Part Fourteen introduces Caplin Rous. You might know him from Capybara Madness. In this fictional account, he plays the role of Captain Caplin of the Guardia Principale. He’s a bit overbearing, and Dobby and Gari like to make fun of him behind his back.
We’re suddenly at Part Fourteen, because there is no Part Thirteen. You can jump in here, but I’ll give you a link if you’re one of those types who prefer to start at the beginning. There’s an extensive chart below to help you sort out the myriad characters. Recommended snack: Root Beer Float
Sylvia emerged all spiffed up before The Prince had finished his second bag of popcorn. She was wearing a black Castrol Motor Oil t-shirt and a short denim skirt with a white eyelet bandanna that showed off her formidable quills. She walked past the two capybaras at the popcorn machine, tossed a great big folded quilt at Gari, and scooped up the picnic basket. “Let’s go!” She stopped at the door and turned a hanging sign around to the “Back Soon!” side. She was halfway to the bridge by the time the boys had caught up to her.
The path down to the river was steep and dusty but the riverbank sloped gently and the grass was neatly clipped. There were a few office workers with deli bags at a couple picnic tables and several landscape sheep grazed in the distance. Sylvia grabbed the quilt from Gari and expertly spread it on a level spot near the water with views up and down the river. She weighted down a corner of the quilt with the picnic basket and lifted the lid.
Sylvia whistled. “Whoa! Did you clean out the entire deli, or what? We’ll never eat all of this!”
Dobby smiled slyly at her. “If we don’t, you’ll have to feed it to your kids for dinner, you know, instead of cooking.”
She mouthed a silent “thank you” to him and looked sideways at Gari. He shrugged. His friend was kind of a doofus, but he was also thoughtful and generous. The boys hung back while Sylvia pawed through the deli packages, silently reading the hand marked white sandwich bundles. There were glass containers of condiments, tiny paper bags with chips and pretzels, several boxes of cookies, an assortment of juices, and all the in between spaces were crammed with oranges and apples.
“Gee, no popcorn?” she teased. She selected a sandwich, chips and juice and made room for the boys to get in and grab their lunch. She laughed when Dobby reached to the bottom of the basket and tossed her some bags of caramel corn. They munched away in silence, and watched the ducks, geese, and swans float aimlessly in the lazy flowing river.
“So what do you do when you aren’t waiting for your car to be repaired?” asked Sylvia. “I hear you’re a prince. What exactly does a prince do?”
Wow, thought Prince Dobalob, she gets right to it, doesn’t she? Gari was watching him closely, but not signaling any clues. He was on his own here.
“Well, I manage the farm, mostly. There are a lot of folks living in the principality who depend upon me to grow enough food to keep everyone fed.” He was feeling a little defensive, but it was a valid question. Just what did he do, anyway? “I also have some projects I am working on and that keeps a lot of skilled workers employed. My palace is a community gathering place where everyone can hang out and have fun, but I also try to keep everyone safe and well cared for. You are well beyond my jurisdiction, but if things are not okay here, you could come talk to me and I could try to solve your problem. King Schist’s kingdom is your protectorate. There isn’t much I can do for you. Have you ever dealt with him?”
“Look out,” said Gari, “that’s a trick question!”
Sylvia looked from The Prince to Gari, not sure whether he was serious, but both of them were grinning. Gari had told her about how he and Dobby had teased and tormented the three terrible princesses while they were growing up, but he didn’t talk much about the King. Or the Queen, for that matter. But the question had hit closer to home than either of them had expected.
“Well, not directly. After the um, alligator incident– ” Sylvia looked down and fiddled with a chip bag. “After the alligators came, some of us, not me, I was too busy, but some town folks called the King but he never did anything about it. I heard he laughed at one of the callers. Then we heard that the Guardia Principale was going to bring in a crew to deal with all of the alligators and leaky magic. But the crew never materialized and then the roosters went missing and everything’s still a mess down here in the south.”
Prince Dobalob wasn’t smiling any more. He was deep in thought. His little Principality was like a toy compared to the larger Kingdoms. The Principality was like a fairy tale town where everyone knew everyone else and nobody bothered to lock their doors. Technically, it was ruled by his father’s kingdom, but no one had challenged his authority or had even checked on his management since he came of age. His father was less actively involved in ruling, now, and he had slowly relinquished control to various ministers . King Schist’s neighboring kingdom to the south was the closest threat that the Kingdom of Bolabod had, and they didn’t even have any magic; the land was barren. To the north were small scattered villages that produced items for trade with distant kingdoms. The magic was now unstable in the south, and the disappearance of the roosters was troubling. But this bit about alligators was truly disturbing news. He looked toward the nearby river and wondered what kind of security had been installed. The ducks swimming along the river bank certainly seemed unconcerned.
Serious now, he looked at Gari and put down his apple.
“Did you ever have to go to King Schist’s castle? When I was little I got stuck going there with my parents. The Queen and princesses were afraid to go outdoors, so to escape all I had to do was go outside. They had some good climbing trees but everything else was pretty barren. Anyway, the King would always tease me by warning me about the alligators in the moat. Well, they did have a moat and it was pretty disgusting, but I never saw any alligators. Of course, I never went close enough to see down in there, just in case. Now I’m wondering — where did all of these alligators come from? It’s kind of a new thing, you know, alligators all over the south. Did Schist’s imaginary alligators escape? Were they always real?”
All three friends were looking serious now.
“Sounds like we need to talk to Caplin about alligators tonight, the security down here and then see if he knows where they came from,” said Gari.
“Ask for me, too,” said Sylvia. She reached into the picnic basket for a box of cookies at the same time as Dobby and their hands met. They looked at each other and laughed as a few butterflies fluttered out of the basket. Dobby knocked her hand gently away and tossed the box to Gari. She snatched at the box next to it and Dobby rummaged around for yet another box.
“How many boxes of cookies are in there?” asked Sylvia.
“Six, two boxes apiece. The rest of them are in the back of Gari’s truck.”
“Oy vey. What are you looking for?”
“The ones with birdseed sprinkles.”
Running late meet you at The Fern
Dobby looked up from his phone. “What a surprise. Caplin will be late. Let’s go over to the restaurant now, anyway. I want to check out the security there. Alligators are kind of inconvenient when you’re trying to serve lunch.”
“It’s high-bank waterfront there, so alligators aren’t quite the same threat, but nobody’s going to order dessert if an alligator is skulking around. Every area has its own challenges. Where we had our picnic, an alligator could just walk up onto the grass and help himself to your sandwich. If you try to restrict them from swimming up the river, you mess up the river traffic and then of course, the alligators just go around barriers. So they’ve had to be kind of selective about where they block access. And then at the restaurant they’d have to climb up a steep bank, so that’s a natural deterrent, but it’s not very reassuring to the people sitting at the riverside tables. Still, nobody wants their view spoiled by big solid barriers.”
“It’s probably the most complicated at the delta area. We know they travel down the river, but we don’t want them to get into the ocean where they could disperse even further. So far, I haven’t had to worry about alligators on the beach at my villa, but if they get into the delta, nobody knows how to stop them.”
“Too bad the magic is so dodgy down here. Magic spells are more environmentally friendly than electric fences, unless they are powered by turbines. You have tide turbines at the villa don’t you?”
“Yeah, and they work great. A lot of the businesses down by the river have turbines. Sylvia probably has one. A bunch of them went in together to have them installed all at once, kind of a package deal when the alligator safety zones were installed.”
“So the electricity at her shop is turbine generated?”
“Her shop and the house, too. She put a lot of work into the renovations since she moved in with the kids. It’s their house and she wanted them to be able to stay there.”
They arrived at the restaurant and Gari ordered a couple root beer floats. They walked around back and stood at the top of the embankment.
“This is one of the places where at first they put some electric fences along the water. But the alligators would come right up to the wires and stare at the food on the tables, or maybe even at the customers and the restaurant stopped seating folks over here. They were losing business because these are the most popular tables. There’s no good way to make the gators go away, so they ended up putting fences in the river to make them go to the other side.”
“So what happens everywhere else? Are there just alligators all over the place?” Dobby was thinking maybe it was time to cut this holiday short and go back north.
“It’s not as bad as all that, but if you’re anywhere near the river, you don’t want to take an impromptu nap. Wallowing in puddles, berry picking, it’s all kinda iffy these days. The locals all know the safest areas, but for you yokels, it’s best to be cautious everywhere.”
“Yeesh. So it sounds like it could be at least another day before my car is ready. I hope I live that long.”
“I’m not surprised that it’s taking a couple days to get you a new oil pan. Vintage car parts are hard to find. She’ll text you as soon as it comes in and it isn’t complicated to install. Heck, I could probably do it.”
Dobby looked horrified at the thought of his friend working on his car. Gari raised his eyebrows, threw his paws up, and pretended that his feelings were hurt. He changed the subject.
“I think it’s kinda cute that the kids want to have you over for tea. They think you’re anxious about your car. Sylvia said they were looking at it and wanted to sit in it but she wouldn’t let them. So be prepared for that request to come up.”
“Well, I am anxious about my car, but not about kids sitting in it. I know that someday a part won’t be available and Rodney will want to fabricate a replacement. It isn’t that I don’t have confidence in him to do it—it’s that his aesthetic sense is, um, different from mine. I’m not ready to put Sylvia to that test, so I guess I’ll have to stay down here with you until that oil pan gets here. So, your beach is safe, right?”
The waiter came around the corner with two root beer floats on an oversized tray.
“There is a gentleman asking for you at the entrance, a Captain Caplin, I believe. Shall I bring him around?”
“Sure, that would be great. Thanks.” Dobby looked at Gari as the waiter retreated. “Watch. Caplin will come around but he won’t sit at our table. He’ll insist that the tables are nicer out front, but he mostly wants to sit out there in his uniform where he can be seen. He’ll have twice as many medals as when I saw him last. I think they’re multiplying.”
“We could just go out to the front,” said Gari.
“No thanks. I’ll always be the kid brother but I’m not giving in to him that easily. If he wants to act important then he’s going to have to work for it.”
“What would you like me to do with these root beer floats, then,” said the water. He had been listening and had a valid point.
“You can set them down here. Can you please invite him to join us back here? We’d like The Captain to inspect your alligator safety fencing.” Gari was reluctant to cause a ruckus with Dobby’s brother. After all, he lived here and ate at this restaurant all the time. The waiter was his friend. He wasn’t at all certain about Captain Caplin. This seemed like a good time to figure that out.
“Yes, sir. I will deliver the message.”
Dobby snapped around to face Gari, and seemed about to say something, and then sighed and leaned back in his chair. They sat for a moment, deep in thought. Simultaneously, the chums leaned forward, grabbed their root beer floats and spoons and started to play with the frothy business on top. Next, they stuck straws into their floats and watched them froth over. They looked at each other and laughed.
“How many root beer floats have we annihilated, do you think?”
Dobby laughed. “Maybe 350 a year, for ten years, so bare minimum three thousand, I guess.”
They were laughing hysterically when Caplin rounded the corner and cleared his throat to announce his arrival.
“Dobalob! So nice to see you! And Gari. Of course. You live near here, don’t you. I was so very sorry to hear of your parent’s demise.” Caplin spoke loudly as if he was making a proclamation. Everyone at the restaurant looked up to see who was talking.
“That was eight years ago, sir, but thank you.” Gari was trying to remember when he last saw Caplin. Surely this Caplin was not that Caplin. This one was immense, like a SuperBara but without his cape. He was either big-boned or maybe just fat, or both. You know, the kind of guy whose stomach enters the room several paces ahead of his nose. And capybaras have oversized schnozzes.
And then there was the uniform. The purpose of a uniform is to create the illusion of uniformity among the members who wear it. This is, of course, undermined by the adornments designed to distinguish certain members as being superior to the others. Badges, patches, ribbons, pins, and medals all signal to the other members that this member is much more important than the others, and spell out in detailed code exactly why this is so. Caplin’s shoulders had little red pillows with gold braid. Over his heart he had dozens of striped multi-colored ribbons and several coordinated medals. His collar had tiny golden capybara head pins with crossed pool cues and a tiny triangle of cued up pool balls. A scarlet sash hung at a diagonal from his right shoulder, pinned with a dizzying array of enameled badges in various shapes and colors. Captain Caplin was a Very Important Capybara.
Gari stood up to shake his hand. Dobby, upon noticing this, suddenly decided that he ought to stand, too, in spite of it being his brother. When you see the word suddenly in a sentence involving Dobby, you had better stand back. Sure enough, as he stood up, Dobby knocked his chair over, into the chair behind him, which fell onto the server station, missing the glassware, but upsetting the silverware caddy. This resulted in quite a startling crash which had the effect of punctuating The Captain’s proclamation.
The waiter, hearing the crash, quickly rounded the corner and was busy determining the source of the clattering.
Captain Caplin stood taller, as if that was possible, and barked out a couple of orders.
“My good man, these gentlemen will be moving to the front with me. Could you please bring those, ahem, drinks around? In fact, leave them here. Two fresh drinks, instead. Your best table, please.” He was staring at the gooey table, sticky spoons and straws. His eyes moved to the ground where the overturned silverware caddy indicated the epicenter of the silver explosion. He looked at Dobalob, closed his eyes and slowly shook his head. He turned briskly and marched to the front of the restaurant.
Dobby looked at Gari. Gari looked at Dobby. Then they burst out laughing, frightening the poor waiter, who by now was on his hands and knees, picking up the silverware.
“Take your time,” said Gari. “We’re going to sit here and finish our drinks. You can still take fresh ones around front to Captain Caplin’s table. That will buy us some more time.” And they burst out laughing again.
To be continued . . .
The quite extensive Cast of Characters:
This story needs illustrations! Select an event from this story (how about the topiary with the broken hat?), 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.