A third rose-bush. “Kes,” said Mike. “You sad hopeless urban southerner. It won’t matter that they won’t make it through their first winter here, because the deer will have eaten them to toothpicks already. When your sister comes to visit, make her take them back with her.”
I was staring at my rose-bushes. What? That explained the dragon’s-jawbone silhouette but it didn’t explain anything else. “I don’t have a sister,” I said.
“Your best friend, then,” said Mike, and the thought of Norah, several hours of intense driving away, went through me so sharply I grunted like he’d hit me. I was used to having her a few minutes away on the subway. ‘Few’ being somewhat mutable, depending on what kind of a mood the subway was in.
“There are roses growing up the back of the house,” I said. “It’s called Rose Manor.”
“Sure,” said Mike. “They could call it anything they liked a hundred years ago when they had full-time gardeners to dig trenches every autumn for the roses and cover ’em up with straw and burlap and dirt. And maintain the rabbit fences. And enough hunters and private game wardens to keep the deer population down. The roses you still got are the mutant briars that even our climate and wildlife can’t kill, and they keep their strength up by eating small children and dogs. Sid’s okay, but if you adopt a Chihuahua don’t let it out alone.”
He disappeared for a moment, back into the van, there was a thumping and scraping noise and he reappeared carrying a fourth rose-bush.
“How many are there?” I burst out before I thought.
He gave me a look.
I rubbed a hand over my messy hair. “I don’t know, okay?” I said irritably. “I admit that my last few days in Manhattan are a bit of blur, but I thought the only rose-bush I brought was the one that was already out sitting in the driveway when you arrived. That I had put on the van last. Which has been sitting on the porch of the Friendly Campfire the last two days.”
He put the fourth one down and went back into the van.
“The suspense is killing me,” I muttered.
Mike was heroically carrying two pots this time. “Last one,” he said, plopping the sixth down next to her five friends. “Yeah. Okay. I was a little off the wall after my divorce, and she’s the one moved out of town.”
I didn’t say anything. How could I say that I was sure I hadn’t brought five extra rose-bushes because hauling the first one from the roof garden to the parking garage had been a traumatic enough event to have some profile even in my dangerously unreliable memory? Not to mention wishing to avoid pissing off Mr Diamond-Studded Shoelaces. Oh, bleep. He could hardly not notice six missing rose-bushes. . . .
I frowned. The five dragon’s-jawbone roses’ pots didn’t match the Tiffany knock-off pot my known felony was in—they were smaller, for one thing. I didn’t think even Mike could carry two of the first one. I knelt beside the nearest of the new ones. These roses hadn’t been pruned back quite as hard as mine—er—as the first one—which was perhaps further evidence that they were from a different source. So maybe Darla and Mr Diamond-Studded Shoelaces’ personal assistant weren’t going to be vying for the pleasure of dismembering me. (However since Darla was a one-woman vigilante force this was less reassuring than it might have been.) I concentrated on the flower pot. Granted my experience of ordinary flower pots was limited, but my mother had geraniums and begonias and the occasional pot of herbs on her windowsills, and Norah had a flower-pot-stuffed balcony—although she wouldn’t appreciate a donation of six rose-bushes if I followed Mike’s advice. (And the gardener in charge of the garden on her building’s roof was one of the biggest thugs on the planet. All he needed was a staff made of a dragon’s jawbone and he would be attempting to take over the universe. And he didn’t like roses.)
I couldn’t even guess what this pot was made of. It wasn’t plastic or metal or wood. It wasn’t terracotta and it wasn’t fiberglass. What else did they make flower pots out of? It was slightly rough to the touch and slightly—weirdly—warm, although that had to be something to do with sitting next to something hot in the van. (I paused here to pray to the transport gods that if the van was going to blow up, it wouldn’t do so till JoJo got it back to Manhattan, where Mr Screaming Skull could deal with it.) And it was too small for a self-respecting rose-bush to live in for long.
“Is it all coming back to you?” said Mike, grinning again.
“No,” I said.
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