This week poses a (thus far) unique problem for this challenge. I am currently in Oslo, Norway, which is 1 hour ahead of the UK. So, does the challenge end at midnight here (11pm in London) or midnight in the UK?
Ideally I’d like it to be at midnight wherever I am, especially given that I’ll be in the States for some of the final weeks of the year, but if I’d missed the Oslo midnight deadline and had to use the British, then I wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on.
I was at the opera this evening, and I didn’t get to writing until 10pm (Oslo time), so it was touch and go for a while, but I’m pleased to say I finished at 11.45pm, so it’s still on.
Anyway, this week’s topic was, simply ‘Murder in a garden centre’, as suggested by Jenn Hersey, who I understand was in a garden centre when I asked her for a story idea. Presumably she was about to smash a terracotta pot over someone’s head too.
Every Rose Has Its Thorn
There was an almighty crash, followed by a blood curdling scream. Several patrons of the Green Pines garden centre rushed towards the cacophony.
They found a scene of utter devastation. The centre manager Mrs Findley was lying trapped beneath a large ornamental flower display. The volunteer who ran the tea room, a kindly lady of advancing years, was the one who had let out the scream.
One of the customers rushed to the side of the fallen woman and discovered her to be in a bad way. The fall had broken several bones, and the display had crushed her windpipe.
As she struggled for breath she grabbed the customer by the lapel of his jacket and uttered her final words before being able to breathe no longer, “Rose…It was…Rose.”
When he recounted the words to the police officer who shortly arrived on the scene he inferred that she must have meant the rose that Mrs Findley had been holding in her hand when she fell.
She had been up a ladder to place the final flowers in the display when the whole thing came tumbling down on top of her. The customer reasoned that she must have been trying to place the last rose on the display and overbalanced, sending the whole thing tumbling down on top of her.
The police were preparing to write it off as accidental death, but, wary of upcoming inspections in the department, the Sergeant opted to do due diligence and interview all the witnesses.
The customer proved not to be much use, as he had only arrived in Mrs Findley’s final moments, and so he was sent him with his begonias, more than a little shaken up.
The tea room assistant arranged tea – on the house of course – for all those who had to stay for questioning.
Conversations buzzed in the tea room about the accident. She was such a lovely lady; it was a terrible tragedy, poor dear wouldn’t say boo to a goose, and so on. All agreed that the garden centre wouldn’t be the same without her.
Eventually, one by one the interviews took place and the patrons trickled out of the centre. The car park emptied until all that was left was the police car.
The Sergeant was about to pack up and call it a day when he walked in to the tea room.
“Oh gosh,” he said as he walked through the door and saw the assistant cleaning up the used cups and saucers from the tables. “In all the kerfuffle I almost forgot that I need to interview you.”
“Oh, don’t worry dear,” she replied. “It’s been a busy day, and we’ve both been keeping ourselves occupied. You had to make sure you interviewed all those people, and I had to keep them fed and watered. Well, between the pair of us we just haven’t rightly had the time.”
“Well we had best get it over with then. I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name, Mrs…?”
“Whitlow. Mrs Whitlow. And you don’t want to talk to me, dear, I’m just a boring old woman.”
“Oh, don’t be silly. Anyway, I have to. I wouldn’t be doing my job otherwise.”
“My husband was a policeman you know?” Mrs Whitlow said, continuing to clean up the crockery.
“Is that so?” the Sergeant replied.
“Yes, he joined the constabulary after the war. Said he couldn’t stand the thought of not having a rank of some description in front of his name. Retired with a gamma heart as a Sergeant in ’79. Died of a heart attack three years later. Or so the doctors told me. I think he died of boredom; he hated not being fit to work. Can I get you a cup of tea, dear?”
“Oh, that would be lovely, thank you.”
Mrs Whitlow bustled off to pour a final cup of tea for the day. When she came back, she sat down and pushed the cup over to the Sergeant.
“Right then, what was it you wanted to ask me, dear?” she asked, smiling sweetly at the policeman.
“Oh, err, just a few routine questions, really,” he said, fumbling about in his pocket for his notebook. He flipped it to a fresh page and licked his pencil. “Can you please tell me in your own words what happened.”
“Well, dear, it was very simple. I was bringing Mrs Findley a nice cup of tea for when she had finished the display. I came round the corner just as she she was putting the last of the roses on the top. She leaned too far forward and lost her balance on the ladder. Of course she grabbed the first thing she could get her hands on, which was the display. And it all came tumbling down on top of her; flowers, metal frame, ladder, the works. Terrible shame.”
The policeman scribbled furiously in his notebook.
“Tell me,” he asked, “did Mrs Findley have any enemies? Anyone that might want to hurt her or anything like that?”
“Oh my, no, nothing of the sort. She didn’t really have any family, since her husband died a couple of years ago, and most of her friends worked here at the garden centre, besides the lot from the local WI.
“She had started to make some changes around here that weren’t proving very popular with the volunteers, but I don’t think any of them would be serious enough to bump her off over.”
“What sorts of changes?”
“Oh, just generally taking the place in a different direction. She wanted to downsize the tea room, only open it a couple of days a week. I work here pretty much full time and I would have been devastated to not be able to come in as much. Like poor old Mrs Findley, this place is my life now that Fergus is gone and my sons have moved away.
“Anyway, this is all irrelevant. I told you that I saw it all and the only thing even slightly off about the whole affair is that she didn’t have someone holding the ladder for her. If she had only called over Bert or Joel this whole nasty business could have been avoided. She’d been on ladder training only two weeks ago as well the silly bugger. No excuse for it really.”
“I see,” the Sergeant said, still writing away. “And you’re sure no one bore any ill will to her? Was she in any sort of financial trouble?”
“Oh Sergeant,” Mrs Whitlow chuckled. “I didn’t know her that well, but I suspect not. She made a good living off this place and kept a modest household. Perhaps you should ask her bank manager that, but really we live in Staffordshire, not Sicily. We hardly have mafiosos in expensive suits knocking people off left right and centre because they haven’t paid their protection money.”
“Well no, but the spectre of organised crime takes many forms, and it is the sworn duty of the police force to stamp it out at every possible opportunity.”
“My husband would have liked you, Sergeant. With a staunch moral attitude like that you’ll make a Lieutenant or a Captain one day.”
“Well that’s very kind of you to say so, Mrs Whitlow.”
“Will you have another cup of tea?” the old lady asked, gesturing at the policeman’s empty cup.
“Oh, thanks but no. I’ve got to get back to the station. Lots of paperwork to do after all this. We’ve set up a cordon and one of our officers has a set of keys, so no need to lock up when you leave. Actually, can I offer you a lift home?”
“Thank you dear, but no. I’m only round the corner and it’d be taking you out of your way. I’ll walk.”
“Well, if you’re sure.”
“Perfectly sure, but thank you for the very kind offer.”
“We should be in touch within the next few days, and the garden centre will be closed for a little while, but if you remember anything, or something comes to mind that might help us with our investigation then please do give us a call or pop down to the station for a chat.”
“I will do, dear. I might come down anyway. I’ve not been down since Fergus died, and it’d be nice to see a few of the old boys that are still around from his time. How are old Bobby and Alfie, anyway?”
“Oh, they’re doing ok,” the Sergeant said, putting his notebook away and his helmet on in preparation to leave. “Alfie is counting down the days until he can hang up his boots, but they’re both in as good form as ever.”
“That’s good to hear,” Mrs Whitlow said as the Sergeant picked up the tea cup and drained the final dregs. “Is there anything else I can help you with, dear?”
“No that should be it. We’ll be in touch.”
The policemen smiled as he walked out of the tea room, but a second after leaving he poked his head back in.
“There was one thing actually, Mrs Whitlow. I need to write down your first name for the interview record.”
“Rose, dear,” she said, looking up from wiping a table and smiling. “My name is Rose.”