This is the end of the road. I hope you have enjoyed the journey!
Seriously, who starts reading at the last chapter of a story? We’re at the end! Start at the beginning like a normal person. Recommended snack: English Trifle. Go ahead, look it up! Soundtrack: On the Road Again
Several new tables for the roosters and newly installed monitors greeted the guests as they straggled into the breakfast room for donuts and hot chocolate. A small group of monitors were still focused on Caplin’s cottage, inside and out. Bond had been busy moving surveillance cameras from the fields to locations around the Schist Castle and along the road leading from the castle to the cottage. Everyone had one eye on their pastries and the other on the road monitor. The Guardiã Principale would approach from that direction.
Half a dozen trucks full of troops, a paddy wagon, and finally a maroon sedan pulled into the driveway of the cottage. The guests watched Caplin get into the sedan, and the procession drove on to the Schist Castle. The trucks parked in a semi-circle facing the drawbridge entrance, and the troops dispersed around the castle, stepping around objects near the entrance. A couple Guardiã knocked on the door and were let inside the castle.
“What on earth is all that junk on the ground?” said Vincent.
“It’s busted watermelons and durians that Gari tossed out the windows yesterday,” said little Tix. He was very proud to have first-hand knowledge and had been telling so many stories about his adventure no one was surprised when he spoke up first.
“Ah, yes, of course it is,” said Vincent. He squinted up at the monitor, still not at all sure.
Bond flew in the window, a bit out of breath. He went straight for the platter of sesame seed bagels and started pecking. Prince Dobalob reached into his waistcoat and pulled out a small cobalt blue glass seed dish and set it near the tiny bird. From another pocket he pulled a small bag of seeds and emptied them into the shiny blue bowl. A rabbit came by and set down a small matching water dish. Bond stepped toward it and almost stepped in, changed his mind and took a few long sips.
A collective gasp burst from the guests as all heads turned toward the castle monitor. Two Guardiã escorted an angry shackled capybara dressed in a shimmery black gown to the paddy wagon. The driver, partner and first two Guardiã went back in to the castle. They emerged a few minutes later with three angry shackled capybaras in matching pink gowns. Finally, a large male capybara was led, stumbling but not shackled, to the maroon sedan. They carefully set him in the back seat, leaning in to fasten his seat belt. The troops returned from their field positions around the castle, hopped into the waiting trucks, and drove off. The guests watched as they dropped off Caplin at the cottage. He started up his Jeep, backed up to the outbuildings, loaded up a couple dozen cases of birdseed cakes, and drove off after the retreating procession. They were not coming to Dobalob’s palace this morning.
All of the guests turned toward Dobby, but the prince looked as stunned as they did. Bond, Moneypenny, Gari, everyone looked around in confusion. Dobby picked up his phone, pecked at a number and held it to his ear. He stabbed at the red x and set his phone on the table.
“It went directly to voicemail. Caplin isn’t answering. I could say that he’s busy, but he never answers my calls. Or texts. It looked to me like Queen Bella and the princesses were arrested. I guess they were more evil than I thought. But what was going on with King Schist?”
“He looked like he had been drinking the same juice as Caplin and the roosters,” said Sylvia. “I think he was under the same spell. Maybe he had no idea what happened. You know, your dad didn’t look so hot last night, either.”
“Good point,” said Dobby.
Bond looked thoughtful. He quickly stepped out of his water dish and shook, embarrassed, when he noticed everyone looking at him expectantly.
“When Caplin called the Guardiã Principale last night, did you get that on video? Can you run that clip for us?” Bond spoke to the walls of the room, knowing Moneypenny would be watching. Shortly, one of the monitors switched from a live scene to a recording of the interior of Caplin’s cottage. Caplin was on his phone, pacing. The sound screeched on as the scene rewound to the beginning of Caplin’s phone call.
“Can you hold that for a second, please? See, when Caplin phoned last night and explained the situation to his superiors at the Guardiã, he only talked about the roosters. I don’t think he ever mentioned that he had been kidnapped, too! There was no mention of the zeppelin or Dobby’s daring rescue, or any of that. Run the clip, thanks.”
Everyone settled back into their chairs and a couple rabbits brought out fresh carts with croissants, cinnamon rolls, more donuts, hot chocolate, and coffee. Another rabbit followed with fresh fruit and muffins. The video rolled, and the room quieted.
They watched Caplin tap his phone and hold it to his ear. He paced while he waited for someone to answer.
“This is Captain Caplin. Get me the commander.” He paced some more and then barked into the phone. “I need a squadron up here at the Schist Castle, first thing in the morning. [pause] Yes, there has been a kidnapping. The victims have been rescued and released. [pause] No, the kidnappers seem unaware that their victims are gone and probably won’t check on them again until morning. But I need you here early, before they become alarmed. [pause] Well, I am certain Queen Bella is the ringleader, but we should question the daughters as well. [pause] The king? Too inebriated to have any involvement. I suppose we should question him as well, but I wouldn’t expect him to have any input of value. [pause] The victims are not available. They panicked and disappeared, flew the coop, bunch of roosters is all, no one of importance. I can vouch for their imprisonment, but they are unlikely to come forward to press charges. [pause] We will need to surround the castle. There are few exits, but they need to be covered. We will need a wagon for the ladies. The king should probably ride back with you. If he has anything to say at all, he will be more forthcoming if he is treated with respect, as is his due. I suspect he will benefit from the drive down, may sober up enough to be of use later in the morning. [pause] Stop by my cottage on your way in, I’ll ride in with you. I will drive my Jeep back down. [pause] Yes, okay then. See you bright and early.”
The breakfasting guests watched Caplin slam his phone down on the coffee table, turn and leave the room. The video ended and the monitor went back to a live feed of the cottage.
“Wow,” said Dobby. “Wow. So roosters were kidnapped, flew away. The Case of the Missing Victims. I don’t feel sorry for the Schists, maybe the king. Hard to believe he wasn’t involved. But Caplin said nothing about being kidnapped and rescued. By me, the useless little brother.”
“Maybe he’s planning to tell them about that later,” said Sylvia.
“Not a chance,” said Gari. “Caplin doesn’t hand out credit that easily. Sorry, Dobs.”
“Not only that, but he got me with a double whammy. He went to mother’s party, and I didn’t. I’ll never hear the end of it.”
“But you were sick,” said Sylvia. “When are you taking over her birthday present?”
“I’m sick, remember?”
“That was yesterday. Twenty-four hour flu. She’ll be thrilled you’re feeling better. Take it over this afternoon. We have to go home today, we’ll stop by with you on the way. If a bunch of us go, it will seem like a party. Can you come up with a cake or something?”
Dobby brightened at the thought. The rabbits by the kitchen door stood tall and bounded away. Noisy pots and pans clattered as the kitchen burst into activity.
“Wait,” said Dobby. ”Are there any more donuts?”
Kipling carried over a tray from his table. Prince Dobalob swept the remaining donuts onto his plate. He pulled out his cell phone and tapped speed dial.
“Mother?” [long pause] “Yes, much better. That’s what—“ [longer pause] “I’d like to bring your gift by today.” [pause] “I’m bringing a small party: guests, a cake. Is that okay? Early afternoon?” [pause] “no swimming, maybe just carousel rides.”
Sylvia was listening and her eyes opened wide. Cu, Sali, and Tix started jumping around. Sali quietly asked her mom what a carousel is. Sylvia whispered back, “a merry-go-round.” At that the squirrel jumping became more circular, all of them chasing each other’s tails.
“Okay, then. See you soon.” Dobby looked around the room at the expectant faces. “Everybody’s invited!”
“Even us?” said Percy. The roosters looked confused.
“My mother is so oblivious, she’s not likely to notice you, let alone say anything,” said The Prince. He looked under the breakfast table at the guinea pigs. “You, too!”
“Are we taking the zeppelin?” Said Rodney.
“Ha ha ha, I don’t think so. I told her I’m feeling better, but that would be much too risky. We’ll need a wagon for the painting, and we may as well take another for guests. Gari and I will bring the cake in my roadster. Sylvia, you’ll want to leave directly from there. You’re right, it’s on your way home. Musicians, you’re coming for sure. There’s lots of room for instruments in the wagons. You know how dreary it is over there, I can’t face it without music. I can’t believe I am even doing this, but it’s the least painful way.”
“She doesn’t seem so bad to me,” said Sylvia. “Your mom has spent more time on that merry go round than all three of us put together. The kids are having a terrific time, and she seems to like them. Who knew?”
“You did. It was all your idea. I think you can see the future,” said Dobby.
Gari, Sylvia, and Dobby had parked themselves at the cake table. Platters of petits fours had been refreshed and there were lots of little fruit cups left. The cake was missing its top chocolate tier and most of the second banana cake. The bottom layer was chocolate and had been decimated. The whole cake was listing to one side, butterflies flitted about, magically propping up the toppling remains. Gari and Dobby had picked at the crumbs until the edges of the platter were clean, then gave up and cut a couple more big slices out of the lemon layer. Gari looked around at the guests.
“Your father still looks pale and quiet today. I don’t even see him anymore.”
“I think he went to lay down,” said Dobby. “He drank a lot of Bella’s juice last night. I don’t even want to know what was In that stuff. Did you notice he can’t remember anything from last night?”
“The craziest thing is what Caplin told your parents when he stopped by with the birdseed cakes this morning,” said Sylvia. “Queen Bella and the girls took an extended vacation? Now? And didn’t tell your mother so it wouldn’t spoil her party? And she believed him, so thoughtful of Bella, you know. Give me a break.”
“Very thoughtful of Caplin, too. Making Bella look good and giving you zero credit for rescuing him. To say nothing of the roosters and your amazing zeppelin,” said Gari. “It didn’t crash or anything. I give you all the credit for that, Sylvia.”
“It’s more unstable than I expected.”
“You didn’t anticipate having an oversized capybara strapped to the port side of the undercarriage.”
“I suppose not. The snapping alligators were a surprise, too, but that turned out okay. Except, now we have alligators in the kingdom. Do you think Caplin will take them seriously now?”
“I’m not sure he remembers that he saw them. He drank Bella’s juice, too. He only saw them right before he went into the castle,” said Dobby. “I bet if we asked him he wouldn’t remember. That is, if he ever responds to my texts or calls ever again. It could be a long time before he’s up this way again. His once in a decade visit to mother is taken care of for a while.”
“Good,” said Gari. “We can steal all of the birdseed cakes. If he left any.”
“Let’s make sure that area’s cleared of gators, first,” said Dobby. “I’ll put some fencing up at the cottage. I’m also going to replant that forest that was cleared for the birdseed fields. When that’s restored, my barren fields should start growing again. That’s a nice little birdseed factory at the cottage, might as well keep it productive. I know some unemployed roosters that have the experience to run it.”
“Anyone up for another square dance?” said Sylvia. “I’ve got a long drive ahead of me.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Dobby. “I’ve got dibs on you!”
He stood up, suddenly, and held out his hand. The cake table behind him trembled, shuddered, and wobbled. All eyes turned to the magnificent but half eaten cake on the shaky table. The table swerved, it lurched, and in slow motion, it collapsed to the hand hewn slate patio. Petits fours exploded from the table like a sugary fireworks display. Fruit cups rolled. Peaches, raspberries, and pears reorganized in piles on the grounded tabletop. The cake separated like a five-stage rocket as it shot into the air. It landed atop the fruit, and the petits fours on top of the shattered cake. Rabbits ran in with a gigantic footed glass bowl, custard, whipped cream and a shovel. As the guests watched in amazement, an English trifle was created and soon there was another line for dessert.
Sylvia threw her arms around Dobby amidst the culinary mayhem.
“I’ve got dibs on you, too.”
The Magnificent Cast of Characters:
This story is finished! You can also find it at The Rodent Reader Quarterly. Self-publishing is more expensive and time consuming than you can possibly know, but I am still thinking about cranking out a hard copy copy you can hold in your hands. Let me know if you think I should do that. Otherwise, I am going to write Capybaras for Home and Garden, which is exactly what it sounds like.