After receiving cryptic texts from his brother, Prince Dobalob, Caplin visits his cottage, intending to sell it as soon as possible. Prince Dobalob observes Caplin’s arrival from afar via recently installed surveillance equipment. What happened to Caplin? Did he really disappear?
This part features the Naked Mole Rats who seem to be running the show. If you just joined us, I recommend you backtrack a bit to start at the beginning. There’s also a moderately helpful chart below that lists the other rodents. Recommended snack: Lettuce or a root beer float, your choice. Soundtrack: Missing
Captain Caplin drove into the familiar driveway. My, but it was overgrown. Well, not his problem after this weekend. He parked in the middle of the little brick path to the front door. Why walk any farther than you need to? He fumbled with his key to the cottage, but it didn’t seem to work. Stupid old place, rusted shut no doubt. He walked around to the back door and jiggled the doorknob this way and that, pushed the knob up with his shoulder, and the door popped open. He chuckled, feeling smug that he’d never shared that trick with Dobalob. Boxes were stacked in front of the door and he shoved them aside. What was this stuff, anyway? And why didn’t Dobalob store his stuff at his own place? He walked in, looked around and scowled at the funky dusty furniture. What was that smell, anyway? Mice probably, lesser rodents, disrespectful.
He went to the front door, unlocked it and went outside. What were those two buildings doing there? When he parked on the front path, he hadn’t looked that far down the driveway. Still, how had he missed them? As he walked toward them he saw the vegetable garden. Now that was more like it! He was suddenly aware that he had missed lunch and was hungry. He walked with purpose toward the vegetable garden, opened the gate and, like his brother, proceeded to eat his way down one row, and up another.
“I still can’t figure out how he got into the cottage,” said Moneypenny. “Is there a back door or something? A window to climb through?”
The Prince scrolled through some texts and shook his head. “Nope. I didn’t miss any texts. Caplin just showed up without responding to my texts from a couple days ago. I guess he read them, though. What? Back door, yes, there is one but the latch is broken. Nobody uses it. The windows are kind of high. Caplin must have a way of getting that back door open. Dude, look at that, he parked on the front path! Like a barbarian. Anyway, thanks for letting me know. What’s he doing, now?”
“He ate the vegetable garden and then he went back to the Jeep and got some stuff. It looks to me like he’s pitching a tent. Why doesn’t he stay in the cabin?”
“Who knows? I really don’t know him all that well any more. My brother the stranger. Seems like if he was involved in all that seed business, though, he’d have the key to the cottage. What did he do when he noticed the buildings?”
“Nothing,” said Moneypenny. “It doesn’t seem like he’s even noticed them. He had to have seen them, but he went straight to the garden and started eating. Oh look, I was right. A tent.”
“My brother, the chow-hound.” The prince ignored the raised eyebrows. The flying squirrel and a couple of naked mole rats were giving each other knowing looks.
“Well, I have to get back to work,” said the Prince.
“Wait a minute, he’s looking at the buildings. Okay, yeah, he’s walking over to them. Did you guys leave them unlocked?”
“We hung up the padlocks so they look locked from a distance, but they aren’t latched. We don’t have keys, Gari picked them, and he might not be here if we want to get in there again.” Moneypenny gave him a puzzled look.
“There’s a ton of seed and seed cakes there! We might get hungry!”
There was a little choking sound from the naked mole rats behind him.
“Okay, he’s at the door of one of the buildings. Which one is that? Shipping?”
“Yeah, cases of seed cakes,” said the Prince. “He’s messing with the lock. Hope he doesn’t secure it!”
“He’s pushing the door open now. Standing there, staring. Not going in, oh look, he’s going to the other building!”
They watched in silence as Captain Caplin went to the other building, took off the lock, opened the door and stared in.
“That’s the big kitchen. Look, he’s going straight to the big refrigerators. He’ll find out there’s nothing much in there. Or in the cupboards he’s checking out. Okay, well, I have a lot to do today. Let me know if you see anything else. I can’t believe he didn’t text or call or anything.”
“Maybe he wanted to surprise your mother with a visit, come to her party,” said Moneypenny.
The Prince chuckled. “Oh, sure. That’s it.”
Caplin was disappointed in the two buildings, though these were surely the buildings in Dobalob’s text. What on earth was he thinking, putting these here. Why didn’t he build them on his own property? More to the point, why were these cupboards empty? What was Dobalob up to? This wasn’t his usual style. This didn’t look nearly haphazard enough. He turned around to leave and saw the bins by the door. He absently lifted a lid on the way out and peered down in. Whoa, now what was this? Birdseed! He looked at all the bins and opened a few more lids. They were all full of birdseed! And Dobalob said nobody around here had birdseed. Well, well, well. Not if Dobalob was hoarding all of it. He said he couldn’t even get it to grow! What a little fibber he turned out to be.
Caplin left the building and slid the big door closed behind him. He looked around for the lock, realized he had set it down somewhere, shrugged and went back to the first building. He had left the door open and now he stepped inside. Tables and boxes, that was about all. He slid a big box off the nearest shelf and wrenched it open. Boxes of seed cakes were stacked inside! That stupid restaurant had said they couldn’t get any. The tavern didn’t have any either. And Dobalob— and his dumb friend Gari— both swore up and down that nobody could get them. What a scam. He grabbed a couple cases, closed the big door by pushing on it with his big bum, and strode off toward his tent for a small seed cake feast.
A raven flew from the roof of the cottage toward the fields.
Dobby paced back and forth in front of the monitor as Moneypenny backed up the video to the place where the wagons and roosters entered from the path and walked toward the garden.
“I called you as soon as I saw them but they were so fast they were gone before you could get here,” said Moneypenny. “It’s a little dark, and I didn’t install lighting. In hindsight that would have been a good idea, but it seemed a bit extreme at the time.”
“I thought the cameras were extreme. Okay, so that’s the little path, not the driveway, and look at all those roosters! And a bunch of wagons. They pull up to the garden, and dude are they fast! Holy cannoli that’s some fast harvesting. They’re so organized, did you notice that? Like military fast. Do you think Caplin was involved, after all?”
Moneypenny was glued to the video. “That’s what I’m trying to figure out. So they pull up the wagons, harvest fast and furious, and leave. But did you notice anything else?”
“Like what? They are fast, there’s a lot of them,” said the Prince.
“The tent. It disappears. Let me rewind this. Watch the tent.”
“I see the tent, and then the wagons and roosters come. Oh! I see what you’re saying. The wagons block the view of the tent. Okay, they’re working. So when does the tent disappear?”
“it’s not there when the wagons leave,” said Moneypenny. “Watch them pull away. The tent is gone. I’ll rewind again.”
“Hey, Gari, you’re just in time for the show,” said Dobby. “Watch this. It was recorded, what, about fifteen minutes ago?”
“That’s about right. Okay, watch this. See the tent? Okay, roosters and wagons come in, block the view of the tent,” said Moneypenny. “This is the only angle we have of the garden, but the roosters are cleaning out the garden. Probably for the Queen’s birthday party. They’re loading the wagons.”
“Wow, those are fast roosters, they’re nearly done,” said Gari.
“Yeah, but watch the tent,” said Dobby. “What happens to the tent? See, it’s gone when they pull away.”
“Weird,” said Gari. “So what’s with the tent, anyway?”
“So, you know I told you Caplin showed up at the cottage, remember?”
“And—,” said Gari.
“Well he pitched a tent. And now it’s gone,” said Dobby. “He got inside the cabin. He must know how to get that back door open. He came out, pitched a tent, checked out the buildings. Wait, and then what?” The Prince looked at Moneypenny. “That’s when I went back to the workshop.”
“He checked out the buildings, kind of shut the doors, locks are gone now. But he took a couple cases of seed cakes into the tent,” said Moneypenny. “I’m sure of that. I can rewind to that if you want to see it.”
“Naw, that’s okay,” said the Prince. “What happened after that?”
Moneypenny sucked in her breath. “That’s it. Nothing else happened, maybe a bird flew by, but I didn’t see Caplin come out of the tent. And nobody went in or near it. Nobody to be seen until the roosters rolled up their wagons.”
The prince started pacing and thinking. Gari asked to see the part with the roosters again. Moneypenny rewound it again, and they watched it in slow motion, zoomed in on the tent.
“We couldn’t have gotten a worse angle on that camera if we had tried,” said Moneypenny.
“Was Caplin still in the tent?” Dobby had stopped pacing and had addressed a monitor that was still recording in real time. A naked mole rat sat at a console with a bank of monitors. He had on noise cancelling headphones. “The Jeep is still there, are we sure he isn’t in the Jeep? The supposedly stuck back door isn’t covered by any of the cameras. Could he have slipped around the back, somehow?”
Moneypenny was already backing the recording up to the time when Caplin went into the tent. Gari and Dobby gathered around the monitor.
“Good, that’s him coming out of the building,” said Dobby. “Look at him closing the door with his big fat tush. No class at all. And where’s the lock? Whatever. Wow, that’s a lot of seed cakes, two cases, twenty-four boxes to a case, eighteen cakes to a box. We’re talking a major tummy ache. Aaaand, he’s going into the tent.”
“And there’s the bird, flying off the roof of the cottage,” said Gari. “That was no normal bird. That was a raven. Can we back it up to see how long he was there?”
Moneypenny played the video backwards, but the bird was on the roof for a long time. He was still there when Caplin pitched the tent. When they finally got back to the time when he was eating vegetables, the raven flew over and landed on the roof.
“That’s a sentry. Look how long he was there, watching. He flew in from the path, didn’t he? He watched from the rooftop until Caplin went into the tent, and then he flew off,” said Gari. “Okay, let’s watch the tent again.”
Moneypenny cued up the video and motioned to another naked mole rat to come over and watch with Gari and the prince. The four of them stared at the recording from Caplin-into-tent through roosters-leave-with-wagons. Caplin did not leave the tent. The big wagons obscured the view of the tent when they rolled in. The tent was gone when the wagons rolled away.
“Dang,” said Dobby. “That’s just weird. I think Caplin was in the tent when it went away. But why? I’m thinking he didn’t have anything to do with this business, after all.”
Gari was talking to Moneypenny and she was rewinding the tape in slow motion. “There. Stop it right there. Look at the last wagon, the one that was nearest the tent. Is it stacked higher than the other wagons? Could the tent be under those corn stalks?”
“With Caplin inside it? He can be kind of a simpleton,” said Dobby, “but a captain in the Guardia Principale would be more on his toes than that, don’t you think?”
“Well,” said Gari, “he’s your brother.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Why won’t you tell me what really happened with the blimp?” said Gari. He looked at Moneypenny, knowingly. “I bet it’s on video around here somewhere.”
Both naked mole rats were staring at monitors and Moneypenny was suddenly busy with a stack of discs and a box of marking pens. She rolled back her chair and carried it all to a shelf on the far side of the room.
“You’re probably right,” said Gari. He nudged his friend toward the door. “I’m sure Caplin is fine, he’s in the cabin or something. Went for a walk. Anyway, we can’t do anything about it tonight. Let’s go inspect the kitchen. I could use a nice big root beer float.”
“I’m afraid to ask. Do we have a zeppelin?” Sylvia stepped off her motorcycle. The kids had already leapt out of the sidecar and were climbing Mt. Garibaldi, the boys announcing their progress to their mother as they reached the top of his head.
“Mom didn’t tell us you would be here,” said Sali. “Are you going to the party, too? Dobby said he could invite anyone he wanted to, so I guess that means yes. Can we have root beer floats? We’re going for a ride today, aren’t we?”
Sylvia looked at Gari and rolled her eyes. “it’s been a long week. They’re so excited they’re wearing me out. So, do we have a zeppelin?”
Gari was busy juggling squirrels, so Dobby answered. “The zeppelin is ready for a test flight, complete with safety devices as requested. Gari was very specific in describing your requirements. My interior specialist has experience with small jumpy youngsters, so she completely understands. If you have ever seen hatchling peachicks fly up to low branches, you know they are challenging to a novice parent. She created quite an attractive overhead safety net and added smaller nets near anything she thought they might be curious about.”
“Well, let me stash a few things in the guestroom, and let’s visit the workshop,” said Sylvia.
Kipling approached with a luggage cart and started removing bags from the sidecar. “I can take these for you,” he said. “Everyone is quite anxious to fly this afternoon, or is it called zepping? Vincent is coming around with a Segway for you. The zeppelin is on the road near the workshop. Bon voyage!”
To be continued . . .
The scrappy Cast of Characters:
This story needs a lot more illustrations! Select an event from this story (how about the wagons?), 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 sidecar is?