Chapter 5

Mabel and Van positively hounded Ivy with questions on the bus rides to and from school the next day. Did she get a good look at the puppy? Would the dogs be allowed to stay in the shed? Were they feeding Sparkle? Had Sparkle said anything to her?

The last question, from Mabel, drew a peculiar look from Ivy who was fielding questions as quickly as she could. Mabel and Van promised they would come see the puppy as soon as they were able, and made Ivy promise, in return, to tell them if the dogs were moved.

Today, instead of going straight home after getting off the school bus, Mabel tagged along with Holly and Petey, who lived above their parents’ store, Bumper’s Stuff Shop. She was low on ink for Clemmy’s printer, although when she’d asked him why he hadn’t warned her of the low ink supply, he’d haughtily informed her that the printer was merely a peripheral, and not a concern of his.

They arrived at Bumper’s, and Holly Bumper who, like her parents, took great pride in customer service, motioned toward the back of the store.

“Computer supplies are in aisle 15, in the back left-hand corner, Mabel,” she said with a polished smile.

Bumper’s was stuffed, floor to ceiling, with what appeared to be an unnavigable collection of merchandise. But ask any Bumper, or Bumper employee, and they could tell you without hesitation that umbrellas were in aisle 3, left side, eye level, or marbles at one dollar a scoop were in aisle 11, large barrel, halfway down on the right.

Mabel quickly located the ink cartridge she needed, and was heading toward the cashier at the front of the store, when an emphatic voice caught her attention. On a wall to her right, televisions, in all styles and sizes and tuned to the same station, flickered in sync.

“THIS country NEEDS to know,” said the man on tv, who was holding a press conference, “that TIM TUTTER has a NEW vision for America!” And AMERICA needs TIM TUTTER!”

Mabel recognized the face on the screen. She’d seen the celebrity real-estate tycoon in the news before, where he frequently appeared with a glamorous model on one arm, and his latest get-rich-quick book in the other.

“He’s running for president,” said a voice to Mabel’s left.

Mabel looked to see a willowy blonde, Kendall Huffing, scrutinizing the face on the television.

Kendall screwed up her face, as if critiquing Tutter’s performance, then made a proclamation. “I’d vote for him,” she said. “He’s pretty good-looking for an old guy.”

Yeah, thought Mabel, if you like hair so full of mousse it looks inflated.

Tutter continued his address to America. “And soon,” he said, pointing at the camera, “I will visit YOU, in YOUR towns and cities, to hear from YOU, what YOU see as America’s greatest needs!”

What we need, thought Mabel, is a president with common sense, but again she declined to voice her opinion for fear of drawing Kendall’s critical analysis her way.

It hadn’t worked. Mabel winced slightly as she felt the gaze boring into the side of her head.

“Mitchell’s really ticked,” Kendall said. “If I were you, I’d find someone besides that dweeby Peale to hang with for a while.”

“Thank you. I’ll take that into consideration,” said Mabel, turning toward the cashier.

“Hey,” said Kendall, now in a seemingly friendly tone. “How’s your history essay coming?”

“Well,” said Mabel, “it’s lucky that we have a while to work on it, because I haven’t gotten anywhere yet.”

“Too bad,” continued Kendall. “I think I’m going to call mine ‘Logjam’s Dirty Little Secrets.’”

Mabel wished she were not curious.

“You know there was a fire over here in East Logjam in 1915?” Kendall said. “Most of the East Side burned, and three people died.” Kendall paused to see if she still had Mabel’s attention. Satisfied, she continued. “The three people were the town drunk, his wife, and some witch.”

“A witch?” asked Mabel, incredulously.

“Well,” said Kendall, “the people around here thought she was, anyway, and the rumor is someone started a fire to drive those three out of town, but it got out of hand. But you know what’s really interesting?”

Kendall looked as though she had some real beans to spill, and Mabel shook her head slightly.

“The town drunk’s name was Crockett. Just wondered if you knew you had such impressive ancestors.”

Mabel felt stupid to have been led into such a conversation, and turned once more, when Kendall spoke again–this time in an awed voice.

“Oh my gosh, look what just walked in that door!”

Kendall’s jaw had dropped, and she stared with wide eyes, then hurriedly collected herself and fiddled with her hair. “Good grief Mabel, do I look okay?”

Mabel did not care whether Kendall looked okay, and did not answer, but she found that she had to agree with Kendall’s assessment, at least this time.

The man who entered Bumper’s looked to be in his late twenties. Just over six feet tall, with chestnut hair swept back off his handsome features, he wore snug fitting jeans and a tweed sports coat. He smiled at Mrs. Bumper and Holly, who looked as though they could hardly breathe, then picked up a pack of roll candy and waited at the cash register. Mabel, who recognized that this was the opportunity she needed to break away from Kendall, quickly got in line behind the man.

“Hi,” said the man to Coco Alda, the teen-aged cashier, as he pulled out his wallet to pay for the candy. “I’m hoping someone can tell me how to get to Halfslips’ Botanical Center from here.”

Coco giggled and took his money, but seemed unable to speak.

Mabel helped her. “Go a block south, and turn left on Rocky Creek Road. It’s just beyond the airfield on the right.”

The man shot her the most winning smile she’d received, and she felt a bit giddy herself.

Kendall seemed to have recovered her composure enough to chime in. “My advice,” she said in a softly demure voice which Mabel had not heard before, “if you’re looking for plants, that is, would be to go to Carlson’s Nursery in West Logjam. The people at Halfslips’ are…well…a little cuckoo, and they really don’t sell plants. They just do research and stuff.”

“I thank you, young ladies, for your help,” said the man. And with a nod, he exited the shop, climbed into a black car, and drove away.

Mrs. Bumper, Holly, and Coco all released tremendous sighs.


Mabel got home to a press office in full hum. Downstairs, Paulo was tinkering with a jammed fax machine, and several layout and design people were organizing pages on the worktables.

Mabel trotted up the stairs to a cluttered office where her father was pecking at a keyboard, and her mother was sorting through advertisements that would need to be pieced in around the next issue’s articles.

“Let’s see,” said Mrs. Crockett. “Hatfield’s Hedgehog Niblets needs to go in the rear classifieds, and Moondrop Cola wants the entire inside front cover. And hello Mabel! How was school?”

Mrs. Crockett smiled at Mabel, and pushed hair, escaping as always from its bun, out of her face.

“Okay,” Mabel replied. “And I think Mrs. Nebbins’ fern is looking better already.”

“Speaking of school,” interjected Mr. Crockett, “or not school, as the case may be, you’ve got a long weekend coming up.”

“Are we going somewhere?” asked Mabel hopefully.

“Yes,” replied her dad. “As a matter of fact, this weekend is an excellent opportunity to fly out to Cochiti Spring for the healing retreats article.”

“I think you’ll like it,” said Mrs. Crockett, as she straightened her stack of advertising copy. “I think I’ll like it. It’s a spa out west in the desert, built around a spring which is said to have remarkable curative properties.”

“I hope,” said Mabel, “that there’s a good place to swim.”

“By the way, Mabel,” said Mr. Crockett, just as Mabel had turned to go downstairs, “Parker Halfslip tells me Buster…is that what you’re calling him?”

Mabel nodded.

“Buster,” her father continued, “sings a lot, and is particularly fond of cashews and plantains.”

“That’s neat, Dad,” said Mabel, feeling under her jacket for the inside pocket where the elf had been nestling yesterday. But instead of the shapeless jacket lining she expected to feel, there was something flat and smooth.

“Oh, Dad,” she said, “I almost forgot to give you this.” She pulled the yellow envelope out of her pocket and handed it to Mr. Crockett, who seemed to be waiting for further explanation.

“There’s this man in town. His name is Verdon Arbogast, and he was poking around the empty lot down near the health food store. Van and I talked to him, and he gave me this picture for you.”

Mrs. Crockett rolled her chair over so she could look as Mr. Crockett pulled the photo out of the envelope.

“I don’t think I know these guys,” said Mr. Crockett, eyeing the photograph.

“I don’t either,” added Mrs. Crockett. “Although…something about the fellow on the right rings a bell.”

“Mr. Arbogast is the one on the left,” said Mabel, “but he’s older than that now. He said he knew you a long time ago, Dad.”

Mr. Crockett studied the photograph again, with a puzzled expression. “I really don’t think I know this guy,” he said, shaking his head, “but your mother’s right about the other one. He looks like someone I’ve seen before.”

“It’s all feexed!” came the voice of a very pleased Paulo, as he entered the room. “You can fax some more now!” Paulo glanced over Mr. Crockett’s shoulder. “Hey, who is that? That must be one of Mabelina’s uncles. He looks a lot more alike to her than you guys.”

“That’s what Van thinks too,” said Mabel.

Mabel looked at her mother. Mrs. Crockett had a very strange expression on her face and she looked at Mr. Crockett who shook his head.

“None of Mabel’s uncles look like her,” said Mr. Crockett. “Maybe I’ll talk to this Arbogast fellow when I get a chance. I’ll ask him why he wanted me to have this.” Mr. Crockett tucked the photograph into his wallet and returned the wallet to his pocket.

“There’s another thing I found out today,” said Mabel, changing the subject. “Did you guys know that there were people who died in the 1915 fire whose last name was Crockett?”

“Well,” said Mr. Crockett, “this property that we built the Press on had been in the family for quite a few years before it passed to me, so it stands to reason that there were Crocketts in town back then. I think I’ve probably heard that before.”

“Come on Mabel,” said Mrs. Crockett, putting her work to bed in a drawer with a firm slam. “Let’s go make spaghetti.”

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