Lawrence Kingston is asked to search for a botanist friend who has gone missing. With nothing but a scrap of paper with a bewildering cryptic message, he begins to investigate. He discovers that his friend was experimenting with aquatic plants and has stumbled on a horticultural breakthrough with staggering implications, one that could ultimately generate billions of dollars in revenue: a unique and giant form of Amazonian water lily. Convinced that influential people are involved in the disappearance, he pursues more leads, but circumstances beyond his control plunge him deeper into jeopardy and a corporate world of ruthless, greedy men who are not to be stopped. Kingston presses on, knowing that his missing friend's life--and his own--both hang by a very slender thread.
As with the highly acclaimed The Lost Gardens, Eglin brings his botanical and literary skill to this new mystery.
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May 01, 2007
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Excerpt from The Water Lily Cross by Anthony Eglin
Another fickle June day was ending. The stubborn rains had let up at last, and the streetlamps were lit when Lawrence Kingston pulled up facing the shoebox of a garage he rented on cobbled Waverley Mews, Chelsea.
With the handbrake on and the engine running, he swung open the door of his pampered 1964 TR4 and extricated his long-limbed body from the cramped driver's compartment with practiced agility. After disabling the alarm, he opened the door and got back in his car. The garage was so small that as soon as the TR was inside, there was barely enough space to open the driver's-side door. It was all he needed, though--spotlessly clean and secure. Long gone were the days when he would do his own car's maintenance. Minuscule as it was, the garage cost him a small fortune every month but he didn't begrudge a penny of it. The only alternative was a resident street parking permit, which, for his of all cars, would be a gilt-edged invitation to thieves and yobbos who would think nothing of vandalizing it or ripping off parts. The car safely inside, he turned the key in the jimmy-proof deadlock, reset the alarm, and in ten minutes was walking across Cadogan Square to his two-story flat.
He went into the living room, picking up the mail from the doormat on the way. Dropping the letters and junk mail on the coffee table, he took off his jacket, draped it on the back of the sofa, and crossed the room to the butler's table that served as a bar. Opening a bottle of Macallan single malt whisky, he poured a liberal measure into a crystal glass, topping it off with an equal amount of water. On his way back to the worn leather sofa, he pressed the play button on the answerphone, put his drink down next to the small stack of mail, and sank back into the bosom of the sofa. He sat, legs outstretched, staring at the ceiling, waiting for the tape to rewind.
"Hi Lawrence, it's Sally." Kingston tilted an ear to the machine. "Just a reminder about Andrew's birthday dinner Friday night. Benihana, seven thirty, okay? Bye."
Kingston took a sip of the whisky and reached for the top envelope. A short beep and then a young man's voice: "It's Dave at Bell's Appliances--Tuesday, 'bout three o'clock. Wanted to let you know we got the part for your vacuum. Okay?"
Kingston opened the envelope and pulled out the letter. It was from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. He read the first couple of lines then stopped abruptly. Engrossed in the letter, he caught only the tail end of the next message. At first, the woman's voice was not familiar.
". . . The police have been round to see her and she's worried stiff. You know him as well as any of us, Lawrence--it's not like Dad at all. I'm going down on Friday. Could you call her, please--as soon as you can? I know she would want to talk with you. Thanks, Lawrence. Bye for now."
Kingston dropped the letter on the table, got up, reached for the answerphone, pressed rewind, and remained standing while listening to the full message.
"Hello Lawrence, it's Sarah, Rebecca's daughter. Sorry to bother you but something awful has happened." Her voice was oddly subdued. It certainly didn't sound like the bubbly young woman he knew. "Mum called me about ten minutes ago. Dad's gone missing. Apparently he left three days ago to attend a conference in Bristol and she hasn't heard from him since--he never got there. The police have been round to see her and she's worried stiff. You know him as well as any of us, Lawrence--it's not like Dad at all. I'm going down on Friday. Could you call her, please--as soon as you can? I know she would want to talk with you. Thanks, Lawrence. Bye for now."
Kingston glanced at his watch, it was nine-thirty; not too late to call, given the circumstances. He picked up the address book next to the phone, found Stewart and Rebecca Halliday's entry, picked up the phone and punched in the numbers.
Becky Halliday answered after the second ring. She was clearly glad to get his call but her voice quickly lost all its energy. He listened without interrupting as she recounted, unable to hold back a sob now and then, a drawn-out version of Sarah's message. The upshot: still no word from Stewart, and the police, who had been in contact with her since day one, had no further leads. Stewart had simply disappeared.
"I think I'd better come down," said Kingston.
"I'd like that, Lawrence. I really do need someone to talk to." He heard another muffled sniffle, and this time it brought a lump to his throat. It pained him to imagine her, usually so self-composed and in charge, being thrust into such desolation. "I'm going round the bend here by myself." She hesitated. "Sarah's driving down from Shrewsbury on Saturday and my sister Margaret was supposed to come down," she said, her voice now a little more like the Becky he knew, "but wouldn't you know it, she's got the flu and doesn't know if she can make it now."
He could tell she was trying to put on a brave front. "I'll drive down tomorrow morning first thing," he said.
"Thanks, Lawrence, you're an angel."
"If you like, I can pack a bag, just in case you want me to stay over."
"Yes, I'd like that."
"That's settled. Should arrive about noon, I would imagine. Remind me--just after Fordingbridge, I make a left turn by the pub, as I recall."
"The Cricketers, that's right. We're about a half-mile up on the left. White roses over the front gate."
"Good. Until tomorrow, then."
He put the phone down and stood by the table for a moment, weighing the enormity of what had just happened, wondering what logical explanations there could be for Stewart's disappearance.