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The Flower Man

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Talia smelled the crime scene before she saw it: the copper stench of fresh blood, a whiff of cordite still in the air, and the pungent flowers, mingling like perfume. People crowded around the police barricades set up on the sidewalk. Most were gawkers, but a few seemed to be survivors of the attack. They were shaking, crying or just staring, sure signs of shock and the remains of sheer terror.

Broken glass littered the sidewalk. The restaurant’s window had been shot out from the inside. No blood mingled with the glass, only the remains of flowerpots that had been placed on the window’s sill for ambience. A single menu floated along the curb, caught in a breeze.

Talia shifted her bag to one hand, snagged the menu with her gloved fingers, saw the name—Morrie’s—and a long streak of blood. She would bag it when she opened her kit inside. She never knew what might be important later.

She slipped through the barricades and went through the open front door. The restaurant still smelled of garlic and fresh fish, almost covering the scent of lilies. A dessert cart leaned on three wheels, abandoned to the chaos. The cash register was closed and untouched. A jar of mints stood nearby, along with a toothpick dispenser. A phone swung off the hook, the receiver so dead that it no longer bleated in protest.

A group of cops stood front and center, her husband Max nearly lost in the sea of uniforms. He was a detective, shorter than the rest, his leather bomber jacket so well worn that it looked cracked. He had his hands in his pockets despite the warmth of the room, a very bad sign.

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