The Adventure of the Pink Bouquet
By Jon Burroughs
My friend, Sherlock Holmes, and I were drawn into a number of unusual cases over the years, but no case had a more unlikely starting point than a murder that occurred at a wedding some years ago.
To begin with, it was unusual to find Holmes at such a gathering. His opinion of womankind and marriage in general made his appearance at one of those affairs a rarity. Still, George Gallope, the father of the bride, had befriended Holmes year before, during his university days, and Holmes was obliged to accept the wedding invitation. It was as he put it so bluntly, “a case of courtesy over pleasure.”
The ceremony was a large formal affair complete with a half dozen male and female attendants struggling to keep some kind of composure on a warm June afternoon. Afterwards, the guests proceeded from the cathedral to the estate of Holmes’ old friend, where a less formal celebration began.
“Sherlock, old fellow, good to see you. You, too, doctor,” cried our host, a short and rotund little fellow who nearly succeeded in wringing our hands off in the greeting. “Lovely wedding, wasn’t it? Anything for my little Hilary!”
It was at that moment I noticed the absence of both the bride and groom. “And just where did the happy couple disappear to anyway?” I inquired.
“Changing to leave for the honeymoon, don’t you know,” replied our host. “Much to hot to go gallivanting about the countryside in those clothes. The gown cost me a king’s ransom. I hope that little Cindy might like to use it someday.”
Our conversation was interrupted as our host’s attention was increasingly drawn to the lanky young figure of a man who had stumbled into the room. It took no great detective ability to realize that the young fellow was in his cups.
“That’s David Loring,” came a whisper from one guest to another. “He was Hilary’s beau before she met Stephen.”
It became vividly apparent as the young man nearly collided near the entranceway with the groom, now changed into his traveling attire. The two men nearly came to blows until Holmes intervened.
Mr. Loring, you’d best come outside with me,” suggested Holmes in a firm manner, as he reached for the man’s arm. Young Loring pulled away defiantly.
“I’ll find my own way out,” he announced. “Hilly will regret this . . . she will.” Without another word, he staggered out of the room. His departure was followed minutes later by the roar of an engine and the squeal of tires.
“Hilary was wise to dump David. He’s a fool who’ll kill himself before he reaches twenty-seven.”
I turned around to find myself face to face with one of those swarthy types with greased hair and palms to match.
“Charles Whitfield of Milady’s Fashions,” he continued, offering me one of his serpentine hands. “And unless I miss my guess, you two are Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes, the great detective.”
“I am Sherlock Holmes, and this is my friend, Dr. Watson,” admitted Holmes. Have we met before?”
“I doubt it,” he answered. I’m Hilary Gallope . . . pardon, Hilary Edwards’ boss. She has quite a future as a designer. She was promoted just last week when her predecessor had a stroke.”
Before the conversation could proceed any further, Whitfield moved away and cornered Cynthia Gallope, the bride’s sister.
“Disappointed, Chuckie?” she remarked, glaring at Whitfield with contempt. “You’d hoped to marry into the Gallope millions. Those quiet little business luncheons at noon weren’t all strictly business, were they?”
He smiled back, like a predator stalking fresh game. “And what about you, my dear? As I recall, Stephen was your old flame — that is, until you brought him home to meet the family and Hilary stole his heart. That is how it happened, isn’t it?”
My inadvertent eavesdropping was suddenly brought to a close as I was approached by an exceedingly attractive young woman.
“You are Dr. Watson, the writer and assistant to Sherlock Holmes?” she began, her perfume almost overpowering.
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I am.”
“Emily Maxwell, here. I’m a friend and co-worker of Hilary.”
Any further conversation was suddenly tabled as the door to the adjoining chamber was swung open and Hilary Edwards struggled to join the guests. Her face was extremely pale and showed signs of pain and difficulty breathing.
“My God, Hilary, what’s the matter?” cried her father, pushing his way past the guests to her side. A barely audible cry escaped her lips.
“The bouquet . . . the pink bouquet.”
Hilary Gallope Edwards took a single step forward and then collapsed to the floor, dead. She had been poisoned!
Holmes and I accepted the case immediately. Contrary to my own theory, her cryptic last words seemed to mean very little. Hilary had painstakingly chosen and arranged her own bridal bouquet of white and pink roses. Holmes assured me as well that his own investigations had shown that there had been no trace of poison on the flowers.
Our investigation took us to Milady’s Fashions, where Emily Maxwell and Charles Whitfield were engaged in a rather heated discussion. “Will I go to dinner with you this evening? Really, Charles, I thought Cindy Gallope was your newest conquest. She is the one who will inherit all of her daddy’s money now, with Hilary out of the picture. Why, that in itself would give you the perfect motive . . .”
“Motive? Motive for what?” he fired back, his voice rising. “What are you accusing me of?”
At that point, I inadvertently coughed, and Holmes was forced to proceed into the office. The discussion came to a screeching halt as Holmes explained that we were there to do some preliminary investigations.
“No trouble at all,” explained Whitfield, straightening his tie nervously. “Although Emily here has assumed her position with the company, we’ve left Hilary’s office exactly as she left it, according to Inspector Lestrade’s orders.”
“You could save yourself a good deal of trouble if you spoke to David Loring,” interrupted Miss Maxwell, referring to the young man who had been in his cups at the reception. “Three weeks ago, he ran into Hilary and Stephen at the Blue Boar Pub. He’d been drinking again and caused quite a row. He told Hilary that if he couldn’t have her, no one could. She told me about it the following day.”
Holmes looked through the murdered girl’s desk and then took a cab to the address that Miss Maxwell had provided for us. There, we were met at the door by Inspector Lestrade and several of his officers bearing young Loring in tow, “bracelets” about his wrists.
On request, Holmes spoke with Loring alone in his flat, hoping to discover the truth.
“I didn’t do it, Mr. Holmes. I’d check on Stephen if I were you. He’s spilled it on more than one occasion that he needs money for his investments. He had a roving eye as well. Hilary wouldn’t believe it, though. Now he can get the money and still see his ladies as well.”
Loring was taken down to Scotland Yard, but was released sometime later on a suggestion from Holmes. “There’s no solid evidence against him, Lestrade. Let him roam about, and if he’s guilty, he’ll trip himself up, I assure you.”
For the rest of the afternoon, we interviewed nearly a dozen other guests of the wedding. We stopped for a short meal at a local pub and were just about to leave, when Holmes roughly grabbed my arm and pulled me to the ground.
There was the crack of a rifle shot and the following sound of a ricochet off a nearby wall. Holmes was up in an instant, finding a stairwell to the roof of a nearby building.
“Did you find anything?” I asked, joining him some moments later.
“A shell casing,” he answered. “Hello . . . Watson, take a whiff of the air up here.”
I inhaled, a pungent scent filling my nostrils. “It smells like some sort of men’s cologne.”
“Mystery of China, 1921,” added Holmes. “I recently did a study on such things. It sells for a little over three pounds an ounce.”
“Well, we know that our killer is a man who smells well, and shoots to kill,” I laughingly concluded.
Holmes looked grim. “I wonder, old fellow. I sincerely wonder. Come, we’d best be on our way. We’ve just enough time to cross the city and revisit Milady’s Fashions.”
“Milady’s Fashions?” I asked. “But, Holmes, it surely must have closed hours ago.”
“Exactly, old fellow. You and I are about to break into a building.”
Being far more experienced in solving crimes than participating in them, I sheepishly assisted Holmes in picking the lock and entering the offices of Milady’s Fashions. The room was pitch black, and on Holmes’ direction, I removed my “torch” and directed it in front of us.
No one could have been more alarmed than I when the beam of light moved over a hand.
“Holmes! A body!”
Holmes rushed over to the silent form across the center of the floor. “It’s Whitfield. He’s been stabbed. Hello? Run your light over there, old fellow.”
My light was directed over to a pair of dressmaker shears, stained with blood, that now lay at the foot of the table. I started to reach for a handkerchief to retrieve them when I heard a board creak from the next room.
“Who’s there? Come out now — there’ll be no escaping!” cried Holmes.
The door swung open and a figure dashed past me bent on reaching the front door. Holmes tackled the figure and brought him to the ground. I shone the light in their direction.
“It’s Loring!” I cried, recognizing the figure in Holmes’ grip.
“I didn’t do it!” he screamed, wriggling in Holmes’ grasp. “The real killer is getting away!”
I reached for the telephone and dialed.
“Scotland Yard? Please get me Inspector Lestrade.”
The lights to the office were flicked on, and Lestrade stepped immediately into the room.
“Good timing, Lestrade,” said Holmes, marked sarcasm in his voice.
Young Loring was taken away as Lestrade talked with Holmes.
“Release the man, Lestrade. He’s not your murderer, Lestrade,” said the Inspector, throwing Holmes’ own words into his face. “Now there’s another body, and your friend has been caught red-handed.”
“If I am wrong, Inspector, I shall most assuredly apologize,” replied Holmes.
“If?” asked Lestrade with surprise. “You’ll never admit when you’re wrong, will you?”
“I never am,” answered Holmes smugly.
Lestrade supervised the arrest of Loring while Holmes bent over the body a second time, retrieving a small piece of paper that was clenched in the dead man’s hand.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Artist’s paper. The bond used for designers.”
“But what does it mean?” I inquired.
“A great deal,” Holmes replied. “But now we’d best get to the corner and see if we can hail a cab this late in the evening. We have to get to Charing Cross Station by eleven-thirty.”
“Eleven-thirty? But why?”
“Because, old fellow, we have a train to catch.”
Twenty-four hours later, we returned to the Gallope estate, where several of the guests of the reception days earlier had gathered at Holmes’ request. Lestrade was also there with some men and David Loring cuffed to one of his biggest constables.
“Now why have you called us all here?” demanded Stephen, still somewhat shaken from Hilary’s funeral earlier in the day. “We all know that David is the guilty party.”
“That, Mr. Edwards,” began Holmes cryptically, “remains to be seen.”
Like a puppeteer, Holmes directed the guests and family through their movements during the reception, as he recalled and our investigations had shown.
“Now, you, Miss Maxwell — you were talking to Dr. Watson just about the time when the door to Hilary’s room was swung open and . . .”
Holmes cut his speech short as the door to Hilary’s room was again swung open from the inside, to the surprise and shock of all. Instead of the lovely victim, however, the figure that entered the room was a much older woman, her face marked with age, her hair white, her steps slow and uncertain.
“Reva!” cried Emily Maxwell, recognizing the woman who had been the top designer for Milady’s Fashions before her stroke.
“Why is she here?” demanded Lestrade.
“A revelation, Inspector,” announced Holmes, a hint of arrogance in his voice, as he brought out a chair for the older woman to sit in. “You see, Lestrade, Hilary Edwards had recently been promoted into the job vacated by Reva here. Reva, can you tell us what led to that promotion?”
The old woman spoke, her words carefully chosen and spoken with great difficulty.
“Hilary . . . and Emily were both good . . . designers . . . Mr. Whitfield . . . couldn’t decide . . . who deserved the post . . . Gave me the chance to pick . . .”
“And so both girls were told to create something new, something they could call their masterpiece, isn’t that correct?” continued Holmes, sensing the difficulty Reva had in speaking.
“Yes . . .” she replied. “Thought . . . their ideas would help . . . me . . . to decide.”
“And did it?”
“No need . . . I forgot something at the office . . . I came back . . . light was on in Hilary’s office . . . thought it was Hilary . . .”
“But it wasn’t, was it?” asked Holmes.
Suddenly, I felt a rough movement at my coat pocket. I spun around to find myself staring into the muzzle of my own pistol, now being aimed at me by Emily Maxwell.
“Back, all of you!” she cried. “Inspector, call off your men — now!”
Lestrade’s men complied.
“Reva found you copying Hilary’s best design. You’d hoped to make slight alterations and turn it in ahead of her as your own. That is correct, isn’t it, Miss Maxwell?”
“You’ve got all the answers, don’t you? All the answers. It was always the poor little rich girl. Always getting what she wanted. She got the position that should have been mine. She married the only man I ever really could care for . . .”
Stephen looked stunned. “Emily, I never knew . . .”
“No, you had eyes only for Miss Rich and her sister. Well, she paid for it. Now, down on the floor, all of you!”
We all lay down on the highly polished wood floor, the pistol staring us in the face. “Don’t try to get up,” she warned. “I missed you on purpose before, Mr. Holmes.”
“Yes, I know,” replied Holmes, his fingers inches away from the edge of a long throw rug. “You wanted me to believe that the killer was a man.”
“Very smart,” she replied, sneering at him. “Very smart, aren’t you, the great Sherlock . . .”
Holmes’ fingers curled about the edge of the rug, tightened, and gave a tremendous tug, all in a single instant. The rug beneath Emily Maxwell was pulled free, catching her heels and sending her falling to the floor, the gun discharging aimlessly in her hand and the bullet striking a distant wall. As the pistol fell from her grasp to the floor, Holmes was up, across the few feet that separated him from the weapon, and had it in his own grasp before Miss Maxwell could reach for it.
“And now, Inspector Lestrade, may I present you with the murderer of Hilary Gallope Edwards!”
After Emily had been taken away, Holmes explained the matter to the others.
“Miss Maxwell begged Reva not to have her fired, and Reva agreed, but the position went to Hilary. It was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back as far as Emily was concerned. She plotted the murder.”
“But, Holmes,” I asked. “What was meant by her dying words, ‘the pink bouquet’?”
Holmes walked back into the room where Reva had been staying earlier and retrieved a large portfolio. Holmes carefully removed a large design of an elegant pink evening gown that any woman would find stunning. “Read what the design had been titled, Watson.”
“Good heavens! ‘The Pink Bouquet!’”
“Yes, Watson,” Holmes explained. “It was so hot that afternoon as you recall. Emily brought Hilary some punch in which she had added poison. She left moments later to join the rest of us. There was such a crowd that no one really noticed her coming or going. Hilary drank the punch, and once she realized what was happening to her, she attempted to ask for help. As the poison quickly dulled and destroyed her mind, one thought alone filled what was left of her brain . . .”
“The Pink Bouquet.”
“Yes, Reva had warned her about Emily.”
“But, Holmes, why was Whitfield murdered?”
“He called Reva to tell her about Hilary’s death. Reva told him the truth about the design contest, and he made the mistake of confronting Emily when he was alone. Emily took the shears when he turned away and stabbed him. Not as neatly done as the previous murder, but spur of the moment crimes rarely are.”
“And you knew it was a woman all the time?” asked George.
“I suspected it, George,” he continued. “Poison is predominantly the tool of a female murderer. My suspicions were confirmed on the rooftop after we were fired upon. The scent of men’s cologne was too strong — as if deliberately done to lead us astray. A man would not dare wear cologne when committing a crime, fearing it might lead the police to himself. Therefore — a woman.”
“Astounding,” said George. “I know that my Hilary can rest at peace knowing that her murderer will face justice.”
Holmes nodded. “And now, if you’ll excuse us. Watson and I will return to our flat on Baker Street for a well-deserved rest. I’ve had enough of weddings and the like to last me for some time. Come along, Watson!”
[Editor’s Note: This pastiche by Hated Rival Jon Burroughs was originally published in the book Client’s Case-Notes, edited by Brian MacDonald, in 1983, and has been out of print for most of the past two decades. We thank Jon for the opportunity to present it again to a new generation of Sherlockians. (As you probably noticed from the presence of the automobile, flashlight, and cologne, this apocryphal tale takes place sometime after WWI.) If you have questions or comments for Jon, please contact him via this Web site. (See our Contacts page.)]