The couple sitting in my office, who had obviously crossed the borderline between middle and old age, looked around the room with disapproval.
“You have no plants in your office, Mr. Tuff,” said the woman, stating the obvious.
“No, I haven’t,” I replied, agreeing with the obvious. I hoped she wasn’t going to find fault with my crammed bookshelves. I have nothing against plants, but inside ones, requiring regular watering, I regard as aquaholics, and outdoor ones… well, if I am going to spend time growing something, it must be more than a thing of ephemeral beauty: it must also be edible.
“We’re Greg and Flora Mendel,” the man said, “and we need your help.” Evidently they were willing to forgive my plantlessness.
“We are both retired,” said Mrs. Mendel, “and we are avid horticulturalists. We raise different kinds of flowers and often compete in shows. There is one in a few days for daffodils and we had great hope of winning.” It sounded like Organic Olympics and in my twisted imagination a long jumper landed in a pit of flowers.
“But recently,” said Mr. Mendel, “some vandal destroyed our whole bed of daffodils.” I was afraid he would burst into tears. I hate to see a man cry, especially in my office, because weepers use up my supply of Kleenex.
“Maybe I should see the scene of the crime,” I suggested.
I followed their car in mine and parked in front of their home, a small house in a middle-class neighbourhood (I like to think that Blandsville has no slums). They led me through their neat, clean house, but the ubiquitous plants made it like an expedition through the Amazon jungle. Most of the back yard consisted of beds of various kinds of flowers, all growing healthily except for the daffodils, which looked as if they had been the target of carpet bombing. They had been reduced to mulch.
“Only the daffodils have been destroyed,” I observed.
“Yes, but with the contest coming up, they were our most valuable species.”
“Have the other contestants been vandalized too?”
“The three we’ve talked to, yes.”
The Mendels gave me the address of Avery Blundage, the man who was running the contest. His house was surrounded by flowers and the back yard consisted of rows of plants, even though he could not enter the contests himself.
“We horticulturalists love all plant life.” Even noxious weeds, I wondered. “I can’t imagine any of our members harming any flowers.” Well, I thought, plants don’t commit suicide, so there is a demented daffodilophobe on the loose, committing floricide. But it was the kind of case I liked: one in which no one is likely to get hurt, especially physically, especially me.
Mr. Blundage gave me the names and addresses of the other six daffodillists, or whatever they are called, in the contest and I went to check on them. Leif and Petal Stemsons’ daffodils had been in a long row in the middle of their garden and to destroy them the culprit had had to step into the soil at the edge, but he – or she – had carefully erased any incriminating footprints with a rake, probably the Stemson’s, since a person carrying the tool along the street would have stood out like a clown in a funeral procession.
The Planters’ daffodils were near the edge of their garden, making the destruction easy, while Holly Hawke, a widow, had hers in three short rows in the middle of her garden, but it was smaller and the criminal had reached the flowers without having to step into the bed.
My final visit was to a six-foot-six-inch, appropriately named man, Dick Tallman, a bachelor. “But not for long,” he grinned. “I’m getting married three days after the contest.” Being barely average in height, I am usually intimidated by tall people, but Mr. Tallman seemed unthreatening.
Amid the carnage of his daffodils, a couple of lonely survivors still stood. “Luckily, I must have scared him off before he completed his heartless destruction.”
“Besides Mr. Blundage and you and the other… daffodillers, who would know all of the contestants?”