Fiction - The Flower Lover

Synopsis

What does a stolen rare orchid, owned by a "crazy" millionaire industrialist, have in common with the death of a Seattle Assistant Superintendent of Schools? And how does it relate to the "Yes on No" ballot initiative funding  the "Just Say No to Drugs" campaign? That's what investigative journalist, Richard Garcia of the Seattle Reporter, is trying to discover in THE FLOWER LOVER.

Garcia lives with his wife, Sarah Good, who administers a homeless mission, The Good Shepard, in downtown Seattle.

They have a baby daughter, Sally. Garcia is a former Los Angeles University professor of American literature who lost his position, in disgrace, for having an affair with a student. He has found redemption in his love for Sarah and his commitment to investigating political and moral corruption.

Garcia's investigations begin after being summoned by millionaire Charles Llewellyn Colt II to hear the amazing history of the Dendrobium bonitum orchid. Colt alternates between lucidity and insanity but intrigues Garcia with his story and sincerity. Discovered, and brought into cultivation, by plant hunter John Mauldaur, in the 1880s, the Dendrobium possesses a flower of great beauty. Colt wants Garcia to find the orchid, which was stolen from him many years ago.

Garcia suspects there is more to the story than Colt is disclosing. Not until later does Garcia learn that the orchid is also the source of a potent drug that can treat the genetic disease, porphyria. And, at the same time, Garcia learns of Dendrobium's deadly side effects which have claimed the lives of Colt's children and grandchildren, sufferers of the disease.

But first, Garcia is distracted into following up on a previous story with his source, police detective Dan Fields. Somebody in the school district has been selling morphine to students and, like a recent popular movie, providing "sex workers" to local high schoolers. All clues point to Assistant Superintendent Robert Oprestig. In fact, during an early morning clandestine meeting, Oprestig supplies Garcia with self-incriminating photographs and documents. When Oprestig is found dead, hours later, and a newspaper obituary links him to orchid cultivation, Garcia suspects a link to the Dendrobium.

Investigating this link between sex and drugs brings Garcia to the home of the "X-Lady," a sex-changed woman with a enigmatic past. X now operates, under the approval of local politicians, a call girl service for Seattle's power elite. Clues gleaned from X and Mary, one of X's girls, point to a clique of influential men parading under the banner of the "Orchid Club." Before Garcia can learn any more, Mary is beaten by club member, John Ferguson, ending up in the hospital. The next day, Mary disappears and so too, does X. Garcia visits Ferguson in the International District and finds the man dead.

Matters heat up when Garcia discovers that the chairman of the "Yes on No" campaign, an amateur actor named James Joyce, has been impersonating the deceased Robert Oprestig. Joyce's twisted hope to elicit a public uproar by flooding the schools with drugs backfires, inadvertently leading to Oprestig's death by an unknown, but suspected Orchid Club, assassin.

In an exciting bicycle chase through the streets of Seattle, Garcia is pursued by "Whitey," a white-haired member of the Club who thinks Garcia possesses a notebook belonging to Ferguson. Lifting Whitey's wallet during a confrontation, Garcia finds the man's address in the San Juan Islands and the business card of an import-exporter named Charles Ng. Later, Garcia barely escapes Whitey by leaping his bike across an opening drawbridge.

Meanwhile, Detective Fields has found information leading to a Colt granddaughter, living in Los Angeles. A visit to Elizabeth Colt uncovers more information about the flower lover, John Mauldaur, and the importance of using Dendrobium to combat porphyria. Garcia also learns more about the Colt family history and confirms his feeling that Charles Colt had more in mind for him to find than just an orchid. Some of the answers may lie with John Mayer, the business partner Colt despises.

This makes more sense to Garcia when he returns to Seattle and learns that Whitey is none other than Charles Colt's second grandchild, Burton Waldo Brower. Hatred for grandpa has led the young man to change his surname to his mother's maiden name. This link between the Colt family and the Orchid Club is troublesome, especially in light of Whitey's background as a naval officer working for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and NEST (Nuclear Emergency Search Team), an NRC group trained to locate nuclear warheads that could be hidden in the United States to be used as blackmail by terrorist organizations.

Garcia decides to pay a visit to Brower but, before leaving, stops in to see importer Charles Ng first. Ng physically attacks Garcia and is defeated. Garcia manages a confession from Ng that links the Orchid Club to a group of super-patriots who supply weapons to third world "wanna-be" dictators and revolutionaries.

On Orcas Island, Garcia finds missing call-girl, Mary, in Brower's house while the white-haired man is off, running an errand. Oddly, she is being protected from the Club by Brower. Garcia convinces the woman that Brower is not her friend and, in return, learns that X has given her Ferguson's notebook. Brower returns, almost catching Garcia. During the ensuing chase between Garcia and Brower, across Rosario Strait in sea kayaks, Mary gets away, returning to Seattle with the notebook and hiding out at the Good Shepard.

With help from his wife, Sarah, and Mary, Garcia cracks the simple code of Ferguson's notebook. It turns out that Ferguson, an employee of Charles Colt, was gathering data on transactions of the Orchid Club. But the dead man's spelling is so poor, the meaning of his words is misleading and confusing. With the help of his friend, professor Laura Bernsen, Garcia gets access to Colt's business partner, John Mayer, at the man's home during an alumni fund raising activity.

Mayer is arrogant and displays a not-so-secret collection of smuggled arms, believing himself impervious to the law due to his high connections in government. He has been pestered by Garcia's investigation and thinks that by demonstrating his power and influence that he can buy or scare off Garcia. When this doesn't work, he threatens Garcia with harm. In the nick of time, leading a phalanx of homeless people who invade Mayer's mansion and act as both diversion and screen, Sarah rescues Garcia.

With all the information now in his hands, Garcia is able to properly interpret Ferguson's notebook. Mayer is using the global connections of Colt Industries to buy and sell arms. This has never bothered Colt very much until nuclear arms, from the former Soviet Union, enter the deal. Mayer is too highly protected by friends in government for Colt to back out of the operation. He has Ferguson gather documentation with the plan to turn it over to the press: Garcia. The only way Colt can get out of the nuke loop is to feign insanity and thus be removed from the organization's trust.

Garcia is able, with help, to have the Orchid Club's activities halted. The most incriminating evidence, once it is translated properly, is Ferguson's notebook.

There is only one more mystery to solve and that is the location of the last Dendrobium known in cultivation. Garcia finds it in a greenhouse, owned by Colt's estranged third grandchild, Karen.

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