Chapter 18

It was on an unseasonably mild November day that a crew of landscapers took jackhammers to the concrete sidewalks surrounding 2151 Glummer Place, former headquarters of Bean-Tek Industries, and turned them into rubble.

Bea looked up at Mola Peggi, who was standing beside her in a cold weather edition of the classic Waddongan shimmering fish-skin dress.

“Will the Pelinga trees grow here?” Bea asked. “New Stirling isn’t exactly tropical.” She thought of Hortensia and corrected herself. “Tropical montane.”

“Your sister Hortensia and our horticultural advisors believe so,” said Mola Peggi.

At ten foot intervals, hefty Pelinga trees with root balls the size of small cars stood ready to be lowered into the freshly exposed soil surrounding the formerly fortress-like building.

A fortress no longer, its blank gray façade was now interspersed with windows from the first floor to the sixth, and where once the mechanical bean would have risen from the pavement, a life-sized octopus, cast in bronze, presided over a richly-planted plaza, welcoming all to the North Waddoo Islands Embassy in New Stirling.

“I’m glad you decided to put in a door,” said Bea to Mola Peggi. And not just any door, but a double-width, red-painted door of pelinga wood from which Prince Nerl now emerged, clad in a Waddongan robe of purple cloth, with a matching cap to tame his waxed twists of stringy red hair.

“This post should keep him out of trouble,” said Mola Peggi to Bea, as Nerl approached and made a humble bow.

“Miss Flannery,” said Nerl.

“Ambassador Nerl,” said Bea.

“I trust you and your sister will join us at the opening Koohoo ceremony next weekend?”

“Of course,” replied Bea. “I’m sure we can catch a bus, if not a pony.”

Nerl bowed again, then winked.


Crotchett Street was buzzing with pre-Thanksgiving activity. Students filtered in and out of academic buildings. Petra the housekeeper was giving the doormat of number 107 a series of hearty smacks against the brownstone, while the kids who lived there moved down to the lowest of the marble steps to get out of the way of the billowing dust. And Bill the fruit cart man was doing a brisk business with sales of warm cider, winter squash, and pumpkin bread.

“So Bob is still the winged wonder pony?” observed Kitty.

“Yeah,” said Gordy. “What’s with that? My hair’s starting to grow in black again.”

“And I haven’t given Kitty’s a trim in days,” added Michael-Dan.

“Oh, he’s happy enough,” said Bill. “Long as he gets to stretch ‘em out now and again.”

“Well don’t look at me,” said Odin. “I’m a digital composer, NOT an aerial cowboy. Once was enough.”

“I’ll fly him with you Bea,” volunteered Nola. “I don’t suppose he’ll lose his wings. Hair, you shed. Antlers, you shed. I figure that once you have wings, you probably have to keep them.”

“Which reminds me,” said Bea, “I told Hort I’d help her with the mice. Flying mice eat a lot of millet.”

She hurried across Crotchett Street to the Mervin Frostly Science Building.

The lobby smelled good. Even a throng of jostling college students couldn’t mask the pungently nutty aroma of a Pelinga tree in full autumn foliage, rooted happily in the middle of the atrium garden.

And, in the fish pond, Bea caught the white glimmer of at least one mouse with gills, gliding under a lily pad.

Bea skipped up to the third floor, two stairs at a time.

“Well then,” said Miles Oakenshaw who was hovering awkwardly at the doorway of the botany lab. “It looks like I’ve got all the documentation I need, and your future koohoo research has been given the a-ok.”

“Thanks Miles,” said Hortensia. “So you’re…all done here?”

Bea judged Miles to be at a loss for words, when the elevator dinged and Mervin Frostly stepped jauntily into the hallway.

“Just the person I was looking for!” said Frostly. “But I wasn’t expecting to find you here. I thought Miss Flannery might have your card though.”

Bea, Hortensia and Miles looked at each other blankly.

“The State boy…the policy man,” explained Frostly.

“Me?” said Miles.

“Yes sir. How do you like your job?” asked Frostly.

“It’s…a steady job sir, with good benefits,” replied Miles.

“But boring?” prompted Frostly.

“Well,” said Miles, glancing around a bit furtively as if unsure whether honesty was the best policy. “A little.”

“I need a new second-hand man,” said Mervin Frostly bluntly. “Good pay, work that keeps you hopping…you do like to hop don’t you?”

“Oh, um…yes sir,” stammered Miles, “I can hop.”

“And you notice things,” said Frostly. “The details. I’m not so good with the details.”

Frostly rummaged in his pocket for a business card, with no luck. “Fiddlesticks,” he said. “Darn details.”

He grabbed the marker attached by a string to a wipe-off board on the botany lab door. “Mrs. Quigg,” he said as he scrawled his office number onto the white board. “Call my receptionist, Mrs. Quigg.”

Miles fumbled to pull a card of his own out of his shirt pocket, and copied down the information. Then he stood up straighter, took a deep breath, and turned to Hortensia.

“Hortensia,” he said, “will you have dinner with me?”

“Of course Miles,” said Hortensia. “I’ll be right here. Come find me.”

“Beatrix,” said Mervin Frostly, as his finger hovered over the elevator call button, “would you like to take a walk with me?”

“Of course,” said Bea, “but let’s take the stairs.”

Mervin Frostly pushed the stairwell door open for Bea.

“Thanks Mervin Frostly,” said Bea.

“No Beatrix Flannery,” replied Mervin Frostly, “thank you.”

And they stepped out into a crisp November day where red leaves—and one fluffy yellow parachute seed—danced down Crotchett Street.


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