Long after the last visitors had left for the day, in those hours after dusk fell but before night commenced, they summoned him. He entered the big room, wiping the sweat from his forehead and cursing. They ignored the former, and didn’t care about the latter. As long as he came when they called, that was all that counted. He was taller than many, this man who constantly sweated and swore, but all of them gathered could remember taller, though none less diligent. He had inherited his role, as had his father before him, and that man’s father before him, and so on going back as long as there had been plants here, long before Kew Gardens existed.
The man took off his coat and casually dropped it carelessly upon the path. All present noted, however, that no part of the coat covered anything green; the man would not make that mistake again. Not after the first and last time. He stepped over one of the short runs of chicken wire and prepared to lay upon the cacti. This was a part the man disliked intensely, yet those present cared little for his preferences, and to be truthful, even the man knew the discomfort was as nothing compared to the unpleasantness of the communication.
As the thousands of pinpricks entered his skin, the plants around him moved; ferns covered his extremities and the man felt a rush of warm air as the door to the carnivorous plants was pushed open. He could smell the unpleasant odour but he knew they were merely there as guards, protectors for the president of the gardens. He looked up as the stag fern stretched out to him, covered his face and received his report, then gave him further instructions. No, the triffids had not been found yet; yes, there were some plants not native to the UK intended for bedding shortly; no, the amount they paid him was not enough, but would have to suffice.
Later, when the man had gone, once again the old arguments commenced, but as always the president had the final word. The private investigator of the plant world would continue his duties, and the plants would endure.
Soon the lights would come, and the water, and the plants – even the carnivores – would be happy.
Until they were not…