Avoid placing a bouquet of flowers near fruit. Ripening fruit releases fractional amounts of ethylene gas that can prematurely wilt your fresh cut flowers. Do add flower food to the water, trim the stems, even add a little bit of sugar to the mix. Avoid bullets. Bullets and to some degree, shattered glass will remove the petals at a frightening rate.
“Go, go, go!” I yelled.
Mary and I crawled quickly across the tile floor with the sole intent of escaping the melee, destination not included. Splintered wood and shards of glass filled the air as bullets ripped through the breakfast nook. Flower petals from the vase on the table fluttered to the ground peacefully in pieces.
“Do you have a basement?” I asked.
Mary couldn’t answer. Fear and panic evidently shut her down. She covered her ears, rolled into a fetal position and cried. If I could have stood up without getting killed, I would have kicked her. Mostly to get her moving, but also for giving a slave name to the maid.
“Mary! Mary!” I screamed.
“Yes, yes,” she pointed.
I pushed her forward, sliding her across the floor like a dog that refused to go to the vet. Heavy blows and cracking timber let me know the gardeners were coming through the doors. Slamming her head into the basement door helped Mary to sort of get her wits about her, at least enough to navigate the stairs.
“We need an egress Mary, now!” I yelled.
“A what?” she asked.
“A window Mary, A fuckin’ window that goes up!” I said.
Mary shook her head yes feverishly but in the heat of the moment, looking around cluelessly, could not locate the window. I grabbed her by her shoulders and looked into her eyes.
“Where Mary? Think! Shit, too late!” I said.
One of the gardeners was charging down the stairs. Much to his surprise I buried a bullet in his chest just as he neared the bottom. He fell forward, letting his short, automatic weapon slide towards us across the floor. A weapon I quickly acquired.
The basement was a labyrinth of rooms. Once Mary’s brain started to work again, I followed her to the room with the egress. I shot the window with my pistol and finished it off with a folding metal chair with a red padded seat. It was the kind of chair you’d expect to sit on attending a time share meeting at a cheap hotel. Instead of poking our heads out to be shot off, I hid a whimpering Mary behind the furnace and crept back to the stairs.
In an adjacent room I backed into a corner behind a rack of exercise equipment. From my position, through the doorway I could see the body at the bottom of the stairs as well as Mary behind the furnace. I put my finger to my mouth signaling her to be quiet.
“Matka, Matka!” a man upstairs yelled.
Seconds later he came down speaking a language I could not understand. I could tell he was pissed. Bitching and moaning is in fact universal. If we as humans were to ever make contact with an alien race, we need only complain about where they parked their spaceship and they would probably understand.
He checked for a pulse on the neck of the man I shot who was very apparently dead. He called back upstairs but stayed crouched next to the body as his eyes scanned for any sign of me, of us. As he watched the blood puddle from the dead gardener steadily grow, his face revealed all the rage of a man who just lost a comrade. His restraint was commendable if only temporary. Two more gardeners descended the stairs, this time slowly, methodically. He pointed directional instructions and the men quickly complied.
One man found the broken egress window, studied it for a moment, then ascended the ladder and disappeared from view. The other must have heard Mary behind the furnace. His gun was at his shoulder when she came into his view. Mary looked up at him with absolute terror in her eyes. She screamed and I was quite sure she was about to be killed. I put a round through his left temple and he crumpled like a house of cards. Mary stopped screaming, momentarily shocked into silence, the air in her lungs simply unavailable. She was in fact so scared that she could not breathe, a malady which proved to be regrettably as temporary as the head gardener’s restrained anger. My guess is the discharge from the exit wound, now dripping from her eyelash, reignited her ability to scream. And scream she did.
“No!” he yelled.
The only word spoken so far that I understood, the gardener at the stairs officially lost his patience. He moved hastily towards us; weapon drawn. No longer possessing the element of surprise I rather instinctively pointed the automatic weapon in his general direction and pulled the trigger. To say I aimed would be wholly inaccurate. The weapon tracked towards the ceiling as it fired like a tiny jet engine ripping a line of holes through the gardener, the wall, the ceiling, and whatever happened to be above us.
From my peripheral I could see the shadow of the man coming from the ladder outside the egress window. Before I could see a person, I saw the barrel of a gun. I fired the weapon again, this time in a much more measured fashion, holding it firmly while issuing short, measured bursts. I assume to have struck his hand or arm as he dropped his weapon and fled back up the ladder, into the yard and out of sight.
The remaining few gardeners were still upstairs and presumably, in their language decided the mission was a failure. The choir of their moving feet sang a collective retreat out the door, the baritone may have been dragging a leg.
Mary sobbed uncontrollably in the corner. She was most likely going to need professional help.
“They’re gone,” I said.
“What about, what about,” Mary sobbed.
“What about what? Spit it out,” I demanded.
It was at that very moment it occurred to me that when this all started we were not in the house alone. Gun drawn; I carefully climbed the stairs. The first thing I noticed was a blood trail where a man plowed through the debris with a bleeding limb. I searched room to room for the maid but came up empty.
“Are they gone?” Mary asked from downstairs.
“Yeah, yeah they’re gone. I must have hit one of them on accident, probably when I shot the other guy,” I said.
Then I saw her.
“Wait, Mary, don’t come,” I started to say.
It was too late, Mary was at my side before I knew it, and there was no way she wasn’t going to see what I was looking at. Outside what used to be the window, the maid’s lifeless body was cradled in the arms of the statue of the crying saint, his tears turning the blood on her white outfit to pink.
“Oh my God, Sarah!” she yelled.
Mary started her panicky crying again.
“Really? She was your slave, don’t act like you care now,” I said.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I told you, that’s not me, I had to,” she said.
“Nobody has to go that far, people like you don’t even know, wait, what’s that?” I asked.
In the kitchen, opposing pages in a chapter of nightmares jumped the bookmark to become one. Against the wall, squarely in the trail of bullet holes delivered from below, the built-in refrigeration unit suffered a mortal blow. Faint whiffs of smoke mixed with the smell of electric ozone accompanied its last sparks of life. Across the room, the soft hiss of a wounded gas line filled our noses with the intentionally added odor of rotten eggs designed to warn of impending doom.
“Go! Now! Run!” I yelled.
Mary, still distraught and crying about Sarah was confused as I grabbed her by the arm and ran for the door.
The percussion from the exploding fireball blew us off our feet and across the lawn. The house, in all its artistic glory was a total and complete loss. A black mushroom cloud billowed into the atmosphere as debris rained down on the fancy neighborhood.
Blackened, slightly injured and thoroughly traumatized, we laid in the grass together waiting for the distant sirens to arrive.
“Next time, I don’t think I’ll come,” I laughed.
Anything quantifiable that Mary had to say she most likely would have to say to the psychiatrist.
“I just, you, you killed them, and Sarah, they killed her, she, and the. They were going to kill us,” she muttered.
A police car was first, then fire trucks, ambulances, pretty much everybody. Both of us were able to walk with a shoulder to lean on. From inside the ambulance I could hear car tires screech to a halt. Seconds later Mason Owens was standing in front of the rear doors looking-in.
“You! Maximine! What the hell are you? Never mind, where’s Mary?” he asked heatedly.
I motioned towards the other ambulance and he was gone as fast as he came.
“Hold up a second doc,” I said.
I scooted forward and stepped out the back of the ambulance. I saw Mason jumping into the back of the other unit. The relief in his voice was palpable.
“My God Mary!” he yelled.
I snuck in for a closer look.
“Mary, Mary, thank God, thank God you’re okay,” he said embracing her.
“So the divorce is off I’m assuming?” I asked walking up.
They both looked at me with all the guilt of a kid getting caught opening presents in the middle of a Christmas Eve night.
“Look, Philippine, we need to talk,” Mason said.
“And I’m going to be looking forward to every word, but first I’m going to need to talk to her alone if you don’t mind,” Detective Tom said.
Tom stood behind me holding open the door of the rescue unit with one hand while the other held a constantly chattering radio.
“Hear all this Phil?” Tom held up his radio.
“I got blood, I got automatic weapons, hell I got bodies Phil, lots of ‘em. I got probably one of the biggest crime scenes to hit this area in the last God knows how many years. But you know what I don’t have Philippine? I don’t have one God damn answer as to what in the holy hell happened here today,” Tom said.
Detective Tom took a set of handcuffs from his pocket and hung them on his finger.
“Am I going to need these Phil? Cause I can god damn guarantee you aren’t going to go any damn where until I get some of those answers Philippine. Here, downtown, it don’t matter to me. Just get your ass down here and start talkin’,” Tom said.
Mary and Mason were still locked in loving embrace.
“Let’s talk about this later,” I told them.
“You two aren’t going any damn where either so don’t get any ideas. Sergeant! They go nowhere unless I know about it understand?” Tom said.
“Excuse me detective, are we under arrest?” Mason asked.
“Hell yes,” Tom said.
I told Tom everything, from the initial phone call to set up the meeting to the antics of Muffin the barky dog.
“Yeah we found the dog, seems they shot him too,” he said.
“So you killed three and wounded two others?” Tom asked.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I hit the guy upstairs,” I said.
“And then you blew up the damn house,” he said.
“That, that was an accident,” I said.
“And them? They don’t look much like they want a divorce wouldn’t you say?” he asked.
“So I noticed,” I said.
“You just sit tight, they’re next. You so much as move a muscle I’ll have every cop in the…”
“Yeah, yeah,” I said.
It was at least an hour before I witnessed an extremely frustrated Detective Tom exit the ambulance and storm away in a huff. Mason stepped out a few moments later and came over to talk.
“Look, Philippine, I…”
“What the hell is going on Mason? I don’t give a shit what you said to major Tom, but you had better cough up some answers, right here, right now,” I demanded.
Mason kept his head to the ground lacking the manhood to look me in my eyes.
“There isn’t going to be any divorce, never was,” he said.
“Well no shit,” I said.
“Yeah, um, we kinda got ourselves in a situation. I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this, I was hoping we could get out before this all happened. I thought maybe if we endeared ourselves, split ourselves off, maybe, just maybe we could get out. I thought if it was his idea to use you, you’d be our golden alibi, they’d believe it was all true. We could get out, be free,” he pleaded.
“Who? What did you get yourself into? Who’s ‘he’ Mason? Shh, here he comes,” I said.
“Good, you’re both here, come with me,” Tom said.
We walked together to the other ambulance.
“Mary Owens? You’re under arrest for the attempted murder of Philippine Maximine. Sergeant? Read her her rights,” Tom said.
“Wait! What?” Mason asked.
“Turns out the guy you wounded wasn’t quite fast enough to keep up with his buddies Phil. And it looks like he speaks English after all, at least a little anyways. We found him on the edge of the bushes over there with a two by four sticking in his side. Talk about literally spilling your guts. It was always you Philippine, they followed you over here, it was always you. Says he didn’t see her up close. A blonde woman in heels hired them. Drove a black Jaguar convertible, just like that one parked right over there.”