Beans, my cat solves mysteries, and sometimes that gets me in trouble. This time, however, it’s my own fault that I’m sitting in a greenhouse with a ton of stolen roses listening to Rodney Calhoun talk about what he is going to do to me if he finds me.
It all started innocently enough. Beans and I were sitting on the couch listening to the evening news. Occasionally, Beans will react to a story and begin providing me clues that lead me to solving the mystery, or sometimes calling the police and letting them handle it.
A story came on that caught my attention, about a rose grower names Calhoun, who claimed that his roses were being taken right out of the ground. Calhoun is the largest supplier of roses in the area.
“Mr. Calhoun said if the thefts continue, there might not be enough roses for the annual Rose Festival and parade. Parade organizer Dana Murphy told me that this could be a disaster.” The reported looked very concerned.
Mayor Himes was up next. “The police are working on the thefts and anyone with information should call the Tip Hotline.” Or the Beans tip line as I like to call it.
I was surprised that Beans didn’t react to the story, this was the type of story he usually liked. But he just sat on the back of the couch by my head, purring.
But, I was intrigued. I looked Calhoun farms up on the computer and found that they were the largest grower of roses in the area, and the official supplier of roses for the annual Rose Festival. Rory Calhoun had inherited the business from his father, Festus.
Rodney had been a few years ahead of me in school. He was always popular, but mostly because his father owned the rose farm, and he had money. He went away to school and didn’t come back until his father got sick, earlier this year.
The next morning, I was reading the newspaper and Beans jumped on the table. He gave me a look that he usually reserved for when I forgot his dinner. He meowed and walked over and stepped on the paper, then turned, waved his tail in my face, and walked away.
The article he had stepped on was titled, “New Source Found for Roses.” The article quoted Dana Murphy as saying, “We will have top ay a little more this year, but the Rose Festival is saved.”
Apparently, Beans was satisfied, but something was still bothering me. It seemed like quite a coincidence that a new rose grower showed up just in time to save the festival. I don’t believe in coincidences, and usually, Beans doesn’t either.
But I didn’t have anything to go on, and Beans didn’t seem interested, so I let it go.
Two days later, I drove by a truck that had a pile of plants that looked like rose plants, that were covered in black trash bags with root balls covered in burlap. It wasn’t too unusual to see pick-up trucks hauling plants, but this one was pulling out of Calhoun’s farm.
That night on the news, there was another story about a theft at Calhoun Farms. I didn’t need Beans to tell me something funny was happening. Which is good, because he didn’t seem to be interested at all.
Until Thad Robinson came on with the reporter. Thad was the new supplier of roses who had shown up just in time. “I’m glad we can help with the Rose Festival, and only wish we could do more.”
Beans jumped down and went to the TV, putting his paws on the screen and meowing loudly at Robinson’s image, until he disappeared from the screen. Then he turned and stared at me and moaned as if to say, “What are you going to do about this?”
“Calm down, Beans, I will check it out.”
That seemed to satisfy him, and he padded off to the bedroom. But he came back in a few minutes with a small bottle f perfume in his mouth that he brought over and dropped at my fee. It was a cheap version of an expensive designer brand. It was named ‘Scandal’.
“Not much help, Beans.” I already knew there was a possible scandal. Beans’ sudden interest, though, focused on Thad Robinson. Beans was staring at me still, so I relented. “Ok, Beans, I will look into it. Tomorrow.”
Beans jumped up on the couch and sat in a crouched position, staring at me like I was a catnip mouse. I chose to ignore him and watched the rest of the news before I went to bed.
In the morning, Beans wasn’t on the bed. I got up and went into the kitchen to make some coffee, and Beans was standing on my desk staring at the computer. I was relieved that he hadn’t been able to turn it on – it was scary enough that he left me clues, I didn’t want to think about him using the computer.
After the coffee was done, I sat at my computer and started looking for Thad Robinson. I found the recent articles about the Rose Festival, but he didn’t seem to exist before that. His company, Thad’s Flowers didn’t have a web page or anything but the same article. This seemed fishy, so I decided to go check out his business. Beans chose not to go with me.
I drove out of town to the address given online for Thad’s Flowers, which was out on Highway 8, on the way to Jenkin’s Lake. I used to drive this way a lot when I was a kid, but it didn’t look anything like it had when I was young.
The roadside businesses had all been overcome by the mall on the outskirts of town, and the farms all looked rundown. About three miles past the mall, there was a small sign for Thad’s Flowers. The sign looked hand-painted, and recently done. There was no farmhouse or barns, no farm equipment or silos, just a small complex of greenhouses. And parked outside of one of the greenhouses was the truck I had seen yesterday.
I didn’t want to be too obvious, so I kept driving. I went about two miles and pulled into an abandoned strawberry stand where I sat for about five minutes until a truck pulled up next to me, and Rodney Calhoun climbed out and walked over to my window.
Trying to act like nothing happened, I rolled down my window. “Can I help you?”
“This place is closed.” He didn’t seem unfriendly.
“I know. I just stopped to check something on my phone.” That was kind of true, I had been trying to find out more about Thad Robinson, but had not been successful.
“Is everything alright?” He sounded concerned, but was checking out the inside of my car, probably looking for clues to what I was doing there.
“I’m fine. In fact, I was just going to head back to town – I need to feed my cat.” He didn’t need to know that, but it was the most normal thing I could think of.
He paused for a few seconds, and seemed to be thinking about something, and then smiled at me. “Ok. I’m glad you’re alright. Go take care of your cat.”
I expected something much more sinister, but smiled and said, “Thanks.” I rolled up my window and started the car. As I backed out, I saw him talking on the phone and frowning. I didn’t want to know who he was talking to, but I had an idea.
About half-way back to town, a truck pulled out of the old Buddy’s Burgers, and turned to follow me. I might have been paranoid, but the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I wished Beans was there.
When I got to Main Street, I turned left instead of right, to see if the truck would follow me. It did. Then I turned on Hamilton, but the truck kept going, so I let out a big sigh, although I didn’t relax. I checked my mirrors all the way home.
When I got in the house, I told Beans what had happened. He didn’t react, which was normal. Maybe I was overreacting. Maybe Rodney was just being a good neighbor. Maybe people were stealing his roses and he was a little suspicious of strangers.
That night on the news, there was a story about people decorating floats for the Rose parade. “The cost of roses has gone up, but we are just glad we were able to get some in time. The parade wouldn’t be the same without roses.” Dana Murphy was the parade organizer. In high school, she had been Dana Wolowski, and she had hung out with … Rodney Calhoun. I didn’t recognize her at first because she had a different nose and had been a brunette. She looked better with red hair.
So, this changed things. What if Dana was working with Rodney and Thad Robinson, or whoever he is, to scam money from the parade and festival. But Beans didn’t react, so maybe it was just my imagination.
Just as I was falling into a deep sleep and starting a dream about sitting on a beach under a palm tree that was dropping coconuts all around me, Beans jumped on my pillow ad moaned quietly. I immediately woke up and listened, but didn’t hear anything. Beans jumped off the bed and ran into the kitchen.
When I got there, Beans was standing on the counter by the window. I peeked out the side of the curtains and saw the truck from Thad’s Flowers parked behind my car. I was still sleepy and it took a minute before I put the pieces together and panic started to set in.
I sensed him before I felt the rag over my face, and then my only thought before I faded back into my dream was why Beans hadn’t reacted to the man being in the house. Beans was usually more on top of things. Maybe he was in on it.
When I woke up, I was in a green house, surrounded by rows of rose plants in various shades of red, yellow and white. It smelled great.
I could hear Rodney talking to someone. “The question is whether to drop the body in the pond, or to bury it in the mulch pile and let it become fertilizer.”
“Couldn’t we just stage an auto accident. Maybe she could run off the side of the road and hit a tree.” She may look different, but I would recognize Dana’s squeaky little voice anywhere.
“Too many potential clues. The lake is much safer.” I didn’t recognize the voice. It must have been Thad Robinson. He sounded like a crook.
Personally, I would prefer the mulch pile, so at least I would be helping grow those beautiful roses. Whatever they used to put me to sleep must have still been affecting me because I thought I saw a fuzzy version of Beans walking toward me.
Beans looked like he had rolled in a mulch pile. He had clumps of dirt, straw and other organic material sticking out of his coat but he walked over casually and dropped my cell phone next to me. I didn’t even want to know how, and he wouldn’t tell me if I asked. I had, several times.
I picked up the phone and dialed 911. The operator answered after two rings. “911, what is your emergency?”
The group who had been discussing how to dispose of me, heard the operator. “What was that?” Thad didn’t sound happy.
“Didn’t you take her phone from her?” Rodney sounded even angrier.
“She didn’t have a phone on her.” Thad sounded indignant that his kidnapping skills were being questioned.
“Alright, you two. Stop arguing and go find out what’s going on.” Dana’s voice was much less obnoxious when she was taking charge.
The two men rushed over to me. I said, “Help” loud enough that the operator could hear, and Beans let out his best howl, and then ran off down the aisle.
“Get that damn cat.” Rodney picked up the phone and said calmly, “I’m sorry, there has been a misunderstanding. Everything here is fine.” He thanked tehe operator and hung up the phone, shoving it in his pocket.
Thad came back without Beans. “He got way. He was out the door before I could get to him.”
“Bring her with you. We’ll have to figure out something on the way.” Rodney’s voice was very firm, like he was used to telling Thad what to do.
Thad pulled me up and dragged me toward the door. I was still a little unclear about what was going on, but this much I knew. No phone, no Beans, No police. I was in real trouble.
We all walked outside and Thad pushed me into the back of a SUV, which I assumed was Dara’s. Rodney closed up the greenhouse and he and Thad jumped into the Thad’s Flowers truck and sprayed dirt and gravel everywhere as they sped down the dirt road toward the highway.
I had no idea where we were going, and neither would the police. Beans was nowhere around and couldn’t help me now, even if he was here.
We drove for a while, following Rodney’s truck. Dara didn’t say a word, and didn’t look at me.
“You don’t have to do this, Dara.” Sometimes, in the movies, it worked.
“I’m not. Rodney is. I’m just in it for the money.” Back to the irritating voice.
You’re going to get caught.” If reason didn’t work, maybe a threat would. “If I could figure it out, the police will be able to figure it out, eventually.”
“We’ll be long gone by then.”
I hadn’t thought about that. They weren’t just scamming the profits, they were going to take all the money and run.
“If you kill me, they won’t give up so easily.”
She just laughed. “Where we are going to put you, they will never find you. Besides, they will probably just assume that you were in on it and left with us.
Good point. “What about the 911 call?”
“Even if they didn’t believe Rodney, Anson will take care of it. He knows people.”
And it hit me. Thad wasn’t Thad Robinson. He was Anson Towers. He had been one of the best receivers to ever play at our high school, but had been kicked out of college in a huge scandal involving throwing State’s big bowl game. He had dark hair now, and a beard that made him look different, but it all came together. Rodney had played with Anson at State, and was investigated, but never charged in the scandal. He wasn’t good enough to affect the games.
So, at least I had the satisfaction of figuring it all out before they did away with me. But I felt bad for Beans, left at the greenhouse, miles from home, with no one to go home to, no one to solve mysteries with. And I would never learn how he figured things out.
I was busy feeling sorry for myself, and for Beans, but was jerked back into reality by the flashing blue light that came on behind us.
Dara started to speed up, but a siren came on and the police car pulled along side before speeding up to pass Rodney’s truck and slowly forcing him to the side of the road. A second car pulled up behind us, and Dara sighed and slammed her hand on the steering wheel. “Damn!”
The officers approached both cars with their guns drawn. “Get out of the vehicles slowly, with your hands up. Dara opened the door and bolted out into the field. One of the officers easily ran her down, cuffed her and brought her back.
I got out as directed and stood by the car in my pajamas with my hands in the air, wondering how they found us.
Rodney and Anson had given up easily. They had both obviously been through the process before and demanded to talk with their attorneys. The officers sat them down next to Dara on the side of the road.
“You can put your hands down, ma’am,” The officer looked familiar. His badge said Rodriguez. ”Are you okay?”
“I’m still a little groggy.” Things were still a little fuzzy. “They drugged me with something. How did you find us?”
“The GPS on your phone.” Rodney hadn’t turned it off before he stuck it in his pocket. “The dispatcher recognized your number from your calls to the tip line, and when the cat meowed, she figured out you were in trouble.”
“We have a few questions for you, and then an officer will take you home.” Officer Rodriguez was very reassuring.
“Whatever you need to know.” I was so happy to be saved, I would have told them about my the world’s worst blind date if they asked.
As I stood there waiting to be interviewed, Beans jumped out of the back of the truck and walked over to me, rubbing himself against my leg as if everything was normal.
That night, we watched the report on the news. Apparently, the police had recognized Anson and were investigating him in conjunction with the rose thefts. My kidnapping had been left out of the information provided by the police.
Beans snuggled up next to me and purred as we watched the news report, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that he had used me as bait to draw out the criminals.
Or maybe I was just being paranoid.