Copyright is held by the author.
I HATE the new pain in the morning. Maybe not new. Maybe wandering pain? Wake up, the same pain has moved to a different location. Fucking big toe hurts this morning. Always the left leg though. Ankle two days ago. Not arthritis. Arthritis doesn’t wander. Far as I know. Maybe gout? Wandering gout? That a disease? Pain in the joints, a pain in the ass. Ha! Well, fortunately not there. No, him or her roids. Well, a special her roid maybe. Yeah, decades of her roids. Ha! Never thought of that. I remember, at one time I wanted to see her naked. Always naked. Now, that’s the last thing either of us want, being naked. It is just disappointing. Gettin’ old is just that, disappointing. I used to wake with an erection. Can’t even remember what that felt like. It woke me for the day certainly. Now all I wake to is random pains. What’s going to hurt today? Ha! Not a board game. A boring game. A bored of it game.
I guess I never used that erection properly. Never got anyone in the family way. Ha! What a phrase. Dysfunctional family way it usually is. Ha! Leave it to underachiever. Ha! Maybe, that’s it. No kids, nothing being carried on. She has her garden. I had a job. A job once. Mandatory retirement. Didn’t really care. It was disappointing too. Keep your expectations low and you will never be disappointed. I didn’t expect that much. How low did they have to go? The eternal question, how low to go?
Sometimes the sky is blue, very blue. It is an illusion. Just light bouncing off water in the air. I know water absorbs red light. Why deep-sea creatures are red and not black. No red light down there. But I am not in the deep sea. Nowhere to hide up here. Sit in the dark sometimes. Everyone looks the same in the dark. Everyone’s blind in the dark. That’s why a romantic evening is by candlelight. Hard to see each other. Hard to see each other in the light now. I forget the days of the week now. Monday or Sunday. Doesn’t matter. Nowhere to go. Could walk around the block again and again. A boring game too. I would watch the idiot box but they just show the old programs over and over. I used to watch the morning test pattern when I was a little jerk kid. The tones and the profile of the Indian chief. It was exciting for my little mind. Wish I could see it now. I swear I would get off on it. Just an old jerk now.
The female uniform officer shrugged her shoulders. The bullet proof vest she wore made her entire chest move with her shoulders. It made Detective Bartholomew shiver for no specific reason.
“No gas smell. No blood smell. Just dead smell. Just vomit smell. They just dead. Don’t know why. Maybe something they ate? Died of fright maybe. Good reaction to this world. It scares the shit out of me. Did them too.” She frowned at Bartholomew’s odd expression. “You the first to respond? Well, other than me.”
“Yeah, I was in the neighbourhood.” Bartholomew looked around. It was an older neighbourhood. People were standing on their porches watching. “Neighbour called it in?” The uniformed officer nodded. Nothing else moved, just her head. It reassured Bartholomew. “Elder watch. They check on each other. Someone came over this morning and walked into the death scene. Then they called us.”
The uniform officer frowned, “I don’t have to be here then. You seem to know it all already.”
He tried to smile, although he never thought it appropriate at a crime scene. “I can’t read minds. I just know what people are thinking.”
“Lucky you.” She smacked her dry lips.
He didn’t wait for her reply but turned and walked into the small wood-framed house. The door was wide open. Bartholomew talked to himself at crime scenes, so he preferred to walk them alone. He was no Sherlock Holmes. He was just a detective. Just a cop. It should have meant something more to him but it didn’t. He wanted to be a researcher, a biologist. Figure out how life works. Now, it is all about how it stopped. Grad school cost more than the police academy. And a police made more than a scientist. “The money is stacked against a scientist.” He knew everyone in his family was thinking that. So, copland won instead of academia. There were few academic jobs around anyway, especially now. But everyone needs a cop sometimes. Few people ever need a scientist.
He just stood there in the living room with the dead homeowners. “You can’t talk to me being dead and all.” Bartholomew had his gloves on. He put on a mask. “The smells always talk to me though. Don’t like what they usually have to say, though. Didn’t want to be an MD because of the smell.” Some old cops told him to smoke a cigar before entering the scene. It would kill the sense of smell. “But also, me.” He never smoked tobacco. He knew his nose would go phasic soon and the smells would disappear. “No blood. No gun. No knife. But a lot of vomit.” Before his sense of smell departed, there were two smells not usually found at a crime scene: acetone and hydrogen cyanide. “Linamarin. Plant based poison.” He had taken a class on biological poisons’ biochemistry while still trying to decide his future. It had been called, how plants want to kill you. “Narrows it to accident or domestic dispute.” Bartholomew walked through the house to the back yard garden. It was extensive and colourful. “Oh boy. Poisons are us here. Yellow oleander, foxglove, azalea, Jesus on a jet ski, even a castor bean. Mama had a plan. It couldn’t be an accident. Eldercide. Love or hate.”
He started to document all the plants in this poisonous garden. “Likely the squirrels are in danger here.”
As Bartholomew walked into the bullpen, all the detectives picked up their smartphones and started scrolling. “Busy day. So much crime. I always thought criminals were lazy.” Only the breeze from the A/C overhead responded in anyway. The Lieutenant walked past Bartholomew without knowing it was him. “LT, yes. This scene I was at today. It is a pickle. Eldercide. But euthanasia or murder/suicide? I am at a standstill. But should we pursue it or let sleeping dogs lie, so to speak. Ha! Or dead dogs remain dead. No. That doesn’t work. I know you like to clear the board but both individuals are dead, so no punishment required, correct?”
The Lieutenant did what she usually did. She just stood there. Bartholomew didn’t need any prodding.
“Of course, you want it cleared. I understand that, but it will take time. If there are other cases?” Bartholomew smiled. “I will have to do in depth interviews of the neighbours and friends. If they had any friends still alive. Loneliness is a major issue with the elderly, as you know LT.”
“All the time you need, Detective. All the time you need.” She waved her hand at the other end of the room. “Got to go.” She hurried off.
Bartholomew watched her hurry away. He wondered about professional women. Is sex different for them. Is it a power struggle? Ambitious woman, ambitious love? Maybe no love at all. Sex was a biological necessity but people made too much of it. “Looking for balance would be better.” He had never done well with women in the intimate relationship area. Purposes were always crossed. “Relationships are hard.” He wondered about the dead couple. “Satisfaction? Mercy? Relief? Some emotion, but no accident. Mama knew too much for that.”
Still, no one looked up and certainly didn’t respond. The bullpen was filled with the backs of heads. It could have been a monastery with all the monks at prayer. There was a murmur, but not too distinct. Bartholomew joined the bent heads to go over the photos from the crime scene. Was it the scene of a crime or the aftermath of a previous crime? The poisoning was the crime. The deaths were hours after that. Is mercy killing murder? Euthanasia was mercy killing. Is there mercy in killing? How to prove intent of the death? Behaviour doesn’t fossilize, his paleontology professor had said many times. Circumstantial evidence of intent? What would that be?
“Detective Bartholomew?” Detective Russell always wore a pants suit and sensible shoes. She was prepared for any circumstance, a chase, a climb, or a crawl. She had done them all on the job. Her pant suits were reasonably cheap for this reason. She had to replace them regularly. She took being a cop seriously. She stood behind and to the side of the Priest Bartholomew. He had an appropriate bald spot. She had a flash drive in her hand like an offering. She cleared her throat and said, “I am Jane Russell.”
Bartholomew glanced up at her. “You’re not old enough.”
Detective Russell stepped back. “Excuse me?”
“You are not old enough to be the movie star.” Bartholomew rolled his eyes. “She would be just a 100. Yes. You do look like her, but you are way too young”
Russell chuckled. “A long way to get to a complement. But thanks. But this is not a social call. I am a detective with the Sheriff’s department.” She held out her right hand to shake.
Bartholomew fumbled to stand up and shake her hand. He was clumsy at both actions. “Oh, sorry. I need to show more respect. Everyone says so.” He had to remember to stop shaking her hand. He put his hand down at his side. “Ah, OK. Sorry.” He looked around for a chair for her. There were none close.
“No. No, I dropped in on you. No reason you should know me.” She waved her right hand dismissively. “I got an alert on your case.”
Bartholomew blinked. “I didn’t issue a Bolo or anything. No one is on the run with my case. Both are old and dead. They wouldn’t run fast if they could.” Since there was no place for her to sit, he remained standing. He looked at the tiled floor. It needed to be scrubbed thoroughly.
She rolled her right hand in the air. Her left hand still held the flash drive. It was red and black. It was cheap but useful too. “No. No. I set up a scanning program to alert me of similar cases.”
“I have that?” Bartholomew looked up and copied her rolling hand motion.
She nodded. “Yes, geronticide. Poisoning.”
Bartholomew frowned. “Eldercide is common enough— as is poison. Usually the man is the killer though. I think the wife did it here, because of her poison garden. As if she were preparing for years.”
Detective Russell nodded. Her dark hair bounced slightly as she did. “It’s the garden.” She smiled. “The garden of premeditation.”
Bartholomew looked her straight in the eyes. They were deep brown and sincere. She was not joking. “You are serious. The guys here like to screw around. Poke fun, but I don’t think you are part of it.”
She smiled. “Yeah, deputy sheriffs are just like adolescent boys, always with the pranks. Yes, I know. But no, I am serious—very serious. The Sheriff doesn’t care about it though. ‘Old folks die, that’s what they do,’ he told me.”
Bartholomew swallowed. His grandmother had been killed. He wished she were still around. “Shouldn’t be that way.”
She extended her left hand to give him the flash drive. “Details of my case are here. I included two other cases I think are similar. They might help you.”
Bartholomew took the red and black flash drive while looking around the bullpen. This could still be a funny being run. “Thank you, but why give this all to me? Most detectives hold their evidence close.” He was going to add “to their chest” but thought it best not to.
She shrugged. “More eyes the better. And the Sheriff doesn’t care.”
The flash drive didn’t have a lanyard attached. It looked so small. Bartholomew put it on his desk, or rather, the desk he was using at the moment. He had no permanent desk, he was too new. Desks were hard to come by in the bullpen for some reason. “A conspiracy? The gardens of premeditation?”
“Coincidence? Is that a better explanation? Four cases? Maybe more.” Detective Russell looked over her shoulder. With her presence, the priests in the bullpen had become men again. And the men of the bullpen were staring at her; she was very attractive. “Oh, being conspicuous again. I have to go, anyway.”
Bartholomew nodded and pointed at the flash drive. “A conspiracy of elder gardeners. I will give it my serious attention.”
Detective Russell nodded and walked out of the bullpen; all male eyes watched her departure as did many of the female eyes. The few nuns in the bullpen had transformed as well.
“Gardens of premeditation? But most plants are toxic at some level. They don’t want to be eaten.” Once Detective Russell was gone, Bartholomew watched the monastery re-form. No one even looked over as he spoke aloud. He was still standing too. “A conspiracy or a mutual agreement?” Bartholomew sat down and stared at the red and black flash drive. Any answers or just more questions?
“The temptation of suicide?” Bartholomew talked to a gerontologist. “I don’t think that’s appropriate way to put it.”
“It’s like the anticipation in a horror movie. You know something is going to jump out at some time.” The gerontologist was young and female. She was short and perky too.
It all seemed inappropriate.
“I don’t watch horror movies just because of that.” Bartholomew didn’t look into the gerontologist’s eyes. They were inappropriately attractive.
“Then you see the temptation of suicide to an unwilling viewer.” Her nails were different colours and they sparkled.
“But I don’t kill myself out of a refusal to experience anticipation.” Bartholomew frowned. He was getting confused. “Aren’t most suicides opportunistic? Spur of the moment things. Oh, there’s a bridge, I’ll throw myself into the river—an impulse thing?”
When she nodded her head, her hair moved in a very suggestive and inappropriate way. “In younger people yes. The rules change with increasing age.”
“That could be why many folks get more religious with age.” Bartholomew’s mother didn’t get a chance to experience these phenomena. His father maybe was doing it right now, but Bartholomew’s father had wandered off when he was a baby. It was his mother’s joke. “I always watched you carefully so you wouldn’t wander off. I should have been watching your father.” Neither of them would laugh. She laughs no more.
That inappropriate nod again. “A different manifestation of the situation yes.”
Bartholomew sighed. He knew the inappropriateness was not her fault. It wasn’t because she was so young and full of life but discussing death. It was his feelings toward her. He wasn’t good around women. Or rather his relationships with women had never been good. “So, making a poisonous garden would indicate premeditation for suicide?”
She blinked. She didn’t respond as quickly as she had been. There was no longer a smile. “I, well, it has never come up.”
Bartholomew felt better because she had stopped smiling. “Four cases just here in Southern California. Poisonous garden, dead elderly couple.”
She squirmed in her comfortable desk chair. It had lost its comfort for her. “Then any dangerous hobby, could then be — no elder skydiving then.”
“Or free climbing half dome.” He wanted to smile but didn’t.
“Swimming with sharks.” She did smile.
“Porcupine hugging.” Bartholomew frowned. “Never mind that. Sorry.”
“Mushroom hunting.” She chuckled at his frown. “A fad garden may not be anything than envy. A sin yes, even a mortal one, but is it a crime?”
“If there was murder involved, yes.” This was Bartholomew’s issue. He had found no satisfaction.
“But who would you punish?”
Bartholomew frowned. “God knows.” It was one of his mother’s common expressions. His face turned red.
“I guess that is the answer.” She smiled broadly. She was suddenly very inappropriate again.
Bartholomew didn’t want to stand up. He felt like he was back in junior high school. The most embarrassing of male responses. Very inappropriate professionally too.
She stood up though. “Detective, sorry. I have to give a class. Right now, in fact.” She headed for the door. “Got to go.’ And she left him in her office alone.
Bartholomew frowned again. She couldn’t have known. He looked down at his lap. No. His pants were too baggy. Nothing conspicuous. But the concern solved the issue and he stood up. “At least I know I am alive.” He walked slowly out of her office. “I should call her after this is done. Ah, but I won’t.”
The woman was very pale. Her skin looked tough though from all her time gardening. She wanted to be called Webber, nothing more. Not Mrs. Webber or MS Webber or even ma’am. Just Webber. Bartholomew couldn’t decide whether her scowl came from general distain for the world or from being in the sun without a proper hat. If she worked outside so much, why wasn’t she darker?
“What about it? Most plants have some toxicity. They don’t want to be eaten. Who does?”
Bartholomew rubbed between his eyes. Her scowl bothered him. “I meant the concentration of poisonous plants.”
Webber rubbed her hands together. They sounded like two sheets of sandpaper rubbing together. “Grew everything from seeds. Challenge you know. Don’t you cops get a thrill out of catching criminals?”
“You mean growing these dangerous plants gives you a thrill?”
She smiled. Her showing a positive emotion surprised him. “Of course.”
“Like raising a murderer?” Bartholomew actually said that aloud. He hadn’t wanted to. His face reddened.
She smiled more. “Ha! What a mouth you have. People ever get annoyed with it?”
Bartholomew reddened more. “Yes, actually. Yes.”
“Doesn’t matter. I have a temper. People hate me for it.” She shrugged. “But a lot of them are dead now. So, it doesn’t matter.”
“The loneliness of a gardener?” Bartholomew was saying what was coming into his brain, more than usual. They were sitting on her patio. It was next to her garden. Maybe the garden fumes were affecting him. Maybe they affected her.
She shook her head. “Inevitable, with age but not because of the garden.”
“But a weapon, not a friend.” Something was loosening his lips.
“They aren’t mutually exclusive.” She stared at Bartholomew for a moment. He had plenty to say but struggled for silence. “You’re asking about thoughts of suicide and murder? Humans are inherently annoying. Been through plenty of men and a few women. Annoyance was high. Murder and mayhem were always in the background.” She looked off into the lush garden she spent a lot of money on, for the water. “Offed the relationship, sure. Not thought of offing myself. Still here if course. But an end to suffering? It has come up time to time.”
“The compassionate gardener?”
“Practical, more about practicality than love.” If she had tears in her eyes, they weren’t obvious. “I have felt maturity has more to do with apathy than anything else. You just care less and less.”
“Is that sad?”
“Why should it be?” Even her eyes were pale now.
“Are you religious?” Not a question he wanted to ask.
“About what. The plants require specific things. Routine more than religious.” She sighed.
“I meant the God stuff.”
“Why would it matter?” Sandpaper rubbing.
Bartholomew thought being quiet was best now. He was uncomfortable about talking about the afterlife. He never talked at funerals. Nothing seemed appropriate.
“Are you learning anything?” Detective Russell’s voice snapped him back to the real world. She didn’t text, she called.
“Plenty, but more confused.” Bartholomew was walking to his car. It was old, with weak air conditioning. “No conspiracy of the old that I can see. No murder/suicide pacts.”
“A conspiracy by consent?” Her voice took a deep tone. It was a passionate one.
Bartholomew exhaled. “Have to think about that one. They seem to have a different view.”
“The elderly, you mean?” The passion remained.
“Yes. A clear viewpoint that I don’t fully understand.”
“With age, wisdom?”
“Not sure wisdom is the word.” Bartholomew felt inappropriate again. But he never was good at relationships. He should let the inappropriateness pass.
“He just sits there. He gets angry every little while, but mostly he is just quiet and still. Dementia of some kind. Silent dementia. He isn’t like a baby, yet. More like a toddler. How would I know? No kids for me. Never liked the mechanics of making them, so I can’t complain. Ha! Everyone can complain and does. At least, he can do the toilet, still. Always had my garden. It was not a baby replacement but it is life. Plants are all about the next generation. They protect themselves so they can produce the next generation. Plants are all about the future as I see it. Plants are the great persuaders. A pretty flower with a scent. Maybe something sweet to get the animals to do the sex thing for them. And maybe a piece of fruit to disperse the seeds. The great manipulators. Who couldn’t be in awe? There are plants in space. They got there without hands or a brain. Just a sweet treat and a focus on the next generation. Ha! I am a slave to these plants. All I really care about now. I should be depressed. Hum? I think I am. Things have not changed. He is just getting quieter. I should do something. I was always the one to do the something. He never seemed to care what that something was. Well, the one thing he always brought up was the sex thing, but I preferred to do something else. Once and a while, OK. But it had to be a long while. Ha! My call to the wild was the backyard. I appreciate the yard. It brings me pleasure. I can eat my pleasure. Yes, an odd thing but a true thing. Make my own flour from yucca root—gluten-free, but not hazard free. Raw it can kill. The wild almonds I have out there can kill too. Plants don’t want to be eaten. Well, it’s OK with their permission. Ha! Funny thinking of plants talking. They would have squeaky voices I know. Like the Munchkins. Munch munch munch. No! Don’t eat me! Ha!
But he just sits there. Even if I walk into the room. He doesn’t turn. No curiosity at all. How can I tell if he is sad? How can I tell if I am sad? Neither happy, nor sad. It doesn’t seem to matter. I wish it did matter. I guess it doesn’t. I washed the yucca roots. It doesn’t matter. It would be a finale of a sort. An active finale, not just sitting around waiting. I never liked waiting. Always spot on time. But not friends left to be on time for. If I didn’t process the Yucca, just grate it. That would be an active finale. He wouldn’t care. He doesn’t care. But I don’t want to take care of a baby. Not a big elderly baby. Not now. Yes. Not processing the Yucca is less work too. The easy way out? Why not? I can whistle while I work. Just like that Munchkin song. Ha! No, “whistle while you work” is the seven dwarves. Silly me.”