© Christopher Allen 2018 All Rights Reserved
It was a day like any other day when Frank’s phone rang. He was driving along West 63rd near Midway Airport and took the call over the car’s audio system.
“DeGrae Investigations”, he said. “Frank speaking.”
“Is this Mr. Frank DeGrae?” came an unknown voice over the speakers.
“Mr. DeGrae my name is Willard Smalley. I wanted to speak with you about the murder of my mother.”
“Oh? Do you know who did it?”
“Oh no sir. That’s why we need you.”
“Where did it happen?” Frank asked as he turned north onto South Cicero Avenue.
“She was killed in her home on West 78th Street.”
“So when did this go down and have the police been notified?”
“Oh, I’ve got most of the file. It happened in October back in 1993.”
“1993? Are you serious? Over twenty five years ago?”
“I’m afraid so. The police call it a ‘Cold Case’ and I think they’ve quit looking. I’ve checked with them once or twice a year for several years and I just hear the same story. Another family member who lives in Chicago told me about you. I thought since you were near Midway you would know the area better and could help us.”
“Look, you do know when a crime goes unsolved for a long period of time the likelihood of a successful conclusion gets slimmer and slimmer?”
“Alright then. We’ll need to set up an appointment to meet face to face at my office.”
“Thank you Mr. DeGrae.”
Two weeks later they were in Frank’s office drinking coffee and poring over Willard’s file. Frank finally asked, “Are these crime scene photos all you have? There aren’t very many and they don’t show much.”
“I’m not sure they gave me all of them but I do have this disk. There’s supposed to be many more photos on there.”
“Well, well… let’s take a look at that.”
A few days later, “Carnations!?” said Frank’s horticulture buddy over at the university.
“Yes Jerry. Carnations. Look at this picture, will ya’?”
“Alright”, he said as he craned his neck to look. “Now what can I do with this?”
“Tell me what you know about this particular flower. Everything.”
Early the next morning Frank set out for Cleveland, Ohio. On Friday morning Frank arrived at his client’s residence about midway between Cleveland and Alliance. Ringing the doorbell Willard Smalley opened the door and with a startled look he excitedly said, “Frank!? Frank, what are you doing here!?”
“Well Willard, I think I’ve found something I needed to run by you as soon as was possible. I couldn’t wait for you to come back to Chicago and I certainly didn’t want to discuss this over the phone. May I come in?”
“Certainly. Come on in”, Willard said as he backed away from the door and stepped aside.
Sitting on the couch Frank opened his briefcase, pulled out the photos, and handed them to Willard. “What do you see Willard? Take your time and look closely.”
Reaching out toward Willard, Frank said, “Here Willard. I’ll show you.” With a quizzical look he handed them back.
“Here Willard”, Frank said as he pointed to the photo. “Do you see these flowers strewn all about the room?” Willard nodded in silence.
“Look closer. You’ll notice they were not purchased at a florist but rather picked by hand.”
Willard scowled a bit and asked, “Now how do you know that?”
“Look at the different stems. Some appear to have been pulled from the soil. Here’s one with tiny roots. They’re very small but the hair like strings are roots. Then look at this one. Broken and torn stems. These flowers were pulled by hand from someone’s flower bed or garden.”
“Alright. What does that mean?” asked Willard.
“Nothing, by itself. Did you know Carnations have not always been in this country? Did you know they come in many, many different colors but there is a reason for that?”
“What are you trying to say? Just get to it.”
“Did you know there is no such thing as a blue carnation in nature? All blue carnations are the product of genetic engineering. And only since the 1990’s. It’s also noted, at least in nature, certain colors are the product of their surroundings or the soil conditions they grow in.”
“Are you going to tell me about my mother’s murder or give me a lesson in carnation horticulture?”
“Willard, these carnations are red.”
“I can see that. Why are we talking about blue flowers?”
“Willard… this specific shade of red has been determined by an expert I know to have originated in this part of Ohio. A politician and doctor of the nineteenth century by the name of Levi Lamborn was also an avid amateur horticulturist specializing in carnations. He developed this flower, or this color for the carnation and it was even later adopted by the State of Ohio as the official State Flower. It is unique to this part of the country. The flowers on the floor in these photos came from here.”
“Are you suggesting I had anything to do with this?”
“I spoke with your aunt. Your mother’s sister. She still lives south of Cleveland and after a while she did recall just before the news of her sister’s death you came by and pulled some red carnations from her flower bed next to the house. She didn’t ask why and thought nothing more of it.”
About this time more vehicles eased to a stop in front of the house. Willard craned his neck attempted to get a better view of who arrived. “What is this Mr. DeGrae?”
“Willard, they’re here with a warrant. A search warrant for your house and your DNA. The judge seemed to agree there was probable cause for at least a search warrant.”
“Alright Mr. DeGrae. Alright. Those are my flowers. The rest of this will not be necessary.”
“Over the years how many other officers or investigators have you tried to get to develop a suspect to cover you? No one could quite do it and your fear and guilt would rise back up. You couldn’t rest with this remaining an unsolved cold case. Someone had to be nailed down to give you peace. Well Willard, you can rest easy now.”