Chapter 20

Mabel felt sick. “You can’t…revive him?” she asked hopefully. She hadn’t even liked Tutter very much, but it seemed impossible that he could be dead.

“I told you, honey, I’m not magic,” replied Colleen. “He’s good and drowned.”

“Oh, no, no, no…” moaned the helicopter pilot, pacing rapidly back and forth while tugging at his bushy hair. “This is NOT good. This was a very important person…a very important charter…this will not be good for the company…I might even…lose my job!”

“Well,” said Norton, “we’ll all vouch for you, explain how it wasn’t your fault.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” whined the pilot. “You just don’t take a client off to…drown!”

“Whatever we do,” said Jonah, “it’s going to have to be done in the morning. It’s getting too dark to see a darn thing.”

The mood was sober as Colleen escorted the men to her cabin before joining Mabel, Ivy, Laura, and Miss Penny in the Crocketts’ cabin. Sparkle and Sig scurried in too, at Mabel’s feet.

“Okay,” said Laura, as Colleen grabbed a broom to sweep the last of the water out the door, “Let’s hope we can find some dry bedding in here somewhere!” She rummaged through a wooden trunk, and began to toss out an assortment of blankets and quilts, all knit or woven from the same flaxen material of which their clothes were made. Mabel caught a few quilts on the fly and passed them to Miss Penny and Ivy. The next she held onto. Despite some damp edges, it was soft and warm, and she gratefully made herself a nest of bedding on the floor alongside the others.

“Good nest,” said Sparkle placing Sig next to Mabel’s bent knees, then settling down herself. “Nicely patted out.”

“Nicely patted out,” said Sig. Mabel looked at him in surprise, then scratched his little ears. Sparkle proudly gave him a robust licking.

Laura patted the mattress on her bed which responded with a squishing sound. “Guess we’ll be joining you on the floor tonight,” she said. “There’ll be some bedclothes to dry out tomorrow.”

Morning sunlight, seeping through the cottage windows with irresistible warmth, drew Mabel out of her fluffy bed on the floor.

Ivy was sitting in the corner of the room rolling a walnut for Sig, who awkwardly pounced after it while trying not to fall on his face. “They’re cooking out there,” said Ivy. “And it smells pretty good.”

Mabel stepped onto the porch to find Jonah and Norton sitting on the steps with steaming ceramic coffee cups.

“I hope your daddy won’t be too put out with me,” said Norton, “but we aren’t going to make it back to Logjam in the Star.”

“You’ve checked it?” asked Mabel.

“Yep,” nodded Norton. “I guess he’s going to have to come out here himself and do some fixin’.”

“Don’t worry, Mr. Halfslip,” said Mabel. “I don’t think anyone besides you could have even landed that thing.”

“Besides,” added Jonah, “that’ll give me a chance to meet the folks who raised my little girl.”

“Do you mind?” asked Mabel.

“Mind what?”

“That someone else raised me?”

Jonah looked at Mabel with paternal pride. “I’m eternally grateful to them,” he said.

Laura walked up the steps and handed Mabel and Ivy cups of hot chocolate.

“Thanks,” said Ivy. “Where do you keep the cow?”

“No cow,” replied Laura, laughing. “Beans. It’s soymilk.”

Mabel felt a sudden urge to grab Laura and hold on. “You’ll come back to Logjam with us, won’t you?” she asked hopefully.

Laura hugged Mabel as warmly as she could without causing a hot chocolate spill. “You know Jonah and I can’t leave,” she said. “He can’t be away from the spring for that long.”

“Anyway,” added Jonah. “We’re not the ones you need. That would be her.” He pointed to Colleen who was hanging clothes out to dry on a lengthy line.

“Colleen’s coming?” said Ivy brightly.

“We need her,” said Norton. “This whole mess has to do with those DIS yahoos misidentifying a plant that Colleen’s been an expert on since she wrote her doctoral dissertation in 1912. If she can’t straighten them out, then nobody can. Thing is, nobody knows she’s still around. Fortunately,” he continued, “Mr. Cupsy has agreed to fly us home in his whirlybird.”

Mabel looked at the helicopter and shuddered. “What about…” she began.

“Don’t worry honey,” Laura said reassuringly, “we put him in a bag.”

“Why can’t we just bury him here?” asked Ivy.

“It wouldn’t be right,” said Norton. “There’s got to be next of kin somewhere, and the police will want to know what happened.”

“That’s what worries me,” said Jonah. “An investigation could bring more people like Tutter out here. It will not be a good thing.”

“Maybe…they won’t have to come,” said Mabel. She looked toward the other cottage from which Van had just emerged carrying hot chocolate. Mr. Cupsy, the bushy-haired helicopter pilot was sitting on the steps, nervously downing coffee. Mabel headed toward them. “Mr. Cupsy,” she said, “can we make a call from your helicopter?”

“Well, there’s a radio,” he replied. “Might still work.”

“We need to use it,” Mabel said grabbing Van and pulling him along with her.


The pancakes were deliciously nutty and oaty, and Mabel enjoyed them immensely. Ivy seemed so grateful to have an appetite for something other than her green drink, that she ate more than Van. Even Miss Penny was eating like a soldier, when a leaf floated gently down and landed on her pancake stack.

“Phooey,” she said. “Can’t argue with these trees, but I’ll be glad to get back to my own yard.”

Colleen gazed appraisingly at Ivy. “You look so much better,” she said.

“I feel better too,” replied Ivy. “I just hope it won’t happen to me again.”

“No,” said Colleen, “let’s hope not.”

Jonah and Laura Crockett hugged everyone, including Mr. Cupsy, as each person climbed into the red helicopter. Mabel felt a new and unfamiliar pain as she hugged them goodbye. Her mind was equally occupied by thoughts of her parents in Logjam. She hoped desperately that, with Colleen’s help, they, along with the Peales and the Halfslips, would be released.

Mr. Cupsy set the blades in motion, and soon the copter ascended straight into the air. Mabel found it a far stranger sensation than she’d ever experienced in the airplane.

“It’s too weird, isn’t it?” said Van, slumping into his seat.

“What?” asked Mabel.

“Tutter,” he replied. “In the baggage compartment.”

“Van,” Mabel replied, “don’t even talk about it.”

Mabel looked down. The day was clear and the view of the Willibunk Forest stunning. Whereas yesterday the leaves had merely a dusting of red and gold, today they were blushing brightly. She found her appreciation of the forest’s vastness was far greater now that she no longer felt the burden of having to navigate.

“Where are we going exactly?” asked Mr. Cupsy from the cockpit.

“It’s an airfield, in East Logjam,” replied Norton. “You’ll see it from the air.”

The trip was slower and decidedly calmer than Norton’s flying circus piloting style, and Mabel was feeling guardedly optimistic as the helicopter descended into the field, which was empty except for Verdon Arbogast’s duct-taped van. It was strange to see the Shooting Star missing from its usual place, but Mabel was quickly distracted by a black panel truck, careering recklessly across the field from the direction of Rocky Creek Road.

“It’s from the coroner’s office,” said Mabel hastily, as the black truck screeched to a halt and the helicopter landed.

“How did they know…” Norton began, with a suspicious edge to his voice.

“We called,” said Van. “From the helicopter. Before we left. Didn’t want him to get…you know…stinky.”

Mr. Cupsy shrugged and climbed out to open the baggage compartment. A hooded figure emerged from the black vehicle, and the two of them hauled the awkward bag from the copter’s hold, to the back of the truck. Quickly, the hooded person slammed the back hatch shut, stumbled back into the driver’s seat, and roared off.

“Okay,” said Norton, as if that settled that. “Mr. Cupsy, would you like to drive to the police station with us? They might want your side of the story.”

Mr. Cupsy waved his hands. “Thanks, but no thanks,” he protested. “I’ve had enough for two days. They’ll know where to reach me if they need me.”

Mabel, Van and Ivy bounded out of the helicopter followed, with slightly less speed, by Norton, Colleen, and Miss Penny.

“Guess we’ll be borrowing Verdon’s car,” said Norton. “I have a feeling that woman’s going to keep a pretty tight grip on him for a while.”

“I’m not goin’ either, no sir,” said Miss Penny. She glared at a mapleseed whirlybird spinning to the ground in front of her face. “I’m going home. Hate to think how many of these things must’ve landed in my yard since yesterday.”

“Me too,” said Sparkle. She scooped up Sig and trotted toward the botanical center.

“Pop pop,” said Ivy, giving Norton a gentle tug. “Let’s go. We need to get them out of jail.”

Verdon Arbogast’s van was hardly a luxury vehicle. Norton and Colleen occupied the only two seats, in the front, while Mabel, Van and Ivy were bumped and jostled in the completely empty rear.

“I th-th-think were g-g-going over the b-b-bridge,” said Mabel, as they rattled over a bumpy stretch of road.

A few minutes later, a rapid right turn threw them into the wall.

“This would be near the Middle School,” said Ivy. “We’re almost to the police station.”

Her hunch was confirmed as the van clanked to a halt in a parking lot at precinct headquarters.

Norton threw open the van’s back doors. “Let’s go,” he said.

A scrawny woman with eggplant-colored hair stared blankly from behind a reception desk as Norton, Colleen, and the children entered the station.

“I’m Norton Halfslip,” said Norton to the woman. “I understand my family, as well as the parents of these children are being held here. We’d like to speak to whoever’s in charge of the investigation.”

“That would be Reynolds Manderley,” offered Mabel a bit disdainfully.

“Agent Manderley is on administrative leave,” said the receptionist.

“He’s off the case?” asked Van. “Why?”

The receptionist merely stared in response, then said, “I’ll page Agent Boots for you.”

“Children!” barked a scarily familiar voice from across the room. Stomping toward them in noisy high heeled shoes, and freshly applied makeup was an irate Mrs. Pilderjack. She spun on her heels and waved an accusing finger at Norton. “I’ll have you know sir, that temporary custody of this child has been granted to ME, in the best interest of her welfare!”

“You don’t say,” said Norton.

“And you children!” she continued, turning to Mabel and Van. Mrs. Pilderjack took on a sudden air of great worry, and clasped her hands to her chest. “Children, children, why did you frighten me so?”

Van looked at Mabel, who shrugged. “We were in a walking mood?” he suggested.

“Thank you Mrs. Pilderjack,” broke in a no-nonsense voice. “I’ll take it from here.” Agent Boots surveyed the group through her cat-eye glasses. “I understand someone here needs to see me,” she stated.

“I do,” said Colleen.

Mabel looked at Colleen and smiled gratefully. Just the sound of Colleen’s voice, calming and authoritative at once, lent some sanity to the occasion.

Agent Boots looked at Colleen and nodded slowly, as if she found her slightly peculiar. “Shall we, uh, sit down then,” she suggested, pointing to a table in a spare conference room.

Everyone entered. The children stood together and allowed Colleen and Norton to take the two chairs opposite Agent Boots, who sat down purposefully, and loudly smacked several folders onto the table in front of her.

“If I understand correctly,” began Colleen, setting a satchel down at the foot of her chair, “the parents of these children are in police custody on suspicion of importing, growing and selling an illegal botanical.”

“Quite right,” stated Boots matter-of-factly. “And a dangerous drug it is, too. Banned on four continents. Makes people behave in highly unpredictable ways.”

Colleen slipped a notepad and pencil out of her satchel. “And the scientific name of this plant is?”

Boots looked around nervously. “Alright,” she said. “I don’t believe it would jeopardize the investigation for you to know. Its amazonias pernishionus.”

“Do you happen to have a sample I might look at?” asked Colleen.

“Well,” replied Boots. “We’ve actually compiled quite a few exhibits, plus several live plants from the greenhouse.” She opened a folder. “I have a small cutting right here.” From the folder she removed a sealed plastic envelope in which was a pressed leaf cluster. Several spinach-green leaves, resembling long, narrow arrowheads branched off from a central stalk.

“May I?” asked Colleen. She picked up the bag and held it up to the buzzing fluorescent lights over the table. “Yes,” she said simply. “That’s what I thought.”

“What?” said Boots.

“Let me show you something,” said Colleen. She bent down to her satchel and removed a second item. It was a book. An old, heavy book, bound in green, with gold print embossed on the cover.

“A Compendium of Healing Plants, Volume II,” read Van.

“Volume II?” said Mabel suddenly. “You have Volume II? Margie Haycraft wants a copy of that. Where did you get that?”

“Mabel,” said Colleen with a smile. “I wrote it.”

“Oh,” said Mabel, “you did, didn’t you?”

“Let me see that,” said Boots. “I’ve heard of it. Wait a minute, let me get Agent Bufo, he’s the botany man on the team.” Boots pushed a button on an intercom box. Moments later, the bald DIS agent scuttled into the room.

“Bufo,” said Boots. “Maybe you should sit in.”

“Wow,” said Bufo, fingering the lettering on the green volume. “Volume II of the Compendium. These are really hard to come by. I’ve never actually seen one before. Where’d you get it?”

“I wrote it,” said Colleen.

“Right,” scoffed Bufo. “Colleen Wickers wrote it. In 1913. She’s been dead for longer than this thing’s been out of print.”

“I’m Colleen Wickers,” stated Colleen simply.

Bufo let out a loud snort, but then squinted and stared at Colleen. “She’s dead,” he repeated.

“No she’s not,” said Norton, with a grin, “she’s sitting right here.”

“And you’ll find,” said Colleen calmly, “if you turn to page 117…” She waited until Bufo did so. “You’ll find that there are some subtle, but critical differences between amazonias pernishionus, and amazonias sagittatum, which is the name I gave in my book for the plant these people are presently calling amazonias claracrockett.”

“Like what?” asked Bufo.

Colleen looked at him questioningly. “You’re the botany man on the team, you say? Look at the inner edge of the leaf, please. You’ll notice tiny striations on the pernishionus which do not occur on the sagittatum. This information is also right there on page 117. But the differences are more than cosmetic.”

Bufo and Boots stared at Colleen expectantly.

She continued. “The hallucinogenic properties of the pernishionus are completely absent in the sagittatum. Apart from the one chemical, they’re almost genetically identical, but the sagittatum is completely safe.”

“Who conducted these studies?” demanded Boots importantly.

“I did,” said Colleen. “For my doctoral dissertation. In 1912.”

“So,” said Norton, leaning into the table. “Why don’t you just let all the nice folks out of the clink, and we’ll get out of your hair?”

Boots stiffened. “We cannot release suspects, on their own recognizance or otherwise, without verification of these matters
from an expert witness.”

“I’m an expert witness,” stated Colleen.

“Colleen Wickers would be an expert witness,” protested Bufo, “no-one would argue with that…but she’s DEAD!”

“I’m not dead,” said Colleen. “I’m sure my identity can be verified.”

“How?” demanded Boots.

Colleen smiled. “I was involved in a good many demonstrations in my youth, as these children have read. Naturally, we occasionally clashed with the authorities.”

“And?” said Bufo.

“I’ve been arrested,” said Colleen. “Two or three times. I’m certain my fingerprints are somewhere in this county’s police archives.”

Boots turned to Bufo. “Get on it,” she said. “In the meantime, the rest of you can sit in the waiting area.”

Bufo nodded briskly and hurried out of the room. Boots collected her files and followed him.

“Excuse me,” said Mabel, “where is the bathroom?”

Agent Boots pointed a finger toward a hallway as she took off in the opposite direction.

“Okay, I’ll meet you guys back here in a few minutes,” said Mabel trotting toward the ladies room at the end of a lengthy corridor.

The bathroom was clean and efficient, and did the job, but something about its tiled sterility made her miss the rustic woods settlement she had just left. She gave her hands a few shakes under an electric hand dryer and started back toward the waiting area.

Small offices branched off of the hallway down which Mabel walked, many full of secretaries tapping at computers, or uniformed officers in animated phone conversations. On the left was a lounge, occupied by a large, unkempt man with his head in his hands. Mabel’s feet stopped in place. It was Manderley. As disheveled as he looked, she still knew it was Reynolds Manderley.

Driven by a mixture of annoyance and curiosity, Mabel entered the lounge. Manderley looked up. His appearance was almost frightening. His eyes were red and dark-circled. His hair was completely uncombed, and two days of razor-stubble shaded his chin and cheeks.

For a moment Mabel just stared at him, then she managed a small, “hi.” He nodded back, with a weak smile.

“So, what’s administrative leave, anyway?” asked Mabel.

“It means I screwed up,” he replied hoarsely. “It means I did something wrong. It means I’m in trouble.”

“Are they going to fire you?”

Manderley laughed dryly. “I don’t know. They might.”

“What did you do that was so bad?” Mabel asked, although she was pretty sure she already knew.

Manderley began reciting, as if from a list. “Failure to detain witnesses,” he said, pointing at Mabel. “Allowing unauthorized use of a department vehicle. Allowing unauthorized use of department communications equipment. And…” he continued, straightening up slightly, “failure to report on these events in a timely manner.”

“Oh,” replied Mabel. “What happened to your hand?”

Manderley looked at his left palm, which was wrapped in gauze. “I’m not sure,” he replied. “I was in the greenhouse…feeling really…frustrated, and I shook a tree.”

“You shook a tree?” repeated Mabel.

“Yeah. Some kind of goofy tree with gourds growing all over it…and something screamed…then it bit me.”

“Okay,” said Mabel, trying not to laugh. “So, why did you do that stuff? Why didn’t you come after us, since you knew you were doing your job wrong?”

Manderley raised his hands as if ready to explain, then slumped again into a despairing posture and began to shake. It took Mabel a few seconds to realize that he was crying, and she stood stock-still for a moment, not knowing what to do. Part of her wanted to sneak quietly out of the room, but she found herself saying, “Is there some way I can help you?”

Manderley looked up, and his eyes were desperate. “Talk to her. Talk to her for me. I’m afraid…she’ll never want to see me again…tell her I love her, but…”

“Why did you arrest the Peales if you love Patience?” asked Mabel.

Manderley laughed a mirthless laugh. “I always wanted to be a cop,” he said. “That’s all. Law enforcement has been my life. I’ve never had regrets, no reservations…but then, she…happened to me. I’ve never felt anything like it before.” Manderley looked at Mabel, his expression utterly tormented. “The law is everything to me,” he said in an agonized voice, “but…Patience…”

At the utterance of her name, Manderley again slumped into a posture of such despair, that Mabel found herself, to her surprise, feeling terribly sorry for him. She put a hand to her chest, and felt something. A vial. Margie’s vial. But, Mabel asked herself in protest, what about Paulo? He’s okay, was the answer she herself supplied. He and Mrs. Remini like to fight. It’s their sport. Use the vial.

“Agent Manderley,” asked Mabel, “can I fix you a cup of tea?”

Manderley nodded dispiritedly.

A coffee cart stood against the wall, complete with styrofoam cups and hot beverage percolators. Mabel put a teabag in a cup, and added hot water. “Cream or sugar?” she asked. Manderley shook his head. Carefully, with her back to Manderley, Mabel removed the stopper from the glass vial, and poured half the liquid into the cup of tea, then stirred with a plastic straw. Then she walked to Manderley and handed him the cup.

He gave her another weak, but grateful smile and took a sip. Then he sighed, and downed the remainder in three gulps. He sat up, gave Mabel a questioning look, and promptly rolled out of his chair and passed out on the floor.

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