Lalo looked down at his toes, perhaps to hide a bit of a blush. Then he raised his head and began slowly. “I want to thank you, Miranda, for introducing me to naturism all those years ago.”
“Well I don’t know why,” she began. “You were a spectacularly poor naturist, weren’t you?”
“I imagine that in your experience, you’ve seen some people take to it right away, and others need more time to come around. Yes? I don’t think you should jump to conclusions.” Lalo coughed in the middle of what he was trying to express. “Conclusions…about anything.”
Dr. A smiled brightly. “You’re exactly right, Lalo. That’s why I’m asking for facts. What is it about naturism that finally attracted you?” Dr. A looked at Nate. “Sugar, please.”
Nate sighed. “Just a minute.”
“Frankly…economics,” Lalo began. “I realized that a clothesfree environment here in the lab was absolutely essential to avoid fabric contamination.”
“And then?” prompted Dr. A.
“And then I simply grew accustomed to it. Beverly balked at first but got used to it too, and like me I think she came to prefer it. My other associate, Sandra, is comfortable without clothes but she handles distribution, so mostly she stays outside the lab.”
Dr. A scowled at Nate and raised her teacup to him suggestively, all while plowing right along in her interrogation of Lalo. “Distribution…of what, may I ask?”
“Well. All the silkworms I showed you make our product, Super Silk. I own a factory where the silk is processed. Our line includes blouses, skirts, shirts, shorts, swimsuits, pareos and a variety of accessories.”
“Yes. indeed,” said Dr. A. “So we saw on our way in from Noonay Noo. The store is called ‘Lola’s,’ is that right?”
“It is merely an inversion of the letters in my own nickname, yes.”
“You seem to be doing very well in sales,” said Nate.
Dr. A kicked Nate gently in the leg and pointed at her teacup, raising an eyebrow at him.
“Excuse me a moment,” said Nate, who went back to the kitchen, hearing the voices of Lalo and Dr. A fade behind him until, with great frustration, he could no longer make out their conversation after Dr. A’s word, “sericulture.”
|A hawk… (Ridgway’s Hawk, Dominican Republic; source)|
As he walked into the kitchen, he found Beverly waiting in front of the microwave for something that was making a telltale popping sound. Her back was to him.
She turned around. “Oh! You scared me!”
“Uhmm… excuse me,” said Nate, “but…uhmm…I can’t help noticing you have bright red spots all across your buttocks…”
“Oh! Right, I know. I’m sure they look awful, sorry about that.”
“I mean, you don’t need to be sorry. I’m just a little concerned. They look like welts, or something. Does it itch?”
Beverly retrieved her popcorn. “Yeah… they’re a little raw.”
“Do you…like, know what caused them?”
Beverly flushed. “Look, we’re naked and all that. We’ve got an absolutely unobstructed view of each other, right? But we’ve just met. And it’s really none of your business.”
Nate looked away. “You’re right. I’m sorry.” He rummaged in the shelves and drawers until he found some sugar packets, and walked away without any further conversation.
As he approached Dr. A, she was setting down her empty teacup. She stood up, turning to Nate, and said, “Time to go! Will you please carry Ladybug’s case?”
Surprised, Nate asked, “What’s the rush?”
“Oh, I’m not kicking you out, you know, Miranda,” said Lalo.
“We’ve taken quite enough of your time, Lalo,” she said. “Thanks for the tour of your facility, and for those delicious tacos. But we must be off!”
Nate was moving toward the exit when Dr. A called out, “Nate! Don’t forget your clothes! Ahh, it is always such a discomfort, such a disappointment, to get dressed again.”
“Please come back anytime,” said Lalo as his two visitors put their clothes back on.
Beverly had come to see them off, saying politely, “It was nice to meet you both. Take care.”
When they were back in Nate’s Jeep, with Ladybug in her strapped-in case, Nate asked Dr. A in a low voice, “Why did we leave so soon?”
Dr. A was waving and smiling, and replied through her teeth. “Wait just a minute…”
Once they were out of earshot, Nate said, “You didn’t even want sugar. What didn’t you want me to hear?”
“Dear Nate, it wasn’t that I didn’t want you to hear anything. It was that I didn’t have a discreet way of asking you to have a look at Beverly’s backside. I surmised she was in the kitchen. Did you see her rash?”
Nate looked at his wily friend with a half-smile. “Yes. Looks pretty bad.”
“What do you think it is? Are you hungry? Can you get us back to Lola’s?”
Nate sighed, once again the victim of a Dr. A three-for-one question assault. “It looked like some kind of rash. Yes, I’m getting hungry. Yes, I remember how to get back to Lola’s.”
“I think something she was wearing irritated her skin. I’m getting hungry too, but we have to get to Lola’s before they close.”
“Is that why we left so quick?” Nate asked, while pulling out of the dock area. But without waiting for an answer he went on. “You know… about Beverly’s rash. I, uh… I followed Lalo to the back door and, uh… listened to his conversation with the woman he called Sandra. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, and I couldn’t understand all their Spanish, but there was definitely a part where he asked to see some marks on her skin, and they looked bad, and he asked her if she’d tried zinc oxide and aloe vera.”
“You really are a scientist, you know, Nate. You have such natural curiosity, and you want to find things out” said Dr. A. “But your methodology is a bit dodgy.”
“Oh, I’m teasing, Nate! I would have done the same! We’re trying to figure out what’s going on, right? But, so, do you think Sandra must have marks like Beverly’s?”
“That’s my conclusion, yes.”
“Ah! But, as Lalo said, we must not rush to conclusions! We have to test our hypothesis! The scientific method, you know. Critical thinking! Evidence!”
“Got it. So, maybe Sandra will be at Lola’s… and we can…”
“Ask her to disrobe? I highly doubt it,” laughed Dr. A. “Although, who knows, maybe I can ask her to model something for me in the dressing room… but in any case, I haven’t told you what I found out from Lalo, that you didn’t see.”
“Like, from the Vietnam War? Isn’t that banned?”
Dr. A sighed. “Quite right. But I don’t think it’s the same thing, just the same name. At least, I certainly hope it’s not the same thing. How awful…”
“What did it look like?”
“Well…. orange, don’t you think? But I didn’t see the actual substance itself. What happened was, when he was showing me around, I saw a rather large vat labeled Agent Orange, and he quickly stepped over to stand in front of the label.”
“Did you ask him about it?”
“You know me! He said it was like a fabric softener, but he did not move from in front of the sign. So by that point it was clear that he was trying to conceal it. In that way he gave me the information I needed to deduce that whatever this substance is, it has something to do with his moth-resistant Super Silk production.”
As they waited at a stoplight on Atlantic Avenue, Nate studied Dr. A a moment.
“What?” she asked him.
“You knew your mantis is a female all along, didn’t you?”
Dr. A smiled, tossing her long gray hair over her shoulder. “I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw.”
Nate chuckled. “Clever. Don’t you mean a mantis from a ladybug?”
“Same difference, Nate. Don’t you recognize Shakespeare when you hear him?”
“Who?” Nate smiled. “Just kidding. That’s from Hamlet, of course.”
“Oh! Yes!” yelled Dr. A out the window of the Jeep to the pedestrians moving about among bars, boutiques, and restaurants. “There is hope for the future! All is not lost!”
|…and a handsaw (or heron – see this source for an explanation of Hamlet’s line)|
“That was rather dramatic,” Nate said, pulling ahead after the light turned green. “Have you ever acted?”
“I played Hamlet himself…or rather, herself… oh whatever, I played Hamlet in a production at Noonay Noo once. And yes, I have been in many productions, but they were all a long time ago.”
“I’ve been in community theater productions myself, you know,” said Nate.
“Terrific!” Dr. A beamed. “Then, I’ve got a plan…”
(read part 7)