"Willow's Tail" 19
“I still have to enter that contest Perfidia,” Martha reminded her as they stood at the funnel cake stand and Perfidia ordered one of the powdered sugar delights.
Martha didn't say it but she also wanted a chance to wander off to the silver jewelry vendor. That personalized charm Willow had found was a clue she needed to follow. She patted her pocket and her eyes grew concerned; she didn’t feel the charm; it was gone. But had she lost it? Or had that cat gotten it back?
Perfidia accepted the powdered confection from the vendor and turned to Martha.
“We’ve still plenty of time to enter our contests, and that reminds me, I did check out your competition and do you know who entered the tea contest?”
Martha was distracted by the missing pet charm and answered dismissively. “I haven’t a guess.”
“Then I’ll tell you; it’s Miriam.”
Perfidia scrutinized her with a shade of skepticism, “Really, that doesn’t bother you?”
“No, why should it?”
“Because of Percival and Miriam...being together?”
“They were meant to be together and…we weren’t.” Martha offered with little care; she was still concentrating on how she hadn't felt that charm disappear.
“Your selflessness amazes me Martha but, okay, let’s say I believe you but…What if I told you the other entrant I noticed on the list is Mrs. Braybrooke.”
Martha's attention was captured by the name.
“The one and only; your stiffest competitor for a tea garden too, if I remember.”
“She will be a contender.”
“Not in the least,” Martha said breaking off a piece of the funnel cake and sampling its burst of sugary heaven before turning the question around, “So what about you? Are you ready to sign in for the orchid contest now? I’m sure Gloria has completed her set up.”
Perfidia’s eyes shifted from Martha back to the crowded festival.
“Yes, after I finish this funnel cake and have a cup of shaved lemon ice, I might be in the mood to do that.”
Martha shivered at the thought of more treats but she didn’t deter Perfidia from her junk food binge. She’d hadn't seen her happy in a long while; it was even worth the extra pound she was sure to put on herself for sharing these unhealthy, but delicious, treats with her.
The summer shadows were lengthening as the evening progressed.
Martha signed up for the tea leaves contest and when she did, she noted several previous neighbors of hers had entered the contest too, not just Odessa, and all were worthy to win it. She'd stared at the list and smiled realizing that competing against them added an element of excitement to the contest, and she was now looking forward to the challenge.
Perfidia brought the rare black orchid to the garden tent and was awed when it glistened under the warm lights of the sun box it was placed in; it was truly a sight to behold.
“I am so going to win this,” she exclaimed, turning a few heads in her direction at her over confidence, but she didn’t care; the orchid did warrant the praise.
“A little humility might go far,” Martha warned, seeing the annoyance directed at Perfidia from several entrants, whose orchids may have been less than stellar, but were still nicely formed.
”Sure, sure I know; I’ll play surprised when I win.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“I’ve got this Martha, don’t fret,” Perfidia told her while setting her entry card next to the sun box, “anyway, it’s all up to the judges now.”
Two of those judges were walking along the rows of orchids and Perfidia wanted to wait to see their expressions when they saw Martha’s marvelous orchid but Martha had already started walking towards the exit.
Perfidia gave one last proud look at the orchid and followed her.
“You know what?” Perfidia asked Martha as she caught up to her.
“What?” Martha responded as they walked along the games of chance in the waning light of the festival’s first day.
“I think I’ll try to win one of those stuffed animals.”
“What will you do with it if you win?”
“I don’t know; give to the next child that passes? It doesn’t matter; I just want to see if I have my father’s luck at winning one.”
“I’m sure you do Perfidia.”
“Well, let’s see if you’re right Martha,” Perfidia said and walked up to a booth filled with prizes of stuffed animals and placed a quarter on the number seven.
Martha stepped next to her and Willow sauntered up to them and jumped up on the end of the long number board on the counter.
Willow was immediately given an evil eye from the man spinning the wheel but she wasn’t impressed by it, and she wasn’t about to move.
The three watched the wheel spin.
When it landed on Perfidia’s number, unassisted, and on the red, giving her the choice of any stuffed animal in the stand; Perfidia thought of her dad, and smiled.
“You won your pick of the stand,” Martha told her with a smile.
“Yes I did,” she crowed with a wide grin and picked the biggest stuffed animal in the booth.
Perfidia could hardly hold the ridiculously large panda bear she’d selected for her prize and was very happy to hand it off to a little boy whose parents could not believe she was giving it to their son. They were unsure how they’d get it home but it was impossible to decline the gift, because the boy was jumping up and down, and they wouldn’t think of dimming their son’s smile.
“That was very nice Perfidia,” Martha complimented, watching the little boy trying to carry the bear and his father surreptitiously holding it up by its head so the boy thought he was carrying it on his own.
“I know,” Perfidia said with a shrug, “and you know what else will be nice?”
“Seeing those judges peruse your magnificent orchid Martha.”
“It’s your orchid Perfidia.”
“And I thank you for it, but more for the opportunity to watch their jaws drop.” Perfidia laughed as she sipped the cool, strawberry smoothie she’d just bought at the smoothie stand.
“I have to admit that would be nice to see.”
“What? You agree with me?” Perfidia turned surprised eyes on her, “What has come over you?”
“I don’t know,” Martha murmured with a slight chuckle, “must be all this unhealthy food you’ve persuade me to eat.”
“And you’ve enjoyed each sampling.”
Martha didn’t deny it as she shrugged and sipped on a vanilla shake.
“Look at that full moon.” Perfidia sighed staring at the circular orb that appeared vibrant in the darkening sky.
“Yes, it’s beautiful,” Martha agreed.
Perfidia smiled feeling calm and happy but suddenly she felt a twinge of unease, as if someone were watching them. She turned quickly around, scanning the faces of the festival goers nearby but didn’t recognize anyone in the crowd and no one appeared to be looking directly at them.
“Do you feel it?” She whispered to Martha.
“Feel that there are eyes upon us? Yes I do,” Martha replied without turning around.
“I don’t see anyone looking at us,” Perfidia stated in a low voice.
“I’m sure you won’t,” Martha concluded keeping her gaze on the moon.
“You think they’re camouflaged?”
“The final card hasn’t been played so yes, I think the shadows shroud them from discovery.”
Hmmm...,” Perfidia thought about that as she lifted her agate necklace and held the stone in her palm, feeling its calming warmth she perceived Martha was right. “Well, they can hide for now but when we win these contests they’ll have to come out of those shadows.”
“Yes they will,” Martha agreed confidently.
Willow jumped up on a park bench and zeroed in on the silhouette of that cat standing near the base of a tall tree at the gate leading to the parking area. She gave a low guttural meow and was about to take off but her human halted her.
Wait,” Martha whispered. She’d seen the cat too but she also saw the silhouette of a man who slowly raised his hand in a combination wave and salute; was it a challenge? Then he turned away and walk out of the festival gates under heavy shadows that distorted his image, but not shadows cast from the trees.
The moonlight filtered through the shadows but only afforded Martha a hint of the man's stature and only a vague impression of the swaggering cat that walked beside him, no defining details of either; the camouflage was intact.
“Who do you think that is?” Perfidia whispered having just spied the two shadows.
Martha had no idea but she’d felt a prickling of tension and a tingle of familiarity in the way he’d waved at her.
“I don’t know but he is being bolder, stepping partially into our line of vision.”
“Well he can taunt us if he wants but when we win our contests it ends; we’ll know exactly who he is…and who to havoc,” Perfidia whispered the last with glee.
Martha nodded but continued to stare at the place the man had stood, something was bothering her but she couldn’t bring it to focus.
Perfidia suggested they forget the intruder and end their first night at the festival with a nice cup of freshly brewed tea at the Curling Leaves tea stand just ahead.
Martha wholeheartedly agreed, thinking a nice chamomile might settle her sugar sick stomach, and turned away from the frustrating puzzle of that shadowy man.
They walked towards the tea stand and Martha felt another prickling sensation of being watched, but decided to ignore it.
Moonlight filtered through the trees over the man and cat standing in the shadows, watching the three enjoy their first night at the festival.
“It is going exactly as planned Max,” the man said to the cat with a devastatingly wicked smile.
The cat flicked it ears and a very large bag, filled with tasty festival treats, appeared in the man’s arms.
“I see you think you deserve a reward for that,” the man said with a laugh.
Max’s meow offered his affirmation.
“And I suppose you’d like to go home now and enjoy your spoils?”
The cat’s expression was easy to understand, even for a human and the man chuckled.
“Come on then, you’ve earned it, we both have…is there anything in here for me?”
The man asked with a twinkle in his dark eyes.
Max flicked his ears and the bag became heavier.
The man laughed again.
“Thank you Max, very thoughtful of you.”