The Mystery of
Quercus Gardens Apartments
                      by Patricia Hilliard - Copyright June 2017

Chapter 17 – A Time for Planting Flowers  (1365 words)

“That was really great what you did at City Hall,” Salvador said. “I was really impressed.”

“I’m glad you like it,” Beth said. “I felt like I was taking such a risk and I had no idea what the tenants or city council would think.”

The two of them gathered up Sal’s gardening tools from the Tower roof top, grabbed some brightly colored plastic buckets and made their way to the garden spot. Alice, Lisa and Julie stood at the front gate with gardening gloves on their hands and trays of plants laid out along the wall. The morning light came from the sun now high in the sky promising hot summer days ahead.

“Greetings ladies,” Sal called out to them. They waved back at him.
“So we are allowed to plant some flowers here at the gate?” Beth asked.
“Yes, don’t worry, I cleared it with the landlord,” Sal said. “His name is Brian Olsen. Actually, he’s the manager. He paid for these flowers and had them delivered here this morning. How do you like all the colors of these petunias? They will look beautiful and they won’t need a lot of watering.”

The tenants picked up shovels and turned over the soil in the small space by the entrance sign.  

“When we’re done, Quercus Gardens Apartments will look like real gardens.” Lisa said, as she raked the lumps out of the soil.
Alice dug a row of holes for each cluster of plants. Julie started lifting the petunias out of the trays and placing them into the holes. 
Beth watched, glad that there were some tenants who really appreciated gardening. 

“Hello,” call a man’s voice. 
It sounded a bit familiar to Beth. She turned around to see Ramon Perez. He looked good, happy and delighted to see the tenants planting flowers. Beth couldn’t believe it. He had always been so hostile toward her. She remembered Cassy’s story about him hating gardens and mowing them down. She had always secretly blamed Perez for why there were no flowers blooming at Quercus Gardens, a place with so much land that a few flowers would be nice.

“Hello,” she replied looking at him with caution. His only acknowledgement was a quick nod, but it was more than she had ever gotten before.

Sal had no problem being friendly to the superintendent. “Ramon, my old buddie. How do you like it? Nice? This used to be a flower garden years ago—see the brick encircling it? Now it will be again, see, right here by the entrance sign. You won’t have to do the work. We will keep it nice looking.”

“Very good,” Perez responded. “I have enough to do around here.” Perez looked at Beth, “Thanks to a certain tenant activist.”
“I see that the landlord has hired some help for you. You have a bigger crew now,” Beth said trying to be friendly, but wondering still if she were looking into the eyes of a murder. “I’ve seen more contracting companies around the complex fixing the apartments, too. I’m very happy with this.

 Are you?”

“Yes, yes,” Perez stated, “and all I have to do now is general maintenance and garbage. A contractor will be mowing the grass and clearing the leaves and snow this year. Specialists will deal with furnaces, roof repairs and bug extermination. It’s not my problem anymore.”

“Well, that’s good, isn’t it?” Beth asked.
“We’ll see how long it lasts,” Perez responded. “This landlord doesn’t like to spend money unless he has to. The city council put the fire code and safety board on his back.” Perez glanced quickly at Beth, the real instigator of these changes. Perez wiped the sweat from his forehead.

 “Well, I’ve got to get going. I can’t stand around here chatting all day.”

“Thanks for stopping by,” Beth said. She now felt good that he had spoken to her. She wouldn’t have believed his change in attitude if she hadn’t experienced it. 

“I wish there were more places to plant flowers,” Alice said.

“We’re pretty close to Mrs. Mary Gilligan’s old apartment. Let’s go have a look at her old flower beds,” Beth suggested.

While the others finished up, the two women walked down Park Lane to the fence where Mary’s flowers had grown. A few of the flowers had tried to struggle up in spite of being mown down the summer before.  

Alice looked at the plants. “I took a Master Gardening class a year ago and they taught us about planting herbs. This looks like flat-leafed parsley. Parsley is a good host plant for caterpillars. You know, I hate caterpillars, they’re so creepy, but they turn into butterflies.”

“Oh, great, so you know something about plants and insects.”

“A little, and this, oh my God, what’s this?” Alice bent down and looked closer at the leaves of another plant that had come up again in the old flowerbed. “This is Columbine! It has a beautiful intricate flower, but…Columbine is poisonous.”

“What?” Beth asked, bending down to look at the plants. “They both look the same to me. How can you tell the difference?”

“Look at these leaves. See the shape here on the flat-leafed parsley,” Alice took the parsley in her hands and showed Beth the leaves. “Now look at the Columbine. Do you see a difference?”

“Oh, I guess so.” There was only a small difference as far as Beth could tell. “Cassy said she asked Mary to plant herbs to sell to her clients. Maybe that’s when Mary Gilligan decided to put some herbs in with her flowers.”

“Oh dear, if you got those confused it could make you very sick, if not kill you. It wouldn’t be a good idea to plant those two next to each other. Oh, Beth, do you think Mrs. Mary Gilligan might have gotten her herbs and flowers confused and poisoned herself?”

“That’s an interesting theory, Alice,” Beth looked at the green leaves again. She could see little difference between the two. 

“But it’s just a theory. We’d have no way to prove it,” Alice added, applying her legal training. “I’ve done all the research I can do on Mary.”

“Whatever the cause, Mrs. Mary Gilligan is gone. The apartment is now called home by someone else.” Beth looked across the lawn to the apartment and wondered who was living there now. She turned to Alice, “Maybe it really would be safer to mow this garden down. We could plant another one elsewhere.”

“So what did you ladies decide?” Sal asked when they returned to the flowerbed at the entrance gate.

“This will do for now,” Beth responded.  

“Yes, let’s see how well these flowers grow,” Alice agreed.

“I’m glad you came to that decision,” Sal said. “I got clearance on this because it makes the property look good without causing any other work for our buddy Perez. I’m not sure they would like any additional flower beds. We have to persuade them slowly.”

“We know all about persuading the Quercus Gardens management,” Beth said and laughed. “I am glad that Perez has more help. Maybe you, Alice and Bob were right, the poor guy was trying to do everything, maybe hoping for a pay increase. But he just didn’t have enough help. When the tenants demanded repairs and complained to the city, we pressured the landlord to hire more people to make the repairs.”

“Crazy as it sounds,” Alice said laughing, “I’m now afraid they may cut Perez’s pay or get rid of him. When I got involved in this tenant organizing, I never meant to do anyone any harm.”

“Do you think that could happen?” Beth asked. Now she felt real concern for Perez. But did he deserve her sympathy?

“I doubt they’ll get rid of him. Who else could they get to work for so little money?” Sal responded. He gathered the tools and saluted the women tenants, “It was lovely working with you ladies today. I hope we can do it again soon!”

Beth and Alice took one last look at the flowers swaying in the gentle breeze. By becoming active, the tenants had made Quercus Gardens a nicer place to live.