Flowers for Colleen
Roland Allnach, 2010
It was the first Saturday morning of the month, and Darryl went to get flowers for Colleen, as was his routine. He stood in the florist shop, waiting behind a rather impatient man, while the young woman behind the counter prepared the man’s bouquet. The customer stood there, his impatience evident in the nervous tap of his foot and his repeated sighs of frustration, as the woman held her smile and tried to calm him with harmless small talk. She was a perky little creature, adorable with the little sprigs of baby’s breath tucked into the loose bun of her brown hair. Her large eyes held a welcome innocence for the world’s intentions.
She wrapped the man’s bouquet and turned. “Is there anything else, sir?”
“No. Just ring it up already,” he said, shaking his head as he took out his wallet.
Darryl tipped his chin, an almost imperceptible movement, his eyes narrowing on the back of the man’s head. He frowned as he gazed through the glass doors of the shop’s refrigerator. He turned to the woman. “Excuse me, but do you have any roses? I was looking for six red roses.”
The bright curve of her smile fell, but her eyes glowed with empathy. “Oh, no, I’m so sorry, we’re getting some in later. I just opened a few minutes ago, and these were the last we had from yesterday,” she said, opening a hand to the bouquet she had just made.
The man in front of Darryl took the bouquet. He turned and patted Darryl’s shoulder. “Early bird gets the worm, buddy.”
Darryl’s brow fell. He looked at his shoulder. He watched the man go. He turned to the woman, raising a hand in goodbye, before following the man out of the store. They walked across the parking lot. Darryl slid his hand into his coat pocket, and his fingers formed around a small handgun. It was going to be so easy, it almost lost the thrill of anticipation, but his mind was made. The man didn’t even look back, so self-assured in the delusion of his security, so arrogant in the notion of his personal safety. He got into his car. Darryl gave a quick glance over his shoulders to make sure no one was watching. It was a gray, drizzly day, with pale wisps of fog floating about.
He walked up to the man’s car and tapped a knuckle on the window as the man set the bouquet on the passenger seat. The man turned in surprise, but his expression immediately soured at Darryl’s presence.
Darryl opened his mouth, but the man flipped up his hand, his middle finger extended.
Darryl shifted, angling the gun in his pocket before squeezing the trigger. He felt a slight tug as the bullet ripped through his coat, followed by a sound only his imagination could dissect: the muffled pop of the silenced gun, the crystalline crack of the window, the dull plunk of the bullet punching into the man’s temple. The glass went white with fracture lines, the few specks of blood that spattered from the man’s temple caught on the inner glass. The man’s head rolled to the side, his hand dropping in his lap. Darryl knocked in the glass with his elbow and grabbed the man’s shoulder to hold him upright in his seat, but it was too late. The small round from Darryl’s gun had remained in the man’s head, spinning around the inside of the skull, but the bullet had ruptured the inner canal of the ear. A thick red discharge dribbled from the man’s ear onto the roses, ruining them.
Darryl pursed his lips and looked over his shoulder. It was early. It was a Saturday morning. No one had seen him. He lowered his head and walked away. The woman in the floral shop…well, he had already decided she would live, and he never second guessed himself.
The gun and silencer, which he had fabricated in his apartment from industrial plastics, he tossed into his apartment building’s incinerator to melt away. He went upstairs, sat in his little kitchen, and sewed up the hole in his coat. The television droned in the background, the morning news saying something about a dismembered body found in the woods outside the city, another apparent victim of the so-called ‘Lumberjack’ killer. He glanced over his shoulder to watch the report before finishing with his coat. It was the second hole he had to repair; one more, and he would replace the coat, sending this one to the incinerator. He made a cup of black coffee and listened to the rain, his eyes staring out his one window to the gray urban emptiness ten floors below. The day was still young. He had yet to find flowers for Colleen.
He went to his closet, reached past the janitor’s overalls he wore for his night job at the plastics factory, and popped loose a panel he had fashioned in the wall. He slid another one of his silenced guns, with its single shot loaded, into his pocket.
He pulled up his hood, locked his door, and walked away.
An hour later he sat at a red light, watching his wipers as they squeaked across the windshield. He was driving about the city, not quite in an aimless way, but more a deliberate randomness, as he sought another florist. Not any shop would do; no, one would have to have that certain appeal to him through the presentations in the window, the sign, the location-- an incomprehensible culmination of minutia to attract him. He thought about the shop he had visited in the morning, frowning as he considered whether or not the woman would remember him if she were questioned. Perhaps she would understand how close she had come, how her life had rested in his hands, how she had been judged, and been deemed worthy, and in return feign ignorance. It was a thought that comforted him, that yet elevated his judgment of her, but not to the point where he would be satisfied to call her Colleen. No, that tireless search would have to continue.
The light turned green. He drove off at a leisurely pace, sipping his black coffee, his eyes dissecting the world before him.
It was early afternoon, and he found himself driving along an empty stretch of the city’s loop parkway, where the road ran through a state park. He enjoyed that stretch, even in the current dismal downpour, as it left the gray urban monotony a fleeting memory before the rolling hills of towering evergreens and blue spruces.
His mind wandered. He thought again of the woman in the floral shop, but his thoughts moved with their usual senile elusiveness to other contemplations, all of them revolving around the odd pursuit of his life. He had killed sixteen people over the years, without any trace of guilt. To him they were not crimes, they were merely exercises of inevitability. People were flawed creatures, he knew, but some were flawed in rather malignant ways, and when he came across them, if opportunity would lend its grace, he would act. Malignant flaws led to one end, and understanding that finality, he saw himself merely as a catalyst. He did not deceive himself with notions of superiority or moral imperative, as he knew full well his ability to elude law enforcement rested on his own benign flaws. Unlike the Lumberjack, he left no discernable trail, garnered no media attention, and held to no modus operandi. He was a nobody, he was forgettable, he was average to the point of inconsequence; yet he was patient, and he had a purpose, and a reason.
He remembered his First. Some of the ‘guys’ from work had convinced him to join them at a nightclub for somebody’s birthday. It was not his preference, but he went anyway, knowing that if he refused, it would draw attention. So he went, only to hover on the periphery of the merriment, and the louder the music, the more disaffected he felt, until he could hardly hear the tones, only feeling the resonant thud in his chest from the deafening volume of repetitive dance beats. His gaze floated on waves of sensory overload, the flash of strobe lights like crests of mounting water, dark tides of aimless promiscuity buoying an undulating mass of empty-eyed cadavers…
A woman had bumped into him as he waited for a beer at the bar. She was drunk, she was delirious, and she leaned against him, laughing before draping an arm over his shoulder and tugging him away from the bar. She soon separated from him, but he followed her, his jaw clenched. She was defenseless, but worse, she had made herself defenseless, she put her security-- that elusive charm of feminine vulnerability he found so intriguing-- she had left it dangling like a hunk of meat. Did she not know, did she not care, had she no idea about Colleen, and the horrible things that could happen to a woman’s innocence?
He followed her to the bathroom. He waited, lurking in the shadows, counting until he was certain she was alone. Then he went in. He took her hand, touched her cheek-- her skin was so cold!-- and led her to a stall. She never stopped, she never worried. Instead, she giggled. He closed the stall door, and only then did it hit him, did the odd existence of that moment collide with his conscious senses to leave him forged in the fire of self-realization. And the moment it came to him, the rest flowed with such ease that reality slipped to the dreamy world of the surreal, and there was only his hands, the awful relentless pressure of his hands, and the increasing divergence of his pounding heart and her fading pulse.
His thoughts wandered back to the woman in the floral shop. The notion of letting her live, he saw it as something other than a gift. It was a moment of incongruence, a moment of total inconsequence in her conscious perception, yet, unknown to her, it may have been the most important moment of her life, the moment when her life was allowed to continue. And to her, such an incredible, life-altering moment was just a forgettable moment. Such complacency, it was the greatest malignancy to him, forgivable only when held in child-like ignorance, such as she possessed. When held in…contempt, though, it was unforgivable. Every moment, every moment could be a singular existence, unique, incredible, irreplaceable, precious as the red rose, its delicate beauty tribute to fleeting innocence.
He blinked. A set of red lights pulsed in the distance, off on the shoulder ahead of him. He slowed, his eyes narrowing, the memory of his First still tingling within his fingers. He neared the stopped car. There was a woman there-- he could tell by the way her long coat was tailored to her frame-- and she stood by the passenger side rear wheel.
After a quick debate he pulled over on the shoulder behind her, glancing in his rearview mirror to check that no one was behind him. He flipped up the hood of his coat, checked his pocket for the gun, and stepped from the car. “Can I help you?”
The woman stared at him, studying him as he stood by his old, beaten car.
He closed his door and stepped before his headlights. “Flat tire? I’ll change it.”
She had dark hair; it hung about her face in a wet black mass. She fell back a step as she shook her head. “No, no, I’m okay.”
He looked to the tire. It was indeed flat. He stepped to the trunk of her car, which was opened enough for him to see she had hit the release. “It’ll only take a minute. You shouldn’t be out here alone like this. It’s not safe.”
He put his hand on the trunk lid.
He could see her move in the corner of his eye.
He flipped the lid up. Two severed legs rested on a sheet of plastic in her trunk.
Instinct drove him down, just as the tire iron whistled over his head. He had no time to contemplate how his killer’s instinct had just served to save his life, rather, he moved on her, grabbing the iron in one head and whipping his handgun free with the other.
Her eyes locked on the simple plastic cylinder of his gun. The open trunk, with the severed limbs, lingered in his peripheral vision. They stared at each other, both momentarily befuddled in the realization that dawned between them.
She forced herself to swallow as rain dripped from her hair.
He tipped his head. “You should cauterize the stumps. Blade patterns. They won’t be able to identify them.”
Their eyes narrowed as they stood in the rain, frozen there, the tire iron practically humming between their opposing holds, his gun hand steady with the barrel pointed at her forehead. As the moments mounted they began to relent, the tire iron sinking between them as their arms relaxed.
“How’d you-” they said in unison.
He pursed his lips. “Police website. I check it at the library. No trace.”
She nodded. “I know.” Her eyes darted to the barrel of his home fabricated gun. “You have a pattern. I can see it. I don’t think they do.”
“They call you the Lumberjack,” he replied. “The limb stumps.”
She shrugged. “So here we are. Kind of an odd moment, don’t you think?”
She motioned with her eyes to the tire iron. He hesitated, but consented.
They rebounded from each other with a quick step back. Safety in distance.
She gestured with the tire iron at the severed legs. “I didn’t pick that stupid Lumberjack name. Gallows humor among the cops, I guess. My real name is Morgana. How about you?”
He hesitated. “Darryl.”
She tossed the tire iron in her trunk, her eyes steady on him. She raised an eyebrow, the spinning of her mind’s gears almost audible. “Well, Darryl, I think…maybe we need to talk, you know?”
He lowered his gun, pursing his lips before he spoke. “That would be…odd.”
She stared at him until her lips curved in a smile, her eyes widening with a sudden, almost childish excitement. “I know! We’ll have coffee. That’s ordinary. What do you say?”
His brow furrowed. There were two severed limbs in her trunk. She was a killer, but then so was he. For some reason his suspicious nature was silent, his apprehension mute, his guarding instinct restful. He eased, his shoulders loosening. “Let me change your tire.”
To read the rest of "Flowers for Colleen", visit http://absentwillowreview.com/archives/flowers-for-colleen