On a sunny Monday morning in early June, the day after Healing’s seventy-first birthday, Tova returns to the little old house from walking Raaziyah and Ozan to Esther’s house for the last day of school – the elders of the collective gathered at the table on the deck having tea and being entertained by Zubina, while the dogs await their first walk of the day.
Healing is holding the baby girl so she’s standing and facing him as she practices the preliminary motions of walking.
“I have an announcement,” says Tova, sitting down next to Naomi.
“Oh good,” says Naomi, taking Tova’s hand. “We love announcements.”
“I have been offered a role in a movie,” says Tova, amazed to be saying so. “To be filmed in Portland of all places, in September, directed by Morris Goodman with a cast of well-known actors and me. A five-week shoot. I told Morris if I took the part I would need to come home every ten days for two days, and he said he would arrange the shooting schedule to accommodate me. So… with your blessing I will leave Oz and Raaz in your care while I’m in Portland. I need to let Morris know by tomorrow.”
“You have our blessing,” says Jahera, thrilled for Tova. “How did Morris know of you?”
“He saw Her Eloquent Refusal a couple years ago and liked me in it, and then Daniel screened a rough cut of Delphine and the Sorcerer for him two weeks ago when he was in France, after which he sent me the script he wrote called With Cream Or Black and offered me a dizzying sum to play the part of Anna. I read the script three times and decided to do it.”
“Might you tell us what you mean by dizzying?” asks Naomi, looking over the tops of her glasses at Naomi.
“Three hundred thousand dollars,” says Tova, laughing at the absurdity of such a sum. “Ten times what I made for Delphine.”
“My God,” says Healing, handing Zubina to Jean. “You’ll be set for years to come.”
“What is the movie about?” asks Maahiah, marveling at Tova’s good fortune.
“It’s about a woman named Anna who owns a food truck with her two zany friends,” says Tova, relieved to know her elders approve. “And the many culinary and romantic adventures they have in Portland.”
“A food movie,” says Jean, bouncing Zubina. “Most of my favorite movies are food movies.”
“What kind of food will you make in your food truck?” asks Maahiah, who spends hours every day cooking and baking for the collective as well as for several needy folks in town.
“Nouvelle Tex-Mex,” says Tova, laughing again. “One of my zany friends is Mexican, the other French.”
“I’m so happy for you,” says Jahera, embracing Tova. “The children will be fine, especially if you come home a few times during your adventure.”
“What a remarkable life you’ve had, Tova,” says Naomi, gazing in wonder at her granddaughter. “When you were nine-years-old you said you were going to be a movie actor, and now, despite a thousand detours, you are.”
At noon, Healing and Jahera leash Coosi and Miguelito and walk across town to Darvin and Esther’s house where they find the four homeschoolers playing a game Arjun calls Defending the Castle. Esther’s jungle gym is the castle and the four children are battling wave after wave of menacing aliens with their imaginary weapons.
And since this is the final day of school until classes resume in September, Jahera takes group photos of the kids wearing their magenta Nasturtium School T-shirts, as well as photos of the kids with Darvin and Healing and Arjun’s parents Kashvi and Ravi – a mid-June barbecue agreed upon so the entire faculty can gather for photos with the kids.
On the way home, Raaziyah holds Coosi’s leash and Ozan holds Miguelito’s leash.
“I’ll miss school,” says Raaziyah, sighing. “Maybe we could have summer school. They do at the Montessori.”
“With field trips to the beach and the art gallery and the forest,” says Ozan, nodding. “I know Arjun and Esther will want to come.”
“It’s wise to take a break now and then from academia,” says Healing, feigning seriousness. “However, I do think summer field trips are a splendid idea along with frequent play dates, as playing with your friends is called nowadays.”
“Can we go to Café Brava now?” asks Ozan, hopefully. “To celebrate the end of school with scones?”
“Lunch awaits at home,” says Jahera, tousling Ozan’s hair. “We’ll go to the café soon, but not today.”
“Will First Grade be harder than Kindergarten?” asks Raaziyah, frowning at Healing.
“Not harder,” says Healing, shaking his head. “Different. You’ll learn to read and write even better than you already do, and Kashvi and Ravi will teach you Mathematics. Maahiah and Jahera will teach Art and French. We’ll put on plays and you’ll memorize lines, and of course we’ll translate Moby Dick into Latin. But it won’t be hard. Just very interesting.”
Upon their arrival at the little old house, they find a medium-sized brown mutt awaiting them at the bottom of the stairs with no attendant human.
“Hello there,” says Healing, kneeling to pet the friendly dog. “Who are you?”
Finding a tag on the dog’s well-worn collar, Healing reads the name aloud. “Marzipan. A sweet name for a sweet pooch.”
“Is there a phone number?” asks Jahera, taking pictures of Miguelito and Coosi greeting Marzipan as he rolls onto his back to demonstrate a willingness to be their subordinate.
“There is,” says Healing, unclipping the leash from Miguelito’s collar and clipping it to Marzipan’s collar. “With a Los Angeles area code.”
When Marzipan is safe in the backyard with the resident hounds, Healing calls the phone number on the dog tag and a woman answers with a terse, “Hello?”
“Hello. I’m calling regarding a dog named Marzipan,” says Healing, cheerfully. “He just showed up at our house with your number on his dog tag, so…”
“Marzipan is there?” says the woman, excitedly. “Where are you calling from?”
“Mercy,” says Healing, excited by the woman’s excitement. “Do you know where that is? On the far north coast of California.”
“Just a minute,” says the woman, muffling her phone.
A moment later a man comes on the line and asks, “Is there a girl with the dog? Slender with dark brown hair?”
“Not that we’re aware of,” says Healing, guessing the girl must be the man’s daughter. “Only the dog. A four-year-old Beagle Bazenji Coonhound.”
“Could you hold for a minute?” asks the man, with a touch of anger in his voice.
“Happy to,” says Healing, guessing the man suspects this could be a crank call.
Now the woman comes on the line again.
“Hello?” she says, her voice shaking. “Are you still there?”
“Still here,” says Healing, guessing they’re having the call traced. “My name is Healing Weintraub. Am I correct in assuming Marzipan is your dog?”
“Yes,” says the woman. “Do you… do you know who we are?”
“I have no idea,” says Healing, quietly. “The tag reveals only the name Marzipan and the number I called. That’s all I know, along with what I have deduced from what the man said to me, which is that a girl and Marzipan went missing at the same time, though when that was I have no idea.”
“Okay,” says the woman, clearly stalling for time. “So… where did you say you were calling from?”
“Mercy,” says Healing, sighing. “If you’re having this call traced, I can save you the trouble by giving you our address and turning the dog over to the Sheriff of Mercy who is our good friend. Would you prefer I do that?”
“I’m sorry,” says the woman, starting to cry. “Here’s Melvin again.”
“Here’s the situation,” says Melvin, sounding annoyed. “Our daughter Rachel disappeared three years ago with her dog. We’re gonna fly up there right now. I see there’s an airport in Mercy.”
“Rather small,” says Healing, guessing he’s speaking to someone with lots of money. “I don’t believe it handles jets.”
“Where is this place? Siberia?” says the man, derisively. “Yeah. Okay. I see. No jets. So… we’ll fly to Santa Rosa and drive from there. We should get to you in about six hours. Can you keep the dog until then?”
“Long as you like,” says Healing, calmly. “We have several other dogs and Marzipan seems quite happy here. I recommend you stay at the East Cove Hotel.”
That evening, Melvin and Melanie Berkholtz, famous for their long-running sit-com Mel & Mel, arrive with their stunning Romanian assistant Tara and their imposing Israeli bodyguard Alan. Melanie is thrilled to see Marzipan, though Marzipan is clearly not thrilled to see the Berkholtzs and stays in the kitchen rather than joining them in the living room.
Sheriff Higuera is in attendance along with Raaziyah and Ozan who successfully lobbied to stay up to meet Marzipan’s owners, and after Healing introduces the members of the Weintraub collective to Melvin and Melanie, Tova, Ozan, and Raaziyah say goodnight and go across the street to their house.
“So Rachel disappeared three years ago,” says Melvin, a burly guy in his fifties with a thick New York accent.
“She was sixteen,” says Melanie, a buxom brunette in her late forties with a mild New York accent. “Beautiful and brilliant and the love of our life.”
“At first we thought she’d been kidnapped,” says Melvin, dolefully, “but when no ransom demand came, the police concluded Rachel was a runaway, though there’s no way she would have run away on her own. So if she wasn’t kidnapped, she was… I don’t know… under the influence of some psychopath.”
“She and Marzipan were inseparable,” says Melanie, sighing. “So we’re hoping she’s somewhere nearby.”
“The report LAPD sent me says your daughter is now nineteen,” says Ruben, who watches Mel & Mel every week with his wife. “Which means we cannot legally compel her to return to you should we make contact with her.”
“Listen,” says Melvin, glowering at Ruben. “You know nothing about our daughter. And when I say she didn’t leave on her own, you can take that as a fact, not conjecture. She was happy. Okay? She was doing great at school and excited about going to college. Don’t give me this compel crap. If you find her, she’s coming home.”
“I am compelled to inform you of the law,” says Ruben in his unflappable way. “Now that we have photos of her, we’ll be on the lookout.”
“We’re bringing in a private investigator,” says Melvin, getting up to go. “He’s on his way. We’ll take the dog now.”
“May I make a suggestion?” says Healing, nodding graciously to Melvin and Melanie.
“Make it quick,” says Melvin, scowling. “I’m exhausted.”
“I suggest we keep Marzipan here with our dogs for the time being and put up notices around town saying we’ve found him and are looking for his owner. If by chance your daughter is avoiding discovery, it seems to me she would be more likely to contact locals, whereas when your private eye descends upon the town she’ll be less inclined to contact us. Having lived here for seventy-one years, I can assure you the presence of a private investigator will be known far and wide within minutes of his arrival, just as your presence in Mercy was known to everyone in town mere moments after you checked into the East Cove Hotel.”
“We’re outta here,” says Melvin, heading for the door. “Tara. Get the dog.”
But the crafty Marzipan eludes Tara and escapes out the always-ajar kitchen door and hides where Melvin and Melanie and Tara and Alan cannot hope to find him in the dark.
After much cursing by Melvin, followed by apologies from Melanie, followed by more cursing from Melvin, followed by more apologies from Melanie, the television stars and their assistants leave for the East Cove Hotel vowing to return tomorrow to collect Marzipan.
The following morning, the Saturday pancake feast underway, Sheriff Higuera arrives, sits at the dining table between Ozan and Raaziyah, and partakes of pancakes and coffee. Meanwhile, Marzipan is exploring the backyard with Mendelssohn and noting various routes of escape should Tara and Alan try to capture him.
Socrates rises from his place by the fire and growls at visitors on the front stairs – Melanie, Alan, and a man who introduces himself as Jack Fielding, Private Investigator. Melanie explains that Melvin stayed at the hotel with a migraine and Tara attending him.
After another apology from Melanie about Melvin’s behavior last night, the four visitors and Ruben and Healing retire to the living room.
“So,” says Jack, a stout fellow with glossy black hair and a Chicago accent, “we like the idea of putting up a homey local notice about Rachel’s dog. If and when she calls, you’ll set up a time for her to come here, you’ll call me, and I’ll be here to… talk to her.”
“That I won’t do,” says Healing, shaking his head. “I will be glad to put up a notice and meet with her, but I won’t be party to entrapment.”
Jack gives Melanie a look, she nods, and Jack says, “You are aware, aren’t you, that there’s a reward of a million dollars if you help us find Rachel.”
“I did not know that and I want no reward,” says Healing, standing up. “I must ask you to leave now.”
“If I may intercede,” says Ruben, giving Healing a look to say Sit down, my friend. I’ll handle this.
“Please,” says Melanie, smiling apologetically at Healing. “We don’t want to trap her. We just want to make sure she’s safe and not being held captive by some crazy person.”
Healing sits and closes his eyes and tells himself to calm down.
“I have engaged Healing to help me on several occasions,” says Ruben, smiling at Melanie. “I can assure you there is no one more knowledgeable than he in the ways of dogs and people. If by some miracle your daughter is around here, and by a further miracle sees a notice about her dog and comes to get him, Healing will do everything he can to encourage her to communicate with you. He will then give me a full report, which I will immediately relay to you. To do more than this would be extra-legal, which I am sworn never to do and Healing will never be a party to. I recommend you leave Marzipan with Healing, return to Los Angeles and keep making my wife’s favorite television show, and if your daughter makes contact with Healing, you will know shortly after I know.”
Heeding Ruben’s advice, Melanie and Melvin and Tara and Alan return to Los Angeles, though Jack stays on in Mercy. And because Jack hangs around for another week, two weeks pass before someone calls the number on the flyer posted on various bulletin boards and telephone poles and fences around town.
Jahera made the flyer featuring a darling photo of Marzipan standing next to Socrates – Marzipan smiling at the camera while Socrates gazes off into the distance pondering the meaning of life.
And on the morning of the Summer Solstice, Jean answers the old phone on the kitchen counter with, “Weintraub enclave. Jean speaking.”
“Hi Jean,” says a woman with a cheerful voice. “It’s Trudy Honolulu. From Café Brava? You come in with William and those cutie pies Oz and Raaz.”
“Oh Trudy,” says Jean, smiling at the thought of the delightful young woman and her colorful clothes and big round red-framed glasses, her bleached blonde hair streaked with neon blue. “How nice to hear from you.”
“I’m calling about Marzipan,” says Trudy, growing serious. “Do you still have him?”
“We do,” says Jean, beckoning to Healing. “Let me give you Healing.”
“Trudy,” says Healing, having expected an intermediary to call on behalf of Rachel Berkholtz, though certainly not the flamboyant Trudy Honolulu. “You’re calling about Marzipan? Wonderful dog. He’s chasing squirrels in the backyard even as we speak. How do you know him?”
“I got him…” She hesitates. “A year or so ago. I live up Wiley Creek Road and I don’t usually bring him into town, but I did last week and he ran away. And you found him, so… I’ll come get him whenever it’s convenient for you.”
“Now is good,” says Healing, eager to know how Trudy came to own Marzipan. “We’re just doing the breakfast dishes before we take the dogs for a walk. Do you know where we are?”
“Oh yeah,” says Trudy, cheerful again. “I walk by there with Lisa Contreras on our lunch break. I’m not working today and I’m in town, so… I’ll be there in a few.”
Healing hangs up the phone and says to the collective, “Trudy Honolulu is coming to get Marzipan and shed some light, we hope, on the whereabouts of Rachel Berkholtz.”
“I love Trudy!” says Raaziyah, who is standing on a footstool helping Maahiah do the dishes.
“Me, too,” says Ozan, calling from the living room where he is ensconced on the sofa with three of the cats and reading The Cat In the Hat Comes Back for the fiftieth time. “She loves polka dots.”
Naomi looks up from the New York Times crossword puzzle and says, “Might she be Rachel Berkholtz with an ersatz name?”
“Doubtful,” says Healing, looking at the photograph of Rachel when last seen three years ago – an exceedingly slender woman with long brown hair. “Unless she’s gained sixty pounds.”
“It would be a good disguise to gain sixty pounds,” says Jahera, sitting at the table with Zubina on her lap. “It would change her face as well as her body.”
“Rachel is nineteen,” says Healing, frowning at the photo of the young woman. “Trudy tends bar at Big Goose when not working at Café Brava, which means she’s at least twenty-one.”
“Unless she has a false ID,” says Maahiah, nodding sagely. “I got one when I was seventeen and needed to be eighteen.”
“To be continued,” says Healing, hearing Trudy coming up the stairs.
In a red sweatshirt with black polka dots and black trousers with red polka dots, Trudy is just saying Hi to everyone when Marzipan comes racing into the house and leaps into Trudy’s arms.
“You little escape artist,” says Trudy, kissing Marzipan as he licks her face. “I was worried about you.”
“Definitely your dog,” says Healing, laughing at how glad Marzipan is to see Trudy. “You’ve only had him a year?”
“Or so,” says Trudy, crying. “I think we must have known each other in a previous life.”
“Speaking of which,” says Healing, giving her a hopeful look, “may I speak to you in private? We’ll walk the dogs to the pond.”
Healing and Trudy sit on the old wooden bench a few feet from the water’s edge while Marzipan and Coosi and Mendelssohn snuffle around the water’s edge.
“So…” says Healing, looking at Trudy. “As you may imagine, I called the Los Angeles phone number on Marzipan’s tag and Melanie Berkholtz answered.”
Trudy nods. “I should have changed the tag when I got Marz. Silly me.”
“As a result of my calling them, Melvin and Melanie came here looking for their missing daughter,” says Healing, able to see now that Trudy was once upon a time Rachel Berkholtz.
“Yes,” says Trudy, smiling sadly. “And they brought along a private detective named Jack who I waited on at Café Brava. Nice guy. He complimented me on my polka dot muumuu and my blue fingernails.”
“From what you know of Rachel,” says Healing, giving the dogs chewy treats, “do you think she will ever communicate with her parents again? They really are suffering not knowing if she’s alive or not.”
“I’m sorry to hear her mother is suffering,” says Trudy, meeting Healing’s gaze. “Her father is a narcissistic brute who never cared about her except that she be his idea of beautiful even if it meant starving herself to death. I won’t bore you with the details, speaking of suffering, but I am very sorry you got dragged into this mess. As for communicating with them, she intends to send her mother a letter via a friend in Europe who will mail the letter anonymously so they can’t trace who sent it.”
“I support you in all of this,” says Healing, taking her hand. “And I will never betray you. There is just one problem. Which is: her parents will want to know who claimed Marzipan. If I report that no one claimed him, they will probably want to come get him. If I tell them you claimed the dog, Jack will return to interrogate you.”
“I thought of that,” says Trudy, inviting Marzipan to hop up onto her lap. “And I think the best thing would be for Marzipan to escape from your yard and run away and be transformed into a new dog with a new tag and a new name. I’m sure your deer fence is riddled with holes through which a wily dog might escape.”
“Riddled,” says Healing, nodding in agreement. “So… tell me what the new name on the new tag will be.”
“Boo Boo,” says Trudy, laughing. “Like it?”
“Love it,” says Healing, laughing with her. “I will wait a few days to inform Sheriff Higuera of Marzipan’s disappearance, after which he will communicate the news to Mel and Mel.”
“Have you ever seen their show?” asks Trudy, as they get up and walk back to the house with the dogs trotting along beside them.
“Never have,” says Healing, shaking his head.
“Every episode begins with Melvin doing something thoughtless and hurtful to someone,” says Trudy, thinking of her parents. “And after he does this hurtful thing, Melanie goes to incredible lengths to make amends for what Melvin did, so that by the end of the show he actually believes he’s done something good. And for some reason millions of people never tire of this plot device.”
“Art imitating life?” asks Healing, aching in sympathy with her.
“Enabling the addict,” says Trudy, immeasurably glad to have escaped her former life and her dreadful father. “America’s favorite pastime.”
“What is Melvin addicted to?” asks Healing, as Raaziyah and Ozan come running out the kitchen door to spend some time with Trudy.
“Himself,” she says, opening her arms to the children. “Nothing else matters to him. Only himself.”
Mystery Music Box from Todd’s piano album Mystery Inventions.