Chapter 4

Bea propped both elbows on the turquoise countertop at Tylo’s Corner Tea Shop. “One strawberry bubble tea, please,” she said to Tylo, whose dreadlocks were caught up in a red hairnet that matched his cherry red shirt.

“Same thing for me,” said Nola. “But peach.”

“Ladies…” said Tyrone as he set his blenders to whirring, capped off their cups with a precise flourish, then presented their drinks with a subtle bow.

Boring memorization was always more tolerable if you started with a bubble tea. Nola could drill Bea on bones in the leg, for example, and if Bea came up with tibia, fibula, and femur she’d reward herself by sucking up a globby ball through the fat straw. She had at just that moment granted herself a gummy bubble for identifying the humerus, radius, and ulna when they exited the tea shop right into the path of Gordy and Kitty.

“Bubble tea!” cried Kitty. “I love bubble tea! The balls require such a precise boiling limit, so they don’t get mushy…but Tyrone’s are perfect.”

She stopped so she could give fleeting thought to getting one herself, but reconsidered and pulled a green-wrapped koo-bar out of her black rubber bag. “Look!” she said. “I’m a Bean-Tek kid! Now I get’em for free!”

“We both get’em for free,” said Gordy, taking a bite out of his own koo-bar. “Watch your claws Kitty,” he added, ducking to avoid Kitty’s fingernails which were now unsheathed at eye-level. “They’ve gotta be two inches long!”

“Not quite,” said Kitty, admiring her nails, which were shiny with black polish. “But they’re longer than ever. And so is my hair. I had to do my roots three weeks earlier than usual this time.”

“Whatever you’re using,” said Nola fingering her wispy brown curls, “I need some.”

“Your hair’s good,” said Bea. As they walked toward home, she patted Nola on the head and sucked up a bubble tea blob. “I bet Kitty and Gordy’s hair would be perfectly acceptable too…even if they didn’t dye it.”

Gordy grimaced in disgust. “I don’t dye my hair,” he said.

“Really?” asked Bea skeptically. “I’m pretty sure your hair was black last week. How’d it get to be red?”

“What?” demanded Gordy. “My hair isn’t red!”

“Don’t you ever look in the mirror Gordy?” asked Kitty. She gave Gordy’s head a friendly rumple.

“It is looking kind of carroty lately,” agreed Nola.

“No one in my family has red hair,” insisted Gordy. “They all have black hair! Do you know how statistically improbable it would be for me to have red hair?”

A bright blue Jiffy-Ship delivery truck, slowing to a stop in front of 107 Crotchett Street, distracted everyone from Gordy’s hair. The truck tooted its horn twice, and a driver hopped out.

“Delivery for Hortensia Flannery!” called the driver. “Signature required!”

He approached the marble stairs and stopped in front of Bea.

“Would you sign this Miss?” he asked.

Bea scrawled as legibly as she could manage on the electronic screen the Jiffy-Ship man was holding in front of her. Then she accepted a large blue envelope as he handed it over.

“I guess I’d better run this over to Hort,” Bea said to Nola. “She’s popular today. Keep those bones handy.” She skipped into the street, pausing to pat Bob the fruit-cart pony who was stationed at the curb behind the Jiffy-Ship truck. Bill the fruit-cart man was tearing the wrapper off a Koo-bar and Bob nickered in appreciative anticipation.

“Bob sure loves these Koo-thingies,” said Bill. He fed the bar to Bob who gobbled it up with obvious delight.

Bea nodded and stroked Bob’s withers until her hand encountered two bony bumps near his shoulders that didn’t correspond to a scapula or a humerus or any other bone she’d learned about. “Is Bob okay?” she asked. “He’s got bumps.”

“Well, I’m not sure,” said Bill, as he counted out change for Tyrone who had popped out of his shop to replenish his supply of oranges. “But I sure hope so. I’m getting those looked at when the vet comes to check the ponies next week. It’s almost like he’s trying to grow handles, isn’t it?”

“Handles?” Bea repeated with a chuckle that trailed off as uncomfortable thoughts crept back into her head. Plants show different gifts in different climates, Mola Peggi’s words replayed. Make no hasty assumptions about its nature.

Ridiculous, Bea insisted to herself with a shake of her head. Eating Koohoo couldn’t change someone’s hair. Or bones. Completely ridiculous.


Bea sprinted, two steps at a time, to the third floor of the Mervin Frostly Science building. She stepped out of the stairwell and into the hallway just as the elevator dinged.

A man in a blue business suit and a large fedora hat with a green feather tucked jauntily in the hatband stepped through the elevator doors as they opened in front of Bea. There was something just a little too bushy about his moustache, and something just a little too stick-outish about his hair. His nose was pointy, and so was his chin. He swung a large black case in front of him and strode a little too cheerfully toward Hortensia’s botany lab. Bea moved into step behind him. He didn’t seem to notice.

“How d’ye do?” said the man, extending a hand toward Hortensia who was, as usual, tapping notes into her laptop between careful inspections of her Koohoo plants. She looked up and blinked several times.

“The name’s Charlie Friendly, and I represent Tropi-Pharm Botanical Products.”

“Hello,” said Hort. She looked vaguely relieved. Bea supposed that it was because the visitor wasn’t that googly-eyed Miles Oakenshaw guy from the State Department of Biological Research again.

“Miss Flannery,” continued Charlie Friendly, “There’s nothing Tropi-Pharm likes better than loyal customers…”

How does he know who she is?..wondered Bea.

“…and there’s no better way to earn loyal customers than by letting them try our marvelous products!”

“Oh,” replied Hortensia, pushing her glasses to the top of her head so that she could look at the salesman directly. “Is there something you want me to try?”

“Is there?” asked Charlie Friendly. “Is there ever!” He set his black case on the counter with a wink, flicked the clasps open with a knowing nod, and then, with a dramatic flick of his wrist, displayed a large, bright green bottle with a happy goat featured prominently on the label.

“Allow me to introduce Elixir of Capricorn!” said Charlie Friendly. He gave the bottle a twirl in his hand, then held it aloft with a rapturous gaze.

“Your birds-of-paradise will practically take flight! Your philodendrons will grow as big as elephants’ ears! Your Elephant Ears will grow as big as…dinosaur ears!”

“Dinosaurs don’t have ears,” cut in Bea. “At least not ears you can see.”

Hortensia chuckled, but a scowl flitted across Charlie Friendly’s face before being quickly replaced by his overly-grinny grin. He took a step to the side in order to get Bea within his field of view and, possibly, keep her under surveillance.

“Allow me to demonstrate,” said Charlie Friendly with a slight bow. He removed the bottle’s lid with a quick twist, then tipped the bottle toward the row of Koohoo plants in front of Hortensia.

“No!” cried Hortensia, wrapping her arms protectively around the five plants as she pulled them across the countertop, knocking over her tea in the process.

Charlie Friendly’s face briefly flashed the scowl again, but he composed himself even faster this time and smiled.

“Let me assure you Miss Flannery! Elixir of Capricorn is completely safe and has undergone years of research and testing!”

“Oh, I’m sure it has,” replied Hortensia with a sheepish smile, “but I’m doing very specific research with these plants and any additives to the soil could skew my findings.”

It was clear that she meant to soothe the salesman’s feelings, but Hortensia still kept the Koohoo plants snugly in her protective embrace. “Perhaps,” she said, “we could try your elixir on the trumpet pitchers and the cobra plants?”

“Yeah let’s!” agreed Bea. “Carnivorous plants the size of elephant ears? Who wouldn’t want that?”

Charlie Friendly shot Bea a scathing glance, and completely dropped the cheerful façade.

“You should consider, Miss Flannery,” he said in a scolding tone, “that receptivity to new ideas is a key to research success.”

Dropping the green bottle into his case, he muttered “hummmph,” and cast another long look at the koohoo plants. Hortensia pulled them a little closer. He then turned with another breathy huff and marched out of the room.

“Well,” said Hortensia. “Perhaps we could use some larger pitcher plants. For when salespeople come calling.”

“Or government inspectors,” added Bea.

Hortensia smiled and nodded her agreement.

Bea walked to the doorway and looked out. In the corridor Charlie Friendly was having a very heated discussion on his cell phone while gesturing accusingly toward the tropical lab where Bea was standing. The elevator opened and he stepped aboard.

Weird, Bea thought. Salesmen should be able to deal with rejection better than that. Besides, Hortensia didn’t totally reject his sample, she just didn’t want to use it on the Koohoo. Which is what he seemed to want. In fact, he seemed to want that very much. Charlie Friendly was not, she concluded, a normal salesman at all. Maybe he wasn’t any kind of salesman at all. And, if not, who was he?

When Bea turned back toward the lab, the blue Jiffy-Ship envelope, which she’d tucked between two pitcher plants caught her eye.

“Hort,” she said. “This came for you.” She handed the envelope to Hortensia, who ripped the zip-strip and pulled out a letter with such a bright green letterhead that Bea could tell, even from a distance, that it must be from Bean-tek Industries.

“It’s from someone named Hiram Scalmo,” said Hortensia, as she read. “He says he’s the president of Bean-Tek Industries…and they’re considering offering me grant money.” She stopped reading and looked pensively at the ceiling. “Imagine what I could do with two financial grants,” she said. “He wants me to come to his office at 2151 Glummer Place…tomorrow.”

Hortensia read the letter again, as if afraid she’d missed something the first time. “Bea!” she said. “You’re coming with me!”

“Of course I am,” said Bea.

Trackback URL

No Comments on "Chapter 4"

You must be logged in to post a comment.