more. Suicide? Rich kid had everything. Leo couldn't figure out suicide. His baby sister had died a year ago from cancer - fifty something. She didn't want to. She wanted to be with her kids, take the family on trips, go to movies. She even doubled up on birthdays - each kid got a half birthday too at the other end of the year.
He went to the reading room. Three walls and one half wall by the door. All books. He pulled the chain on the lamp and began to study the selections.
Notes: Wall #1 History - Egypt, lots on Egypt, pyramids. Wall #2 ...
The notes stopped. All the rest of the book shelves were filled with the same type of book - same subject: mysticism, magic, astrology, palmistry, numerology, ghosts, angels, ... volume after volume. (Betty would have loved this). And more and more. Wall #3, the same. Wall #4, the same...
He went back and studied each book. Then he found it! A light came on in his head. The missing puzzle piece fell into place. The book he found was thin and tiny. He could have easily missed it but he didn't.
"The Language of Flowers". There were 3 versions of the same exact book. None had an author. All seemed to be reproductions of an original older book. Beautiful color illustrations throughout. Leo turned the pages. There was nothing but listings of types of flowers and what each flower represented. It was set up like a hand written dictionary.
Leo turned the pages to 'Rose, Yellow'. It said, "Decrease of love, Jealousy." Then to 'Tulip, Yellow'. It said,"Hopeless Love".
The rest of the case was easy. Leo went to Fort Worth, and came back with the details. Now all the blanks were filled. Leo wrote up his report, his part time secretary, Jane, typed it up, and he delivered it in person to Mr. Harcourt. The snow fall was letting up in places.
When Mr. Harcourt took the report from Leo, he said, "I want to read it carefully later, but tell me now, Leo, what does it say? What did you find out?"
"Your son was in love with a woman in Fort Worth that he met at the Kimbell Art Museum. Her name was Mary Collins. They had a brief affair, and it seems that both shared an interest in mysticism. But then things cooled, mostly on Mary's side. Your son was devastated at first, but he had some hope that they could get back together. Then all that changed when he got that flower delivery from Mary ...
"The ones on the table?"
"Yes, and according to the books on what different flowers represent, yellow flowers meant love is gone and won't return. Your son understood the message in the flowers. It broke his heart, and he took his life."
Christmas Eve and light flurries were falling on the snow on the ground. Higher drifts were piled along the roads. School would have been cancelled if it wasn't a holiday already. Leo was home reading. The door bell rang. It was his daughter Judy and her kids.
"Come in all!" said Leo
"Can't stay long. Church is at 8," said Judy.
The hour together flew by. It was lite and fun. Leo kept saying "what a fuss you made for me!' He got, warm socks, his favorite homemade oatmeal raisin cookies, 2 detective novels, and finally a gift that 'the kids picked out on their own'.
"Look Grandpa, it's a toy. Shake it and snow falls on everyone!"
Leo shook the snow globe.
Cover Photo: "Evelyn Harcourt, Age 8, and His Dad"
"There is a language little known
lovers claim it as their own..."
- Language of Flowers
4000 Hawthorne #5
Dallas Texas 75219
AACA Member #1
Musea Annual Christmas Story - Issue
Musea #186 Nov/Dec/Jan
(c) Tom Hendricks 2012
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