Chapter 2

Beatrix Flannery would be the first to tell you—it’s not easy being the dumbest person you know. But what she did do, and do well, was notice things. She noticed, for example, that the Red Line had just squealed to a halt at their subway stop, and she gave Hortensia a quick shake.

Luckily it didn’t take a sky-high IQ to notice that there was something very wrong with the bright green kiosk squatly occupying far too much of the sidewalk at the top of the subway exit stairs. That it clashed with the orange subway sign was not the problem. It was the words on the kiosk, which were familiar, yet jarringly out of place.

“Koo-Bar?” said Bea, reading the sign’s loud pink letters.

“…get your free sample, courtesy of Bean-Tek industries,” continued Hortensia.

A cartoonish figure of a roly-poly bean with arms and legs, and a winking face, posed on the kiosk wall looking poised to take a greedy bite out of a granola bar.

A chubby lady beamed cheerily from inside the green kiosk. “That’s right my dears!” she called out. “Free for the asking!”

“Wait Hort,” said Bea, squinting at smaller print farther down on the sign. “It says ‘with all the healthful benefits of the tropical Koohoo bean’…it’s saying there’s Koohoo in this stuff.”

“That’s right!” replied the grinning lady in the kiosk. “It’s a wondrous tropical bean! Completely new! And magically good for you!”

“That’s not possible,” said Hortensia, accepting the wrapped bar the lady was now dangling tantalizingly in front of her. “Koohoo has never been exported from the Waddo Islands. That would be against Waddongan law. Koohoo is very carefully protected.”

“Well honey,” said the chubby lady with a shrug. “I ain’t one of the Bean-Tek legal eagles! My job is just to give ‘em out! How about you sweetie?” she continued, stretching over the countertop to hand a bar to Bea.

“Thanks,” said Bea.

“Oh, wait!” called the Bean-Tek lady as Bea and Hortensia turned toward the crosswalk. “Don’t forget this!”

She stretched as far as she could to hand Bea a colorful card with the Bean-Tek cartoon bean smiling peppily on the front, under a phone number. “We’re recruiting Bean-Tek Kids!” she called as they walked away. “It’s a special kind of club! Free Koo-bars for all participants!”

The traffic light changed to “walk.” Bea grabbed her suitcase and hustled Hortensia across the street by an elbow as Hort scrutinized her Koo-bar’s wrapper so intently that she nearly collided with several people and a left-turning taxicab.

Once across, Bea tucked the card in her pocket and ripped the wrapper off her free Koo-bar.

“Wait!” cried Hortensia. She stopped suddenly to allow a thought to surface. “Don’t eat that! I need it for a lab analysis.” Then she squinted at her own bar in the fading evening light. “If there really is koohoo in these things we’re going to have to notify the Waddongan trade bureau.”

“Analyze yours,” replied Bea. “I’m gonna eat mine.”

“We don’t even know if Koohoo is safe for daily use,” protested Hortensia, quickening her stride to catch up with Bea.

“I’m not using it daily,” said Bea. “Just right now.”

She chomped half the bar in one determined bite. “Iss no’bad,” she said, “but no’ as goo’ as th’drink.”

But Bea nearly choked on her second bite when a city bus rumbled by with the Koo-bar bean grinning heartily from its back panel.

“Hort…did you see that?” she said, as she turned around to find Hortensia staring indignantly at the very same bean-man poster plastered to the side of a bus stop shelter.

“That’s ridiculous!” cried Hortensia. “They must be making a fraudulent claim. Koohoo’s never been exported.”

“You’re probably right, Hort,” said Bea to her sister. They turned onto Crotchett Street where copper streetlights were beginning to glow in the waning sunlight. “They probably don’t have the real stuff. They’re really using canned lima beans and calling it koohoo. And you just passed our house.”

Hortensia halted ten steps past 107 Crotchett Street, and turned around. Their brownstone rowhouse, two doors down from Tylo’s Corner Tea Shop, sat directly across the street from the Mervin Frostly Science Building–a blocky white behemoth which was the newest addition to New Stirling University’s downtown campus, and the home of Hortensia’s research.

Bill the fruit cart man was leading Bob the fruit cart pony down Crotchett Street. Only a handful of apples and a few bags of walnuts remained of Bill’s stock as he and Bob the pony headed back to the stable for the night.

“Great to see you girls home!” called Bill over the clip-clop of Bob’s hooves. “And just in time for Macintosh apple season. Bob’s favorite!”

Bea and Hortensia waved at Bill and Bob, then lugged their suitcases up eleven front steps and into the marble-floored foyer of what had been, a hundred years ago, the very grand home of a very grand New Stirling family. Now, with the marble chipped, the paint scuffed, and the wallpaper yellowed, it served as the home of Bea, Hortensia, their parents, and the five youngest students currently enrolled at New Stirling University.

Bea and Hortensia dropped their bags with an echoing thud, and a houseful of people came scurrying. Mrs. Professor Flannery hugged hard. Mr. Professor Flannery hugged harder. Petra the housekeeper broke through the hugging and insisted—with shoves and emphatic gestures—that everyone eat some stew for dinner. So, not very much later, Bea found herself full of stew and comfortably nestled into one of the several overstuffed and mismatched sofas that cluttered the living room, surrounded by Odin, Nola, Kitty, Gordy, Michael-Dan, and Sherlock the cat.

“Elles t’a fait plaisir, les îles?” said eleven year old Michael-Dan, with an accent as impeccably groomed as his hair.

“Please Michael-Dan! No French!” rebutted Bea. “Not now. I’ll do French tomorrow.”

Kitty, fourteen, chuckled and lowered her chemistry book, displaying her black lipstick and eyeliner. Gordy, thirteen, adjusted the paper wings on a complicated toothpick structure, then sent it careening across the living room in loop-de-loops, before it was snatched in mid-air by Nola, a slight twelve year old who was snuggled into the sofa next to Bea.

“Don’t get stressed Bea,” urged Nola. “You’ll inhibit your parasympathetic functions.”

“And that,” said Odin, also twelve, “can get very uncomfortable.”

Odin wore rectangular tortoise-shell glasses, and had an impressive chin that he had yet to grow into. “Perhaps now wouldn’t be the best time to talk about algebraic order of operations,” he added.

“Odin,” said Bea firmly, “no. It would not.”

“So maybe we’ll take it for a spin tomorrow instead,” Odin persisted.

Bea growled in response and buried her nose in a spy novel, but she had to admit—if there was one undeniable advantage to having friends who were one-hundred times smarter than she was—it was that with their help she could home-school herself instead of going to Rosemary Rubberstein’s School for Girls, an alternative which she found entirely unappealing.

“Hey what’s that?” said Gordy to Kitty, who had just pulled a very familiar looking object out of the black rubber bookbag on the floor next to her.

“It’s called a Koo-Bar,” replied Kitty, ripping through the wrapper with her sharp, black-polished fingernails. “They’re giving them out for free at Crotchett and 3rd Street.”

“You mean there’s one of those stupid green kiosks?” said Bea, sitting up suddenly. “On our street?”

“Yep,” replied Nola. “Just around the corner, near Bill and his fruit cart. They put it up last week. Seems like even Bob the pony likes those Koo-bars things. And there’s another kiosk across campus by the rec center.”

“Well don’t eat it,” said Bea, leaning across the arm of her sofa to snatch it out of Kitty’s hand. “We don’t even know if it’s safe.”

“Of course it’s safe,” countered Gordy, grabbing it back. “They’re giving them out, aren’t they? Let me try it!” He broke off half and handed the remainder to Kitty. “And it’s not merely safe,” he mumbled, “…it’s delicious. Thanks Mervin Frostly!”

“Not that Mervin Frostly had anything to do with it,” Bea replied testily.

Well, she thought, maybe Hort will get her research done fast, and besides…even if they are using real koohoo…Waddongans drink it all the time, don’t they? And they sure seem like a healthy bunch.

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