A Rose Forever After...
Part 1: A Flower for your Thoughts
Jen fidgeted nervously in the passenger seat as the BMW streaked down the highway, siren screaming for the other traffic to get the fuck out of the way. They were still twenty minutes out from the police station that had called in with the witness, though Calvin with his daredevil driving would probably cut that down to eighteen minutes and three seconds.
The blindingly fast driving, enough to make the most hardened individual white knuckled, wasn’t fazing Jen in the slightest. She was nervous that the witness would be gone by the time they got there. Over the last five years, there had been precious little leads on the enigmatic woman nicknamed “The Siren”. She was a young woman named Dasha originally from Europe who was adopted as a child and brought up in rural New York. She spent most of her adolescence in and out of the juvenile detention system and had been a constant pest for local law enforcement, getting involved in drugs, armed robberies, and blackmail, of all things. Then, when she turned seventeen, she ran away from home and went off the grid. Her adoptive parents seemed to have had some kind of mental breakdown due to this, as they now resided in a psychiatric care home permanently, and could barely recall they had a daughter or who they even were on a good day.
Over the next five years, Dasha started turning up on the FBI’s radar in a big way. All that was known was that she would come into a town, and then disappear with half the towns wealth, some assets, and occasionally people. Jen had been assigned to the case since she first started at the FBI four years ago, and was the one who managed to link Dasha’s past to her criminal activities of the present. The Siren nickname was soon earned by the way that people could never seem to remember her and had done everything she had said when she had simply asked. Although she had started her crime career fairly sloppily which allowed her to be traced back to her childhood, she had since gotten much better. Leads started drying up, and no amount of forensic or witness investigations after a recent “Siren incident” amounted to anything. For the past two years, each time something happened, Jen and a team of agents would rush in to try and pick up Dasha’s trail to no avail. Inevitably, a few weeks later the case would be put back on the shelf and everyone would pursue other cases until the Siren struck again.
In her short time at the bureau, Jen had made a name for herself in hunting human traffickers, setting up stings for serial bank robbers, and generally being able to think one step ahead of criminals, to their inevitable capture. But the Siren had always eluded her as much as it had every other agent assigned to her case. All of that could change today, thought Jen.
Calvin screeched onto the turnoff that was taking them to Osceola. Jen and Calvin had been in Des Moines for a completely unrelated case when they both received simultaneous calls from head office. Some distressed man had frantically ran into a local police station saying he had “escaped her, escaped her control.” but that she would be coming for him and he’d willingly follow her back to his enslavement. Clearly someone behind the desk had been sharp enough to call it in to the FBI and Jen received word not soon after. Being the closest agents by hundreds of miles meant it was on Jen and Calvin to assess the situation and report back. Jen, however, wasn’t taking any chances. Several police units from the city as well as an armed response squad were being mobilized. They would be ten minutes or more behind the two FBI agents who had practically rushed to their car when they got the call. Jen had called in the backup, she had called ahead to the police station where the witness was to give them a heads up on the pandemonium that was about to rain down on them, and she had even called the Siren investigation team lead to give him an update on the situation. Now there were no more calls to make, they just had to get there and secure the witness.
Once off the 35 they turned off their siren and were outside the police station within minutes, Calvin unceremoniously mounted the kerb right outside the station entrance and Jen jumped out. She quickly scanned the peaceful small town high street. It was mid-afternoon on a glorious sunny summer’s day. People were out walking their dogs, an ice cream van was busy with customers, and seats outside of bars and cafes were filled with laid back customers. A young woman dressed in a ragged hoodie and ripped jeans was wandering nearby, trying to sell individual flowers from a large stack she carried. A few heads had turned when Calvin and Jen’s unmarked car had screeched up to the station, but mostly everyone was enjoying the hot day too much to care.
Not seeing any threats, Jen went inside, closely followed by Calvin. The station inside was spacious and quiet, it clearly wasn’t a particularly crime filled area outside. A dozen desks in an open plan office sat neat and empty. Leaning against the reception counter, clearly waiting for the agents, was who Jen assumed was the Police Chief of the station. He had dark hair slightly greyed, a firm jaw and a determined expression steeled with dark eyes and a thick brow.
“Agents.” He gruffly acknowledged Jen and Calvin. “I’m Captain Moss”
“Where is he?” Jen asked urgently.
“He’s safe. Identification first, please.” Moss requested firmly.
“Of course.” Jen replied, quickly producing her badge while Calvin did the same. After a moment looking at them with scrutiny, the captain nodded.
“We have an interview room through the back. I’ll show you.” Captain Moss led them through the bare walls of the station. Down one corridor was an empty jail cell. Jen marvelled that this quiet town of all places was where a lead to the Siren popped up. The Captain indicated to two doors.
“That’s the room, and that’s observation.” he said.
“I take it you insist?” Calvin smirked, knowing he need not ask.
“That’s what makes us such a good team, Cal.” Jen grinned back at him. “Make sure you get every bit of transcript they’ve taken so far.”
“I’ll be in observation.” The Captain informed them. “I’ve let my staff know to give you everything you need. If there’s anything else, let me know.”
Calvin and Jen both thanked the Captain and the three of them parted ways. Calvin went back to the reception and office to get all the information the clerks and officers had taken down about the witness, while Jen opened the interview room door, and stepped inside.
The man was cowed in the corner, head buried in his knees and hands covering his head. He wore what looked to have been an expensive suit that had been dragged through a gorge by an angry rhino. Rips, tears, and mud covered it and the man’s head. His dirty hair was a reddish brown underneath the mud and his hands. He seemed to be of medium build, but Jen couldn’t size him up very well, hunched in the corner as he was. A plain table sat in the middle of the room, on which a glass of water, a mug of coffee, and a sandwich all sat untouched. The room was plain with light cream walls, save for one wall which was the one way window behind which Captain Moss and possibly some of his detectives would be watching with interest.
Jen cleared her throat loudly and the man’s head snapped up fearfully. He took her in frantically, looking her up from top to bottom. Jen was wearing her suit pants and a light blouse under her FBI soft-shell jacket. Her medium length blonde hair was tied back in a practical and unstylish ponytail, and her light brown eyes met the man’s cold blue gaze with unwavering calm.
“Sir, I’m special agent Jennifer Williams, with the FBI. I’m here to help you.”
The man cautiously and slowly got to his feet, still pushed against the wall like it was a sanctuary. His face now uncovered, Jen got a better look at him. He was clean shaven and handsome looking, with a tall face and slightly thin features. He was currently very pale and heavy bags hung under his eyes. A few light wrinkles made Jen guess he was somewhere in his forties, but aside from his distress and tattered appearance, he looked healthy and well.
“Sir, please have a seat. I have important questions to ask you.”
“The Mistress. You want to know about the Mistress,” the man acknowledged, fear etched into his voice.
That must be what he calls the Siren, thought Jen. “Yes, please, have a seat and tell me about the Mistress.” she said kindly, motioning to one of the chairs by the table.
The man hesitated for a moment, glancing from the chair to Jen with mistrust and scrutiny, but eventually he shuffled over and sat on the edge of the seat. Jen sat in one of the two chairs opposite and placed her voice recorder on the table, clicking it to record before addressing the man once more.
“Can you tell me your name, sir?” Jen started. Even such mundane information could break the Siren case wide open. There are typically over fifty thousand unsolved missing persons cases in the USA each year. Jen hoped that she could make that number even one less by the end of the day.
The man scrunched up his face, like he was trying to think out something very complicated in his head. “This one doesn’t have a name. It was taken. Everything was taken. It’s there, in this one’s mind, but locked away. Mistress locked everything away...” He got more visibly distressed as he said it, his fists scrunching up until they were tight white balls of anxiety on the tabletop. The tension in the room was getting starker by the second. Jen needed to stay professional, but the idea that this man couldn’t even remember his name shook her to her very core.
“Ok...” Jen pondered for a moment, feeling her heart beating faster. “Tell me how you escaped her. Tell me how you got away.”
“Almost got away,” the man said, looking down at his fists bitterly. “This one almost managed to escape her, but her will is too strong, this one’s will is too weak. Parts of this one are returning, but not soon enough, not enough for me to stay hidden.”
“What do you mean you almost got away?” Jen asked concernedly. “You got away. You’re here.” she assured him. Her hands, resting idly on the table, felt clammy.
“No... Didn’t get away... Couldn’t stay hidden.” the man said, placing his head in his hands again and swaying slightly. “The voices made me come to this place, she’ll know, she’ll come.”
Jen started shifting nervously in her seat, as if the man’s fear was seeping across the table, crawling up her arms and wrapping itself around her throat. She took a deep breath and opened her mouth to ask the man for more clarity, but he interrupted her.
“She’s coming!” he hissed, before slamming both hands down on the table and glaring into Jen’s eyes. Jen felt a jolt of fear surge through her and found herself involuntarily on her feet, a strong urge to run screaming through her mind.
“Sir!” she snapped, “Please calm down.” She needed to think. If what he was saying were true then the Siren might be there at any moment. They needed to extract the witness to a safe house, despite the lack of a complete interview. Jen decided to act first and worry about the paperwork later.
“Ok,” she addressed the man again, calmer now that she knew what she was doing. “We’re going to go, right now. We’ll get in the car and take you to a safer location. Somewhere she won’t be able to find you. Can you do that? Can you come with me?”
The man looked at her and a flicker of hope appeared across his face for a moment. But it instantly turned to dread as the door opened behind Jen.
“No!” The man cried in painful despair, throwing himself from the chair into the far corner of the room.
Jen spun around and saw standing in the doorway the woman in the hoodie who had been selling flowers outside. She had barely glanced at the scruffy, almost homeless looking women several minutes ago, but now she couldn’t look away. Before she could fully take in the situation though, the woman spoke.
“Slave boy. I found you...” Her voice was sweet and melodic, calm and clear. She flicked a coin across the room towards the cowering man, though Jen didn’t see if he caught it or not as her eyes were fixed on the flower woman. The woman’s eyes now met Jen’s, and Jen instantly felt weak looking into those sky blue irises that almost seemed to glow with brightness.
“Flower?” The woman said sweetly, taking a step forward and taking a long stemmed red rose out of her bundle of flowers. She held it out to Jen and Jen found her hand reaching out to grab it.
Somehow, Jen managed to stop herself. Some warning alarm managed to interrupt what seemed to be automatic actions. She felt her heart thumping with fear now, her breath becoming sharper by the second. It felt like punching her way through a wall made of treacle, but she took a step back and drew her firearm, pointing it directly at the woman’s chest.
“Siren.” Jen rasped, barely able to find her voice. “P... p... put your hands above your head and turn around!”
“Siren?” The woman looked quizzically at Jen, before a spark of realization showed on her face. “Oh yeah, that’s what they have for me as a nickname, isn’t it? It’s not very good, is it? I mean, there’s a nautical theme to it that just doesn’t fit at all, right? I think calling me an elf would work so much better, but I guess people think more of Legolas when they hear elf than of the fairytale elves that are mystical and magical. And I guess I prefer the name Rose, anyway. I like roses...” she smiled, flitting the rose she held in front of her face. “Here, have this one, it smells simply divine...”
She held out the rose to Jen again. Jen found that she wanted to take it. It was harmless and pretty, just like the woman Rose was herself. Despite the scruffy appearance, her baggy hoodie and misfitting ripped jeans, Rose was very pretty. So very, very pretty, and youthful. She had fair smooth skin, framed by long dark raven hair, and thin, sharp eyebrows that magnified her expression. A small button nose perched itself above lusciously inviting red lips, that wore a confident, smug smile. And those eyes... Those electric blue eyes felt like looking at a cloudless summer sky, where you could just gaze into the peaceful emptiness forever. Images flashed in Jen’s mind of her taking the flower and deciding to drop to her knees so that she could look up at Rose. She really, really liked the idea of looking up at Rose, but right now she was a few inches taller than her so that wasn’t ideal. The urge to take the rose from Rose was growing more and more. Barely a second had passed since she had been offered it the second time but it felt like such an appealing idea to Jen.
She was susceptible to being controlled, Jen realized. It was important to admit that, she thought, because if she thought herself immune she would surely end up like the nameless man in the corner, who had himself fallen suspiciously silent.
“Stop it.” Jen managed to say, feeling a bead of sweat trickle down her brow now. She held her gun firmly at Rose’s chest. No, not Rose, that wasn’t her name. “Dasha Kozlova, you’re under arrest. You have the—”
“Don’t call me that!” Rose snapped, her eyes surging with searing anger. Jen imagined she could feel the heat of furious flames coming out of those eyes, and it took all of her nerve not to physically flinch. Rose took another slow step forward, her eyes now determined and focused, drilling into Jen. “Never call me that. You will call me Rose.”
Jen felt frozen to the spot. She needed to regain control. She knew she needed to be the one talking, and she needed to arrest Rose. Yes, she needed to arrest Rose before she lost more control.
“Now, what were you saying?” Rose asked sweetly, her expression turning now to one of playful mischief.
“I was saying that you’re under arrest, Rose,” Jen said, feeling her ability to speak return to her, “and that you have the—”
“Ssshhh...” Rose held her finger up to her lip and shushed Jen. Jen found her words suddenly catching in her mouth. Her hands were beginning to shake, and a growing sense of helplessness was welling up inside her.
“You’re saying the same thing again, it’s boring...” Rose softly scolded her. “Here, take this flower...” she added, more insistently.
Jen’s hands shook even more. Both were sweaty and clasped around her 9mm glock. She felt an incredible urge to take one hand away from her gun to reach for the flower, but that would make her aim less true, and right now the gun was the only element of control she had. “No...” she gasped with effort. “I won’t. What are you doing to me?” The thought of shooting Rose arose from the growing desperation in Jen’s mind. As unthinkable as she thought it would be, this situation was getting more and more out of hand.
“Me?” said Rose, taking another step forward. “I’m not doing anything. You, on the other hand, you’re not taking my flower, even though you really, really want to...”
“No...” Jen strained. “You’re making me want to... Don’t come any closer... or I’ll shoot.” she warned, her hands shaking profusely now and the pistol’s aim mostly compromised.
“You won’t shoot me... And you won’t arrest me...” Rose said sweetly. “You will take my flower, and then you’ll stand there and smell it and forget ever seeing me. I’ll leave with my slave boy and you’ll never remember either of us ever being here. Now be a good girl, and take the flower.”
“No! Don’t!” Jen shouted as Rose took another step towards Jen, almost thrusting the flower into her face.
A deafening bang shook the room. The look of shock on Jen’s face was mirrored in Rose’s. They stared at each other’s wide eyes for several terrified seconds, before both slowly moved downwards to the blood now seeping from Rose’s arm.
“Oh.” Rose uttered in quiet surprise, before collapsing onto the floor. Jen watched her fall in complete horror, her eyes shifting to her gun, which had a thin line of smoke trailing accusingly from it. She blinked several times in disbelief. She’d shot an unarmed suspect. She’d actually shot a completely defenceless individual. Her heart was pounding in her chest like a jackhammer now, and she felt close to panic.
But then her training took over, and she snapped herself out of her funk. She had to help Rose, call an ambulance, and get some back up. She quickly holstered her weapon and knelt down beside Rose to inspect the injury. Rose was breathing quickly, looking up at Jen, her blue eyes now full of pleading terror.
“It’s going to be ok. Look, it’s going to be ok.” Jen urged, partly for Rose’s comfort, though admittedly partly for her own. She hadn’t hit an artery, so as long as Rose got medical attention immediately she had a good chance of being ok. “We need to put pressure on the wound, and then call an ambulance” Jen said, taking the rose that Rose handed to her.
An odd flood of clarity washed over Jen. She liked holding the rose. It made sense to hold the rose, and she wondered what possessed her to resist doing so in the first place. A part of her, an out of date part, had been worried about taking the rose, but that part had been so distracted by Rose’s wound just now that it hadn’t really been paying attention. Now all she could think about was how nice it was to hold the rose.
Jen started at the flower dreamily as Rose whimpered in pain on the floor.
“Hey!” Rose snapped at Jen through her sharp breaths. Jen looked absentmindedly from the flower to her. “Owwwh, fuck! You shot me! You will... do absolutely everything... I say now.” Rose grimaced, labouring the words out as fear mingled with fury.
Jen would do absolutely everything Rose said now. That made sense.
“Now focus, and stay calm, and for fuck sake help me!”
It was like the her thoughts and the entire world came back into alignment for Jen. She needed to stay calm and focus, and above all help Rose.
“Oh, jesus, I really shot you!” she exclaimed, still finding it hard to believe. “Ok, here,” she took off her jacket and wrapped it around Rose’s wound. “You need to keep as much pressure as you can on this. And we Really need to get you an ambulance.”
“No.” Rose stated bluntly, though still straining with her pain. “No ambulance, I’m not going to a hospital to be handcuffed to an IV drip. You need to keep me hidden, keep me safe, stop me from getting arrested, and make sure I don’t die. Do you understand?”
“Yes, but you’re asking so much!” Jen protested. “I can’t guarantee your well-being unless we can get you to a hospital!”
“You need to make it happen!” Rose snapped. “I won’t go to prison, I won’t!". The color was draining from her face now, and she looked increasingly strained. “Do what you have to do, I have a few flowers left that I can use one whoever we need to. They’ll make anyone we need a loyal friend, at least for a few hours.”
Jen held her flower up to her nose and the sweet smell wafted through her mind. Something resembling a plan clicked into place. She had to do as Rose demanded, obviously. Doing anything else would be unthinkable.
“Can you stand? Walk?” Jen asked hopefully.
“Urgh, I can try.” Rose replied. “Slaveboy! A hand!” she barked at the man in the corner. Jen had forgotten about him but he came over and silently helped her get Rose onto unsteady feet.
“Ok, help me get her outside.” Jen ordered slaveboy.
Slaveboy looked questioningly to Rose, who nodded briskly. He took one side and Jen took the other, and the kept Rose steady, walking her out of the interview room.
Jen immediately saw into the next room where Captain Moss and two detectives had been viewing slaveboy and Jen before Rose arrived. Now they all held different flowers and held vacant expressions on peaceful faces. Jen wondered if she had looked so distant and tranquil.
“Have them erase all evidence we were here.” Jen instructed Rose. “Your blood, any CCTV footage, everything. And if it’s possible make them lose all memory of all three of us once they’re finished.
Rose repeated Jen’s instructions and the three of them sprang to life, following her orders without pause or question.
They made it back to the reception and office area, where the few staff members and Calvin all stood with flowers in hand. Rose gave the same instruction to all of them, and they got to work to erase all memory of the witness, Jen, and Rose herself ever stepping foot in the station.
Jen’s heartstrings pulled in discomfort as she saw Calvin obediently sit down at a nearby computer. She wanted her partner with her, but that wasn’t as important as following Rose’s instructions. Nothing to her was as important in that moment as making sure she got Rose out of there to safety.
They emerged onto the sunny street outside the police station. The town was every bit as peaceful as when Jen had arrived, but she knew that wouldn’t last long. They had a matter of minutes before half the police in Iowa showed up. Jen wasn’t sure if she could actually hear the sirens already or if she just thought she could. The street had a few cars going up and down it right now. The queue for the ice cream van was as large as ever, and kids played noisily in the park across the street while the adults huddled in the cooler air of the shade.
So many witnesses, Jen thought. Good.
“Ok, let me just get my field trauma kit from the car.” Jen said, leaving slaveboy supporting Rose alone for a moment. Rose breathed through her growing discomfort and looked around anxiously.
“Do you hear sirens? I think I hear sirens?” she asked Jen pointedly when she returned with the first aid case.
“Yup, those are sirens alright. I summoned every piece of backup I could on my way here. C’mon,” she offered her own shoulder. “The keys are in that car. Have your slaveboy drive it south on the freeway for 3 hours and then abandon it on a quiet back road. Then he can make his way to wherever you want him to.”
“We’re not going with him?” Rose asked, confused.
“Hell no, he’s our main diversion. That car has a tracker, but it’ll be hours before they figure to look for it.”
Rose quickly relayed the instructions to slaveboy, telling him to return “home” once he could.
“This one lives to serve, Mistress.” he said in parting. “This one won’t lose his penny again.” He then got in Calvin and Jen’s car and drove off casually towards the growing sounds of the sirens.
“So what do we do?” Rose asked, her voice sounding more and more uncertain as Jen helped her cross the road.
“We catch another ride.” Jen said calmly. “You got a flower ready?”
They stopped in the middle of the road and caused a silver car to grind to a halt in front of them. The driver pressed on the horn but Jen just walked Rose towards it.
The driver rolled down his window in irritation and called out to them. “What d’ya broads think you’re doing standing in the middle of the goddammed road?!” He then saw Rose clutching her arm and added. “You hurt or something?”
Before he had figured out how to react, Jen and Rose were by his window and Rose handed him a flower, which he took with a confused look on his face. His eyes instantly dulled and his expression melted away to calm indifference.
“Do everything either of us tells you to.” Rose huffed through pained breaths.
“Alright.” The driver acknowledged, his face reanimating.
“Get in, go.” Jen helped Rose get into the back seat and followed her into the car.
“Drive, but keep it legal and inconspicuous.” Jen instructed.
The driver pulled away just as the first police cars came thundering around the corner ahead. Three cars, all with sirens blaring, shot right past the car Jen and Rose now rode in and screeched to a halt outside the police station. Looking through the back window, the police officers entering the station got smaller and smaller as they headed out of town, but Jen instructed the driver to turn off into the suburbs before they were fully out of sight.
They went down a few small streets until Jen told the driver to stop outside a row of bungalows in a quiet looking neighbourhood.
“Out we get.” she told Rose, who looked about ready to pass out in her seat.
“What?” Rose said in alarm. “You’re kidding? Here, now? We haven’t gone anywhere!”
“Exactly, and you’re already getting weaker from the bloodloss. We need to lie you down and treat you before you go into shock” Jen urged, getting out of the car and practically dragging Rose with her.
She then turned back to the driver and said. “Thanks. Now go back to the main road, and continue your journey as normal. Forget you ever saw us, forget everything about us. Oh, and take this.” Jen handed the driver her cell phone. “Throw it out the window at the mid-point in your journey, then forget you ever saw it or had it.”
“Ok.” the driver replied plainly, putting the phone down, taking a sniff of his flower, then driving off the moment Jen shut the back door behind Rose.
“Now what?” Rose asked feebly, watching the car drive away with longing in her gaze.
“Now we pretend to be girl scouts.” Jen stated with a slight smirk. “Have another flower ready.”
Rose readied another flower, somewhat awkwardly as she still clutched Jen’s jacket tightly around her bullet wound.
“I need to be awake to use the flowers, you know...” Rose complained as they hobbled together up to the nearest house. “I don’t think that’s going to be for much longer...”
“Just hold on. We’re almost done, then you can rest and I’ll take care of you.” Jen reassured her. She rapped heavily on the door, hoping beyond hope that someone was home.
To her immense relief, the door was opened by a lady who looked to be in her early fifties.
“Hello, can I help—” she took the flower Rose handed to her without thinking, and a familiar emptiness seemed to fill her up.
“D- do everything... she... tells you to...” Rose managed to say, motioning to Jen.
As understanding and obedience flushed into the lady’s face, Jen felt a relief that her plan might actually work after all. Before she could voice her confidence though, Rose fainted, slipping out of Jen’s grasp and collapsing onto the porch with an awkward thud.
Jen looked down in horror.