By Hildegard McEwan
Chrissy opens her eyes groggily to find herself in a dank, windowless room, its cinder-block walls illuminated by a dusty lightbulb that hangs from the ceiling by a withered cord. Her head is throbbing, and there is a strange, bitter taste in her mouth.
The last thing she remembers is pouring herself a glass of iced tea after stocking the shelves of Chrissy's Country Craft Emporium with a new shipment of wooden angel door-knockers. And now, inexplicably, here she is: sitting on an icy metal chair, staring at at an old table replete with deep gashes and scorch marks. She tries to get up, and realizes she has been bound to the chair by a length of thick rope.
She is not alone. A severe-looking man emerges from the shadows and sits down across the table from her. His silver hair is shorn into a tight and glistening crew-cut; formidable muscles bulge beneath rolled-up sleeves. He lights a cigarette and leans back in his chair. Several minutes pass in silence. He takes a last drag and flicks the butt into a dark corner of the room, and then he asks her to confess.
“Confess to what?” Chrissy murmurs.
The man smiles, but it is not a kind smile. “Are you comfortable, Chrissy?” he asks her. “I hope so. I really do. Because you're going to be here a very, very long time, unless you tell us exactly what we want to know.”
The man slings a leather attaché onto the table and withdraws a thick stack of photographs, which he fans out like a deck of playing cards. “Look familiar?” her interrogator sneers.
She peers at the pictures, and her pulse quickens: Christmas-tree ornaments made out of pine cones, rainbow wind chimes, rag dolls dressed in tiny pairs of overalls. They do look familiar. Terribly familiar.
“How much do you really know about your new boyfriend, Kevin?” the man asks her. "Ever wonder why Kevin began visiting your store? Ever find it strange that a grown man would be so interested in candle holders shaped like ducklings?
"What does Kevin have to do with this?" she says.
"His real name," the man replies, "is Sergei Demitrovich. And he's not a chiropractor from Knoxville. He works for the government of Balonkistan. He's a spy, Chrissy. A spy."
"A spy?" she gasps.
"Yes, a spy," the man replies. "Sent to America to infiltrate our crafting community. And now, our reconnaissance satellites have confirmed that Balonkistan’s clandestine arts-and-crafts program is light-years ahead of where we thought it was. Thanks to you.”
Chrissy's lower lip begins to tremble. Tears slide down her cheeks. She feels the cold, macramé needle of betrayal stabbing at the strawberry-shaped pincushion that is her heart.
"We started talking about scrapbooking," she sniffles, "and, well, things just took off from there."
The man puts his hand on Chrissy's shoulder. “Listen to me,” he says, his voice much softer now. "There may still be time. Your country needs your help, Chrissy. You need to tell me everything you told Sergei. Everything."
"But what good will it do now?" she cries.
The man takes a deep breath. "There is an underground bunker, deep in the mountains of Balonkistan," he explains. "Inside that bunker, our sources tell us, a team of Balonkistani scientists are making a pillow ― a great, big needlepoint pillow. We have reason to believe that on this pillow there are several adorable little bears, each clutching brightly colored balloons.
"And do you know what the bears are saying?" he whispers. "They're saying, 'Have a beary nice day.'"
"Oh my," Chrissy can't help but squeal. "That sounds so cute!"
"Cuter than we ever thought possible," the man says. "That's why we need to stop the Balonkistanis before it's too late. I don’t need to tell you, Chrissy, what it means for America if those bears and their balloons ever see the light of day!"
(Authoress Hildegard McEwan is a proud member of the Daughters of the Spanish American War.)
Friday, January 11, 2008
By Hildegard McEwan