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Chapter Nine

Spring Rock Center

"Jorge, I'm bored," wailed Bess as she flopped down on her impeccably clean but Spartan cot at the Spring Rock Mind and Spirit Health Center.

          "We've only been here six hours," reproved George, who was herself already recumbent.

          "But there is absolutely nothing to do here," Bess complained. "No one to talk to. No television or stereo. Nothing to read. No paper upon which to write. Not even anything to investigate!"

          "Hush," cautioned George.

          "Give me some credit," demanded her cousin. "During all these hours of tedium I have had plenty of opportunity to sanitize the room. I am sure there are no listening devices in here."

          "Did you check the phone?" asked George.

          Bess blushed pure crimson. "I didn't think," she stuttered.

          "Of the most obvious place," continued her gravid companion. "Well, I took care of that one as I was talking to Mom shortly after we checked in. There was a bug in there."

          "You didn't remove it," cautioned Bess. "Surely they'd suspect . . ."

          "No silly," rejoined George. "I just did my nails over it. And was a bit careless with the polish. It should look like a perfect accident."

          "But they will restore it to function the first opportunity."

          "But I have a plan," said George with composure.

          "Which is?"

          "That you will figure something out. That Nobel Prize brain of yours, the brain that invented pixie dust, somewhat perfect birth control, and odorless hair spray, ought to be good for something in a situation like this."

          "Hmmm," enunciated Bess. "At least it gives me something to do."

          "We could be contemplating that statue of the green Madonna over there. Just as we were instructed at orientation, remember? To bring our minds to 'that state of peace within, so that divine healing can truly begin.'"

          "Oh Sandy, don't be re-dic," scoffed Bess. "How can I get in into a properly religious state of mind gazing at an image that looks a perfect fright? Look at her hair, how it sticks out every which way! And her eye, I'm sure has a cast. That is no Madonna, but a mangy, scrofulous street urchin!"

          "Watch your irreverent language," chuckled George. "Or I'll drop some nail polish remover on the phone!"

          There was a abrupt, frightening knock at the door of the girls' Lacedaemonian chamber. The startled conspirators, however, quickly recovered their nonchalant poise.

          "Come in," shouted George.

          The maid Nancy entered.

          "Can I do anything for you ladies?" she asked.

          "Order us a pizza," asked Bess hopefully.

          "That is against the rules of the Center, Dr. Marvin," Nancy explained. "Mrs. Gruen instructed me most specifically not to get you food from outside. The center staff are very strict here. I do not want to be responsible for having you thrown out. You would miss your healing."

          "Nancy, Nancy, it's me, Bess." While pleading Bess treated the maid to her most knowing, amiable, and seductive facial expressions. All to no avail.

          "Yes, Dr. Marvin." Nancy placidly awaited further instructions.

          "I give up," conceded Bess. "You are too good for me."

          "Thank you Dr. Marvin," Nancy responded gratefully. "Will there be anything else?"

          "No, take the rest of the afternoon off," Bess graciously allowed. "Go and see the sights."

          The maid slithered out of her charges' chamber before they could reconsider.

          "Why on earth did you let her go?" asked George. "She was at least potentially diverting company. In another twenty minutes, I bet I could have cracked her facade."

          "Dearest Georg, we are learning precisely nothing while we stay cooped up in here. I don't think even Nancy could find out much within this limited field of view. But if we set her to wander off outside, like a servant playing hookey, she may pick up some precious clues."

          George had to concede that Bess was right to let Nancy go.

          "Besides, our boring minutes together are now precious. We have only a few hours remaining think up a serviceable communication plan. When we leave for dinner, and then come back, a new bug may be in place. And we cannot, without undue suspicion, interfere at all with the operation of that one."

          "So what is our plan, Holmes old chap?" asked George, in her most Nigel Brucian voice.

          "We must speak in code."

          "What kind of code? If our talk sounded strange they would cotton onto our being bogus patients right away."

          "So our chatter must sound like plain English, and we must talk totally normally and on ordinary, expected subjects," Bess answered.

          "What kind of espionage secrets can we share that way?"

          "Our electronic spies will hear everything we say and thus be deceived," Bess informed her cousin. "But we will listen only to messages made up by the first letters of words."

          "That will make conversation a challenge," observed George. "It will be tough composing sentences that sound plausible, but whose initial letters say something else. Won't the slowness of our locution call attention to us?"

          "This is why we must improve these next few hours. We should compose and memorize a vocabulary of stock phrases that we can use in future. That will leave only a few critical items for later improvisation."

          "It might just work," George enthused. "You are pretty swift with puzzles and I am a quick study at memorization."

          "Then let's get started," commanded Bess. "But, oh, my ingenuity would soar much higher if I had a slice of spicy cajun chicken pizza in my hand!"

          "You wish!" exclaimed George. "Well I will attempt to jump-start those famished neurons using no mozzarella or hot-sauce whatsoever. Quick, think of a message, something simple to start."

          "Watch out," supplied Bess with only a second of hesitation.

          "Here is where my particular genius will begin to shine, overshadowing all others!" exulted the gravid cousin.

          "Jorge, isn't that a bit of a mixed metaphor?"

          "What are metaphors to me, Bessie ma petite cousine, when my thoughts are so clear that I can almost hear the synapses go snap! I have it! For 'Watch out' I say, 'Why are the church husbands only useful today?'"

          "Come down to earth, Georg," Bess commanded. "I will grant that the initial letters are correct and that it is a grammatical sentence. But it does not make any sense."

          "Try it, the next time you are schmoozing the coffee hour at St. John's. It will work wonders."

          "But not here, Colonel Sanders."

          Chastened, George was crestfallen. "I'll try again," she offered.

          "Where are the . . .," Bess began.

          "Chinese handguns," finished George.

          Bess just looked at her cousin sternly.

          "Colored hankies?"

          "Better," Bess agreed. "The trouble is that we don't have any such items."

          "Cocked hats? Cuticle . . . no. Cream hassocks? Clean hankies? We have those."

          "Pretty good Georg," admitted Bess. "But I am beginning to think we ought not to tie ourselves down too much to requesting specific objects. Why don't we just say that any time we begin a sentence with 'Where are the' it means 'Watch out'? Then we can ask for whatever seems a plausible object in the situation."

          "Great," concurred George heartily. "And we can treat other kinds of messages the same way. Just a few letters at the beginning should give us the whole drift."

          "And if anyone listening should be clever enough to spell out our initial letters, they wouldn't get very much. They might not even recognize it as information."

          "It might work."

          "It must work," said Bess.

          "At any rate, even if we are totally confused by what we tell each other, it will give us something to think about while we are hanging about in here with in the company of our less than entertaining friend, the green Madonna."

          "How is this," offered Bess with a cheerful smile. "Greetings earthling! Our revered general, Yusuf Olafson, uncle and regal envoy, trusts human entities beyond every sentient terrestrial," She intoned the short speech in her most (Bess) Marvin the Martian-like voice.

          "Bess, you know that we couldn't talk like that."

          "I know, I was just fooling around. But figure it out. It will be good practice."

          George concentrated for a minute, palms pressed to her temples for exagerrated effect, seemingly pulling Bess's bizzare message to pieces, then ejaculated, "I leave other very elaborate yowlings or ululations to our ocelot."

          Bess got up from her cot, stepped over to her cousin, bent over, and, gently, with all due consideration for George's distended abdomen, gave her a hug.

          "Hey, I felt a kick!" Bess squealed, "Was that baby girl A or baby girl B?"

          "Definitely B, cuz," George guessed at random. "I know it's her because she has a decided attitude."

          "Like her Mom," teased Bess.

          "And the other one is fat and lazy, like her Dad."

          "Ouch!" said Bess, good-humoredly.

          "No one kicks like ol' Mommie dearest."

          Bess stood up and lounged against the wall with her arms gracefully akimbo.

          "Now to business, Georgie," she said. "What other kinds of messages do you think we will need?"