“We got one last chance to make it real, to trade in these wings on some wheels…”
Rachael stood with her mouth agape. This couldn’t be real. She was the one responsible for bringing the Happy man to the gathering and the wheels were spinning in her head, trying to figure out how she could have known, or should have known, that he was trouble. Their conversations prior to meeting had been pleasant ones. They shared many of the same beliefs and she thought it would be a shame to leave someone who was clearly alone to fend for himself on a holiday that was supposed to be shared with family and friends.
When she issued her invitation, he had hemmed and hawed, which caused Rachael to insist that he attend. Could it be that he already knew about the event and was simply playing her to make her believe that the invitation was really her idea? She wasn’t sure. She glanced back at the television, taking one more look at the man with the sign who was no stranger to any of them. There he was, clanging his bell of time, reminding each of them the end was nigh.
A chorus of voices erupted that drowned out whatever was happening on the television. Was it true? Did He know who they were? How could He know?
Rachael felt pity for the lone occupant of the bench and slid in next to him. She thought she held some responsibility, somehow, for the position he was now in. Taking the nearest bottle of wine on the table, she filled his glass and then her own, waiting for what could only be the first forays at the start of a long battle.
Before she could raise the glass to her lips, Alyce approached the table and issued a loud statement that could only be heard as an absolute directive.
Everyone was to find a seat, And a glass. And be prepared to have a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat, because she would be damned if all of this food wasn’t going to be appreciated because some happy asshole had come along and ruined a buttload full of hard work just because he’s in cahoots with some sorry assed hack writer who thought He could change the world with some greasy chicken and His wild imaginings of what iced tea was actually supposed to taste like. She was not going to have it, so people could just find a place and suck it up, because if it wasn’t obvious to anyone else, at least she could see that there were hard times to come.
It didn’t appear that non compliance was an option, so the guests cautiously moved to find seating. As if feeling guilt by association, those who had traveled with the interloper, the Colonel, his wife, and the science teacher, took their places alongside Rachael and Happy on the Group W bench. The ever growing group who were becoming enamored with the small cub took up the ends of two of the benches so they could take turns holding him during the meal.
At Alyce’s request, JW and the man with the fluffy hair were to take charge of the turkey carving. As they began their task in near silence, the fluffy haired man known as Fifth began loading a platter with sliced turkey while the not so Happy man hesitantly started his tale.
It wasn’t really difficult, Happy began, for the people who had been involved in the office thievery to be identified. After the personality whom the Colonels wife had assaulted with her camera was safely inside the building and the ambulance checking for Fifths supposed heart attack had left, the security guard had plenty of time to commit the people he had seen to memory. As the large group of guests began filling their plates and passing platters, Happy continued on.
They had made mistakes. While Bear and Fifth were certainly more experienced with covert operations because of their part time detective agency, the rest were not quite as adept. Running an operation that could, in the end, land any of them in jail, was a tricky business.
The story was interrupted due to the business at hand. Because of the length of the tables, passing dishes was turning into a production. At the end of the table where the caretakers of the cub sat, a large dish of salmon was being transferred to Bears own plate. It had been prepared exclusively for him, but he left some on the dish in case anyone else had a taste for it. Kevin, who was seated to his left, was currently playing a game that he discovered the young child loved. Placing a paper napkin over his face, he would pat it down then quickly remove it, showing the child whatever funny face he was making underneath.
The game was entertaining for the other adults sitting around him as well. Due to a rare skin condition, which was not obvious when you looked at him, Kevin left an image of his face on each of the napkins he used. As they all laughed at the different images left on the thin sheets of paper they were collecting, Happy pointed his finger at them and let out a triumphant “See!”
If any of them had not been aware of Kevin’s malady before, they certainly knew now. Whatever touched his face would be left with an indelible mark. As much as he tried to remember to be careful, he left traces of his face on anything that touched it, shrouds, really, wherever he went.
On the day the items had been taken from the office, the operating team as well as some of the others in the alliance had gathered at a local Chinese restaurant to celebrate. Fifth had invited Superwoman, a Desnuda he had met in the square who had struck his fancy, and Kevin had also attended. There was more drinking than eating, and by the time the group departed there was a large pile of umbrellas in the center of the table along with unopened fortune cookies and paper napkins, with the shadows of Kevins face upon many.
Fifth thought nothing of Superwoman staying behind for one last cocktail.
As Happy recounted their errors, the wine bottles on the tables were emptied. Mary and Jack volunteered to take bar duty and refill anyone who was having a stronger drink. Some at the table had been imbibing themselves with both wine and cocktails, so they had ample time to have their own side discussion. This was not good, they agreed. If they had been tracked from the beginning, there was no telling how much He knew about their plans. They would all have to be much more careful. What about the idea of safe houses, alternate places for people to go when the heat was on?
Moving back to the tables, they delivered the new drinks and fresh bottles of wine and listened to the next tirade, the next step by step exposure of where they had all fallen short.
In September, there had been a road trip to Atlantic City. Fifth had offered up the trip to Val and JW because he knew which poker rooms had the best play and which shows were really worth their time. Alyce, Kitty and her friend TT Davis had also made the trip. The two women had met in the summer at a Women’s March and had decided to begin mass production of knitted hats. They were vibrantly colored pink caps with two protrusions resembling cat ears and their plan was to gift each one to the women who were taking center stage that weekend.
Mary had gone for the shoes. This was the weekend of the Miss America Pageant and part of the festivities included the “Show Us Your Shoes” parade down the boardwalk. Fifty contestants would roll by sitting atop decked out, state themed convertibles displaying fabulous footwear. Expensive, hand painted bejeweled beauties would be on display and she couldn’t contain her excitement. As an added bonus, they would get to meet William, another alliance member. He was a fundraiser for the Children’s Miracle Network, the hospitals the pageant system supported, and would be running the stall closest to Boardwalk Hall, raffling off a new car donated by a local dealership.
Mary insisted that the entire group stand on the boardwalk, admire the passing contestants and keep William company by the shack that surrounded the car. The men in the group busied themselves with examining the auto being raffled while TT Davis and Kitty found their way inside of Boardwalk Hall.
While Mary engaged herself in cheering for the contestants rolling by, the men took to what they had really come for. They had done unusually well at the tables the night before, thanks in no small part to TT Davis and his uncanny ability to lead card play to his companions advantage, and had decided as a group that they were going to win the vehicle on offer and give it to William. On his way to Atlantic City, William had a breakdown on the turnpike, but had all of the necessary tools, plus a roll of duct tape, to fix the problem. He was saving for a new car, but like any working man involved in a supposedly covert alliance, it was slow going.
The three men spent forty five minutes filling out tickets and five hundred dollars each to ensure that one of them would walk away with the keys to the car. When Val won the raffle, he happily presented the keys to the vehicle to an overjoyed William. Shaking his hand vigorously and professing many thanks, William accepted the keys from Val’s hand and replaced them with an envelope containing information that might be helpful to the cause.
Inside of Boardwalk Hall, security was tight, but Kitty and her friend managed to skirt any trouble and get into the area where gifts for the contestants were waiting. This was largely due to a commotion that had broken out in another area. It appeared that a woman who had gained entrance into the building was attempting to loudly lecture anyone who would listen about women’s empowerment and the value of hearing opinions on current world issues. These were not Nasty Women, she was shouting, these citizens were using their first amendment rights and they should be heard. Kitty and TT Davis, having delivered their gifts, quietly slipped out of the building while a security detail dealt with the fired up Alyce.
A new round of questions were being posed to Happy. It still was not clear how anyone could know so many details about their activities. As a large grin swept over his face, Happy proudly exclaimed that he had been telling their adversary everything and had been watching them all. From their first mutterings about their ideas, he had been taking notes and relaying them to Him.
The reaction from the dinner guests was instant and angry. The men flew up off their seats and Bear, who was imposing enough when he was calm, was making a move towards the bench where Happy sat, full of self satisfaction. It was clear to those seated beside him that this was not a safe place to be, and they all moved away from him on the bench.
Seeing that his father was agitated, the little cub began to wail, which caused Bear to rethink the idea of doing some damage to the smug Happy, who was now sitting very much alone. After a few calming words and upon Alyce’s insistence, Bear and Kevin were to take Happy to the room down the hall where there were chairs, beds and a large television that they could watch football on. She would deliver pie to them both, and if he was lucky, something for their prisoner as well.
Once the guests had cleared the dishes from the expansive meal, drinks were again refilled and the tables were laid with a variety of pies, desserts and wonderful smelling coffees. As they began to settle in, there were discussions of what they should do and how to handle their now clearly unwanted guest. The Colonels wife, who thankfully had not blinded them with her cameras flash during dinner, sat on one of the benches and placed two manila envelopes in front of her. She had been working on their contents, she said, during the long hours in the Mercedes between stops and thought they might be of some interest.
Passing a pleased look to the Colonel, she removed from the envelopes twenty seven 8 x 10 color glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was. It took time to read the detailed descriptions written, but it was easy enough to see the common thread of the pictures and what was in the circles. Among each of the scenes of corn fields and weathered barns, rusting plows and stone buildings was an image of someone who looked very similar to Kittys friend and traveling companion, TT Davis.
Each iteration was slightly different. Some were not fully in focus, some of the figures were wearing glasses and others had various skin tones that could not be called all together natural. Each, though, were wearing the same clothing. Red sweater, blue chambray shirt. The paragraphs on the back of each of the pictures detailed where and when the photo was taken and what the true intention of the shot was. As the photographer explained, these were to be a documentation of rustic country life, not a skewed version of Where’s Waldo. It had not been her intention for this man to be in the photos and she hadn’t really noticed him when she pointed her camera.
Attention was turned to TT Davis, who sat silently at the end of one bench, examining the picture in his hand. As Kitty had explained it, he was an excellent wingman and had the ability to foresee danger when he accompanied her on any given mission. He had diverted attention away from her when taking the papers from the office, had helped her deliver the kitty hats to Boardwalk Hall, and had enabled the gamblers in their group in Atlantic City to find the perfect big fish to fry. Now, it seemed, rather than being viewed as a helpful participant in their battle to save the world, he was being looked at as a possible threat.
Feeling the pressure of a room full of people staring at him, TT Davis put down the picture and grabbed his glass. He was there to help, and would do his best to fill in the gaps to help these people on their way to victory. He started what would be a long night of explanation and subsequent planning the only way he could.
“Its all about the corn”
In the late hours of the evening, really the start of the next day, the house-guests made their way to bed. Heads swimming with new information and more than a few holiday drinks, most settled in for a fitful night of attempted rest in an unfamiliar place. Jack, who was not much for sleeping, even on a good night, took the overnight shift of caring for the cub. The library contained every children’s book you could ask for, and by the time the others had begun rising, he and the cub were fast asleep in an overstuffed chair with The Cat in the Hat opened to the last page, covering them both.
For the next few hours, the experiments ensued in Alyce’s massive kitchen. Most of the cooks had gotten good and drunk the night before, so they looked and felt their best for the work ahead of them. Since they had received new information from TT Davis, the science teacher, the horticulturalist and JW had immediately retreated to the library. Although they already had a rough plan, there was clearly more that they needed to know about genetic modification of plant species and how each ingredient might react during manipulation.
By the time the large group departed for the train station, they had new found enthusiasm for the work ahead. The Colonel and his wife reluctantly accepted Happy as a passenger in the Mercedes and agreed to deposit him back where they had picked him up. Rachael and the science teacher joined him in the back seat for the long ride, which was taken in near silence. There were new protocols to be followed and their next meeting to be considered.
They were headed back to Pennsylvania, where the corn crops grew plentiful and where all of the men named Davis could be found.