Opening Number Two
If you are wondering what is going on here, please refer back to the blog entry with the heading "Readers' Choice".
This entry is quite a bit longer. If you nod off halfway through, please let me know. For those of you who have read "Close Enough for Government Work", I will tell you that Ted and Jerry, as well as Hank Berringer and a couple of other characters from that book figure into this one.
A PM for Pittiana
by Alan Hutcheson
Excerpt from the journal of Thomas Hutchinson
former Royal Governor of Massachusetts Colony
8, June 1775
Our party departed on the tide this morning from Plymouth harbor bound for Boston. We number fifty-three, among us eight families and seven single men, all persons of good background and breeding. The news late received through the good offices of the Earl of Chatham makes us bold to return to the land of our birth. His gracious services will long be remembered and his name forever upon our lips.
Excerpt from the journal of William Pitt the Senior
Earl of Chatham, an eloquent, if ineffective
voice for reason in Parliament before and
during the American Revolutionary War
8, June, 1775
I am finally rid of that fool Hutchinson. News comes this morning from Plymouth that the late governor of Massachusetts Colony, along with four dozens or more of his fellow Americans, has taken passage on the good ship Dandelion and is even now bound to Boston.
It weighs on my very soul to contemplate the falseness I have employed; the news, the messages, the correspondence that existed only to convince Hutchinson he was once again welcome, indeed clamored after, in Boston. And yet such remorse is readily bourne away by the thoughts of how intrusive and sycophantic, how insufferably boorish the man made himself this long year of his exile. An exile which brought him, along with countless others calling themselves Loyalists, to an unwelcoming London. Goodness knows he received little reception from either society or government, but he took no notice, and for reasons known only to the Almighty attached himself to me with such unwonted intimacy. I could scarcely pass wind but the man would be there to give praise to its delicate sonority and fragrant air.
Anywise, it soon became clear Hutchinson, in spite of his protestations of devotion to Mother Britain, as he would insist on referring to the place from which his ancestors fled, for reasons one might only hazard to guess, did yearn for the country of his birth, his education, and, to hear him so describe it, his service. And so my bit of deception is not without redeeming character. Once arrived in Boston I pray he may find the fortitude to endure whatever welcome he might find and reintroduce himself and his family into familiar society; it is clear he has no place in London.
The expense of the sea passage has been my own. I have commissioned Captain John Stanley, a mariner of great experience and modest expense, and outfitted the good ship Dandelion in generous fashion for this passage.
May they have a fair voyage and safe.
* * * * *
Six months and five days after its departure from Plymouth, the Dandelion was blown ashore onto an uninhabited island in the Lesser Antilles. The passengers and crew praised Providence for deliverance from the storm and the opportunity to gather provisions before continuing their circuitous journey homeward. They were especially thankful for a safe landing as they had been without the guiding hand of Captain Stanley for most of the journey. The stalwart and economical seafarer tumbled overboard just east of the Azores whilst engaged in a bit of playful chase with sixteen year old Mirabelle Stubbs, daughter of Cincinnatus and Ruth Stubbs. Mirabelle reported the incident only to her diary and so the captain's disappearance remained a mystery to the rest of the passengers and crew.
While Hutchinson and his followers scoured the island seeking provisions, the good ship Dandelion, having been inexpertly anchored, drifted back out to sea. The returning Loyalists had made the Americas, just two thousand miles south of their intended destination.
Without much in the way of ideas, or at least ideas that had any hope of consensus or success, the one thing they were able to agree on, largely because there were no other options, was that it would be best to stay put for the while. The while became quite a while and it was determined that the place required a name. After much debate that included no fewer than seven fist fights and one pistol discharge which killed the fellow wielding the firearm, it was decided to name their new home for their benefactor back in England. The two finalists in the subsequent what-form-shall-the- name-take dialectic were Pittiana and Pittstopia. Pittiana won after the lead Pittstopian advocate was found six days after going missing, in somewhat bloated and discolored form, on the coarse sands of what was later christened Chatham Beach.
Manifest Destiny came to Pittiana several years later in the form of an adjacent and even smaller island to the northwest. It was discovered by Mirabelle Balmoral, nee Stubbs while she was looking for a quiet place to practice her alto recorder. Mirabelle, whose musical inclinations were frowned upon by her husband, restricted her explorations of the island to a small cove with an even smaller beach, perfect for solitary recitals. That is until the day she was followed by Mr. Balmoral, who tried to take her recorder from her with the expressed intention of "turning it into splinters". Mirabelle defended her instrument with a quick and well placed knee into Mr. Balmoral's instrument, so to speak and then took off ran away into the interior of her island.
Her husband gave chase, although his vision having been compromised for a moment or two the direction he took was inaccurate by several degrees, a margin of error that should have been of little consequence on such a small patch of earth. But for him the consequences turned out to be anything but small. A few hundred yards inland he found himself running across an open patch of what at first appeared to be moldy ground, having a curious purple-green glow to it. As he ran across this self illuminated earth he found that it was possessed of a somewhat bouncy quality. While it was true that Mirabelle's husband was not a lover of music and his attitude towards the role of the woman in a marriage could most charitably be described as the product of his time, he in truth did have a lighter side to his nature. There was nothing he liked better than a good romp, and was easily distracted by any opportunity to display his physical prowess, even if the audience was just himself and, as in this case, some curiously colored earth. The springy nature of the earth was at its most pronounced near the center and with such an assist under his feet the temptation to test his vertical leap was too much. And so he took a few steps back from what seemed to be the optimal spot, made a running start back at it and sprang into the air with satisfying results. The satisfaction was short-lived, however, for when he landed a small spark flared out from under his sturdy boots followed quickly by an explosion that if it had not divided him into the human equivalent of splinters would surely have rendered him deaf for the remainder of his days.
Mirabelle heard the thunderous boom, and using a slender thread of smoke rising into the air as a guide, quickly made her way to the edge of the clearing. The smoke had largely dissipated by then but she deduced from the smoldering spot of very bright earth right in the middle of the clearing that she had found the source of the big bang and it did not seem advisable to Mirabelle to investigate any closer. And since the noise most likely would have attracted the attention of her husband (little did she know!), she thought it a grand time while he was distracted, to slip back to the cove, tie his borrowed boat to the back of the family skiff, and head back home. She would send for him in a day or two.
But as she turned to go she stumbled across something in the scrubby groundcover. It was a boot. She bent to pick it up but found it was too hot to hold. When she dropped the boot it landed sole up and she saw two things. First, that the nails on the bottom were glowing bright, bright orange. Second, that the initials G.W.B. were etched into the heel.
Mirabelle knew the bottom of that boot all too well. Every evening she had been obliged to straddle her husband's legs, one at a time, backside facing him, and then grab hold of the extended boot and yank it off. His contribution to the effort had been to plant his other foot against her backside and push.
She gazed down at the boot for a moment, then looked around for any other bits of her husband. Then she brought the recorder to her lips and played a short and lively dance by Demantius that Captain Stanley had taught her in one of his less energetic moods. She played it as loudly as she could, looked around her, and then followed it with an encore. She tipped over the boot with the toe of her shoe and was about to insert the non-blowing end of her recorder into it to pick it up, but for whatever reason, whether because such a reminder would have been too painful or because of a concern for the cleanliness of her instrument, she instead found a sturdy twig to perform the task.
She backed away from the clearing and made her way back to the cove, where she placed the boot in the borrowed boat, tied it to the back of her skiff, and began rowing back out to sea. But as soon as she was clear of the surrounding arms of the cove, she set aside her oars and untied the rope holding the two vessels together. Once again she picked up her recorder. The slow and melancholy tune she played was an improvised one, but had all the refinement of Haydn on a good day. She watched the boat with its boot passenger bob and drift towards the open sea and then turned herself toward home.
There was of course a search for the missing Geoffrey Wallace Balmoral, but as he had proven in life to be more than a bit of a dunderhead and lazy into the bargain, the search was brief and its lack of results a minor distraction from the everyday business of survival.
Mirabelle's retreat was discovered eventually by a group of teenagers who had gone out boating together with the intention of finding a secluded spot for some skinnydipping. The young ladies of the group encouraged the young men to doff their duds and plunge into the water with the promise to afford the lads an excellent show they had no intention of performing. The boys soon discovered the deception, came back to shore and the inevitable chase ensued, full of giggles and shouted commentary regarding the effects of cold water bathing. When one of the girls playfully hurled a flask at her naked and rapidly warming pursuer she missed by yards, which he found quite amusing. Until, that is, the flask landed in the curiously glowing clearing directly behind him and he suddenly found himself with a scorched bottom.
The adjoining island and its explosive interior were subsequently annexed and declared off limits. A patrol was established to enforce the rule, but as it was manned by volunteers and especially since the detonating nature of the place seemed to be a sufficient deterrent for most, soon enough the widow Balmoral had the place once again to herself. She remarried a fellow named Pherrett, who didn't mind her music making at all, as long as she took it out of the house. They had one child, a boy they named William Franz. He had no love of music, which disappointed his mother but she found solace in the boy's knack for the visual arts, which she discovered when cleaning under his bed only to find dozens of skillfully executed sketches of female nudes, all of them easily recognizable, a sure sign of talent.
"That's quite an imagination you have, young William," she said after confronting him with the evidence.
"Oh, it's not imagination," said William. "I do them from life."
"And just where do you and your floozies meet for such wicked carrying on?"
"The only place that's safe," he said. "Your island."
She pondered this for a moment before responding.
"Well then, it will be my island on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. You may have it Tuesdays and Thursdays. Saturdays will be for chores and Sundays are for worship. Agreed?"
Since that time Pittiana has been a quiet presence on the world stage.
Leonard Featherstone looked at the digital clock in the center of the dash. It said 3:06 A.M. He shifted, trying to fend off a cramp that was beginning to grip the left side of his butt. He looked at the clock again. It still said 3:06. It was a chilly January morning in the parking lot of the Casa Bonitas Mananas Apartments in Mesa, Arizona and it was Leonard's turn to stay awake and watch.
He tried shifting into an angled position across the narrow seat, but that pushed his right shoulder against the door frame and made him hold one foot bent unnaturally against whatever it was that came down from the underbelly of the middle of the dash. He gave a tug to the recline lever between the seat and console and found himself suddenly staring at the headliner. Horizontal might be all right when it came around his turn to sleep, but as a lookout position it wouldn't do.
He sat back up and tried the lever again. The seat back did not move. He grabbed the headrest and pulled, but the seat still refused to budge. He yanked the lever up and shoved it down several times. The little car rocked with each tug.
His partner reached over and flipped the lever up with one finger. The seat back snapped up so fast it was all Leonard could do to keep his head from smacking into the windshield. His partner turned and, to all appearances, went back to sleep.
Philleda Johnstone-Crumb looked enormously comfy wrapped up in her puffy ski jacket. Leonard listened to the sound of her breathing and studied the reflection of her face in the dark window. He couldn't help thinking that notwithstanding the fact she had just now almost rocketed his head through the windshield his partner was a rather attractive young woman. Asleep she looked damn near enchanting.
Enough of that. However enchanting an appearance his partner might present asleep or awake Leonard was not going to allow it to distract him. Not when he finally had an opportunity to advance up the Pittiana Intelligence ladder. All he had to do was take care of this assignment with some speed and polish and he would get the promotion he so richly deserved. Then he would finally be making enough money to move out of his sister's flat where he shared a bathroom with his three hygienically moronic nephews. And then it would be time to think about enchanting young women.
The only reason Philleda was along for the ride was the fact that she was supposedly familiar with the territory, having attended Arizona State University some five or six years earlier, graduating with a degree in kinesiology, whatever in the hell that was. As near as Leonard could figure out it had something to do with dancing. A spy with a degree in tap.
Their mission should have been simple. All they needed to do was bring back home one Geoffrey Sandrich Witherington-Pherrett.