By Merrilynn B. Bougourd.
The orchard owner arrived first and started the pot of coffee. He was nervous about this meeting; worried he might have been followed. You can’t be sure of anything in these trying times except the magic odor of the brewing coffee that wafted throughout the spacious hall.
The gardener arrived next hauling a burlap bag of his crop to share. That white scraggly beard of the image of summer Santa wearing a short sleeved blue shirt and jeans came to mind. “Where’s your contribution?” He grunted at the orchard owner as he dropped his sack.
“In my truck – undercover.” The orchard owner paused a moment before adding, “I don’t like risk as much as you seem to.”
“Why do you worry so much? Act natural. You suck at criminal enterprise you know.”
The beekeeper arrived just then. “Coffee smells good is everybody here Jeepers it’s getting warm.” He often ran his sentences together. The bees probably don’t care how he talks, but sometimes that train of thought went off the tracks.
“We are waiting on one more – he’s bringing lemons.”
“Do we make the product here?”
“Lord no! We each take ingredients back to our safe place and make it there. Less chance of all of us getting caught. I cannot stress enough that we need to be very very careful!”
“Again with your worry wart talk. Just think of it like this: the beekeeper and orchard owner need each other for pollination right? I just happen to have a bumper crop of herbs I’m sharing with a couple of pals from old school.”
“What about lemon guy?”
“He’s visiting his mom this week and wanted to brag about his lemon tree. He’s an old pal, too. Can’t friends get together anymore for a cup of Joe?”
They all heard the whistling then – Lemon tree very pretty and the lemon flowers sweet/but the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat.
“Very funny smart ass. How many did you bring?”
“Three apiece. That will be all for awhile because I think I have a bug.”
Orchard Owners mind went wild with panic over that news. “How did you catch a bug? Did someone deliberately infect your crop?”
“I don’t think so, but I’m watching the area to be sure. Some of the aloe farmers got arrested last week.” Lemon guy shook his head and told them about the rumor. “They were all slicing and sluicing together – just one big party. The Agency didn’t even give them a chance to smooth it over – just boom. Handcuffs and hauled off. No one has heard from them since.”
Orchard Owner looked at Herb Farmer, “You think I’m paranoid? It’s not paranoia when they really are out to get you.”
“They were sloppy,” came the answer. “You can’t make a juicing party look like a backyard BBQ.”
Beekeeper sat down with his cup of freshly brewed coffee, carefully adding his homemade sweetener. “Sit down guys, let’s make this look like what it is: Old school chums getting together for a chat. How’s your mom, by the way? Is her arthritis getting any better? That ginger concoction does the trick for me. Oh yeah, that’s right, I have some ginger root for all of you.”
The conspirators were quiet until all had settled in with their coffee.
“Anyone want to smoke a bowl? At least some things are still legal in this country.”
The quiet continued until the bowl had been passed around twice. They had an unspoken rule: If one smoked, they all smoked. You really can’t be too careful these days. No one could relax until they all got relaxed.
“As Ben Franklin once said, ‘We must all hang together or assuredly, we will all hang separately.'”
“You say that every time.”
“Yeah, well, it’s as true today as it was in 1776”
“What’s that noise?”
“You’re hearing things, again.”
“Good morning gentlemen,” the man in uniform said. He did looking dashing in uniform and was happy his wife appreciated it. “We do have the building surrounded, but if you’re all innocent why you have nothing to worry about.”
Lemon Tree Guy wondered how a government minion could scowl and smile at the same time.
“I’d offer you some smoke officer, but of course you’re on duty…”
“Never mind that. What are you four up to?”
Orchard Owner thought: 6’2″ but didn’t repeat that old joke. Instead he answered, “We aren’t ‘up to’ anything officer. Just four guys getting together for coffee.
“Empty your pockets, please.”
None of them moved.
“Don’t make me ask you again.”
Beekeeper looked at his pals and grinned. “Let’s make him ask us twice just for fun.” Then, before the nightstick could come out, Beekeeper was out of range but pulled something from his jacket and let it fly…
It stuck to the officer’s pristine coat oozing and buzzing. They all laughed when that pompous ass began to dance around. “He needs a little sweetening up, don’t you think?”
In the chaos, Herb Farmer disarmed Officer of his nightstick and handcuffs, binding him smartly. Beekeeper pulled the sticky honeycomb and bees from his chest and Orchard Owner stuffed a napkin in his mouth. Lemon Tree Guy had gone to the door to see if the coast was clear.
“There’s two officers out there. Two that we can see, anyway. What now?”
“It’s time for Plan B. Who has a Plan B?”
“Hey – Why didn’t we want to empty our pockets?”
They all looked at Lemon Tree Guy. “Are you crazy?” “They still need probable cause to ask.”
“Because,” said Herb Farmer, “if lemons, ginger and my Holy Basil over there were all together, they’d know what we are conspiring to make.” He looked at Orchard Farmer then and asked, “What size are the containers you brought?”
“Quart. I wanted to bring a usable amount but not too big to carry around. They watch the ACV production like a hawk. Look guys, we should do this later. Right now why don’t we all just leave.”
“Quit being so chicken,” said Herb Farmer.
“What are we going to do with this guy?” asked Lemon Tree Guy
Beekeeper said, “OK. I think I got a plan. Put this guy in the bathroom because that’s where we are going to tell the boys outside that he is. Orchard and I will head to Orchard’s truck and get the vinegar from undercover so you can grab it. Here’s your piece of ginger. Gimme my lemons.
As the lemons were passed around Lemon Tree Guy asked, “Where’s the honey; not in your coat, I hope. I like mine bee free.”
“Already in your vehicles under your front seats”
“What? How did you get it in there?”
Herb Farmer’s big sack was a problem. He had brought a LOT of Holy Basil for each of them, and he parceled it out.
“Why did you bring so much?”
“So we don’t have to get together so often. I like you guys but not that much.” They struggled a bit to stuff the bags under their coats. “At least we parked close together.”
Orchard Owner and Beekeeper headed out the door, nonchalantly talking about pollination while Lemon Tree Guy and Herb Farmer deposited the bound and gagged officer in the john.
“Sorry about this, but you really should think about the laws you choose to enforce.” Lemon Guy added, “Making and drinking herbal tea isn’t practicing medicine without a license, it doesn’t promise to cure anything, it just boosts the immune system without pills.”
The officer answered with a dirty look of defiance, because it was all he could manage.
“Yeah, Yeah, I know, you’re just following orders.”
The door closed and problem #1 was behind them. Lemon Tree Guy and Herb Farmer followed their compatriots to Orchard’s truck. “Let’s make this quick.” “Not too quick.”
Herb reached into the truck, grabbed his booty, slapped Orchard on the back and said, “Catch you on the flip side” and walked off.
Lemon Tree Guy stood a moment first, then shook their hands. “Gotta make it look real.” He grabbed his jug of apple cider vinegar and walked to his rental car. He could feel the bag of basil slipping beneath his coat and hoped he’d make it. He fumbled a bit with his keys when one of the officers called out to him.
“Where’s the Captain?”
“In the bathroom last we saw, he said he was going to be there awhile.”
Orchard Owner looked sideways at Beekeeper and asked, “How did you get the honey into our vehicles?”
“Locks only keep honest people out,” he grinned. “Two of you hadn’t even locked up, and my handy, dandy slim jim did the rest.”
Orchard had one other question for his long time friend. “Do you think one of us is a rat? I mean why did the cops show up this time? It’s quite the coincidence, don’t you think?”
“Maybe. But we all know what we risk trying to keep our freedom, and the government does have eyes and spies everywhere.”
The parking lot had cleared of its conspirators. Orchard’s last view of the scene showed two uniforms leaning against their cars waiting for their Captain to emerge. He wondered how long they’d wait.
When the coast was clear one of them doubled back, pulling right up to the door. He reentered the building and headed straight to the bathroom to free the hostage. “I think that went well, don’t you?”
“Easy for you to say. You weren’t constrained in a dirty toilet. I’m going to get the Health Dept on these guys.”
“Well, you learned something didn’t you? Now you know who they are, and this lead ought to be worth something.”
The officer pulled a packet from his coat. Get this in soil as soon as you can.”
Aloe. This precious piece was the start of his new future.
“Catch you later.”
MERRILYN B. BOUGOURD has been previously published by LSS if you Google her name, she is the only one; just like Tigger. This story was inspired by the recipe for Holy Tea and may we never lose the freedom to make a cup.