I don’t know how he managed it, but Arthur succeeded in extracting himself from the shrubbery with no sign of embarrassment. He did not blush, he did not lower his eyes, he did not sweat or slump or shuffle his feet. In fact, he looked rather arrogant. His brown eyes narrowed behind his dark-framed glasses, and his mustache and goatee didn’t quite hide the smug smile that pulled at his mouth. He brushed off his threadbare suit with an air of impatience and looked down his nose at the assembled group gawking at him. Not exactly the actions I would expect from a grown man found lurking in the foliage.
“I asked what you’re doing hiding in a clump of bushes, Arthur.” I glared at the man.
“So you did.” His tone was dismissive, and he continued brushing off his jacket and slacks.
“Well?” I crossed my arms over my chest and raised one eyebrow.
Arthur ignored me.
“Who is this man?” Anna stepped toward us.
“This is Arthur, a journalist and author who runs the writer’s group Lost in the Words.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/09/01/still-searching-for-answers/
Anna placed her hands on her hips and gave Arthur the once-over. “So, what is he doing on my property, uninvited, and why is he lurking in the bushes, scaring my son’s pony?” Her voice was harsh, and her face hard.
“I don’t know, Anna.” We both continued to glare at the intruder. “Care to explain, Arthur?”
The man shrugged. “I am exercising due diligence.”
My characters, who had been edging closer and forming a semi-circle around Arthur, Anna, and me, snorted at the man’s explanation. Rocky moved forward, standing toe-to-toe with Arthur. “And just what is that supposed to mean? You almost caused Anna’s son, Colton, a serious injury by spooking his pony.”
“Yes.” Arthur snickered. “The pony is rather flighty for a therapy animal, one supposedly well-trained to work with the blind.”
“You seem to know an awful lot about my son’s pony.” Anna pushed past Rocky to confront Arthur. She was visibly struggling to keep her temper under control.
“Yes, I do. And now I know everything I need to know.” Arthur started to turn away, but my characters blocked his path.
I cleared my throat. “From the beginning, Arthur?” I worded it as a request, but I was sure my expression left no doubt it was a command.
Arthur sighed. “Very well. I was alerted to the possibility of a wonderful human-interest story. A boy, blind from birth, had a therapy pony who was so well trained to work with the blind, the boy was able to ride him on the trails all by himself with no chance of danger.”
Arthur paused and studied his fingernails for several moments before continuing, a sour look on his face. “I have been tipped off before to possible story ideas. When I was younger and less experienced, I would go right to the subject and tell them I wanted to do a story. Half-way through an interview, I would realize there was no story. But people get angry after you’ve told them you are going to write a feature article about them in their local paper, but then you have to tell them they are not worth a story.”
He paused, looking down his nose at us. “So, I started to research more carefully, to verify the facts I was given before approaching potential subjects. Most times, I found the tips I had been given were baseless.”
Arthur pointed at Colton and Blue. “Case in point. I was told your son and his pony would make for wonderful copy. So, I decided to observe them, to see if the pony was as great as I had been told. And, of course, it’s not.”
“He is too!” Colton’s face was red, and his hands were balled into fists. “And there’s already a journalist who’s going to write a story about Blue and me.”
“Oh?” Suddenly, Arthur didn’t look so smug.
“Yes.” Anna nodded. “Someone contacted me yesterday. She said she was a friend of yours, Marge, so I figured you had told her about Colton and Blue.”
I shook my head. “I never mentioned them to anyone. What’s this journalist’s name?”
Anna’s brow furrowed, and she rubbed her chin. “Didi something-or-other. I can’t remember her last name.”
“What?” Arthur guffawed, sounding like a braying donkey. “Didi? That hack? She can’t put two words together and have them make sense.”
Anna frowned and started rubbing her forehead. “Marge?”
I reluctantly started to agree with Arthur, but then I saw Colton’s face crumple. I sighed. “I do know a writer named Didi. She’s a member of Lost in the Words. I never told her about Colton and Blue, but if you’ve agreed to let her write a story about them, I’ll help her.”
“That pathetic little sneak probably saw my notes and decided to scoop me.” Arthur was so angry he was almost spitting as he whirled to confront me. “And if she gave you as a reference, you were probably in on it with her! Two hacks trying to steal my story! Well, I get the last laugh! There is no story here!”
I shook my head. “I didn’t try to steal anyone’s story, Arthur, but I have news for you. The laugh’s on you. There’s a whale of a story here, and I’ll make sure Didi gets it all – every single column inch of it.”
I continued smirking until Arthur narrowed his eyes and took a step toward me. He lowered his voice to a near-feral growl. “You’ll regret this!”
I blanched and my blood ran cold as I remembered Crawford’s warning. “You know, you’ve made a powerful enemy in Arthur.” https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/09/08/still-looking-for-answers/
I gulped as I watched the writer turn on his heel, push past my characters, and storm off toward the road.
Once Arthur was gone, Blue settled down. Anna still wanted to cancel the ride, but Colton begged so hard, she capitulated. “But you must promise to keep Blue in the middle of the group, where other riders can help you if you get into trouble.”
“I promise, mom, but I just know Blue and I will be fine.”
My Foreman, Tor, led off on his ebony stallion, Centaur, setting an easy pace. The trail wound through a variety of terrains. We rode through woods and past farm fields, through an outcropping of rocks, along the banks of a large lake, and across a shallow stream. Blue was nothing short of amazing, deftly taking his young, blind rider around all obstacles and never once shying at any of the birds and wildlife that popped up along the trail. Soon, Colton and Rocky were competing again to see who could identify the most birds.
“That’s four for me, and only three for you.” Colton laughed.
“Four? What four? You got two.” Rocky was laughing, too.
“Oh, no! I got four.” Colton was adamant. “I heard the cheer-cheer-cheer-purty-purty-purty of a Northern Cardinal back by Mr. Mulligan’s fence.”
“Okay, I will give you that one. It was a beautiful male. But I got a female Northern Cardinal along the outcropping of rocks further along the trail. So that’s one apiece.” Rocky sounded smug.
Colton nodded. “Then in that same spot where you saw the female cardinal, I heard the feee-beee and the chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee of some Black-capped Chickadees. And I heard the Ol’-Sam-Peabody-Peabody-Peabody of a White-throated Sparrow there, too.”
“Okay, but that is still only three.” Rocky grinned.
Colton held up four fingers. “I also heard the eh-eh-eh of some White-breasted nuthatches there, making four for me. There were a lot of birds on that area. You said it looked like someone had thrown some bird seed and cracked corn on the rocks there.”
“Yes, I saw Dark-eyed Juncos and a Fox Sparrow eating there.”
Colton grinned. “Yup. Three for you, four for me.”
“I think you are cheating.” Rocky laughed. “I think Blue is telling you where the birds are hiding.”
Colton scoffed. “You’ve forgotten to listen. You’re only using your eyes, and a lot of times the birds are hidden.” Suddenly, a huge smile split his face as he pointed toward the lake we were riding past. “Do you hear that bird? Sort of like ohhh-OHH, ohhh-OHH? That sounds like a Trumpeter Swan. That’s five for me!”
Rocky looked over toward the sound. “Yes, there is a pair of swans there. But I also see some Wood Ducks and Pied-billed Grebes. So, we’re tied again, five apiece.”
“But I hear the honking of Canada Geese and the quacking of Mallards. Seven to five!” Colton laughed again.
Looking around as the trail veered away from the water, Rocky cried out in triumph. “A pair of American Goldfinches and an Eastern Meadowlark! We are tied again!”
Colton shook his head. “Sorry, but I hear the cheer-up, cheer-a-lee, cheer-ee-o of an American Robin in the tree. I’m ahead by one.”
“There are some White-crowned Sparrows in the underbrush and on the ground. Tied again.” Rocky laughed.
“I hear something chattering.” Colton listened intently. “But I guess I can’t count a Red Squirrel, can I?”
“Nope. The contest remains a tie.” Rocky sounded smug.
By the time we had returned to Anna’s farm at the end of the ride, the score was still tied, and between them, the two boys had racked up an impressive total of 30 species.
It took a while to unsaddle all the horses, water them, groom them, and turn them out to graze in the paddock, then wipe down our saddles and put all our saddle blankets on racks to dry from the horses’ sweat. My characters and I took care of Anna’s mount, Rosie, so Anna could start the barbecue. By the time we were done, the tantalizing smell of grilling dinner was causing our stomachs to rumble and our mouths to water.
Clara sat next to me at the picnic table. She smiled as we talked about the ride. “Blue is a superb successor to Peaches, or Mystery, as we knew her. Colton was listening for birds and talking to Rocky while depending on Blue to carry him safely along the trail, just like Mystery used to.”
I nodded and raised an eyebrow. “Well, Mystery did tell you where to find a new pony for Colton.”
Clara, my cleric, smiled at the memory. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2019/05/05/a-new-mystery/
Soon Anna joined us. “What do you two think?” She nodded toward her son. “Didn’t Colton and Blue do great on the ride today?”
Clara and I nodded.
I grinned at Anna as she refilled our glasses with sweet tea. “I don’t think you could have found a better pony for Colton if you had cloned Peaches.”
“You will make sure this girl, Didi, does a good job on the article, won’t you?” Anna furrowed her brow. “If any of Colton’s classmates read it, I want Colton to be proud of the article.”
“Do you have Didi’s phone number?”
“I’ll give you her business card before you leave.”
“Then I’ll call her tomorrow and let her know I’ll help her with this.” I gave Anna a reassuring smile, and she returned it warmly.
The barbecue was a big hit. We were all enjoying ourselves so much, no one was in a hurry to go home. By the time my characters and I saddled up again and headed for home, we were all very full, very tired, but very happy.
“I saw Anna give you one of Didi’s business cards.” Dray was riding alongside me. “Are you really going to help her with the article?”
“You don’t think I should?” I frowned.
“I think there is more to Arthur than meets the eye, and I do not think he will like you helping Didi.”
“You may be right, but I’ve already promised Anna and Colton. So, I’ll deal with Arthur if the need arises.”
“We will deal with Arthur . . . when the need arises.” Dray smiled a wicked smile.
What does Dragon, aka Dray, sense about Arthur? Will the need really arise to deal with him? Will I need Dragon’s help? Be sure to come back next week and see what happens. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.