The man on the bed is hooked into an unbelievable array of machines, all beeping softly with their own sounds and rhythms. A nasal cannula feeds oxygen into his system, but an intubation kit stands nearby for the very real possibility of being needed. Dressings obscure much of what the blanket doesn’t cover, some of them bandages, some of them glistening salves and synthetic materials to draw the heat out of the burns and prevent infection. The burns extend to one side of his scalp, a bubbling mess of discolored, blistered skin.
The girl stares at him with wide eyes, her feet rooted barely a yard inside the room.
“His name is Geoffrey MacIntosh,” Victor tells her gently. “He isn’t the Gardener anymore. He has a name and a host of disfiguring injuries, and he isn’t the god of the Garden anymore. He never will be again. His name is Geoffrey MacIntosh, and he’ll be brought to trial for everything he’s done. This man cannot hurt you anymore.”
“What about Eleanor? His wife?” she whispers.
“She’s in the next room so they can monitor her heart; she collapsed at the house. As far as we can tell, she never knew about any of this.”
“A few doors down. She’s being questioned to determine the extent to which she can be charged for her part in all of this. There will be a number of psychological evaluations before that’s decided.”
He can see the name take shape on her lips, but she doesn’t ask. She sinks down into one of the hard chairs against the wall, leaning forward against her knees to study the unconscious man in the hospital bed. “None of us had ever seen him so angry,” she says in a tiny voice. “Not even for all the harm that Avery caused. He was furious.”
He offers her his hand and tries to hide his surprise when she actually takes it, the gauze rubbing against his skin.
“None of us had ever seen him like that.”
The three of them stood at the far end of the Garden, closest to the door, and the Gardener had clearly flipped his shit. He was screaming at Desmond, and there was Avery, looking smug as hell. I guess he figured his father wasn’t too upset about Keely anymore.
Rather than move closer, I inspected what I could see of the Garden. There had been people there, that much was clear. Boot prints were visible in the sand and some of the plants were trampled. Someone had even left a gum wrapper on the stream bank. Had the officers just been incurious? Had the Gardener given them an explanation that made sense?
“The dimensions,” whispered Bliss. “If he brought down all the walls, they may not have realized there were hallways. There are tracks on both sides of the main doorway.”
So maybe they had looked, and just couldn’t find us.
Desmond had actually made the call.
My heart hurt because I wanted to be proud of him, but really, all I could think was it’s about fucking time. Knowing we were kidnapped, violated, murdered, and displayed wasn’t enough, but at least the raped and brutalized twelve-year-old finally was.
“This is wrong!” he cried when his father finally took a breath. “Taking them is wrong, keeping them is wrong, and killing them is wrong!”
“That is not your decision to make!”
“Yes, it is! Because it’s against the law!”
His father slapped him so hard he stumbled back and fell. “This is my home, and my garden. Here, I am the law, and you went against that.”
Laughing like a little boy at Christmas, Avery disappeared and came back only moments later with a bamboo cane, probably the same one that had been used on him the day before. Seriously, a cane. Who the fuck canes their grown children? Actually, who canes their children at any age? But Avery handed the cane to his father and tackled his younger brother, tearing at his clothing until his back and part of his ass were bare.
“This is for your own good, Desmond,” the Gardener said as he rolled up his sleeves. Desmond struggled, but Avery tucked him into a headlock.
With Keely’s face pressed to my stomach so she couldn’t see, we stood and watched as the Gardener beat his son with the cane. It left bright red marks that quickly swelled into welts and Avery, the sick fuck, cheered with every impact. Desmond continued to struggle but didn’t cry out, despite how much it had to hurt. The Gardener counted them out, and after twenty blows, he tossed the bamboo away from him.
Avery’s cheers stopped. “That’s it?” he demanded. “You gave me that many for branding the bitch!”
I pressed a hand against my hip and felt the thick scar tissue left from that brand. Were twenty blows of a cane equivalent?
“Avery, stay out of this.”
“No! He could have put us both in prison, on death row even, and you let him off with twenty?” He dropped his brother to the sandy path and got back to his feet. “He nearly destroyed everything you’ve been working toward for thirty years. He turned his back on what it means to be your son. He turned his back on you!”
“Avery, I told you—”
Avery pulled something from the back of his belt, and suddenly it didn’t matter what his father had told him. Avery had the room.
A gun will do that.
“You gave him everything!” he yelled, pointing the gun at his brother. “Your precious Desmond, who never did a thing to help you stock the Garden, and you were so damn proud of him. ‘The Butterflies like him.’ ‘He doesn’t hurt them.’ ‘He understands them better.’ Who gives a shit? I’m your son too, your firstborn. I’m the one you’re supposed to be proud of.”
His father held his hands up, staring at the gun. “Avery, I was always proud of you—”
“No, you were scared of me. Even I know the difference in that, Father.”
“Avery, please put the gun down. There’s no place for that here.”
“There’s no place for that here,” he echoed with a sneer. “That’s what you’ve always said about anything I wanted!”
With a deep, pained groan, Desmond rolled onto his back and propped himself up on his elbows.
The gun went off.
Desmond fell back to the path with a cry, blood blooming across the breast of his tattered shirt. The Gardener lurched forward with a sob and the gun went off again, and the Gardener fell to his knees, clutching his side.
I thrust Keely at Danelle and shoved them both down behind a boulder. “Stay here,” I hissed.
Bliss grabbed my hand. “Is he worth it?”
“Probably not,” I admitted. “But he did call.”
With a sad shake of her head, she let go, and I raced forward from the clutch of girls. I was almost to Desmond when Avery grabbed me by the hair and yanked me off my feet.
“And here’s the bitch herself, the little queen of the Garden.” He pistol-whipped me so hard my ears rang, and part of the gun sliced my cheek with the impact. Dropping the gun, he kicked me onto my knees and fumbled at his belt. “Well I’m the king of the Garden now, so you’d better learn to show me some respect.”
“You put that near my mouth and I’ll bite it off,” I snarled, and from behind the boulder, Bliss cheered.
He hit me again, and again, and raised his hand to do it once more when Nazira’s voice stopped him.
“I can hear sirens!”
I couldn’t hear anything but the bells going off inside my skull, but some of the other girls said they could hear them too. I wasn’t sure if they were trying to distract him or if the sirens were real.
Avery dropped me and ran through the Garden to take the path up the cliff to see for himself. I crawled to Desmond, who was trying to keep pressure on his chest with one hand. I moved his hands away and did it myself, his blood warm and sticky as it pumped against my palm. “Please don’t die,” I whispered.
He weakly squeezed my hand, but otherwise didn’t try to answer.
The Gardener groaned and pulled himself to his son’s other side. “Desmond? Desmond, answer me!”
The pale green eyes—his father’s eyes—fluttered open. “The only way to protect them from him is to let them go,” he panted. Sweat beaded his face. “He’ll kill them all, and they’ll be in pain at every moment.”
“Just stay awake, Desmond,” his father pleaded. “We’ll get you to the hospital and we’ll figure this out. Maya, keep pressure on it!”
I hadn’t stopped.
But now I could hear the sirens.
Avery jumped and swore atop the cliff, and the girls raced forward to surround us, probably figuring the Gardener and Desmond were a safer bet than Avery-off-the-deep-end. Even Lorraine was clustered with us, and no one tried to brush her away. Bliss picked up the gun with shaking hands, but she kept her eyes trained on Avery.
And the sirens got louder.