December 26, 2022

Double Bubble Chapter 4: The Flower Shop Girl

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This entry is part 4 of 14 in the series Double Bubble

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Unlike the Glebe, where every person you meet is a thirty-something yuppie yammering about last night’s book club while sipping a pumpkin spice latte on a sun-drenched patio, Old Ottawa South is filled with a mix of the old and dotting in the twilight of their lives and the young and hip at the dawning of theirs. For every geriatric pushing a walker, there is a university kid pumping a skateboard. I know because I have to dodge more than one as I walk along the sidewalk.

The flower shop, if you want to call it that, is a squat, ugly standalone building next to a used car lot near the corner of Bank and Cameron at the edge of the neighbourhood.

The walls are black, the windows are bricked in, and thick green coils of leafy vines have crept up from the ground on either side of the front door and dangle overhead like a hangman’s noose. The door is locked. I press my ear to it, half expecting to hear chanting and screaming, but I don’t hear anything. I look around for any signs or stickers that might tell me when the store opens, but there’s nothing. The only indication that I’m in the right place at all is a cracked red wooden sign that is barely visible through the tangle of vines over the door. I can just make out the name of the shop painted in black letters: Vine and Thorn Botany Shop.

This must be the place. But by the look of it, I’m guessing that the shop doesn’t thrive on foot traffic. I’ve visited morgues with more curb appeal.

I look around for a place to wait, but the only other businesses are a tattoo parlour and a pawn shop across the street, and a hair salon next door. Fortunately, I know there’s a coffee shop at the corner on the next street over, so I start back in that direction. I stop again when I get to the used car lot and see a woman sitting at a picnic table in what might pass for a garden if it weren’t for the clumps of wildflowers and weeds overrunning the space.

I didn’t notice her when I walked by the first time, and I wouldn’t have noticed her now except that I am still vaguely eyeing the botany shop, and the garden she’s sitting in seems to be a part of it. She’s engrossed in a book. I can’t make out the title, but if I had to guess, I’d say Atlas Shrugged. Or maybe Infinite Jest. It isn’t that the book looks out of place in her hand, only that she has the air of someone who takes herself quite seriously and requires the same of her books. Sure, maybe it’s not fair to judge her at this distance, but she just has that look of self-importance about her.

As I am standing there watching her, she snaps her book shut, stands up, and starts strolling toward me through the flowers. Not walking but strolling. It’s as if all she’s missing on this bright sunny morning is a parasol and someone to paint her. She’s as uninhibited as a summer breeze.

She must be Katrina. The proprietor of the shop and Danny Quick’s one-time girlfriend. I can’t say why I’m sure it’s her, only that she exudes the kind of self-confidence and poise that makes it a certainty. Her eyes are fixed on mine, but she covers the distance between us without a word. She stops directly in front of me. She isn’t exactly confrontational, but there is no warmth or friendliness on offer either.

“You the adjuster?” she says.

“Adjuster?”

She eyes me suspiciously and then shrugs.

“I figured you were the adjuster since you’re too pretty to be a cop,” she says. And then, thinking maybe she might be wrong, “you aren’t are ya?”

“What?”

“A cop?”

“No,” I say.

“Figured not.”

She takes a step back and runs her eyes over me again like she’s appraising me for auction. “So if not, what than?”

“I’m sorry?”

Her eyes flicker with what I assume is mild irritation. It’s the second time in a matter of hours that a woman has looked at me and found me wanting.

“If you aren’t a cop and aren’t the adjuster, what’re ya?”

“I—“

And then, all at once, as if she’s having an allergic reaction to me, her face flushes, and her eyes go wild with rage. She starts yelling at me.

“What’re ya, some kinda creep who just likes to leer at women? Some sort of pervert? What were ya doing than, trying to look up my skirt, is that it? Trying to get your rocks off?”

“I—“

She takes a step toward me, forcing me to take a step back. Her lips draw tight into a snarl like she’s about to attack me. I take another step back and lift my hands protectively.

“I’m a friend of Danny’s,” I say.

The mention of his name seems to trigger her off-switch. I’m still holding my arms up defensively, uncertain whether she has been mollified. Her eyes are still hot with anger, but at least she’s not yelling. I think maybe she might apologize for her reaction, but when she opens her mouth to speak, all she says is, “shove off.”

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m a—“

“I heard you the first time,” she says. “Shove off.”

“But—“

“Listen asshole. I dunno who you are or what game you’re playing and I don’t want to know. Danny had no friends. And if he did, unless you’re here to help pay for his funeral, you can shove off. I got work to do.”

Maybe it’s me, or maybe it’s the kind of day I’m having, but with this many fucking crazy women in his life, I’m beginning to think maybe Danny really did commit suicide. Fucking hell.

Before I can open my mouth to reply, she shakes her head, mutters something under her breath, pivots, and strides off toward the front door of her shop.

“Listen,” I say, trying to catch up. “You’re right. I wasn’t exactly Danny’s friend. But I knew him in high school. And when I heard he died and wanted to find out what happened.”

She doesn’t respond. She unlocks the door, pulls it open, and steps inside. I follow her through.

Jean said Katrina owed a flower shop, but this is not a flower shop. It’s a fucking jungle. A mad house of punishing heat and pungent smells attacking every one of my senses. There are plants and shrubs and trees, and yes, I guess, even the occasional flower, sprouting and growing and dying everywhere. There are dense tangles of vines and leaves growing out of the floors and ceilings, and walls. It is impossible to gauge how large this shop is because every square inch is covered in plant life.

The inside is illuminated with so much light that I’m momentarily blinded. The faint sounds of birds chirping and hives of insects fluttering and skittering permeate the air just out of sight, hidden behind a canopy of impenetrable green and brown foliage. I assume it’s some kind of soundtrack that’s playing — you know, the kind of soothing sounds that stores play for those wandering around their shops — but I can’t be sure because when I look up, all I can see is the brightness of the artificial lighting.

I stand there trying to acclimate to the oppressive humidity and the overpowering smells of the saccharine flowers, and the potted earth, and the pulpy decay that infects the place. But it isn’t working. Just standing there is making me fidgety and anxious and even more unsettled. I start to sweat. There is just so much humidity. I don’t remember the last time I was in a flower shop, but I am certain it wasn’t this hot. It’s more than just oppressive, it’s hostile. No sane person would ever shop here. And I don’t know what kind of person would voluntarily work here.

Katrina has disappeared into the jungle ahead. I take a few more tentative steps forward, trying to follow her, but it’s difficult. I don’t get far before she returns with a spray bottle in hand. She starts busying herself, spritzing the greenery. I don’t know if it’s the heat or the glaring lights or the buzzing sounds of insects overhead, but I am at a loss for words and just stand there, stupidly, watching her as she goes about her work. It’s like she has completely forgotten I am there.

After a minute, she turns to look at me. I’m worried she is going to start screaming at me again. But she doesn’t. Instead, she says, “so what do you care how he died?”

The question catches me off guard. I should probably tell her that Danny’s mother was in my office less than an hour ago, accusing her of murder. But I don’t. Instead, I change the subject.

“Why’d you think I was an insurance adjuster?”

She fidgets with the spray bottle for a minute before answering.

“Because,” she says. “Danny had a policy and the insurance company told me they were sending someone around this morning, an adjuster, I dunno, someone to explain things to me.”

“Explain things?”

She starts spraying her plants again.

“I dunno,” she says with a shrug. “Things about the policy. Something…I dunno.”

Her voice trails off. She has her back to me, but I think she might be crying. It’s hard to tell with the sounds overhead. I don’t say anything. I don’t know what I’m supposed to say. The whole situation is foreign to me. She starts spritzing the vines again as though I’m not still standing there.

I’m about to press for more details when the door behind me opens, and a man in a suit walks in.

Series Navigation<< Double Bubble Chapter 3: The FixerDouble Bubble Chapter 5: The Terror and the Botanist >>

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