“Well? What do you call them?”
“I suppose it depends on whether or not her mother is a senator. How much damage will it cause if she’s forced to become Patrice before she’s ready to let go of Ravenna?” She takes a large bite of hamburger and chews slowly, closing her eyes. A soft sound like a groan escapes and her face softens with pleasure.
“Been a while since you had junk food?” Eddison asks with an unwilling smile.
She nods. “Lorraine had strict instructions to make healthy food.”
“Lorraine?” Eddison grabs for his notebook and flips through several pages. “The paramedics took in a woman named Lorraine. She said she was an employee. You mean she knew about the Garden?”
“She lives there.”
Victor stares at her, vaguely aware of the relish dripping off his hot dog onto the foil. Inara takes her time with the food and doesn’t continue until the last fry is gone.
“I believe I mentioned that some girls tried to suck up?”
Lorraine was one of those once upon a time, someone so desperate to please the Gardener that she was perfectly willing to help him do whatever he wanted to other people if he would just love her. She may have been broken before he took her. Normally the girls like her were given another mark, another set of wings but this time on their faces, to show everyone that they loved being one of his Butterflies. But the Gardener came up with another plan for Lorraine and actually let her out of the Garden.
He sent her to nursing school and to cooking classes on the side, and she was so broken by submission to his interests, so absolutely in love with him, that she never tried to run away, never tried to tell anyone about the Garden or the dead Butterflies or the living ones who still could have had some hope. She went to her classes, and when she came back into the Garden she studied and practiced, and on her twenty-first birthday, he took away all those backless, pretty black dresses and gave her a plain grey uniform that covered her entirely, and she became the cook and nurse for the Garden.
He never touched her again, never spoke to her except about her duties, and that’s when she finally started to hate him.
Not enough, I guess, because she still didn’t tell.
On kinder days—of which there weren’t many—I could almost feel sorry for her. She’s what, forty-something now? She was one of the first Butterflies; she’s known the Garden twice as long as she’s known anything else. At some point, maybe you have to break. Her way kept her out of the glass, at least, however much she came to regret that.
Our cook-nurse, and we loathed her. Even the suck-ups despised her, because even the suck-ups would have escaped if they could, would have tried to call the police for the sake of the rest of us. Or at least that’s what they told themselves. If the opportunity had presented itself, though . . . I don’t know. There were stories about a girl who escaped.
“Someone escaped?” demands Eddison.
She smiles crookedly. “There were rumors, but no one knew for sure. Not in our generation, or in Lyonette’s. It seemed more apocryphal than anything, something most of us believed simply because we needed to believe escape was possible, not because we thought it was real. It was hard to believe in escape when you had Lorraine choosing to stay, despite everything.”
“Would you have tried?” asks Victor. “To escape?”
She gives him a thoughtful look.
Maybe we were a different breed of girl than thirty years ago. Bliss especially enjoyed tormenting Lorraine, mainly because she couldn’t do anything in return. The Gardener got pissed if she screwed with our food or medical needs. She was incapable of insulting us, because the words have to have meaning to hurt.
We didn’t think the maintenance guys knew about the Butterflies. We were always hidden when they were in the greenhouse, never allowed to be out where we could be seen or heard. The walls came down, opaque and soundproof. We couldn’t hear them, just as they couldn’t hear us. Lorraine was the only one we knew who knew about us, but it was useless trying to ask her to do anything or send a message to anyone. Not only would she not do it, but she’d take it straight to the Gardener.
And then another girl would end up in glass and resin in the hallway.
Sometimes Lorraine looked at those girls on display with such naked envy it was painful to see. Pathetic, of course, and infuriating, because for fuck’s sake, she’s jealous of murdered girls, but the Gardener loved those girls in glass. He greeted them when he passed, he visited just to look at them, he remembered their names, he called them his. Sometimes I think Lorraine looked forward to joining them someday. She missed when the Gardener loved her the way he did the rest of us.
I don’t think she realized it would never happen. The girls in the glass were all preserved at the peak of their beauty, the wings on their backs brilliant and bright against young, flawless skin. The Gardener would never bother preserving a woman in her forties—or however old she would be when she died—whose beauty faded decades ago.
Beautiful things are short-lived, he told me the first time we met.
He made sure of that, and then he strove to give his Butterflies a strange breed of immortality.
Neither Victor nor Eddison has a response.
No one asks to be assigned to crimes against children because they’re bored. There’s always a reason. Victor has always made sure to know the reasons of those who work for him. Eddison stares at his clenched fists on the table, and Victor knows he’s thinking of the little sister that went missing when she was eight years old and was never found. Cold cases always hit him hard, anything where families have to wait for answers that may never come.
Victor thinks of his girls. Not because anything’s ever happened, but because he knows he’d lose it if anything ever did.
But because it’s personal, because they’re passionate, agents in crimes against children are often the first to break and burn out. After three decades with the bureau, Victor’s seen it happen to a lot of agents, good and bad alike. It nearly happened to him after a particularly bad case, after one too many funerals with too-small caskets for the children they’d been unable to save. His daughters convinced him to stay. They called him their superhero.
This girl has never had a superhero. He wonders if she ever even wanted one.
She watches them both, her face revealing nothing of her thoughts, and he has the uneasy feeling she understands them a lot better than they understand her.
“When the Gardener came to you, did he ever bring his son?” he asks, trying to regain some control of the room.
“Bring his son? No. But Avery came and went mostly as he wanted to.”
“Did he ever . . . with you?”
“I recited Poe a few times under his attentions,” she answers with a shrug. “Avery didn’t like me, though. I couldn’t give him what he wanted.”
The Gardener only ever killed girls for three reasons.
First, they were too old. The shelf date counted down to twenty-one, and after that, well, beauty is ephemeral and fleeting, and he had to capture it while he could.
Second reason was connected to health. If they were too sick, or too injured, or too pregnant. Well, pregnant, I guess. Being too pregnant is a bit like being too dead; it’s not really a flexible state. He was always a little disgruntled about the pregnancies; Lorraine gave us shots four times a year that were supposed to prevent that sort of inconvenience, but no birth control is completely foolproof.
Third reason was if a girl was completely incapable of settling into the Garden. If after the first few weeks she couldn’t stop crying, if she tried to starve herself or kill herself past a certain “allowable” number of times. The girls who fought too hard, the girls who broke.