I arrived at the house a little after six. It was a rambling Victorian badly in need of a new coat of paint and some skilled carpentry work. Taking a deep breath, I mounted the stairs and rang the ancient doorbell. The door was answered promptly. Anders, the butler, stood in full regalia. He wore his uniform proudly even though I could see that it was shiny, bordering on threadbare in spots, and would soon need to be patched.
“Anders,” I said. “I have an appointment with your master.”
The butler smiled. “Mr. Biggs. It’s been a long time.”
I nodded. “Yeah. It has.”
Anders took my hat and coat. “The Master is in the conservatory and is expecting you. Let me show you the way.”
I grinned. “No need, Anders. I think I can find my way around this joint.”
Without another word, I brushed past the manservant, strode through the living room and kitchen to the rear of the house where the conservatory was located.
It was a large room, circular in shape. The ceiling and walls were all glass. An old telescope was mounted on a stand in the center, but by the look of the cobwebs trailing off its scope, it hadn’t been used in decades. The room was more of a greenhouse than anything else. Shelves, plant stands, and potting benches were everywhere, all overflowing with greenery. But even in this lush jungle, I could see the master of the house quite clearly.
Major Harvey Hanover was a big man, but it wasn’t his height that made him big. Kinder people than I might call him rotund or pleasingly plump. But those weak words couldn’t really describe the man that stood before me. No, Harvey Hanover was quite simply fat—obese even. How he’d got that way was a mystery to me. When I’d worked with him several years back, he’d been spit and polish fit. Oh, his gut strayed a bit over his belt buckle, but nothing like this.
I watched him silently. He was bending over one of the plants, his ample buttocks pointed in my direction. I could see a pair of ladies’ fingernail scissors in his beefy hand as he delicately pruned away at a small plant. He glanced over his shoulder when he heard me enter.
“Simon,” he said. “So good of you to come on such short notice.”
As he spoke, his meaty jowls, which hung down past his short neck, shook and I was reminded of those infernal plates of Jell-O my mother used to serve us kids for dessert instead of the cookies and cake we craved. She said it would make us healthy. I didn’t believe it then and I still don’t believe it now.
“No problem, Major,” I replied amiably. “It’s been a long time. What can I do for you?”
“All in good time, my man,” he replied, motioning me forward with his hand. “What do you think of my garden?”
“Very nice, but I never took you for a greenhouse man. Although aren’t all you Brits sort of into gardening?”
The major laughed. “Yes, I guess we are. However, my garden is a bit different.”
“Well, after I retired from the service and moved here, I became interested in plant genetics. All of these plants you see here are hybrids—hybrids of my own design. See this one?”
He indicated the plant he’d been snipping away at as I approached. “Yeah, what about it?”
He smiled. “It’s called a Rosary Pea. Its seeds are often used in jewelry and rosaries.”
“Aptly named, then,” I replied, wondering where this was going.
“Yes, it is, but the Rosary Pea has some hidden attributes.”
As he spoke he lifted one of the pea pods with the tip of his scissors. “The seeds housed in this pod are deadly,” he instructed. “If they are scratched, inhaled, or worse, eaten, they can end a man’s life. There is no known antidote.”
“Really?” I asked, now curious.