Cuttings : A Sydney Teague Mystery

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  • Format: Trade Book
  • Copyright: 1999-08-01
  • Publisher: Dell
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At a convention of floral designers, someone has made the perfect arrangement--for murder... The card was unfinished. The flowers were perfect. And both were found near a dead man in the crowded Charlotte Convention Center. The occasion was a world-class gathering of floral designers. The deceased was a leading practitioner of his art, felled by an apparent heart attack. For Sydney Teague, whose small advertising agency was working the convention, the death was alarming. But then another person dies--this time brutally stabbed. Now Sydney's balmy city is being smothered by a freak spring snowstorm, the convention is in danger of collapsing, and a madman's rage is in full bloom. Suddenly Sydney realizes how little she knows about some people around her, including her policeman beau. And for Sydney, time is running out. Because the next floral arrangement has just come to her with the greetingWhen words are not enough...

Author Biography

Anne Underwood Grant is the author of two other novels in the Sydney Teague mystery series: <b>Multiple Listing</b> and <b>Smoke Screen</b>. She owned a small advertising agency in Charlotte, North Carolina, for ten years before moving to a cabin in the mountains of western North Carolina, where she writes full-time. Anne Grant's email address is


Joel Fineman had put such artistry into his casket spray that seeing him slumped upon it dead like this was a shame as well as a shock. He had fallen dead center, where his once erect calla lilies "pulled the mourners' eyes upward toward the heavens."

Those last are Joel's words, not mine. My name's Sydney Teague and I own a small ad agency called Allen Teague in Charlotte, North Carolina. "Small" is an overstatement in the case of Allen Teague. It's just an art director named Hart, an administrative assistant named Sally, and a salesman whose name changes regularly. And me, of course. I do whatever those three don't do.

Fineman wasn't my client, but I admire a good show and good design wherever I can find them. Joel Fineman always delivered on both. When he died, Joel was competing against two other designers in a Sympathy Competition. Floral designers are among the most competitive people I know.

This competition was one of the scores of events happening during a three-day period in the middle of March at the first annual FloraGlobal Show, which had taken over the Charlotte Convention Center, all 850,000 square feet of it. Florists, growers, manufacturers, and international suppliers were all here in some form--as sponsors, as exhibitors, as event presenters, or as working florists, primed to learn something and make lists of things they covet. It was being sponsored by a new organization called United Floral Associates Symposiums, or UFAS. The acronym is pronounced with emphasis on the "U" and it sounds like the long "u" found in, well, "you." Allen Teague had two long-term floral clients, and we'd been hired by UFAS as well to create all the printed material for the show; design and build their show booth; and place the trade ads that had been running for the eighteen months leading up to it. How the crackerjack marketing crew with the Charlotte Convention and Visitors Bureau snagged this group I'll never know, but I was grateful they had. UFAS had chosen Charlotte first, then come looking for a local agency with floral experience and found only us. That's the kind of competition I like.

The Convention Center is so big that an exhibiting company can get lost in the sheer volume of its competition. That's where Allen Teague really could make a difference. We were helping showgoers notice our clients. Not UFAS. Their work was complete before the show began except for a few PR photo ops I promised to set up. I mean our floral clients who had products to sell. To that end, we were taking some pretty drastic measures. What Allen Teague lacks in size, we make up for in creativity. I value creativity above all else.

That's why I felt I had to resurrect those smashed calla lilies once the emergency personnel had removed Joel's body. Joel Fineman had been the dean of funeral arrangements, the only floral designer I knew who dared to bring a personal vision to what, for most florists, was perfunctory work: casket drapes and floral tributes. For Joel to die like this, in the middle of his motif narrative, would have horrified him. Dying, of course, was bad enough. But to destroy his floral creation, while losing his life, would have been unpardonable to Joel's way of thinking. A part of me thinks the same way, so even though Joel Fineman wasn't my client, I took it upon myself to try to upright his callas and return order to his creation.

The hundred or so florists who'd been watching, along with the design panel judges, had left the room as soon as the convention nurse announced she couldn't find a pulse. The two other panelists had remained, as had Peg Corbeil, a floral designer who happened to be my client.

The callas were a mess. Joel wasn't that big a man, but dead weight holds back nothing in a fall. Many of the flowers had broken just above the picks Joel had attached with wire to help insert the callas into the floral foam. The essence of Joel's design, its upward symmetry, was in jeopardy.

After the two EMTs rolled the gurney out the door, I mounted the stage and began frantically straightening stems only to have each one flop over again immediately. The two formerly competing panel designers stared at me. My actions must have confused the hell out of them because they both resumed their places behind their caskets and commenced to stare at me--as if I were going to continue on in Joel's stead.

Out of frustration, I glared at them both and said, "What are you two looking at? And what are you still doing on the stage, huh?" I pointed toward the door. "Don't you get that the competition's off?" I shook my head to shame them, then watched them begin to gather their belongings from the edge of the stage.

"What are you doing, Sydney?" Peg said as he joined me where Joel had stood only moments before. "You're crying. I didn't think you even knew Joel."

I hadn't known I was crying, but now I touched my cheeks and found them wet. "I hardly did," I said, "but I knew his reputation. This disarray would have really bothered him. He was a perfectionist."

Peg nodded, and without any more questions began to survey the ailing arrangement. "Here," he said as he held a calla stem before me. "Unwrap the wire as much as you can without losing its connection with the pick." He straightened the wire, then carefully rewrapped it in a lazy serpentine fashion up and around the bent portion of the stem. "Voilà! Unbroken. As if it never happened."

I nodded and did as he showed me to each broken stem.

"Only it did happen," I said as I felt new tears heating up behind my eyes.

"Now, now, Syd. Let me do some of those lilies." He took the one I was working on out of my hands and began to unwrap its wire. His fingers, though large and long, were nimble. Peg was tall enough for me, at five eight, to look up to, and his broad shoulders belied his artistic skills. He could have been an athlete if his interests had been different.

I fumbled in my blazer pocket for a tissue but couldn't find one. Peg pulled the perfectly starched cotton handkerchief from his sport coat's lapel and handed it to me.

Excerpted from Cuttings: A Sydney Teague Mystery by Anne Underwood Grant
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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