Chapter 7

“Maybe it’s not the same Verdon Arbogast,” suggested Mabel, as she, Van, and Ivy collected their backpacks. “Maybe the guy in the yearbook is his father, or grandfather.”

“Well,” said Ivy, pondering the possibilities, “if he was 18 when the yearbook was published, then he would now be…106.”

“Maybe,” added Van, kicking the floor, “Arbogast is insane.”

Mabel held open the library door. “Could be,” she said, “but that doesn’t explain what he’s doing in a yearbook from 1913.”

Ivy exited first. “Hey Mabel, there are your folks,” she said, looking across the street.

Clara and Peter Crockett waved from the porch of the Reminis’ house, and motioned for the kids to join them on the other side of the street.

“Do you guys feel like eating?” asked Mrs. Crockett, after they had safely crossed.

“When does Van not feel like eating?” asked Mabel.

“Too true,” responded Van.

“We walked down here for some of Paulo’s end-of-season tomatoes,” said Mr. Crockett, holding up a paper bag, “and now we’re meeting the Peales at Mona Lisa’s.”

“Ivy,” said Mrs. Crockett, “why don’t you phone your parents from the co-op and see if you can stay. We’ll give you a ride home after dinner.”

Noah and Sonja Peale joined the Crocketts, Van, and Ivy at a spacious corner table in Mona Lisa’s dining room.

“Franz said he’d handle the kitchen for now,” said Mrs. Peale as she sat down, “but I owe him one.”

“Tonight,” added Mr. Peale selecting the largest chair at the table, “dinner is on us. Peter, you and Clara did a fantastic job on that magazine piece.”

Mabel was in the mood for something substantial and chose salmon for dinner. Van selected a pasta dish, and Ivy requested organic vegetables served with rice pilaf.

“I can’t wait to try the kumbana in a recipe,” she said.

Mrs. Peale delivered the food orders to the kitchen after everyone had made a selection, and returned to the table with a tray of soup cups.
“As an appetizer,” said Mrs. Peale, ceremoniously handing out the soup, “everyone must try something new. This soup is made from the greens of amazonias claracrockett. The plant was named, as you may have guessed, after Clara Crockett who received it as a gift from natives of the Amazon basin, then introduced it to me. The Halfslips, meanwhile, have successfully propagated this delectable plant, and as a result, we’re witnessing the creation of a Logjam original. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Crockett Chowder!”

“Oh, Sonja,” said Mrs. Crockett, after she’d savored her first spoonful, “this is wonderful, but you should call it Peale Chowder. It’s your creative genius.”

“No, Clara,” argued Mrs. Peale, “you aren’t going to find Noah or me flying to South America in that bucket of bolts. The cook must give credit where credit is due.”

“As I understand it,” began Mr. Crockett, “this little herb stubbornly refused to thrive when the Halfslips first got it. In fact, Porter says they would have lost the sample entirely without Ivy’s help.”

“What did you do, Ivy?” asked Mabel.

Ivy shrugged as if it were no big deal. “I just talked to it,” she said.

“Ivy,” said Mr. Peale, “maybe after dinner you can talk to the begonias in my window boxes.”

A lanky man with carrot-red hair combed into a pompadour stopped by the corner table on his way out of the restaurant. It was Carmine Shirtle from the dress shop next door.
“The Crockett soup,” he said, forming an “ok” sign with his thumb and index finger, “have it every night.”

Mabel and Van had decided it was best not to mention Verdon Arbogast’s increasingly strange behavior, or the yearbook photograph to their parents for now.
“If they know what a kook he is,” Van had suggested, “they might worry too much.”
But by the time the Crockett’s old Jeep climbed the hill to Halfslips’ to drop off Ivy, they were not thinking of Arbogast at all, and scrambled out to see Buster and the dogs.

First they followed Ivy to the potting shed where Sparkle’s nest had been enhanced with blankets, and nearby food and water. Sparkle was sitting up, as if she expected company, and her wiry fur was clean and groomed. She nudged the pup with her nose. He stretched, yawned and began to sniff around at her feet.

“He’s getting some fluff,” said Mabel reaching out to gently scratch his tiny ears.

The puppy was mostly white, like his mother, but in addition to his ears and the tip of his tail which were black, he was marked with a large, irregularly shaped brown spot on his back, solid except for a tiny, black starburst shape near his neck, and a narrow stripe of white running in a zigzag from the starburst to the lower edge of the brown patch.

“His name is Sig,” said Sparkle. She began to lick the puppy vigorously, while he braced himself and closed his eyes more tightly than before.

“You named him Sig?” Mabel asked Ivy.

Ivy looked at Mabel peculiarly. “No, actually we haven’t named him. You think we should call him what…Sig?”

“Yeah,” said Mabel, nodding.

“How about Socrates, or Plato,” suggested Van.

Ivy looked from Sparkle to Mabel, then to the pup. “No,” she said, “I think Sig suits him.”


“It’s late, Pop-pop,” Porter Halfslip said to Norton, as Mabel, Van, and Ivy entered Greenhouse 3. Norton Halfslip, pulling a watering hose behind him, was slowly shuffling from fern to fern so each could have a drink.

“Look at Buster,” said Van, pointing toward the oldest Mr. Halfslip. The dark elf, now a flannel-red color, appeared rooted to Norton’s shoulder as he pointed his slender, fuzzy arm toward plants which were most in need of a soaking. There was little daylight left, and the indoor hanging lights, set to dim on a timer, were beginning to fade.

“Buster’s nesting in the baobab tree,” explained Ivy, as Buster, recognizing that the day’s work was ending, hopped off of Norton’s shoulder onto the thick trunk of a tree which bore several unripe gourd-shaped fruits.

Norton acknowledged the kids with a broad smile which made his face crinkle up like a peach pit. Then he carefully closed the valve handle at the end of the hose and took Porter’s arm. Mabel, Van and Ivy stepped aside as the two Mr. Halfslips eased their way along the narrow greenhouse walkway, but as he passed Mabel, Norton paused and squeezed her hand before continuing on to the house with Porter.

“Dad has always had a special thing for Mabel, hasn’t he?” said Parker Halfslip, as he and Mr. Crockett entered the greenhouse to find the children.

“Yes,” acknowledged Mabel’s father, “he was extremely supportive of us throughout Clara’s pregnancy, which was a difficult one. When you were born,” he continued, addressing Mabel, “he sent us the biggest basket of Halfslip fruits you’ve ever seen.”

“Mr. Halfslip,” Mabel said to Parker, “when did your father stop talking?”

Parker sat down on the edge of a flower bed. “About eight years ago, when my mother died,” replied Parker. “He had a stroke. For a while he didn’t seem interested in recovering at all, but he never lost interest in the plants, and that, I think, is what keeps him going.”

“My great-grandmother was a teenage wing-walker when they met,” said Ivy.

“Sounds like a mutant insect,” said Van.

“No, goofball,” said Mabel, “I’ve heard this story before. She was a stunt person who walked on the airplane’s wings in a show, and Mr. Halfslip flew the airplane.”

“That’s right,” continued Ivy, “Pop-pop was a stunt flyer, and the show hired Granny as a walker. That’s how they met.”

“Hmm,” mused Van, “stunt flyer to horticulturalist. That’s an interesting career shift.”

“It was my fault, really,” explained Parker. “They traveled with the air show for a good many years until my mother became pregnant, and that changed everything for her. She couldn’t wing-walk anymore, and wanted Dad in a safe profession, too. So plants, which had been his second love, moved into first place.”

“After Granny, of course,” corrected Ivy.

“That’s neat,” said Mabel.

“That’s wild,” added Van.

“Mr. Halfslip,” began Mabel, perching herself on a planter wall near Parker, “your father has lived in Logjam longer than anyone else I know. Did he ever talk about anyone named Crockett who died in the 1915 fire?”

“We saw someone in an old yearbook named Jonah Crockett,” added Ivy.

“Yes,” continued Mabel, “and people at the time thought he was a drunk.”

Parker chuckled, and gazed at the ceiling as if recalling information. “Yes,” he said, “Dad had a friend named Jonah Crockett. In fact, I think this goes back to when Dad first became interested in plants and their uses. He used to tell me stories, so I know at least part of it.”

“Is the drunk part true, Grandpa?” asked Ivy.

“Okay,” said Parker, “let me get to that. Jonah Crockett had a wife named Laura, and they lived with a teacher whose name was…”

“Colleen Wickers,” said Mabel and Van together.

“Right,” said Parker, pleased to have an attentive audience. “Now, Norton was just a kid at the time, and he lived down the street from Miss Wickers who, of course, was his science teacher because it was a very small school and she taught all the science.

“Anyway, she and the Crocketts, who by this time were out of school and married, had a pretty fantastic herb garden in their yard which Miss Wickers used for her other profession, which was herbal medicine. The Crocketts were helping her and learning the craft, sort of like apprentices.”

“But Jonah got a little too carried away with the dandelion wine, huh?” asked Van.

Mabel snarled and pushed him off the wall.

“No violence, please,” said Parker, continuing. “Miss Wickers hired Norton to help out in the garden. This was where he began learning about weeding, growing seedlings, using different plant parts, etc. And, he came to really look up to and admire Jonah, who was sort of like a big brother to him.”

“Wow,” said Mabel, “he must have been crushed when they died.”

“Well, that’s an interesting thing,” replied Parker. “If the deaths were brought up in conversation, Dad usually just changed the subject. I guess it was his way of coping with it, but he continued to speak of those people as if they’d just moved away, not like there’d been a tragedy. One thing he was very outspoken about though, was this rumor that Jonah had a drinking problem. Dad was adamant that it was not true, that the symptoms had some other cause.”

“Why did people say that about Jonah, then?” asked Mabel.

“There was something wrong with him,” continued Parker, “no doubt about it. It started out slowly and got worse over the several years that Dad knew him. He tripped a lot. He’d fall down in public, drop things. Sometimes his hand would shake and he’d spill a drink or not be able to write. His speech began to slur, to the point where only his wife, Miss Wickers, and Norton could understand him. Sometimes people saw him laughing uncontrollably, sometimes crying as if he couldn’t stop.”

“Did he see the doctor?” asked Mabel.

“Miss Wickers told Norton that there was no doctor who could help him,” responded Parker.

Van’s attention to the conversation had gone from casual to intense, as Parker described Jonah’s symptoms. “No,” said Van slowly, “there was no doctor who could help him.”

Everyone looked at Van.

“Even nowadays,” continued Van, “there isn’t much anyone can do for ALS.”

“Lou Gehrig’s?” asked Parker.

“What?” asked Mabel, “are you talking in secret code?”

“Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,” began Van, explaining his theory, “is a progressive disease that attacks nerve cells and connections to the brain and spinal cord. Motor neurons die, and the brain can no longer control the muscles.”

“Then what happens?” asked Mabel.

“Eventually,” said Van, “usually within a few years, the person will die when muscles that control stuff like breathing don’t work anymore.”

Mr. Crockett added, “There was a famous baseball player who had the disease, so it’s often known by his name, Lou Gehrig’s disease.”

“So,” said Ivy, “Jonah would have died anyway. That’s sad.”

“Well,” said her grandfather, “Van’s just taking a guess, but it was most likely something like that.”

“Okay, guys,” said Mr. Crockett, “we’d better go grab Mom off the front porch and get Van home. The Peales are going to think we fell in a hole.”

“Time to close up here anyway,” added Parker.

Mabel looked up into the baobab tree where a small hammock, made out of a bandanna had been strung between two branches. “Goodnight Buster,” she called.

“Yiroo,” responded a tiny voice.

The five exited the greenhouse into the botanical center’s parking area. A pair of college-age interns who worked part time waved as they pulled out of the lot. Ivy’s parents got up from cozy front porch rockers, along with Mrs. Crockett.

“Remember Mary,” said Mrs. Crockett to Mrs. Halfslip, “you must go and get some soup from Sonja tomorrow, now that we’ve all had a hand in its creation.”

Before Mrs. Halfslip could respond, everyone’s attention was diverted by a set of headlights just reaching the crest of the hill. A black sedan pulled purposefully into the botanical center parking lot.

Mabel had seen the car before, outside of Bumper’s Stuff Shop. That’s the one, she thought, as out stepped the tall and handsome man to whom she had given directions, and whose striking looks had rendered Coco Alda speechless.

The man straightened his coat, brushed his hair off his face and approached the group. “I’m looking for Porter or Parker Halfslip,” he said.

“I’m Porter,” said Porter, “and that’s Parker right over there.”

The stranger turned to Porter and held open his wallet which contained some sort of identification. “Reynolds Manderley, Department of Illegal Substances. I’m investigating a report of illegal plants being grown on these premises. It will be in everyone’s best interest to cooperate.”

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