Chapter 6

Bea reflexively snapped her two cupped hands around the flying white mouse, and deposited it back in the terrarium. Hortensia quickly secured the lid.

“No,” said Bea. “Not good. The same thing is happening to Bob.”

“Bob who?” asked Hortensia as she riffled through her notes on the counter.

“Bob the fruit cart pony,” replied Bea. “He’s sprouting wing nubs. Just like these mice.”

“And people are eating koohoo…” said Hortensia reflectively. “I wonder if it’s affecting them?”

“Weird stuff is happening,” said Bea. “Really weird stuff. Gordy’s hair is turning red. Kitty’s hair and her nails are growing like weeds.”

“Okay.” said Hortensia decisively. She grabbed a stack of papers, and straightened it with two short raps on the countertop. “Now we are going to keep our appointment with Mr. Scalmo at Bean-Tek, but we’re not going to be talking about research grants. He’s going to have to recall all products containing koohoo, and he’s got to do it now! Let’s go.”

A clatter and thump came from the hallway, as if someone tripped, or dropped something.

“Miss Flannery!” came the accompanying voice. Bea recognized that voice. She positioned herself protectively near the group of potted plants which seemed most vulnerable to being knocked off the counter, and stood back as Miles Oakenshaw entered the lab.

“Miss Flannery,” he repeated. He was as awkward as ever, and his glasses were slightly askew. “May I have a word with you?”

“I’m sorry,” began Hortensia as she put on a jacket. “Mr…Oakley, is it? My sister and I were just leaving. I have an appointment to get to.”

“Oakenshaw,” said Miles Oakenshaw. “Please…our office has received anecdotal evidence that there may be…um…concerns about the plant you’re studying. Is there any way we could compare notes?”

Bea almost felt sorry for him. He was such a dork, but seemed so sincere.

“Here,” said Hortensia, slapping a pile of papers into his hands. “It’s a rough outline of what I’ve found so far. And yes, there are problems. Sit down, take your time…or take it with you if you want to. But we have to go now.”

“May I call you to discuss these later?” asked Miles, as Hortensia and Bea disappeared into the hallway.

“Of course you may,” called Bea, speaking for Hortensia. “But I’ll tell you what else…while you’re here, you might want to take a look at the mice over in the corner.”

She led the way into the elevator with Hortensia close behind, and the doors closed.


Bea and Hortensia caught the Number Eleven bus at the stop in front of the University Student Center. They traveled around Lake Stirling and through the bustling business district, until they reached a stretch of darkly industrial blocks where the streets were nearly deserted.

“Glummer Place!” barked the bus driver as the bus came to a squeaky halt at the corner and the exit door opened.

“Are you sure this is right?” Hortensia asked Bea. They stepped off the bus onto a barren gray sidewalk on an equally barren block of cliff-like, featureless gray buildings.

“Look at the letter,” said Bea.

Hortensia fished the invitation out of her satchel and Bea took it.

“2151 Glummer Place,” said Bea, fingering the letterhead. “Ok. So, this is Glummer Place, and that ugly but unremarkable building there,” she continued, pointing to a blank granite block structure in front of them, “is 2003 Glummer Place, which means…it should just be another block that-a-way.”

The bus pulled away with a squeaky groan, and Bea resolutely proceeded up the block with Hortensia right behind. The blank building walls lining the streets were unmarked by signs, except for one poster-sized case mounted on the corner, just on the other side of the cross street, but even it appeared to be empty of any kind of advertisement. But as they stepped from the street to the curb, the blank glass case suddenly popped to life, revealing itself to be a colorful animated display screen, complete with sound effects.

“Welcome to the International Headquarters of Bean-Tek Industries!” began a peppy announcer, as the sign displayed an animated sequence of happy people snacking on koo-bars. “Sign up for a factory tour! And be sure to visit our Koo-snack Emporiums, now open all over the city of New Stirling, for all your gift-giving needs!”

“Koo-snack Emporiums?” repeated Bea glaring at the screen, which was now showing a tempting array of Christmas stockings spilling over with koo-bars.

“At least we know we’ve come to the right place,” said Hortensia, continuing down the sidewalk.

Bea followed, still glancing back at the offending sign, so she was taken by surprise when a perky female voice, from nowhere, instructed “Please step onto the moving sidewalk!”

Indeed, barely visible until it was at their feet, the blank concrete pavement was suddenly interrupted by a moving conveyor belt, hemmed in by the building’s stone wall and a clear plexiglass railing.

“Yikes!” exclaimed Bea. “Okay! Okay! Step on it Hort.”

“Okay,” said Hort. “I’m on, I’m on.”

“Koohoo,” said a voice which seemed to be piped right along with the moving walkway, “the amazing tropical bean that everyone’s talking about…”

“Not tropical,” protested Hortensia, “tropical montane.”

“…and so good for you!” continued the voice. “Look for Koo-Bars everywhere!”

“They aren’t kidding about the everywhere part,” said Bea as the moving walkway suddenly deposited them onto a small stone-paved plaza in front of the stone façade of a building, marked, by means of brass letters affixed to the otherwise blank wall: BEAN-TEK CORPORATE HEADQUARTERS, 2151 GLUMMER PLACE.

“We have a slight problem,” said Bea. She scanned the front of the building. “There’s no doorway.”

“No doorway?” replied Hortensia. “How can there be no doorway?”

But before Bea could answer, a short but proud fanfare blasted from the same invisible source, and a voice began to announce:

“Welcome to Bean-Tek!”

At this a circular hole, five feet in diameter, appeared in the center of the plaza. To the beat of a lofty musical refrain, a six foot tall statue of the smiling Bean-Tek bean rose from the hole in front of them and lowered one mechanical arm to display, in its oversized palm, several bright green, sample-sized koo-bars.

“Please enjoy this complimentary sample,” instructed the invisible person, “in our snappy new ‘yum’ size!”

“More like, please bury this hazardous waste,” said Bea, ignoring the outstretched mechanical hand.

“So what now?” wondered Hortensia. “How do we get in the building? Hey! Mr. Bean-man!” she said, as if the invisible voice might also have invisible ears. “Where’s the door?”

“Maybe,” suggested Bea, who was staring intently at the Bean-man, “we should push one of these buttons.”

About waist-high on the mechanical bean-man, a panel of lit buttons glinted enticingly. A blue one labeled “employees,” a yellow one labeled “deliveries,” and a green one labeled “visitors.”

“Visitors it is,” said Bea, and she gave the green button a decisive push.

The bean-man began to rise, and as he did the platform on which he stood became taller and taller, stretching into a cylindrical compartment with walls of glass, and a doorway, which slid open in front of Bea and Hortensia.

“Welcome,” said the voice. “Please step into the module. And enjoy your visit to Bean-Tek Industries.”

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