“Hey, anyone seen that godawful bouquet out at Broderick’s desk?” Detective Morgan demanded.
Another detective, Chin, looked up with a mischievous smile. “Thought it was for Broderick!”
She grimaced. It’s been there for hours now and the whole place reeks like a—”
“French brothel?” Chief of Detectives Strenlich asked casually as he passed her desk.
She tossed back her mane of dark hair. “I wouldn’t know, Chief. No personal experience? Have you?”
He smiled at her as he held out a file. “Here. Your next assignment, Detective.”
Morgan flipped it open. “Another Vice run? Chief, it’s snowing out there!”
“I like the flowers,” T.J. commented from behind a pile of folders. His jacket hung on the back of his chair and his sleeves were rolled up in the overly-warm squadroom. Showing an unexpected turn of whimsy, he was wearing white suspenders with little red hearts, and had suffered for it since all the women in the Hundred and First Precinct had made remarks. He’d taken them with good grace, especially when the barbs increased as the day went on and no one but the owner of that mysterious bouquet taking up half of the duty desk, got flowers, chocolate or a card.
“You would,” Morgan commented.
“They’re not so bad,” Jody chimed in. “I don’t think I would have put pussy willows with yellow-and-red striped asters, a blue hyacinth, and white roses—”
“What is that smelly green leaf that’s behind them?” Morgan demanded. “What’s wrong with ferns?”
“Probably something rare, precious and expensive,” Captain Karen Simms said unexpectedly coming out of her office. “What is the problem out here?”
“Nothing, sir,” Morgan replied subsiding into her chair. “I was just discussing that bunch of flowers out front.”
“They’re still there?” Simms asked in surprise. “I saw them when I first came in.”
“There’s no name on them, Captain,” Jody supplied. “The florist is out doing deliveries.”
“Who’s missing here?” Simms scanned the room. Blake’s desk was empty, Kermit’s office was dark, and Chin had happily moved into Peter Caine’s old desk. In Chin’s opinion, it was the only positive thing that had come out of that resignation. “Those flowers can’t belong to Kermit or Blake!”
“Whose profile fits those flowers?” Skalany mused.
Morgan snorted. “Red carnations, purple iris, white daffodils, pussy willows, lily of the valley and that’s not even in season, and all those ugly green things.”
“A very pungent bouquet in a very heavy vase,” Kelly added. “I want to know what Broderick’s wife will think when
he gets home!”
“Whoever sent that bouquet is a romantic,” T.J. said unexpectedly. The women glared at him.
“What do you mean?” Simms asked, looking intrigued. She leaned on the door of her office, and crossed her arms.
“The Language of Flowers.” T.J. frowned as he leaned back. His chair squeaked.
“Oh, Shakespeare stuff,” Morgan taunted. “I read about that in school.”
“The sender certainly knows it. Let’s see.... Lily of the Valley. Returning happiness. Iris means ‘a message’. Roses. Oh, there are a bunch of things for roses and I can’t remember them all.” T. J. smiled smugly. “I think whoever owns the bouquet would probably know what it means.”
“The vase is gorgeous,” Mary Margaret cut in.
“The vase is a work of art,” Simms agreed. “I’ve seen glass like that before. A friend brought me back one from Prague.”
“Heavy cut-glass like those decanters you see in the most exclusive stores,” Jody commented. “It’s from someone with money.”
“Yeah, someone can leave a real wound if they use it as a weapon,” Morgan said with an ugly chuckle.
“It wouldn’t break if someone dropped it on the floor,” Simms mused.
Morgan threw out her arms. “Okay, detectives, what can we conclude from this bouquet? The person who sent it is rich—”
“Or European,” Skalany threw in.
“Knows a hell of a lot of stupid trivia about flowers,” Morgan continued maliciously, “Can afford to send buds that out of season, and must be color-blind.”
“It’s a very carefully chosen bouquet,” T.J. interjected from his chair.” He raised an eyebrow at Simms, and flicked a glance towards Kermit’s office before looking back at his papers.
Her cheeks went pink but no one else had noticed. “I’m sure the owner will come forward sooner or later,” she said lazily. “But don’t we have some work to do?” She disappeared back into her office.
Broderick entered with a small white-woven ceramic pot filled with small pink-and-white rosebuds. He struggled to hide a grin.
“Who’s that for?” Morgan snarled.
“What does it mean, T.J.?” Jody asked with a grin.
T.J. smiled. “I have a date tonight.”
Unanimously, the women pelted him with paper balls at him until he took refuge behind an autopsy report.
Around six o’clock, long after darkness fell, the detectives folded up their files, placed their well-sharpened pencils
into their desks and began to leave. Chin had gone first, being backup for Morgan later that evening as she plied their wares among the snowdrifts. Jordie had left shortly after them, clutching a bouquet of white roses from Peter, and smiling smugly.
Mary Margaret cradled a beautiful purple orchid with delicate veins of white which had arrived with no message except a small yin-yang on the card. She was almost floating above the ground.
Jody was cynically teasing Kelly, who had been admiring the twelve deep red roses surrounded by ferns and baby’s breath in a vase that took up all the empty space on her desk. Strenlich blushed but ignored the significant looks from Morgan.
Captain Simms hadn’t gotten any flowers or candy, either, which made Jody feel a little better. Not much. It wasn’t as if That Couple was going to be obvious about their affections.
They all looked up as Blake came up the stairs holding a briefcase in one hand and brushing snow off his black fur hat with the other. He looked slightly ruffled.
“Where’s Kermit?” Strenlich asked acidly. “You were supposed to be together.”
“He’s coming,” Blake called. He glanced at the bouquet and stopped dead. “Who is that for?”
“The question of the hour,” Simms murmured.
Broderick wrinkled his nose. “I don’t know. It’s been here all day. I’ve never seen anything like it. Or smelled anything like it.”
Blake sniffed, then sneezed. “I can barely smell it. Got a cold.”
“If you can smell it through your cold, it’s strong,” Broderick said acidly. “Thank God it’s Valentine’s Day otherwise one of these low-lifes might steal it to pawn! Even they are a little sentimental.”
“It would be hard to miss if they stole it,” Blake retorted.
Behind him up the stairs came the Hundred and First’s computer expert, Kermit Griffin, humming under his
Blake turned. “Kermit, do you know anything—” He stopped at Kermit’s aghast expression.
Griffin stared at the bouquet like it was a machine gun pointed at him. “Good God,” he said harshly. “What is that doing here?”
“You know who it’s for?” Broderick said hopefully.
“I thought...” Griffin glanced at his watch. “Damn! It’s almost too late!”
“Kermit!” Morgan called demandingly. “Who is it for?”
He barely spared her a glance of disdain. “Not you. Blake, file the report, I’ll sign it when I get back. I’ll see you later.” He scooped up the vase and bouquet, and without a backward glance, stalked out of the office
Everyone gaped. Strenlich glanced at Simms, whose jaw had dropped. She looked a little piqued.
“Guess he’s got a special date,” Morgan said finally breaking the silence. “Think he’d have had the decency to put his name to it, though! Must be a secret woman.”
Simms shot her a frigid glance, then her expression became a mask. “I’m sure he has a good reason,” she said smoothly. “He didn’t say they were his.”
“Yeah, but he’s the only one who knows about them!” Morgan glared at T.J. who was staring thoughtfully at his desk. “More expensive than anything else that has arrived today!”
“We’ll get it out of him,” Mary Margaret promised in a lighter tone trying to deflect Morgan’s malice. “I’m sure that we can do it somehow.”
“It’s none of our business,” Jody commented dryly.
Morgan snorted. “I’m gonna get ready for work. Chief, you sure the johns will be out in this snowstorm?”
“They might not be, but you will,” Strenlich promised with a sweet smile.
Simms shot him a commiserating look. “Good luck, Detective Morgan. Break a leg.”
Simms shut the door of her apartment behind her with a soft sigh of relief. Holidays could be good or bad at the Hundred and First, and this had been a bad one. An office that knew each other so intimately tended to react to whatever was happening in other people’s lives, and the ‘got them/non-got them’ flowers had raised tempers.
As she hung her long coat, speckled with a few snow flakes, in the closet, she wondered what had happened to Kermit. He hadn’t come back before she left at nine.
She felt a touch of pique. Even a mysterious bouquet, or one perfect rose, would have been a nice touch from her new lover. Not they had discussed their affair, of course, or even showed traces of it at work, but she had, in her heart of hearts, expected something.
Closing the closet door, she heard an unexpected sound in the living room. The clink of glass hitting glass, like a drink had been poured.
Calmly, she pulled her gun and stepped into her living room.
He was slumped in one of the over-plump leather chairs located in front of the lit wood in the fireplace. On the small table beside him was a bottle of whiskey and a glass filled with several ice cubes and whiskey.
He toasted her. “‘There’s rosemary that’s for remembrance’...”
“Is that what it stands for?” she asked putting the gun down on the dining room table. “Rosemary?”
“Oh, yes. White daisies are for innocence, roses are for love and violets….”
“Means? I’ve never understood that line of Shakespeare.”
“‘I’d give you some violets but they all withered when my father died.’ Violets stand for faithfulness, the blue ones at least.” Kermit smiled bitterly. “Hamlet broke faith with Ophelia. You have to understand the language.”
“So, they’ve always said.” She sat down opposite him. “Where have you been? Have you been drinking?”
He shook his head. “She won’t let me drink. Says I make a bad drunk.”
“Are you drunk?” Simms ignored the pronoun.
“No. I don’t like getting drunk.” He gave a twisted smile. “I get nasty.”
“So where did you go?”
He leaned back his head and shut his eyes. “I took the bouquet to where it should have gone. I told them to make sure it arrived early in the day. The florist screwed up the address. She got your flowers.”
Simms shook her head trying to clear her thoughts. He had sent her flowers! Good. “‘Screwed up the address?’ What are you talking about?”
He started softly. “I went to South Africa over Christmas, and bought the vase, then, and took care of some business. I had it all set up to arrive today—”
“Griffin, where did you take the flowers!” she demanded, breaking into his reverie.
His eyes flicked open. “To Annie Blaisdell.”
“Annie Blaisdell?” Simms thought about it for a second. She had met Captain Blaisdell’s wife only once and been impressed. The woman was talented and intelligent...and very blind. “The heavy glass vase. The bouquet for scent, not for sight. Of course.”
“I didn’t want it to break in case it fell over,” Kermit confirmed. “It can’t be tipped over easily.”
“The flowers? She can’t see them—”
“She strokes the pussy willows, and can smell the flowers. It’s as good as seeing them. Blaisdell always made sure she’d have a bouquet that talked to her.”
“Why didn’t he take them to her?” Simms asked. Getting out of the chair, she picked up the bottle and looked around for a glass. “Is he dead, Kermit?”
He shut his eyes again. “I won’t know for sure until I have to execute the will,” he said flatly. “A long time ago he made me the executor.”
Kermit smiled. “There are parts of this will that Peter can’t understand. Nor would the girls.”
“Ah.” She sloshed the whiskey back and forth. “What did she say about the bouquet?”
“She wondered where it had been all day. I told her at the office.”
“Everyone admired it,” Simms lied. “It caused a great deal of stir.”
He chuckled. “I’ll bet it did!” He reached for the bottle but she put it down on the credenza, and opened one of the doors. “I have a present for you, Kermit.”
He sat up and stared at her. “A present?”
She smiled at him, and held the ten-inch oblong box. “I had dinner with a friend before she went to Prague. She came back with this. I bought it from her.”
He took it reluctantly. “I thought it was supposed to be the other way around, Karen. I give the flowers, candy, chocolate.... “
“Has anything about us been done the ‘right way’, Kermit?” she asked.
He put the lid on the table beside the glass, and gently folded back the tissue paper.
The single golden rose lay in a bed of live ferns. The glass glowed in the light of the flames.
“The color of your hair when the sun’s shining through it,” he mused, staring at it. He held it up, comparing hair with glass. “No, that is more finely-spun—”
She put her hand on his lips. “Kermit, don’t, please.”
“An highly-overrated holiday,” she jested. “For anyone in love, every day is Valentine’s day.”
He stared at disbelief, then guffawed. He delicately placed the rose and box on the table out of harm’s way. “I wouldn’t have expected to hear that from you.”
“My ex-husband was all for a dozen roses, a bottle of champagne and working late rather than coming home and having dinner. He’d go see one of his lovers and come in reeking of cheap perfume. I admire the sentiments behind Valentine’s Day but I don’t take them too seriously.”
Kermit nodded. “My wives always wanted chocolate and candies and bouquets of flowers. Even after they left me. It was the one time a year I’d hear from all of them.”
Simms touched his cheek. “I do have one thing I want from you this Valentine’s Day, Kermit.”
A shadow of wariness crossed his eyes. “What?”
A blink. “What?”
“You. Tonight. In the bedroom.”
“Karen...This isn’t smart—”
She gave him a playful tap on the chin, enough to be a light reproach. “Must you always think of the long-term, Kermit Griffin? I’m not thinking of next week or next year. I’m thinking of right now. We deal with tomorrow, tomorrow.”
“Before dinner?” His grin broadened. One arm went around her waist pulling her down into his lap. “Or am I—”
“Don’t say it! Don’t be tacky,” she laughed. She kissed him swiftly, and tasted whiskey on his lips. He was more drunk than he would admit. “This chair’s too small.”
“Then let’s go down the hall,” he replied. “I didn’t realize you had this in mind for tonight.”
“I’ve had it in mind since New Year’s Eve,” she said dryly. “I just had to find a way to tell you.”
He laughed, and stood, still holding her in his arms. “We’ll get dinner later.”
“That sounds good.”