Chapter 11

Mabel leaned forward in her seat and looked out the window. The wing of the Shooting Star reached for the clouds above it as Mr. Crockett eased the plane into a u-turn. Below, the landscape was a barren expanse of dirt and scrub, and the lush Cochiti Spring oasis was miles behind them.

Bailey booted up with a hum. “Good morning Peter,” he said. “Are we ready to head home now?”

“Hi Bailey, yes,” responded Mr. Crockett. “Check my settings please?”

“Everything looks fine,” the computer said, “I’ll let you know if adjustments are needed.”

From her seat Mabel could see Bailey’s screen switch to a screen-saver pattern featuring a flock of storks. She fingered the glass vial hanging around her neck and wondered when she might make use of it. It would be easy enough to get some into Paulo’s coffee, at the Press office, but how she might slip a dose to Mrs. Remini was another problem. She felt fortunate that her own parents had a quieter way of resolving their disagreements.

Her own parents. In her thirteen years she’d never had any reason to suppose Peter and Clara Crockett were anything but her own parents. And Dr. Rotter had dismissed Verdon Arbogast’s strange message to Mabel. But what of Dun’s words? Could there be someone in her past she didn’t know about? It was time to find out if her parents knew anything else.

Mabel threw a question out, to neither of her parents in particular. “Do I have any godparents, or grandparents, or people like that whom I don’t know?”

“You know them all,” answered Mrs. Crockett. “Why do you ask?”

“Well,” began Mabel, trying to decide how best to phrase her concerns. “I know that dryads don’t always seem to make perfect sense. Margie told me that herself. But I don’t think Dun was making up what he said…”

“Dun?” interrupted Mr. Crockett. “Is he that tree guy you were telling us about? What’d he say?”

“Dryan,” said Mabel. “And I talked to him again. He was talking like I have parents somewhere…I mean, not you guys, someone else. Anyway, I’ve been getting some weird ideas lately, and I just wondered if you knew about someone whom I haven’t met yet, or something.”

“Weird ideas,” said Mr. Crockett, “like what?”

Mabel fiddled with a magazine in her lap. “Well, I know it’s not like I’m adopted or anything, because Dr. Rotter was there. Maybe someone would just think that because I don’t look like you guys.”

Mabel looked at her mother who appeared to be contemplating the bolts holding her father’s seat to the floor. “Peter…” began Mrs. Crockett quietly.

“Yeah…” said Mr. Crockett, nodding his head, “you’re right. Mabel should know everything we know.”

There was something. The notion surprised Mabel more than she had expected it to. “What do you know?” she asked.

“Hold on to your hat,” said Mr. Crockett.

“Peter,” said Mrs. Crockett, “it’s not that shocking.”

“Besides, Dad,” added Mabel, “I’m not wearing a hat.”

“Okay…” said Mrs. Crockett, beginning slowly. “When Dad and I got married we both really wanted a child. We didn’t want to wait a few years, we were ready. But it didn’t happen, and it didn’t happen, until finally, we were told by a doctor who specializes in that sort of thing that it would probably never happen.”

“A few years later,” Mr. Crockett continued, “we inherited property in Logjam and decided that if we couldn’t have a baby, we’d have a magazine, so we opened Eurus Press.”

“We were happy,” said Mrs. Crockett, “we loved the magazine, and our new friends in Logjam. Especially the Halfslips.”

“Yeah,” said Mr. Crockett, “We were such bad gardeners that the garden behind the press office is really only there thanks to Norton Halfslip’s work. Now Paulo keeps it up, but when Norton was active, he was always over planting or weeding, or just shooting the breeze.”

“When do I come in to this story?” asked Mabel.

Bailey hummed and emitted a chirp. “Pardon me Peter, but south-easterly winds are making a slight compass adjustment necessary. Just two degrees, thank you, that’s perfect.”

“One day,” continued Mrs. Crockett, “Norton announced to Dad and me that he had a tremendous favor to ask of us. We were very surprised when he told us what the favor was. He wanted us to become parents. I told him we were sorry, we wanted that too, but it just hadn’t turned out to be in the cards for us.”

“And Norton said,” said Mr. Crockett, turning to smile at Mrs. Crockett, “’The deck has just been shuffled and redealt.’”

“Norton had come to trust us,” said Mrs. Crockett, “and because we trusted him just as much, we agreed to what might seem like a strange scheme.”

“Mabel, do you know how tiny babies are when they first start to grow inside a mother?” asked Mr. Crockett.

“You can’t see them. They’re just a few cells. They’re dot sized,” answered Mabel.

“Yes,” continued her father, “and at that point, it’s possible for that small cluster of cells to be transplanted to a different mother.”

Mabel wrinkled her nose as if it would help her process the information. “That’s sort of like being adopted, only a lot earlier than usual. Is that how you got me? Was I transplanted to you?”

“Yes.” Mabel’s mother was looking at her in a strange way, as if trying to assess how Mabel would feel about this news. Mabel looked at the floor. Then at the ceiling. Somehow she felt like she should be shocked or upset, but she wasn’t.

“That’s ok,” she said. “But it’s weird. I’m glad Norton picked you guys.”

“Mabel,” said Mrs. Crockett giving Mabel the biggest hug she could from the confines of the airplane seat, “you were what we wanted from the beginning.”

Mr. Crockett looked back again, “Norton thought he was asking a favor of us. In fact, he was giving us the best gift in the world.”

“Okay,” said Mabel, “but there is a kind of important detail you’re leaving out. Where did I come from?”

“Norton wouldn’t tell us,” answered Mr. Crockett. “He’d just say that a child who was very dear to him needed parents. And we trusted him.”

“Sometimes,” said Mrs. Crockett, “you just know something is right, and you go with your instincts. We were right.”

The remaining two hours of the flight passed quietly. Mabel’s parents encouraged her to ask any questions she might have, but seemed to understand that she’d need to do some thinking on her own. Occasionally Bailey interrupted the silence to recommend a minor navigational adjustment, and soon Mabel could see the earth well enough to recognize the great greenness below as the dense forest of the Algonquin Basin, north of Logjam. The treetops resembled an unending patch of moss, with the Willibunk River cutting a zigzag down the middle.

The trees thinned slightly and the tiny grid of Logjam’s streets grew closer as Mr. Crockett guided the Star toward the airfield. For a moment, before the plane’s angle changed her field of view, Mabel glimpsed what appeared to be a thick cluster of people in the middle of River Street at the base of the Willibunk River Bridge.

“Is something supposed to be happening in town today?” she asked.

The Star shuddered slightly as Mr. Crockett straightened toward the airfield.

“Let’s see,” said Mrs. Crockett, “It’s Sunday. I can’t think of anything. Maybe Milo O’Boyle’s giving out free samples.”

“Not likely,” said Mr. Crockett. “Besides, whatever it is seems to be happening near the bridge. Mabel, you can go check once we dump the bags. Mom and I better make sure Paulo and the gang have everything under control.”

Mabel’s insides rattled along with the plane as they hit the ground and taxied across the field.

Bailey shut down with a polite “see you next time, everyone,” and Mabel climbed into the cargo hold to haul out her duffel bag. She dragged it through the hatch and onto the wing, then pushed it off the edge to her father who tossed it into the back of the waiting jeep. Mabel climbed into the vehicle after her father, and Mrs. Crockett drove them off the airfield onto the bumpier Rocky Creek Road, then to Eurus Press to unload.

It looked to be chimney week at the Fairweathers. On the sidewalk which was colorfully splashed with chalk drawings by the younger Fairweathers, Boris Fairweather had set out eleven assorted clay chimney pots. Several resembled flowers, others were more like castle turrets, and one reminded Mabel of a pig snout. On the newly constructed chimney was Boris himself, fitting a twelfth chimney pot to the very top.

“Hey Crocketts,” called Mr. Fairweather, “which one do you like? I’ve tried them all at least once and I can’t decide!”

“Nevermind Boris,” said Mrs. Fairweather, climbing out a window, since the door was blocked by chimney pots, “we’ll let the kids vote.”

Mabel looked at her father. “I’m heading down the street now,” she said.

“You okay, Mabes?” asked Mr. Crockett.

“Yeah,” she replied, “actually, I’m very okay.”

Mabel hurried down River Street toward the bridge. Ahead, a crowd milled about with most folks more or less facing some action on the street corner. Small children darted about at the rear, racing or playing tag. Mabel immediately thought of the Logjam Street Fair which the town held every few years, but there were no balloons or decorations. Besides, there wasn’t supposed to be another fair until next Fall.

Drawing closer, Mabel now heard, above the buzzing of the crowd, an emphatic voice amplified through loudspeakers. A voice which somehow reminded Mabel of a commercial for hair mousse.

“It is what YOU hold dear to YOUR hearts, ladies and gentlemen, and YOUR needs, which will make TIM TUTTER, the candidate of YOUR choice for PRESIDENT of YOUR Country!”

There was a dramatic pause, broken by scattered applause. Mabel threaded her way closer to the hub of the crowd.

Mr. Big Hair himself, thought Mabel, watching the celebrity tycoon wind himself up for his next verbal explosion. He wasn’t kidding, she thought wryly, he did come to MY town.

“DO the other candidates know the intricacies of the AMERICAN ECONOMY like TIM TUTTER does?” asked Tim Tutter into his microphone. “Do THEY want what YOU want, like TIM TUTTER does?”

Mabel glanced around the crowd. From across the semi-circular gathering Van caught her eye and gestured for her to come. Winding her way back to the edge of the throng, she met Van on the other side of the circle.

“Can you believe this guy?” asked Van. “What is he doing in Logjam?”

“Running for president, obviously,” stated Mabel.

“Is YOUR economy BOOMING, ladies and gentlemen?” the speakers blared again. “I think NOT! Would YOU like to see NEW money surging into the coffers of YOUR local banks?”

Mabel scanned the crowd, noticing many raised eyebrows. “I’m not sure Logjam’s ready for this guy,” she said.

“Where’s this new money supposed to come from, his pockets?” wondered Van aloud.

“I see it on your faces,” continued Tutter in a pathetically sincere tone. “You’re thinking, ‘Tim, you’ve hit the button right on the nose. We need you Tim. How can you help us?’”

“Yeah,” snorted Van, “that’s just what I was thinking.”

Tutter ruffled the hair of an escaped toddler, in order to demonstrate his earnestness. “Citizens of Logjam,” he said, his voice beginning to rise again. “YOU have come to the RIGHT PERSON. TIM TUTTER can help you bolster your SAGGING economy. ‘How Tim? How can you do that?’ you’re asking.”

“How Tim? How can you do that?” said Mabel.

Tutter nodded to a perky blonde assistant, who quickly trotted to his side with a stack of charts.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” said Tutter, pointing to a colorful and very familiar cartoon character. “You YOURSELVES have seen how the right mascot, such as this mouse, combined with financial know-how, can TRANSFORM a barren piece of real estate into a self-perpetuating GOLDMINE!”

Van began to sing, “M-I-C, K-E…”

“Wait a minute, look,” said Mabel, as Tutter unveiled a second chart. She’d done enough fly-overs to recognize a map of her part of the country.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” continued Tutter, indicating the expansive green forests north of Logjam, “TIM TUTTER knows gold when he sees it. And he’s here to tell YOU, that YOUR town could be the gate to a veritable EL DORADO! All you need is a man with a VISION! Well folks, TIM TUTTER is that man. TIM TUTTER has the know-how, and now, TIM TUTTER has the MASCOT!”

Tutter reached over and dramatically unveiled the remaining picture. “Ladies and Gentlemen of Logjam, I give you BILLY BEE!”

There was a pained silence, followed by several snorts and a guffaw from the crowd. Mabel could not have imagined a more awkwardly rendered cartoon of an insect. She looked at Van who was audibly clearing his throat.

A very young voice from the clump of onlookers said, “That’s not a very good picture, is it Mommy?”

Giggles rippled across the crowd, but Tutter seemed unconcerned. “Good people of Logjam,” he began again, “I ask YOU to consider THIS. YOU need only put TIM TUTTER and BILLY BEE to work for YOU, and we will open up a tourists’ KINGDOM unlike any the world has seen BEFORE! For NOW, I will leave you with this idea. CONSIDER the BENEFITS such an enterprise could bring to YOUR town, and we will speak again, this evening, at a PRESS CONFERENCE to be held at YOUR local library. I will see you THERE!”

Tutter and several assistants climbed quickly into a waiting limousine which turned and sped across the Willibunk River Bridge.

“Okay,” said Van, as the limo’s dust settled, “I guess he’s staying on the west side.”

“Do you have some time?” asked Mabel. “Want to go see Ivy and the dogs?”

Van nodded and turned around, but froze suddenly. “I may not live that long,” he said.

Mabel looked across the street. The lanky form of Mitchell Blunt was ambling across River Street, flanked by two of his shorter, beefier friends, Hurley Applewood and Reb Campanella. Leaning casually against a bookstore window behind them was Kendall Huffing, with a knowing smirk on her face.

“You’ve had it Peale!” spat Mitchell, as he and his cronies closed in on Van and Mabel.

Mabel glanced right and left, hoping there was enough lingering crowd to discourage Mitchell from becoming violent in the middle of River Street, but it seemed that most of Tutter’s audience has dispersed rapidly.

“Just back up casually,” whispered Van. Once we hit the sidewalk we can make a break for the co-op.”

Blunt and friends seemed to have anticipated Mabel and Van’s best escape route, because within seconds Reb and Hurley had split off, (at an amazingly fast pace for their stocky frames, Mabel thought,) and before she could think again, her arms were pinned behind her by what felt like a gorilla.

“You ain’t runnin’ to squeal at the moment,” said the scratchy voice of Reb Campanella, as he began to muscle her toward the bridge. In front of her was Van, being forcibly escorted by Blunt and Applewood, one on each arm. Kendall Huffing had run ahead, and was smiling coyly from under the bridge, beside the river.

“I told you it was unwise to hang out with nerds,” said Kendall in a mockingly sympathetic tone, as Reb wrangled Mabel into a waterfront clearing.

“Okay now Peale,” said Mitchell, in a goofily giddy voice, “don’t worry about this little procedure, because it’s only going to hurt A LOT!”

Mabel was not accustomed to being overpowered and could not have guessed how completely useless it was to struggle against a set of muscles like Campanella’s. She winced as Mitchell grinned and made a great show of getting ready to throw the first punch.

The grin turned confused, and then panicked, as a green van roared backwards down the embankment toward the river. Mitchell and friends backed off in startled surprise as Verdon Arbogast rolled down the driver’s side window.

“If you kind young people don’t mind my interrupting your party,” said Arbogast condescendingly, “I have some business to discuss with Miss Crockett and Mr. Peale.” He climbed out. There was still silver duct tape holding the van’s windshield together. “Go on, shoo,” said Arbogast to Mitchell as he made a brushing motion with his hands. Mitchell, Reb, Hurley, and Kendall disappeared over the the top of the embankment.

“Out of the frying pan, into the fire,” whispered Mabel to Van as Arbogast turned back toward them.

“Now, Miss Crockett,” began Arbogast, once again lighting up a cigarette. “I think it’s best that she not leave just yet,” he said to Van who was tugging slightly at Mabel’s sleeve. “It’s time for us to be frank with each other. Now that you’ve had some time to think, that is.”

“Think about what?” asked Van, eyeing Arbogast suspiciously.

“Word around town,” drawled Arbogast,“ is that your parents, and Mr. Peale’s too, for that matter, could be headed for some real trouble, real soon.”

“My parents aren’t in trouble,” said Mabel.

“Maybe not yet,” sneered Arbogast. “But it seems they may have been dallying in activities that are,” Arbogast gasped slightly, “against the law!”

“You’re cracked,” said Van.

Arbogast glared at Van. “I assure you, young man, my mind is the one part of me that’s in perfect shape.”

A breeze began to blow under the bridge, and the water of the Willibunk River began to swirl slightly, and lap at the riverbank with a bit more force. Mabel observed what she took to be fear flickering across Arbogast’s face, which seemed to make him, fleetingly, very old.

Arbogast scowled. “I don’t take to the water,” he said, “so let me get to the point.” He tapped ash off the end of his cigarette, and he looked at Mabel with eyes narrowed to slits. “If you run into, let’s say, any sort of unexpected trouble,” he said, almost whispering, “I may be the only person who can help you…provided, of course, that you’re willing to help me.”

“And how would I do that?” asked Mabel.

Arbogast smiled slightly, and said, “You would take me to your father.”

“You’ve met my father,” replied Mabel.

“Don’t toy with me, girly!” snapped Arbogast. “You’re not so stupid that you haven’t started to put things together by now. Your father,” he continued, putting an ugly emphasis on the word father, “has not been fair with me. It’s time for him to uphold his end of a bargain, and I will see to it that he does.”

Arbogast dropped his cigarette and climbed back into the van, pulling the door closed behind him. “I WILL see the two of you around,” he said before rolling up the window and driving swiftly back up the embankment.

A whirlpool at the edge of the river made a sucking noise, spit violently, then vanished.

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