Adventures of a Botanist
by Bob Brill
Table of Contents
appear in this issue.
Chapter 7: Lemon Ginger Tea
I found the website for Rutabaga University and was pleased to discover that there was a complete list of students and their email addresses. I sent an email to Belinda.
Dear Ms. Peartree,
My work here in Kyvia has come to an end. I plan to be back in the U.S. very soon. As I’ll be passing through your part of the world, I’d like to stop off at the University for old times’ sake. I’d love to see you. I have some ideas for possible botanical projects that might interest you.
I didn’t actually have any concrete plans for botanical projects. Just a vague notion of looking for a grant for a plant collecting trip, maybe from one of the pharmaceutical companies. What I was mainly dreaming about was going camping with Belinda and picking some posies along the way.
I kept busy all day closing out my affairs in Kyvia, booking my plane ticket, drawing my funds from the bank, saying goodbye to friends and co-workers. In the evening I checked my email. Nothing from Belinda. The next day there was a meeting of the laboratory staff at the Palm Garden Hotel. The Kyvian operations director of the lab gave out the news we had already learned from the philodendron, with the addendum that there’d be no more disbursements for salaries, severance pay, bonuses, or the like. The Kyvians had suffered a disastrous loss, the lab records were demolished in the raid, and there was no mechanism for determining who was owed what nor funds to cover it. That was a hard blow for most of the staff. Fortunately, I had socked away a lot of money during my stay here.
“Don’t you suppose,” I said to Sidney, “that there are plenty of KR22 profits lying around somewhere? Possibly in the form of some of those ingots we saw at the bank.”
“No doubt, no doubt,” said Sidney, “but you know how it is. If you’re a collector of ingots, how you hate to cash one in.”
When I got home that night there was a reply from Belinda.
Dear Professor Salsify,
I was so excited to receive your email. I think about you often and wonder how you are doing. If you arrive by the 16th of next month you’ll be just in time to attend my wedding. Yes, it’s so exciting. I’m getting married to Bart Comfrey. I’m sure you must remember him. He told me about some interesting work you did together.
The day before the wedding is graduation. Finally, I got my degree. I’d love to hear your ideas, as I’ll be looking for a job.
Please, please try to be at my wedding. Bart and I would love it if you could be there.
(soon to be Mrs. Bart Comfrey!!!)
Not exactly the response I’d been hoping for. My first thought was to show up at Rutabaga U. as soon as possible and try to win her away from Bart. I even played a fantasy in my mind based on the movie, The Graduate, in which the wedding ceremony is already in progress when Dustin Hoffman shows up and runs off with the bride.
When I woke up in the morning I thought, Oh no, this isn’t going to work. The Belinda Peartree I love and who loves me is just a mental construct I invented while high on KR22. Last time I saw the real Belinda I was repelled by her. She’s in love with Bart. So good luck, Belinda, but I don’t think I can make it to your wedding.
Two days later I was winging my way back to the good old USA. At some point in the flight, as I walked toward the rear lavatories, I saw Bart Comfrey reading a magazine and sipping a cocktail.
“Dr. Salsify,” he called out. “Please join me.” He pointed to the empty aisle seat beside him.
I slid into the seat and said, “Hiya, Bart. Congratulations. I heard you’re getting married.”
“Yes, yes. Quite so. You remember Belinda Peartree, don’t you? Wasn’t she in one of your classes?”
“Oh, yes. I remember her. Wonderful girl, Belinda. Bright student. Lucky you, Bart, to have snagged such a beauty.”
“Thank you, Dr. Salsify. And thank you for putting me in touch with the Papaya Contingent. They found some interesting work for me in Kyvia.”
“Would that have something to do with the destruction of the lab?”
“Yes. You did get my note, didn’t you?”
“Oh, yes. So you knew about GROK and their plans before the attack.”
“That’s exactly right. The Papaya Contingent told me how you and Dr. Purslane tried to stop the production of KR22. They decided that the biochemical approach needed refinement and would take too long to bring to perfection. They made me their liaison with GROK and I was able to give them vital information about the KR22 operation. GROK then enlisted me to be their man on the ground in Kyvia. I spent the last month hanging out at the bars and clubs, gathering scuttlebutt from KBRL workers till I had the whole operation scoped out. I was able to work undetected by the plant leaders because of the Papaya tabasco remedy. And I must thank you again for getting the plant powers off my back. You saved my life.”
“If you had it all scoped out, Bart, then why did you not pinpoint the attack on the KR22 wing? Why did you let them destroy the whole complex?”
“Because I was so pissed at the plant bosses that I wanted to scotch their plan of escaping the planet.”
“But, Bart, seventeen people died in that attack. And you did not stop Project Exodus. They’ll just start up again somewhere else.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right. But that’s how I felt at the time and that’s what I did.”
“Bart, the lightseeds were right about you. So don’t thank me for saving you. I regret having done that. And I’m going to tell Belinda what kind of a man you are. It would be a very big mistake for her to marry you.”
“Dr. Salsify, aren’t you just the least bit grateful that I spared you and Dr. Purslane?”
“No, Bart. Your note was irrelevant. We went to the lab in spite of your note and Dr. Purslane risked his life to save two of our co-workers. You could have saved all of them. Your act of revenge against the plant kingdom was stupid, cruel, selfish and futile.”
I got up and returned to my seat. A beautiful flight attendant asked me if I’d like to purchase a cocktail. She had the loveliest melting blue eyes. I ordered a vodka martini. As I sipped it I realized that this was no vodka martini. It had a familiar aroma and taste. Oh my God, it was lemon ginger tea.
I was spread out prone on the ground at eye level with a beautiful eighteen inch specimen of Bessera elegans growing among loose limestone rocks. It had delicate, thin, linear leaves and rising up from the base a flowering stalk with an umbel of gorgeous one inch downward facing blooms, six red sepals and a fused purple perianth tube with dentate border. Long hanging anthers with blue pollen. Exquisite. Through this vision of loveliness I could see Belinda’s face in rapt admiration of our find. She was lying prone on the opposite side of the plant. Our eyes met.
“Lily family?” she asked.
“Oh yes, liliaceous for sure.” I used my trowel to clear away the rocks and dirt from around the small shallow bulb. “But perhaps it belongs to one of the lily subfamilies, like Alliaceae.” In my head I heard Bessera speak. Esteemed Dr. Salsify, you might be interested to know that Project Exodus is positioned for a restart in Germany. We invite you and Ms. Peartree to join our research staff.
So soon? It seems like I only just left Kyvia.
That was six months ago, Dr. Salsify. We’ve accomplished a lot in that time.
How are you going to finance your operation? Not another illegal drug setup, I hope.
It’s all strictly legal. We’ve teamed up with one of the major pharmaceutical houses in Germany. They’ll bankroll our operation. We’ll supply them with formulas far in advance of any known to your science.
Have you approached Dr. Purslane?
He has adamantly refused to work with us again.
Good for him. I feel the same way.
“Why are you staring like that?” said Belinda.
“Oh, I’m communing with nature again. Conversing with this lovely specimen, actually. Shall we add it to our collection?”
“It seems a shame,” said Belinda, “for such a beautiful plant to end up on a herbarium sheet.”
“There are plenty of other specimens here to enjoy the habitat. I’ll just take one. This one.” I dug my trowel beneath the bulb and lifted the plant out of the ground. I walked over to the jeep, opened my plant press and laid the specimen gently down on a sheet of paper.
There was no need for you to be vindictive, Dr. Salsify.
I laid another sheet on top and screwed down the press.
We were just off the side of the road that runs from Mazatlan, on the Pacific coast of Mexico, over the continental divide and down into Durango in the desert. That night we camped in a lovely, flat, oak-pine grassland at 7700 feet with spectacular views of high mountains, intensely green with vegetation.
We sat on our camp stools outside the tent, relaxing after a delicious dinner. Belinda offered me some coffee. “Anything,” I said, “but lemon ginger tea.”
But it was lemon ginger tea.
The heat of the fire was ferocious. A huge stand of ponderosa pine was burning right before my eyes. A howling wind was whipping the fire, but even louder was the continual undulating screams of the trees as they burned. Several fire fighters ran by behind me. One of them stopped and hailed me. “Better come along with us. The fire is spreading fast.”
I ran after him. He stopped and looked around.
“Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?” I asked. “Yes, I know where. You were one of the firemen that came with us through the tunnel and broke down the doors at the botanical lab.”
“Yes,” he shouted over the noise of the screaming trees and the roaring flames. “That was me.”
“But how could that be?”
“You know how it is. The mind uses whatever it’s got. Sometimes it has to double up on the cast. Hey, keep moving. We could get cut off here.”
We ran along the fire break but the fire was leaping over the break behind us. “Too late,” he said. “We’re surrounded now.”
“What should we do?” I yelled. The walls of heat and flame were closing in on us.
“Only one thing to do,” he said. He handed me his canteen. “Take a slug of this.”
Yep, lemon ginger tea.
I sat brooding in my prison cell, staring at my shoes. For six weeks I’d been held here without any explanation. They still hadn’t accused me of any crime, and I doubted that they would, but I had just learned that I was to be executed the following morning.
Sidney Purslane came to visit me. “What has happened to me, Sidney? I haven’t taken any KR22. How can I be tripping again?”
“I’ve got two theories about that,” he said. It was comforting to see him again and to hear him talk like that, so typical of his analytic mode. “I read that some folks who had taken LSD, but who had not dropped any acid for months, would suddenly find themselves tripping again. Some residue of the drug must have lodged somewhere in their systems and then got kicked loose and back into the bloodstream. That could be happening to you.”
“Any chance I’ll come down for good? I’m on a bum trip right now and I’d sure like to be done with it.”
“Yes ... maybe ... I don’t know. We still don’t understand the action of KR22. Same thing goes for my other theory, which is this, that you’re still on your first trip, that you never came down, that everything that happened back at the lab after you thought you came down was just another episode in your trip, the blowing up of the lab, everything. You can only hope that you’ll come down before they execute you.”
“Are you suggesting that I could be executed and actually die while I’m in a drug-induced, self-choreographed, alternate reality? Does that make any sense?”
Sidney scratched his nose while he thought about that. “It doesn’t make sense, but it doesn’t have to make sense to be true. The fact is I don’t know, no one knows, what will happen to you now.”
The guards came for me early in the morning. As we climbed the scaffold, I saw that the fields all around were covered with Bessera elegans, waving their blossoms gently in the breeze. A cloud of Escapodium spores drifted by, momentarily softening the bright morning sunlight that beamed directly into my eyes. High up and far off a plane inched slowly across the sky. I imagined the passengers being invited by beautiful flight attendants to purchase cocktails. I wished I could have been among their number, with my seat belt fastened and on my way to the next chapter of my life.
The hangman sat hunched forward on a stool, his forearms resting across his thighs. In his hands he held a noose which he turned round and round, first one way, then the other, as though he were trying to solve the puzzle of life and death.
A solemn official in a black suit approached me. In his buttonhole he had a blossom of Bessera elegans. He said, “The court permits you one final request. Don’t ask for your freedom. Make it something reasonable. A last cigarette is what most prisoners ask for.”
“If it’s not too much trouble,” I said, “I’d like a cool glass of lemon ginger tea.”
Proceed to Chapter 8...
Copyright © 2007 by Bob Brill