As the door chimes faded, two men in Brooks Brothers suits waited on the tiled entrance. Behind them a teenage boy clad in a badly soiled T-shirt and torn jeans wedged between two police officers.
“Good day, Sir, I’m Detective Azoris. This is Detective Salnave,” one explained, displaying a picture ID and badge. “Are you Franklin deVore?”
“Doctor Franklin deVore, yes,” the resident answered, emphasizing the title.
“Do you know this kid?”
“Yes. He’s my ward.”
“May we come in?”
“Forgive me. Yes, please do. This incident has upset me greatly,” Dr. deVore said, closing the door with a sound that echoed through the cavern-like entry.
The affluent surroundings didn’t impress Azoris. His assigned area had a lot of that. The doctor’s courtesy, however, was surprising. He suspected him new to the strata.
“You say he’s your ward?” Azoris inquired.
“He’s lying,” the boy challenged in a quivering voice.
“I believe this can be straightened out in my study,” the doctor said in a smooth, graceful baritone hinting of New England.
Passing through another set of tall, double doors squelched the chilling squeak of their shoes on the tile as they stepped onto the plush carpet of a study. Dr. deVore went directly to an large desk at the far back of the room, opened the top drawer, and withdrew an envelope.
“This should explain,” he said, handing it to Azoris.
“This is a court order giving custody of Andrus and Benjamin Plummer to Dr. Franklin deVore,” the detective summarized to his partner. “Looks pretty official. What about this, Andrus?”
“We were jacked off the street.”
“That’s correct, officer. Benny and Andy have constantly gotten into trouble with the law. The ghetto court decided to rehabilitate them. I act as legal guardian effecting the transfer.”
“He’s lying!” Andrus shouted again.
“And where is Benjamin now?”
DeVore reached into the desk drawer and withdrew a brochure. “He was dispatched yesterday.”
The detective scanned the brochure describing a military-type school on a Caribbean Island. “I see you are on the Board of Directors. Mind if I borrow this? I’d like to check it out. This kid has been saying some really weird stuff.”
“Of course. In the meantime, I will begin making arraignments for Andrus to join his brother.”
“No!” the boy screamed.
“Quiet,” Azoris snapped as the boy became more agitated.
“I was going to check to see if Benny had been assimilated in his new environment, yet. Why don’t you use my telephone and call the Camp. That would facilitate terminating two problems.”
Azoris nodded his head as an indication for Salnave to make the call as the boy began struggling and screaming wildly.
“There is a special room that way,” deVore pointed to a door along one wall. “I have found it necessary on occasions. I do not doubt Andrus has been spreading some wild stories,” the doctor continued as the boy was locked away. “Drug abuse does terrible things to the mind. Both boys have been heavy into drugs, thus the court order. LSD. Nasty stuff. Unlike other drugs, it attaches to the spleen and liver and then, unexpectedly, some will release causing appalling episodes. Whatever he imagines during these times becomes very real to him.”
“His story is pretty bizarre. Says that you chop people up and feed them to your plants.”
“Oh, that is nightmarish. Undoubtedly triggered by fear that they were being sent off. They threw a fit about the arraignment. I was able to restrain Benny, but Andy managed to escape through the arboretum.”
“May I see this arboretum?”
“Certainly. It adjoins this study,” deVore said, leading them into a huge greenhouse crammed with tropical vegetation. “This is my laboratory. I am a botanist,” the doctor explained proudly as they were engulfed by humid heat.
“I do some gardening myself,” Azoris said.
“It is such a joy, particularly when you’re able to encourage some stubborn plant to sprout and flourish.”
“I hate weeding.”
“Weeds are an interesting concept, Detective Azoris. Take this plant for instance,” the doctor said, indicating a knee-high fern. “Every two years it displays brilliant orange, red and blue flowers, yet in its natural setting it is very invasive. Crowds out everything, consumes all the nutrients, and seldom flowers. It is a blight upon the flora world. A weed. In one setting a flower, in another something that must be rooted up and removed.”
“That could apply to people.”
“An interesting analogy. Yes, I suppose it could. The inner city is so overcrowd, using up precious resources, a detriment to society. Remove some, place them in a different environment, and they can become useful. An instrument to increase productivity. A concept that keeps Social workers continually amused,” deVore replied.
“You’ve got some really exotic stuff here.”
“Exotic? Yes. See this orchid? Comes from the jungles near Beleize. All those tour boats pass by and no one has an inkling what they are missing just beyond the shoreline. I am domesticating them. I have a number of engineering projects underway like that,” Dr. deVore explained proudly.
“Are these carnivores?” the detective asked bending over to look at a cluster of vivid green plants with cherry-red pistils.
“As a matter of fact. Very useful. These little denizens keep the fly population in here at a manageable level.”
“You are used to seeing the gardening shop variety. In their native environment they grow quite large, some become large enough to engulf mice. As a whim I toyed with the idea of making genetic changes to the growth chain to produce a plant large enough to handle kitchen waste.”
“A living garbage disposal?” Azoris quipped.
DeVore laughed. “Yes. Impractical as hell. The normal house is much too dry and cold. The plants would not flourish. A person would have to constantly replace them making the idea much too expensive.”
“The kid says you fed his brother to some of these plants,” Azoris remarked as the laughter faded.
“A small house fly nourishes one of these plants for some while. To dispose of a human body would take a whole continent of these little creatures. Then, what would you do with the bones? Not very conceivable, but you are welcome to look for yourself or perhaps a forensics team. Of course, if there’s going to be any digging I must be present so that the root systems are not damaged.”
“Thank you doctor. I don’t believe digging will be necessary. They use special rods inserted into the soil that can detect human remains.”
“Then by all means insert away. I want your mind to be clear on this unfortunate episode.”
A forensics team spent two hours poking and prodding about the arboretum and surrounding grounds as the two detectives walked among the jungle of plants. Salnave finally asked his superior, “What do you think?”
“Could a body be buried in here or outside? I doubt it. These plants are too well established. Lots of small plants next to the surface. Disturb them and they would show signs of wilting or discoloring from root shock.”
Having confirmed the school’s authenticity Azoris stood amid the towering jungle, waiting and sweltering. He really hated this assignment. It was doing nothing for his career. As expected the search was negative.
“Well, that’s about it, Dr. deVore. Nothing here corroborates the kid’s story and his brother is accounted for,” Azoris related. “I apologize for the inconvenience.”
“Not at all. You had to follow up on the lad’s story, bizarre as it sounded. I see by your ring you are married. Please take this for your bride,” the doctor said, handing him a small box containing an orchid.
“Why thank you. It’s beautiful.”
“Oh, wait until you smell it. That’s what this laboratory is all about, genetically engineering plants to benefit society.”
“When will you be sending Andrus off?”
“As soon as possible. It really is the best method for treating society’s problems.”
With the police gone the sprawling mansion was once again enveloped by its peculiar silence as deVore entered the room where Andrus had been locked up.
“You tricked them!”
“I told them what they wanted to hear.”
“You’re not going to feed me to your plants,” Andrus shouted hysterically, charging deVore and the partially opened door beyond, but within a few feet of escaping the doctor sprayed something into the boy’s face. The mist blinded him as he reeled sideways and staggered. A second spray sent him sprawling helplessly to the floor.
“A paralysis agent, Andrus. I extract it from a particular carnivorous plant. When an insect is drawn into its lair it exudes this chemical to immobilize the victim. Quite effective. The creature knows it’s being devoured, but can’t struggle and damage the plant’s delicate infrastructure,” the scientist explained as the youth flopped about the floor. “They always look under the plants. Who would guess to look in the plants?” deVore said with a chuckle, tossing the boy over his broad shoulder and carrying him to the arboretum. Placing him on a long, narrow, stainless steel table another quick spray insured he would be mentally alert, but physically defenseless.
“I try to be quite efficient here,” the doctor said, becoming chatty. “I really believe in recycling. The incinerator will reduced your clothes to ash to be mixed with compost. Any metal and plastic parts will, of course, be reduced to mere, unidentifiable lumps and casually mixed with the daily garbage.”
“I know you can understand me, Andrus,” deVore said looking into the boy’s terrified eyes. “This is a complete process. Your blood will drain into a special container beneath the table. After processing, other plants will absorb its nitrogen. I use everything. Recycling is the word these days. Sometimes I even convert some of the larger bones into fertilizer, too, but not this time, I think. You will simply be dissected into a number of parts to be deposited into the top of my very special carnivorous pitcher plants. I have named them Sarracenia humongissimus. They are big. Four meters tall. Those officers never thought to look up. Of course, the tops are camouflaged by banana trees. Each one of my beauties contains over 120 liters of enzymes that digest every molecule.
“I very nearly broke into a fit of laughter. They poked and prodded all around beneath my giant pitchers and not once thought to climb up and look inside. Not that they would have seen anything. It has been over twelve hours since Benjamin went splish-splash. That’s all it takes, really.
“Your brother was too skinny, though. They are still quite hungry. I thought I would have to use renderings from the slaughterhouse to supplement their diet, then those nice men brought you back. My plants really prefer human flesh.”
“Thank you for that very edifying admission, doctor.”
“Detective Salnave! What …?”
“I forgot my hat and thought I’d just stop on the way home. Quite a description. Was that intended to scare the lad to death, or just for your own perverted sense of humor?”
DeVore turned to look into the boy’s eyes. The terror had been replaced by a vision of rescue. As one corner of his face curled into a crooked, half smile, the doctor turned back to the detective.
“And Azoris’ investigation?”
“A petty nuisance. An expensive, petty nuisance. That’s what he called it. He’s allowing me the privilege of finishing the report. No glory in it for him. He should have forgotten his hat, then he could have been privy to that very descriptive confession.”
“Would make interesting reading in the tabloids.”
“Oh, yes. You would become infamous, I would become famous, and the ever successful Azoris a laughing stock. By the way the ghetto court is sending another tonight. A thief.”
“I don’t care about their offense. I only recycle society’s weeds. Now, hand me that pruning knife if you don’t mind.”
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