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The Mummy Strikes

Chapter One

There was utter silence, broken only by the sound of a lone envelope hitting the linoleum with the sound of a single bird’s wing flapping. Everyone stared at the apparition that was my mother, standing in the short hallway off the kitchen that led to Nitro’s bedroom. Finally, I shouted, “Mom!” and dropped the mail I was holding onto the table. I rushed over and gave her a big hug, swinging her around so her back was to the group. “It’s so good to see you!” It wasn’t. My movements were a bit too fast and my aching muscles objected strongly.

My name is Helena Montana and I’m coordinator of an investigative team working for the Cheese and Uber Rennet Disposal Service or CURDS for short. We’d just gotten back from a rather nasty mission in Europe involving the Italian Mafia. Naturally, Mom knew about my job, but I never ever ever told her details about the missions. She knew it was dangerous, but it was much better keeping that idea as abstract as possible. I shot a look to my son, Billings, from just over Mom’s shoulder that communicated things that only a mother could pass to her son. Like most of the rest of the world, she was taller than me. Only my eyeballs would be visible, but that was enough for Billings. He silently got the attention of the rest of our team and ran a finger across his throat, mouthing the words “tell her nothing” with exaggerated lip movements. Mom certainly didn’t need to know that our latest mission had involved some of us being kidnapped and tortured. Billings, under his clothes, was covered with small cuts and I had tightly wrapped ribs and drying blisters all over the palms of my hands and a brand new surgical scar where they’d had to operate to stop internal bleeding and repair a punctured lung.

Roxy Dubois, the tallest of the women, who intensified this by wearing severely high heels, lowered herself slowly, bending at the knees and keeping her back straight, to retrieve the piece of mail she had dropped. She was wearing a silky green floor-length gown with a green and gold bodice. I don’t think Roxy even owns a pair of jeans. She always dresses like it’s Oscar night. Sir Haughty tapped his temple, Badger touched his nose, and Nitro and the twins all nodded their heads in understanding. Only then did I feel I could relax the bear hug I’d been giving my mother. I did so slowly, keenly aware of my broken ribs. I kept my hands lightly on her shoulders, though, so she wouldn’t see the blisters on my hands. “Goodness,” she said, “that must be the best hug I’ve ever gotten, dear.”

“Oh, wait until Billings gets a hold of you,” I said, waving him forward. “Billings, come give your grandmother a hug.”

Billings also had the remains of several blisters on his hands left over from our captivity. He kept the palms of his hands out of her sight as he gave her a hug and a peck on the cheek. “Hey, Grandma. Thanks for the Bük. I love it!” He sounded appropriately enthusiastic, although I knew he wasn’t. The Bük is an ereader designed for people who are nostalgic about paper books. It has a Tyvek edge to simulate the experience, with an ad campaign that glorifies the odds of getting a papercut. Unfortunately, in his captivity in Italy, Billings was subjected to a torture technique involving dozens of tiny cuts followed by being hosed down with saltwater. So, he had lost the excitement over that particular feature. Right after opening it he had asked us not to tell Grandma about his not liking the Bük so much, and that is exactly when Mom appeared, having overheard.

“What was it you didn’t want anyone to tell me, dear?” she asked. “Don’t worry, I won’t be angry. Is it the wrong color? Should I have gotten the bigger one?”

Like the Grinch in the famous Dr. Seuss tale, Billings thought up a lie and he thought it up quick. “Not at all, Grandma. I didn’t want you to know I opened it so late. My birthday was two, almost three days ago.”

Mom slapped a hand on his shoulder as if to say, “you silly boy.” “Well, if you had opened it on time and I still hadn’t gotten a thank you, THEN I’d be disappointed. But when I arrived Knobby explained that you were all away on one of your missions.” She turned toward me again. “Really, he’s been such a perfect gentleman, letting me stay here until you got back. He even let me use his room.”

Knobby, aka Benjamin Olivieri, is our caretaker. CURDS has three investigative teams, A, B, and C, and each one has its own HQ. Knobby tends to all three of them, and has a room in the basement of each one. He stays wherever he likes, though none of them are all that far apart. Ours is in DC and the other two are in Maryland and Virginia. He wanted to be on a team, but he had an accident during training and shattered both of his kneecaps. After that, he couldn’t pass the physical requirements to join a field team, but he was perfectly good as a handyman, as long as he didn’t have to do anything in a hurry. Without kneecaps, his knee joints would dislocate too easily if he stressed them. He took the nickname Knobby just to show there were no hard feelings. At my Mom’s kind words, he blushed. “My pleasure, Ma’am.”

Nonchalantly, I moved back toward the table and took a seat. My stamina was still not back and I needed to sit down. Mom noticed. “Are you all right, dear? Your color looks a little off. Have you been getting enough to eat? Can I make you something?”

“No, Mom. I’m fine,” I insisted.

“Actually,” said Nitro, our medical officer, Tyrone Nathaniel Thackery. “She probably should get some rest. It was a long flight. Helena, you said you hadn’t slept well on the plane, right?” he suggested. Roxy would call it leading the witness.

“Oh,” piped in Knobby, “you folks want to get some sleep then. The telethon starts tonight, you know. Looks like you’ll be here to watch it for a change.”

“It’s time for that already?” I asked. It was the 5th Annual Alley OOPS telethon, a fundraiser to fight Offensive Obstruction, the condition caused by eating Uber cheese, which had wiped out millions in a worldwide Pandemic Sweep, known as the big OOPS.

Knobby nodded. “It’s set up in Minnesota this year. There’s supposed to be some big announcement from Banana Harris at the Mayo Clinic. They’ve been promoting it all week.”

Banana Harris is a young scientist working in the field of Uber research. In fact, she’s the one who, at the ripe young age of fourteen, first identified and isolated Uber. She was probably approaching the quarter century mark by now, which I remember only fondly. I couldn’t imagine what her announcement might be. “That does sound exciting,” I said. My pain meds were wearing off and every breath felt like something was nibbling at my chest wall from the inside. “I’m sorry, Mom. I really need a few hours. Will you be all right?”

“Of course, dear!” Mom replied. I could hear real concern in her voice and I felt a little guilty. I love my mother, but she takes a lot of energy that I didn’t have just then. “I’ll visit with your friends and I’ll see you when you wake up. Have a nice rest, sweetie.” She gave me a peck on the cheek and rubbed my back. I think she may have been looking for scar tissue.

I pushed myself to my feet hoping the movement looked natural enough. “Nitro, can I talk to you about something first? Come upstairs with me. It won’t take long.”

“Sure, Helena.” He waited for me at the bottom of the stairs, understanding that my request was really for assistance getting to my room. But if he had come to my side at the table it would be like broadcasting to my mother that I was seriously hurt. “Take good care of my mother, guys,” I said, moving slowly toward the stairs.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” said Billings. There was concern on his face, too. He came toward me to give me a gentle hug and kiss, and a brief moment of support in his arms so I could take a breath. He lowered his voice and whispered into my ear, “You want me to record everything on my phone?”

“That would violate her Fourth Amendment rights, Billings. You know that,” I whispered. Louder, for everyone to hear, I added, “I love you, too, Billings.” He let go and I went to the bottom of the steps where Nitro was waiting, and where I would finally be out of my mother’s line of sight. He let me go in front of him, then kept a supporting arm across my back all the way up. He helped me into my bed and tucked me in as if he were my father. My own father, unfortunately, had died of obstruction in the early days of the OOPS. It’s a nasty little condition. Eating Uber cheese, over the course of mere weeks, shuts down the peristalsis that keeps the alimentary canal cleaned out. Waste builds up and eventually leaks into the abdominal cavity, causing peritonitis. Dad died happy, though. A narcotic aftereffect of the Uber because he was actually allowed to keep eating it. At the time, the connection between obstruction and Uber cheese hadn’t been determined. Once it was, patients were denied cheese and millions more, worldwide, died in agony, of peritonitis and simultaneous withdrawal symptoms. When you think about it, Dad was one of the lucky ones.

I settled under the covers and put my head on the pillow, and I was out. Extreme comfort will do that. I’d spent a couple of nights in a hospital bed and we all know the kind of comfort that involves, and before that it was sleeping or dozing on the plane, so getting into a real bed, with a fresh, fluffy pillow under my head and a bedspread that my mother had crocheted for me several years ago, in my own home, with no worries. Who could blame me?

Unfortunately, Nitro had been planning to give me more pain medication, but I passed out before he could even suggest it. And I slept like the proverbial dead. I must have, because when I woke up Nitro had my wrist in his hand and he was taking my pulse. I jerked awake, trying to sit up, but stopped when I realized who it was. Another thing that stopped me was a wave of pain that traveled across my entire body. My mouth opened in shock, but I managed to avoid screaming. “Hold on there, Helena. Slowly.” I sank back into the bed. Nitro released my wrist and put a hand on my shoulder. “You’re going to be sore for a while. You didn’t get your meds before you crashed.”

With Nitro’s help, I was able to get into a sitting position, with my legs hanging off the edge of the bed. “Oh my God, Nitro. I feel like I’ve been hit by a train. It didn’t feel like this yesterday.”

“You were on Morphine yesterday.” He got me to my feet. “Here. Take these.” He produced two small oval white pills. “Besides, you pretty much did that to yourself. If you’d hung there quietly instead of thrashing around—“

“There was a spider crawling on me!” I interrupted him. “Probably more than one. Tell me you wouldn’t thrash.”

He shrugged. “I had a pet tarantula when I was twelve.”

“Of course you did,” I said in defeat. “How long was I sleeping?” I would have taken the pills from his hand, but I didn’t want to let go of his arm. I wasn’t sure my legs would hold me up.

“About eight hours. It’s after 6.”

“Christ. I only meant to do two or three. You should have woke me. You guys shouldn’t have to entertain my mother all day. Oh, God. Mom. How am I going to keep hiding this from her?” I remembered an old episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show in which he, as Rob Petrie, basically sprained his whole body while skiing and tried to hide it from his wife. My life was now a sitcom. And I was beginning to realize that if I didn’t get to the bathroom very soon I was going to wet myself. I started inching my way toward the bathroom door. Nitro inched ahead of me, leading me with one arm like a farmer leads a donkey with a carrot. He got me through the door and let go reluctantly. I left the door ajar, confident that Nitro would give me privacy, just in case I needed to call him.

As I did my morning business just after 6 P.M., Nitro said through the partially open door, “Don’t worry, Helena. She’s gone.”

“What do you mean, ‘she’s gone?’”

“She got a phone call from Shirley and had to leave. Knobby took her to the airport about an hour ago. He should be back soon. The telethon starts at 8 and he didn’t want to miss the beginning.”

“Shirley?” I asked. “What now? Narcolepsy? Bunions? Leprosy?” Mom’s friend Shirley, whose life ambition was to become a dowager despite the fact that she never married, was, for the most part, a hypochondriac. She has had some real physical ailments from time to time, but seemed to adopt any illness she heard about on TV or in the news. She checked herself into isolation once thinking that she’d been exposed to Ebola. The nurses eliminated any chance of it with the simple verbal history, but she insisted and wouldn’t leave for four days. For their records, they kept her for observation in these situations. The nurses would have her call my mother, who could more often than not convince her to go home. I had no doubt this is exactly what had happened as I slept.

“Sarcoidosis,” said Nitro.

I flushed the toilet. “Ah, that means she’s watching House reruns again. Mom can handle that. It’s a shame she couldn’t stay, though.” I came out, leaning heavily on the doorknob and then on the dresser.

“You don’t have to pretend, Helena.”

“Come on,” I told Nitro. “It’s not like I don’t love her. She’s my mother.”

“I know,” he admitted.

“What about the rest of the team? Did they just sit around all day while I’ve been sleeping?”

Nitro shook his head. “They did about three and a half hours in the yard,” he replied. Behind the house, there is a well-equipped exercise yard in which all of us can hone and maintain our physical skills. I wouldn’t be allowed to do anything for several days most likely and I worried about falling behind. I thought maybe I could sneak in some light activity after Nitro had gone to bed. I discussed this with my body, which had several objections just then. We’ll see, I thought to myself. We’ll see. “That was before your Mom left. She really got a kick out of watching them, especially the twins.” Watching conjoined twins go through the paces was rather addictive. It was a little like synchronized swimming without the water or the background music.

He handed me the pills and this time I was able to take them. He had a glass of water ready as well. “Morphine?” I asked, after I’d swallowed them. Fine time to ask what they are, huh?

“Tramadol. Less addictive.”

I nodded. “I’d like to shower before I go downstairs. Can you come back in about fifteen to change my bandages?”

“I’ll give you twenty,” he said. “And I’ll be listening for a thunk.”

“The pipes make that sound sometimes,” I told him. He gave me a look that said he knew that was a lie and left the room, closing the door behind him. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to shower in the allotted time period and Nitro was ready when I emerged from the steamy bathroom with a large white towel wrapped around my torso. By that time, the Tramadol had kicked in and I was able to move more like a normal human being rather than a rusty robot. Nitro rebound my ribcage and I picked out a slightly oversized navy blue cotton lounge outfit. Since I was just getting up, I certainly wasn’t going to be going to bed at a normal time, so this outfit would serve for the evening no matter what I ended up doing. I brushed my wet hair and stared into the mirror with dissatisfaction. I looked pale, but I didn’t even own any makeup. I looked up at Nitro questioningly.

“You look fine, Helena,” he said.

“I just don’t want anyone treating me like a china doll down there. I may be broken, but that doesn’t mean I’m breakable.” I stood and headed for the door. “I suppose you want to hurry down ahead of me and warn everyone to put away the kid gloves?”

He waved the comment away. “No, not at all,” he said, edging his way in front of me. “In fact, I won’t even help you down the stairs.” He moved swiftly down the stairs, whispering “call if you need help” into my ear as he passed, and disappeared, leaving me standing alone at the top of Mount Everest.

I looked down from the imposing height, remembering the laborious climb up, and pumped my knees. The muscles that had protested before were now cooperating. I still descended slowly, ever vigilant for a sudden change. The painkiller Nitro had given me proved to be quite effective and I’m pretty sure I was able to join the group without any appearance of disability. I took a vacant seat on one of the three long couches grouped in a U in front of our huge 75-inch TV, next to Avis Nicely who patted the seat to the right of her in invitation. “Sit by me, future mother-in-law,” she said, her engagement to my son Billings only days old. Agnes, her conjoined sister sat, as always, to Avis’ left. The TV was already on, and commercials were running, promoting the upcoming telethon.

“Wouldn’t you rather have Billings sitting there?” I asked.

From across the coffee table, Billings replied, “I decided to sit over here. If you can’t figure out why, I’ll explain it to you later, in private.” He was blushing like mad, and there was a general round of quiet smirks.

I wasn’t sitting long before my Internal People Counter went off. “Where’s Sir Haughty? He’ll miss the announcement.”

“No, I shan’t,” said Sir Francis Maxwell Haughty IV, coming up behind me. I slowly turned my neck to look over my shoulder and saw Sir Haughty coming from the kitchen with two large bowls of fresh, fluffy popcorn, dusted with genuine artificial butter substitute. He put one on Avis’ lap and gave the other to Roxy, who sat in the middle between Sylvia Pendragon and Billings, then returned to the kitchen for a third bowl for his own couch with Nitro and Badger. Badger, whose real name was Gerrold Collins, was giving his eyes a rest from the contacts by wearing eyeglasses today. It kind of made him look like John Denver with a tan, which isn’t a bad thing. The centrally located coffee table was already populated with glasses of ice, cans of soda, and a few bottles of Evian.

Except for the spot in front of me, of course. That spot had a tall glass of milk. I glanced at Nitro. “Milk with popcorn? That’s against the law of nature, isn’t it?”

“Drink it anyway,” he said sternly. “You can’t grow bone with flavored syrup and carbon dioxide bubbles.”

I took a large handful of popcorn from the bowl, cradled it in my left hand next to my belly, and took a few kernels with my right. “Aye, Aye, Mon Capitaine.”

There was a drumroll as the introduction to the telethon began. An announcer said, “Welcome to the 5th Annual Alley Oops Telethon, coming to you from the Slippery Shoes Bowling Alley in Rochester, Minnesota.” I knew the Slippery franchise. There’d been some in Illinois as well. It isn’t just bowling alleys but all kinds of family athletic entertainment. You can find Slippery Gears bicycle trails and Slippery Slopes ski resorts and Slippery Greens golf courses (both miniature and full-size), and for the less active there is Slippery Screens movie theaters. My favorite is Slippery Slides, a huge playground with tunnels, slides, the whole works, and all large enough for the average, active adult. And because I’m considerably smaller than average, I even have elbow room. They are all, of course, exceedingly expensive and snagging the telethon will probably have them increasing their rates at the beginning of the year. It’s been a few years since I was able to get there, since Billings outgrew them several inches ago. The franchise is owned by a very wealthy progressive activist, so I’m not surprised they vied to be the venue for the telethon. The camera panned the exterior of the bowling alley, which had oscillating searchlights set up in the parking lot and a canopied entrance festooned with colorful blinking lights.

The telethon is designed to last 32 hours, but is hosted by a rotation of several celebrities. It was generally accepted that there is no thrill in watching one host drive himself or herself to exhaustion. The 32 hours comes from Banana Harris’ original experiment which alerted her to a toxic substance in cheese. During that experiment, 16 mice perished, and because 16 hours is a pretty pathetic telethon, they decided to do 2 hours to honor each mouse. That experiment also led Ms. Harris to redefine animal research. I’m not sure exactly what she did, but she eventually earned an A+ rating from PETA. Not many animal researchers can say that. I admire Ms. Harris quite a bit. Most of us in CURDS do, actually.

Badger had the remote and upped the volume a couple of notches. “You know, we should have DVR’d this thing, then we could fast forward through all this introductory stuff,” he said.

“And not watch it live?” Roxy objected. “Perish the thought, heathen.” Roxy, who dressed for occasions even when there wasn’t one, was wearing a lavender chiffon gown with four inch boxy heels, which was practically flats for her.

None of us would be watching it in its entirety, of course, not even with the utter freedom to do so. Having a member on the DL has its rewards, but there is no such thing as a 32 hour TV show worth watching. They were bound to put the announcement on early, though not right away. Anticipation works with a lot of things, not just ketchup. There were several minutes of introductory coverage, introducing the first host of the evening, a B actor named Charles Von Creightonville who was the latest macho superhero the Titanium Titan. Charles introduced the national phone bank’s first panel, twelve local Minnesota “celebrities” and politicians. Each one sat behind white library carrels wearing a wireless headset. They each had a pad of paper forms and a pencil cup of various donated writing instruments and they smiled and waved at the camera as it went by. Charles pronounced the phone bank open for business. A toll-free number appeared on the bottom of the screen. It would stay there whenever the national feed was broadcasting. Pleasantly, a few phones rang immediately and the volunteers went to work. “Also,” Charles said, “you can pledge online at the email address on your screen, or by texting ‘OOPS’ to 07734.” With that done, Charles then told us that there would be a short break while local affiliates introduced themselves to the viewing public, but added that we should stay tuned for an important announcement from Banana Harris.

Our local Washington D.C. affiliate came on the air, hosted by Doug Calhoun, a popular weatherman, who promised not to talk weather at all this evening, but just had to mention that an unseasonable warm front was coming. There was also a local phone bank, where you had a much better chance of getting through. Another toll-free number appeared on the bottom of the screen labeled “Washinton D.C.” The web address and text number were the same. There were a few high profile Senators and Representatives on the panel here, but for the most part it was ordinary volunteers. Calhoun then showed us the toteboard, currently showing zero dollars collected, and introduced a local pastor who led us in a prayer to ensure a successful telethon. He also promised that the President would have a response to Banana Harris’ announcement via satellite from her current location in Somalia where she and her Secretary of State were helping its provisional government institute weapons control legislation. A few hundred troops were accompanying them to assist Somalian police forces in confiscating currently circulating assault weapons. A very dangerous prospect to be sure. It was easy to forget that we at CURDS weren’t the only ones risking our lives.

Finally, the D.C. affiliate tossed it back to Minnesota. Charles Von Creightonville welcomed us back with a rendition of the Proposed Global Anthem which was done with great fanfare by Yvonne Schmitthusen, an opera singer. And he told us yet again to stay tuned for an important announcement from Dr. Banana Harris.

“Didn’t he already say that?” asked Nitro.

“Twice,” responded Sir Haughty, who was excellent at keeping track of things.

Creightonville showed us the national toteboard with a drumroll and the first total of $3417 appeared. Everyone applauded. He suddenly touched his earpiece, listening intently. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve just been told that Dr. Harris is in the building. We’ll give her a chance to get ready. In the meantime, please enjoy this performance from Let’s Face It!” A local rock band took the stage and began screaming unintelligibly.

Our popcorn was about half gone. I was getting pretty thirsty, but I wasn’t thirsty enough to drink milk and then eat more popcorn. I decided I would chug the milk when I was finished, when I would be good and thirsty. I noticed that Nitro kept looking at my glass and was noting that it hadn’t been touched. He pointed to it with his eyes, and I responded by taking another handful of popcorn. If he really thought I’d defy his orders and common sense, let him sweat for a while, I thought. The song was predictably horrible. The good acts would come later in the telethon when viewers were tired and needed motivation to keep watching. Just as it finally ended, I bit down on an unpopped kernel and winced. “Popcorn is dry, isn’t it, Helena?” prodded Nitro.

“Unpopped kernel, Einstein,” I kidded him. “Don’t worry. I’m going to drink the milk.”

“Ssshhhh!” Roxy hissed. “She’s coming on!”

Well, we assumed she was coming because the song ended and Creightonville returned to the screen, applauding with his microphone in hand which caused little thumps in the audio. The camera panned briefly to show bowlers still at it in the background to the thunder of rolling balls and the sound of falling pins. Then it came back to him. He put the mike to his lips. “That was Let’s Face It with their new hit ‘The Key to My Heart is Under the Mat.’ Available on You Tube and iTunes right now.” I’ll admit I hadn’t really been listening, but I don’t recall hearing any intelligible words, let alone those. The camera zoomed in close and his head grew to fill our 75 inch screen. “And now, ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you a little about our special guest speaker. Her story begins when she was a mere 14 years old.” As he spoke, a dramatic montage of photos faded in and out, showing Banana Harris as a child, her graduation from high school and college, and her being welcomed to the Mayo Clinic by its then Chief of Staff Harold Fingerman. “A child’s school science project became the find of the century when the tragic death of her test subjects led to the revelation that the cause of what was then called Offensive Obstruction was, in fact, an additive in a family of new cheese products that swept the nation and the world. She called this additive Uber and she has been involved with investigations and research into the effects of Uber ever since. Haunted by the deaths of 16 of the 24 mice, she was driven to give those deaths meaning. A meaning beyond merely identifying Uber, but including effective treatments and eventually a cure for Obstruction. Once hired by the Mayo Clinic at the unprecedented age of only 19, she saw the need for more funding than the government would allow and, with her colleagues there and help from corporate sponsors she organized the first Alley OOPS telethon, which raised in excess of $10 million for Uber research. We are now gathered for the 5th annual telethon, hoping to exceed last year’s record total of $46,080,314.62.” The montage ended and Creightonville reappeared in a more relatable half body shot. “And now, ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pride and pleasure to introduce to you, Ms. Banana Harris!”

The audience exploded in applause and Banana Harris walked confidently into the shot. She was wearing a body mike on her grey cotton blouse, so there was no need to take the mike from Creightonville. He slipped out of the shot quietly and the camera centered on Harris. She is tall and slender, with skin the color of that velvet they used to paint Elvis on. I love velvet, even if it doesn’t breathe very well. When I was young, I bought one of the Elvis paintings at a local rummage sale for fifty cents, then went home and used Dad’s mineral spirits to clean off Elvis so I could just feel the velvet. Banana Harris’ skin looked like it felt like that. Mom grounded me for three weeks. She found out online that the painting might have been worth as much as $300. It was fat Elvis, though. Getting the clean velvet was worth the price to me.

Banana has medium brown hair cut short, which emphasizes her elegantly long neck. She smiled, and her white teeth seemed to outshine the studio lights. Metallic dangling earrings twinkled at the sides of her head. “Hello, I’m Banana Harris.” Audience, crew and phone bank all erupted into a wave of applause, and people began standing up. After only a moment, she waved for them to sit and shouted, “Please! Please! Thank you so much.” There was another brief wait and finally everyone settled down and the studio got very quiet. Even the phones stopped ringing, though I’m sure the producers of the telethon forgave that.

We at CURDS headquarters were on the edge of our seats. In fact, Badger leaned forward a little too far and hit the floor, but righted himself quickly without even breaking eye contact with the TV. The popcorn was all but gone, and three bowls with random seeds and kernels sat on the coffee table. If it hadn’t been gone it would have been forgotten anyway.

“I’m here to tell you about an important breakthrough in Uber research,” she said. “But first, there is someone I’d like you to meet.” She nodded to somebody off camera and very quickly a grey and brown blur raced into her arms and climbed up to her shoulders, where it played with her hair with tiny black hands. It was a raccoon! “This is Clara,” she said, by way of introduction, showing not the slightest discomfort as the animal pulled and scratched at her head, possibly looking for an infestation. “She’s a five-year-old North American raccoon. And she’s been eating a diet which includes Uber for a full six months.” The animal climbed to Banana’s other shoulder by going directly over her head. “As you can see, she’s very healthy. Take our word for it, she’s not obstructed at all. She’s been implanted with what I call a Colonic Pacemaker.” Here’s where watching from home kind of lost its appeal. The screen went to a graphic of a human digestive system and we couldn’t see Clara anymore. We could hear the studio audience laughing, though, and making the “awwww, that’s so cute” sound.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

I was born a fairly well-off white child in a nice suburban neighborhood in southeastern Wisconsin. For the next 40 years, I fantasized about becoming an author. On my 40th birthday I started writing a great science fiction/horror novel which got to about Chapter Four. On my 50th birthday, I started writing this series, after reading Jasper Fford's Dragonslayer series, and Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. It seems I'm funny, not scary. Who'da thunk?

Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
A.
https://www.facebook.com/GMEppers?skip_nax_wizard=true
Q. What did you learn while writing this book?
A.
I learned about something called The Angle, which you'll also learn about when you read this book. I also learned that some of my characters are getting to be downright annoying.
Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
The original idea for this series was to explore what might happen if cheese became a controlled or illegal substance. I have friends who are known to enjoy some pasta with their cheese and thought it might be fun to imagine a black market and underworld based on dangerous cheese.

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