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September 6, 2012

I Hraet You (35)

Beat 35: A Counting Lesson for the Ages

Lloyd stroked his chin, eyebrows raised as he ran an eye from one Trixie to the next.  “Hmmm…I can see that this will require a bit of creative restructuring.”

“I think yer a little too calm about all this, pal,” said one of the Trixies.

“Well, panic and bewilderment will get us nowhere, Miss Walters.  Er, that is to say…”  He pointed feebly at the Trixie that had just spoken.  “Which one were you, exactly?  I can’t recall if you were Stabby or Grabby.”

“I’m Stabby.”

“Ah, yes, yes, of course.  Then I suppose that would make you Grabby.  And therefore, we’ll call you, our third entrant, Sleepy.”  He took a few steps aside, and gestured toward the couch.  “Now then, my dear -- er, dears -- if you would be so kind as to take a seat, I believe we can settle this once and for all.”  He scratched at a few bangs.  “Probably.  Maybe.  Hopefully.  Well, I suppose we’ll just have to see how it goes.”

Stabby Trixie and Grabby Trixie glared at each other, but started walking toward the couch in near-unison; as they took a seat, Sleepy Trixie sprang over the top and landed on one of the cushions.  All three of them wore matching looks of disdain and confusion -- visages Lloyd had almost come to expect of his house guest.  Even so, he noticed all three of them fidgeting a bit, and their feet thrust deep into the den’s thin carpet.

They have no more desire to be in this situation than I, Lloyd thought with a slight nod.  If that’s the case, then it’s time I take strides towards pacifying this predicament.  But how to go about it?

I should address the matter of Miss Walters -- one, or all of them -- being a self-confessed killer sooner than later, but…my instincts tell me that isn’t a line of inquiry I’m in a position to pursue.  So for now, I’ll have to put that little tidbit aside -- even if it is likely to bring harm to my person.  But my own well-being matters not; I would like to think that I can do at least some good before day’s end.  He cleared his throat, and moved across from the ladies.  “Now then, Miss Walters --”

“Yeah?” all three Trixies asked.

Lloyd’s mouth hung open before curling into a smile.  “What an adorably surreal situation I’m in!  Let’s see -- what sort of fun can I have with triplets?”  He clapped a fist atop an open palm.  “Oh, of course!  In order to decide who the real Miss Walters is, you should all fight each other!  Surely only the genuine article has the power needed to best her foes -- with all the grappling and feeling and clothing-tearing and hugging and kissing that it would entail!”


“No need to worry.  I’d have a camera on-hand, of course.”  Lloyd held up his hands at the sight of their rising fists.  “M-merely a suggestion, my dears!  A suggestion and nothing more -- unless you would be willing to partake.”

“Where the hell did that knife go…?”

“Now yer speakin’ my language, sister.”

“Ya may be a fake, but yer all right.”

“A-anyway, I suppose we should focus on the task at hand before preparing any sort of battle royale,” Lloyd sputtered.  As the Trixies calmed down, he turned aside (noting the new sheen of sweat on his brow).  Well, it would seem that my hijinks inspire a similar reaction in all of them, so I suppose emotionally speaking they’re indiscernible from one another.  He covered his mouth.  Is there a way to trip up the fake?  And before I get ahead of myself, I should probably start rationalizing why there are three Walters…Walters’s?  Walterses?  Why there are three of them -- let alone two. 

I’ll need to attend to the matter piece by piece.  I would think that solving one mystery would put me in a solid position to solve another.  He turned back to the trio.  “We’ll have to act in accordance with protocol.  Let’s start with the obvious: a confirmation of facts.”

Sleepy Trixie rubbed the back of her neck, nudging her clones -- rather unapologetically -- with each motion.  “I dunno what yer up to, but I guess if it’ll get us outta this mess and closer to savin JP…”

“But of course.”  Lloyd nodded rapidly.  “The real Miss Walters would know only something I know as well -- and if that holds true, then you doppelgangers are destined to be dispelled.  So I’ll ask you, all of you, a question: what compliment did you offer me last night?”

“Compliment…ah, gimme a sec, I’ll think of it,” said Grabby Trixie. 

“I know this, don’t worry,” said Stabby Trixie.

“Ahhhhhhh…hmmm, I think it was…” said Sleepy Trixie.

And then, almost as if they’d practiced beforehand, they said it at once: “Oh yeah!  I said ya had a nice room!”

“That’s correct.”  Lloyd’s brow twitched.  So they all knew it?  Blast it -- I would have figured that no one but the real one would know the answer, by virtue of our alone time.  But just to be safe…  “Very well then.  What sort of activity did I suggest would transpire, given the late-night excitement?”

“A pillow fight, right?” all three asked.

“What Shakespearian character did you refer to me as -- unfitting as it may have been?”


Lloyd winced.  I would gladly accept Miss Walters having a good memory, but for all three to answer flawlessly…I can see that this line of inquiry will do us no good.  Meanwhile, Gaston Leroux and his cohort are free to gallivant around Porbeagle at their leisure…while I have to contend with a duplicitous duplicate.  This is growing rather vexing.  Vexing, but not impossible, so long as I soldier on and --


Lloyd and the three Trixies turned toward the hall.  And from around the corner stepped a new entrant: another Trixie, patting a hand against her stomach and pouting.  “Oh man…was hopin’ that eatin’ that dumpster food wouldn’t come back to haunt me,” she moaned.  She looked up at the couch.  “Did I…did I  miss somethin’ here?”

Lloyd stared at the fourth Trixie.  He looked back to the three Trixies on the couch.  He looked back at the fourth Trixie.  And then, with a sigh, he gestured toward the couch.  “Please, have a seat.  This is a very problematic situation, but not an unsolvable one.  We just need a bit of time and intuition.”


One Hour Later

Lloyd groaned and took off his glasses, and pinched the bridge of his nose.  “All right.  So does anyone want to take a lunch break?  I feel as if we’d best put the interrogation on hold; we’re all frustrated, and could use a recess to calm our nerves.”  He set his glasses back atop his face.  “A show of hands -- who here would like a serving of potato salad?”

Thirty-six hands shot into the air.  Thirty-six Trixies filled the den, threatening to press Lloyd into oblivion.  They had to shove all the furniture into the walls to fit every last one of them; they sat atop the sofa, the chairs, the coffee table, the rug, the carpet, the TV stand, the TV itself…one of them even took a seat atop a now-empty vase.  And none of them looked too happy with the living arrangements; even though they’d come to a temporary truce, each Trixie looked at another with more malice than the last.  Even as Lloyd took a quick count, they could all distinctly make out murmurs and grumbles beckoning for violence.  If a hair so much as fell from one of their heads, they’d have broken into an all-out brawl.

“All right.  Math isn’t exactly my forte, buuuuuuuuut…”  Lloyd glanced at the kitchen.  “My father adores cooking in excess.  And because of it, I believe there’s enough potato salad left to give each of you an equal portion.  So there’s no reason for any of you to --”

Nobody bothered listening to Lloyd’s last words.  They just zeroed in on another Trixie entering from the hall. 

“Uh, Lloyd?  What’s with all the fakes?”  Trixie Thirty-Seven asked, pointing at the mob. 

Trixie Thirty-Seven would have been better off kicking a hive of killer bees. 

“Who the hell’re ya callin’ a fake?” one of them shouted, shoving her way through a trio of clones.  “We all know that I’m the real Trixie.”

“Yer jokin', right?  I’m the real Trixie!  Yer nothin’ but a no-good copycat!  And y’all better quit shovin’ me, or else I’m gonna shove back!”

“Buncha lyin’ sneaks!  I’M the real Trixie -- so back off, or we’re gonna have a real throw-down!  And -- hey, who just hit me?  Who the hell just hit me?”

“Don’t go pointin’ fingers if ya ain’t ready to have ‘em broken, ya fake!”

“Oh, that is IT!  I’m gonna beat yer ass!”

Lloyd couldn’t tell which Trixie said that last line, but it didn’t really matter.  All of them might as well have said it -- because not a second later, all of them started punching and kicking and grabbing.  They didn’t even bother waiting for Lloyd to slip out of the mob; he could only duck and cower as haymakers flew over his head.  “L-ladies!  Please control yourselves!” he whined.  “Your behavior is rather indecorous!”

No one heard him over the roar, of course -- or more than likely, they just didn’t care.  The Trixies knocked over furniture with wild swings.  The Trixies flung each other into walls, with each thud leaving the House of Hoigleheimer quivering.  The Trixies dug their heels into the carpet, tearing it from the rest of the floor.  The Trixies grabbed anything within reach and clobbered other Trixies -- a trio of them even threw the couch atop another group.  And when the furniture landed, they immediately started body-slamming one another.

“Ladies!  We can settle this with civility and tact!” Lloyd shouted, but with little success; they seemed more content with trampling and punting him about than any diplomacy.  Despite the ruckus, he stumbled to his feet, stroking his sore ribs.  “We have potato salad!  A calming reagent, if there ever was one!”

One of the Trixies dodged an incoming drop kick -- but Lloyd didn’t.  He rocketed toward the back wall and crashed against it, knocking an ironically-hung painting of an anvil onto his head.  “B-but we have potato salad…” he moaned.

Again, no one heard him.  The Trixies just kept fighting and fighting.

Potato salad.  Potato salad for all, Lloyd thought, half-wondering if he had a concussion. 

Trixie caught another Trixie in a piledriver.

We…we would have had so much fun eating potato salad.  So much joy, and camaraderie, and good spirits…

Trixie swung a standing lamp like a halberd, eager to smash the light bulb atop a few heads.

Potato salad is truth.  Justice.  Glory.  And…wait a minute.  There are thirty-seven…  He raised a wobbly finger and started a head count.  Yes, thirty-seven women here.  Thirty-seven in need of potato salad.  Thirty-seven.  Thirty-seven…thirty-seven…thirty-seven…thirty-seven.  How many portions would that require, then?

He counted off on his fingers while a Trixie quartet went flying in front of him.  No…no…no…hmmm.  It would seem that I can’t divide the potato salad equally. 

He smiled cheerily.  Ah, what a relief.

And then, not a second later, he jumped to his feet, blowing the painting away.  “THIRTY-SEVEN IS INDIVISIBLE!” he roared, throwing up his arms like a banana-deprived gorilla.  “INDIVISIBLE!”

Lloyd’s outburst, at last, put an end to the Trixies’ throw-down. 

“I have had ENOUGH of this incomprehensible tomfoolery!” Lloyd yelled, thrusting a finger forward.  “You say that only one of you is the real Miss Walters!  Fine!  So be it!  But until the rest of you are willing to admit your deceitful ways -- until your corporeal forms leave my sight -- then as far as I’m concerned, you’re ALL real.  And therefore, you’re ALL under my jurisdiction!”  He stomped his way toward the front door.

“Lloyd, what’re ya goin’ on about?” one of the Trixies asked.

Lloyd put a hand on the doorknob, then turned back to the mob and smirked.  “I’ve yet to discover how one southern belle can become a gaggle of them, but I suspect it’s to my advantage.  Gaston Leroux may be able to evade a search party of two or three, but against over three dozen, his prospects are on the wane.”

“What?  Are ya crazy?  We can’t go out there like this!”

“And why not?  It’s quite a sight, but not one detrimental to Porbeagle.  Why, it’s nothing short of a parade!”

“I-I ain’t goin’ out there.  Not with all these fakes.”

“Then I suppose you would like to continue your tussle?”  He pointed toward the kitchen.  “And how long would it be before the fight escalated?  How long until one, or two, or a dozen of you decided to opt for murder?”

The Trixies started exchanging pensive looks. 

“My thoughts exactly.  And that is why I declare that we all --”

“I would prefer it if we stayed here for a bit longer, Monsieur Hoigleheimer.”

Lloyd’s eyes darted over the crowd.  That manner of speech -- that voice so incongruous with Trixie’s…who among them had spoken it?  Who among them was the true killer?

“Look all you want, o violet one; look, and be deceived yet again.  For, as I expected, you’re a bit slow on the uptake when it comes to matters beyond the mortal ken.  Understandable, but all the more endearing -- and exploitable -- because of it.”

“Where are you?  Show yourself, you fiend!”  Lloyd took a step forward, and glared at the mob -- the mob that had grown eerily stiff.  “Show me your face, Gaston Leroux!”

“Ku fu fu…well, since you asked so nicely…”  A veil of crimson swept across the mob, spinning and spiraling until it enshrouded them all in a velvet tornado.  With each spin, Lloyd felt the wind brush against him; it swept his clothes, his hair, and even his body a few inches out of alignment.  And yet, just as quickly as it had come, the storm vanished.  In its place stood a certain someone -- a certain something.

A suit.  A cape.  A top hat.  A grinning mask.  And of course, a knife thrust deep into the heart.

“So, we finally meet, Gaston,” said Lloyd.  “May I offer you some potato salad?”


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