As the sun’s rays descend and the sky darkens, you realize it might not be such a great idea to hang out in a graveyard in a strange city. You take a quick shot of the bouquet and make sure to capture the note clearly before departing the cemetery.
Swimming in thought, the blocks pass quickly beneath your feet. The shadowed alleyways play tricks on your eyes while you retrace your steps. At any moment you expect that taunting voice to call out to you, urging you on, to complete whatever test he has in store for you next. The sudden sound of metal slamming against metal jars you back from the depths of your mind and you pull your fist back, ready for a fight. Looking up all you see is a shopkeeper closing her store, drawing together scissor gates. Thankfully, with her back turned. You quickly lower your hands to your sides before she sees you as a threat.
You pause to get your bearings, reading store signs to yourself to pinpoint your location. The woman turns around and speaks to you. “Yes? I’m Margaret. May I help you?”
Your tired eyes stare at her dumbfounded for a moment before you realize you must have been reading out loud. You mumble, trying to recover, and notice a small bouquet of flowers she cradles in her arms. Inspired, you ask if she knows much about flowers.
She laughs warmly as she speaks, “But of course!” She gestures towards her shop’s sign with the flowers and as your eyes shift back to it another wash of embarrassment comes over you. “Margaret’s Flowers For All Occasions.”
Blushing, you clear your throat. You show her the picture of the note and bouquet from the grave and she quickly recognizes the bunch of flowers. “The only flowers on that list in the bouquet are the peonies. I’ll get a fresh shipment in the morning, I can set some of the others aside for you if you like?”
You shake your head, thank her for the information, and give a brief wave. You’re several steps away already when she calls out to you, “Have a nice night,” but you’ve already lost yourself in thought.
“I’ll be here with you as always.” Signed K, at the headstone of a girl who Lowell couldn’t save. 4 peonies. No lilies. No daffodils. No Morning Glories.
You shut the door to your room, barely aware that you made it back, and collapse onto the bed. Just as your eyes begin to close in sleep, you sit up straight, eyes wide.
4 0 0 Morning. Could it be a meeting time? You set the alarm on the table to give you plenty of time to get back to the cemetery by 4:00 AM and roll over to try to get a few hours of sleep.
The alarm buzzes violently and you swing your arm around to quiet it, quickly leaping out of bed. No time for anything more than a cup of hotel lobby coffee which is surprisingly better than the sludge back at the office. Cloaked in darkness, you make your way back to the cemetery, finding a decent hiding place behind a mausoleum and settle in to wait.
Checking the time, 4:00 comes around and right on cue, two figures come together at the site of the girl’s resting place. You can’t make out faces, but you recognize the body shapes and walking gaits well enough to recognize Director Kline and the man you chased the day before.
“Just about time to hook that fish. Swimming quite close aren’t they?” Kline says loudly, sweeping her head around in the darkness. The man you know as Charming Bear laughs, his voice squealing with excitement as he leans his lanky body against the gravestone. He begins tapping a small club against the stone, the sound echoing in the quiet darkness of morning.
“I hope this isn’t the last one before we go back into hibernation. It’s too much fun to play this game.” His heels rap against the nameplate, the club still tapping out an odd pattern.
“We’ll do as instructed,” she says sternly. “We’re not here to plot the future, it’s not our job.”
You listen and watch from behind the shadowed crypt, eyes widening in surprise. They’re being instructed to kidnap and murder? Who are these people? Your mind quickly reflects back on the note in Lowell’s file, the red fabric from the water’s edge, the note in the shed, the symbol found on each one. There’s something big going on here. Your heart starts to race as the two shadows continue their discussion.
“Can you hear it? Listen.” He hops down from the grave stone and his low laughter echoes amongst the hundreds of dead souls in the yard. Kline laughs.
“Oh, I can hear it. Can you?”
His shadow nods as you hear his club tapping atop the girl’s grave once again.