Prince Dobalob has fallen in love with his auto mechanic, a porcupine named Sylvia. Giving them a bit more time together, Gari distracts her children, a trio of orphaned squirrels.
How did we get to Part Ten already? Did you somehow miss the beginning of the story? If you foolishly jump in here, you’ll need to refer to the Cast of Characters below. Good luck. Recommended snack: Root Beer Float
The waiter had delivered the first course. Bond gathered bits of kale from the platter and deposited it into a shallow dish of water. He stepped delicately into the dish and then plopped down, flailing and beating the water to a frothy broth with his wings. Water droplets flew off the table in mini-waves, drenching the pleased ferns with bird-splash-rain. The still silent conspirators shuffled chairs around to the far side of the table from the deluge. Deep in thought, the butler and school chum absently tucked into the fresh foliage.
Kipling chewed his greens carefully, gazing into the distance. It was a prissy little town; all the light standards were festooned with colorful planted baskets. Where the creek flowed across the main thoroughfare, an overstated bridge spanned the busy waterway, each end punctuated with matching baskets of flowers. Beyond, a dustcloud approached, grit and litter swirling ahead of the parched maelstrom. Three tiny backpack bedecked missiles zigzagged from rail to rail at the old bridge.
From this distance, the butler watched it form and then disintegrate, zigging and zagging across the quiet country road like gaseous mercury on a three dimensional plane. Gari followed his gaze, noted the irrational phenomena, and in apparent explanation uttered “Triplets.”
“I beg your pardon, did you say piglets?”
Chuckling, Gari responded to the valet.
“That works, too! No, actually, that would be Sylvia’s unruly brood. School must be out for the day. They’re working their way home, but, of course, she’s not home. We can give her a small break by intercepting them. Can you order three pipsqueak root beer floats while I go get them?”
Kipling turned to face Gari. “Are you saying that dust devil is the creation of Sylvia’s offspring?”
“Oh yes, one and the same.”
The dust cloud stalled this side of the bridge, airborne particles dropping like dead moths as the triplets screeched to a halt to peer down at the stream below. They trundled down the bank, disappearing, only to emerge on the far side, a newly created dust cloud blurring them into one singular swirling disturbance.
Gari stood up, brushing stray popcorn kernels off his waistcoat to the birds under the table. He stepped over to his Segway, hopped on, and bravely drove into the approaching storm. Kipling was still straining to see the individual elements of the maelstrom when the waiter approached.
“Could you please bring us three pipsqueak root beer floats?”
The waited turned to face the road, squinting at the approaching dust cloud, the departing Segway, and the “closed” sign on the door of the mechanic’s shop. He turned back to the butler, smiled, and scribbled a note on his tablet.
“Might I suggest two big boy root beer floats in addition, and a platter of acorn fritters? You will be grateful for the fortification.”
The butler looked at the waiter, vaguely confused, but as one service professional to another, he was unwilling to challenge such a seriously considered recommendation. He looked back down the road and still unable to make out any details of the situation, acquiesced.
“Yes, of course. I appreciate the recommendation.”
But the waiter had scurried away, confident in the order. Kipling watched Gari halt the Segway this side of the desert storm. It coalesced and concentrated around Gari and then disappeared. Gari slowly spun the Segway and headed back to the restaurant. As he approached, the valet saw that he was looking at an ersatz totem: a portly capybara with one tiny squirrel on his head, another on a shoulder, and a third peeking out of the bulging vest. Three tiny backpacks swung from the handle. Now he could hear the giggling and squealing, and Gari’s insistent admonishments not to switch positions until they came to a complete stop. They passed close enough to read the “closed” sign on the shop door and then swerved toward the restaurant. Kipling could now see the bright eyes, perky ears, and quivering whiskers. They were asking Gari about their mom.
“She’s having lunch with a friend, but YOU are having root beer floats with me!”
The Segway pulled up to the table and stopped.
“Yes, now you may switch places.”
Gari gritted his enormous teeth as the three squirrels climbed over his plush tree trunk body, in and out of his waistcoat, jumping from shoulder to shoulder, balancing on his morrillo. Kipling looked on in horror and then amusement as Gari burst out laughing and started scratching at the ticklers. The waiter waltzed up and set down three tiny drinks, causing a mass migration from totem to table. Oblivious to the mountain beaver at the table, they analyzed each float for volume, ratio of ice cream to root beer, and the color of the mug. One of the squirrels abruptly distributed the drinks, causing one of the others to holler at her.
“Why do you always get to decide? You aren’t the boss of us!”
Looking from one sibling to the other, he realized they were already drinking and slurping.
“Oh, man! There’s only one left that doesn’t have with cooties! And it’s the green mug. I wanted the red one!”
The waiter caught Gari’s eye, winked, and scurried off. Gari addressed the disgruntled squirrel.
“Give me your drink,” he said. The smaller rodent eyed him skeptically and tentatively shoved the drink a couple inches forward. As Gari grabbed for it, he changed his mind and yanked it back, sloshing a bit on the table.
“Why should I trust you? I seem to remember that you ate all my peanuts when you visited. My entire stash!”
“I seem to remember that I replaced them the next day with pecans. I even threw in a bag of pine nuts and a couple of macadamias,” said Gari. “And then you traded and doubled your peanut stash.”
“The macadamias were useless. Mom had to open them with her band saw. And then she ate them.”
Gari suddenly snatched at the little green mug, surprising the young squirrel who stood on the table and started to chatter but the waiter appeared and set down a gigantic red mug overflowing with root beer and ice cream foam. Gari ignored him and daintily picked up the tiny green mug and started drinking. The waiter set down a great purple mug in front of the tiny vole and scurried away. The little squirrel sulked for about half a second and started noisily sucking foam off the top of the gigantic drink. His siblings had stopped drinking and were now staring, mouths open, not knowing what to say. Kipling looked from Gari to the little squirrels and back again at his gigantic drink. The mug was as large as his first dorm room in college.
“Would you like to exchange drinks, I’m not very thirsty.”
Gari quietly exchanged drinks with the butler, and for a few minutes, they all slurped a silly symphony of root beer floats.
“Of course I’ll check out the undercarriage of your car, but it probably only needs to dry out a bit. The magic is dodgy down here, and you need to be a bit more conservative about road shoulders. In fact, unless you are midtown like we are now, it’s best not to rely on magic at all. The southern leak affects us more than it does you.” The casual conversation between the big rodents had faltered, and the mechanic had introduced a neutral subject to fill the awkward silence. “Turtles are reliable but their towing is agonizingly slow. Do you need your car today or what?”
The Prince considered this question. When he headed south to visit Gari he hadn’t declared any time-frame to the visit. That was usually something they discussed once he arrived.
“I’m staying with Gari and we generally tootle around on Segways, so I guess it doesn’t matter. Today, manana, I’ll need a way to get out to his place is all.”
Sylvia chuckled. “You can take a Segway. They’re all Gari’s, anyway. I just tune them up for him and rent them out from my shop. His place is close. You can almost see it from here. But you know that, don’t you, if you hang with Gari as often as you say.”
“We grew up together, old school chums, you know. But I’m surprised I never ran into you before now.”
Sylvia cocked her head, listening to distant squeals and laughter at the street side.
“I gotta go. I’ll catch you later.” And she was gone.
Meanwhile, back at the principality, Zeppelin planning had stalled and was in free fall. The experienced team half-heartedly discussed strategy between abbreviated mealtimes. The challenge was to make sufficient progress during the Prince’s absence to encourage him to continue the project while not over-committing to any particular direction. You see, Prince Dobalob had gathered the top craftsmen and engineers in the kingdom, and they thrived on the exciting projects the Prince dreamed up. Nothing pleased them more than successfully executing a Prince Dobalob Exclusive Project. The Prince was well known for unique and extravagant products. However, when the Prince was in residence, the unique could get out of hand, making progress impossible. That’s why the team flew into full-steam-ahead mode when he was absent. If they could proceed along one logical track for any length of time, smaller changes along the way could be accommodated.
Frankly, the team was capable of taking an acorn of an idea to ancient oak all by themselves. Without the Prince’s vision, and we might mention funding, they had nothing but time on their hands. However, without the Prince’s attention, projects were efficiently constructed with a minimum of waste, and delivered on time. So important, but oh, so boring. With The Prince in charge, the results were aesthetically superior, playful, multi-dimensional, and matchless. The team had learned that adapting already functional units to a princely aesthetic was easier than trying to create functionality from a previously installed princely doohickey. Plus, The Prince was always pleased with their rapid progress, something all the magic in the world would not provide for our prince. And so, the mutual respect resulted in not any ancient oak, but a superior and unique (if not ridiculous) oak.
What the team did lack was a proper interface between the inspired Prince and the down-to-earth millwright and support crew. Prince Dobalob lacked the formal manufacturing background so helpful in major construction projects. Rodney was such a skilled millwright that his initial response to a request was that he could build one himself, no matter what it was. A coffee maker? Why of course he could make one, have it ready in three weeks. But Rodney, in his enthusiasm, was unlikely to recommend that someone go down to CVS and pick up one this afternoon, even if that was the most reasonable solution. Between the two of them, most projects were over-engineered, under-designed, and over budget. Not that budget mattered much, but wasting money or resources is never a good plan.
So far, all they had was the picture book of Zeppelins that the Prince had left behind. There wasn’t even a bookmark in it to hint at the favored model. The millwright wondered if The Prince had seen the photos of the exploding Hindenburg yet. That could put quite a damper on his enthusiasm. Vincent and the naked mole rats swept the workshop and reorganized the work benches. They lined up tools along the back wall to make space for zeppelin parts. The millwright took inventory of his equipment, replacing broken drill bits and lost hex wrenches. He re-wired the workshop and added electrical outlets. He filled tanks, organized metal scraps, and checked fire extinguishers and safety gear. They took turns peering into the Prince’s design studio, gasped, and backed slowly away.
“Annabelle! We could use help in here!” said Rodney.
There was a fluffing at the door to the shop and then the pitty-pat of tidy chicken feet as Bianca entered the workshop.
“Annabelle is busy with the bookkeeping. I’m through sorting receipts so I have time to help. What do you need?” she said.
“What do you think we can get away with in there?” he said, gesturing toward the design studio door.
Bianca strutted quickly toward the open studio door and stared for a moment before turning toward the millwright.
“You’re kidding, right?”
“No, I’m not. There’s about five years of project paperwork there, all mixed up. One time we tried to add articulated mechanical legs to a wood stove because The Prince handed us the wrong drawing. Isn’t there a file cabinet behind that stack of boxes in the corner? I can’t even remember how many desks and drafting tables are in there because the junk on top of them has congealed into a solid mass bridging them all together. There used to be chairs in there, but now I’m not sure. I wonder how many misplaced cell phones are hiding in there, to say nothing of sunglasses and car keys.”
“Well, Rodney,” she said, ”it sounds to me like you have a better idea of what’s in there than I do. Why don’t you clean it up?”
Rodney’s cell phone suddenly chirped, and he turned and strode toward the far door. He hesitated long enough to open it and step out. The mole rats scattered and scurried through the tiny shop doors Rodney had installed for them. Bianca turned to survey the suddenly empty workshop and nearly tripped over a garbage bag at her feet. She leaned over and picked it up in disgust. Officially, she was now left holding the bag.
To be continued . . .
The indispensable Cast of Characters:
This story needs illustrations! Select an event from this story (how about a wood stove with legs?), draw a picture of it, and send me an email. I’ll reply so that you can attach a digital copy of your masterpiece to it. I’ll add it to the story!
Or, if you’d rather help with the glossary, send me the list of words you had to look up (or should have looked up, but didn’t!). When I finish writing the ending, I will start putting together the glossary.