Mostly Magic

Second Book of the Kindling

Excerpt #2


“You seem to really know Italy well. Do you come over here a lot on business?”

“My grandfather was Italian. We traveled over here when we could to visit la famiglia, and I picked up the language. So, when there’s a story where Italian comes in handy?” She raised her hand. “What can I say? I love the ancient bones of this place.”

Daniel watched the forested slopes speed past. “The culture is ancient, but these mountains not so much. I think my mountains are older.”

“Since there are volcanoes still belching down south, you’re probably right. I don’t think volcanoes are a problem in the Appalachians, right?” Mel said.

“No. Our mountaintops are being blown off by mining corporations,” Daniel replied.

“Speaking of corporations, how many times did Meyer come at you?”

He groaned and laid his head back. “Your middle name. Let me guess again. Is it ‘Persistent’?”

“I’m the one doing the interview,” she chided.

Daniel muttered something about a bulldog and a bone, then said, “They tried two more times. The last one was at the conference. They sent a couple of their high-level drones…” He frowned. “Erase that. I meant ‘executives’, down here on Friday.”

“An even better offer?”

“To which I said no.”

“You don’t see all this largesse of theirs as legal bribery?”

“It doesn’t matter what I think. What matters is the end result. The public doesn’t know which scientists to believe, the ones paid by generous private donors, which is most of them these days, or the ones struggling along on a public salary. It’s not like we wear sponsor labels on our foreheads.”

“Exactly,” Mel said. And that was a priceless quote, Dr. Woodruff. “But, if you don’t mind telling me, why didn’t you want to call them drones?”

He looked thoughtful for a moment. “Pops taught me that when you are reduced to name-calling, you lack a good, logical argument. Besides, calling them drones gives drones a bad name.”

Mel smiled at that. “I know a drone is some kind of bee, but beyond that…” She shrugged. “What are they, mindless workers?”

“Not really.”

“So what did your grandfather teach you about drones?” she prodded.

“Pops didn’t teach as such. He told stories,” he replied.

“Stories are meant to be shared.”

He smirked. “I can see why you’re a journalist. Is that a natural gift, or were you taught how to do that?”

Mel smirked back at him and tucked her wrist under her chin, wiggling her fingers. “I told you before. It’s mostly magic. Now, spill, Dr. Woodruff.”

He sighed in defeat, but with a smile. “One of the first things I learned about bees when I was six was that the honeybee lives out its life without damaging so much as a petal on a flower, much less another creature, unless forced to,” Daniel began. “In fact, the honeybee is one of the few beings in this world that actually improves almost anything it touches, instead of using it up or destroying it. One day I was watching a hive and saw some of these gentle creatures shoving some other bees out of the entrance, basically tossing them to the ground. I asked Pops about it since it seemed a bit out of character.”

Mel noticed the serene look on his face as he told the story.

“Pops told me those doing the tossing were the worker bees, and those being tossed were the drones. So I asked why the drones were being treated like that. He told me those drones were like this fellow named Bobby Farrell who lived up in a hollow in the mountains. Old Bobby had sired a passel—a lot—of girl children and spent most days sitting on the porch, eating and watching his girls work. That was when he wasn’t off giving Mrs. Bobby some kind of mysterious, but very minimal, assistance in producing even more girl children.”

Mel gave a soft chuckle.

“But then a real bad winter was forecast, and while Mrs. Bobby felt like she had plenty enough girl-workers around the place, she also thought she had one too many lazy-assed, beer-swilling, girl-producing nonworkers on the porch, so…” He paused for effect. “The girls all united to toss Bobby off the porch and into the dirt to starve because, of course, Bobby had no idea how to get food and drink for himself.”

Mel laughed out loud.

“It isn’t a perfect analogy, because any drones who manage to impregnate the queen bee on her mating flight die in the process. The ones who get tossed out are the ones who didn’t fly high enough or fast enough to catch her. But it was close enough for a six-year-old to figure out that drones were pretty much the lazy do-nothings of the bee world, and that girls ruled it.” He finished with a flourish of his hand. “Of course, this was not exactly a happy discovery for someone with two sisters.”

“I had no idea!” Mel exclaimed, still laughing. “The bees who do all the pollen gathering and make the honey and build all those cells are—”

“All girls. The drones—the males—only exist for one purpose.” He smiled.

“Making baby bees?” Mel offered. “Perfect!”

Daniel’s whole demeanor was relaxed now. The stress in his face was gone. This was the Dr. Daniel Woodruff she had seen in the lecture hall. The strong, untarnished spirit she had sensed before he had shaken hands with the young Italian woman.

Mel wondered about that moment. He had been standing there, smiling, although obviously tired. Then he had shaken Francesca’s hand, and Mel had felt that burst of fear.

Then he had gone out on the portico and grasped Francesca’s wrist again, on purpose, and the same thing had seemed to happen, leaving him sightless and carrying around the remnants of someone else’s fear.

She shook her head. Her talento d’empatia had never read anything like this before.

Picking up the voice recorder, she thumbed it off and thought about the noninterview she had recorded on it yesterday and the strange coincidence of Dr. Drachan’s origami bees. Her mom had taught her there was no such thing. “Coincidence is the universe pointing out something important. Pay attention.”

“That’s the interview then?” Daniel asked hopefully.

“The on-the-record part.” She looked over at him. “Perfect timing too, because we are approaching the outskirts of Firenze and I need to practice my Italian driving persona. Pedestrians are worth twenty points. Scooters are fifty. Keep score.”

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