Chapter 9

What was Prince Nerl of the North Waddo Islands doing in New Stirling, and why was he meeting with Hiram Scalmo? Bea gave a fleeting thought to running after him, but by the time she’d decided to do it, he’d climbed into a taxicab and sped off.

Bea turned around to see Odin and Nola bursting excitedly from the front door of Tylo’s.

“This should be quite interesting for you,” said Odin, indicating his laptop. “Whatever you were suspecting, it’s probably correct.”

“Let’s listen at home,” said Bea. “I’d rather not play it to the general public just yet.”

It was a short walk to 107 Crotchett Street. They trooped up the marble steps, went in, and hunkered down on the living room sofa as Odin opened his computer.

“C’est quoi?” asked Michael-Dan. “Musica nueva?”

“No, not music,” replied Bea. “The goods. I think we’ve got the goods on Hiram Scalmo. He has possibly just incriminated himself. Play it Odin.”

“Play what?” asked Gordy, as he and Kitty squeezed onto the couch, each of them gnawing on a Koo-bar.

“Play Hiram Scalmo,” said Bea. “The man who makes your favorite food. Play it Odin.”

Odin punched a button. The first obvious noise was the rattle of a teacup against a saucer, and the tinkle of a stirring spoon. Then Scalmo’s voice:

“Yeah, so like I said–I’ve got a couple of minor problems…”

“The snack bars are not selling?” inquired a smooth voice with the obvious lilt of a Waddongan accent. Prince Nerl.

“No, the bars are selling like hotcakes,”

“Hotcakes?” said Nerl, sounding slightly confused.

“That means good,” said Scalmo. “They’re selling really, really well. There’s absolutely no question we’ll be the most popular food in the state before we even begin to tap the national market. And that’s coming…soon.”

Nerl apparently took a noisy slurp of tea before speaking.

“This is very good news,” he said, “for the Waddongan economy. The working people of the Islands should be very pleased with me when it’s time to elect a new Prime Minister. Very pleased.”

“Only thing is,” said Scalmo, “I’ve got a little bit of a problem with…government regulation issues, and your girl, the grad student…Flannery, who really ought to study something else. Why did you people give her those samples, anyway?”

“‘Twas not my idea,” responded Nerl sharply. “I was against it. But I am NOT the Prime Minister…yet.”

“Yeah,” said Scalmo, sounding very unconvinced. “Who knows with elections? You might lose! Which is why I’m taking a serious look at growing my own koohoo.”

“You must not!” hissed Nerl. “I will give you this warning: Do not attempt to grow the koohoo plant yourself!”

“Oh, I see,” said Scalmo, “because how will you make money if I grow my own? I get it.”

“No,” replied Nerl. “That’s not the reason. Legends abound about the koohoo plant. In our folklore…”

“Folklore?” interrupted Scalmo. “Like what? Koohoo’s going to grow into a thorny barricade around the city and Prince Charming’ll have to save us? Give me a break.”

“He’s very rude,” said Nola.

“Sshhh,” said Bea.

“Fortunately,” said Nerl, (and here there was the sharp scrape of a chair moving–Nerl, apparently getting up,) “any attempt you make to grow koohoo will inevitably fail. I would be very concerned for you if this were not the case. Now, I have an airplane, and you have my telephone number. We will leave things on that cordial note.”

“He’s leaving through the front door now,” said Nola, narrating.

“Right,” said Bea. “And just about now he winks at me.”

But there was a bit more on the recording. Scalmo, muttering to himself.

“Inevitably fail, will it,” he said with a chuckle. “Obviously, you haven’t seen my greenhouse.”

“Then he left,” said Odin. “Out the side door.”

“Time to wash up!” yelled Petra, suddenly bustling through the living room with a basket of freshly washed sheets. “Dinner bell’s gonna ring in fifteen minutes!”

“And you better be hungry,” said Nola, eyeing Gordy and Kitty as they popped the last bits of koo-bar into their mouths. “Or Petra’s going to tie you in the kitchen.”

“No worries,” said Michael-Dan taking a critical look at Kitty’s hair, which now looked as if it had never been cut. “It’s gotta take quite a bit of fuel to grow hair that fast.”

“And Gordy,” added Nola, “your hair looks like a flaming carrot!”

“So,” said Bea, almost to herself as she leaned back into the sofa, “Now Prince Nerl is breaking Waddongan law, by illegally exporting koohoo…Scalmo is trying to take over the world with his koo-bars…or at least the country for now…and Hort’s research is going to have to be safely locked up…what else am I forgetting?”

The dinner bell and the door bell rang at precisely the same moment.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” exclaimed Petra as she tossed a basket of rolls on the dining room table and ran to open the door.

As Mr. and Mrs. Professor Flannery wandered into the foyer, and the kids and Hortensia clustered in the doorway to the living room, Dierdre Fidelius breezed through the doorway, past Petra.

“I have some news,” she said briskly, addressing the Professors. “I felt it would be more considerate to deliver it in person, as soon as possible, rather than make you wait for the mail.”

“I’m sorry,” said Mrs. Professor Flannery, “I don’t believe we’ve met.”

“Of course,” said Ms. Fidelius, without extending a hand. “Dierdre Fidelius, Personal Assistant to Mervin Frostly. The news I bring comes directly from Mr. Frostly’s office.”

Bea sensed Gordy getting ready to emit his usual “thanks” refrain, and elbowed him sharply in the side.

“As you know,” continued Ms. Fidelius, “funding for this residence, and scholarships for these young students come directly from Mr. Frostly’s foundation.”

“Yes, we do know,” said Mr. Professor Flannery.

Ms. Fidelius nodded. “I regret to inform you that, due to a reconfiguration of the Foundation’s priorities, the scholarships are to be eliminated, and this house sold, effective in 3 weeks.”

Not a word was uttered in the foyer, and scarcely a breath exhaled, as Dierdre Fidelius turned on her clicking high heels, and exited.

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