Willow's Tail" 26
Perfidia slammed the cabinet door and placed the dinner dishes on the table with a thud.
“You’re going to regret that if you break your fine china,” Martha warned as she stepped into the kitchen.
Perfidia gave her an exasperated look. “I’m at the end of my tolerance Martha.”
“By the close of the festival tomorrow, it’ll be over.”
“I hope you’re right but I doubt this havoc maker will play fair. Don’t forget they stole my original orchid and left a stink weed in its place and tampered with your tea leaves; I’d say they haven’t shown sportsman like conduct so far so why should we trust they’ll honor the terms when we win?"
Martha couldn’t argue with that, and didn’t. The oven timer went off and she picked up the oven mitts. "Lasagna’s done; I’ll get it from the oven.”
She placed the heavy tray on a large silver trivet on the table and Perfidia set a basket of warm garlic bread next to it. “This smells delicious,” Martha complimented.
Willow’s demanding meow was followed by her supper dish dropping by her human’s feet, telling her she wanted her share of the mouth-watering, Italian meal.
“I would never forget you Willow,” Martha assured her and filled the dish to the brim.
The meal served, the wine poured and Willow’s contented sighs filled the air but Perfidia was still concerned with the untrustworthiness of the mischief maker.
“What if, after we win, this person just doesn’t show up to tell all?”
Martha’s brow furrowed but she shook her head.“ I don’t think that will happen.”
Perfidia gave her a skeptical smirk.“After all the havocs that haven’t been fair, you believe this person is honorable?”
“Whatever their reason for these havocs, I think they’ll want to confront us with it.”
“That’s a big maybe, but I think we can hedge our bets and unmask them first. They're at the festival; we don’t have to give them the chance to slink away.”
“One more day Perfidia; we’ll have our answers. Now can we enjoy this sumptuous dinner you’ve made.” Martha concluded and returned her attention to her meal.
Perfidia picked up her fork but put it back down and picked up her wine glass. She’d barely touched her serving; her appetite for revenge far out weighed her hunger. She sat back in her chair, swirling the wine in her glass, imagining ways to make that culprit talk and couldn’t help forming a plan; a pretty good plan too she complimented herself. She put her wineglass down and smiled.
“Martha, don’t they serve the contest winning tea at the festival’s closing reception?”
“Yes, they do.”
“That will be an honor for you.”
“It will,” Martha smiled.
“A feather in your tea brewing cap and I’d say, very well deserved,” Perfidia continued the praise, raising her glass in toast.
“Thank you Perfidia,” Martha said with pride, accepting the toast.
But Perfidia wasn’t just complimenting Martha; she was planning on making Martha’s winning tea, a little more useful.
It was a pleasant evening and the man and cat were relaxing, enjoying the night breezes coming in from the open window, taking a well deserved break from their shadowed activities.
A knock on the door alerted the man to a visitor, but he wasn’t concerned, the visitor was expected and right on time.
The man scratched the dark head of the cat napping next to him and nudged him gently from the comfort of the sofa. “Come on Max; we should answer that.”
The cat grumbled at having his nap disturbed but followed his human to the door.
The purple suited, orange tie delivery man stood on the door step holding a manila envelope.
“Good evening, I’ve a delivery for you sir,” he said, handing over the envelope.
“Thank you Robin, and with this,” he nodded to the envelope “our transaction is complete.”
“Glad to hear it sir, it has been a difficult set of transactions; can’t say I’m not glad it’s over,” the delivery man sighed with relief.
The man chuckled. “I agree they’ve been challenging and I think you’ve earned the next two weeks off.”
The delivery man’s smile beamed pure happiness. “Oh, thank you very much sir; I can use a two week rest. It’s been a rough patch of deliveries, mostly because of that red head,” he groused, “My tail feathers haven’t all grown back yet.”
The man kept his expression sober but a slight twitch to his lips showed he held back a smile. “Then you should get started on that vacation today.”
“You know, I think I will.”
“We'll see you in a couple of weeks then,” The man said stepping back into his home and closing the door.
The whoop of joy carried through the solid oak and the man looked out the window in time to see the orange and purple bird flying in happy twirls before he vanished in the darkening sky.
The man looked down at his companion. “You know, we’re ready for a much deserved vacation too Max.”
The cat’s eyes glowed with anticipation as he telegraphed his suggestion to his human.
“Tahiti again…?” The man asked with a lift of a brow.
Max gave a low happy meow and the man chuckled.
“I admit there is good fishing there.”
Max purred his agreement.
“Okay, we’ll leave after I close our part of this deal.”
Martha blended the bergamot with her base leaves and added a touch of cardamom before setting the kettle of water on the stove. She looked over at the other five competitors diligently blending their entries and noted two who could give her some competition but it didn’t worry her; she was confident she’d be chosen to move into final, even if those two managed a ribbon.
Martha’s assessment was correct; the judges did find her blend to be the best of that morning’s competition and the two contestants she’d noted earlier were also awarded a ribbon. They were the three finalists going into this afternoon’s final compete. It would take place four hours from now.
The final judging would be on the entrant’s own signature blend, a blend of choice. It was for the trophy and having the honor of their brew being served at the festival’s closing reception and Martha knew her special blend was ready for that judging; it had no competition.
After receiving her award Martha took care in clearing her kitchen area and locking up her tea leaves while Willow went in search of sustenance from the festival’s food vendors and Perfidia went to check on her Orchid; her final event was in an hour and she wanted to be sure it hadn’t been tampered with.
Martha was on her way to meet up with Perfidia and have lunch and she was nearly to the flower tent when she noticed an ominous shadow forming under a grove of trees. She stopped as her eyes narrowed on the darkness. The shifting shape of a man and a cat took definition as the shadows dissipated.
Martha’s eyes widened in surprise; the man and cat were fully visible and walking towards her. She stared at the man but he wasn’t familiar to her. He was tall and dapper; the word debonair flashed in her mind as a fitting description of his bearing but, even as she formed these opinions of him, she knew she’d never seen him before. The cat walking beside the man with a confident swagger was a different story; she’d definitely seen him before.
The man’s deep, smooth voice was pleasing but not familiar to Martha. “You’re the one causing these havocs?”
“Max and I do have that distinction,” he offered with a slight bow of his head.
The cat looked up at Martha with telling eyes but Martha kept her focus on the man.
“But I’m certain we’ve never met; what reason do you have to disturb my life with these challenges?”
“I’ve no such reason Martha,” the man acknowledged in a reasonable tone.
“Then why have you?” Martha demanded.
The man offered her a sympathetic smile. “I should explain.”
“Yes you should!” Martha agreed crossing her arms and waiting for enlightenment.
Willow appeared at her side started a staring contest of her own with the bothersome black cat. Since her protective bubble was still in place, her stare was superior and that cat knew it too.
Max’s meow was distinctly a grumble but the man holding Martha’s gaze wasn’t intimidated by Martha or her familiar; his smile remained cordial and cool.
“Max and I were the means for the havocs but not the choreographer,” he explained while unbuttoning his tailored jacket and drawing out a business card from an inside pocket; he handed the card to Martha. “My introduction,” he said as she took it.
Martha looked at the card with a skeptical smirk.“Is this a joke? This card is blank.”
“Turn it over twice,” he suggested with a twinkle in his eye.
Martha’s brow furrowed with annoyance but she flipped the card over and a name and number did appear, both meant nothing to her.
“Incognito Inc. what is that?”
“It’s my private company, very private,” he chuckled, “and if you ever have a need for our services you can call the number and my delivery agent will contact you with our contract.”
Martha guessed, “And does your agent happen to be a bird delivery man?”
“Yes, a bird of brilliant orange and purple plumage and a delivery man of impeccable ethics, wouldn’t you agree?”
“I’d say he kept your secrets well....so who hired your services?”
“I’m sorry, clients are confidential.”
“How convenient,” she gave him a withering look.
“You, Perfidia and Willow will have the answer you seek soon enough,” he gave her a charming smile and a wink, “But our part is done; I’m only here to bid you adieu lovely Martha,” he said the last as he lifted her hand.
Although he didn’t kiss her hand, Martha was aware of his potent maleness just by that small contact and had to admit, he fit the glamorous, movie version of an undercover agent to the max, so even his cat was named appropriately. The man let go of her hand and she realized he’d told her nothing helpful.
“Wait. Can you at least tell me who gave you the Goodfellow’s ring?”
“But I already know it had to be someone who owned it,” she insisted, “Was it Dillon?”
He shrugged offering nothing further.
“Then for Perfidia’s sake, tell me if you sent the invite to Jon, is he part of these havocs or just a coincidence?”
The man remained silent but the cat at his feet snickered with enjoyment.
Martha gave the cat a frustrated warning.
“You’d better be careful; I can ask Willow to havoc you.”
Willow’s eyes twinkled as her tail began to tick-tock and Max gave here a sour meow but he did stop snickering.
Martha returned her attention to the man and offered him back his card as she concluded with annoyance, “All this time we were chasing you and that cat we never knew someone else was guiding these havocs. Can’t you offer something, anything about the one who’d employed your services?”
The man did like Martha’s spunk but he could not offer assistance; it was in the contract.
“Sorry, client confidentiality is the key to my success but please keep my card Martha…in case you find you need assistance with something…incognito,” he offered with a smile.
“Sure,” she grumbled and slipped his card into her pant’s pocket, not in consideration of his services, but because it was a clue.
“Goodbye Martha, it’s been a pleasure.”
“Not sure I’d say the same.”
The man chuckled and Max gave a low meow and flicked his ears at Willow.
Willow was about to retaliate when a bowl with her favorite treat appeared at her paws. She looked at the troublesome cat with suspicion as she gave the treat a cautious sniff. It didn’t smell like havoc.
Max nodded to her and Willow meowed a thanks, accepting the treat as a well deserved reward, then promptly ate it.
The man and cat walked back into their murky shadows and Martha watched with a worried frown as they disappeared.
Perfidia stepped from the flower tent and saw Martha talking to a man and a familiar troublemaker of a cat. Her eyes widened when she realized the man had to be their nemesis.
When she saw him turning away she yelled, “Hey wait, you have some explaining to do for me too,” but the man didn’t turn around for her and in seconds, he and the cat, vanished back into the shadows.
Perfidia raced to Martha’s side.
“Who was that, who is our troublemaker?”
“You’re not going to like the answer and I could use a strong cup of tea while I impart the newest wrinkle in our challenge.”
Perfidia didn’t like the sound of that but, seeing the troubled look on Martha’s face, she held her questions as they walked over to the Curling Leaves tea stand.
The Curling Leaves was situated on the highest point of the fairgrounds and with that advantage it had set up a small veranda with several tables next to it for ambiance.
Martha ordered a pot of tea and some blueberry scones. The waitress placed a filled tea pot on the table and Martha poured them both a cup of the strong brew.
Perfidia couldn’t care less about the tea or the scones; she’d held her questions long enough and she was impatient for answers.
“Okay Martha, we’re here and you’ve got your tea; now tell me who that was: I didn’t recognize him but I wasn’t close enough to see his face.”
Martha lifted her cup and took a fortifying sip of the tea before she complied.
“That man and his troublesome cat are the ones we’ve been chasing but…they aren’t our mischief makers.”
“What? I don’t understand; if they did the havocs...” Perfidia trailed off in confusion.
“They did but…they were hired by our mischief-maker to cause these havocs and challenge us.”
“Hired? You mean we’ve been distracted looking for this man and his cat while whoever hired him walked beside us?”
“It’s possible that’s true.”
“Did he tell you who hired him?
“No, he claimed client confidentiality.”
“That’s what I said.”
Perfidia’s face grew red with anger as she tapped a long auburn fingernail against her tea cup. Then she looked down at the brew in that cup and reinstated her plan to get to the truth of the havocs and make the one responsible talk.
“But he did say Perfidia, we’re at the end of the havocs so…after the contests are over, the person who hired him should reveal themselves and their reason.”
Perfidia wanted to scoff but gave a bland smile instead. “Since your contest is the last one today Martha, the terms of the challenge will be met when you go to meet them, as per their rules.”
“That’s right; after I win, I’ll go to the Lemons of Life Café and meet them face to face.”
“And they’ll admit everything to you,’ Perfidia stated with little enthusiasm, “Well, this has been enlightening Martha but I still have to head to the orchid contest and win so wish me luck?”
“You don’t need it, but you know I do.”
“Thanks.” Perfidia stood up, “I’ll see you there,” she added then walked away.
Martha sat alone at the outdoor table assessing Perfidia’s responses, clearly she had little confidence in the havoc maker’s principles but Martha still held on to the belief they would keep to the rules they’d set.
Perfidia stood by her Orchid ready for the last judging and stole a glance at Jon once again talking to Roger and Gloria. When his head turned towards her, she feared he’d catch her staring and quickly looked down at her Orchid as if studying it for flaws, which of course it had none of.
The low meow at her feet made her look down.
“Yeah, I know you’re wishing me luck, but we both know I don’t need it.”
Willow flicked her tail and Perfidia felt the vile in her gardener’s apron wiggle.
“How do you know?” she asked the snooping cat.
Willow’s little brow lifted sarcastically.
“Well, don’t tell Martha and don’t bother trying to talk me out of it either.”
Willow tilted her head and waited.
“You want a bribe? How would you like a fish dinner tonight?”
Willow’s cat smile was a sight to behold.
“Then we have a deal?”
Willow gave a slight nod of satisfaction and walked away.
Gloria watched Perfidia standing alone by her orchid and against her better judgment walked over to her.
“Your orchid is going to take first place,” she said with honest admiration.
Perfidia turned at the sound of Gloria’s voice and her suspicions grew.
“Are you hoping to jinx it by saying so?”
“Perfidia I haven’t believed in that since grade school.”
“You believed in it enough to try to jinx the other candidates for head cheerleader in high school.”
“Please, that was a joke.”
“Coincidence,” Gloria offered with a chuckle.
Perfidia didn’t smile. “Why are you here?”
Gloria sighed. “Perfidia, can’t we stop this? I don’t want Jon; I’ve never wanted him that way; we’re just friends. That’s all.”
“Understood,” Perfidia nodded, not believing a word. Soon enouogh, the truth would be revealed. She smiled coldly, “You should get back to your orchid Gloria; the judges are nearly there.”
“You’re impossible,” Gloria fumed and and walked away.
Perfidia agreed; she was impossible, impossible to fool.
Perfidia's Orchid was awarded first place,as expected,and it was on to the final tea contest, and the final showdown.