Ch 52: The Crystal Palace

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[now]

In his palace in Toronto, Montgomery Dickson was making his own nefarious plans. The glass-enclosed room was dark but for the glow of his laptop and a few stray moonbeams that dared to infiltrate his hideout.

"M-Dick to P-Flem," he whispered hoarsely into the mouthpiece of the headset he wore. "The latest draft looks good. Having the wizard kidnap the queen's uncle was inspired. Of course Crane and his big sword save the day. And good riddance to those girl fighters - no one wants to read that ... Yeah, unless - how about a cat fight between Esther and old Vashti? ...  Of course, in our new improved version they're both still young and sexy! I know you can, P-Flem, I know you can."

*
[still now]

Elvis closed the laptop with a satisfied smirk on his face.

"Okay," he said, "I've sent a link to my computer and one to Detective Jewell's, so the next time Monty tries to hack you we'll catch him."

"But he could be anywhere, couldn't he?" Sam asked uncertainly, putting down his pen. He had nearly filled Tova's entire notebook with his story, and Elvis had had to "shush" his gleeful mutterings more than once.

"They got ways of tracking people - it works sometimes," Elvis explained now. "In the meantime, I also installed a way for you to sabotage your agent's nefarious plans. See, there's more than just a title page here - I believe I have unscrambled a draft of your posthumous Crane novel."

"The reports of my death were greatly exaggerated," Sam quoted Mark Twain. Rubbing his forehead, he asked, "Do I want to see what they been up to?"

"You're gonna have to," Elvis told him, "if you're gonna mess it up."

"All right - but can I have another cup of that tea first? If it don't taste just as good as finding the perfect words, then I'm a ... well, I'm just as foolish as Monty seems to think I am."
"Oh!" Tovah cried out from the armchair where she was sharing the day's newspaper with Nicky, who sat cross-legged on the rug. "Something's wrong at the plant conservatory! It says here that it started with the orchids - you know how fragile they are - and then the turtles got sick - they relocated them to an animal sanctuary and they're okay now, thank heaven - but today they found that it's spread as far as the palm room. An inexplicable malady is afflicting all the plants, like the life force is being sucked out of them."
By the end of this speech the Lightfoots were standing flanking her, reading over her shoulders. Sam couldn't help notice how their faces mirrored each other. Their identical expressions of fierce concern seemed to produce a protective force field.
"I'm glad you two are on our side," he murmured as he went over to stand with them. "Does it really say ''inexplicable malady' and 'life force'?"
"Yup," Elvis answered, "but they're quoting one of the horticultural workers, and you know they tend to be a bit fey. All that time spent in the plant world is what does it. Thinking I'd like to go talk to that horticultural worker myself."
"I'm coming with you, dad," Nicky said.
"Wouldn't have it any other way," said her dad.
"Should we call Miss Marple?" Tova asked Sam.
His scowl only lasted a moment before he said, "I'd say she's more the Sherlock Holmes type - but yes, let's call Detective Jewell."

*
[Crane]

As the women warriors approached the appointed meeting place, on the wooded ridge above the city of Malmort, a man was waiting for them. But it was not the man they expected to see. He was tall, but not as tall as Crane, and he had a mane of silver hair that contrasted handsomely with his dark skin. The younger women hung back suspiciously. Or-Tikva and Esther cried out and rushed to greet him.
    Or-Tikva embraced the man, saying, "Dear heart, have you decided to turn warrior so late in life?"
    "Needs must," he answered softly. "I am relieved to see your fair face, sister - and yours too, Esther. And these must be your Susan fighters coming now - well met, Lady Knights! I have grave and troubling news ... But first you should know that there is a man hiding among the trees, spying on us."
    Or-Tikva beamed with pleasure. "Crane!" she called out. "The way is clear for you. Come make the acquaintance of my brother Rik!"
     A moment later, the shadow cast by a tree began to lengthen. A moment after that, Crane emerged into the clearing, leading a still-docile Hench. The women only had eyes for the Astarthian. They would ask about his companion later.
"Crane, you are a sight to refresh weary eyes!" Shira called out gladly as Ayelet gave him a comradely punch in the arm. Lero abandoned all propriety and gathered the big man in her arms; he felt no shame for the tears that started in his eyes as he returned her embrace. Then he turned to greet the older ladies.
At the sight of Or-Tikva, Crane was overcome with the desire to gather her into his arms as Lero had done with him, but he mastered himself - with the help of an accompanying attack of bashfulness - and merely bowed his head over her outstretched hand.
"Ah, Esther's hero," Rik acknowledged the Astarthian, observing his reunion with the other warriors. "Well met, brother at arms, and congratulations on your timely return. We have not a moment to waste - sister - Yossi has gone missing. My son," he explained to others, clearly struggling to control his emotions. "We are bereft - and we fear the worst."
"How old is Yossi?" Lero asked.
Or-Tikva looked at her brother and said thoughtfully, "In many ways he is a child in man's form. He is not lacking in intelligence - he is just an exceptionally gentle and creative soul."
"She would certainly covet that," Lero growled in a tone the others had never heard from her. "I tire of this tarrying! It is time to accomplish what we have come to do!"
And with the fierce Lero and her donkey in the lead, the warriors set off through the trees.

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