My friends, you have all heard the rumors of the Magpie Backyard Code Orange Security Alert we recently faced. It is true that I solved the case in only one day, which means you may now go back to all your normal activities. I am not responsible for rescheduling the Midsummer Fashion Review. But I would not object to chairing a Philosophical Debate Society so that we can mull all the ramifications of this recent event in our community while keeping alive ancient Greek and Roman oral and intellectual traditions. Oh. Just file my report.? Very Well. My confidential account is below.
Mr. Biblio Turturis
Head Of Magpie Backyard Security
TOP SECRET First of all, I never expected to be named Head of Security, and I don’t know why I was , except many were tired of the heavy handed tactics of Owlus Rusticus, who served for many years in this post. For years I have volunteered to oversee a debating society, yet the position remains unfilled.
Owlus Rusticus: had he been at his job too long?
At first the season was going well. We had the usual complaints: the slums at the back of garden, vandalism by young figs on the pool deck.
Most of the time I could read and keep my eye on things at the same time. But two weeks ago I received a disturbing report of an unauthorized device in the compost heap.
Where the device was found, with the white part protruding like a periscope.
It had a long white sinuous neck which protruded between decomposing issues of The New York Times. It was attached to a purple rectangle which held another rectangle inside it. There was instant unrest in the backyard. Mrs. Squash Blossom and her sisters had to be hospitalized after a bout of hysteria during which they were certain the object had grown up out of the Book Reviews, and posed a danger to their unborn children, for who knew what seditious ideas had seeped into the soil? The one known immature squash is being cared for, along with a young cucumber, by the Okra family. The Blossoms should be back to normal soon after emergency application of electrosunlight. One unripe tomato fled all the way to the end of swimming pool where it was last seen calmly sunning itself on a lawn chair.
A weeping Squash Blossom, as neighbors try to comfort her.
The child seems unharmed.
This tomato removed himself to another clime.
The Red Hat Society, sure the object was a sign of imminent attack from outside the yard, instituted a daily watch along the southern perimeter of the fence, which they faithfully completed whenever they were awake and not playing bridge, whenever inclement weather did not threaten their hairdos, and before cocktail hour. After one day of watching they reported seeing no undesirables.
A member of the Red Hat Society on patrol.
I had to appeal to Owlus Rusticus for help in this matter. He took a break from his new job as Pool Director, where he was busy admonishing youngsters not to congregate in the groundcover. He advised me to interview Grandfather Rosemary. And he complained about some of the skimpy bathing attire being worn this season. I couldn’t advise him on that, as I wear the same shell year after year.
Grandfather Rosemary has been here for at least thirteen yeas and does not scare easily.
This revered gentleman has many years of experience of supervision around the diving board.
But he told me he had never seen such a thing come out of a compost heap in his life. Had it been spying, he wondered? That sent a chill down my shell. If the thing ( which by the way had uttered not one word since its discovery) had been sent by an adversary, I would need to coordinate with the Armed Services Committee Head, Cowboy Bob.
Cowboy Bob was under the influence, as usual. I could tell he’d been trying to lasso the new hanging lightbulbs on the pergola. And the Echinacea Girls were just egging him on, fluttering their petals and admiring his manly talk.
The Echinacea Girls using their feminine wiles.
Mint has become absolutely rich betting him he can’t hit a single bulb.
He’s filthy rich.
And night after night… Bob doesn’t remember that the night before he couldn’t hit a single bulb.
It seemed I was on my own for help. I squirmed that night in my shell, searching for answers. What was this ungodly object, and did it mean us harm? How would Brother Cadfael proceed in such a situation? Or Aristotle? I awoke early as is my routine, and made a sweep around the yard. All too aware of the need for speed, I made the circuit in just under four hours.
The Lantanan Ladies were entertaining insects, seemingly undisturbed by the Code Orange.
But I noticed that some of our expected summer citizens were not making much of an appearance this year. There were very few nasturtiums, for example, and the sweet potato vines I saw were certainly not as robust as in years past. Had the purple and white creature already begun to harm our ecosystem?
Upon inspection and interviews I found that the Celosians had become more bellicose than I had ever seen them. Instead of letting their fringy fur grow in unmanageable tufts, they were forming themselves into missile shapes in order to attack if needed.
A Celosian in a warlike pose.
And if not needed, I was told, they would try to enter the Midsummer Fashion Review in the Fake Christmas Tree category. When I told them there was no such category, I heard distinctly unhappy mutterings from the crowd. But they had given me an idea: what about newcomers in our midst?
I got ahold of these new flowers as the breeze blew them past me.
Should new citizens automatically be suspected of ill intent?
Where were they from? I yelled from the deck stairs. Lichterman Nature Center! they yelled as they blew in the other direction. A Nature Center, I mused. That seemed innocent enough. And they were scared, too. I could tell. Their posture was appalling. I think the rumors were getting to them.
Some in the community I didn’t even want to approach. Hettie Hydrangea, for example.
Hettie prefers the shade.
She’s so delicate her little blue hair just wobbles on her stalk. She couldn’t be involved in this, so why bother her? To be polite I did stop by and check on her. She seemed happily oblivious to the dangers in our community, and was happy to tell me again how she, Grandfather Rosemary , and the Figs had colonized this area thirteen years ago. And her mulch tea was refreshing.
Corrie Opsis, as one might have expected, approached me, wanting to know why the Midsummer Fashion Review could not go ahead as planned, since my investigations weren’t turning anything up.
Corrie with an unnamed relative.
Didn’t she know I would not be pressured? I felt for her though. With so many deadhead relatives that followed her everywhere. I’m sure she counted on the distraction.
I did hear some moaning and wailing over by where the Nolias live. And God help me, I didn’t go over there. I knew they’d be no help. Maggie and her sisters had been nothing but a hot mess ever since this Paula Deen thing came out. With Paula’s fall off the pedestal, they were sadder than a burnt fried chicken leg or a scalded chess pie.
The Nolias fell apart when they lost their role model.
Don’t base your self esteem on others’ lives, I always say. Reflected glory isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Most of us thought privately that those Nolias needed to come down a peg anyway.
Finally I made my way over to Vlad. It’s short for Vladimir I think, but no one ever asks him.
Vlad thinking deep thoughts.
He’s kind of the Zen Master of the Backyard. He gazes for hours at shapes, never moving except to grab a fly with his tongue and slide it in his mouth in one masterful movement.
He can contemplate something like this for hours.
What did he make of all this, I asked him. I didn’t expect an answer, and I didn’t get one. But what is an answer, actually ? I think I am developing some Zen-like qualities myself.
Defeated, I returned to my home perch in a potted plant. No one had seen the object since it had been removed by the Magpie the previous day. It upset us all to see the Magpie screaming like that as she tried to remove the maggots off the object which was still and silent as death. What a brave human she was for removing the device from our midst! As I reflected on this I heard a human enter the yard. It was the Magpie again. WITH THE DEVICE!!!!!
She threw it carelessly onto the patio behind me. Maybe its bones were broken now. Luckily my neck can go in all directions so I was able to observe her getting the hose and spraying off the purple part. I held my breath in fear that the object would detonate or release poisonous toxins. I heard her take a picture of the hideous thing with her phone. Then she called someone and said, “Do you remember when I lost my Kindle? You’ll never believe where I found it!”
The creature that had secreted itself in the compost heap.
And just like that, I solved the case. Code Orange Averted!