Capri felt her face ghastly stretch in horror as the rawness of her throat left evidence of her screams, but the volume of her mournful cries fell upon stone-dead ears.
Her parents, Freddie and Flora, laid lifelessly on the carpet of the family living room. Broken glass and white liquid she assumed to be milk occupied a space by her father’s feet while blood stained her mother’s shirt and the crumbled remains of a birthday cake that had fallen to the floor. She didn’t remember calling the police, or how long she’d been alone with her parents before they showed up, but there was one thing about the crime scene she would never forget: the vile valentines wrapped around the stems of the single flowers that rested across Freddie and Flora’s hearts.
For your innocence and grace, there will never be a place. Elegant poison and blind choices will drain the color from your face.
Beware the ides of April, the selfish and ungrateful. Fall in pain and fade away; for your last sleep is fatal.
She silently recited the poems over and over again in her mind trying to understand their meaning and the reason why someone would murder her parents. Everybody loved them, she thought to herself. I don’t get it. Who would wanna kill the sweetest people in the world?
“Excuse me, young lady,” a young officer called to her. Despite the abrupt interruption of her train of thought, his soothing baritone voice was pleasant enough not to scare her. “My name is Officer Ethan Franco. What’s your name?”
“Capricious Autumn Winters.”
“That’s a beautiful name,” he smiled warmly. “How old are you, Capricious?”
“Twelve,” she sniffed. “Today is my birthday, sir.”
The heaviness of his sigh revealed a sympathetic sentiment she was grateful for. “I’m sorry this happened to you, sweetheart. Do you know of anyone who would be able to take care of you while we find out what happened to your parents?”
“My auntie and my cousin.”
“Okay. Come with me and we’ll give ‘em a call,” he said extending his hand as an invitation for hers. She readily obliged but not without taking a moment to look back at her fallen parents. Ethan could feel her little hand tremble in harmony with the sound of her heartbreaking sobs. “Don’t you worry, Capricious. We’re gonna find the person who did this, okay? I’m gon’ see to it. Do you believe me?”
A nodded response was all he needed to take her into his arms for a reassuring hug. She didn’t hesitate to let the rest of her tears spill onto his shoulders, and even as he picked her up to carry her outside to his squad car, she kept her eyes on Freddie and Flora making a silent vow of her own.
I promise, mom and dad, I’ll get ’em. Whoever it is, I’ll make ’em suffer.
Ten years later, she held tight to that promise as a double major in criminal justice and psychology with a minor in botany. Regardless of the commitment made to her by one officer, the Nolan Police Department had yet to uncover any piece of information that could identify the elusive serial killer – subsequently dubbed by the media as The Florist – leaving her and the small hometown of Nolan, Louisiana in a combined state of hopelessness, panic and fear. But Capri was determined to deliver some relief. All she had to do was get past one more exam.
“Nia!” she called across the apartment. “My final’s in thirty minutes. Let’s go! I swear you’d be late to your own funeral.”
Capri shook her head as the best friend she lovingly referred to as cousin secured a shoe while hopping into the living room. They had been joined at the hip since before either of them could remember and even followed each other to the same college, Nolan University. Whereas Capri spent every waking moment of the day focused on her studies, Nia exercised her animated personality by relentlessly sketching original fashion designs and working as the manager of a local clothing store.
“You think you could find a ride to campus, Pri? I have to open today at 9:30.”
“Girl, it is 8:21. Drop me off along the way. I don’t mind being early.”
“Well … here’s the thing: I called Vasu and he’s gonna take you.”
Her jaw unhinged in outrage. “Why would you do that? I don’t want to see him!”
“But he’s miserable without you!”
“And you know this how?”
“I ran into him at the Sigma Beta Pi party last night and he told me how much he misses you. All he wants is another chance,” she whined as Capri stood unimpressed with her hands on her hips.
An unexpected knock at their front door caused her to jump while Nia’s smile stretched wider. Capri huffed in frustration at the sight of her ex-boyfriend, grinning in greeting with flowers in hand, dressed to the nines, and doused in pungent cologne that made her eyebrows shoot to her hairline.
“Mornin’, darlin’,” he beamed. “You look beautiful.”
She looked down at her formfitting tank top and loose sweatpants in disagreement. “Yeah, thanks.”
“Hey, Vasu!” Nia happily addressed as he waved back. “You be careful with my girl now. Make sure she gets to campus in one piece, hear?”
“Will do,” he said before returning to his ex. “I brought these flowers for you.”
“Give them to Nia. It’s her birthday,” she coldly directed before Nia rebuffed with a shake of the head.
“I’m good. I already have the flowers mom sent over.”
“And you can stand to use some more,” Capri said through her teeth while rushing to give her a hug goodbye. “I am so gonna get you back for this.”
“Not today because it’s my birthday!”
“Uh-huh. You’re lucky. Have a good day at work. I’ll see you later.”
“Yep. Good luck on your final.”
“Thanks! Love you forever and ever.”
“Love you until infinity,” Nia replied back, closing their conversation the same way they had since childhood.
Starting the day with a finger kiss to a photo of his beloved parents was just as much a part of Mel Perrin’s morning routine as the warm salute to his fellow officers when he entered the police station. For the past eight years, he found joy in being able to bring peace of mind by way of justice. Every smiling face or expression of gratitude was enough reason for him to keep fighting the good fight for the parish just outside of New Orleans.
Some of his coworkers shared in his compassionate crusade; others – like his immature and torrid partner, Elmo Ward – did not. Mel wasn’t surprised to see that he hadn’t arrived on time to occupy the desk adjacent to his, and even anticipated the roar of his name from Captain Grayson’s mouth before he had a chance to take a sip of his morning coffee.
“What’s up, Cap?” Mel greeted while closing his boss’s office door behind him.
“Where the hell is Ward? What does he think; crime doesn’t start until he shows up? Three weeks the kid’s been here and he’s already givin’ me headaches.”
“He’ll be all right.”
“Let chu tell it,” he dismissed. “How ‘bout chu, though? How are you makin’ out?”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, now you wanna play dumb? You know the police psychiatrist has me keepin’ a close eye on you because she doesn’t think you took enough time off to grieve after Paige died.”
“I’m fine. Trust me, being on the job helps more than any amount of time off. When I need a vacation, I’ll ask for one.”
“Perrin, you’re 30 years old. Don’t marry yourself to the job too quick, especially not this job. It’ll make you go gray early,” he advised. Mel noticed his boss’s eyes scaling past him and glanced in the same direction, catching sight of his tardy partner walking into the building. With a look of warning, Grayson stood to his feet; Mel covered his ears. “Ward! Get in here!”
“You need me to step outside, Cap?”
“Oh, no. You sit right there,” he told as the door flew open. “Nice of you to join us.”
“What, did I miss roll call?”
“Watch yourself, detective. I’m the last bridge you want to burn, and with your track record, you need somebody on your side.”
“Yes, sir, Captain Nationwide!” Ward sarcastically saluted as Grayson’s face burned red with anger.
Mel immediately took the hint and tapped his partner signaling for them to leave the office. No sooner than he had the chance to lean back in the chair at his desk, a homicide call came through on their scanners prompting him to spring away from it again.
“Never a moment to rest,” he griped to Ward. “Let’s hit it.”
Capri sighed with contentment the moment she finished her exam. There was a sense of accomplishment and focus in her stride as she walked out of Nolan University’s entrance intent on beginning her secret plan for revenge, but the boisterous antics of her ex-boyfriend offering her a ride home quickly disrupted the solo celebration. Reluctantly, she sat in the car to shut him up.
That tactic … did not work.
“You know, I’ve been tryna get a hold of you for a minute now.”
“I’ve been busy.”
“Busy ignorin’ me.”
“That sounds about right.”
“Why you gotta act like that when I’m just tryna talk to you?”
“You know what? Just pull over. I’d rather walk home.”
“Aww, now what kind of guy would I be if I let you do that?”
“Ooh, I know! I’ll take the kind that cheats on his girlfriend and then stalks her friends when she breaks up with him for $500, Alex.”
“Oh, come on. It was a coincidence that I ran into Nia last night.”
“Mm-hmm, and the times you’ve run into her before?” she tested to his slick grin. “When I say I need space, Vasu, that’s exactly what I mean. I need space.”
“And I need you. Don’t you get it? I’m sorry, Pri.”
“Yeah, I get it and it ain’t nothin’ more nor less than what you’ve said before.”
“If you just give me another chance, I can show you that it’ll be different this time ’round.”
“Boy, please. You’ve had too many chances as is. I’m not about to give you another. Now, you can drive this car and leave me to my silence, or let me walk because this conversation is over.”
And it was, until she reached for the radio to ease the awkward tension with music. Vasu hurriedly smacked her hand away from its dial. She glared back in awe.
“You wanted your silence, right? If you don’t wanna hear me talk, you won’t be hearin’ my radio either.”
“And you wonder why I don’t wanna be bothered with chu anymore,” she snapped back before watching the scenery fly by outside her window.
Traffic slowed to a standstill as they neared her apartment building. Red and blue lights flashed in warning while sirens blared in her eardrums. A crowd gathered full of press, evacuated residents and nosy busybodies stood along the courtyard as police officers waved cars in the opposing direction.
“It looks like they’re cutting off the road, so get out,” he told. Rage filled her eyes at his brutal phrasing. “I’m just saying if you wanna go home, you gotta get out here … unless, you know, you wanna come back to my place.”
“I’d rather not,” she snarled jumping out of the car and slamming the passenger door shut. It didn’t surprise her that he immediately sped off leaving her in an unapologetic cloud of dust. “Only Lord knows what I ever saw in him. Idiot! Just wait ’til I tell Nia. Birthday or no birthday, she’s gonna hear about this.”
She pulled out her cell phone and dialed quietly prepping herself for the light of Nia’s laughter and the likelihood that it might diminish her anger. When a man’s voice picked up, her face twisted up with confusion.
“This is Detective Ward of Nolan PD. Who am I speaking with?”
“Detective of Nolan PD? What the …”
Loose strands of hair in her face was her only indication that she was moving. Everything faded into a colorful blur, but the yellow barrier tape blocking her apartment door was crystal clear.
Police line, do not cross, she read to herself before ducking underneath.
Her eyes widely scanned the interior of the living room she remembered standing in over an hour prior, a living room suddenly invaded by law enforcement. Mouths were moving but she heard no sound. With a glance to the left, she noticed a group assembled by her bedroom. Upon reaching the doorway to see what was causing the fuss, Capri abruptly crashed to her knees.
There, across the fitted sheets of her mattress, Nia’s body was stretched out, lifeless, eyes obtruded.
Then, everything went black.
“Miss? Miss, can you hear me?” the medical examiner, Dr. Culpa, asked.
“Wake her up!”
“You can’t just wake her up, Ward.”
“What are we supposed to do? Sit here and wait until she decides to open her eyes?”
“I don’t think she chose to pass out, man. Relax. Dr. Culpa, is she going to be all right?”
“She hit her head pretty hard on that fall but … I think she’ll be just fine.”
A delicate moan escaped Capri’s lips immediately catching the three onlookers’ attention. Each of her body parts made small movements until her eyelids parted to reveal extraordinarily green irises that instantly snatched Mel’s breath from his chest.
He was surprised that she willingly locked onto his eyes just the same.
“Who are you?” she questioned dazedly placing one hand on her forehead. “Ugh. What happened?”
“You fainted. Is she okay to sit up, doc?”
“Yes, but do it slowly,” she guided keeping a hold of Capri.
“How do you feel?”
“Mmm, a little lightheaded. C – Could I have some water, please?”
“Let’s get you up first,” Mel instructed as Dr. Culpa helped her to a chair. “Now, uh, I’ll grab you somethin’ to drink as soon as I figure out where the cups are in this place.”
“Upper cabinet, second one from the left, first shelf.”
All three of them stared at Capri in shock, but Ward was the first to voice his concern. “Now, how would you know that?”
“Because I live here.”
“Then we have some questions for you. You need to come with us to the station.”
“We should give her a minute to collect herself,” Mel benevolently suggested.
“We ain’t got time for all that! We need answers and we need them now!”
“Can y’all keep the yelling to a bare minimum, please? My head is ringing, and I had this crazy nightmare that my best friend was …”
“Laid out dead in her bed?” Ward blurted out as Mel and Capri gaped at him. “What? If she wasn’t dead, we wouldn’t be here!”
“Man, go collect some evidence or something. I got this.”
“You sure you don’t need my help, partner?”
“Oh, yeah. I’m positive,” Mel assured sharply. Once his colleague walked away, he returned his attention to Capri. He couldn’t help but continue to be spellbound by the piercing glow from her catlike eyes in contrast to her butterscotch skin and long russet tresses. He tried to shake it off by clearing his throat before speaking again. “Please excuse him. He can be a little …”
He smirked before extending his hand. “I’m Detective Perrin.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you. I mean, uh, despite the unfortunate circumstances. My sincerest condolences.”
“If it’s not too much trouble, would you mind coming down to the station so I can ask you a few questions?”
“Yeah. Sure. Whatever it takes to find the person who did this.”