“A large drop of sun lingered on the horizon and then dripped over and was gone, and the sky was brilliant over the spot where it had gone, and a torn cloud, like a bloody rag, hung over the spot of its going. And dusk crept over the sky from the eastern horizon, and darkness crept over the land from the east.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
As daylight faded, the clouds became scarce and the last pink wisps of sunset shown through in fits and gasps. There was a palpable heaviness to the grey and pink light thrown over the city. A hush descended and the streets grew ephemerally quiet. The only place unaffected by this strange twilight was the gaudiness of Kell’s Irish Pub. Garish light and drunken patrons staggered in and out of the cacophony of the pub. A stark and startling contrast to the spell woven over the rest of the city.
Amidst the chaos, at the bar sat Greta Conway, lead detective of the Portland Police Department. This was not her usual haunt. She had had to ride the train here from Kenton Station, making one change at the Quarter. Realistically there were three bars to drink at within walking distance of her house. Ranging from the total dive that was the Kenton Club to the upscale recesses of Swift & Union, Greta was a regular at all of them. Her habits lately had made it necessary for her to find a place where no one knew her. Downtown, she could slide in unnoticed among the business people and tourists.
Greta drank, she drank a lot. She was well known at the bars in her neighborhood, but tonight, she needed to be anonymous, to think. If one were to pinpoint why she drank, it was because she often times did not know where she ended and the world began. Greta’s edges were more like a beach than a boundary. The world encroached and abandoned at unreliable intervals. At times, she felt everything in exquisite detail, at other times there was nothing. There seemed to be no in between. The only time Greta felt truly at ease was two or three drinks in. She forgot how hard it was to keep herself in line.
With no concern for how she was going to get home later, and in need of the noise of the crowd, Greta put her mind to what was ahead of her. She had received the call at about 9am on that beautiful May morning. Her head, still foggy from the whiskey she drank the night before, she struggled to take in the bizarre information. Her lieutenant had, in precise detail given her the particulars of the case. She headed to the scene immediately.
The lead forensics agent already at the scene was a seasoned professional. She examined the body and took note of the abdomen that had been carved out to accommodate the rich green shoots of peony flowers in full hot pink bloom. Where the woman’s breasts should have been, there emerged the light blue sprigs of delphinium. Her eyes were replaced with blood red tulips and a sword fern emerged from her rotted, gaping mouth. The flowers were full and vibrant as if the plants themselves were feeding off of the nutrients of the decomposing body. The most disturbing element was the flagrant desecration of the body’s feminism as the murderer had somehow forced the small sapling into the woman’s pelvic cavity.
Claire, head of the forensics team, tersely instructed her people to photograph each gruesome aspect of the scene.
Claire grabbed Greta as she got out of the car upon arrival. Claire immediately began to give Greta all of the details that she had gathered thus far.
“My guess is that the body has been there for between four and six months,” she said.
“And how do you know that?” Greta asked.
“Judging by the level of decomposition as well as the size of the plants. They could not have been here for over a year, they must have been planted last fall.” Claire responded. The scene was buzzing with excitement. This was not a usual case for the typically quiet Portland Police.
Greta listened to Claire’s rundown of the scene, understanding what an expansive time frame four to six months is. As Claire instructed her team to collect evidence, she understood from experience that collecting any usable forensic evidence would be difficult at this point as the body had be out in the elements throughout the wet, warm winter of the Pacific Northwest. This did not deter Claire’s commitment, she had seen this before. She had also let families down in her previous investigations. Greta knew what Claire was thinking, they had worked together long enough for her to read Claire like a book. Greta knew they both had seen enough terrible things to understand that after all of this time, they were no closer to finding any answers for the suffering families. This only served to strengthen Greta’s resolve.
Photographs were taken, samples collected and the day wore on as the clouds rolled into another chilly May afternoon. Onlookers began to dissipate as the excitement diminished and the rain once again threatened the decomposing body of what was once clearly a vibrant young woman. An overwhelming feeling of defeat was already permeating the back garden as the team realized what they were up against. What was another shower when the garden had been poured on all winter? Greta fought against the tide of despair her team had already began to visibly show. She needed them at their best. She needed their minds to be focused and alert. Regardless of the challenges, they had work to do and Greta would be damned if they half-assed their job at this point. As the rain began to fall, Greta watched Claire spring into overdrive. She screamed at her team to get tarps and cover as much of the area as they could.
She knew, women all over the city were in danger, there was a cold blooded, calculated killer on the loose. She would be damned if they worked as one already defeated when it was always that one tiny mistake that would be the undoing of even the most intelligent psychopath. It was this that drove Greta as she moved with purpose, even when the rain started. She drove her team hard, they needed to collect as much degraded evidence as they could, and as quickly as possible.
The team drove back to the lab as the rain poured down onto the city. The windshield wipers were the soundtrack to the silent riders as they tried desperately to make sense of what they had seen. Had desperately racked their brains to find out how they could possibly find anything of use in the boated rain soaked body that they had carefully removed from the garden. They had carefully re-potted each flesh nourished plant, taking soil samples and swabbing the rotting skin of the body. They needed to find out who this woman was.
Fortunately, the teeth of the bloated corpse were still intact as the murderer had carefully filled the mouth with soil before placing the fern into the cavernous recesses of the woman’s skull. Though the roots had made their way all the way into the brain, the teeth were still perfect. They would check dental records as soon as they arrived back at the lab. It was hard, even for the most seasoned CSI to know… this was once a living breathing, thinking, warm human body. Shaking her head, Claire felt the sick, sinking feeling of knowing that someone capable of such a terrifying atrocity was loose in the city, among the unsuspecting citizens in their homes, on the streets, at the parks.
As Greta sat troubled, sitting at the precinct, deep in thought over the horror of what she had seen, an amusing thought of the ladies who ran the Kenton garden club, popped into her dark mind. Their pleasant, floral polyester outfits and their pink lipstick. This group of women had been together since the 60’s. The group had recently turned more into a coffee club as the women began to age. She almost laughed out loud thinking about Genie, the outspoken garden club leader committing the murder. She stifled a laugh and consciously put on a somber face. This was neither the time nor place for laughter.
Greta had almost lost her job last winter, she thought about how close she had come and vowed to change. It was a particularly rainy winter and she was feeling lost, and lonely. Racked with guilt and without the tools to cope, Greta had gone down the dark rabbit hole of men and drink. A lot of men and a lot of drink. Often going out the night before, staying up until the early hours, showing up to work the next day in rough shape. Wearing dirty clothes, covered in the smells of cigarettes and sex and hangover.
The idea of how close she had come made her shudder. She was alone now, she had to support herself. If she lost this job, she would have no place to go. People noticed her bleary gaze and her slow responses. She fought each day to keep her drinking to the weekends. But she did not know how to dull the roar of thoughts in her mind. Did not know how to quiet the guilt and anxiety. The two go hand in hand, but after what happened to her last year, Greta was a prisoner.
Tonight, she knew she should go home, but even more, Greta needed relief. It was weighing on her mind, another… another woman. “How many more of us will there be?” she thought. There had been a few others found this way. They had not been left as long, but the macabre scene had been set in a similar way. Like a sick joke, one was planted with trees, another only with roses and this final, most strange one with a mix of trees, bulbs and perennials. Which Greta knew was a calculated and specific choice. There was a clear message, Greta just was not quite getting it yet.
Greta sat at the bar, looking at her notes, taking more notes, thinking and drinking when a man came up to her. He said, “hello.” And immediately, Greta slammed her notebook shut. There were pictures of the body in there, she did not want this man to see. She knew as soon as he finished saying “hello” that she was in trouble. He was Australian, Greta always got into trouble with Australians.
The man looked at Greta and said, “Hey there. What are you drinking? I’m Allen”
Greta looked back at him and laughingly answered, “Foster’s. And my name is Greta.”
“That is an old lady name, my dear.” Allen commented.
“Are you going to get me another beer?” Greta asked.
Allen, unsurprisingly, said, “yes.”
Greta knew that she should be working, but she also knew that the only way to overcome temptation is to give into it. Oscar Wilde was a smart man. So give into the temptation she did.
Allen was tall, but not too tall. He had dark olive skin and glorious black hair that fell in waves. He had green, or grey, or bluish eyes, she could not be sure. She felt nervous and excited at the same time. They got through all of the basic questions, “Where are you from? What are you doing here? What kind of work do you do?” (Greta always said that she was a teacher to avoid shocked looks and inappropriate questions.) As soon as they were done with the boring, Greta knew he was funny. Funny was better than hot, he was hot and funny. She was all caught up in this business. There would be no more work done tonight she thought to herself…
When Allen went to the bathroom after a few more drinks, Greta watched him. He had firm, broad shoulders and a very nice ass, like a surfer. She wanted to feel someone close to her body, it was a good substitution to a close person.
Allen asked: “What is your favorite part of your job?”
She replied: “What is yours?”
Allen replied quickly, “I retired young.”
Greta took this as a man without baggage. All of her baggage came with her bad personality and her job. She could hide that for just a little while.
She didn’t mind being stereotypical, she knew what she liked. Greta could sweep her crazy under the rug for just tonight. God, she really fucking needed tonight.She knew that she would get to see him naked later. She was going to go home with him tonight.
When he came back from the bathroom, Greta asked if he wanted to take shots with her. Of course he said, “yes.” It was that point in the night where Greta began to think everything was funny. Allen was laughing so hard he almost fell off of his stool. They decided to go to another, less crowded bar. After that, things began to get spotty.