IT TOOK QUITE a while before Louise realized what was happening in the garden. Whatever she planted was turning red. When she phoned about the lilacs, which she knew were supposed to be a pale purple—she still had the receipts and they were called Twilight Mist—the fellow at Harvest Hill said some of the new pink varieties glazed reddish in the sun. It was getting to the point that she couldn’t believe a word anyone at Harvest Hill said.

By then the roses had opened to reveal crimson-colored flowers. Louise knew for a fact that the tag had said Sunburst, which were meant to have yellow blooms with deep coppery centers. She’d asked for butter lettuce, but it looked to be coming in ruby tinged. And then early one evening, when she was harvesting the first of the reddish string beans, something odd happened. It was a pretty summer evening, very quiet and blue. Louise looked more carefully at the garden, the one her mother and aunt always said to avoid. The vegetables had grown fast. The garden was doing quite well considering she was a novice. The peepers over at the creek had begun their mournful calling at night and the mosquitoes were out in full force. But now Louise noticed there was some other natural force to be worried about: the soil itself looked crimson. She reached for a handful and rubbed it between her fingers. When she let the soil fall, her hands were stained bloodred. There was a small bone sitting in her palm.

Louise left the garden and closed the gate. She went inside her house and phoned the police station.

“There’s blood in my yard,” she said to the operator who answered. After that got around, people in town thought she was pretty close to losing it and that anyone who had put his money down on a full-fledged crack-up by August would win the betting pool.

Frank Mott, who was the chief of police, sent his son Johnny to take a look.

“Remember,” he said. “She’s related to Hallie Brady. Be nice.”

Johnny grinned and drove over to the Brady house. He knocked on the door, but no one answered. He ambled around toward the yard. He was going over all of the things he might say, stupid lines like Funny meeting you here or Where have you been all my life? as he came upon her in the yard. When he did, he stared and didn’t say a thing.

“Are you kidding me?” Louise said when she saw him. The handsome man from the bar she’d told to go to hell. “Is this a joke?”

“Are you going to hold my hitting you on the head in kindergarten against me forever?” Johnny asked.

“I think you said ‘knock-knock’ when you did it,” Louise said.

“I was just trying to get your attention.”


Louise had been pacing off the garden when Johnny stumbled upon her. It was a surprisingly large space. She now stood by the fence she had recently painted white. It looked iridescent in the fading light. “Have there been any murders in town?” she asked.

Johnny came to stand next to her. The garden, he noticed, was quite beautiful. He’d never seen anything like it.

“You’re a gardener?” he asked.

“Anyone missing, kidnapped, decapitated?” Louise wanted to know. “This could be a mass grave, a killer’s depository.”

“You’re very single-minded,” Johnny Mott said. When Louise turned to him, she had a hurt look in her eyes. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” he was quick to amend. “Believe me—I’m single-minded, too.”

“Then check all the records and get back to me. Check Lenox, too. There might have been someone killed there, with the body later brought out to Blackwell.”

“There’ve been no murders, kidnappings, or decapitations. Trust me on this one.”

“Then why did I find this?” Louise held up the tiny bit of bone.

“A dog came through?” Johnny guessed. “Tim Kelly’s basset hound killed a rabbit? I could have him arrested. The basset hound, I mean. Not Tim.”

Louise backed away, shamed. She started at him. “You’re making fun of me.”

“I’m not.”

Johnny noticed she was wearing some sort of mosquito netting tossed over her and a big pair of boots, the kind people used to go eeling in the river.

“Well, maybe a little,” he said.

“You think I don’t know there’s some kind of betting pool about whether or not I’ll go crazy? I heard people talking at the gas station. And your friends were saying something about me at the bar.”

Louise’s face was getting pink. In no time it would be red. That had happened in kindergarten after Johnny had hit her. He’d felt especially bad when he saw how blotchy she was. Afterward he used to watch her take the bus to the Mills School. She got picked up right outside her house.

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