Soft tapping at my b d Tuesday morning brought me to full consciousness.
I said, “Come in, Fillmore.”
Once you’ve heard that tapping technique several times, you quickly come to recognize it as Fillmore’s. He entered, preceded by a breakfast tray.
“Good morning Miss.”
“Good morning, Fillmore.”
“Did you sleep well?”
I struggled to sit up. “Like a ton of. . . What is it people sleep like a ton of again?”
“Oh. Right. Bricks. You can put the tray over there on the table.”
“Very good, Miss.”
“What time is it?”
“Just after ten, Miss.”
I padded into the bathroom to splash water on the face, brush the teeth, and wrap up in a robe. Fillmore was stirring the perfect amount of c and s into my coffee as I reentered the room.
“Well, Fillmore. Here we are in beautiful Costa Rica, huh?”
I stepped out onto the balcony. The air was very hot, but not as steamy as it might have been because of a refreshing breeze blowing in off the Pacific Ocean. Gloria’s front yard may be busy and jungly, but her walled-in back yard is neat and disciplined. The wall is eight feet high in order to discourage the wildlife, but, since the land quickly falls away toward the ocean just past the patio and pool area, the wall doesn’t impede the view.
The Pacific was streaked with shades of beautiful pale green that morning. The jagged little rock islands in the near distance were all present and accounted for. As I contemplated the infinite Pacific beyond, a sudden soft hissing sound told me the misters that surround the pool had just been turned on.
Gloria appeared below my balcony carrying a coffee cup in one hand, a bottle of sun block in the other, and with a towel draped over an arm.
I waited until her coffee cup was resting safely on a table before I yelled Hey in my deepest, loudest voice. She jumped several feet into the air, whirled, and spotted me.
“You moron. Get down here.”
“I gotta eat my breakfast first.”
“I’m coming. Keep your shirt on.”
I turned back to Fillmore and lifted the silver lid from the breakfast plate. “And what have we here?”
“One of Asdrubal’s creations, Miss.”
I think I’ve mentioned that we had come – or should I say, Gloria had dragged us – to Costa Rica because her chef Asdrubal was complaining that the twins were driving him crazy and threatening that, if Gloria didn’t do something about the situation, he was going to quit.
Since Asdrubal is universally recognized as that region’s premier chef, and Gloria had pulled out all the stops to get him after the death of his previous employer, movie star Ava Diamond, every effort had to be made to restore his serenity. Remembering this, I said,
“Speaking of Asdrubal, how does he seem this morning? Still in his right mind?”
Fillmore considered this question. “My assessment is that he seems hopeful, Miss.”
“So am I. Hopeful that you can sort the twins out and make them stop bickering so we can all go back to Cleveland ASAP. Have you made any progress yet?”
“Regrettably no, Miss. I have not yet had an opportunity to spend any time with the twins. They’ve been busy hovering over Miss Dalrymple.”
“Well, get after it, Fillmore. The sooner you get those twins straightened out, the sooner we can go home. Tempest fugitives.”
“Tempus fugit, Miss.”
“Tempus fugit, then. Whatever floats your boat.
“It is not a question of what floats my boat, Miss. When conjugating the Latin verb . . . ”
I showed him my shut it hand. “Whatever, Fillmore. Anyway, breakfast smells delicious. Is the green stuff guacamole?”
“And cheese, diced tomatoes, tortilla, and is that refried beans? Kind of heavy for breakfast fare, isn’t it?”
“It is not refried beans, Miss. It is a creation of Asdrubal’s with sausage and eggs in a special sauce.”
I tried a small bite. “Wow. That’s very good. Want a taste?”
“No, thank you, Miss. The staff ate earlier. Asdrubal has given me the recipe.”
I nodded, chewing.
“Would you like me to draw a bath, Miss?”
I shook my head no, chewing. “Do dank. Gworia bub be dow by da boo.”
Fillmore said, “Very good, Miss.”
I joined Gloria a short time later. No sooner had we tossed floaties into the pool and slid into the warm water than we were startled to hear voices coming from the side of the house beyond the wall, followed by the sound of the tall wooden gate’s latch being violently rattled, followed by determined rapping.
Gloria stared. “What the . . . ?”
One of the twins hurried outside looking fierce. “We’ve got trespassers, Gloria,” he said as he hurried toward the gate. “Don’t worry. I’m on it.”
And I’ll just take a moment here, if I may, to say that this twin was extremely buff. I was startled again by the narrow waist and bulging pecs. Because of this, I deduced that he was the twin who had picked us up from the airport the previous day.
A familiar female voice called from beyond the gate, “Melly? Gloria. I know you’re out there right now. Open up.”
Fillmore rushed outside, followed by the other twin. Both of them hurried after Twin A, and I was startled to see that Twin B was just as cut as Twin A. They’d both undergone the remarkable transformation from the pudgy, sloppy individuals they’d been in the not-so-distant past.
“Melly? Melly.” Nicole Van der Vander (by now I had put the voice together with a name) yelled from beyond the gate.
Twin A released the latch and pushed the gate open. “This is private . . . ” he began in a scolding voice, but Gloria stopped him.
“It’s okay, Twin. It’s a friend of Melly’s. You can let her in.”
“Then she should have come to the front door like normal . . . ”
As he turned to look at Gloria disapprovingly, Nicole pushed past him into the backyard. She was followed by the two male cousins she had hurriedly introduced to us the previous evening, and an older couple.
Nicole said, “See? I told you I’d find you. I’ve brought Jim and Cody and look. Here’s my aunt and uncle right now. Aren’t they the cutest . . . ”
At the same time, the older man charged the pool, smiling broadly. “Good morning, ladies. Al Flagler. Flagler’s Fine Furniture. My card.”
He produced a business card in each hand and extended them toward us. Then he seemed to realize for the first time that we were wet, and that we were far out of reach in the middle of the pool.
“Oh. Uh. Well, here. Why don’t I just set them here on the table . . . ”
“ . . . little aunt and uncle ever?”
How to describe the cutest little aunt and uncle ever. Huh. Let me take a run at it. He was plump, sported a sparse orange comb-over, and wore a loud Hawaiian shirt, white Bermuda shorts secured around his ample waist by a wide baby blue leather belt, white crew socks and tasseled baby blue loafers that matched the belt.
She wore piles of orange curls, color- coordinated with her husband‘s crowning glory, shorts and shirt that matched her husband’s, and a pair of white platform sandals. While her husband and niece continued to talk, she minced toward the nearest chair, which happened to be pushed up to one of Gloria’s umbrella tables, pulled it out, and collapsed onto it.
Nicole continued. “Al and Betty Jean Flagler. Look at Betty Jean’s sandals. Aren’t they cute? Who did you say they’re by, Betty Jean? Was it . . . ”
Al Flagler continued to address us. “We just moved down here this month. Bought the old Rimbaud . . . ”
Listening to them was like standing in the television section at Best Buy with all the TVs turned up loud.
“ . . . Prada? Anyway. Melly, their house is just two doors up from you guys right now. Can you believe it? Or would it be down?”
Al Flagler said, “ . . . place. It’s in pretty good shape. We won’t have to do much to it. Course, the wife’s gonna hafta put her own touches . . . ”
The cousins walked to the edge of the pool and the tall, dark one said, “Nice view.”
I glanced at him. He had raised a hand to shade his eyes and was staring out across the vast Pacific.
The shorter, lighter one said, “Yeah.”
I glanced at him. He was staring straight down at me.
I felt something nudge my floatie and looked around. Gloria grinned at me. “He’s cute,” she whispered.
I said, “Huh.”
Grinning wickedly, she said, “He reminds me of someone, but I can’t think who . . . ”
I grimaced and nodded the way a diva does when she knows the joke’s on her. This Jim McGuinn character bore a striking resemblance to a certain mutual acquaintance of ours. Well, more of an acquaintance of mine than of Gloria’s, actually, but whatever.
I said, “Gunnar.”
“Ya think?” She grinned at me again.
Repeat customers might remember Gunnar, as in Gunnar Finney, from a previous episode. If you’re not a repeat customer, don’t worry about Gunnar Finney. Don’t give him another thought. He’s not a significant person in my life at all. Absolutely not. At all.
Nicole had continued talking because Nicole always continues talking. “Anyway, we asked Bonita – that’s Betty Jean’s housekeeper . . . ”
Al Flagler hadn’t broken stride, either. “ . . . on it, natch. That’s a woman for you. Always gotta tinker with the day-cor. Our place is good-sized, but it’s not as big as this place.”
He ran an appraising eye over the back of Gloria’s house. “You’ve got yourself quite a dump here. How about giving us the Grand Tour?”
“ . . . if she knew where you live, Gloria . . . ”
Betty Jean Flagler spoke up for the first time. “Oh, for Pete’s sakes, Al. You and your Grand Tour. You can see they’re swimming. Say . . . ”
This last was directed toward Fillmore and the twins, who remained, open-mouthed and staring – sort of dazed and confused, as the saying goes – where the Flaglers, the cousins, and Nicole had left them near the gate.
“Say,” Betty Jean Flagler said. “What are the chances of someone scaring me up a nice cup of coffee?”
“ . . . and of course she did. She knew exactly where . . . ”
The twins exchanged a quick glance and one of them said, “Of course. I was just about to inquire . . . ”
“Yeah,” Al Flagler said with a big smile. “A nice cup of Joe would go down good.”
The twins, indicating to Fillmore by sign language that they’d take care of the coffee-making, hurried inside.
It occurred to me that maybe Gloria and I ought to get out of the pool so she could better play hostess. I was just about to glance at Gloria to see if it was occurring to her that maybe we ought to get out of the pool so she could better play hostess, when something caught the corner of my eye. The something was Fillmore, who was now standing at the top of the pool steps waiting for us to get out of the pool so Gloria could better play hostess. Two white terry cloth robes were tucked over his arm.
I never saw the man move. I don’t know how he knew where to find two terry cloth robes and I never saw him looking for them. I don’t know how he got from the vicinity of the gate with no white terry cloth robes, which is where he was the last I’d noticed, to the top of the steps with two white terry cloth robes, but there he was. I mean, you tell me how he does it.
We wrapped ourselves in robes and joined the she-Flagler at the umbrella table. Nicole and the he-Flagler and the cousins joined us.
The he-Flagler eyed Gloria. “Hoo, Mama. If the wife ever dumps me, I’m calling you.”
I think I must have been the only one who saw the look of horror on Gloria’s face because the she-Flagler spoke up right away.
“Al, you idiot. Why would I dump you when it’s taken me most of my life to get you trained?”
Gloria had settled on the chair closest to the business cards the he-Flagler had tossed onto the table. She picked them up, took a quick look, and passed them to me.
Al (the Kid) Flagler, the card read. Flagler’s Fine Furniture. A Terre Haute address was provided at the bottom left corner.
I said, “Terre Haute?”
“Best little city in the nation,” Al (the Kid) said.
Nicole was, of course, talking all the while. She’d been continuing her detailed report on how she’d asked the Flagler housekeeper, Bonita, if she knew where Gloria lived, and on Bonita’s response. Now she moved on to a new topic.
“And you’ll never guess what happened at La Pacifica last night. You remember that Vanessa Gonorría? Who rode over with you from San Jose? You remember how she kept saying it was San Juan? Well, guess what right now.”
Gloria said, “She was actually supposed to be in San Juan.”
Nicole said, “Hah. That’s what I kind of wondered about, too. But no.”
Betty Jean Flagler said, “I’ll tell you what, Al. I wore the wrong shoes. My dogs are killing me.”
Nicole said, “Apparently, once she got into the lobby at La Pacifica, she phoned the friend she was supposed to be meeting, and it turns out . . . ”
Betty Jean Flagler said, “Look at the back of my foot where the strap rubs. I’ve got blisters the size of quarters coming up.”
“ . . . she was supposed to be in St. Bart’s.”
The he-Flagler bent to examine the she-Flagler’s heel and winced. He whistled softly. “That looks bad, Toots.”
I said, “How’d she do that? St. Bart’s? She didn’t even come close. And anyway, how did you find out about it?”
Nicole said, “She charged into the restaurant, found our tables, dragged a vacant chair over next to me, and told us all about it. Oh my God. I’ve never heard anyone swear like that right now.”
Al the Kid, rubbing his palms together enthusiastically, said, “Here comes the coffee. Just what the doctor ordered.”
The twins, working in close choreography, covered the table with cups and saucers, dessert plates, cream and sugar, spoons and napkins, and a plate stacked with scones and muffins. One twin poured while the other stood by with a second pot.
The he-Flagler dug right in.
Gloria chuckled. “Now she’ll have to catch the puddle jumper back over the mountains . . . ”
“No,” Nicole interrupted. “She got in a fight with the friend in St. Bart’s and decided to stay here right now.”
I said, “At La Pacifica? By herself?”
“No. At casa Flagler. She’s there right now.”
Gloria frowned. “How’d that happen?”
Nicole frowned back at her. “I’m not sure.”
I said, “Huh.”
Nicole said, “But it’s okay. I mean, she is on Real Families of Trenton. That’s pretty cool, right?”
“I’ll tell you one thing,” Al Flagler said through partially chewed blueberry muffin. “That kid’s got a mouth on her.”
Betty Jean said, a trifle irritably, “Watch it, Al. You’re spraying.”
Al made a show of swallowing. “Sorry. Say, these are great muffins. I think I’ll have to go again.” He looked over the plate, chose one, and held it up for inspection. “Where do you get these things, Toots?”
This last sentence was directed at Gloria. I think I’m pretty safe in assuming it was the first time in her life she’d ever been called Toots. She blinked at him several times and shot a quick glance my way before answering,
“My chef makes them.”
Nicole said, “I mean, wait’ll the gang back in Phoenix hear I spent the holidays hanging out with a real TV star.”
Betty Jean gave the he-Flagler a meaningful look. “Her chef makes them, Al.”
“I hear ya.”
“It’s just what I’ve been saying.”
“I hear ya.”
I just had time to deduce that the he-Flagler and the she-Flagler had some sort of controversy going on re chefs, or possibly re their chef specifically, before Gloria turned to Nicole.
“Speaking of the Gonorría, what’s she doing? Why didn’t you drag her along?”
Nicole said, “Oh, I imagine she’s still sleeping it off right now. She and some of the cousins stayed out by the pool partying most of the night. Right, guys?”
The cousins laughed. The Jim cousin said, “That crazy woman can drink.”
The Cody cousin said, “She drank me under the table . . . ”
The she-Flagler laughed. “It sounded like you were all having a high old time.”
The he-Flagler had made fast work of his second muffin. He washed it down with the last of his coffee and dabbed daintily at his lips with his napkin.
“That hit the spot. Now how about that tour?”
Gloria said, “Tour?”
The she-Flagler said, “He wants to see your house. He calls it the Grand Tour.”
Gloria frowned. “Oh. Um. Twin?”
One of the twins stepped forward.
Gloria had a look on her face like she’d tasted something sour. “Maybe you could show the Flaglers through the house?”
“Of course,” the twin said. “If you’ll come this way?” He swept an arm toward the sliding glass doors.
The he-Flagler groaned as he got to his feet. He started in the direction indicated. Then he turned back. “Coming, Toots?”
I felt Gloria stiffen, but she wasn’t the Toots he was addressing this time.
Betty Jean said, “You’re on your own, Al. My dogs are killing me. I’m not budging.”
Al shrugged and followed the twin into the house.
I turned to Nicole. “So how many cousins and what-not are down here?”
“Oh my God. I have no idea right now. Aunt B. J.?”
The she-Flagler shook her head. “I don’t know, either. We’ve got a houseful, that’s for sure.”
“A bunch of cousins, aunts and uncles, even a few greats. Oh, wait until you meet my Aunt Tulip.”
Betty Jean said, “She’s my aunt, hon. She’d be your great aunt.” Betty Jean turned to us. “You’ll love Tulip. Everybody does. She’s a fun gal.”
A voice from on high called out, “Hey. How’s the weather down there?”
We all turned to see the he-Flagler waving happily from a third floor balcony.
The she-Flagler chuckled softly. “That Al. What a card.”
The complete novel FILLMORE RIDES AGAIN is now available on Kindle. Go to Amazon Kindle Store and search by title, Fillmore Rides Again. $4.99