Henderson pulled up to the curb and saw Detective Monroe standing on the front steps of the house smoking a cigarette. Monroe had been trying to quit, so that wasn’t a good sign. Henderson walked up the driveway and greeted his partner.
“You know you’re not supposed to be smoking at a crime scene.”
“I know, but it’s rough in there. The forensics guys have already swept this area anyway. They’re inside now.”
“Rough how?” Henderson asked. He cupped his hands and blew on them to take off the chill.
“Three victims this time. They’re in a pretty bad state.”
“Cause of death?”
“Coroner’s in there now taking a look.”
“Who called it in? The homeowner?”
“No. The lawn care company saw it through the window. The uniforms broke down the door when they couldn’t reach the owner.”
“All right. Guess I’ll check it out.” Henderson pulled open the storm door and started to enter the house but Monroe stopped him.
“I think it’s him. I think he’s back and killing again.”
“That would make three times in two years.”
“Yeah,” Monroe said, exhaling smoke. “But three victims this time, so make that five times in two years. Plus Lily, the one we were able to save, would have been six. He’s getting more active.”
“Maybe that means he’s getting careless, too.” Henderson walked through the doorway and followed the beeping sounds of the forensics guys’ digital cameras. He found them in the kitchen along with the coroner. It was a large kitchen with an eat-in area and a desk. A large bay window looked out onto the deck and backyard. The kitchen wasn’t perfectly clean, but not filthy either. There were some pieces of mail piled up on the desk, and a newspaper from the week before still in the plastic sleeve it had been in when it was delivered. It all seemed fairly normal, if you could ignore the three dead bodies. Henderson couldn’t.
The coroner turned from his examination. “Hey, Sam. You’re a little late this morning.”
“Hey, Rich. Yeah, I was out late last night on a surveillance. Thought I’d let Monroe get the ball rolling for a change.”
“I’ll tell you what I told him. Come on over and get a closer look,” the coroner said, motioning to him. He asked the forensics team to step back and give them some room.
Henderson walked over to the kitchen counter until he was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Rich. He looked down at the pot and the three victims in it.
Two were shriveled and brown. The third was still bright green, but lying on its side on top of one of the others. Two of its limbs were torn off.
“We’ve got three victims,” the coroner said. “These first two are a type of cactus. The third is an aloe called pheasant’s breast. Based on the rate of decay and the position of the bodies, the cacti died first, probably several days earlier than the pheasant’s breast.”
“Aren’t cacti supposed to be really difficult to kill?”
“Yep, but that didn’t stop our guy. He must have a real talent for this.”
“So, do you know cause of death?” Henderson asked.
“I can’t be sure until I get them back to the nursery. It could be drowning, but on the other hand it could be dehydration. In cases like this it’s hard to tell. Whether it’s drowning or dehydration, the results look the same. But with a cactus involved I’d guess we’ve got an overwatering.”
“Okay. Anything else, Doc?”
“Well, I could be wrong, but it looks to me like they were recently re-potted. I’ll take some soil samples to see if we can learn anything that will tell us for sure.”
“That would certainly make things interesting, wouldn’t it?” Henderson paused for a moment in thought. “Why would you re-pot a plant if you were just going to kill it later? That doesn’t match the Botanist’s usual MO. There’s never been an indication of re-potting in any of the previous cases.”
“Maybe he’s toying with them,” Monroe said. He had finished his cigarette and was standing in the kitchen doorway. “Maybe he’s getting bored with the same old same old, and he’s trying to keep things interesting. Or maybe he’s toying with us.”
Henderson stepped away from the bodies and made room for the crime scene photographers. He walked around the kitchen, taking in the scene, and eventually passed through the doorway to the living room. There was a rubber plant in one corner and some sort of plant on top of a wall unit. Its long trailing vines with light green leaves hung over the edge of the pot, nearly reaching the floor. By the back door there was a snake plant in a huge pot almost two feet high and two feet across. Henderson returned to the kitchen.
“I think we’ve been looking at this all wrong,” he said.
“What do you mean?” Monroe looked up from the pile of mail he was shuffling through.
“I don’t think this is the Botanist. I don’t think the lady who did this is that sinister.”
“You think a woman is responsible for this? No way. Serial killers are almost always men.”
“I don’t think she’s a serial killer. I don’t think this is a matter of murder at all. I think it’s a matter of negligence, or maybe just plain ignorance. Look around. The living room is full of plants, all in reasonably good condition. If this were the work of a killer, why stop with those three? Why not take out all the plants? The person who takes care of these plants makes an effort. That snake plant is usually outdoors. You can see the stain on the deck where the pot left a ring. But the caretaker was thoughtful enough to bring the plant in for the winter. What kind of a killer does that? She has the best intentions.”
“Wait,” Monroe interrupted, “why ‘she’?”
“All of the plants have saucers under them, and most of them also have cork mats underneath to protect the surface of the counter or floor. That just screams ‘woman.’ Plus, the leaves of that rubber plant have been dusted recently.”
“Okay, so she’s a woman, and she knows how to take care of plants. So why are these plants dead?”
“I didn’t say she knows how to take care of them. I said she has the best intentions. The saucer under that snake plant is full of water. So she gave it too much water. It’s hard to overwater a plant that large by that much. And did you notice that small pot on the windowsill above the sink?”
The coroner and Monroe turned to look at the sink, clearly seeing the pot for the first time.
“That’s the perfect spot to grow some herbs,” Henderson said, “but it’s just dry dirt. The herbs didn’t grow successfully. Nobody intentionally kills herbs. They’re too useful.”
“There was that lady about five years ago, the one who cut down the rosemary bush in her yard,” the coroner said.
“Yeah, but she was clearly unstable, and probably a bad cook. My point is I think this is just a case of someone with a black thumb.”
“But if that’s the case, why didn’t she try to get some help? Why let them all die like that?” Monroe asked.
“She’s away on vacation for the holidays. The newspaper is a week old and hasn’t been opened. There’s no trash bag in the trash can; she probably emptied it before she left. She’s a decent housekeeper, just not much good with plants.”
“So that’s it? We just drop this case?”
“No. Rich can take the bodies back to the nursery and check them out just to be sure. See if there are any prints on the pot that match those from the previous Botanist cases. We’ll find the homeowner when she gets back from vacation and ask her a few questions to cover all the bases. In the meantime, though, we’ve got some work to do.”
“Like what?” Monroe said.
“Like going back over the old files for the Botanist cases, making sure we didn’t miss anything. Maybe they weren’t all the work of the Botanist after all. Maybe they were just Black Thumb Killers.”
Last night I wrote a poem in my sleep.
I suppose I should really say I wrote a poem in my dreams, but that doesn’t sound as cool as saying I wrote a poem in my sleep. It would be even cooler to write a novel in my sleep. You hear about authors who say they stayed up every night for two months straight to get their great masterpiece written. But it would be cooler to say, “Eh, I wrote it in my sleep.”
I’m holding out hope that the poem is just the first step, and the novel is right around the corner. Or maybe a novella would be more realistic. To write a whole novel in my sleep I’d probably need to lapse into a coma. I know I shouldn’t joke about that. Lord, please don’t put me into a coma, even if it means I might get a bestseller out of it. Even if it means I could, by some miracle, get rich and retire off of the royalties of that one coma-written book, please don’t put me into a coma. Also, here’s a note to the police: if an accident should happen to befall me and I should happen to end up in a coma in the near future, please believe that I did not do this to myself so that I could write the next great American novel. Please, go out and find the person who put me in this coma.
Anyway, I’ve got to admit that writing a novel in my dreams probably wouldn’t work out too well. Knowing my dreams, I’d probably end up with something along the lines of the screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey or Mulholland Drive. In order to support this belief of mine, I will give you a synopsis of the dream I had in which I wrote the poem. Now, if you haven’t seen 2001: A Space Odyssey but want to see it, you may not want to read this synopsis. It could spoil the movie for you. If you haven’t seen it and don’t plan to see it, good for you. ‘Cause really, if you’re anything like me, you’ll just end up and looking up “Zarathustra” on Wikipedia, conjugating the verb “to speak,” and wishing you had those two hours of your life back. If, on the other hand, you have multiple degrees in literary analysis, philosophy, and the history of film, go for it.
The dream opens with hubby and I living off in the countryside and helping some woman, a stranger or recent acquaintance, as far as I could tell, clear out a large room in which she has been hoarding junk for decades. (You will soon see that this had nothing to do with the rest of the dream, and so in Space Odyssey terms it was the equivalent of the scene in which the apes discover tools and their first use of said tools is to inflict violence.)
The room is nowhere near being completely cleared out, but hubby and I leave to go to some sort of administrative office of the courts. (Imagine my surprise when I realized we were there to get married. So... I should not be calling him hubby I guess. Pre-hubby.) The office is empty, and we end up riffling through the papers on some lady’s desk to find out the marriage requirements. (This is sort of like the scene in which HAL starts killing off the astronauts who are in a state of suspended animation. – Hey! Maybe they were all writing novels in their sleep. – This is not really the plot you were expecting, but at least it’s plot-like.)
Having looked up the marriage requirements, we return the next day to find the office now occupied. But the marriage lady looks at our forms and tells me that we can’t be married yet because I don’t have all my English credits. I have to prove that I speak English before I can be married. Apparently pre-hubby is in the clear. And apparently the fact that I am speaking to the woman in English is not good enough for her to check off the little box on her form. I have to jump through some hoop by writing an essay or something. She tells us to come back the next day. (Yeah, now it’s really weird. This is like when the remaining astronaut gets sucked into that weird Technicolor worm hole. It doesn’t make any sense, and you don’t know what in the heck is going on, but you’re intrigued and impressed by the special effects.)
So it’s the next day and pre-hubby and I are at Target. Obviously, right? We are finished with our shopping and are on our way toward the check-out aisles. Our next stop will be the court office to get married. This is when I realize that I have to write whatever it is I’m going to write for my English credits. (In Space Odyssey, this is when the old man is in bed ... watching himself eat at the other table... getting older? I have no idea what’s going on. But it feels like we’re near the end, so that’s good.)
Luckily, there is a counter in Target where all the high school girls have left love notes to the quarterback before the game. Two girls are there writing now, all giggles with their pink glittery pens and stickers. (Wait! Is that guy getting younger now? What is happening?)
I stop at the counter to write my poem. I’m writing it on the smallest size Post-it Notes. But they’re pink, not yellow. Each verse of the poem gets cramped onto its own note. Pre-hubby is standing at my elbow, frustrated. He wonders why I didn’t do this earlier. That would have been so much more logical. (I don’t know. Why is there a giant baby floating in outer space?)
And here is the poem I wrote in my sleep/dream. Disclosure: I may have tweaked it a bit here.
A cold gale from the north
[I don’t remember the second verse.
For those of you who are into plot arcs, I should tell you that I don’t know how the story ends. I was so amazed by my mediocre dream-writing skills that I woke up. I don’t know if pre-hubby and I ever got married. Sorry. (If this leaves you feeling unfulfilled you know exactly how I felt at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. What happened to the big monolith? WHAT IS THIS MOVIE SUPPOSED TO BE ABOUT?!)