The Puppeteer and the Gardener
The bruises will bloom later, like the blue and purple petals of a spring hydrangea. For now his face is marred only by the blushing red and pink blossom of newly damaged flesh, the blood rushing to colour his skin like an army marching on the defense.
“That’s enough, let’s go.”
I turn and follow her out of the garage, leaving our victim to discover the shades of the new flowers I have planted. They call me The Gardener.
As we head back towards the van, my boot hits a puddle of rainwater. The dirty drops fly upward at my toe, the ripples in the water expanding as do the consequences. Little could I know then the effect this small rippling puddle in a backstreet car park would have.
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“You bloody fool,” she shouts at me, already forgetting my good work this evening, the physical and mental endurance I have given for her sake. Little does she think about the sacrifice of my soul with each beating I give at her command, each cut of my knife in the delicate flesh of her enemies, each battering I deliver to her business rivals. And all just to save her another thousand quid here and there, to nourish her garden.
A victory for her means a victim for me. I am just a puppet on a string, a toy soldier in her turf war. Everyone is afraid of The Puppeteer — everyone but me. I have never seen her deliver violence; she always acts through me. I am the powerful one. I am The Gardener. Fear is the hand that pulls the strings.
My cheek pulses as I grit my teeth. The brown spots of dirt on her trouser leg spread like stubborn weeds.
“Bugger off,” she grunts, dismissing me. The words fly from scarlet-lined lips like venom from a virulent vine. She turns to climb into the driver’s seat of the 4×4.
“No,” my voice hits the cold night air in a puff of pale defiance against the black, reaching out like the fingers of a fern.
She stops as if my single word was the physical restraint that is the gunshot yet to come. Gravel scrapes under her foot as she twists back around to face me. The Puppeteer lowers the strings as I raise the gun in my hand, forcing it up against her will. My grip is so tight on the weapon that my knuckles show the white of bone pressing hard against the thin layer of skin.
I’ve killed before, many times. I’ve hurt before, countless times. I’ve seen blood flow like ravaged rose petals, I’ve seen bones snap like dry twigs, I’ve seen lives crushed like the delicate wing of a butterfly under a careless foot. All for her. All at her request. But never at my own will.
As each gunshot rings out, echoing in a dance across the rooftops like a warrior’s Haka, a string snaps, a tie breaks. The Puppeteer’s power is lost; she no longer holds the strings.