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The Garden of Eden and Other Criminal Delights
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around August 21, 2006. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Also by Faye Kellerman
The Ritual Bath
Sacred and Profane
The Quality of Mercy
Milk and Honey
Day of Atonement
Prayers for the Dead
(with Jonathan Kellerman)
Straight into Darkness
"The Garden of Eden" is an original
Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus tale written
specifically for this anthology. It
combines my love of gardening with my
love of mystery writing. I gave my
protagonist, Rina, gardening as a hobby
because she's a nurturing person, and
planting a garden is a way to give back
to Mother Earth. The story deals with
the search for the almighty buck when
true treasures are found in the most
IT BEGAN AS SOMETHING RECREATIONAL, A WAY TO pass the time pleasantly, but then, as insidious as a burrowing maggot, it turned into an addiction. By six months, every room in the house was a biological testament to Rina Decker's hobby, from the bedrooms and bathrooms to the living room and the laundry room, plants, sprouts, shoots, and cultivars crowding out space once reserved for human inhabitants. Given the dire circumstances, she knew she'd have to act, but the decision was torturous. Which ones merited the honor of being houseplants, and which ones had to be sacrificed for the good of the family?
"I feel like I'm living in the Congo," Decker complained as he sipped coffee at the breakfast table. He was about to tackle the Sunday paper, though he harbored little hope of finishing it. Something always came up.
"What's wrong with the Congo?" Rina countered. "It's foreign, it's exotic . . . Where's your sense of adventure?"
"Sucked out by the miscreants in the streets of Los Angeles, thank you very much. God and Koolaire have given us creature comforts for a reason, Rina. If I wanted to live in a tropical rain forest, I'd pick a more idyllic spot than the San Fernando Valley. The house has become unbearable—way too hot, dripping wet, and teeming with bugs."
"That's because you leave the back door open."
"I leave the back door open because I'm a big guy and I need circulation. Otherwise I drown in my own sweat."
That was true. Peter was six-four, 230 pounds, and in great shape. The bulge of his winter gut usually melted away in the more active summer months. The only hints of his age in the sixth decade were the increasing streaks of white coursing through his ginger-colored hair and mustache. Rina's husband still cut a handsome figure. She said, "I know you need circulation. That's why the ceiling fans are on all the time."
"All they do is blow around the hot air. We need air-conditioning, darlin'."
"Orchids are sensitive."
"So are husbands." The ribbing was good-natured, but there was a lot of truth in it. "Look. I can tolerate the bathrooms. Bathrooms are usually wet and hot. And so are kitchens and laundry rooms. I'll even acquiesce to the living room and den. But I put my foot down with the bedrooms. Even Hannah's complaining. She feels that you've expropriated her space."
"That's ridiculous. There's nothing in her room except a few African violets."
"Fifteen, at last count."
"They barely fill up her windowsill."
Decker took a deep breath in an attempt to harness patience. "Rina, both your daughter and I are glad you found something that taps into your instinct to nurture and that pleases your aesthetic eye."
Rina stifled a smile. "It's my calling, Peter."
"Fantastic!" Decker said wryly. "Everyone should have a passion. Unfortunately, instead of a passion, I have a job . . . a demanding job. I've got to work, which means I've got to sleep. It's either your Bletilla striata or me."
Rina saw the desperate look on her husband's face. He had reached his limit. "I'll clear the bedrooms. I think I have a millimeter's worth of space on a shelf in the laundry area."
Inwardly, Decker chided himself for his laziness. "I know I've been promising to frame the prefab greenhouse." He wanted to add, The one that's taking up most of the room in the garage so that my vintage Porsche has been relegated to the driveway under a measly cover. But years of marriage had taught him a little tact. He didn't know why he kept putting off the construction of the greenhouse. It wouldn't take more than a half-day to build it. Maybe, psychologically, he was afraid of what would happen if she had even more room for plants. "And I appreciate that you haven't nagged me to build it even though we bought it months ago."
"You work hard and put up with long, long hours. Your time should be your own." Rina was using her best self-sacrificing voice. "That's precisely why I took up gardening. To occupy my time during those long, long hours—"
"All right, all right!" Decker broke in. He covered his face with his hands, then looked at her between his fingers. "Just promise me you won't turn into a dotty old lady like what's-her-name."
Decker smiled. "Yeah, dotty old Cecily with the eponymous garden. Is Eden really her last name, or did she change it to match her obsession?"
"As far as I know, it's her given last name, and she's not dotty. She's very sharp—a retired microbiologist. She always jokes that she went from growing aerobes to growing Aerides." Rina laughed out loud. When Decker didn't respond, she gently nudged his shoulder and said, "A little inside garden joke."
Decker tried to remain serious but finally gave in and laughed. She was so cheerful this morning. Rina was still his twenty-six-year-old bride, though she had climbed over the forty mark a few years ago. In the past, they had been mistaken for father and daughter, even though he was only twelve years older than she was. Rina had a beautiful complexion, and her hair was still black, although he rarely saw it in its full glory. Traditional Orthodox Jewish convention dictated that married women cover their locks whenever they went out in public. Lately, she'd taken to wearing big straw sun hats and goofy sunglasses.
"You really should see Cecily's garden, Peter. It's magnificent. She has the most unusual plants. The crowning jewel in her backyard is an imported Chinese sacred tree. It's like a magnolia but has these smaller white blossoms with an intoxicating citrus aroma. It's so green and gorgeous. It's from China, it blooms in the fall, just when most plants are fading away."
"I'm sure it's a sight to behold."
Rina clucked her tongue. "How ironic that you're being sarcastic. When we first married, you were the one who communed daily with nature, Mr. Cowboy."
"Yeah, but I never brought the horses into the house. Do you need help with the plants, darlin'?"
Rina stared at him, then broke into a grin. "You want to garden with me? That would be great!"
Decker backtracked. "Uh, I meant, do you need help taking the plants out of the bedrooms and into the laundry room?"
Rina smiled to hide her disappointment. "No, I'm fine. It's not exactly strenuous work."
Now she looked dejected. To Decker, gardening meant chopping down trees or hacking away brush, not transplanting cultivars. He took her hand and spoke in earnest. "You know, Rina, it's a beautiful day. How about if you clear the bedrooms of the foliage and bring all the plants outside while I finally build the prefab greenhouse. We can christen it together."
Rina managed a weak smile. He was trying. "You don't have to build it today, Peter. I can cram the plants into the laundry room."
"No, no, no. I'm determined." Decker stood up, a small physical step that signified the morphing of a theoretical idea into action. "C'mon. Hannah's at Julie's. Let's spend some time together outdoors. You garden and I'll build. Afterward, I'll pick some lemons and you'll make lemonade. Then I'll go get some sandwiches from the deli and we'll watch the Dodgers game together. How does that sound?"
This time Rina's smile was genuine. "Actually, it sounds wonderful."
"Great! Let's get to it!" Decker picked up the paper and headed for the compost pile. One Sunday Times would make a week's worth of excellent mulch.
Tuesday from twelve to two had been earmarked as Rina's weekly get-together with Cecily Eden, and she couldn't wait to tell her elderly friend about the newly built greenhouse. Rina was pretty sure that, to celebrate the construction, Cecily would insist on giving her all sorts of plants and would spurn any proffered payments. In order to offset this inequity, Rina had come to her friend's house armed with a plate of chocolate-chip cookies fresh from the oven.
As usual, she walked up the driveway to the backyard gate and automatically turned the knob. This time she found it locked. Usually, Cecily left it open when she knew Rina was coming. It was good that the old woman was finally taking precautions. Rina would often scold her: "You shouldn't be so trusting, Cecily."
The old woman would laugh. "At my age, what does it matter? If anyone breaks in, he can take whatever he wants."
Backtracking over the driveway, Rina went around to the front door. Cecily lived in a ranch house built in the fifties, what Realtors called midcentury style. Her kitchen and bathroom still had original tile, and her furniture had lived through enough years to be considered retro. The old woman kept the place spotless. Having worked with germs all her life, she was a stickler for cleanliness.
The structure wasn't much bigger than a bungalow, but the property was over a half-acre. Rina rang the bell, and when no one answered, she rang it again. She knocked but still got no response.
Strange, Rina thought, because she knew that Cecily was expecting her. As she was about to walk away, almost as an afterthought, she gave a quick jiggle to the knob. She was shocked that the door yielded with the turn of her wrist.
The gate was locked . . . but the door was open.
Instinctively, Rina knew that something was wrong. She should have called Peter, but what was the sense of disturbing him at work before she had proof that things were amiss? As a lieutenant, Peter had his hands full of mishap and mayhem. She didn't want to add to the mix unless necessary.
"Cecily?" she called out. "It's Rina. Are you home?"
She stepped inside a tidy living room abloom with spring flowers—roses, lilies, irises, daffodils, tulips, and Cecily's prized orchids. The couch had been upholstered in old floral fabric that looked something like wisteria vines through trellises. Two wicker chairs sat opposite the sofa. The carpet was green; the walls were peach-colored and plastered with botanical artwork—plants and flowers rendered in oil paintings, watercolors, crayon, pencil, charcoal, pastels, every possible drawing medium. Some were good, some were bad, and lots were mediocre. It was hard to enjoy any individual work, because there were so many of them hung chockablock. Still, Rina was always effusive when Cecily presented her latest acquisition picked up at a junk shop or flea market.
I've been collecting them for years, Cecily would say.
Again Rina called out the old woman's name. When she didn't get an answer, she began to worry, although nothing seemed out of place. She walked through the dining room, setting the cookies on the table, and went into the kitchen. Maybe Cecily had been called away suddenly. Rina knew that the old woman had two grown daughters and several grandchildren. Cecily had mentioned them in passing; nothing extensive, but nothing to indicate that the relationships were strained.
"Cecily?" Rina walked through the kitchen and laundry room, then out the back door. "Cecily, are you home?"
It was mid-May, and the garden was in full bloom, a riot of colors and heavy with fragrance. Cecily had divided and subdivided her lot, creating ecosystems and microclimates connected seamlessly by pathways and lanes. She had placed her rose gardens, bulb gardens, and cutting gardens where there was an abundance of sun and some partial shade. Tucked into a back corner was the Zen garden, with a pavilion and a small fishpond covered by barely visible netting that kept out the predators—stray cats, squirrels, raccoons, and herons. The other corner housed her greenhouse. The orchard took up the rest of the space, giant avocados providing shade for aromatic citrus trees. In the center was the rare Chinese sacred tree. A year ago, Cecily and her gardener had built a bench around its trunk. It was one of her favorite spots for reading and relaxing.
It was there that Rina discovered the body.
Gasping, she rushed over and felt for a pulse—for any signs of life—but she knew it was hopeless. There was no heartbeat and no breathing. The pupils were dilated and fixed, her empty eyes brazenly staring into the sun. Still, Rina called 911. Then she called her husband.
The investigator from the coroner's office was named Gloria, a woman in her mid-thirties who had recently come to the profession. Wearing traditional dark scrubs emblazoned with CORONER'S INVESTIGATOR in yellow, she got up from her kneeling position and snapped off her latex gloves. She looked at Rina. "Do you know if she had any health problems?"
Rina shook her head.
Decker said, "Find anything sinister other than the bruise on her left temple?"
"Nope, and the bruise was probably caused by her falling and hitting her head on the ground. Nothing to indicate blunt-force trauma. She was an old woman. She must have had a doctor."
"Henry Goldberg," Decker said. "He's a cardiologist. I found out his name from one of Cecily's daughters. He's on his way."
"Great," Gloria said. "I think I'm done here. You can go over the body if you want, but I'm feeling that she died of natural causes. If Dr. Goldberg feels comfortable signing off on the death certificate, that's fine with me. That way the next of kin can call up the funeral home, and they can come pick up the body. If not, have the guys bring her to the morgue, and one of our doctors will sign her off."
"No autopsy?" Rina asked.
"Not unless her physician or her children demand it."
"Thanks," Decker said.
"You're welcome, Lieutenant."
After Gloria left, Decker turned to his wife. "What have you been waiting to tell me?"
Rina bit her thumbnail. "It's probably stupid."
"It probably isn't. What's bothering you?"
"Cecily usually unlocks the back gate for me when she knows I'm coming. I tell her not to, but she does it anyway. This time she locked the gate . . . but the front door was unlocked. I find that odd."
Decker agreed. "What do you know about her family?"
Rina shook her head. "Two daughters. The elder one is married with children."
"Yes, Edwina, that's the one. I didn't know her last name. Cecily would mention her occasionally, usually in connection with her grandchildren. The younger daughter is Meredith. I don't know a thing about her other than her name."
"Did Cecily ever talk about tension between her daughters and herself?"
"Between you and me, I looked around the house. Everything's neat and in place."
"Cecily was tidy. She used to say it came from years of working in a lab."
"Except one of her bedroom dresser drawers wasn't shut tight. A piece of a sweater was wedged between the drawer and the framework. It was a heavy sweater. You know how warm the days have been. Why would she be looking in her sweater drawer?"
"Maybe it's been wedged that way for a long time."
"All the other drawers were shut tight. This one drawer doesn't fit with her image as tidy, does it?"
"Maybe she just never noticed it. You probably wouldn't have noticed it if you hadn't been looking."
Again Rina bit her nail. "What is it, Peter? Do you think I might have interrupted a robbery?"
"Possibly. Someone heard you yelling over the gate, bolted out the front door, and didn't lock it."
"I didn't see anyone."
"That doesn't mean there wasn't anyone. Did you happen to hear a car take off?"
"Honestly, I don't remember. Was the door jimmied open?"
"I didn't find any obvious pry marks, and the lock was a deadbolt. I think if someone was inside the house, he or she got in with a key."
"Or Cecily could have let them in."
"Of course. Maybe I'm on the wrong track totally. Still, I'd like to find out who had a key to her house."
"I'm sure her daughters do." Rina made a face. "I can't believe they'd hurt her. And didn't the coroner's investigator say it looked like natural causes?"
"Sure, it could have been a heart attack. But what if the heart attack was brought on by a bad argument? What if she didn't fall to the ground but was pushed? We have an unlocked door, a locked gate, and a drawer that's askew in an otherwise compulsively neat bedroom. I've been a cop too long not to ask certain questions, and my first one is who has a key to her house." Decker looked at the garden gate. Two distraught women had corraled Gloria, the coroner's investigator. They spoke to her while waving their arms frantically. Decker put his arm around his wife. "Go on home, honey. We'll talk later. Right now it's time to meet the next of kin."
"This is dreadful!" Meredith sniffed back tears. "Just terrible."
"I'm so sorry for your loss," Dr. Goldberg, the cardiologist, told Cecily's daughters. He had shown up five minutes after the daughters. He was in his sixties, a short, slight man with long tapered fingers. "I've handled many patients in my years. Your mother had a wonderful spirit. I think it was her attitude that helped her last this long." He turned to Decker. "She'd had two prior heart attacks."
Edwina blotted her wet eyes with a tissue. Her gaze went from the doctor to Decker. "She gardened because she could no longer rock climb or go white-water rafting."
"Ah," Decker said. He observed the sisters, noting that though there was a strong familial resemblance—both women had oval faces and hazel eyes—they were nothing alike. Edwina, who drove a new 450SL Mercedes, was precise and meticulous in her appearance: dark business suit and heels, clipped and styled blond hair, long manicured nails. Meredith wore a T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. Her hair was shoulder-length, brunette streaked with gray. She drove an ancient Dodge Dart. They were in their forties, not more than a couple of years apart. "Your mother was very active in the past?"
"Until her first heart attack," Edwina said.
Goldberg said, "The second one came a year later. That was ten years ago. We stabilized her, but at her age . . ."
Everyone nodded solemnly.
"Mom was one of a kind. She did exactly what she wanted to do and always encouraged us to do the same."
"She certainly had a love of beauty," Decker answered. "This place is paradise."
"Mom's version of paradise." Edwina smiled. "I live in a townhouse overlooking the ocean. No grass, no yard, just a terrace with a couple of potted cacti and a stunning view of the waves. That's my version of paradise."
"That's pretty great also," Decker said.
"If there's anything else I can do for anyone, don't hesitate to call me," Dr. Goldberg said. "I must be getting back. I have patients waiting for me."
Edwina's smile was brief. "She spoke very fondly of you, Doctor. Thank you for everything."
"It was a pleasure being her doctor. Again, my condolences."
"Thank you," Edwina answered.
A forlorn Meredith watched while the men from the funeral home loaded her mother into a van. She shook her head as tears leaked from her eyes. "I can't believe she's gone!"
"She was old, Merry," Edwina said. "It wasn't unexpected."
"It's still a shock, Ed! She wasn't hospitalized or anything like that."
"I should start making arrangements."
"What do you mean by 'I,' sis?"
"'We,' then. We need to start making arrangements. I suppose the smartest thing to do would be to contact Mom's lawyer."
Meredith said, "Mr. Mortimer?"
"Yes, Mr. Mortimer. I'm sure Mom had specific instructions. I know she had a will." Edwina handed Decker a business card. "My phone number, if you should need to reach me."
"Why would he need to reach you?" Meredith asked.
"It's a formality, Merry."
"Actually, I do have a few questions, if you don't mind," Decker said. "For both of you."
"What kind of questions?" Meredith asked.
Edwina checked her watch. "How long?"
"Not too long," Decker said. "Who, besides yourselves, has a key to the house?"
"What do you mean?" asked Meredith.
Edwina glanced at her sister. "Why do you ask?"
"Just trying to button down a few details. Anyone other than you two have a key to the house?"
"No." Meredith looked at her sister. "Right?"
"The gardener," Edwina answered.
"He does?" Meredith's eyes went wide. "Thanks for clueing me in."
"Mom gave it to him, Merry. I wasn't consulted."
"You didn't approve?" Decker asked.
"I just thought it was weird, but Mom was insistent. She claimed he was here more than either of us." Edwina turned to Decker. "Why are you so interested in keys?"
"The front door was unlocked when my wife came over. Do you know if your mother had anything valuable stashed—"
"Oh, dear!" Meredith shrieked. She bolted toward the house.
Decker ran after her. "Hold on, hold on!" He caught up with her at the bedroom. "Don't touch anything! This could be a crime scene!"
Meredith folded her arms across her chest. "Mom kept cash in one of her dresser drawers. I want to see if it's still there!"
Edwina caught up with them. Anxiously, she asked, "Is it there?"
"I don't know. He stopped me from checking."
"Okay . . ." Decker took out several pairs of latex gloves and handed them to the ladies. "Carefully show me where your mother kept the cash. Please be neat about it."
Edwina slipped on the gloves and went right to the sweater drawer. She opened it with a tug. Meticulously, she rooted through the contents, picking up a stack of folded sweaters and sliding her hand to the back. Her face paled as she shook her head. "It's not here!"
"What do you mean it's not here? Where else could it be?" Meredith bent down, about to check the drawer herself, but Decker stopped her.
"Can I look for the both of you?" he asked. "If a burglary took place, I'd like to prevent any contamination of evidence."
"Yes, yes! Hurry up!" Meredith scolded.
"You two watch me." He went through the sweater drawer. There was nothing inside it but clothing. "Is there any other place she could have put the money?"
"She's always kept money there!" Meredith said. "That was her hiding place!"
Edwina chimed in, "Dammit, I kept telling her to put it in investments! Something that would grow. Mom could be so stubborn sometimes."
"All the time!" Meredith was crying now. "I was counting on that money to pay off some loans!" She quickly gasped. "Not that I was thinking about my mother's death to get money!"
Decker nodded but filed her words in his memory bank.
"I know what you're saying," Edwina said. "Losing all that cash is a complete and utter waste!"
"Exactly!" Meredith blew her nose. "Exactly."
"I'm going to check the other drawers now," Decker said. "Watch me, all right?" Twenty minutes of careful searching proved fruitless. He stood up, rolled his shoulders, and shook his head. "How much cash are we talking about?"
"Twenty thousand dollars," Edwina answered.
Decker had to refrain from choking. "Twenty thousand dollars? Cash?"
"Can you believe that?" Edwina snarled. "It is infuriating! I should have known something like this was going to happen."
Decker looked around. The room overflowed with flowers and plants, dozens of botanical drawings and paintings plastered all over the walls. It made Rina's obsession look moderate.
"Tell me about this gardener," he said.
Meredith was sobbing too hard to talk. Edwina bit her lip. "His name is Lee Kwan. He's about seventy years old. He's small and slight, and Mom has known him for over twenty years. I can't believe he'd ever rob her, let alone hurt her."
"What about the lawyer you mentioned?" Decker asked. "Mr. Mortimer. Could he have a key?"
"It's possible," Edwina said.
"What's the name of the firm?" Decker asked.
"Mortimer, Dratsky, and Farrington," Edwina said.
Decker wrote it down. "Anyone else who might have a key? Think hard!" After both women pleaded ignorance, Decker said, "I'll need to speak with Mr. Kwan. Would either of you have a phone number or address for him?"
Edwina went over to the window and drew back the curtains. "Today's your lucky day, Lieutenant Decker. Kwan's truck just pulled up to the curb."
The man seemed completely confused as to why Decker was talking to him. His dismay also could have been the result of his limited English. Kwan's eyes were moist. "Terrible, terrible. She was nice woman."
Edwina was right: Lee was old and slight of build, but there was muscle and sinew in his body.
"You have a key to her house, Mr. Kwan?" Decker said.
"Yes, I have key. You want the key?"
Decker said, "That would be helpful, thank you. Have you ever used it to get into Mrs. Eden's house?"
"No, I never use it. Why would I use it?"
"Why did Mrs. Eden give it to you?"
"I don't know," Kwan answered. "I never ask. She give me key. I take key. You want it?" He fished it off a sizable key ring and dropped it into Decker's waiting palm. "Here is key."
"Thank you, sir." Decker smiled. "Can you tell me where you were this morning, Mr. Kwan?"
The man's eyes narrowed. "I work all morning. Three houses: one in Porter Ranch, two in Canoga Park. Why you ask where was I?"
"Just routine questions. I need the addresses of the houses."
The gardener stared at him. Then he shrugged and said, "Yes, I give you address. I don't see Miss Eden at all today. Maybe if I do, I can help her. Now is too late. How she die?"
"Heart attack," Decker said.
"Yes, yes. She has bad heart. A couple times she stays outside when it's too hot. I tell her to go inside, but she don't listen. Only laugh. She is very stubborn."
"That's what her daughters told me about her," Decker said.
"See, I tell you the truth."
Spoken with vehemence. He was anxious but probably because he was being probed. Decker handed Kwan a blank piece of paper from his notebook. "Can you write down the addresses of the places you were this morning?"
"Anyone notice you at work?" Decker asked.
"They see me," Kwan said. "I don't know if they notice
- On Sale
- Aug 21, 2006
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Grand Central Publishing