The motley team investigates the out-buildings and Caplin’s cottage. Prince Dobalob isn’t much of a detective, but Gari uncovers clues at a feverish pace.
This part won’t make much sense if you don’t backtrack a bit. Here’s a link if you decide to start reading at the beginning. There’s also a helpful chart below to give you a chance to sort out the rodents. Recommended snack: Romaine and root beer. Soundtrack: La Gallina
Dobby, in fact, was examining the garden path for footprints. There were none, as the paths had been freshly raked. The odd part was that his footprints from the previous day were gone. No hoof prints, either. He turned his attention to the row of romaine. Capybaras have scissors-sharp incisors, so he had cleanly munched the lettuces, but this was different. Someone had come by with a knife and trimmed the top edge in one clean horizontal cut. He looked around for the melon rinds he had, to his embarrassment, left among the vines. They were gone. He walked to a nearby compost bin and peered into it. There were the rinds, all right, but they had been properly chopped for quick decomposition. He looked around but Hamish was too far away. Charlie and Gari were quickly approaching. Moneypenny and Bond were efficiently distributing surveillance equipment in the trees surrounding the cottage. Dobby walked to the gate and left the garden, calling everyone to him.
“Someone has been in the garden since we were here yesterday. I tried not to muss things up, but let’s stay out until Hamish has a look at it.”
“I agree,” said Hamish. “Someone has been here. There’s some birdseed spilled by the building doors, but all I see are bird footprints everywhere. They’re pretty big footprints, too. Why didn’t they eat the seed?”
Everyone looked at Bond who was busily pecking on the ground at seemingly nothing. “When you scuff around a bit, there’s birdseed all over the place. Good stuff, too, seems like the same stuff that’s growing across the way. It hasn’t been here long enough to sprout, but why don’t the birds eat it? It’s not spoiled or anything,” said Bond.
Hamish opened the gate and cautiously walked into the garden. The team stood at the fence and watched him as he checked each walkway, each row of plants, the compost bin and the small workbench with its tidy storage shelves. He shook his head and addressed the team.
“it’s all very organized, perfectly kept. Almost too perfect. The only things out of place are, um, well, the prince’s footprints,” said Hamish. He added, under his breath, “and yesterday’s damage.”
“Can we come in and have lunch, then?” said Dobby. Everyone turned to look at him, but he had already pushed open the gate and was moving quickly toward another row of romaine. They heaved a collective sigh and followed him into the garden. There was some muttering among the group and then the phrase “Caplin’s cafeteria” and some giggling was shared between them. Gari followed Dobby to the romaine and looked at the devastated row from the day before.
“This is such a perfectly kept little garden that it’s hard to see where anything has been harvested. Except that row of lettuce,” said Gari.
“I ate that row yesterday. But you’re right. Everything is growing nicely, but why, if no one eats it?”
“I was wondering about that yesterday,” said Charlie. “It’s too perfect. Everything is mature, ready to pick, and that’s an odd way to do it. When I plant our crops, I stagger the planting times so we always have some vegetables coming on, all year long. If I did it this way, we’d have to eat the entire thing at once. And yet, this is very deliberately planted to mature now. Why would they need so much all at once? Why now? And what have they been eating? Is there another garden somewhere, with last week’s food growing, and another one with young plants that will mature later?”
“It doesn’t look like all that much food, really,” said Gari. “It isn’t nearly like your big crops, Charlie. This is kind of like the amount of food you’d need for one big party.”
Gari’s mouth dropped open as he realized what he had just said. Charlie and Hamish stared at him, speechless. Bond stopped his scratching for stray seeds, and Moneypenny clung motionless where she was, halfway up a gigantic sunflower stalk. Only Dobby kept chewing, the romaine bouncing from left to right and back again as he chewed it into his mouth.
“What? Why is everyone staring at Gari,” said the hungry prince. “Did I miss something?”
“Your mother’s party, when is it, Saturday? Today is Wednesday,” said Gari. “Who is catering your mother’s birthday party?”
Dobby stared at his friend and the romaine fell from his open mouth. His eyes grew large as he realized he was currently eating his mother’s celebratory birthday luncheon. “Oh, no, oh no,” said Dobby, moaning softly and looking around at the little garden. “We talked about the menu, but she didn’t say where the food would come from. I wasn’t really paying attention, as you might imagine. I wouldn’t have missed it if she had said it was coming from Caplin’s cottage garden, though. I’m sure she never said anything like that.”
“Think,” said Gari. “Did she say anything else? Like locally grown, or imported or anything at all?”
Dobby hung his head and sat down. To his surprise, a large rough black pillow appeared beneath him. He looked down at it and squinted his eyes. He motioned to the others to sit down. Charlie and Hamish crumpled to the ground, as sheep will, front legs first, camel style. Black pillows appeared beneath them. The rest of them sat, and black pillows, large and small appeared. Dobby frowned as he gazed upon the black industrial canvas cushions. “I have never seen pillows like this, and I don’t like it one bit. Suddenly I am not too hungry. But I am ready for that root beer.” He stood up and ambled away from the horrible pillow. The team followed him from the garden, and, careful not to sit down, they all gathered around the Segway as Gari unpacked the root beer. The root beer kept flowing from the growler, as cold and as refreshing as when it left the prince’s palace.
“Why do you keep staring at the outbuildings?” Gari poured himself another mug of root beer.
“I was thinking about your last question,” said the Prince. “What my mother said about menu planning. She had some boxes of those imported seed cakes— remember the weird anonymous boxes?— and she said she’d be able to get as many boxes of them as she needed. I forgot about that. How was she going to do that? Nobody around here can get those.”
Gari chugged down his mug of root beer and set down the glass. He fumbled in his coat pocket, brought out his trusty set of lock picks, and held them up. “It’s time to look in those out buildings.”
The team moved as one toward the closest of the two storage buildings and formed a ragged half circle behind the nimble capybara. He worked with one pick and then another, going back the first again, his body taut with concentration. Suddenly there was a click and the padlock dangled from the hasp. Dobby stepped forward as Gari prepared to slide open one side of the big barn doors. Prepared to gasp at the contents of the building, they instead groaned and looked at each other, gigantic question marks hanging above their heads.
Inside the building was a large, long empty work table, right smack dab in the middle of the room. The walls were lined with industrial shelving, floor to ceiling. On two walls, tidy cardboard boxes filled almost all of the shelves, with only a small empty area where several boxes were missing. The third wall held bundled cardboard boxes, ready to be assembled, and bundled cardboard, smaller and thinner. There were boxes of shipping tape, labels, markers and pencils, reams of paper. A smaller work table held a computer and printer. One small skylight struggled to illuminate the space, leaving most of the corners in shadow.
Dobby tentatively stepped into the building. Gari brushed past him, scanning the walls for a light switch, found it, and dozens of overhead work lights blazed into life. Gari continued his search, picking up items and carefully setting them back in place exactly where he found them. He came to the smaller bundles of cardboard, picked one up, turned it over.
“Bingo! Dobby, come here and look at these.”
Dobby had tiptoed timidly behind his friend, and so was now directly behind him. As Gari turned around to look for him, they spooked each other. “Gahk,” they shrieked in unison. Charlie and Hamish had been waiting outside and now galloped toward the exclamation, heads lowered, ready to butt heads with the unseen demon. They skidded to a stop when they saw only two sheepish capybaras facing each other.
“Well, that was exciting,” said Gari. “Take a look at these. They’re flat now, but they fold up into boxes. Seed cake boxes. Familiar seed cake boxes. The same ones Sylvia had.”
“The same ones my mother had,” said Dobby. “She said she could get as many as she needed for the party. No identifiers, horrible spelling, right?”
“The same. I think we have discovered the shipping department. Let’s check the other building.”
Gari put down the bundle of boxes, adjusting it so that it was exactly where he had found it. Dobby took out his cell phone and took a series of photos on his way out. Gari backtracked to switch off the lights. Dobby shut the big door and padlocked it while Gari picked the padlock of the second building. He slid the big door open and this time they all gasped.
“Now that is one big kitchen,” said Dobby. As Gari turned on the overhead lights, Dobby moved directly to the large storage bins near the door. He raised the lid, looked at Gari and said “Birdseed. Anyone surprised?” He continued to move around the enormous building, opening cabinets and drawers, rattling pots and pans.
Gari followed close behind, closing cabinets and drawers, setting aright tipped over pots and pans. “Slow down, dude! I can’t keep up!”
Dobby turned to face his friend. “So what do you think?”
“We have discovered an underground birdseed cake factory, is what I think,” said Gari. “No question there. What I want to know is who and why. More to the point, is Caplin involved? We just saw him a couple weeks ago, and he seems changed, but he’s more interested in eating than cooking.”
“That was my conclusion,” said Dobby. “He did say he was surprised at the birdseed shortage. He would know about that if he had been visiting up this way recently. Unless he knew about this production facility right in his own back yard. No, he seemed truly surprised, and he’s a lousy actor. I don’t think he knows anything about this. And I believe him when he says he never comes here. It’s too close to Mother. I’m going to take some more photos and send them to him.”
“He’s not even coming to her birthday party, is he? He ought to come up and at least see what’s going on in his out-buildings,” said Gari. “Wow, do you think he even knows about these buildings?”
“And the vegetable garden.” Charlie had walked up behind them.
Hamish joined the crowd. “Moneypenny wants to know if she should save any cameras for the cabin. Otherwise, Bond will keep putting them up outside. Do you want to put any in the buildings? She figured monitoring the doors would cover it.”
Dobby looked thoughtful. “Let’s not spend any more time here than we have to. Close down these buildings and let’s try my key in the cottage door.”
Dobby confidently took the lead and they followed him to the cottage. He tried the key in the lock and it worked, but even though the doorknob turned, the door wouldn’t open. Gari came forward with his lock picks.
“There’s a deadlock. Is it new?” He proceeded to try the picks until there was a solid click and the door swung slowly open. He stood aside and Prince Dobalob peered into Captain Caplin’s cottage as if it was full of giant spiders. Or alligators.
“Come on, dude,” said Gari. He pushed past the tentative prince and looked near the door for a light switch. He turned on the porch light (oops), and then an old chandelier made of a wagon wheel glowed uncertainly. Everyone pushed in through the door and Dobby was forced to enter with them. Gari glanced about the room and made himself comfortable in a large overstuffed chair. He put his feet up on the ottoman and smiled at Dobby. “What do you think?”
Dobby was afraid to touch anything in his older brother’s cottage. He walked slowly and carefully negotiated the edges of the carpets, small footstools, magazine racks, and any number of obstacles and tripping items. He stood at the kitchen door and leaned in, sniffing the air. He wrinkled his nose and turned to Gari. “It looks the same but it smells different. It’s a familiar smell but I can’t place it. Does anyone else smell something?”
“We’ll leave if it helps,” said Hamish. “We can get a bit pungent in the heat.”
“No, it’s not Eau de Ram. You can stay,” said Dobby. He sat down in a matching chair and ottoman facing Gari and leaned back. “What the heck are those?” He was looking up at the ceiling. There were large horizontally mounted rods near the top of every wall, extended out a bit into the room.
“Those are definitely weird,” said Gari. I don’t have anything like that at my villa. Do you think it’s for curtains or something?”
“Maybe he hangs a big screen tv from them,” said Charlie. Hamish pointed to the big screen tv on the credenza. “Okay maybe not.”
“He doesn’t even come here,” said Dobby. “Everything looks about the same except for those.” Dobby wandered about the cottage, into the bedroom, opened the closet, then he peeked into the bathroom and shuddered. He had forgotten that it had raspberry pink tile and pale green deco fixtures. Finally he stepped into the kitchen where Gari was already opening cupboards. Dobby opened the refrigerator. “Grape jelly, mustard, and some rancid butter on a chipped china saucer. Stack of cheese pizzas in the freezer. Nothing out of the ordinary here.”
“I’m not finding anything here but pots and pans, a few vintage cans of vegetarian chili, mac and cheese, shelf-stable kinds of stuff,” said Gari. “More jars of grape jelly. Nothing fresh from the garden. I’m not seeing dust anywhere, though. If he hasn’t been here, there should be dust covering everything. I can’t picture Caplin in an apron, dusting everything, either. Someone comes in to dust, eats nothing, stinks the place up, and leaves. Have you texted Caplin yet?”
“Doing that now.” Dobby had returned to the living room and was settled comfortably in the big chair. Gari walked out the door as Dobby composed his text. By the time he returned with a couple root beers, his phone quacked to let him know a text had come in. Dobby looked up at him and took a root beer. “I copied you on the text.”
checking on your cottage – vegetable garden is fabulous – cottage & out-buildings look good too
“He doesn’t always respond, and he doesn’t seem to care what happens to this place, but he also seems kind of miffed when he knows I’ve been here checking on things. If he doesn’t know about the garden and buildings, we might hear from him.”
Charlie and Hamish wandered aimlessly around the cottage, then plunked themselves down and started chewing cud. Moneypenny came in, leaped from the back of the couch to a lamp and on up to the chandelier. She started looking for a good place to hide a camera up on the wheel. Bond flew up with a camera and then flew up to one of the rods. He started walking sideways, back and forth, singing a little tune.
“Dobalob! These are great perches! Kind of big for my little feet, but they go all the way around. I could watch TV from here! Very cool!”
Dobby and Gari watched him in stunned silence. Gari put down his root beer and looked at Dobby. Except for the big gears in his princely head which were spinning and grinding, the team was silent. Charlie and Hamish looked up at the tiny bird who was suddenly aware that everyone was staring at him. Dobby spoke first.
“Perches, you say? How big a bird would use a perch like that?”
“Well, a pretty big one,” said Bond.“Maybe a crow. Could even be a bigger bird than that. There’s more headroom than a crow would need. Maybe a chicken. A big chicken, maybe a rooster.”
“That would explain the big bird footprints outside,” said Hamish.
“And the funky smell,” said Gari.
“But there aren’t any roosters here anymore,” said Charlie. “Caplin recruited them, remember?”
“Uh,” said Dobby. “When we saw Caplin a couple weeks ago he said he never saw any rooster recruits. They never showed up.”
“Well, that’s what he said,” said Gari. “It looks like they might have made it as far as his cottage. Do you think he was lying?”
Dobby looked aghast at his friend. “Caplin is an overstuffed buffoon and a braggart, but he’s no liar. It sounded to me like he had no idea what happened to the roosters. They didn’t show up, so they weren’t recruited as far as he’s concerned. And not his problem.”
“Well, it looks like they’re his problem, now,” said Gari. “And I think Moneypenny ought to finish up so we can get out of here. This is a bit too creepy for me. We haven’t heard back from Caplin, yet?”
Dobby had already stood up and was heading for the door. “Nope.”
To be continued . . .
The scrappy Cast of Characters:
This story needs a lot more illustrations! Select an event from this story (how about the garden?), 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!). Someday, I will start putting together the glossary. Do know what a credenza is?