Chapter 8

Bea left Hortensia to help Miles collect his official government information. She was sure they could manage without her help, and besides, she really needed to investigate this latest wrinkle—Bean-Tek as “Official Sponsor” of NSU alumni weekend. What could this possibly mean? Something bad, Bea was certain.

She dodged around the students clustered in the lobby, and past the bright green koo-bar vending machine.

“Bea!” called Nola, as Bea stepped outside. “I just had lunch in the cafeteria, and guess what?”

She didn’t wait for Bea to answer.

“I’ll tell you what. Now they’ve got koo-bars next to the salad bar. It’s everywhere.”

“This is starting to NOT surprise me,” replied Bea. “Did you know that Bean-Tek is now the official sponsor of alumni weekend?”

“Hey,” said Odin, catching up with Bea and Nola, “Did you hear that Bean-Tek is the official sponsor of alumni weekend?”

“Yes Odin, actually I have heard that,” replied Bea. “And I have a very bad feeling about it.”

“What’s the matter?” asked Odin. “Don’t you like green?”

“What I don’t like,” said Bea, “are crooks who care more about money than people, and that’s who’s sponsoring alumni weekend.”

“Hey,” said Odin. “I’ve gotta go make a class switch, from Advanced Algorithms to Independent Study. Who feels like coming to the registrar’s office with me?”

“I’ll come,” replied Bea. “Maybe I can find out whether Bean-Tek has taken over the whole school!”

The registrar’s office was located on the first floor of the University’s main administration building—a crusty old brick structure around the corner and down a block from the Mervin Frostly Science Building. The only building on campus which had been around longer was the one-hundred year old clock-tower, rising high above the campus skyline behind the new science building.

Nola tagged along, doggedly quizzing Bea on the components of the human respiratory system while Odin went to submit his request. But Bea shushed Nola in the middle of a question about alveoli and bronchioles when she heard what by now was a disturbingly familiar voice coming from the dean’s office across the hallway.

“But surely, Dean Pegwell, you and the rest of the University administration can appreciate just how un-beneficial Miss Flannery’s research might be to Bean-Tek…just as we’re poised to become one of the school’s major financial sponsors?”

Bea kept her finger to her lips, and turned to face a bulletin board on the wall, so her face would not be visible to anyone walking into the hallway.

“That’s Hiram Scalmo,” she whispered to Nola. “Obviously he’s determined to stop Hort’s research, one way or another.”

“I’m sorry I can’t help you, Mr. Scalmo,” replied a second voice from the office—Dean Pegwell, no doubt. “But graduate students select research topics with their advisors. It’s not a task of the administration.”

“I’m done!” called Odin, returning from the registrar’s office. “Goodbye algorithms, hello independence!”

“Odin!” whispered Bea harshly. “Huddle. Now!” She grabbed his shoulder and pulled him into their cluster where they pretended to be scrutinizing a list of apartments for rent.

Hurried footsteps clopped into the hall behind them, and Bea peeked discreetly to verify that it was actually Scalmo leaving the dean’s office. But before Scalmo could get far, his phone emitted a piercing trill, and he slapped it to his ear.

“Yes,” he said into the phone. “No, not good. There’s a place up the block on Crotchett Street…Spiro’s, no..Tri, um, Tylo’s. Meet me there. Fifteen minutes.”

Scalmo clapped the phone shut and tucked it into his pocket, then hustled down the hall and out of the building.

“We’ve gotta tail him,” said Bea. “Better yet, get there first. You guys with me?”

“Sure,” said Nola, “but I’m not sure why.”

“I’ll give you two good reasons,” replied Bea, as she ushered Odin and Nola out the side door of the administration building. “One: That guy, Hiram Scalmo, is trying to sabotage Hort’s research, and we’ve got to stop him, and two: it’s him and his stupid bars that are turning Kitty, Gordy, Bob the pony, and everybody else scarfing those things into freakazoids.”

Bea, Nola, and Odin scurried around the block in a direction opposite to the route they thought Scalmo was most likely to take, and entered the tea shop to see Tylo engaged in an animated exchange with a saleslady wearing a kelly-green blazer.

“But it’s such an easy sale!” said the lady, plunking a large jar of koo-bars down on the counter next to the cash register. “They practically sell themselves!”

“Splendid!” said Tylo, handing the jar back to the saleslady. “Let them sell themselves somewhere else! I sell a unique line.”

“But everyone carries koo-bars!” insisted the lady, as she returned the jar to the counter.

“Exactly why I don’t need to!” insisted Tylo with equal determination. He handed the jar back once more, then turned toward Bea, Nola, and Odin.

“What can I get you hard-working people today?” asked Tylo.

“Peach bubble tea,” said Nola.

“Same for me,” said Bea.

“Mocha frap,” said Odin.

The lady in the green blazer said nothing, and stomped out with her nose in the air.

As Tylo whipped up their refreshments, Bea talked out the plan.

“Scalmo knows me,” she said, “so I need to keep out of sight.”

“How about this then?” suggested Nola. “When we see them coming, you sneak out the side door, and Odin and I will go sit near their table.”

“And,” continued Odin, “I’ll record their conversation on my laptop while pretending to study music theory.”

“Excellent,” said Bea. “No time like now! Here he comes.”

Bea stared intently at a puppies-for-sale sign on a bulletin board near the side exit, while listening to Scalmo order a black coffee from Tylo. Then, as Nola and Odin casually situated themselves at a table, she sneaked a final glance at the neighboring table where Scalmo had just pulled out a chair.

A man had been sitting at that table the whole time, since before Bea, Odin, and Nola had come in, but aside from the fact that he looked somehow out of place in New Stirling, Bea hadn’t paid him any special attention. Not good. She wished she could kick herself without attracting attention.

The man nodded in greeting as Scalmo took a chair, but Bea could see only the back of his head, under a fedora hat. But when the man removed his hat to reveal stringy waxed red hair, she wanted to stare, but knew she couldn’t risk Scalmo spotting her.

Bea quietly exited through the side door, then hurried to the front of the building.

Bill and Bob! Parked, at that moment, just in front of the tea shop. Bill was busy with pumpkin sales, so it was perfect cover as she waited for Scalmo’s meeting to end.

Bea positioned herself so that she’d be obscured by Bob as she stroked his small, but now perfectly formed, wings and looked toward the tea shop entrance. She could roughly make out Odin punching computer keys, Nola flipping flashcards, and at the neighboring table, Scalmo standing up.

Scalmo nodded curtly at the other man, whose face, from Bea’s point of view, was now obscured by a poster in the shop window. Then the unidentified man stood, took a last long swig of his coffee, and ambled toward the front exit.

Curiosity overcame her sense of caution, and Bea now stared outright at the front door of the tea shop. Scalmo’s table-mate pushed open the door.

Even with the fedora back on his head, the afternoon sunlight glinted sharply off the twisted wisps of red hair sticking out below the man’s hat.

Prince Nerl, chief trade counselor of the North Waddo Islands, caught sight of Bea’s gaping stare and winked right back at her.

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