12:31

12:31

Meredith brought one of the biscuits over on an old chipped blue porcelain plate and tucked the blankets around the beaver’s legs before crouching down and looking at the burgundy-tipped cork in the Beaver’s silvered hand. “Huh, do you realize you been here for almost a year and you’ve never told me why? Or what’s in that box?” She smiled fondly at the shrunken beaver curled up in a his old nest. She had brought down most of his old stuff from the loft when it became clear he was having trouble with the steep stairs. Wouldn’t do to have him fall and break an old bone.

“Besides,” Meredith mused, “I’m no spring chicken myself.” She braced a hand on the window sill and creaked back to her feet, still smiling at her housemate. “It really is good to have you here, whatever the reason.”

The reason, the Beaver repeated to himself. The reason is eventually we all need someone. And as much as I refused to admit it when it mattered I needed that damn rabbit. So I came home. Home to the only place I had ever felt wanted. Another soft sigh and the beaver closed his eyes and sank back into the soft pile of his bedding. He inhaled the smells of home and thought back to that night, the night when it all ended … and began.

***

“All right! Everyone sit down!” The beaver looked around the room and glared everyone into place. “We are all here and it’s time to begin. Time enough indeed—” He cut Edward off before he could even get the first syllables of his oh-so-obvious interjection out.

“So. Shall I tell you a tale? And will you listen?” He swept the room with his glare, pausing momentarily on the indignant rabbit before resting his gaze on the sullen farmer perched on the edge of his rickety seat. “Will you listen?” he repeated softly.

“I … I don’t want to know,” Caroline stated abruptly from her seat by the kitchen. “I don’t,” she repeated sullenly. “Not if it’s got anything to do with going back. Or with you … you animals, or … I just don’t want to know.” She stared at her hands, which she had been wringing almost continually in her lap. After a moment she stood up. “I’ll be in the kitchen.”

Edward swung back to face the beaver in time to catch a smug wrinkling of his eyes. Apparently he had anticipated this turn of events. Well, at least the bleeding rodent had managed to keep that insipid smirk off his face for once.

“Enough.” The Beaver’s tone cut across the swell of murmuring that had started up upon Caroline’s departure. “Any more objections? No? Then let us begin.

“An old friend of mine once asked me if I believed in karma or pre-destiny. Not really my cup of tea, I told him, but it is interesting how many aphorisms and old sayings we have that basically repeat the same message: ‘What goes around comes around.’ And now I discover that by some peculiar twist of ironic kismet, I have become an instrument of karma. Something I’m sure my dear friend Edward will find infinitely amusing.

“So. All of us here, with the notable exception of Caroline who remains more of an interested bystander, or should that be uninterested bystander?” The beaver paused to glance at the kitchen entranceway and smile at his own witticism. “To continue, we have all been woven into a fabric not of our own choosing, but nevertheless, one of our own making. Each of us has made choices that determined the warp and weft of cloth that brings us here tonight. Oh, to be sure, we were not the weavers, there was no design inherent in our choices, but we have turned the simple cloth into a masterful creation of infinite complexity, each and every one of us and none more so than myself, who only sought to untangle the threads.”

The beaver paused and sipped his drink. “Oh yes, it was quite a shock to me. I have always known myself to be a player in life’s grand game, but to discover I am ultimately as much a game piece as game master was a bit of a shock to the system. Still and all…” The beaver paused as he caught the smug expression that had settled on Edwards whiskered face over the preceding few minutes. “Yes, yes,” he addressed the rabbit in an amazingly conciliatory tone, “You were right. Each and every time you told me. Every bloody time you repeated yourself, again and again, incessantly.” The beaver’s tone sharpened, “And, like everyone else in the universe, when presented with all things lectured and admonished and smacking of pedantry, I ignored you.

“Doesn’t take a genius to figure out that was going to happen.”

Edward refused to look abashed and simply folded his short arms and, for once, silently sat back, nodding for the beaver to continue.

“So. My friend of old. He asked me that question one day, high above the Atlantic Ocean as we talked about the realities of right and wrong. A conversation that would never have happened if not for the annoying hounding of my lucky-rabbit-footed colleague here. Your first threading in this particular textile, although not the first by far in whole cloth of our association.” The Beaver and Edward nodded graciously to each other like nothing so much as pair of toga-swathed ancient Greeks concluding a long and lovingly contested debate.

“That I made a friend that day remains the dearest event of my long life, and the discussion that ensued has shaped my philosophy ever since. A discussion, I may note for interest’s sake, that occurred between a stowaway beaver and a fourteen-year-old boy. Not usually the stuff of change, but you know what they say: ‘from the mouths of babes …'”

“You see, what we two discovered was that the nature of right and wrong, good and evil per se, was not so much black and white — hardly an original thought, I know — nor is it simply shades of gray to be dismissed as some unmeasurable continuum. No, we concluded that actions were inconsequential on any scale or system of measure without consideration of outcome and reaction. You see the reaction determined the scale of the action’s righteousness.”

“Oh, nothing so simplistic as ‘the end justifies the means’,” the beaver threw at the tall farmer who had begun to sneer. “Do try for a bit of sophistication. I for one am not fooled by your little hick impersonation, you know.”

“But perhaps we should leave the philosophy for later. Suffice it to say that from that moment on, I tended to act based on not some outwardly imposed scale of societal claptrap, but on the true and actual outcomes likely to emerge. You can see how that might be quite freeing. It was also, much to my chagrin at times, just as limiting as any other code of ethics.” Again the beaver nodded to Edward, whose ears were cocked at a peculiar jaunty angle: listening intently yet conveying the impression of approval, the self-satisfied teacher pleased with a particularly apt pupil.

“That was, I now realize, the beginning of the end. This end. For doubt not tonight is definitely an ending for me, if not for all of us here.” Another nod to Edward.

“Gareth.” The young man on the couch startled a bit. He sat a bit straighter, remembering he was not just a witness to this little drama. “Would you care to tell everyone what was in the envelope you picked up yesterday from the lawyers, the inestimably creepy Jones & Jones?”

Moskevitch jerked his head to stare at the Beaver, suddenly internalizing the things that had been said earlier. “Lawyers? You picked up …”

“Please, Mr. Moskevitch — Jason, if I may — I already told you Gareth here was your son. Of course he picked up the envelope. Are the dots connecting yet? Has the picture emerged, or do you need another drink to kick your brain into action?” The Beaver’s suddenly sarcastic tone said volumes about how he felt about the rough man in the wicker chair. “But please, keep your efforts to catch up silent for the moment. You are disturbing my most excellent flow.”

The beaver turned back to Gareth and smiled encouragingly.

“Umm, well. My dad — my step-dad — and I signed a bunch of papers and the —” Gareth grinned at the beaver “— ‘creepy’ lawyer handed me a big envelope with papers. Lawyer-type stuff mostly, but there were a bunch of handwritten journals and some certificates or something like that. He said that it was my inheritance, that if I had any questions after going through it all I could contact them.” Gareth looked at the sullen farmer. “Questions. Right. Why would I have questions when everything is so clear?” Rowan grabbed his hand and squeezed it reassuringly. The bitterness in Gareth’s tone was enough to make everyone, including the beaver, wince.

“Papers. And some journals. And upon your examining the contents, did anything immediately pop out for you?”

Gareth smiled and squeezed Rowan’s hand back happily. “For me? Nope. But Miss Smarty-pants here found this receipt thing for a bottle of wine that was stored in the cellar at Bon Homme’s. That fancy-assed french restaurant down on 11th. It was a Chateau something or other that was supposedly from Thomas Jefferson’s collection … you know, President Thomas Jefferson … how cool is that? So anyway, we decided to go get it. Maybe have a celebratory drink if we could find something to celebrate other than my old man finally unstiffening enough to get me this stuff.” Gareth’s momentary good humour dissolved. “I still don’t understand why he kept it all from me.”

After a moment his eyes focussed on his father, his real father apparently. “And I don’t know who the fuck you are are either!” he spat. “Was it your bottle of wine? Was all that horrible crap in the journals your doing? What kind of fucking person are you?” The suddenly vehement Gareth started to surge to his feet but was pulled back down by Rowan’s firm grip on his arm.

“Later, Gareth honey. Later.” She wrapped her long arms around his rigid shoulders and tucked her head against him. “We said we’d deal with it later.”

The rage on Gareth’s face slowly faded. Jason Moskevitch’s face, however, was suffused with an unhealthy shade of burgundy, and he was visibly restraining himself, fist clenched and arms locked at his sides.

Edward, noticing the for-now caged wild animal in their midst, spoke softly into the silence. “All things in their time and place, Gareth. And you as well, Mr Moskevitch. All things in their time and place. Now is a time for answers, not anger. Shall we all not endeavour to let it go in order to attain our hearts’ desire?”

“If I may?” Edward enquired of the beaver, who hadn’t reacted to the outburst.

The beaver regarded him for a moment and replied, “Do. But only the what. Not the how. Not yet, at any rate.”

Edward cleared his throat and, to the beaver’s long-suffering amusement, began in his most authoritative tone. “The bottle in question, a Chateau Margaux 1787, a bottle indeed from Thomas Jefferson’s collection, was, in 1989, valued at an unprecedented $500,000 by its then owner, a New York wine merchant called William Sokolin.” The beaver, in anticipation, was watching the faces of all the rooms occupants as they listened to this pronouncement. Even the angry Mr. Moskevitch was unable to contain his shock and surprise, although it was quickly smothered by another wave of anger. “Château Margaux, archaically La Mothe de Margaux, is a wine estate of Bordeaux wine. The estate’s best wines are very expensive, very expensive indeed.”

Edward smiled at his gathered pupils and continued, “The estate is located in the commune of Margaux on the left bank of the Garonne estuary in the Médoc region, in the département of Gironde, and the wine produced is delimited to the AOC of Margaux.” Cutting him off, the Beaver cleared his throat and muttered, “Get on with it, you ridiculous rabbit.”

Edward frowned at the interruption but moved on quickly. “Upon visiting Bordeaux in 1787, Thomas Jefferson made note of Château Margaux as one of the, and I quote, ‘four vineyards of first quality.’ Based on that most excellent assessment, he apparently made several acquisitions at that time. Indeed the vintages were one of four wines to achieve Premier cru status in the Bordeaux Classification of 1855. Following the French Revolution, the owner, one Elie du Barry, was executed by guillotine and the estate expropriated, eventually becoming the property of the citizen Miqueau, who neglected its care and maintenance. Eventually…”

“Enough,” the beaver interrupted again. “Enough.”

“So,” the beaver picked up the tale, “we have a bottle of wine, apparently originally purchased by President Jefferson himself. But besides the ridiculous half-million-dollar valuation, why should we care? Not a rhetorical question, my dear Jason. Do you know why we should care?” The beaver scrutinized the weathered face. “Honestly, I am interested. How much do you know?”

“Nuff. I know nuff to know I ain’t all that curious to know more. But no, to answer yur question. Don’t know nuttin’ ’bout yur hoity-toity wine. Just knew it was sitting there in that fancy restaurant. Never really gave it much consideration as a cold beer’s good enough fur me. Frankly never did give much in that there packet much consideration. Never was for me, wish it still weren’t.”

“I see. I had wondered.” The beaver rose out of his blankets, the rose-tinged bandage visible now. “Well I think we will get back to the wine in just a moment. First I need to introduce you here to a new character, the central player, if you will.

“You,” the beaver dipped his head in Mosevitch’s direction, “are already intimately acquainted with this latest introduction.” This pronouncement was acknowledged by the farmer’s aborted move to spit at the pending announcement of the new participant in the slowly unfolding drama. Again, Edward noticed the rigid restraint that seemed to characterize the farmer’s reaction to what was being revealed. A curious mix of guilt, responsibility, and the desire to stuff it back in whatever hole it had emerged from.

“Barnabus — Barney, our new player — was Jason here’s father and thus your, and Caroline’s, grandfather,” the beaver pronounced to Gareth. “He was the owner of the packet and contents you picked up at Jones & Jones yesterday. I believe they had been deposited there by our new friend Jason, although it may have been Barney himself who did so.”

“It was that bastard, right enough. He drug me along, but I had nothing to do wit’ it. I touched as little of that man’s leavings as I could and burned as much else as I could.”

“Ah,” the beaver continued. “So, as Mr. Moskevitch — why did you pick such a ridiculous last name?” The farmer simply grunted and glared at the beaver. “So, as Mr. Moskevitch confirms, the envelope was deposited, for posterity shall we say, by Barnabus, a man with no last name to call his own, to pass on what little he could to his unwanted and unanticipated heirs. Much of it is of no consequence to anyone but family, certain historians, and perhaps the police. Although I do believe they would all be cold cases.”

Marking the confused expressions of his compatriots, the Beaver continued. “Perhaps this would be an excellent time to continue with the tale of our Chateau Margaux. As a silent witness to the emerging nature of our new friend Barney, so to speak. For as you have no doubt begun to conclude, Barney was not a man of sterling character.

“Not his fault, but we will get to that in a moment,” the beaver stated a bit defensively. “It seems that the cleverness of our Barney was generally applied to lining his own pockets and a chance meeting with one William Sokolin presented him with an opportunity. I had mentioned that the wine in question — ah, where is the wine in question, Gareth?”

“In the kitchen, above the stove.”

This made the beaver smile. “In the kitchen, above the stove,” he repeated.

“The bottle in question, which now resides ‘in the kitchen, above the stove,’ had been valuated by the wine dealer Mr. Sokolin at $500,000. A ridiculously inflated figure assigned to the bottle for some unknown purpose of Sokolin himself. Barney, obviously realizing that figure to be skewed and surmising financial instability on the part of Sokolin, ingratiated himself with the wine dealer — he was quite magnificent at doing that, such a wasted talent — and concocted a scheme wherein the wine bottle would be broken, contents undrunk, and the insurance thereby collected.”

“And so it came to pass that Sokolin took the wine with him to a Margaux dinner especially arranged at the Four Seasons Hotel, and a ‘waiter’ knocked the bottle over, breaking it. Upon much consideration the insurers paid out tidy $225,000 judging Mr. Sokolin’s figure to have been inflated.

“That figure incidentally makes this bottle, what —”

“— the most expensive,” Edward stated succinctly.

“— the most expensive bottle of wine in history. About —”

“— $37,500 per glass.”

“Thank you, Edward, $37,500 per glass. Of course it doesn’t actually hold this distinction, as it was never sold, or drunk, while holding this valuation. But still, quite a pricey bottle of vino if I do say so myself.” The eyes in the room had been darting towards the kitchen throughout this banter, and now everyone was frankly staring.

“But back to that ‘bastard,’ as Jason so intimately referred to him. Barney’s mistake was believing Sokolin’s insistence that the insurance company would pay out a full $300,000 and the paltry $225K cheated him out of quite a bit of his profit, as Mr. Solokin insisted on keeping his original $150,000 share. With no way beyond blackmail — which wasn’t going to work since the reappearance of the wine would also mean his paltry $75,000 cash in hand would also disappear back into the insurer’s pockets — or violence of getting his full 50% share out of the equally unscrupulously wine dealer, Barney settled for retaining possession of the bottle of Chateau Margaux in lieu of his full share. It then disappeared until retrieved by young Gareth here.

“Unlike many of Barney’s investments, this one wasn’t as easy to piss away and remains one of his few remaining significant monetary assets.”

“Wahl, I dun’t understand,” Rowan interjected. “What has alla this ta do with a talkin’ beaver and a bunny with’n a stick up its arse?”

Although the beaver was ready to snap at Rowan for her interruption, her colourful description of Edward’s perennial stodginess made him snort out loud instead. “What does it have to do with me and my bunny buddy here?” the beaver choked out between  chuckles. “Well, that comes down to who Barney really was. And that comes back to my old friend.”

The beaver took a deep breath and retold the story that his friend Albert had related to him those many years ago. How his wife and son had been stolen away by a jealous cousin and years of fruitless searching had turned up nothing until he finally turned to his childhood friend the Beaver to continue after he passed on. By the time he had finished the tale, all trace of humour had fled the beaver’s visage and more than a hint of moisture had collected at the corner of his eyes. “I couldn’t turn my back on him. And I have spent decades carrying on the search.” The beaver shook his head and cleared his throat. “As for my lagomorphic companion, that is more of a coincidence. A parallel pattern, as it were, in our mutual weave.”

“Yes, exactly,” Edward began. “It took quite a bit of time for me to piece it together given all the coincidence and intertwined realities, but eventually I concluded that it was indeed a ‘parallel pattern,’ as you say.” Edward hopped off his seat and moved to stand in front although slightly to the side of his old adversary. “If I may?” He glanced quickly at the beaver over his tiny shoulder.

Without waiting for a reply, Edward continued. “You see, I was trying to solve a problem of my own, or more correctly a problem that had been assigned to be my own. And, as has so often been the case, the chaotic nature of our buck-toothed friend here …”

“Who are you calling buck-toothed? You orthodontically challenged varmint!”

“… meant that our paths would cross. I gave it very little thought until he started to interfere with a successful resolution. For while we had been in conflict many times, it was generally more of a methodological conflict. The nature of the desired outcomes was rarely contested. This time, however, it seemed that we might actually be at odds with respect to our finally goals. This was unacceptable.” Edward acknowledged the ironic expression on the beaver’s face and continued. “In order to deal with my competitor the beaver’s interference, I first had to discover his motivation. I admit the presence of Albert and his son Barney was hidden from my investigations until very late in the game. So in order not to lose forward progress, I decided to match my efforts to my colleague’s until such time as I could take decisive action.”

Seeing the blank looks on the faces around him and the smirk on the beaver’s, Edward decided to cut to the chase. “I helped him out. In order to screw him. Simple, really.”

“But what was your goal? Your original goal, I mean,” Gareth asked in a confused tone.

“Yah. Thar was some sorta secret mission? What kinda secret agent is barely a foot tall anyhow?” Rowan added.

“As to that, well, that is a tale for another day,” Edward replied. The beaver was surprised that Edward was actually trying to keep the condescension out of his tone, although the effort apparently needed some work based on the expressions of Gareth and Rowan. Edward also seemed to notice and so continued, “Suffice it to say for now that while I quite enjoy being a rabbit — it is my natural form, by the way — it is by no means my only option. And as for my particular goals in this case, let me just say that in that packet there are a few tidbits of information I need recover in order to set things on a more … desirable … path.”

“I trust that will acceptable to you, Gareth, as the current rightful owner. I have been looking for that information for quite a long time and don’t really want to have to wait much longer.”

Gareth frowned slightly at the vaguely threatening undertone of the rabbit’s question and glanced towards the beaver. The encouraging smile reassured him for no particular reason, and he jerked his head at the waiting rabbit. “We can work something out, I’m pretty sure. But if it involves my family, then I have to tell you, I am gonna want to know. I’m pretty stubborn about that.”

“Indeed. We can ‘work something out,’ I’m sure. As for the rest of my tale. Although I disagreed with the methods — as per usual — I have no qualms with the outcomes, now that I understand more fully, and given, of course, my ultimate access to what I need.” Edward stepped aside and relinquished the floor to the beaver once again.

But before the Beaver could resume his tale, Gareth asked, “So this Barney, my grandfather, was the son of your friend Albert? Albert was my great-grandfather?”

“Yes, and the task he laid at my feet was to ensure the safety and well-being of his line. That includes you, Jason, whether you like it or not.”

The beaver didn’t look like he was prepared to discuss it, but the stolid farmer piped up anyway. “I don’t need nothin’ from the like of you. I got what I need and when Carol comes on home I’ll be done with ya.” He paused and stared hard at Gareth, his expression thawing slightly. “But you’ll be welcome to visit whenever it suits ya. I reckon we have a thing or two to discuss private like. Bring your friend here if you have a mind to, but none of these critters. Can’t say as I ever need to associate with talking animals ever again.”

“I can work with that; with Gareth’s cooperation, of course.” Gareth smiled weakly in agreement. “Settled then. I take it money isn’t going to be an issue on Mr Moskevitch’s behalf, so Gareth and I will deal with that aspect in the future. There is the issue of Caroline, though. I have made a promise to her, and it’s not likely she will choose to return to your farm.”

Moskevitch sputtered and leaned forward violently. “Look here, you overgrown fleabag, I’ll be doing with my daughter …”

“Mr. Moskevitch … Father … let it be, please? I’ll deal with Caroline for now. She and I have a lot to talk about, more, I guess, than you and she do. I’ll see that she’s okay, and we can all discuss where she settles when everything plays itself out.”

The beaver watched this little exchange with a small sense of relief. There was still the matter of a few gun-toting maniacs to deal with, and he needed Caroline around if he was going to get that resolved.

Jason Moskevitch continued the motion he had begun a few moments earlier and stood glaring down at the beaver. Without taking his eyes off the brown creature before him, he said with barely veiled anger, “Well, I guess that’s okay. Fur now. Carol can give you the address and number, and I will be expecting to hear from ya. So will the missus.” With a last glare at the beaver, he swung about and stepped towards Gareth, hand outstretched. “I’ve been pleased to make your acquaintance, company notwithstanding.” He covered Gareth’s hand with his own left hand and held it for a moment.

“Tell your mother I’m still an ass. But like as not I’ll always be. And tell her I’m sorry, for what it’s worth.”

The expression of Jason’s face slammed shut any hope of getting more out of the farmer, and Gareth held his tongue. It seemed he had a conversation with his mother to look forward to on top of everything else.

The lanky farmer stepped to the kitchen entrance, and everyone felt rather than heard the low rumble of whatever he had to say to his daughter, but there was no answer. Shaking his head, Moksevitch back away and took in the room with one last glare before letting himself out.

After a moment of silence, Gareth stepped into the kitchen and said, “He’s gone. Join us if you want … OK, then.” He flopped back onto the couch beside Rowan, twined his fingers into her comforting grip, and closed his eyes. “She’ll stay in the kitchen for now,” he told the room. “So. What else do we need to know?”

“Need?” the beaver replied. “Not much.” After a moment he added, “Still, there are a few facts that might be helpful now and again.”

“Hit me.”

Can you keep up? Baby boy, make me lose my breath … Oh never mind, before your time. Anyway, if you read through those journals, you will come to the conclusion, as I have, that Barney was first a bad man but never really was a violent one, and second a product of his environment. That doesn’t excuse the many horrible things he did to others, but he was more a victim of his own programming than an inherent evil-doer. This is important to me, and it would have been important to Albert; Barnabus, as he came to be known, was a broken creation, not a flawed one. A cautionary tale if you ever have kids.” He winked at Rowan.

“It is also important to know that for all the schemes and thefts and swindles perpetrated by Barney, he never truly destroyed anyone else’s life. Oh, to be sure, there was a pretty wide swath of destruction and betrayal in his wake, but in the end he was rarely successful. The Chateau Margaux scheme was typical: dream big and walk away with whatever was easily grasped.

“There was this one hustle up Alberta way … well, let’s just say he did his best to break someone’s spirit but left town with a nice ride and without a cent in his pocket. And people — well, people heal, especially with a little love.” For a moment the beaver’s attention drifted. Edward’s hind leg slammed into the hardwood floor, causing Gareth and Rowan to jump and look quickly at him.

“I have to say, I tend to agree with the beaver here. Your grandfather was a complicated person, the result of two opposing forces colliding, and I fear it served to screw up whatever he turned his hand to, whether it was from the best or worst motivations. His mentor, on the other hand, one of those forces I mentioned — there was a successful creature, to too many people’s vast misfortune. The topic, young Gareth, of our future negotiations, if you care to know. Much too successful indeed.”

Seeing the beaver had regained control of himself, Edward gestured to him. “So where does all this leave us?”

“Well, on the asset side, Gareth has his own money, and there will be bits here and there that we find in the papers. While the investments were mostly poor ones, the remains still add up, and I imagine we will see enough for him to set himself up comfortably. He’ll still have to work for a living, I suppose, but definitely enough to add some padding here and there.”

“The journals in and of themselves are probably useless. I wouldn’t recommend letting them surface. There would be too many complications for you and your father that frankly are none of your doing. Let sleeping dogs lie, I say. Edward?”

“Good enough. Mr. Moskevitch doesn’t seem likely to follow in his father’s footsteps. And young Gareth here will have you to keep an eye on him, I suppose, in case he gets any ideas.”

“Ah yes. I suppose we shall see. Other than that, what we are left with is a very expensive, yet very impossible bottle of Chateau Margaux 1787 at $37,500 a glass. Anyone thirsty?” The weak laughter at his little joke reflected everyone’s discomfort with the subject.

“Could I just sell it anonymously?” Gareth ventured.

“Well, you have to understand that most of its value is its provenance. And since the ‘real’ Jefferson bottle was broken years ago, this one would fetch substantially less.” Edward paused and thought for a moment. “Still, it, like many of Barnabus’ bequeathments, has value if you discount the original investment. I shouldn’t guess you would get less than twenty or thirty thousand dollars at this point. Not bad, given the fortuitous lack of original investment.”

Gareth glanced at Rowan and, seeing agreement there, asked, “Can you help me with that, Edward? We’ll use the proceeds to help set Caroline up.”

“Delighted, dear boy. A pleasure, really.”

“Well, no time like the present to tell her, then. Be a nice first gift for my new sister.” Gareth rolled off the couch and, grabbing Rowan’s hand again, dragged her off to the kitchen.

Edward turned and peered archly at the beaver, who had retreated back into his blankets.

“Oh, don’t look at me like that, you annoying rabbit. Did you really think I would go into all that? Bloody stupid idea, and that much of a fool I am not. Better to leave it for another day. Or never. Never sounds pretty damned good right now.”

Edward smiled sweetly and bowed to the swaddled beaver. “I agree entirely, your highness. Never sounds just right.”

***

Staring at the cork brought a lot of emotions to the surface. But of the hundreds of times the beaver had brought it out, they had all sprung from one image: the look on Gareth and Rowan’s face as they emerged from the kitchen moments later supporting a drunken Caroline between them and sight of the empty bottle of half-million-dollar wine dangling haphazardly in the young woman’s hands.

The old beaver placed the cork back in the old box with its piles of yellowed pages and considered Meredith. What was it James Bond had said in that terrible Sean Connery reboot? Never say never. I think it’s time to tell her a little story …

 

12:30

12:30

The Beaver rolled the stained wine cork between his gnarled fingers and lowered himself back into the pile of old blankets and worn leather. “Quite a night,” he rasped softly. He rolled on to his side with a grunt of pain and sighed.

“Are you okay old friend?”

For the hundredth time since the Beaver had returned to the farm he smiled and congratulated himself. Best damn decision he ever made. He turned his head to smile at the most beautiful woman in the world tending a fresh batch of biscuits at the stove and shared the smile with her. Seeing his smile she gave him one back in return and continued transferring his steaming hot breakfast to the cooling rack. Yes, it was good to be back.

12:29

12:29

It had been a real nice night, all those years ago. In retrospect, one couldn’t have asked for a more perfect evening in which to stage one’s triumph. It still made the beaver smirk now and again when he realized how all the stars had aligned so perfectly. “Showed that damn bunny a thing or two,” the Beaver grunted between hacks and blew his nose on the faded red gingham hanky.

Weather had been perfect, the moon full and room full of expectant audience members eager for the finale. Not even the overblown ego of the pestiferous Peter Cottontail managed to break the spell he had cast over the room. Yes, all in all a perfect stage for a perfect ending. “Too bad about that wine, though…” the Beaver murmured, staring at the torn label in the yellowed cardboard box. “Yep, too, too bad…”

12:28

12:28

“Oh for f…!”

“The damn cat’s been at my box again. No respect for history. Bloody barbarians. Always chewing on something…”

12:27

The Beaver rolled over and ran a paw through his grey and grizzled fur. It had been a long time since he’d thought of those days, a long time indeed. Using a well-worn and polished stick he shuffled over to the old box on the shelf by the fireplace.

“Maybe we’ll have a look in the old box… for memory’s sake…”

12:26

Tick tock,
Tick tock,
Tick tock,
Tick tock,
Tick tock,
Tick tock,
Tick tock,
Tick tock,
Tick tock,
Tick tock,
Rinnnnnngggggggg-rinnnnnngggggggg

12:18

12:18

“A-a-a-hem…”

“Verse most perverse. Let us begin…”


On this day we examine our prize
For at our age we are thus wise
No feathered owls in cages gilt
Will glare at us with eyes atilt
Nor deny us our sagacity
From lofty perch in yonder tree

It seems as though we’ve reached an age
Of chapters full and many a page
But though we see this smallish break
We trust tomorrow new tale we’ll make
The story’s sweet and fun and bold
But there remains so much not told

Thus we begin another new path
And forward we float and flow and waft
With companions true and ever boon
This journey’s end will not be soon
And all together we shall grow
Through each moment we as one shall go

12:17

12:17

“Where…? I can’t seem to find… What page is this? Are be on about that silly wagon again?”

The sharply folded note slipped out of the unruly stack and dropped to the marble floor with a sharp ‘clack’.

“What…?”

“Bugger! Oh bloody hell. Now’ve got blood… Stupid paper cuts. Just… Oh my good Lord. He can’t do this! I won’t stand for it! I am the narrator here!”

“I am putting my foot… blerch…”