Russian Interference in the Spelling Bee?
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The Mysterious Bluffs Part Six
Hi Micheal Midas here. I’m in the New Moon Church, Monday Night in the Education Centre. The room is packed for a charity spelling bee to fund the funeral of the departed church organist. The first word of the night has just been announced: Beelzelbub.
Dean Willians who has the displeasure of spelling the first word, is standing on the stage, redder than a stop sign, and his arms are crossed tightly.
“Man,” he says, “That kind of word isn’t supposed to come up at church. It’s not a fair word to spell, if I don’t feel comfortable.”
“You’re not going to try?” Boris Yaktuvavitch says.
“Well, here goes nothing. B-e-e-l-z-a”
“I’m sorry,” Boris says, “but this is bad spelling. I give next word.”
“I’d like it to be a decent word please,” Dean Williams says.
“Heif you don’t like words, ve bring next person.”
Dean Williams looks down at his shoes, then asks for the next word.
The young brunette woman standing stage side, picks up a cue card from the stack in her hand, and announces the next word is “colostomy”.
“Who picked these words?” Dean Williams asks.
The brunette woman points a finger at Boris.
“Do you know what they mean, sir?” Dean asks.
“Yes, hI find words hin dictonary.”
“Enough about the words. Where did the church find you?”
Impatient chatter rises in the crowd.
The brunette woman says that Boris is the church janitor.
Dean gets a little shaky, then takes a deep breath and smiles. “I guess anyone can host a spelling bee,” he says.
“You don’t like janitors,” Borris says.
“No, no I just want a word that’s fair. How about words that you know.”
“Okay duck. You know, with feathers.”
Dean spells the word in a cinch. Then breezes through the following nine words, which include sink, mop, and lysol. Afterward the other three contestants spell all their words correctly, including repeats of the words rag, bucket, and glove. The first round ends in a four way tie.
Swen, Ebba, and I shuffle and twitch with the rest of the audience. Ebba mentions that it’s hard to guess how long the spelling bee will go on for.
She pours a second glass of wine under the table.
She says she wishes the organist wouldn’t have died on such short notice, so Boris wouldn’t have to wing it.
A strange looking man approaches Boris on stage, whispers something in his ear, then leaves. Boris announces that because of the four-way tie, the contestants will repeat the first round, and only the words on the cue cards will be used.
All four of the contestants pout with dismay.
“Thank god the night won’t end in a four-way tie,” I say to Swen and Ebba.
Swen says that Boris’s choice of words are awfully suspicious, so the Russians must have hacked the spelling bee.
“What do you mean Russians?” I ask Swen.
Swen says there must be a reason Boris is picking such lousy words. Perhaps the New Moon Church has political connections, or the latest Russian spy agency, the *Foreign Intelligence Service* is experimenting with public mind control.
“Boris sounds like a drunken vampire,” I say. “He has the lousiest Russian accent I’ve ever heard, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he isn’t the janitor – and maybe not a spy either, but a narcissist using the spelling bee for attention. Or he plans to unnerve the audience, then sell memberships to a massage club.”
Swen smirks with frustration, and says the massage club will be owned by Russians.
“He’s a fake Russian,” I say. “And I wouldn’t be surprised about anything that happens in this church. It’s plagued with some strange events, namely the choir members that have gone missing. And the other day I followed a man in here after he stole my friend’s watch. It was just before the organist died.”
Ebba asks why I never disclosed this to them before they joined me for the spelling bee.
“I would have mentioned it, but I forgot to after seeing you guys…uh…uh”
“You forgot because we were connecting with nature?” Swen asks.
I guess connecting with nature is the free-spirited way of saying they were nude while we were eating herring and crisp bread.
So the first round starts all over. This time Maria Kalowski, the tiny and shrill voiced kindergarten teacher, is called first to the microphone. She breezes through the challenge spelling words like necrophiliac and amputation.
Donny Harris, the beer gutted and balding owner of Harris Plumbing Supplies, is next. And he can only spell the first two words, which are defilement and larceny.
Jane Donaldson and Dean Williams barely survive the round. But their fate is marked, as Maria Kalowski, the favourite, kicks into high gear and defeats them one round after the next. She breezes through another few rounds on her own, to keep the pledge money rolling in, then finally stops because it’s nearing eleven o’clock and she has to teach kindergarten in the morning.
She is declared the winner of the evening, and awarded a $100 gift certificate for an online lamp retailer, then other goodies are raffled off to the audience members.
Bill the blind ex fireman wins a $50 coupon from a pool and hot tub supply store, which he accepts with a gracious smile through he lives in an apartment.
After Boris thanks everyone for coming, the audience either lines up to pay their pledges, or shuffles out of the Education Center in a slightly agitated manner.
I bring Swen and Ebba to Constable Randy and Bill, who are standing near the entrance door. Everyone shakes hands, and share a round of smiles.
While Bill is shaking Ebba’s hand, he compliments her on the perfume she is wearing. She thanks him, then says she isn’t wearing any. Bill frowns a little then moves onto Swen.
I make a mental note to tell Bill that his inaccuracy about Ebba’s perfume is good reason to believe that he is probably mistaken about the kind of aftershave the Rolex thief was wearing – but I’ll save this conversation for when we’re alone.
After the introduction, I have another question for Bill – why did he look so pleased to win a coupon from a pool and hot tub store?
He says that he knows a couple in the area with a pool. They’ve always been a big help to him, so he’ll be glad to pass on the coupon to them.
At that moment Donny Harris slowly drags himself by our group on his way to the door. His head is down, and his face is a bit distraught. Constable Randy pats him on the back and says he did a great job.
“I hope this audience doesn’t think I do plumbing the way I spell,” Donnie moans.
Constable Randy says the audience was undoubtedly impressed with his courage to participate, many of them having been asked to get on stage as well, but probably declining out of fear.
The plumber moans, then says he wishes he was wise like them, and just came to watch. After spelling only two of the official words correctly, he wouldn’t dare advertise his business over the mic, which he had planned to do.
Bill chuckles and says he wishes his mistakes were as innocent as the plumber’s because they wouldn’t have cost him his eyesight.
It’s an uncomfortable moment, while the rest of us search for a well-meaning response.
Constable Randy says what happened to Bill is a misfortune but blaming the mistake itself is like saying it has a set of fangs to bite with. A mistake really can’t cause itself.
I notice again that Constable Randy is wearing a brown leather bomber jacket similar to the one I used to wear. I remember that I donated mine to a clothing drive just after I’d moved into my house. I look closer and recognize a scuff mark on the left arm, which is where my ex-wife accidentally nicked mine with an ice skate.
I ask Constable Randy where he got his jacket, and he looks at me strangely, as though the question is off topic. After a moment of silence, he asks Ebba where her and Swen are originally from.
They both say Sweden. Constable Randy smiles acceptingly, then jokes they probably know a lot about furniture.
“We own a furniture store,” Swen says.
“Sure, and I’m a bank robber,” the Constable jokes.
“No, really, we do, It’s only a 45 minute drive from here,” Swen says.
“But you’ll go back to Sweden,” the Constable says.
“Sorry,” Swen gasps. “We are immigrants here. We love this country.”
“Constable,” I add. “They are my neighbours. They’re good people.”
“Let me finish what I was going to say,” the Constable answers. “But you’ll go back to Sweden every once in a while, to see all the latest designs. You Swedes know furniture.”
“We do care about furniture,” Swen says “but it’s not all us Swedes do.”
“That’s right. You guys won the International Dog Sledding Competition in 1978,” the Constable says.
“We’ve won it since then,” Swen rebuts.
At that moment Maria Kalowski enters our circle, and positions herself next to Constable Randy. She runs her fingers through her curly dark hair, then pats him on the shoulder.
The spindly woman says they’ve met before when he pulled her over for speeding.
“That’s right, last winter, and you were in a rush to get to this church. So I let you go,” the Constable says.
Maria Kalowski smiles and thanks him, then asks if he’s single.
“We should talk about that another time. I’ll give you my phone number,” the Constable says.
Maria gets out her cell phone and he recites his number to her. She thanks him then heads to the door.
“I’m sure it’ll be a short phone call, about the spelling bee I suppose,” the Constable says to everyone.
I’m about to announce that my night is over because I have a antiques store to run in the morning, but Dean Williams, the manager of Greenies Golf Club, barges into our group.
“I’m sure this contest is for a good cause, but it gives me the creeps,” he says “Who is that Russian guy anyway?”
“He’s not Russian,” I answer. “I think he’s putting us on. There’s something fishy about his accent.”
“You sound really serious, Micheal,” Constable Randy says. He nudges my shoulder with his hand. “Too serious for a spelling bee.”
“It sounds like you’re threatening me, Constable.”
“No, I’m really saying that we’re all here to get along, so who cares about someone’s fake accent?”
“See, you know it’s a fake accent,” I say. “Something is going on here.”
“No, that’s not what I mean,” the Constable chides. “And this conversation is getting a little out of hand, so let’s talk about nicer things, like the wonderful casket our favourite organist will have for his funeral.”
“Let me get this straight. He’s your favourite organist? You sound like a member of the New Moon Church. Are you?”
The Constable pauses for a pensive breath.
“There’s a lot of good people in this church, so let’s not say who’s a member and who isn’t.”
He looks over at Gail, the woman with a ghoulish appearance who took my pledge. She is still busy collecting donations, but the line up at her table is almost done.
“You’ll have to excuse me,” the Constable says, “I have a friend to speak with.”
He strolls off towards Gail.
I ask Swen and Ebba if they’re ready for the walk back home.
They both say yes, but first we all drop by Gail’s table to pay our pledges. I must note, that Constable Randy, who is standing besides Gail with his arms tightly folded, says nothing during the interaction, and only gives a slight nod when we all say good night for the evening.
Swen, Ebba, and I make our way to outside the front entrance of the church. A few small groups of audience members are standing around the walkway, chatting away the end of the night. In a strange impulse, we stop to get accustomed to the chilly air.
Ebba has a quirky smile on her face. “You know, it would have been more adult-like to have a charity casino instead of a spelling bee.” She says.
“That’s what I told Constable Randy when he invited me to this event.” I say.
“You know him that well?” Ebba asks. “He seems one of those cops that the longer you talk to him, the better chance you have of getting a ticket.”
“I don’t really know him,” I say. “Like I told you already, I happen to be nearly the last person to see the organist before he died. I had to give a statement to the Constable, and that’s how he got my number.”
Ebba blushes and chuckles with the thrill of speculation.
“So you might have something to do with his death. They say a good place to find a murderer is at the victim’s funeral.”
I give her a rancid frown. “Did you listen to Boris on stage while he was talking about the organist. He definitely wasn’t knocked off. I’ve been cleared of all involvement in his death.”
Ebba smiles skeptically, refusing to subdue the notion her life is so interesting that she is in the company of a murderer.
Swen soothingly pats Ebba on the shoulder.
“C’mon dear, let’s go home and chat about having a baby.”
Ebba says that Swen only talks about babies when he hears about something sinister.
“Ebba,” I say, “you don’t have get pregnant because you think I killed the organist. And this sinister kind of talk is too far for a charity spelling bee.”
Swen gives me a little sneer.
“Too far?” He says. “After the first word of the night was Beelzebub?”
It’s the wrong word to say. A word conjuring a strange ambience that belongs in an abandoned schoolyard. The stars in the sky deaden to a pale grey. The people around us quiet to a whisper.
(the music from the hawk sequence)
I feel a large, dark presence behind my back, looming towards me. I glance over my shoulder and see a small group of people chatting, though their tongues are light with wariness.
I look back at Swen and Ebba. They are nose to nose, lost in a row about the right time to have a baby. A spirit is restless in their cradle, agitating them to give it life, and the pressure to do so is spread over their faces like horseradish on a pair of onions.
The presence is still surrounding me, an unnerving abyss that is gripping my senses. It pretends to be my intuition, giving me a bleak sensation that I can never escape the New Moon Church in one piece without becoming a member. I should return inside building, ask when the next sermon is, and if I can attend it.
The presence tries to twist my shoulders so that I turn around and look again at the crowd behind me. I resist for a shaky moment, then do so anyways out of interest – what could I possibly have missed?
It’s him. The man who stole Bill’s Rolex is in the small crowd – well, it’s him without a moustache. I’m sure its him cause I’d never forget his towering build and long blond hair. In fact, I’m sure he’s wearing the grey suit I saw him in at Becky’s coffee shop.
He recognizes my face and a few tears run from his eyes, then he returns to speaking with a woman who is equally as tall and blond. She gets a tissue from her purse and hands it to him. He wipes his tears then comes over to me.
Swen and Ebba don’t notice his arrival as they remain deep in discussion.
“Excuse me,” the man says. “I know you from somewhere.”
“You stole my friend’s Rolex,” I say. “Is it why you shaved your moustache – so nobody would recognize you?”
“Well, first of all, I didn’t steal anyone’s Rolex,” the man says. “And secondly, I shaved my moustache out of respect for the organist.”
I focus deeper on the man’s face, looking over his features from forehead to chin. There is no doubt he’s the culprit. But at the moment I’d rather try to grasp the kind of respect that requires shaving a moustache.
“So, you feel like a better man because you shaved it when the organist died?” I ask.
“That’s kind of a strange question,” he says.
Bewildered, I chuckle a little.
“Shaving your moustache because of a death is a strange custom,” I say.
He sighs in frustration.
“The organist grew a moustache to protest clearcutting in the boreal forest of Canada. He said he’d wear it to the grave. It was a good cause, so I joined in.”
“So you’ve only decided to wear it to his grave.” I say. “Cause the trees are still coming down faster than card houses in a hurricane.”
“I shaved the moustache out of respect,” he says. “I couldn’t think of a better way to mark the end of an era – besides the thing collects pollen, and somedays I was sneezing like a termite in a vacuum bag.”
At that moment Constable Randy, Bill the blind ex fireman, and his seeing eye dog Ram appear from the front door. My dark feeling disappears, so seeing them must be a good sign. I wave at them, and surprisingly, they rush towards me.
“This is the culprit who stole your Rolex, Bill,” I announce.
Officer Randy blushes with annoyance, then grabs my shoulder.
“Do you know who you’re talking about, cowboy? This man is the spiritual leader of the New Moon Church.”
Bill the blind ex fireman leans over to the man, and has a drawn-out whiff.
“I don’t recognize his aftershave. He never stole my watch.”
End of Episode Six
Hey there Mystery Buffs, stay tuned for episode Seven. Micheal Midas makes a devilish discovery when he investigates why the leather jacket he donated to a clothing drive wound up in the hands of Constable Randy.