Saturday, March 20, 2004

The East Side Camellia Mystery

Twenty years ago, when I had just moved to Seattle and was temping as a secretary at Metro, I spotted an ad in The Weekly for editors and writers for a new magazine. Desperate for a writing gig, I answered it. An aspiring publisher had a concept for a national magazine, similar to Psychology Today but focused on law and true crime. The job market must have been truly grim in those days because he was able to pull together a strong group of professionals for the first, and only, issue. It included an experienced graphic designer, a veteran copy editor recently laid off from the Tacoma daily, a professional photographer and a Pulitzer Prize-winning ex-reporter from the Seattle Times, now working as a private investigator. The magazine never got past the first issue, but that issue had a big impact on my career, enabling me to get a job in communications and re-start my professional life.

What does this have to do with camellias? One of the features for the magazine was a whimsical back-of-the-book column. For the demo issue, it was written by the reporter/private eye, and it was about a case he'd undertaken. It took place in early spring, camellia season. An East Side psychiatrist was finding camellia blossoms arranged on his front lawn in the middle of the night--but only when he returned from an out-of-town trip. Suspecting this might be the work of an obsessed ex-patient, and failing in his own attempts to catch the prankster in the act, he called in the professionals. When he next left town, they set up a stakeout from the upstairs of an empty house across the street. After a couple of nights of watching his house, the investigators were ready to give up. Over coffee at a nearby Denny's one of them remarked that she'd sat there all night, and all she'd seen was the shrink's cat, going back and forth, and back and forth. The light went on! Returning to the client's house, they found a tell-tale grouping of camellia blossoms in the front yard, carefully assembled by the feline. To make matters even more amusing, the client initially refused to accept their explanation. Eventually he had to agree. It seemed that he had rescued the cat, it was tremendously attached to him, and, for whatever reason, dealt with his absences by creating floral arrangements.

Our enormous pink camellia bush is in bloom. Today I came across one of our cats, batting tentatively at a fallen blossom, and that story came back to me. I can't remember the name of the writer, or the name of the magazine. But I'll never forget the East Side camellia mystery.

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