I’ve decided I am done with waiting on others to defend me. I will do it myself! I am not sure what brought this on with such clarity, but I’ve suffered through stupid lawyers dragging their heels, stupid judges kicking the can down the road, stupid insurance claims adjusters who decide a 5-bedroom house in a great neighborhood is worth only $10,000 and all manner of other silliness. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I’m not waiting around any more. I am my own best advocate.
(Early Morning, Beach)
Lucy and Phoebe are taking an early morning beach walk. The sky is silver and pink. The beach deserted except for the women.
Lucy: Have you noticed the sandpipers?
Phoebe: What about them?
Lucy: See for yourself…
Lucy stops and turns around. Phoebe does same. About 50 sandpipers are standing right behind them, all on one leg and, seemingly in unison, looking at the women.
Phoebe (in a soft voice to Lucy): Kind of a crowd, huh? They almost look fake.
Lucy: It’s creepy. They walk when we walk and stop when we stop.
Phoebe: Did you ever see that Hitchcock movie, The Birds?
Lucy: Unfortunately for my eight-year-old self, yes I did.
Phoebe: You’re not really scared are you? I mean, they’re so cute. Just look at their cute little legs.
Lucy: And their sharp little beaks, all 50 of them.
Just then, a flock of about 25-30 more birds flies up to the shoreline to join the growing assembly.
Lucy: All 80 of them.
Phoebe: Maybe they’re just looking for food.
Phoebe glances once more at the birds and begins to walk again. Lucy lingers and watches the birds with a worried expression. She jogs to catch up with Phoebe.
Phoebe: Hey, isn’t that the house where the couple was murdered?
Phoebe points to a gray-shingled, two-story house a few hundred yards away. Beach towels hang over the deck railings and flap in the breeze. Clearly someone is home.
Lucy: Yes. She came into the store with the children to go through their summer reading list.
Phoebe: Who? The widow?
Lucy: Yes, poor woman. She’s lost probably 20 pounds. Looks like she might blow away if you look at her wrong.
Phoebe, once again, stops and turns around.
Phoebe: Yep. You’re right.
They both look behind them to find 80 some-odd birds standing so close, Phoebe and Lucy could reach out to touch the first few rows if they’d wanted to.
Lucy: Sheesh. They don’t make a peep, do they?
Phoebe: The phrase shouldn’t be, “quiet as a mouse,” it should be, “quiet as a sandpiper.”
Lucy: Seriously. Let’s keep moving! They freak me out.
Phoebe and Lucy pick up the pace and exit via the beach access next to the gray-shingled house. As they walk between the dunes, they sneak glances at the dark windows. It’s still early. But, leaning against the garage are kids’ bicycles, one with pink sparkly handle bars sprouting pink streamers. After ascending the weathered wooden steps that arch over the last high dune, they stop to look back at the beach. Not a bird in sight. They cross the little boardwalk and descend the steps to the sandy road.
Phoebe: You know, I just wonder about it.
Lucy: I think you are right. I think they want food.
Phoebe: No, the double murder.
Lucy: Oh. That.
Phoebe: I mean. There’s been nothing in the newspaper or on TV. It’s like the story vanished along with the people.
Lucy: You’re right. Same thing with Dixie Special.
Phoebe: Exactly! Beyond the first headline, there’s been nothing! And not one word about those large dogs, or wolves or whatever they were. If that stuff had happened in Chapel Hill, we would’ve heard it for not just months, but years. I wonder…
Lucy: Me too. I mean, Dixie Special, is that name for real?
Phoebe: No, I mean I wonder if we can do anything about it.
Lucy: Like write a congressman or something? Of course, the mayor is our landlord. We do have access to someone in power.
Phoebe: Yeah, but what if she is one of the reasons these stories, these cases, are not being followed so closely? You know how Sheila hates to admit this is anything but paradise. Bad for the bottom line if we happen to have werewolves or a murderer on the loose.
Lucy: I’ve never thought about it that way, but you have a good point. So, what’s next?
Phoebe: We need to investigate on our own.
Lucy: Sounds good, actually I don’t know if it sounds good. But, for the sake of argument, let’s just say it sounds good. How are we supposed to investigate? I own a bookstore and you are an artist. Here we are, putting together the shattered pieces of our lives and, well, how are we supposed to investigate a murder on top of all that?
Phoebe: You mean, how are we supposed to investigate the murders. There have been 3 in the last four weeks. Plus werewolves unaccounted for and earthquakes of unknown origin.
Lucy: When you put it like that… I guess, what are we waiting for? And why has no one else brought it up? Not reporters. Not the grieving families. Not even good healthy gossip in the store!
Phoebe: If you stop to think about it, you, Cooper and I are newcomers. Maybe the locals have secrets.
Lucy: I know it’s 80 degrees in the shade, even though it’s morning, but I think I just felt a chill go through me.
Phoebe: Me too.
Lucy: Can we talk to Cooper about this?
Phoebe: Absolutely. He’s been here the longest of the three of us. Maybe he has some perspective.
(Later, in Lucy’s bookstore)
Lucy, Phoebe and Cooper stand around a table of books. They each hold a to-go coffee cup.
Cooper: You guys are nuts!!! I mean really class A, certifiable, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest insane-o-rama! I mean, don’t feel bad. There’s no shame. No shame, at all! Sometimes…the pressure of divorce can just get to you, man. I say, take a few days off. Hire a student to run the cash register. Have a few rum drinks. On second thought, scratch that. Don’t drink alcohol for a while. Maybe dry out for a few weeks…or months. Whatever seems right for you.
Phoebe: I’ve already taken enough mental health days away from my life. No more for me, thanks.
Cooper (grimaces): Oh, jeez! Just shoot me now. I forgot. And… the good news is I forgot because basically you seem so sane, so it’s a compliment, really. I say such silly things as a testament to your daily, high-functioning success! Consider it an achievement on your part. I didn’t even think crazy until just a second ago. And that’s saying something…I…
Lucy (clears throat): Cooper?
Cooper looks toward Lucy, mouth open.
Lucy: If you keep digging this hole, you’ll be speaking Chinese in no time.
Cooper: I’m shutting up now. Consider me shut…
Phoebe: No, that’s okay. I probably am bonkers. But, at the same time, I want to find out for myself what happened. Maybe there’s nothing to find. Yet, this is my new home and I want to know what’s going on even if no one else does. Plus, I am supposed to have a mission to save something. Maybe this is a good way to get started!
Lucy: I second that.
They look at Cooper. He squirms, but raises a hand.
Cooper: Fine. Count me in.
Phoebe (to Cooper): Are you doing this only out of guilt?
Phoebe (smiles): Perfect!
Lucy: So…what do we do first?
Phoebe: Uh…not sure.
Cooper: I have an idea.
Lucy and Phoebe look at Cooper.
Cooper: Don’t look at me that way. If I’m in, I’m in.
Phoebe: Ok. Talk. What’s our first step?
Cooper: It’s obvious, isn’t it? We go to the scene of the crime. We look for clues.
Lucy: Which crime? There were two murder scenes.
Phoebe: How about Dixie’s place? It looked like the other crime scene was inhabited.
Cooper: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Tonight? Really? What about the Tuesday after next?
Lucy and Phoebe look at Cooper.
Cooper: Nevermind. Tonight it is.
Phoebe looks at her watch.
Phoebe: Better go over those bank statements before closing. And, hey! Maybe a customer will wander in.
(Phoebe’s Studio Gallery, near closing, near dusk)
Phoebe is behind the counter, going over her financial books. She’s wearing reading glasses and frowning. The radio is on and the weather man is talking about the cold front moving in and possible wind and rain. She is so engrossed in what she is doing, she doesn’t notice Julian enter the store until he is standing right in front of her and clears his throat.
Phoebe: Jesus! Haven’t I told you to wear a bell?
Julian nods as though this is true.
Phoebe (stares at Julian’s outfit): Is that…is that an overcoat? You do understand it was 98 degrees today, yes? Probably still in the high 90’s now.
Julian looks down at his trench coat.
Phoebe: What gives? Are you hiding an uzi under there?
Julian: No, not an uzi.
Phoebe: Okay. Let me back up. Something about you makes me forget my manners. Hello, Julian. How are you today?
Julian: Uh, hello. I am fine. And how are you?
Phoebe (studies him over her glasses): Nope. There’s not an ounce of irony anywhere.
Julian: I came to give you a warning.
Phoebe (rolls eyes, but smiles too): What’s new? Didn’t you hear that wearing a black cloud over your head is out of fashion?
Julian: You should be careful going home tonight. I can escort you.
Phoebe (perks up): Is this about the murders?
Julian (looks puzzled): No. This is different.
(Just outside the gallery, on top of a golf cart)
The fairies, Gus and Clementine, sit and watch Phoebe through binoculars.
Clementine (yawns): Reading glasses are so unflattering. I thought fairies didn’t need them.
Gus: She’s part human.
Clementine: Well, it’s very unfortunate.
Gus: She’s always surrounded. Why is she always surrounded by people? I thought it would be much easier to initiate her training. The Exam schedule is all messed up now.
Clementine (takes eyes off Phoebe and looks at Gus): Does it really matter that much?
Gus (irritated): Of course it matters!
Clementine (looks through binoculars again): He’s a hot one. What do you think he wants with her?
Gus: The usual.
Clementine: Why does he wait?
Gus: Must be his style or something.
Clementine nods and continues to look through binoculars.
Gus: We’ll just have to wing it and get started. We are way behind. Are you clear on your instructions?
Clementine (looks over at Gus and blinks a few times): Yeah. I’m sure.
Gus: That’s comforting.
Phoebe: So…what’s so dangerous out there?
Julian: Look. I know you don’t like to discuss your identity, but I don’t know if anyone has told you how much danger you’re in.
Phoebe (takes off glasses and closes accounting book): You know if you’re going for The Vague Award, please put me down as a reference.
Julian: The Exam. It begins tonight.
Phoebe: Aside from having no clue what that is, it sounds absolutely bone chilling. Will I die from too many multiple choice questions or something?
Julian: Oh it will be bone chilling alright.
Phoebe (pulls her hair): Argh! You know, the thing that scares me most is the idea that this business will fail. That I won’t be able to pay rent. That my kids will forget what I look like, and that my hair will turn that ugly yellow-gray instead of a pretty silver. My world is pretty damn scary as it is.
Julian (looks awkward): I know.
Phoebe: So what could possibly be scarier that all that?
Julian (tugs at his collar): A lot, actually.
Phoebe: Look, I appreciate your offer but I’ll be okay. I’ll even take my wand. There, I said it. Happy?
Julian: Said what?
Phoebe: Wand! Wand, wand, wand. I guess I should get used to saying it.
Julian: All I’m saying is…keep it handy. And just remember…
Phoebe: Remember what?
Phoebe (leans forward): I meant it earlier, what I said. I need to back up a few paces when I talk to you. You have a way of making me crazy and then I am rude. I’m sorry for that. I know you’re just trying to be all chivalrous.
Julian: It’s okay. I think I understand.
Lucy and Cooper enter store. They look surprised to see Julian. While Cooper talks to Julian about building supplies, Lucy points at Julian and smiles and nods like, “so is this a thing?” Phoebe shrugs and mouths, “nah, not really.” Cooper and Julian turn around to look but Lucy and Phoebe pretend like they weren’t doing anything.
Phoebe: Lucy. Is that a magnifying glass?
Lucy (blushes): Yes. You never (she glances at Julian) know when it will come in handy. I thought maybe on our excursion tonight, we might examine the…lichen on the…trees.
Julian just looks at Lucy.
Phoebe: That’s right. You never know when a magnifying glass will come in handy and I’ve always wanted to study the…lichen, on the…trees.
Julian: I’d better go. Good luck.
Cooper (claps his hands together): So! Are we ready?
(Back outside, on the golf cart)
Gus: It’s a go. Here they come! Positions ready.
Gus and Clementine take flight.
(Outside Phoebe’s gallery door)
Phoebe sorts through her key ring to find the key to lock up the store. Lucy scans the sky.
Lucy: I think I can feel the cold front already.
A wind kicks up and a grocery cart rolls fast across the parking lot.
Cooper: Hey! That could dent a car. That could dent my car!
Phoebe finds the key and locks the door.
Phoebe: All set. Let’s ride. Shall we go in my cart? I can bring you guys back later.
They hop into Phoebe’s golf cart. They head toward Dixie’s house.
(Phoebe’s golf cart, further down the road)
The wind has picked up quite a bit. The trees are thrashing and bending over.
Phoebe (has to yell over the wind): Cooper! The rain flaps!
Lucy and Cooper yank down the rain flaps and fasten them. Phoebe turns on her headlights because suddenly it has gotten quite dark. They pull into Dixie’s driveway. They get out into a crazy wind. Thunder sounds in the distance.
Lucy (rubs her arms): I’m c, c, cold!
Phoebe (hugs her chest): Me too!
Cooper: Let’s move fast, then. The sooner we do this, the sooner I am in a hot shower with a Lean Cuisine in the microwave.
Lucy and Phoebe look at him.
Cooper: What? I don’t feel like cooking tonight. Is that so bad?
Lucy pulls out the magnifying glass and Phoebe pulls out her wand.
Cooper: Where did that come from?
Phoebe (shrugs): I’ve learned how to store it and how to call it.
Lucy (looks at Cooper): Ask her about it later. My t- t- teeth are chattering. Let’s stay focused.
They walk through the backyard. A cat yowls and streaks past them.
Lucy: That must be Chester.
Phoebe: You know her cat?
Lucy: It was the only information in that puny article. They said she was out looking for her cat, Chester. A neighbor heard her calling for him just before, you know.
Cooper: Look. Someone is still feeding him.
They follow Cooper’s gaze to the back stoop, where there is a bowl of water and a bowl of kibble.
Phoebe: What’s this?
Phoebe kneels next to a round hydrangea bush and reaches inside it. She pulls out a fluffy pink slipper…covered in dark, dried blood.
Phoebe (drops slipper in alarm): Ew! Did anyone think to bring some zip-lock baggies? Or hand sanitizer?
Lucy (holds up a very small bottle): I always carry hand sanitizer.
Phoebe (grabs bottle): Thanks!
Cooper (jogs toward back door): Be right back. I need to keep moving so I don’t freeze.
Thunder rumbles not in the distance, but closer than before.
Phoebe (stares at her wand with a wrinkle in her brow and wand lights up): It’s like a flashlight and Swiss Army knife all wrapped into one!
Lucy and Phoebe use the wand light to look through bushes.
Lucy (reaches down for something): Ooo. What’s this?
Lucy holds up what looks like a man’s school ring, but with encrusted gemstones that look real.
Lucy (studies it while Phoebe holds light closer): The insignia says E.L. Huh. E.L.
Phoebe (appears to be very cold): And she was Dixie Special, so not a match there. Is that name for real?
Lucy: I did some research today and found an old article. She was a go-go dancer back in the day. Gosh it’s cold! I wonder what the temperature is?
Phoebe: Julian was right. Bone chilling.
Phoebe: Nothing. And go-go is short for ancient pole dancing, am I right?
Lucy: Best I can tell, yes. You know, she has a beautiful herb garden. Look, there’s St. John’s Wort and some chamomile. She was also 1/16th Gullah.
Lucy: Only quoting the article. But, you know, the Gullah had a deep understanding of how to grow things in this climate. Much better than the settlers ever di…
Cooper runs back from house and holds a giant zip lock bag in front of Lucy’s face.
Cooper: Got it!
Phoebe (takes bag): Where did you find this?
Cooper: Kitchen. Second drawer down to the right of the sink.
Lucy: Did you pick the lock?
Cooper: Locals don’t lock doors. You learn this in the hardware business. The key-making business is completely flat. In fact, it would be suspicious if someone asked me to dust off the key machine and copy a key for them. Man! It’s getting cold.
Phoebe now has the bloody slipper in the baggie.
Phoebe: Shoddy police work, don’t you think?
Lucy: Yeah. It’s like they didn’t even try. Hey, Coop. Look at this.
Lucy holds up the ring and Phoebe shines the light on it again. Cooper squints his eyes.
Cooper: That looks familiar, but I don’t know why. Does that say E.L?
Cooper pulls a smaller baggie from his pocket and hands it to Lucy. Lucy deposits the ring.
Phoebe (who is looking up at garage roof area): Guys?
Lucy and Cooper look at Phoebe.
Phoebe: Don’t panic, but look up there.
Lucy gasps loudly.
Cooper: What are they?
Lucy (breathing shallowly): Sandpipers.
The three of them look up at roofline of garage, where sandpipers cover the roof, end to end.
Cooper: I’m no bird expert, but do they normally do that?
Lucy (in a low voice): I did some research today and…
Phoebe: Go Lucy on the research! Where do you find the time?
Lucy: Business was slow, so… anyway, no. That is not normal. Can I panic now?
Cooper: Are they…carnivorous. Or, or…like vultures?
Lucy: Yes and no. They eat protein but they hunt for it. Usually they lean toward seafood, though, and the ground. It’s weird for them to be up there like that, and away from the dunes.
A crackle of lightning up in the clouds lights the area around the garage and illuminates the surrounding trees. All the branches are lined with birds, all of them looking at Lucy, Cooper and Phoebe.
Cooper: Okay. I’m with Lucy on the panic. Maybe it’s time to go.
Suddenly, Chester the cat jumps straight into Phoebe’s arms. She has to juggle the wand and the cat.
Phoebe: Sorry Chester, but I’ve never been a big cat person.
Phoebe tries to put him down, but he resists. Then the wand glows red.
Cooper: What’s happening?
Behind them the wind begins to howl. The birds begin to chatter and then fly in circles around them. Thunder is deafening overhead.
Phoebe (yelling): Inside!
They make a run for it, but the birds swoop low and prevent Phoebe, Lucy and Cooper from getting to house.
Phoebe (yelling): Garage!
They turn and run for garage but, once again, birds swoop low and prevent them from entry. They stand in the middle of a maelstrom of wind, leaves, thrashing trees and birds. They cat wraps itself around the back of Phoebe’s neck and meows in her ear.
Phoebe (yelling and closing her eyes to shield them from flying sand and debris): What did you say?
The cat meows loudly in her ear. Lucy and Cooper cover their heads with their arms. It seems like they are under attack from all sides.
Phoebe (nods her head and holds up her wand; a purple flash shoots out and the birds back off a little; the wind slows a little): Let’s get to the cart!
Using the slight reprieve, the trio run for the cart. The cat stays wrapped around Phoebe’s neck, yowling.
Phoebe: Yes, yes. Okay!
They jump in and close flaps.
Lucy (terrified): Where should we go?
Phoebe: Chester says just drive.
Cooper and Lucy look at each other. They remain silent but the birds, the wind, the thunder seem to close in again. The concentration of birds swooping into the headlights is blinding. One of the wind flaps rips off and a cold wind blasts into the cart. Everyone’s lips seem to be blue. The cat meows loudly.
Phoebe (sneezes): Okay!
She stops the cart.
Cooper: What are you doing?
Lucy: Shouldn’t we keep going?
Phoebe hops out into the thick of things and holds her wand out. A red light surrounds her and the cart and a great warmth encircles them.
Cooper: I like the red light. Give me more of that, please.
Lucy (seems to relax a little): Ooo. That’s better. I think I can feel my fingers again.
Phoebe continues to hold her wand out. She looks up at the sky around them. She points at the birds and a blue light shoots out of the wand. The birds fly down to land on the roof of the cart and on the ground around Phoebe and the cart. Instead of staring at Phoebe, Lucy and Cooper, the birds now look at something in the woods next to the road. Phoebe looks in the same direction as the birds. She now looks almost like one of the birds the way she stands, in sync with their formation. It is unclear whether or not she mimics the birds or they mimic her. They now seem to be working together.
Phoebe raises her arm and points the wand into the woods releasing a brilliant flash of white light which illuminates everything, including two small figures on a branch. They look like dolls, except they seem to react to the searchlight. One of them seems to be a very small man who holds a pair of binoculars. The other one seems to be a girl doll, like a small Barbie with wings.
Cooper: Are those…?
Cooper: Fairies who use binoculars apparently.
The white light, itself, seems to blanket everything else in the woods and focus only on the dolls, which are now on their feet and taking flight as their tiny feet rise off the branch and into the air. Phoebe narrows her eyes and says something unintelligible and shoots a pink ray at the figures, who now seemed alarmed and fly in the opposite direction. The birds, all several hundred of them, fly in unison with the pink light, in pursuit of the fleeing figures. The wind, the thunder and everything that was thrashing go quiet. The bright light from Phoebe’s wand fades back to a flashlight kind of light that illuminates only Phoebe and the cart.
Chester purrs, licks Phoebe’s ear (Phoebe makes ick-face). Chester leaps away into the darkness.
(About an hour later at Phoebe’s house)
Phoebe, Lucy and Cooper sit on pillows around the coffee table, a crackling fire by their side. Food covers the table.
Cooper (mouth full points his spoon at the bowl and tries to speak): Really good chili.
Lucy nods with enthusiasm as she eats.
Phoebe: Lucky I just made a huge batch the other day. I still haven’t adjusted to cooking for one. If I cook at all, I make enough to feed a small army.
Lucy (takes a sip of water and looks thoughtful): You know, if that was The Exam, I bet you passed it.
Cooper: Do you think that’s what that was?
Phoebe: I think so. Julian said something about it being bone-chilling. I think that’s what he was warning me about.
Lucy: Hey, was Chester talking to you. I mean, did you understand him?
Phoebe (face lights up): Oh yeah! I forgot. I could understand what he meant. That was cool!
Cooper: So what do we do about these?
Cooper points to the baggies, one containing the slipper and one containing the ring, on the sofa next to them.
Phoebe (picks up baggie with ring and looks at ring): Now we put Lucy’s research skills to work. We investigate. We ask around without seeming too suspicious.
Cooper: How do we investigate a bloody slipper?
Lucy: Well, first of all, we are not 100% sure that the slipper belonged to Dixie.
Cooper: Good point.
Phoebe: Now that we know the door is unlocked…well, we can see if the matching slipper is inside.
Lucy: I can see about tracing this ring. I know someone in the jewelry business. I’ll poke around.
Cooper (raises glass of lemonade): Here’s to the successful conclusion to our first night of detective work. May we live to see another.
They all clink glasses.
Phoebe: To another.
Lucy: To another.