An excerpt from an upcoming Jaswinder Mystery novel:
“I don’t like to say anything, Jaswinder, but . . .”
Jaswinder resisted the urge to close her eyes and settled for a quick glance at the ground. Conversations that commenced like this never ended well. She took a deep breath and gave herself a mental pat on the back for not turning and running into Summerland Dental office where she worked as a clinic receptionist and occasional dental assistant. Freda had scooted over to her car door before she’d even managed to close it behind herself.
Freda, who managed the bookstore three doors down, seemed unaware of Jaswinder’s inner angst and continued. “Don’t look so worried, Jaswinder, I’m sure you had nothing to do with it. But I remembered hearing about your brilliant detective work last year and I figured this little problem would be a piece of cake for you.”
That’s it, Freda, lay on the charm and compliments. Works every time. Problem was, Jaswinder could already feel her curiousity superseding her initial trepidation.
“You’ve noticed the way the mall management has planted all these daffodils and tulips in the planters on this side of the mall? Nice of them to make the effort, I have to say.”
As an employee, Jaswinder had nothing to do with the expenses involved in running Summerland Dental; paying bills was in the realm of Bev, the office manager. But she had noticed the improved outdoor décor and more than one patient had commented favourably. “Yes, they’re lovely.” Hopefully, the detective work Freda had mentioned didn’t involve knowing the species of flower. They were daffodils and tulips as far as Jaswinder was concerned.
Freda hadn’t seemed to notice Jaswinder’s nodding silence and she stepped closer, her face bearing the expression of one who was about to disclose a confidence. “Someone’s stealing them. Can you believe it?” She stepped back to let the full impact of her statement register.
“Someone’s stealing the flowers?” Jaswinder turned her head quickly and scanned the nearby planter.
“Not just the flowers; the bulbs as well. Look!” Freda nudged Jaswinder closer with a gentle elbow.
Sure enough there were a couple . . . no three . . . gaping holes where once bulbs and their attached blossoms had presumably resided. “But, who would do that?”
“That’s what I’d like to know. Flowers aren’t cheap, you know but, really, how low can someone go? It’s not like they’re a necessity. I did think I saw that funny old woman who always dresses in bright red and purple—you know who I’m talking about, don’t you? She’s one of your patients, I think.”
Jaswinder gave a shrug, knowing all the while that Freda had described the eccentric but kindly Hortense Harrington.
“I saw her hovering over the flowers last week . . . with a shopping bag on her arm, mind you.” Freda glanced over her shoulder. “Well, I’d better get back in the bookstore.” She gave Jaswinder a last encouraging look. “Keep an eye out; you probably have a good view out your window. Catch the criminal in the act.”
Make the world a safer place, Jaswinder added mentally, giving Freda a noncommittal smile. Like she didn’t have enough to do. Ten minutes after entering Summerland Dental Clinic the conversation was all but forgotten in the swirl of dental receptionist duties. Thoughts of Hortense Harrington were put aside.
Several days later when checking the appointment book in preparation for making the usual tedious reminder telephone calls, Jaswinder noticed that Mrs. Harrington was coming in the following day for a recall appointment. One of her few remaining teeth had been bothering her and she was coming in for a small filling. Jaswinder remembered Freda’s suspicions. She couldn’t possibly ask the elderly widow if she had taken the flowers, bulbs and all. Was Mrs. Harrington in such dire financial straits that she was reduced to stealing? It was true, her boss, Dr. Al let Mrs. Harrington and some other patients spread out the payment of their dental procedures. Had Mrs. Harrington had to choose between relieving her dental pain and beautifying her garden?
Maybe there had been some sort of mental decline. Jaswinder had always thought of Mrs. Harrington as eccentric with her Red Hat club involvement and her over-indulged Yorkshire Terrier, Herbie, that she carried with her everywhere in a blue doggie tote bag. Despite admonitions about bringing a dog into the dental clinic, Mrs. Harrington persisted and now, by some silent mutual consent, everyone ignored the situation. But she really was a sweet old lady, Jaswinder decided, and it would be sad if her mind had deteriorated to the point where eccentricity ventured into larceny.
As Jaswinder made ready to leave at the end of the day, she decided that she would stop in at the garden shop that was on her way home and buy a potted daffodil plant for Mrs. Harrington. Having received her income tax refund the previous week, Jaswinder was still feeling ‘in the money’. Surely, it wouldn’t cost more than ten dollars. Then there would be no need for her to resort to thievery.
The following day, Jaswinder kept looking out the front window by the reception area as the time neared for Mrs. Harrington’s appointment. Fortunately, the lady could be spotted at a distance in her red three-quarter length red trench coat and purple slacks. The aqua blue tote bag was the unneeded accent piece. As Jaswinder watched her approach, Mrs. Harrington slowed her pace and stopped by the planter located on the sidewalk between the bookstore and dental office, abloom with yellow daffodils and sky blue hyacinths. She leaned over the latter and inhaled deeply and Jaswinder found herself muttering, “Don’t take any, don’t take any. . .” She realized it would hurt her to discover the kindly woman was a thief.
Now Mrs. Harrington was holding up her blue tote bag with the mesh grill opening at the front which Jaswinder had noticed previously was to provide fresh air for Herbie. Had the dog, being treated more like a person by his owner, acquired an appreciation for floral displays? Yes, Jaswinder could see some movement in the tote bag. Or was that Mrs. Harrington stuffing more filched flowers into its depths? She craned her neck to see but then was thwarted when Mrs. Harrington caught her eye, straightened up and headed her way.
Jaswinder flushed as the overhead entryway bell tinkled and Mrs. Harrington entered the clinic. Had she caught the elderly woman in the act? Should she say something or try to find an excuse to look in the tote bag? Did Mrs. Harrington even know what she was doing?
Mrs. Harrington gave Jaswinder a broad smile before taking a seat in the reception area. Jaswinder steeled herself and decided to open the investigations delicately by bringing the potted daffodils over.
“For me? Oh, my dear girl, that’s so sweet of you. You’ve probably seen me admiring the display outside your office. Herbie finds the smell of the hyacinths intoxicating for some reason—can’t get enough of it. But I’ll have to keep these inside the house. Squirrels, you know. You’ve got the same problem here, I see. They’ve taken some of your bulbs clean out of the dirt. Cheeky little things they are."
* * *