Some garden parties are best left unattended.

“It was noon and nothing is concluded.” (after Donald Rawley)

January 18 prompt, “A Writer’s Book of Days”

{Before proceeding, who is Donald Rawley? Ahhh. Fiction writer, journalist, screenwriter, poet.}

She holds her trowel caked with soil aloft, Martha does. Mizzzz Martha as she’s called by her insistence. She buried her maiden name and last names of her two husbands, both deceased, long ago. Both in suspicious circumstances never proved by the police, thus never a court of law.

Still. Certain officers and detectives had their hunches. They had facts that could never be made public. They had circumstantial evidence and hard evidence inadmissible because of the way it’d been obtained. Not entirely to the letter of the law. Sucks when cops with good intentions make those little slips.

On her knees on the ground, she raises her head and uses the trowel to shade her eyes from the afternoon sun shining boldly behind the two men looking down at her.

“Hello, Officer …. Smitty?”

“Smithfield.”

“Right. I’m sorry. I recognize you from the Toys for Tots drive. Wonderful cause.”

Smithfield nods. “This is Officer Brown.”

“Brown? That should be easy to remember.” Not like Officer Brown, a native of Mexico (and, yes, legal American citizen), hasn’t heard that a million times.

“What can I do you for Officers … Smithfield and Brown?” Mizzza Martha poses quizzically.

“Well, as you may have read …” begins Officer Brown, a rookie. He’s stopped with a nudge and a whisper from his partner: “Let me handle this one.”

Officer Smithfield turns his attention to the 64-year-old lady. “We’re here investigating a missing case.”

“A missing case, you say?” Mizzzz Martha’s ears perk up.

“You might say that.” Officer Smithfield’s tone is all business. Stern. Not the friendly personable cop one might expect in a town of 5,000. His eyes stay locked on Mizzzz Martha.

“Who’s missing, officer?”

Officer Brown turns away as if to swallow abrupt nausea.

“Animals, ma’am. Mizzzz Martha.”

Officer Smithfield says nothing when by peripheral vision he notes Officer Brown wiping several tears with the back of a hand.

“Animals?! Oh my lord!” Mizzzz Martha starts to stand.

“No need for you to rise. With that bad knee. The left one, right? So … ” suddenly Officer Smithfield’s tone shifts to semi-friendly, conversational. A good cop knows how to play the forces.

“So, Mizzzz Martha. You doing some gardening? Planting some gladiolas or something?” continues Officer Smithfield.

“Forgive him. He knows zilch about flowers,” intercedes his partner.

Mizzzz Martha isn’t the only one noticing there are no gladiolas or any other potted seedlings around. Not even a packet of seeds, facts told.

“Uh.” She quickly catches and recomposes herself. “Actually, Officer Smithfield and Brown, I’m preparing the soil. For daffodils perhaps. Or.” She hastens to come up with another flower. “Or geraniums. I might go with geraniums this spring.

“You know me,” she continues with induced cheerfulness. “I just looove gardening! And flowers! All year ’round! Nothing like fresh-cut flowers in the home. Especially in winter, you know, how they brighten up a place …”

Officer Smithfield’s friendliness has given way to a steely expression. A poker face if she’d ever seen one and as a former cocktail waitress in Vegas long ago, she’d seen plenty.

“These animals. Are … they … wild?” she rattles. “Skunks? Rabid squirrels? Is that why you’re investigating?” Mizzzz Martha clamps down hard on her quivering nerves. Voice too.

“Actually, Mizzzz Martha, they are domestic pets.”

“You mean …”

“Yes, that’s right.” Officer Smithfield’s eyes riveted on her every expression don’t miss a beat. “Dogs. Cats. A couple of rabbits now. A duck. A duckling, actually.”

“Oh my god.” Mizzzz Martha covers her heart with her dirty trowel in a fine performance not often seen even by Officer Smithfield in his 20 years on the force.

“Ma’am … Mizzzz Martha,” he corrects. “We’d like you to come down to the station for some questioning.”

“AM I A SUSPECT?!?!” Panicky. Hysterical. Absent her usual cool facade.

“Mizzzz Martha, we’ll give you a few moments to clean up,” states Officer Smithfield. He notes her white-knuckled hand tightened around the trowel. Officer Brown notices too. Not bad for a rookie. He’s learning the ropes.

The experienced officer dampens the instinctual urge to grab the trowel out of her enraged hand. “Be cool. Play by the book. Follow the rules. Don’t fuck it up like last time,” he tells himself.

“Here, why don’t you go change your clothes,” he says, striking that friendly cooperative tone again. “We’ll take that outta your hands. Officer Brown here’s got a green thumb. He’ll even give you a hand in your garden here while you clean up” he smiles.

Smithfield’s snappy silent look cuts off his partner just as he’s about to ask “I do?!?”

Officer Smithfield reaches calmly for a might-be would-be weapon. He knows where Mizzzz Martha’s festering rage and sudden hysteria can lead her. He’s seen it with his own eyes at least twice before and they both lie dead in the ground.

“Well, all right, if I must.” Mizzzz Martha retreats into her house. Meanwhile, the two officers glance around, survey the scene.

“That’s funny,” says Officer Brown.

“What’s that?”

“Mizzzz Martha says she’s preparing the soil for flowers.”

“Right.” Officer Smithfield remains silent only so as not to interrupt his rookie partner’s learning process.

“But there ain’t a single flower in this garden. Not even a bush. Only trees that’ve been there long before she ever got here.”

“Right,” says Officer Smithfield, smiling inside. The only smile he’s had so far all day. “He’s learning” — unspoken.

It’s just past noon and nothing is concluded. Nothing on the books officially, that is.

In Officer Smithfield’s mind, not to mention quite a number of other folks on the force and in the community, it is concluded.

And Mizzzz Martha’s house is, without her knowledge, being watched from a third officer in an unmarked patrol car parked half a block away. In case she tries to bolt. She’s tried before but never been as quick as the cops.

“C’mon, let’s get ‘er and take ‘er for a ride,” Officer Smithfield instructs. As they turn to leave her yard, the experienced officer looks back over his shoulder to soil tilled for flowers that aren’t and never would be.

From his peripheral vision, Officer Brown notices his partner dabbing an eye real quick.

Noontime. Nothing’s concluded on the books, officially. Officially concluded, however, are the lives of two husbands as well as the lives of dogs and cats, a couple of rabbits and one duckling.

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