A completely different kind of floral arrangement. [Bloody Quill entry for Wk. 1].
|The Valentine's Day Arrangement
"Where do you want them, Ms. Tanner?" Tucker inquired.
"Could you make four stacks of three over here in the sitting room, so I can get to them later?" asked Caroline.
"I'm afraid leaving them in stacks isn't allowed, ma'am. Mr. Canton's delivery order is kinda detailed," the delivery man replied. "I have to arrange them according to the order, so I'm going to need some open space."
"Well, then I guess you'll have to use the family room; it's just through there," she said, pointing to an opening down the left side of the hallway. He stepped forward and took a look.
"Yes, ma'am, that'll do fine."
It took him four trips with a hand truck to bring in the twelve small moving boxes, which he stacked two high on the right side of the hallway. When all the boxes were inside, he used a box cutter to open them. Each one held a styrofoam cooler. As he used them to create a new stack on the left side of the hallway, she could see that each had a number from one through twelve taped to the lid's center and that the seam between lid and box was sealed by a strip of clear packaging tape.
"I have to arrange them now, ma'am and, begging your pardon, you're not allowed to watch; Mr. Canton made that real clear. It's part of the surprise."
"I can't watch?" Caroline frowned. "I'm not sure I like that."
"I completely understand, ma'am," Tucker assured her, "but I think I have a solution. If you'll stand just to the right of the doorway, you can watch me pick up each box and step into the room. It will only take four or five seconds to place each one and return, so I'll be out of your sight for almost no time at all."
What are you up to, Alfred? she wondered. Still somewhat dubious, Caroline finally agreed. As she watched the delivery man disappear and then reappear, the mystery of it all began to pique her interest, and she became curious about the final design and the containers' contents. Her boyfriend, Alfred, was always very loving and attentive, and she genuinely enjoyed his company. He was almost obsessive about their relationship, though, giving hard looks to any male who paid her more than passing attention, and he had a real penchant for the offbeat, even the bizarre. He'd given her a stuffed and mounted squirrel for her birthday last year. She had thought it a bit odd, but the creature's lifelike pose and glittering eyes had amazed and captivated her. When she asked where he had bought it and he replied that he'd done the work himself, it had taken an immense effort to keep her expression from changing. In spite of herself, she had almost asked, where he'd found the poor thing, but then decided she didn't really want to know, if it had already been dead.
Despite her efforts, Alfred had picked up on her change of expression and responded accordingly. His little gestures of affection were still outside the norm but, in the main, much less disturbing. The most recent example was his Christmas card to her. When she asked him what kind of brush and ink he had used for his signature, he had just wiggled a forefinger at her. He had pricked one of his own fingers, then signed it in blood. She shook her head at the memory.
Tucker picked up the last cooler, disappeared for a moment, then stepped back into the hallway. "One last thing, ma'am, and then you can sign for the delivery, confirming that everything was done exactly as Mr. Canton specified." He removed a small pack of index cards from his clipboard. "There's one for each lid and they're numbered to match; I'll be right back."
A few seconds later, he beckoned Caroline to the doorway. "Okay, ma'am, all ready."
She moved into the room and stopped just in front of the nearest container. The delivery man had arranged them in the shape of a heart, then covered the numbers with the index cards. Each card bore a single word so that, when read from upper left to lower right, they formed the message "I will always love you, Caroline. These sweetheart roses are for you."
"Oh, Alfred! How sweet!" she exclaimed. "It's just like him, too," she said to Tucker, "to be unique and put each rose into its own box, and he did say he'd been planning it for a long time."
Tucker smiled and extended his pen and clipboard. "Just sign at the bottom, ma'am. This last card's for you; instructions on opening the boxes. Enjoy your flowers, and Happy Valentine's Day, ma'am!" He grabbed his hand truck and left.
Caroline read the card: Use scissors or a knife to cut the tape all the way around each seam, then lift off the lid and lean it against the right side of its box; if you do this correctly, you'll give the heart a silhouette. Once you're finished, you may look in the boxes in any order you like. Yours forever, Alfred.
Ten minutes later, Caroline stood in the doorway admiring her handiwork. The lids really did create a subtle sort of silhouette. How about that? Stepping back into the room, she directed her attention into what had been box number eleven. A rectangular cover, almost like an interior lid, concealed the box's contents. She knelt and tugged the cover's small handle and removed it, revealing a dense fog. A deep cold emanated from the box, and she realized that the bottom of the cooler was layered in dry ice. Why in the world would he store the rose in dry ice? she wondered. Air currents in the room made the fog swirl, and she caught a hint of something red. Then the fog dissipated... and shopgirl Rose Edmonds' sightless eyes met her gaze.
Caroline screamed and fell to her left, knocking over box number twelve. Rose Langston's head, frozen in time at eight years old, rolled from its box and across the carpet. Shrieking now, Caroline struggled to get up, but only managed to knock over another box, adding Rose Anderson's head to the macabre tableau.
The horrified woman scooted backward until she met a wall, knocking over a small writing table in the process. Tearing her eyes away from the deformed and bloody heart at last, Caroline clambered to her feet and fled.
* * *
"What's the story, Matt?"
"We'll get confirmation before releasing any info, of course," said Detective Spence, "but it looks like we'll be able to shed some light on the Red Rose Mystery, Captain. I recognized a few of 'em."
"How's the woman?"
"Ms. Tanner? Well, this is a quiet neighborhood, so her screams brought folks running from up and down the block. She was practically incoherent, when the ambulance arrived. It was a pretty nasty surprise, poor woman. They took her to Coliseum Northside to treat her for shock."
"Can't say as I blame her," Captain Ross sympathized. "You open a dozen boxes from your boyfriend, expecting to find a beautiful red rose in each, and what do you get instead? The bloody heads of twelve redheaded girls named Rose, each with a candy heart stuck to the forehead."