Garden of Earthly Delights
By Fern Driscoll
Please see Chapter 1 for disclaimers and contact information
Chapter 6 The Clouds Impend
The following morning Kate woke almost an hour later than her usual 7:00, after an intermittent sleep. Although the sun was well risen by 8:00, the room still retained almost a pre-dawn darkness. Looking out the window nearest the bed, Kate saw that the sky was a dark gray, with wisps of lighter cloud scudding with the wind below. The branches of the large oaks outside the window strained and tossed with the rising wind.
Must be a squall moving up the coast, thought Kate, realizing that she hadnt checked the weather or news for several days. She had become so used to hot, sunny days that the change seemed that much more dramatic, and somehow portentous. Weather like this, just might be an early fall, she mused. Well, at least it looks like I wont have to water today, as always considering the effects on her garden first.
Kate swung out of bed, eliciting a doggy grumble from under the covers by her feet. As she arose, Fred stretched and wagged his way down from the window seat, where he had stationed himself since daybreak, alertly scanning the broad expanse of front yard for intruders. Two large, many-paned windows flanked the window seat, which was one reason the spot was a favorite with the ever-vigilant Fred. The large bedroom faced south and east, and in late summer usually filled with light and the sounds of nature awakening with the dawn. After her move from New York the previous year it had taken Kate some time to get used to the intrusion of the natural world so early during the spring and summer months. During her first few weeks, her morning ritual began with mumbled entreaties to unseen tormentors to turn off those damn lights and to stop making so much noise. But now, the birdsong and light of dawn were the herald of her day, and she only noticed on days like this, when they were absent.
Kate executed a long, complicated stretch, accompanied by a series of groans and yawns. She then dropped to the floor and did a few half-hearted yoga stretches, which caused her to feel the need to visit the adjoining bathroom. The wind was even more noticeable here, and Kate reached over the large Jacuzzi tub to close the windows; the stiff wind was setting the curtains to billow and flap, and had even blown some of Kates bath toys off the windowsill. With a slight shiver, she reached into the adjoining shower and turned on a steamy spray. Soon, she was washed, warm, and dressed in sailing shorts, t-shirt, and a light fleece top.
"Cmon Fred, lets go make our rounds. I know your sister wont stir out of that bed until shes got to, on a morning like this." Fred, more than willing despite the forbidding weather, happily scrambled his way down the narrow back staircase that led to the kitchen, followed by his human companion. Kate opened the door to the patio for the anxious dog before going into the mud room to locate her rain gear. Its been so long since Ive needed any kind of jacket, much less waterproof, she mused. Finally unearthing a Gore-tex jacket and rubber garden boots from the mud room jumble, she joined Fred.
Outside, the air was markedly cooler than it had been for many days, though still humid. The area where Kate lived, in the southern reaches of Marylands western shore, was no stranger to the fall hurricanes and tropical storms sweeping up the Atlantic and into the Chesapeake Bay. As the rain began to patter down, Kate scribbled a mental post-it to catch the weather channel when she went back in, in case a tropical disturbance was headed their way. She then headed to the garden shed at the back of the property and began to gather stakes to fortify her asters and other top-heavy plants against the strengthening wind.
Thus immersed in her tasks, Kate did not register the approach of a vehicle on her driveway until the slamming of doors broke her reverie. She made her way to the other side of the house, where a long gravel driveway ended in a turnaround at the detached garage. A garishly painted minivan, bedecked with the words "Scrubbing Doubles" and many anthropomorphic scrub brushes and bubbles in various hues, was parked there. A pair of identical denim-clad rear ends protruded from the back of the van, and occasional grunts could be heard from within. Presently a young woman emerged. She was small and delicately built, with short dark hair and serious gray eyes. She was hauling a large bucket of cleaning supplies.
"Hi Sandy, I forgot you guys were coming today," said Kate, rounding the corner of the house.
"Dusty. Thursday, like always." The woman replied, flipping up the hood of her slicker and heading for the kitchen door.
Damn, thought Kate, watching her go, 50/50 chance, and I always get em wrong.
An apparent clone of the woman had also emerged from the van, carrying additional cleaning supplies, and regarding Kate with a wry smile and a gleam in her silvery eyes. "I heard. Pay up," she said.
Kate gave a menacing glare in return. "I got money in the kitchen. Come on, Ill walk in with you. One of these days, Sandy, I am going to find the key to telling you two apart. Theres gotta be something!"
Sandy smirked in reply, giving Kate an appraising sidelong look. "Oh, there is, all right. The thing is, you sure you wanna find out?"
"Aahh, cut it out, Sandy" Kate snorted. "You know youre the straightest woman in St. Anns County."
Sandy laughed, but her appreciative look lingered on her employers posterior as she followed the taller woman into the kitchen, where her sister had already begun to unpack an arsenal of supplies. Like they say, straight, yes, but narrow, no. One should always be open to new experiences, she thought.
Dusty turned and looked at Kate, accusingly. "You got a cat." She stated.
Kate returned her look, quizzically. "Yeah, right. With these beasts? How long do you think a cat would last around here?"
Dusty, undeterred, replied. "I know when a cats around. Allergies. And Ill be able to tell from the mess," she added darkly.
"Im telling you, there is no cat here! Dogs! Only dogs!"
Dusty shrugged as the two indistinguishable women swung into their practiced routine, Dusty tackling the bathrooms, kitchen and laundry room, Sandy starting on the dusting and vacuuming, after collecting a $20 bonus from Kate.
Kate headed upstairs to roust Ethel, who had had heard her coming and was stretching her way out of the bed. "About time you got up. How are you going to mess up the floors as soon as theyre cleaned if you dont go out in the rain?" Once again Kate clambered down the narrow back stairs to the kitchen, ushering a reluctant Ethel out to join her already soaked brother. She knew they would both be sopping wet by the time they came in; one, because it was cleaning day and it was their duty to besmirch the floors as soon as possible after cleaning, and two, because once Ethel got used to the rain, there was nothing a Labrador liked more than to be wet, muddy, and disgusting. Kate watched for a moment as Fred enthusiastically greeted his sister, then went to the counter and started another pot of coffee.
Going through the arched doorway to the dining room, she yelled "Fresh coffee on, girls, Im going to hide for a while now" into the recesses of her homes spacious first floor. Receiving a distant grunt and a facetious "Thank you, mistress" in reply, she grabbed a steaming mug of her own and headed back upstairs.
Kate sat back in her office chair and stretched her long frame, still perusing the computer monitor in front of her. Twin creases between her finely arched eyebrows, and a quirk upwards of one of the aforementioned brows, were all that indicated a lack of contentment with the screen in front of her.
Kate had retreated to the one room never touched by her weekly cleaners, her study. It was adjacent to her bedroom, and represented an eclectic mix of traditional oak built-in cabinets and ponderous desk, and sleek, precarious furnishings brought from her former home and office in New York. She had decided to catch up on her e-mail and paperwork, tasks she had totally neglected in the few days since the accident.
The item that had caused her displeasure was an email notification that she had been outbid, once again, in an E-bay auction.
Theres gotta be some trick to this. People cant just stay up all night and day waiting for the time to run out on bidding. I mean, its like the minute I look away the biddings over and some weasel has outbid me by two cents in the last minute. Kate, need it be said, was new to the nuances of the Internet trading site. In her previous life as a real-world trader of stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, she had been not only a weasel, but a shark, a wolf, and many other types of devious and dangerous beasts. But for now, the nuances of E-bay had her stumped. Once again, she had lost, this time for some prized imported Dutch tulip bulbs.
With a disgusted click, Kate deleted the message and continued plowing through her inbox. Another message caught her attention, this one a reply from her brother Spencer to a query she had sent the night before. Spencer, or Spike as he was universally known, had replied thusly:
I cant say for sure but I think the VOQ is only for military and Feds. Nobody on my crew ever heard of a civilian staying there unless they were DoD or FBI or something like that. But, Ill ask around when I see some of the other Pilots and CG.
Hey, thanks for picking up the rugrat. We owe you another one. Sissy says to ask you if they gave you a note when you picked him up and if you want to stay for dinner tonight call her.
Feeling that something was not quite right about the way Cameron had been whisked off the day before, Kate had emailed her brother and several other friends with ties to PAX River. Spike, while not having military experience himself, was a certified Maryland Pilot*. Spike and his crew guided commercial ships of all types up the Chesapeake Bay to Baltimore harbor. Since September of 2001, a Coast Guard vessel also accompanied each ship. Spike was as convivial as his sibling was taciturn. Consequently, Kate considered her brother as her first source for information on anything outside her realm of knowledge. He was bound to know somebody.
Another hour passed while Kate executed some rapid-fire sells, buys, and holds of the varied stocks in her portfolio. Now that she was no longer constrained by professional rules and regulations, and traded only for herself, she was slowly beginning to find some enjoyment from her former livelihood. As she began to peruse some surveys of properties for sale in the area, she heard the dour tones of her name called from the front stairs:
"Hey, Katie, these dogs are back and they arent comin in here lookin and smellin like they do they musta been in the swamp again. I swear they do it on purpose every week!"
The latter uttered in diminishing tones as Dusty retreated down the stairs back to her final bathroom.
Kate yelled after her, "Ill be down in a minute just keep them in the mud room", and, closing out her Internet session, bounded down the stairs yet again to attend to her repulsive pets.
While not having accomplished much yet of her grand plans for the renovation of the old house, one of the first tasks Kate had taken on was the overhaul of the old laundry room adjacent to the kitchen. While still a laundry room, containing washer, dryer, and storage space, it was also the first stop for any creature, canine or homo sapiens, in need of cleaning or repair before entering the main part of the house. The room now included a large tiled shower, built so that the walls were about waist high, and the side nearest to the door leading outside was open. In this enclosure, all manner of gardeners, children, pets, and equipment could be cleaned with the handy sprayer attachments. It really was, Kate reflected, the one saving grace that kept the Scrubbing Doubles from dropping her from their elite list of clients.
Kate cautiously opened the laundry room door from the kitchen, hearing canine grunts and complaints from the other side. As she slipped in, both slime-covered dogs attempted a break for the kitchen, but Kates preternaturally fast reflexes, once again, got the best of them. Cornered, they resigned themselves to their fate. She uttered one word: "bath".
Did me a lot of good to take a shower this morning, Kate mused as she made another round of the back garden. She had decided, after disinfecting and drying Fred and Ethel and settling them under the kitchen table in their dog beds, that she would do a quick check, being soaked herself after the communal bath. Ill have to clean up again pretty quick before I go pick up Harry.
The wind had picked up a little, and a few dead branches littered the grass, but the rain remained steady but light. Kate went to the well house and checked the well pump, then down the basement stairs at the bottom of which was her outdoor sump pump. She cleared a little bit of debris from its cover, tested the float arm, and did a few slight adjustments. Satisfied, she was headed back to the house when her cell phone began to ring. After a frantic search of the many pockets of her high-tech rain gear, she glanced at the display of an unfamiliar number and spoke a breathless, "Hello?"
"Hey, Kate, its me Cam," Kate breathed a thankful sigh. Cams voice was the sound that, unconsciously, she had been waiting for all day.
"Hey, how are you, uh, where are you? I mean, are you over at PAX River?" Kate managed.
"Kate, listen for a minute. I need you to do something for me. I know youve done a lot already, but I really need you to do this, Id really appreciate it, and I dont know anyone else here "
Cam was cut off by an impatient "Of course, I mean, whatever, I can come and get you or something, just tell me what," Kate waited a moment.
"Hello? Cam?" but the line was dead. Scrolling quickly back to check the number on her phone, Kate punched it in and impatiently waited as it rang, and rang. Finally she heard,
"Hi! Youve reached Cameron Jackson, wherever I may be. Please leave a message "
Punching the end call button, Kate ran to the house and entered through the mud room. She quickly stripped off her muddy clothes, and was in the act of spraying herself off in the dog shower, when the kitchen door opened and just as quickly closed. An amused voice floated from the kitchen.
"Just wanted to let you know were done, see ya next week and thanks for the bonus."
To be continued in Chapter 7
*If youd like to know more about the fascinating and historic Maryland Pilots, go to http://www.marylandpilots.com/
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