NaNo in the rain
Monday morning, it was still raining. Hannah thought maybe it wasn’t quite as heavy as it had been Sunday, but it was still heavy. This was not the sort of weather that Siete Mares usually got this time of year, and Hannah began to wonder whether there was some sort of curse hanging over the spelling bee. It wouldn’t be the first time something Hannah was involved in seemed to be cursed.
Hannah dug out her spare handbag and put her spare car keys in it; she wasn’t sure when she would have access to the auditorium to reclaim her main bag, with her keys, wallet, laptop, and other vital gear. She hoped it wouldn’t be long. Harry drove her to the campus, where she saw that overnight, a large circus-type tent had been put up in front of the performing arts center. So the building hadn’t been cleared for occupancy yet, she thought. She saw that backhoes and other construction equipment were scattered around campus in seemingly random locations, digging holes or otherwise pushing dirt around. This gas line inspection project was assuming epic proportions.
She ducked out of the car and through the rain into the front entrance of the tent. Inside, she saw that tables had been set up to register participants as they arrived. Rivulets of rainwater were running through the lawn at her feet, and she saw that the table legs were sinking into mud. Siete Mares didn’t get much rain, especially in the spring, but when rain did come, the sandy soil couldn’t handle all of the moisture and became saturated quickly. In the wealthy neighborhoods on bluffs overlooking the ocean, mudslides were a constant worry. Seaside Community College was on such a bluff itself, but the built-up part of the college was set back from the edge. Still, the tables and chairs inside the tent were taking on a surreal look, as they slowly sank into the ground, some leaning at increasingly crazy angles.
Grym was seated at the center of the table that faced the tent’s entrance. He had some stacks of papers in front of him, and next to him was a pile of cheap tote bags with the spelling bee logo printed on them, along with the words “Mid Coast Regional Spelling Bee” and the dates for this event. The end of the table to his left was sinking faster than the end to his right, and he was having trouble keeping the tote bags from sliding away. His chair was sinking faster than the table, so the table top, which would ordinarily have been at about the height of his mid-stomach, was instead at chest level. He was wet, as was everybody else in the tent, and he was not looking happy. The cliché that immediately came to Hannah’s mind was “drowned rat,” but really, Grym looked far more miserable than that.
“Ah, glad that at least one of my judges could show up!” he yelled. At this moment, the yelling didn’t seem inappropriate – the pounding rain on the roof of the tent was very loud.
Hannah looked around the tent. As Grym had indicated, neither Marvin nor LaKeesha had yet arrived. Instead, there were a half dozen apparently bored volunteers, waiting for contestants and their parents to show up and register, sitting at the other tables in the tent. Of said contestants and parents, there was no sign.
“Well, come on around!” Grym said, indicating the chair next to his, which, not having had anybody sit in it, had not started to sink into the mud. “Might as well show you the procedure!”
Hannah did as he asked and came to sit in the chair, which immediately started to sink. “When contestants come in, we need to check the list!” Grym said, indicating one of the papers in front of him. “We verify that all of their paperwork is correct! Then we give them this information packet!” He indicated the biggest stack of papers. “We also give them the goodie bag!” He pointed to the pile of tote bags, and then grabbed them as the left end of the table took a lurch downward and started the tote bags sliding.
“What’s in the goodie bags?” Hannah asked.
“Oh, all sorts of stuff!” Grym said. “Information about the event, stuff from the Chamber of Commerce like entertainment and lodging guides, coupons for restaurants and hotels and other services from sponsors, samples of soap and shampoo, a pocket dictionary – worthless if you ask me – from the bookstore, promotional materials from the college, a little bit of this, a little bit of that!”
“So how many contestants have registered so far?” Hannah asked.
“None!” Grym said. “But we must keep to the schedule! It says we start registration at nine a.m., so we started registration at nine a.m.!”
By noon, no contestants had appeared. Grym’s chair had sunk so far that its seat was only six inches above the muddy grass, while Hannah’s seat was a foot above. The table had not sunk so much, so it was about eye level for both of them.
Two men in dark raincoats, carrying black umbrellas, came through the front door of the tent. These men exuded an aura of “bodyguard”; Hannah was put in mind of Secret Service agents protecting the President of the United States. They even had little earphones with spiral wires leading somewhere inside their raincoats. They stepped to either side of the doorway and stood at attention, feet slightly apart. One of them whispered something into his miniature microphone. For a moment, Hannah thought perhaps the President himself was about to appear.
Next, three more men entered the tent – two more in dark raincoats, with umbrellas, one of which was held over the third man, who wore a tan coat. Hannah recognized His Honor, the Mayor of Siete Mares, George del Valle, with his thick, wavy, salt and pepper hair, bushy moustache to match, soulful brown eyes, complexion with just the right shade of brown to be not too brown and not too white, just enough wrinkles to look wise without looking old. Unlike everybody else in the tent, del Valle appeared to be completely dry.
Del Valle came up to the registration table, his hand extended. Grym made a clumsy attempt at standing, hampered by how low his chair’s seat had become. He started to fall backwards but grabbed at the edge of the table to steady himself. That turned out to be a mistake; the pressure on that side of the table pulled it downward, and it slowly tipped over, like a dinghy in a stiff breeze sailed by an inexperienced sailor who doesn’t know to release the mainsheet. As the table keeled over, the papers and goodie bags slid off, making spattering noises as they hit the soggy grass. Hannah tried to scoot her chair backwards to get out of the way of the table as it fell, but the back legs were firmly enough planted that all she succeeded in doing was tipping it over backwards; she felt the icy mud on the back of her head and shoulders, but fortunately the ground was soft enough that she wasn’t really hurt. She did succeed, however, in avoiding getting hit by the table, as her legs flew up in the air. Grym ended up in a similar posture. Hannah found herself laughing, not just at how ridiculous Grym looked, but also at the thought of how she must also look.
“What’s going on hewe?” del Valle asked, and his voice dispelled the carefully cultured appearance he had cultivated. His voice was nasal, a little higher in pitch than was truly dignified, and he had some sort of speech impediment. “I’m wooking for Gwymwyr Heebenwober.” Hannah was laughing even harder now; all she could think of was a cartoon character, vowing to kill the “wascally wabbit.”
Grym struggled to his feet, shaking off clods of soggy grass and blobs of mud. “I’m Gwym- – uh, Grymwyr – Heebenlober!” he said. “Who are you?!”
Del Valle was clearly not happy that his face was not universally recognized, even if a spelling bee coordinator from the state office would not normally be expected to know the faces of all of the small town mayors in the state. His face turned red, and he stood up as straight as he could. “I’m Geowge del Valle,” he said. “I’m the mayow of Siete Mawes.”
Grym reached over the wreckage of table, papers, and goodie bags to shake del Valle’s hand. “Your honor!” he said. “Glad to meet you! Very glad indeed!”
“Wikewise,” del Valle said. “Vewy gwad. But what awe you doing in this tent out in the wain, instead of in the auditowium?”
“There was a gas leak!” Grym said. “And the gas company thinks there may be more! All the buildings on campus are evacuated until it’s certain the gas has all been cleared out from all of the pipes!”
Del Valle was visibly blown back by the force of Grym’s voice. Hannah realized that she had become accustomed to his stentorian tones, but anyone meeting him for the first time would be floored. “Do you know when you wiww be abwe to wetuwn to the auditowium?” he asked.
Grym was saved from having to answer, and del Valle was saved from having to withstand another blast from Grym, by the arrival of Benny Quintana. She noticed dark blue dye running down the side of his face from his security guard’s cap – he must have just gotten a new one, she reflected. Well, with this rain, it wasn’t going to be in new condition for very long. “I just got the all clear from the gas company,” Benny said. “It’s safe to go in the buildings. I’m unlocking everything now.” He held up a large key ring with about fifty keys on it. “The performing arts center is open, and the alarms are off. You’re good to go.”
“Ah!” Grym said. “It’s about time! Let’s get out of this miserable rain!”“Agweed,” del Valle said. “Wet’s get out of the misewabwe wain!”