"Frankie, isn't it time you had a holiday?"
"I've only been here since August, Mr. Crock."
"Well, you are doing such a fine job, and it is a dirty job. Take a week off. With pay, of course. Enjoy the weather before the s-n-o-w sets in. What do you say, darlin'?"
"Who will clean Iggy's tank or Poe's ca...?"
"Me, that's who! I did it before I hired you. A week won't kill me. Now, I insist. Grab your coat and run along. One week, darlin'."
Frankie stood out in the cold, still trying to figure out what just had happened. She watched as Mr. Crock lowered the shades and turned out the lights.
What the hell is going on? wondered Frankie.
Later that evening...
"Why not, Pops? I have a whole week off. Why can't I join you and ma on your tour. I can bring my mobile piano and sing some folk tunes."
"Gosh, we'd love for you to join us, sweetheart. Let me get back to you, okay?"
"When, Pops? I'd really like to see the both of you."
"I know, hon. Let me call you right back. Molly and I love you to pieces. Don't ever doubt that, you hear me?"
"Yes, Pops. Call me back soon."
"I sure will." Then Angus was gone.
Five minutes later, Frankie's cell phone rang.
"Hi, darlin'. It's me, Mr. Crock. I have the worst news. I'm afraid we will have to postpone your holiday for awhile. This is our busiest time of year, after all. Tell ya what. Stay in bed until ten tomorrow. See ya then."
Silence. What the frickety frack?
Seether played on Frankie's phone... "Hey, pumpkin, I've talked to Mr. uh, Molly and..."
"Nevermind, Pops. Mr. Crock had a change of plans."
"What!? Aaawww, that's too bad. We could have sung a duet, like Frank and Nancy. Sorry kiddo. Well the troupe is moving out. ma and I love you. Night, darlin', uh, Frankie."
Frankie's head was spinning. Somewhere out there was a load of Crock, a really bad smell of something fishy going on.
Frankie and Wizzo
"Doody doody. Look at the spinning banana. You will wake refreshed and not be suspicious at all of anything that has happened in the last two weeks. Doody doody doo."
"You look nothing like Wizzo. Forget what, by the way?"
"Everything. Forget I was here, too. Doody doody doooooo."
"Stop flipping that banana in my face. I have no plans to forget anything. In fact, I am going to write a list of all the strange goings on in these past weeks. Whatya gonna do about that, Wiz?"
"I'm gonna tell your mother," cried the magician.
Molly had always been the caregiver, the healer of broken bones and hearts. She had planned to continue her education and become a doctor, but life intruded, made its own decisions on her future plans. She hated to lie to Frankie. She knew she and Angus will have to face their daughter, soon, and tell her everything. But right now, she had patients to heal.
Mr. Crock was not around when Frankie entered the store the next day. Jess waved at her as she helped a customer by the parakeet perch. Frankie didn't mind coming back to work, although her mind was still trying to go back three steps and forget about her brilliant plan to visit her folks.
Nothing unusual happened that day, unless you think a bird singing, "Dayo. Daaaaaayo," strange. Or ferrets bobbing to Rockin' Robin. it was all the usual in the biz of critters. Frankie had little time to spy on the door for strange folk. Just too much work to do. She waved to Jess a goodnight, then decided to walk over to Del's Diner. Del never rolled his eyes when Frankie ordered the Super-duper meatball, mozzarella, and marinara monstrosity, without the meatballs.
She drank her hot spiced tea and peered out onto the empty streets of Manoomin.
As much as she loved her folks, loved this town, she always felt as if something was missing, something out there for her.
Frankie listened to Coltrane and ate her sandwich, alone.
For a smart girl, she was clueless, unless... she was just being considerate and clueless in order not to hurt him, sighed Leslie. Frankie had never given him any indication that they were anything other than best friends. Sure, she had told him she loved him, but he knew it was like brother and sister love. Man, just once he'd like to grab that beautiful bed head and kiss those...
Frankie had her dreams.
He could have his, as well.
"Les, can you help Rick with the groceries, hon?"
"Right away, Molly," answered the man who loved her daughter.
"How was your day, chum?' mumbled a hungry Les, who shoved lettuce in his mouth as he spoke. "See any floppy ears or noses falling off custo..."
Frankie gave him a warning look that could chill lava. "It was a weird day," answered Frankie, as she moved wild rice around her plate. "Nothing happened."
"And that's weird? How so?"
"Since I've been at the store, every day is an experience. Always expect the unexpected. Like fish jumping out of tanks. Birds sleeping with rabbits. Ants building sand castles. Those are the 'norms' I've grown accustomed to at the shop. But lately, there is just an eerie normalcy there. Poe just squawks, "Danger, danger." all day long, instead of reciting, 'A tell tale heart' or 'The Fall of the House of Usher.' The rats just sleep and eat pellets instead of the usual game of leap frog. It's just strange. Ever since i got back from Swarthmore (yes, that Swarthmore!) this town has changed."
"Hmm...chewed Les. "Feels the same to me. You have changed, though."
"Really? I mean, well. yes, that's possible. I've been all the way to Pennsylvania. A culture miles away from the dairyland. I've explored new things, like sitting in a movie theater where people actually are told not to talk back to the screen. Unlike the citizens of Manoomin. I have eaten rice with chopsticks. Can you imagine?"
Leslie laughed as he watched Frankie lift her rice to her mouth with a spork, the closest thing to chopsticks in Del's Diner.
"Yeah, maybe I have changed. And you are the same old, Leslie." Frankie looked out the window as Leslie watched her go far away from him. He struggled to swallow the salad and turned away as his eyes teared. 'Same old Leslie. That's me.'
Frankie and Molly
"Hush little baby, don't say a word..." Molly's sweet voice made Frankie relax.
"Your mother loved that song. I still sing..." Molly's voice fades away. "Soon, Frankie, soon."
"I saw u Frankie. Did you like Yoda?"
Frankie stared at the text and shivered. Someone was watching her? Who? Who?
'Who are you? texted Frankie.
"They look for me. Ha-ha. He teech me good. Look at Jaroom. Bya."
"Jaroom?" The connection had ended. No more texts. Frankie wondered if Arturro was stalking her. He was such a lousy speller like this texter. That was a bit hard to believe though. Arturro only had a skateboard for traveling.
Frankie looked out her attic window. Mr. Olsen was sucking up leaves into the growing black bag. Lily Bean jumped in rain puddles. Mrs. K. was looking at Frankie from her kitchen window and pointing at something.
'What,' mouthed Frankie. She looked down and followed the pointing finger to, Jerome, the gnome from Nome, who still stood guard. But now he had friends.
Frankie tip-toed downstairs and peeked out of the peep-hole. Yep. Jerome had company. The origami Beach Boys. Mike, Brian and all the other ones who no one know their names.
Frankie looked at Mrs. K. who looked at Frankie, and they both turned their heads in opposite directions and looked down the now deserted street.
"Praise the Lord, and pass the Sloop John B," shuddered Mrs. K.
Mr. Olsen sat in the dark and scooped another mouthful of his wife's "unedible" mayonnaise cake, then nearly stabbed his toe as he dropped his fork.
Something was climbing out of the storm sewer. Mr. Olsen picked up the land line phone and roto-dialed the familiar number.
"Sincere's chat line."
"This is Durango."
"One moment." Mr. Olsen frowned as Barry Manilow invaded his senses, as he waited.
"I saw him on 13th st. coming out of the sewer, ja." Mr. Olsen resorted to his native language when he becam tired or nervous. "Ja, he was der."
"Good work, Durango. Mums the word."
"Ja, ja, mum," whispered Durango into a dead phone.