"Willow's Tail" 10
They returned to Martha’s house and Mr. Appleton, who should have been tired from his busy day and full French meal, seemed to have gotten a new burst of energy.
“What say we share some tea, I know you hadn’t wanted dessert at the restaurant but a nice cup before bed would just hit the spot, don’t you think?” Mr. Appleton asked, leaning heavily on his cane but his eyes were wide awake.
Perfidia sent Martha a look of frustration from behind Mr. Appleton’s back but Martha turned a smile to him and agreed.
“Tea sounds lovely, Mr. Appleton.”
“Oh now Martha isn’t it time you both called me Roger? I think we’re past the formal monikers, don’t you?”
Martha conceded with a nod. “All right Roger, why don’t you settle yourself comfortably in the parlor and Perfidia and I will brew some tea and bring it in to you.”
“Thank you,” Roger said and hobbled off into the parlor.
Perfidia took Martha’s arm and pulled her quickly into the kitchen where they found Willow wide eyed, staring at the package.
Perfidia chuckled and asked the feline, “What do think it’s going to do? Jump off the shelf?”
Willow gave her a sour meow but her eyes never waived from the brown papered intruder, she was not letting it out of her sight.
Perfidia saw the serious intent in the cat's eyes and turned back to Martha.
“You know, Willow has a point we can’t ignore it; we do need to open that package."
“Yes, but we’ll have to wait for Mr. Appleton to go upstairs first,” Martha told her as she set the kettle on the stove.
“What if we give Roger the slumber brew?” Perfidia asked with a glint of mischief.
Martha wasn’t about to force Mr. Appleton into a slumber but, perhaps a soothing tea would be appropriate. “Actually, I think a nice calming brew would do all of us some good,” Martha agreed with a compromise,” I may even pour a little over Willow’s treat.”
Willow looked at her human; she was more than ready for her treat, she certainly deserved it for her unwavering service tonight.
The tea wasn’t working on Roger, it's calming properties had no effect. Both Martha and Perfidia had yawned several times, but Roger appeared to find more steam than sputter with each sip of the potent tea.
“Are you sure you brewed the right blend?” Perfidia whispered to Martha behind her cup.
“Certain,” Martha answered with another yawn; she could barely keep her eyes open.
Perfidia couldn’t understand how Mr. Appleton remained so wide awake. How was he nowhere near the sandman’s realm? She stood up, hoping a little prompting would get him to end the evening.
“I do hate to leave our little tea party,” Perfida said with a partially, exaggerated yawn, “but I’ve got to admit I’m tired out.”
“I suppose I have kept your comapny too long and I should go up too,” Roger said standing up as well, “Thank you both for sharing dinner with me tonight, it was most enjoyable,” he said with a smile.
Perfidia walked Roger to his room but came right back down and found Martha in the kitchen with the package on the counter and Willow sitting on the stool next to her, watching it with suspicion.
“Okay let’s see what trouble is in that box,” Perfidia said walking over to them.
Martha touched the corner of the box and began to tear the paper when the package shook wildly and she had to remove her hands from it. The package burst open without any further assist and a flash of sparkle was released from within it and filled the room with free floating glitter.
Martha, Willow and Perfidia stared at the twinkling mess.
“What is that?” Perfidia asked, mesmerized by the clouds of shimmering particles.
Martha wasn’t as captivated. “It’s a challenge and I’d say a pretty potent one too,” she told her with serious concern.
“It’s a pretty challenge,” Perfidia said with a mellow sigh.
Willow wasn’t amused by the deceptive sparkle either. Her feline eyes widened as she focused on its source, staring into the brightness she twirled her tail, counter-clockwise and flicked it quickly.
The sparkle dissipated and Perfidia, Martha and Willow looked at each other.
“Thank you Willow,” Martha murmured stepping back over to the box, “I don’t know who has cause to send this kind of calling card but announcing the delivery with such fanfare certainly gets my attention.
“You think I brought this trouble here don’t you?” Perfidia asked her with uncharacteristic concern, “I didn’t mean to.”
Martha shook her head, she didn’t blame Perfidia, even though it did seem the events started with her arrival, it could still be a coincidence and this package’s havoc was sent to all of them.
“Don’t dwell on blame Perfidia; let’s see what's in here and hope we can discover who has a problem with us, all of us.”
“Okay, but when we do discover who, I suggest we send a stronger challenge,” Perfidia said stepping closer.
Willow gave a gutteral meow in agreement and resumed her position on the kitchen stool with her paws on the counter to lean closer to the open box.
Perfidia looked inside and stared with puzzlement at the item on top. "What is that an application for the annual orchid contest?”
Martha picked up the form from inside the box and nodded, “It is and it’s already been filled in with information.”
“What information?” Perfidia’s eyes narrowed on her.
“Yours, it seems someone has entered you in the annual Orchid growing contest.”
“Me? I don’t grow orchids, you grow orchids I grow…other types of plants.”
“I know and so do they, hence you’ve been entered in the Orchid contest.”
“What else is in there?” she asked sourly.
“Martha took out the next item it was a cat’s collar.
Willow gave a vicious sneeze when Martha drew it out of the box, and eyed it with distaste.
“Apparently, they’ve entered Willow in a pet, cat contest,” Martha said with a concerned look at Willow.
“What? Are they kidding?” Perfidia chuckled.
Martha shook her head. “No, the collar has Willow's name on it and there's a paper under it that lists the contest's rules and the tricks the pet must perform.”
Willow leaned forward and nudged her human’s hand causing her to drop the foul looking collar back into the box and as far as Willow cared, it could stay there.
“That’s hilarious," Perfdia's eyes filled with amusement, "Willow isn’t about to do any of that. In fact, Willow would perform as easily as I can grow an orchid and that is, not at all.”
“I would agree with you Perfidia but remember, this is the challenge and our path to discovering who’s been playing with our lives means we need to accept it.”
They looked thoughtfully at each other, digesting that assumption, and Perfidia wasn’t thrilled with someone telling her what to do, but knew Martha was right.
“So they want us to return for the 'Summer Solstice Festivities' and enter these contests.”
“Yes, they’re inviting all of us and challenging us to win.”
“How kind of them,” Perfidia said with a deep, sarcastic undertone, "What do we get if we win?"
Willow’s ears flattened back but she gave a soft meow agreeing to the challenge, knowing she would win of course.
Perfidia conceded too. “Okay, Willow and I accept and we have our challenges, so what’s yours?”
“I don’t know, let’s see,” Martha said and looked back into the box.
There was one item left.
Martha picked up a sealed envelope with her name on it. “It would appear mine is in this envelope,” she said holding it up.
Perfidia and Willow watched Martha slit the top of the envelope, pull out a crisp one page note, and then watched her eyes grow as round as saucers as she read it.
“What’s wrong? What does it say?” Perfidia asked, stepping closer to read the note over Martha’s shoulder but Martha lowered the note before she could.
“Martha! Tell us, what do you have to do?” Perfidia asked with impatience.
Martha’s eyes shifted to Perfidia and her brow crinkled down in deep thought. Her voice was low and troubled as she told them, “It says I have to read Percival’s letters, every one of them from the first to the last word.”
Perfidia gave her a curious look. “That’s it? I have to grow an orchid and Willow has to play smart, common housecat, and you just have to read a bunch of letters?”
“No,” Martha’s eyes and tone sharpened, “not just a bunch of letter’s. They’re Percival’s letters, which I’ve already told you, I do not want to read.”
Perfidia shrugged. “So don’t read them, if you don’t, who’d know?”
“Exactly my first thought. How would they know?” Martha agreed then stared at her, waiting for the epiphany to come.
Perfidia thought a moment and then her eyes widened. “Oh, I get it. There’s something in the letters, information you’ll have only after reading them.”
“Yes, and once I know what that is; they’d know I’ve read them.”
“But that would mean it’s not what’s written…it’s…”
“A coded message buried in those letters,” Martha said flatly, completing Perfidia’s thought.
“Wow,” Perfidia was impressed, “That’s kind of brilliant but…wouldn’t it mean Percival is our instigator, he wrote those letters.”
“Maybe, but that’s too easy a conclusion. Remember, he claimed the letters were sent to Miriam but not by him, so someone, according to Percival, already had access to his letters.”
“Still, he could be giving you a red herring Martha; it could be Percival.”
Martha shrugged. “I won’t know.”
“Not until you’ve read them,” Perfidia concluded for her.
Martha nodded. “That’s right.”
“So will you?”
“It appears like you and WIllow, I have no choice.”
“So the challenge is accepted unanimously?” Perfidia asked putting her hand out to Martha and Willow.
“Yes,” Martha said placing her hand over Perfidia’s.
Willow leaned forward and placed her dainty paw over their hands and a glitter of sparkle appeared for a moment and twirled around their joined hands and paw sealing the challenge.
“So we have two weeks to grow a contest winning Orchid, train Willow in simple pet tricks, without showing attitude, and you have to read a packet of letters and decipher a hidden code. So is that all?” Perfidia asked.
“No, there is one more thing.”
“We have to make sure Mr. Appleton is ready to go there with us,” Martha said with a sympathetic smile.
“Oh I forgot about him.” Perfidia sighed, knowing this was completely on her. “Well I guess that rehab is going to get a little more intense these next two weeks.”
“I would say so,” Martha chuckled and placed the items back in the box and closed it. Then she placed it in the corner cabinet, way in the back, behind her most potent blend of hidden teas, where no one would see it.