The Ballpoint Pimpernel
A parody not to be taken seriously, by any means
On her way to the analytical balance in the lab, Michele passed Abigail. She felt something passed into her hand and quickly closed her fingers over it, concealing it from sight. When she got back to the lab bench, she cautiously looked at it. It was a piece of paper.
*Showtime. 7:00 tonight, usual place.*
Signed with a little flower in black ink. Michele quickly looked about her, then lit a match and held it to the note. In a few seconds it was only a pile of ashes, which Michele scattered.
At 7:00 sharp she walked down the hall to Abigail's door and knocked three times. Three knocks . . . that was the signal . . .
"Come in," she heard Abigail say.
She entered and sat down on the bed, eyeing Abigail, who lounged on the floor, deep in thought.
"Mama," Abigail said, "tell me about your family."
"Abigail, I've told you this before . . ."
"Oh, please! Tell me again!" the 9-year-old child pleaded. Her mother smiled.
"Okay then." She began the story for the thousandth time.
"Two hundred years ago, your great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather--that was eight generations before you, Abigail--was a great lord in England. His name was sir Percy Blakeney, and he was rich and kind. But in France--that's in Europe, darling, you know--the government was bad, and they were killing innocent people. Sir Percy decided he would help these people by rescuing them from France and taking them to England, where they would be safe. He disguised himself and took the people away without the French government ever realizing it until it was too late. But one French government agent, a man named Monsieur Chauvelin, knew that Sir Percy was the one taking the people away. He tried to capture Sir Percy, but time after time he failed. For two hundred years, Abigail, the Chauvelin family and the Blakeney family have been bitter enemies," she finished, adding something new at the end of the oft-told story. Abigail had to find out sooner or later, and she was nine years old now . . .
"You mean, there is still a Monsieur Chauvelin?" Abigail asked in wonder. "After all these years?" Her mother laughed gently.
"Of course there is, dear! Chauvelin's family still exists . . . but I believe they've changed their name by now . . . to Chambertin, I think." She chuckled. "Chambertin . . . that's what Sir Percy used to call M. Chauvelin to make him mad. How funny."
"Why, mama?" Abigail asked, but her mother wasn't listening.
Michele was the first one to arrive at the meeting.
"What's up?" she finally whispered to Abigail, who was still lying on the floor, staring at the ceiling. They always spoke in whispers at these meetings, with the shades drawn and the door closed. It was safest that way. "Where is everybody else? They should have arrived by now . . ."
"They're not coming until 7:30," Abigail said. "I asked you to be here early because . . . I need your help."
Abigail sat up. "Michele, it's a big responsibility for me to take up this leadership alone. Too big, in fact. I need somebody to back me up, ready to take over if anything happens to me. Michele, you're my best friend, and the most intelligent person I know. I know you'll stand by me and that you're smart enough to lead this thing in case of my--absence. But it's going to take a lot of extra work on your part, helping me plan, spying for information, and such. Are you willing to do this? I don't want to force you into anything."
Michele smiled proudly. "It would be an honor, Abigail." They embraced briefly.
"Now, for business," Abigail continued. "As you know, they haven't heeded our warnings, and as it's been a week since the incident, it's time for another. The Honors College is holding a scholarship banquet on Tuesday. In other words, an excuse to show off. University alumni will be attending; it's a good time to act."
"The sound system again?" Michele asked.
"No, that's too obvious. It'll be the first thing they check after last time. We need something else. There will be a standard dinner served; baked chicken, steamed vegetables, rice, and a roll. Surely we can do something with that that won't hurt anybody. We're out to embarrass the college, not to injure people."
"Food, eh? Our best bet, then, is to tamper with the condiments," Michele said. "Sugar in the salt shakers, dried cayenne in the pepper. Should make things interesting, don't you think?" she finished with a mischievous grin. Abigail giggled.
"Yes! Too bad we can't but salt in the sugar packets," she laughed. "Can you imagine the look on some patron's face when they taste the tead they *thought* they put sugar in? And if anyone asks for ketchup--though I don't know why they would, you never can tell with these alumni--I know a hot sauce that looks exactly like ketchup. What a surprise that would be!"
Michele was laughing too. "How about substituting cream cheese for the butter? They'd never notice the difference--until they tasted their 'buttered' bread!" They both doubled over, hopelessly silly, and at that moment they heard three knocks.
"Come in," Abigail managed to gasp out between giggles. David and Jenny entered the room and sat down quizzically, staring at the two.
"What's going on?" David asked when they finally calmed down. Abigail shook her head.
"Not until the others arrive. It's best if I only have to say it once," she said. "But we've got another 'job' to do."