“Are they still out there?”
I was referring to County Sheriff ’s deputies Melody Whitewash and Dustin Dawg, and a slew of federal agents, who had been skulking around the neighborhood for the better part of two weeks. They plainly had our property under surveillance but would not tell us why.
My husband, Miles, shrugged. “I’m not sure. They’ve become so much a part of the scenery, I don’t even notice them anymore.” He took the potato peeler and started working on the mountain of spuds. “We better get dinner in the crock pots, so we can go rake the leaves. In the past two weeks, I think every tree and bush has shed every one of their leaves.”
I chuckled. “Yeah. It’s getting harder for the Keystone Kops to find hiding places.”
I took the Santoku knife and began cutting up the rest of the vegetables. “I still don’t know why we are under investigation.”
“Deputy Dawg stated that he didn’t say we are under investigation,” Miles reminded me.
“He also stated that he didn’t say we aren’t.” I frowned. “If it was just him and Deputy Whitewash prowling around the neighborhood, I wouldn’t be too worried. I would figure our nosy neighbors, Mace and Gloria, were behind it, and it would blow over as soon as the deputies couldn’t find any evidence of whatever the busybodies had accused us of this time.”
Miles nodded. “I agree. But with the alphabet soup of federal agencies involved in this alleged taskforce, I tend to think it’s something much more serious, something that’s not going to blow over any time soon.” He finished with his potatoes and started adding them to the slow cookers.
I stopped chopping and brushed the hair out of my eyes. “I’m still worried that it somehow involves my characters. I know they all deny doing anything that would cause us to be under investigation, but I also know you and I haven’t done anything illegal.”
Miles sighed. “And if it isn’t you and me, that only leaves your characters. Whenever there’s trouble, your characters seem to be right in the thick of things.”
“Honey, you know if I could, I’d send them all back into my manuscripts. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to do that. I still don’t understand how they all fell out of my manuscripts and ended up here, so I have no way to reverse the process.”
“I know, sweetheart. I don’t blame you.” My husband reached over and patted my hand.
* * *
“I know Mistress Writer and Master Miles blame us for these people, these law enforcement officials, watching this property.” Dragon addressed a gathering of her fellow characters.
“They may accuse us, but we are blameless.” The Bounty Hunter slouched against the wall of the conference room. He spoke softly and without rancor.
In contrast, his compatriot, the Arrogant One, drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his cloak in both hands. When he spoke, it was in an annoying high-pitched screech, a peculiar combination of arrogance and petulance. “They have no right to accuse us of anything. We are entirely innocent of all transgressions.”
“We all agree that we have done nothing to validate Mistress Writer’s lack of faith in us in this instance. However, this has not always been the case.” The Foreman narrowed his gray eyes and glared at the Arrogant One. “Some of us have caused Mistress Writer and Master Miles much grief in the past. It is no wonder they do not believe in our innocence.”
The Arrogant One turned beet red and opened his mouth to reply, but Sorceress cut him off, holding up her hand like a cop stopping traffic. “This is unproductive. Does it really matter whether Mistress Writer blames us? Does it even matter whether we are innocent? If these law enforcers remain in the area and continue to observe the activities of Mistress Writer and Master Miles, sooner or later they will discover us.”
“An’ why would thet be so bad?” The Old Dwarf rubbed his shield with a soft cloth, buffing it to a shiny finish. He smiled as he saw his bearded face staring back at him. Then he stood, picked up his battleaxe, looked at his friends and scoffed. “Wot could tha law enforcers be doin’ ta us iffin they be discoverin’ us, anywho?”
“I do not fear what they could do to us, but what they would do to Mistress Writer and Master Miles.” Cleric spoke softly, her words catching in her throat, and tears stinging her cornflower blue eyes.
The Gypsy nodded. “It would not be pleasant for them, trying to explain who we are and whence we came.” His arm snaked out, and his stiletto flew across the room, scoring a perfect bulls-eye on the target mounted on the far wall. “I propose we do something to rid the area of these intruders.”
The Young Hero’s eyes widened, and his jaw dropped. “Surely you do not propose murder!”
“Of course not!” His friend frowned. “But a few well-placed pokes with a dagger might deter them.”
“No.” The Young Hero shook his head. “Violence will only make them determined to find the perpetrator. They would never leave the area.”
“There will be no violence.” Dragon’s tone of voice left no room for debate. “We must employ some other means to get these people to abandon their investigation and leave the area, and we must do it without involving Mistress Writer or Master Miles.”
“I suppose you have a plan?” The annoying elf sounded more like he was accusing the big reptile, rather than asking a question. He stood with his arms folded tightly against his chest, and he tapped his foot impatiently.
“Mayhap.” Dragon’s eyes closed to slits, and dark smoke wafted from her nostrils.
* * *
The brittle brown leaves crunched and crackled underfoot as Miles and I raked them into sizeable piles.
“Yup, they’re still there.” I jerked my thumb toward our neighbor’s yard. Deputies Whitewash and Dawg, along with several men in suits, seemed fascinated by something they had apparently spotted in one of our trees. They all stood there along the property line, focusing their binoculars on the bare tree at the edge of the yard.
“What are they watching?” Miles turned and raised a hand to shade his eyes, so he could scan the tree. Then turned back toward me, lifted his palms and shrugged. “I can’t see anything.”
I grinned. “Don’t be fooled by the phony bird watching act. They only bolted from their hiding places and pointed their binoculars at that tree when they realized we had spotted them watching us again.”
Miles sighed. “This is getting more than a bit annoying. We can’t even rake leaves in our own yard in peace.”
“Maybe we should talk to them again?” I leaned on my rake and inclined my head toward the group. They were in a huddle, whispering and glancing over at us.
Miles snorted. “I doubt it would do any good.”
We continued raking as the men in suits wandered off in groups of two and three. Soon, only the deputies remained.
“Excuse me, ma’am, sir.” Deputy Whitewash waved at us and beckoned us closer.
“What can we do for you, Deputy?” I called to her from my position in the middle of the yard, not taking a single step in her direction.
“My partner and I would be more than happy to assist you with your yard work.” Her smile did nothing to warm her expression; rather, it made her look like a vampire trying to mesmerize its victim.
“Thanks for the offer, but Miles and I can manage.” I hoped my smile didn’t look as contrived as hers.
Miles nudged me and whispered, “Hey, if they want to give us a hand . . .”
I cut him off, shaking my head. “They don’t want to help. They want permission to come onto our property, so they can snoop. And if we let these two on the property, all the others will take it as tacit permission to do the same.”
Miles raised his eyebrows and sighed. “I never thought of that.” He paused, giving me a searching look. “You know, either you have become a lot more cynical lately, or you’ve been reading way too many police procedurals.”
“I laughed and winked. “Both. Now let’s get these leaves raked.”
* * *
“Does everyone understand?” Dragon looked from one character to the next. Each nodded in turn, but Dragon saw reluctance in some faces.
“Some of you do not approve?” Smoke drifted from her nostrils.
“It is risky.” The Foreman frowned.
Dragon shook her reptilian head. “There is no risk. The elf and I will be doing most of the work.”
The Gypsy snorted. “And therein lies the biggest risk – the elf.”
The others murmured their agreement. Dragon lifted an eyebrow. “Elf, you and I share the most important roles. Are you quite certain you can manage? It must be done with perfect timing.”
The Arrogant One drew himself up, rocked back on his heels, and grasped his cloak in both hands. He looked down his nose at Dragon and the others. “Of course I can manage. I am, after all, an illusionist extraordinaire!”
“Very well. Tonight, you will study the rest of us. You will need to know every detail of our appearance. Tomorrow, we will commence.”
What is Dragon’s plan? And will it work, or just create more problems for Mistress Writer and Master Miles? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you!