Every time Dorrie Caldicott gets into trouble, it falls to Theo Bloomer to bail her out. So when Dorrie and her college buddies rent a villa in Jamaica, Uncle Theo is called on to chaperone. An unassuming retired florist, Theo prefers pottering around his greenhouse to traveling the world, but he has a soft spot for his niece—and it may get him killed.
At the resort, Theo struggles to make himself at home among Dorrie’s preppy gang. As the students whip themselves into a frenzy of debauchery, Theo just looks the other way. But when fun in the sun gives way to kidnapping, extortion, drug smuggling, and murder, Theo will do anything to get home to his flowers.
Fans of Kate Collins’s bestselling Flower Shop Mysteries will find a kindred spirit in Joan Hess’s Theo Bloomer. When this wilting violet is uprooted, the results are nothing short of hilarious.
The Deadly Ackee is the 2nd book in the Theo Bloomer Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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The Deadly Ackee
A Theo Bloomer Mystery
By Joan Hess
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1988 Joan Hess
All rights reserved.
"Theo? I do hope I'm not interrupting, but I simply must discuss a rather minor situation that has arisen. Minor, but, well, slightly major."
Theodore Bloomer stared at the telephone receiver in his hand, perplexed by his sister's wheedling tone. It was unlike her to even consider the possibility she might be interrupting him, which might imply his time was of more value than hers. Unthinkable.
"I was in the greenhouse, checking on seedlings," he admitted cautiously. "The tomato hybrids seem to be coming along nicely."
"Really? Charles, Dorrie, and I do so enjoy your little offerings each summer. But I have a problem, Theo, and I must resolve it briskly. I have a bridge game at the club, and Pookie's picking me up in less than five minutes. Do you have any vital social engagements next week?"
"The horticulturists' club is planning a tour of the local azalea gardens," Theo said, still eyeing the receiver uneasily. "I had considered the wisdom of repotting several of my —"
"Well, that much is settled. I fear I must ask a small favor." Nadine Caldicott took a deep breath to recover from what must have been a painful sentence. "The whole thing is quite my fault; I accept full blame for it. But you know how very headstrong Dorrie can be, a trait I often suspect might have been inspired, if not blatantly encouraged, by her doting Uncle Theo."
"This involves Dorrie? What has she done now?"
"She and a group of her friends have arranged for a villa in Jamaica for their spring break next week. There will be Dorrie, her fiancé, Biff, a friend of his named Beachy or Sandy or something like that, those adorable red-haired Ellison twins, and one of Dorrie's suitemates from Wellesley. Let me think ... Biff's at Amherst, the Whitcombe boy's at Annapolis, Mary Margaret Ellison is with Dorrie and the Bigelow girl, and her brother is between schools at the moment, I believe. You may have met some of them at the house; they're forever hanging around the pool when they're not at the club. They absolutely romp through the wine cellar, which drives Charles crazy."
"I can imagine," Theo said. "I'm sure Dorrie and her friends will have a lovely time in Jamaica. However, I hear water running in the greenhouse, and I'd better check on it. If you'll excuse —"
"All of them come from very good families, of course, and the villa is fabulous, simply fabulous. Four bedrooms, fully staffed, private pool, view of the Caribbean. It's going to be a delightful little vacation. Doesn't it sound delightful, Theo?"
"Delightful," Theo echoed obediently. "But I fail to understand how it involves me, Nadine, and I'm afraid I must hang up now. I must have left the hose running in the greenhouse, and —"
"I need you to chaperone them."
"Out of the question. The last time I accompanied Dorrie, I was blown down a mountainside by Israeli terrorists. It was most distressing, and I have no intention of —"
"It was quite good of you, Theo. Have I ever properly thanked you for retrieving Dorrie from that dreadful communist cell?"
"No, nor have you allowed me to complete one sentence without —"
"Oh, dear, Pookie's honking in the driveway and she is utterly impossible if she's kept waiting. I'll have Dorrie call with the travel information. I shall insist on paying for your expenses, although I might point out that you'll be having a lovely vacation while the rest of us are literally sloshing through Connecticut slush."
"I am not going to chaperone Dorrie and her —"
A dial tone buzzed in Theo's ear. Sighing, he replaced the receiver and returned to his greenhouse, where the hose had flooded the concrete floor. He moved several clay pots out of the water, picked up a trowel, then put it down with another sigh. His sister, Nadine, was a force that required more resistance than he could usually produce. She had teethed on the Junior League, then moved through charitable fund-raisers to the fully ripened post of president of the Hospital Auxiliary. She had not done so by evincing weakness. On the contrary, had she been the Titanic (not an improbable analogy), the Atlantic would have been dotted with crushed ice.
Theo was still puttering in the greenhouse when the telephone once again disturbed him. He went into the kitchen to wipe his hands on a dish towel, then warily picked up the receiver. "This is Theo Bloomer."
"I'm so glad I caught you, Uncle Theo. I absolutely have to go to the library and do a midterm paper; I've put it off for months now, and all of a sudden it's due tomorrow. It's as if Simmons gave us all this time to perspire over it, knowing perfectly well we'd have to stay up all night to get it finished. C'est-a-dire, having it dangle over my head has made my life a living hell."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Theo said mildly.
"Thank you," Dorrie said, graciously accepting the perceived sympathy. "Did Mother call you about Jamaica?"
"It's out of the question, Dorrie. I am sixty-one years old, and far too old to spend a week on a Caribbean beach with a group of college students. I have appointments next week, and some very time-consuming chores in the greenhouse to prepare for the planting season. I'm sure you and your friends can find another chaperone for your trip."
"But we can't. Mother agreed to go along, but then she realized that a year ago she had promised Pookie they would play in the women's pairs in the Greater Connecticut Bridge Tournament that very same week. We'd already mailed in the nonrefundable deposit at that point."
"There are several of you going," Theo pointed out, "and surely one of the other parents could accompany the group."
"Not one of them. We've absolutely pleaded with them, but they're all being totally beastly about it. But it's all right, Uncle Theo. We'll forfeit the deposit — which rivals certain Third World countries' gross national products, I might add. I'll just spend the week studying in my dorm room. With everyone else off on meaningful trips, the building will be a dark, dusty, creepy old mausoleum, and I can work on a term paper or something equally thrilling. Perhaps I'll try a strawberry rinse on my hair, or a new shade of fingernail polish ..." Several delicate sniffles ensued as she envisioned the scene.
Theo was not impressed. "Come now, you don't have to spend your vacation in the dorm. You can stay at home, and spend the time with your friends."
"If the trip collapses, I won't have any friends. I realize it's my senior year and my last spring break ever, but I truly don't mind that it will be the most wretched week of my entire life. Please don't waste a single second worrying about me, Uncle Theo."
"Why don't you go without a chaperone, my dear? After all, you're all college seniors and quite capable of taking care of yourselves. You'll have a much better time without a gray-haired nursemaid to remind you to eat your vegetables and —"
"This is hardly the sixties. We have standards now, and it simply wouldn't look right for a group of very attractive singles to stay in a villa in a foreign country without a proper chaperone. It could lead to all sorts of tacky gossip at the club. Biff's grandmother would be so appalled she might change her mind — and her will — and let his younger sister get her pudgy little hands on the Hartley sterling collection, which was probably made by Paul Revere or someone like that."
"Then hire someone to accompany you."
"We need a proper chaperone, not a Kelly Girl." A paper rustled, and a sly note crept into her voice. "There are more than three thousand varieties of flowering plants in Jamaica, and eight hundred of them are found nowhere else in the world."
"Dorrie, as much as I would like to chaperone you and your friends, I cannot leave during the spring planting season. I'm testing a new tomato hybrid that is purported to be blight-resistant, and it's almost time to put in snap beans and peas."
"Two hundred species of wild orchids. Sixty of bromeliads, and five hundred fifty of ferns."
"Two hundred species of wild orchids?" Theo heard himself saying, despite his better sense.
"Yep. You can do almost thirty a day, Uncle Theo. I'll personally go to the botanical gardens with you and make appreciative little noises over each and every blossom, even if it means sacrificing peak tanning hours on the beach."
She continued to extol the botanical treasures found exclusively in Jamaica as Theo gazed through the glass doors at his greenhouse. Even if deprived of water for a week, he suspected his tomato seedlings were made of sterner stuff than he. Then again, very few species were Caldicott-resistant. Science was not yet that advanced.
Sangster International Airport was crowded with tourists, porters, businessmen clad in lightweight suits, and small children darting about like water skimmers. Weary parents pleaded without success as the omnipresent public address system crackled without clarity. It was, Theo decided, precisely like every other international airport he'd been in, despite the proximity of romantic Montego Bay. The humidity, noise, litter, flies, and grime were not romantic.
The crowd milled around him as he stopped for a moment to slip off his jacket and carefully fold it over his arm. No one gave a second glance to the tall, balding man with the neatly trimmed beard and bright blue eyes behind thick bifocals. Had anyone bothered to study him, he would have been categorized and dismissed as the essence of mildness, a genteel retiree, perhaps inclined to bore listeners with a harmless hobby or two. Cats, African violets, model trains. Certainly nothing too eccentric, exotic, or expensive. Theo had discovered many years ago that his nondescript demeanor served him well, and he took pains not to contradict the image.
His niece and namesake, Theodora Bloomer Caldicott, was hardly nondescript. She was a tall, graceful girl, equipped with wholesome preppie enthusiasm and a goodly dose of Connecticut snobbery. Her long blond hair usually bounced around her, but today it was up in a ponytail as a concession to the heat. Theo watched her fondly as she strolled through the airport. Caldicotts looked neither left nor right, nor at the floor, where one might inadvertently see something rude. They looked straight ahead, ever mindful of pasture. The less fortunate were expected to move out of the way. For some inexplicable reason, they did.
Dorrie stopped abruptly and clapped her hands. "Isn't that quaint?" she demanded of no one in particular. "A little band of local musicians playing island music! It is so completely cute I cannot believe it. Give them a dollar, Biff."
Biff (a.k.a. Bedford James Hartley II, reputed to be Dorrie's fiancé) smiled indulgently. "Now, Dorrikin, we don't want to disrupt the island economy by passing out American dollars to every native who can pound some obscure instrument or dresses in polyester print."
"But they're playing calypso, just like Harry Belafonte. I think it's absolutely quaint, and I think we should encourage them to maintain their traditions. It's terribly important in a depressed economy for the natives to have a continuity with their heritage. It helps them keep their minds off poverty and things like that."
A blond-haired boy retraced his steps to join them. "Don't be an ugly American, big guy," he said to Biff, punching him in the arm. "Give them some change and let's find our luggage. I'm ready to do some beach and brewskis."
Alexander "Sandy" Whitcombe was Biff's oldest and dearest friend, Theo had learned on the flight, although somewhat of a pariah since he attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis rather than one of the more traditional ivy-coated schools. Dorrie had mentioned that said midshipman's father was some species of admiral and very adamant about family traditions, and that personally she found uniforms appealing. Well, not on doormen, of course, and only if they were dress whites and not khaki, which was primitive, especially if one were to perspire. Not that she meant chinos, obviously, since they were de rigueur in the summer. Or unless one was doing Kenya, in which case one simply had to wear those darling safari outfits from Banana Republic, complete with pith helmets, no matter what havoc they wrought on one's hair.
It had been a long flight. Dorrie had insisted on sitting with her darling Uncle Theo to keep him company since he was being such a super good sport to come with them. The fact that Biff had sat with another of the girls had warranted not a few catty comments interspersed in the nonstop chatter. A very long flight, indeed.
Even before boarding the plane (weeks ago?), Theo had noted that Sandy's hair was more closely cropped than the norm, and his posture reminiscent of the military, which was hardly surprising. His freckles were neatly aligned. Biff, on the other hand, had aristocratically elegant features, stylishly shaggy dark hair, and the slouch that seemed to accompany the burden of old money. However, they were dressed identically, from their sock-less loafers through their madras shorts to the discreet little alligators on their knit shirts. The uniform to end all uniforms.
As Biff hesitated, visibly aggrieved, Theo took out a dollar and dropped it in a hat in front of the band. "I enjoyed the music," he murmured.
The four black men gazed back. "No problem, mon," the guitarist said, flashing white teeth.
"Now look what you've done!" Dorrie said to Biff. "The others have gone ahead, and I don't see any of them. If you hadn't pulled this silly little Scrooge routine, we wouldn't have lost them."
Biff's ears turned the precise shade of pink Theo hoped the fruit of his hybrid tomatoes might prove to be. "If you hadn't stopped to behave like some undergrad sociologist, we wouldn't have lost them, either."
Sandy draped arms around the combatants' shoulders. "Children, children, let's not get blown out over this. We're on spring break. We're supposed to relax, enjoy ourselves, work on those tans, and bask in the moonlight of Montego Bay. We'll catch up with the rest of the gang at the luggage terminal. Then right on to the limo, the villa, and the beer!"
Dorrie tucked her arm through Biff's and fluttered her eyelashes contritely. "Dorrikin didn't mean to snap at Biffkin. She's sorry."
Biffkin kissed Dorrikin's sweet little nose.
Theo trailed after the three as they went through the airport. The small spat between his niece and her fiancé was disturbing, and he wondered what had provoked it. He then dismissed it from his mind. With six young adults under his supervision, he suspected they had only just begun.
The other three were waiting for their luggage. The male half of the "adorable Ellison twins" was leaning against a pillar, a cigarette dangling from his lips in true Bogart fashion. He had carefully styled red hair and hooded green eyes that seemed more closed than open. He arched an eyebrow as Dorrie, Biff, and Sandy joined him.
"Trouble in paradise?" he said, smirking at their flushed faces. "Is it possible Ken and Barbie will not discover bliss under the tropical stars?"
"Stuff it," Dorrie said. She wheeled around and took refuge with the distaff half of the adorable Ellison twins. Mary Margaret raised an eyebrow, but it took her quite a while longer to manage the effort. Her red hair was lighter than her brother's, and tumbled down her back in artistic disarray. Her body was voluptuous enough to catch and retain the eye of every male in the area. Superglue could not have been more effective than her brief white shorts and translucent blouse.
"Is Trey being abominable?" she drawled. "Hardly surprising."
The final member of the sextet appeared from the direction of the ladies' room. Bitsy (Elizabeth Angelica O'Conner) Bigelow was petite, from her pert little nose to her pert little feet. Her short brown hair jiggled with each step, as did parts of her anatomy. "Trey once modeled for a Yen' poster," she said, smiling sweetly at the object of her barb. "They couldn't use it, though. Too gruesome."
"You flatter me," Trey said.
"Were that remotely true, which it is not, it would also be completely unintentional." Bitsy proved that she, too, could raise an eyebrow.
Excerpted from The Deadly Ackee by Joan Hess. Copyright © 1988 Joan Hess. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I like Joan Hess. Her books are cheerful, entertaining and a fun light read. This book is no exception. As a gardener, I like Mr Bloomer. This time I picked out the miscreants very quickly which always dulls a mystery. Still I like this cast of characters. I enjoyed spending time with them.