Chapter 21

“Oh, my heavens!” cried a flustered secretary scurrying into the room. “What happened to Agent Manderley?” She lifted his head and began patting him rapidly on the cheeks.

Mabel had barely opened her mouth to reply when two more women hurried into the room, and joined the patting.

“I think he’s okay,” said one of the women as Manderley blinked several times.

“Yes, you’re right,” replied another. “Agent Manderley, are you okay?”

Manderley opened his eyes, and nodded dazedly.

Mabel picked up the styrofoam cup which had fallen to the floor. “I’ll just…um…I’ll just throw this away,” she said as she backed out into the hallway.

It was a relief to be out of there. She looked at the half-empty vial before tucking it back under her shirt. “One down,” she said, “one to go.”

“How about your potty?” came a woman’s voice from the waiting area. “Was the men’s potty as, um…sociable, as the women’s potty?”

“Naturally, I loved it,” answered a male voice in reply. “But I must say I slept better in a tree than on that bench.”

“Mom and Dad,” said Mabel quietly, before taking off down the hallway at a sprint. There they were, with the Halfslips and the Peales too. Mabel nearly knocked Mr. Crockett down, then Mrs. Crockett joined the sandwich hug.

“Sure enough, they found my prints,” said Colleen, when Mabel looked around and spotted her. “Turns out I am Colleen Wickers after all!”

“Excuse me, everyone,” interrupted Agent Boots. “While all of you have been released from custody at this time, it is mandatory that no one leave the Logjam area until our department specialists have verified the information which Miss Wickers has supplied. We will notify you at the conclusion of the investigation.” She paused and relaxed a notch. “Oh yes, and do you all need transportation?”

“T’isn’t necessary,” said Norton. “We’ve got a vehicle.”

Mabel looked at Van with a crooked smile, and said, “I’m sure we’ll all be nice and cozy in the back of Arbogast’s van.”


“I’m driving, I’m driving,” insisted Norton, shoving the other Halfslips toward the back. Parker and Porter were too flabbergasted to argue, and climbed in behind Mrs. Halfslip who seemed more ready to accept Norton’s change in demeanor.

The ride felt good. Despite the fact that Noah Peale’s legs stretched diagonally from one end of the van to the other, cramped was a good feeling when it meant being with people they’d spent three agonizing days worrying about.

“I’m ready for a celebratory meal,” volunteered Mrs. Peale.

“And I hope Franz is too,” added Mr. Peale, “because as soon as you folks go home and clean yourselves up, you’re joining us at the biggest table in the restaurant.”

Norton pulled the van up to the curb in front of Mona Lisa’s to let the Peales out.

“I’m getting out here too,” said Mabel hastily. “Van and I need to talk to Patience.”

“We do?” asked Van, as Mabel pulled him out the door.

“Dinner at 7:30?” asked Mr. Peale.

“It’s a deal,” replied Mrs. Crockett. “Mabel, we’ll meet you here.”

After Ramon finished hugging everyone with smothering enthusiasm, he pointed across the street to the library.

“Patience is looking at art books,” he said. “We haven’t had much luck cheering her up.”

“Thanks Ramon,” called Mabel, as she trotted back out the door.

“What exactly are we trying to do?” asked Van, following Mabel across River Street.

“We’re going to help them work things out,” she replied. “Patience and Agent Manderley.”

“And just exactly why do we want to do that?” asked Van dubiously.

“Because,” she said, as they reached the curb in front of Zel’s Lunch Counter, “they…”

She stopped abruptly as the door to Zel’s swung open forcefully in her face.

“Outa the way!” yelled a rough voice as Mabel found herself skidding down the pavement propelled by the burly arms of Reb Campanella.

She looked up in time to see the swaggering form of Mitchell Blunt catch a surprised Van by the shoulders and roughly shove him backward into Hurley Applewood. In the vise-like grip of Applewood, Van had no hope of dodging Blunt’s boot-clad foot which shot out with piston-swiftness and hit him in the groin. Van crumpled to the sidewalk, while raucous laughter clattered in Mabel’s ears.

As Blunt, Applewood, and Campanella hustled away giving each other congratulatory high-fives, Mabel scrambled to her feet.

“Van!” Mabel knelt and touched him on the shoulder. Van gasped for a few more seconds in an effort to regain his breath. For a minute or so more, he lay on the pavement with a stunned expression, before pulling himself, with painful slowness, to a hunched standing position.

“Okay…” he uttered, “I’m…okay.” Then he turned and stared at Mabel, though she had the sense that he was looking through her, not at her, and he said, “I…I gotta go…”


“See Doctor Rotter!” he answered. Van took off at a run. A much faster run than Mabel would have thought possible given the blow he’d just received.

“Van wait,” called Mabel. “Should I get your parents?”

“No!” he yelled without stopping.

Should I go with you, she asked silently. What does he need Dr. Rotter for? Is he hurt worse than I thought?

She caught sight of the glass vial, which had slipped to the outside of her shirt when Reb had thrown her.

“Van will be okay,” Mabel quietly reassured herself, as she walked toward the library next door.

Mabel found Patience sitting forlornly at a table, staring at a print of Vincent Van Gogh’s painting “The Starry Night.”

As Mabel sat down beside her, Patience looked up from the swirls of color and light, and said, “Is he a man or a monster? And how can I love him? For only a monster would threaten my family.”

Mabel nodded, then shook her head, unable to think of a response.

Patience continued. “But something in my heart tells me that there’s still a man beneath the beast. What can I do? Mabel, what would you do?”

Mabel shrugged slightly. “Patience,” she said, “I think you’ve been crying too much. You’re probably dehydrated. I’m going to get you a cup of water.”

Near the ladies room stood a water cooler, with a tubular dispenser of pointy-bottomed paper cups attached to it. The water in the cooler burbled as Mabel filled a cup, pulled the stopper out of the vial with her teeth, and poured in the remainder of the liquid.

“Here,” Mabel said, handing the cup to Patience. “Drink up. You need it.”

Patience smiled gratefully and took a sip. “How piquant,” she said, looking at the water, before continuing to drink.

Mabel looked at the floor and noticed, with sudden dismay, that it would be a rather hard surface to faint on, but Patience merely swayed slightly before regaining her equilibrium.

“I’d…I’d like to go home now,” said Patience, “and ponder. You were right Mabel, I did need water. It has expelled at least a few of the cobwebs from my soul.”

“Everyone’s home, Patience,” Mabel said. “The Peales are out of jail. And the Halfslips, and my parents too!”

Patience grabbed both of Mabel’s hands. “Thank you for being the bearer of good news,” she said.

“You can join us for dinner,” said Mabel, “in ten minutes.”

“Mabel, you’re one of my heroines,” said Patience, “but I feel a need to paint just now.”


Mabel entered Mona Lisa’s dining room to find that several tables had been pushed together to accommodate their larger than usual group. All five Halfslips were at the table, interspersed by Mr. and Mrs. Peale, Colleen, and Mabel’s own parents.

Mabel looked at her father, in a clean denim shirt, chatting and laughing with the others. And her mother, who had obviously put effort into grooming for dinner, and still managed to look slightly disheveled. As happy as she felt to have found the older Crocketts, and as much as she wanted to see them again, her parents, she knew, were right here at this table.

“Van had to go see Doctor Rotter,” said Mabel, taking an empty seat. “I’m not sure about what, but it seemed to be important.”

“A man of science, our boy,” said Mr. Peale.

“Is the baby alright?” asked Mrs. Crockett, turning to Mary Halfslip.

Mrs. Halfslip nodded, with obvious relief that this whole episode had ended. “He’s on an automatic watering device,” she said. “Everything seems to be fine.”

Colleen perused her menu with great relish. “Citrus,” she said. “I want something with citrus. Ivy, what are you going to have?”

“Teriyaki vegetables,” Ivy replied. “And rice pilaf.”

“Sounds yummy,” said Colleen. She sat as if thinking for a few minutes while conversation continued around her. “Ivy and I talked a little about her plant,” Colleen said, turning to Porter and Mary Halfslip. “I understand it’s a vigna?”

“Yes,” said Porter, seeming pleased to discuss the matter, “a vigna carmelata.” He paused and began to butter a roll. “The root system, though,” Porter continued, “belongs to a nepenthes spectabilis. It’s a graft…for sturdiness.”

“You familiar with the spectabilis?” asked Parker. “Dumb question,” he chided himself, “guess there aren’t many plants you don’t know.”

“Yes,” replied Colleen, “I know the spectabilis.” For a few seconds, Colleen sat quietly. Then she said, “Ivy’s going to get sick again.” The statement drew stares from around the table. “Unless…” Colleen continued.

“Unless what?” demanded Porter.

Colleen was quiet for a few seconds more, and a grin slowly crept across her face. She started to laugh.

“What’s so funny?” Porter asked again, looking slightly offended.

“Porter,” Colleen said, “your daughter is a carnivore.”

“What?” blurted Porter.

“Porter,” began Mrs. Halfslip slowly, “the nepenthes spectabilis…”

“Is,” Colleen continued, “carnivorous. It’s a meat-trapping, meat-digesting plant.”

“Like a venus flytrap?” asked Mabel.

Colleen nodded.

Porter looked at Parker. “I just didn’t think…it never occurred to me that…”

“Sometimes our roots can surprise us,” said Colleen simply, smiling at Mabel. Mabel grinned, and nodded back.

Ivy, who had been following the conversation with increasing animation, finally said, “Well, I guess that explains my cravings.”

“You’ve been craving meat?” asked Mrs. Halfslip.

Ivy nodded and shrugged.

“Okay,” continued her mother, “as long as it’s you and not me. Do you want to, uh…try something?”

“How about tuna?” asked Ivy.

Mrs. Peale jumped up from the table. “One tuna steak,” she said, “broiled, and served with lemon butter, coming right up.”

Colleen gratefully accepted the offer of a room at the co-op until such time as Peter Crockett could take a helicopter back to the spring to assess the condition of the Shooting Star.

As the Crocketts and the Halfslips prepared to leave the restaurant, Patience entered the gallery. “I’ll walk out with you,” she said, pulling a sweater around her shoulders.

The windows of River Street reflected bronze in the setting sunlight.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” said Patience, as she admired the streetscape. “But I can’t dwell on such things. I’ve come to a crossroad in my life, and I now know which way to turn.”

“Oh?” responded Mabel. “So which way are you going to turn?”

Patience straightened her posture. “I’m going back to Doctor Rotter.”

“To do what?” asked Ivy.

Patience looked fondly toward the house at the end of River Street. “He’s old,” she said. “He’s worked so hard, and he’s all by himself. He needs someone. He needs a helper.”

“Patience,” argued Mabel. “You like art. You said yourself that you’re not any good at science.”

“I can learn,” insisted Patience. “I’m going to see him. Now.”

“I’ll go with you,” said Mabel. “I want to make sure Van’s okay.”

“Don’t stay long,” said Mr. Crockett. “There’s a little thing called school you’re going to have to get back in the habit of doing. Starting tomorrow.”

At the wrought iron gate in front of Dr. Rotter’s, Mabel watched Patience straighten the hat on Marty the vulture, then tighten the ribbon on Igor. How in the world, Mabel wondered, could Patience ever function as a lab assistant?

The front door creaked open. Dr. Rotter stepped out onto the porch and dropped a cigarette butt on the floor, then crushed it with his shoe.

“Came to get Van, didja?” he grunted, as Mabel and Patience approached. “He’s been a great help to me this afternoon, I’ll tell ya what.”

“Dr. Rotter,” began Patience. “I’ve decided to come back. To be your laboratory assistant.”

Dr. Rotter raised a quizzical eyebrow.

“I’ll do so much better now,” Patience continued. “I’m sure I can. You must give me another chance!”

“Sweetheart,” Dr. Rotter said, putting a fatherly hand on her shoulder. “It’s not your thing. You’re an artist. You know it. I know it. Besides,” he continued, leaning against a porch column with a satisfied smile, “I think I’ve got a lab assistant.”

“But Van’s too young,” argued Patience. “He has years of school ahead of him.”

“Who said anything about Van?” replied Dr. Rotter. He opened the screen door and leaned inside. “Hey,” he called, “could you step outside? There’re some ladies here I’d like you to meet.”

A great lumbering thump resounded in the hallway. The screen door flew open with a bang, and out onto the porch lurched Tim Tutter, followed by Van who was making a valiant effort to keep him upright. Mabel tried hard not to laugh with surprise at the sight of him. He was dressed in yellow, flowered hospital scrubs. A freshly repaired scar ran the length of his left cheek, and his hair, formerly a moussed pompadour, looked electrified.

“Oh,” cooed Patience, “isn’t he sweet! How well I remember when my legs felt just like that.”

Tutter grabbed the porch railing for support and looked at Mabel. “Hello, young lady!” he said, extending a hand. Then he looked at Patience. “You know,” he said, “I can’t think of a time when I’ve seen a more artfully arranged pair of X chromosomes. Actually though…there’s not much I can think of.”

Patience, looking a bit perplexed, smiled back.

“Don’t worry Tim,” said Dr. Rotter. “You have years to create memories.”

“If you particularly stunning people will excuse me,” said Tutter, “I’m right in the middle of the logarithm section of a little worksheet Ern gave me.” He lowered his voice secretively. “I think it’s supposed to be some kind of test, but I’ll tell you what…it’s more fun than checkers. I think I’m acing it.” He chuckled and gave a quick thumbs up, then staggered back into the house.

“Ern?” said Mabel.

Dr. Rotter smiled and shrugged. “You know guys?” he said. “I think this one’s gonna take.”

“Well,” agreed Mabel, “he seems to be into the math stuff.”

“He’s a natural,” said Van.

“Okay, so how’d you do it?” asked Mabel. “Not fry his left brain, I mean.”

“It was Van’s idea,” said Dr. Rotter. “He barged in here this afternoon hollering about trying a new neuronal pool site. Sounded nuts at first, but he was right. Turns out that the high concentration of excitable nerve tissue in the lower abdomen makes it an ideal location to plug in the probes, without jolting the brain so directly.”

Mabel stared at Van.

“It worked,” he said simply.

Patience embraced Dr. Rotter and kissed him on the cheek. He reddened slightly but looked very pleased.
“I’m more happy for you than I can say,” she said. “This is a wonderful turn of events, but I feel left in a bit of a quandary.”

“Patience,” said Mabel, “I didn’t think this lab assistant thing was right for you anyway. Maybe you can teach art.”

“Well,” mused Patience, with a sad smile, “I suppose at every crossroad there are several directions in which one might turn. Perhaps I should go home and talk to the other teachers. Maybe they’ll have some advice.”

“Yeah,” said Van, “it’s late. Let’s go.”

Very little daylight remained, and the lights of River Street were in fierce competition with the stars overhead, as Dr. Rotter walked Mabel, Van, and Patience to the gate.

Suddenly, the traffic circle was flooded in the glare of headlights, and a black car halted abruptly in front of Dr. Rotter’s house. Mabel looked at Patience whose face, in the lamplight, instantly drained of color. “It’s…it’s…Reynolds,” she stammered.

“Manderley?” said Mabel.

Reynolds Manderley stepped out of the car. His hair was combed, and the beard stubble gone. He seemed very much like the confident Manderley Mabel had first met in Bumper’s Stuff Shop. But there was a determination in his expression that Mabel could not read. Wordlessly, Manderley reached inside his jacket and removed the slim, black wallet which Mabel recognized from the Halfslips’ parking lot. He opened it and briefly flashed his badge.

“What?” said Van in annoyance. “Are we under arrest again?”

Still without a word, Reynolds closed the wallet, reached back like a major-league pitcher and hurled it, badge and all, forcefully in the direction of the river. Mabel, Van, Patience, and Dr. Rotter stood in stunned silence as the black wallet arched over the treetops in the moonlight then landed with a splash, followed by a slurping flush, as the Willibunk swallowed it whole.

“They fired you?” asked Mabel tentatively.

“I quit.” replied Manderley.

With a scream of delight, Patience flung herself into Manderley’s waiting arms.

“Oh, man,” muttered Van, looking away. “Now they’re going to kiss all night.”

“So how ‘bout the rest of us go home?” said Mabel. She waved goodbye to Dr. Rotter, and gave Van a quick tug in the direction of the co-op.

“I knew they’d work things out,” said Mabel, smiling at Van. He merely grunted in reply.


It was pre-dawn, a chilly Monday morning. Mabel typed the last few lines of her Logjam history essay and hit PRINT.

“No,” stated the computer, “I’m sorry. No printing until you’ve run a spell-check.”

“Okay Clemmy,” said Mabel, “run a spell-check.”

Clemmy began to hum a bit more insistently, and seconds later came to a halt. “Stumpworth,” said the computer. “I do believe you forgot to hit the spacebar. Wouldn’t that be stump and worth? And, in my opinion, a stump can’t be worth much.”

“Clemmy,” said Mabel patiently. “Stumpworth is a name. He used to be the foreman at the Logjam Mill in 1915. When Colleen was leading protests.”

“Well,” said Clemmy a few hums later, “everything else seems to be correct. And the title of this piece would be?”

“Colleen Wickers–Advocate for the Willibunk.”

Clemmy’s hard drive light strobed off and on. “Don’t you find that just a bit cumbersome?” he said.

“It stays,” said Mabel, “until you can think of something better.”

“Fine then,” responded the computer. “It’s an interesting slice of history. I’ll send it to the printer at once.”

The printer began to buzz and whirr as its paper feed came to life. “Speaking of history,” said Clemmy, “you might be interested to know I have some bits of binary code which originally appeared in the Elliot 803 model, built in 1962.”

“You’ve told me,” said Mabel. “Very impressive. Can you get my email for me now?”

Clemmy’s hard drive hummed a bit more, and a bing-bong signaled the downloaded email. “Let’s see now,” began Clemmy, “Are you interested in accepting credit cards at your business?”

“I don’t have a business,” replied Mabel.

“Trash, then?”


Clemmy whirred a bit more. “Do you wish to subscribe to Surfman’s All Rad Online Newsletter?”

“Trash,” said Mabel.

“One more,” said Clemmy, “from haycraft at cochiti dot net.”

“That’s from Margie!” said Mabel. “I want that one.”

A page of text opened on the computer’s monitor.

Dear Mabel, I was thrilled to learn that
Colleen Wickers, one of my personal heroes,
is not only alive and well, but that you found
her! A million thanks for sending me a copy
of volume 2 of her Compendium–It has come in
handy several times already! Do you think Colleen
might be interested in leading an instructional
seminar here at Cochiti Spring? We’d
happily offer her, as well as you and your parents–
all of them–free room and board! My note
must be brief. I’m scheduled to do a presentation
for Professor Lampkin and some of his colleagues.
Write soon. Margie.

* * * * * * *

Mabel looked out the window of the shiny red helicopter, at the Willibunk forest below. Though few leaves had fallen, the treetops were thick in fiery hues of yellow, orange and red.

“I think Colleen is happy to be back at the spring with Jonah and Laura,” said Mabel.

“She’s lived there for eighty-five years now,” responded Mr. Crockett. “It would be hard, I guess, to feel completely at home anywhere else.”

“They’re great though,” said Mrs. Crockett. “Jonah and Laura, I mean. I was a little worried about how I might feel.”

“What do you mean?” asked Mabel.

“I thought I might be a little jealous, or something, that you’re so much more like them than you are like us,” answered Mrs. Crockett.

“Me too,” agreed Mr. Crockett, “but I wasn’t. Now I just feel lucky…that Norton picked your mom and me.”

“Yeah,” said Mabel, “I’m lucky too. So, what’s going to happen with the Shooting Star?”

Mr. Crockett’s face looked slightly pained. “It’s going to take me a while to rebuild that tail,” he said, “not to mention the landing gear. Guess we’ll be going back when I get the parts together.”

“And when will that be?” asked Mabel.

“‘Round about Christmas?” answered Mr. Crockett.

Mabel sat up excitedly. “We’re going to spend Christmas at the spring?”

“Cool,” said Mrs. Crockett nodding. “I like that idea.”

Under the descending helicopter, russett-hued leaves, caught in the current of the spinning blades, danced in a frenzied whirlpool. The leaves dispersed to reveal the Willibunk, breaking free of the thick forest to run the length of East Logjam. There was the flat roof of the Eurus Press building, and across the street a flatbed truck dumping a load of lumber behind the Fairweathers’ house. Down Rocky Creek Road rattled a green van with a freshly repaired windshield, and a newly lettered side reading, “Mona Lisa’s Delivers!”

As the helicopter set down in the airfield Mabel felt, with utmost certainty, that Logjam was in for a stretch of very fine weather.


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