By Janet Brayden
The phone on board the Riptide rang three times before Cody Allen was able to get to it and pick it up. He, and his partners, had just returned from the local supermarket and their arms were full of bags. Nick Ryder, and Murray Bozinsky headed below to the galley, each carrying an extra bag as they managed to get hold of one of the ones Cody had put down.
"Hi Cody!" a cheerful, young female voice said. "How's everything in King Harbor?"
"Cayce! It's good to hear from you! Everything's fine here. How are things in Sunny Acres?"
"Find and dandy. We're gearing up for the downtown trick or treat and the scarecrow contest."
"Downtown trick or treat and a scarecrow contest? What gives?"
Cayce McKenna, twenty-five going on twenty-six, was the niece of Nick and Cody's old CO from their MP days. She was like a little sister to the three men. She spent a little time with them in King Harbor (as little as possible since she hated cities) and they spent time at her ranch, the Lazy M, when they weren't working on a case or off on a fishing trip. All four of them were immensely fond of each other and protective of each other as well.
"Yeah. See the merchants, that belong to the Chamber of Commerce sign up for it. Each one of the sponsoring merchants - store, restaurant, hairdresser or whatever - receives a small jack o'lantern sign to put up in their window or door. The kids of the town, and the neighboring farms and ranches, are escorted around town by parents, grandparents, older siblings - you know - someone older to look out for them. Anyway, they go from door to door and get candy and there's a contest in the town square for best costumes in categories such as "most original" or "most authentic"." She giggled. "It's a lot of fun and downtown is practically shut down while they're parading through town. Not completely but Sergeant Ellsbury and a half dozen or so other officers do traffic duty at the crosswalks and in the main parking lot."
"That sounds like a lot of fun for the kids," Allen said.
"What's this scarecrow contest about?" Cody was curious and held up his hand when his partners returned and gave him inquiring looks.
"Scarecrow contest?" Nick mouthed to Murray. "It has to be Cayce."
"Sssh!" Cody admonished him. "I can't hear."
"Is that Nick I hear?" Cayce asked.
"Yeah. You want to talk to him?"
"Put me on the speaker so I can talk to all three of you," she suggested.
As soon as he did so the other men exchanged greetings with their little sister.
"So, are you guys busy right now on a case?" she asked as casually as possible.
Her tone should have set off alarm bells in the detective's heads because it was the one she always had when she was up to something. Little did they know what "little sister" had in mind.
"No. Not at the moment," Cody admitted. "Why?"
"Why don't you come on up to the Lazy M? We're not doing a big barbecue for my birthday this year because Uncle Brian is away and the girls are busy. Dan's on TDY in D.C. for some training at National Park Service Headquarters. It's pretty quiet around here so I got myself really involved in this celebration. It's a combination of Halloween - for the kids' sake - and a harvest celebration. There will be games, and displays and vendors. Lots of food. I could use some help with the Lazy M's contributions to the decorations."
"What kind of decorations?" Nick asked suspiciously.
"Scarecrows and pumpkins. Indian corn. Gourds. Jack o'lanterns of course. There's even a giant pumpkin contest."
"A giant pumpkin contest?" Murray, the lone scientist in the bunch was quite interested.
"Yes. Several of the farmers, and amateur gardeners, have a contest each year to see who can grow the largest contest. The winner gets bragging rights for the next year - unless he wins a second time. Naturally, if he - or she - gets consecutive wins they get extended bragging rights."
Nick's suspicions were heightened when he heard her sigh of seeming regret over the lack of a family celebration. Where Cayce was concerned they were always getting roped into something they didn't want to do - like going to the pig races at the fair the year before. True it had been part of her birthday celebration but at the time both he and Cody had tried to talk their way out of it.
"What's the catch?" he asked suspiciously.
"No catch," Cayce said, trying to sound hurt. "Just a friendly visit with a few little chores you can help with for the festival."
"Like what?" Nick wasn't about to give in so easily.
"You still know how to use a hammer and a screwdriver don't you?"
"Well you can put those skills to work helping erect booths and tack up streamers and such.
"Cayce," Cody said. "You're holding something back. What is it?"
"Weeell there are jack o'lanterns to carve. I'll bet Murray could be very creative in drawing the faces and such for them. He can help me make a couple of scarecrows too."
"I think it sounds like fun," Murray said.
Nick and Cody exchanged looks.
"When is it?" the blond asked.
"A week from tomorrow," the rancher replied. "So you'll come?"
"Yeah, we'll come," he said.
"Great! Josefina will be thrilled to have a houseful of men with hearty appetites to feed."
It was soon agreed that the detectives would fly up in Nick's Sikorsky helicopter, the Screaming Mimi the next afternoon. That would give her, and her housekeeper/surrogate mother, time to make up the beds in the guest rooms and lay in some extra groceries."
"See you tomorrow," Cayce said as she hung up the phone.
"I still think she's up to something," Nick said to his partners.
"Why, Nick Ryder," Murray chided, "It's just a simple harvest festival with safe trick or treating for the kids."
"Boz, nothing is ever 'simple' when it comes to Cayce. A 'simple day at the fair' led to attending pig races."
"Which were a lot of fun," Bozinsky said emphatically. "You ended up enjoying yourself just as much as Cayce and her family did and you know it."
*********************************************************************************** In Sunny Acres, Cayce's eyes were twinkling as she hung up the phone. In her mind's eye she could see Murray's face glowing with excitement - for the kids and the three of them. He had such a childlike demeanor about him at times. He was going to love the Festival - especially the parade of costumed trick or treaters.
Cody, she thought, would be a bit of a mixture. He didn't tend to be as cynical, and suspicious, as Nick but he was cautious. He'd come but he'd be a little leery of any tricks she might have up her sleeve. He'd probably end up having fun.
Nick was another story. Whether it was just his nature to be cynical and suspicious or his rough childhood, she wasn't quite sure. However, he loved making kids happy so he'd probably end up having a good time in spite of himself just as he had had at the pig races the previous fall.
"Josefina!" she called. "We need to go shopping and make up two of the guest rooms. My darling 'brothers' are coming for the festival. You get to try and fatten Murray up some more."
Josefina came out from the kitchen to join her employer in the living room.
"The doctor was pleased, no?"
"Yes, very pleased and we must see that he remains so. Murray is far too skinny for his height. You and I are going to do something about that if I have to shanghai - kidnap - him and keep him here for a month." She smiled at her surrogate mother. "Too bad Boz isn't in the reserves like Nick. Uncle Brian would find a way to get him here on some kind of detail involving physical exertion to build up his appetite."
"What shall we feed them?" Josefina asked.
"Well friend chicken would be good for one night. Sloppy Joes perhaps? If the weather is really cool, and breezy, some hot soup would be good. We can take it in thermoses, along with coffee and some sandwiches plus plenty of bottled water, while we're in town helping set up and decorate.
The menu agreed upon the two women made short work of dusting two of the guest rooms and making up three beds with sheets that had been stored in the linen closet and smelled of fresh air and sunshine. Only in the winter did they use the dryer for Cayce's laundry. Her mother and grandmothers had always said that nothing smelled nicer than laundry that had dried outdoors and Cayce was inclined to agree with them. In her dresser drawers, among her tee shirts and jeans, she always had balsam bags tucked away to keep those things smelling like the outdoors.
When that chore was finished Cayce went out to inform her foreman and the other hired men that the detectives would be arriving the next day. She asked that McGregor assign a couple of men to ensure that the clearing they used for a landing pad was clear of any and all obstructions and hazards. It wasn't a big job as Cayce used that same area for her own helicopter, the Red Baroness.
The rest of the day passed quickly. Josefina took the ranch station wagon into town to stock up on groceries while Cayce caught up on her bookkeeping. There was a lot to do for the festival and she didn't want anything left undone that would hinder her participation.
Everyone on the Lazy M contributed in on way or another. By working in shifts, everyone was able to pitch in and still keep the ranch running smoothly.
Fall round up was over and the cattle had been shipped to market. The money Cayce got for them was safely deposited in the bank. Repairs to fences had been started and mostly completed. Frank Harding and KC Campion were checking the roofs on the various buildings to make sure that there were no loose, or missing shingles, to cause problems when the winter rains and snow came. The chimney sweep had been sent for and the job of cleaning the chimneys at the main house was finished.
The farrier was due the next afternoon to put new shoes on the horses that weren't currently working. He would return in a week to catch up on those that weren't available.
For once everything was on track because there had been no major calamities to bring things to a grinding halt. There hadn't been for two years since Cayce had won top honors - and prize money - in the barrel racing on the rodeo circuit. The Riptide detectives had solved the mystery of the chain of "accidents" that had plagued the Lazy M that summer. The result had been the capture of an escapee from an army stockade, the arrest of several men for the damage to vehicles and other equipment and unlawful detainment (technically kidnapping) as well as assault and battery.
Cayce's main competitor, Melissa Carpenter, had proven to be behind it. She was subsequently expelled from membership in the Barrel Racing Association and arrested on several charges including assault and battery and harboring a fugitive. The only threats now were natural disasters, real accidents, illness and the fluctuating costs of livestock. The market price for prime beef went up and down but this they could weather since they all spent time on the rode and horse show circuit and had the horse training business besides as well as stud fees paid for the services of her three stallions, Blackfoot Medicine man, aka Doc, Maverick and Scout. Cayce gave riding lessons and coached new barrel racers as well.
Around eleven the next morning the distinctive whup-whup of the Screaming Mimi was heard. Cayce, clad in jeans, black denim shirt and a bright red sweatshirt with Cape Cod emblazoned on it in white lettering, went out to meet them.
The breeze created by the Mimi's rotors kicked up a lot of dust and dry leaves as well as teasing the loose strands of hair that had escaped from the braid which Cayce had put in her light brown hair that morning. Said braid hung down her back.
When the pink chopper had safely landed the cargo bay door opened and Murray climbed out. As he approached Cayce ran to greet him. Throwing her arms around the slender computer whiz she greeted him with a kiss and a "Hi Boz!"
Bozinsky happily returned the enthusiastic greeting with one equally as enthusiastic as the young woman's.
Cody was next. The blond picked her up off the ground as he hugged her.
"Hi sweets! How are you? How's the colonel?"
The colonel was Cayce's Uncle Brian McKenna. He'd been Nick and Cody's commanding officer when they were in the MPs. That was how they'd met Cayce. Her folks had been killed in a boating accident when she was ten. Brian McKenna had been given custody of her and raised his brother's child to adulthood. The pair was very close.
"I'm fine. Uncle Brian is fine. Very busy right now. There are a lot of special events going on at the post over the next weeks. He's been out straight arranging for MPs to do traffic duty and crowd control let alone picking up the drunks and all."
As she finished speaking she felt a tug on her braid. She turned around to find Nick grinning at her. It was a game between them. She tried to avoid his pulling on her hair by wearing it in one braid down her back but he sometimes managed to get by her defenses.
"Hey!" she exclaimed slapping at his hand, "cut it out! You mess up my braid and you're gonna have to redo it."
Nick just laughed at her. He knew she wasn't really mad - much.
"And you, Cody Allen, you should have stopped him - or warned me," she scolded her oldest "brother".
"Sure you are," she responded with a mock scowl. Shaking her head she accepted Nick's warm embrace before saying, "Come on, get your bags out of the Mimi and let's get to the house. Mamacita has lunch just about ready."
When the men's faces lit up she added, "You know she won't feed us until we've cleaned up so get a move on."
With that reminder Nick quickly climbed aboard the chopper and started handing bags down. Then Cody and Boz, with suitcases in one hand, each wrapped their free arm around Cayce's shoulders leaving Nick to bring up the rear. They weren't about to upset Josefina by being late to wash up and get to the table.
"Señor Cody. Señors Nick and Murray. How nice to see you again." Josefina greeted each of them warmly with a kiss on the cheek which they returned. "Lunch is almost ready, niños so hurry and put your bags in your rooms and get cleaned up."
The men hasted to do as she said for Josefina had a justly deserved reputation as an excellent cook. They went to the second floor and deposited their suitcases in the usual guest rooms and quickly washed up before going downstairs to the kitchen. Cayce only ate in the dining room when she had her uncle and cousins or other family members visiting. Brian McKenna often brought young homesick solders with him on weekend passes where they were fed decent, home cooked meals and made to feel welcome. The Lazy M, and its owner, was renowned for its hospitality year round.
Lunch was homemade tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches. There was coffee for the men, milk for Cayce and deep dish apple pie ala mode for dessert.
It didn't take long for the siblings to polish off two bowls of soup and crackers with two sandwiches apiece as well as large wedges of pie.
"That was delicious," Cody declared.
"I'm so full I couldn't eat another bite," Nick commented.
"Yes, very good," Murray agreed.
"Denada.You are most welcome," the matronly Mexican woman smiled.
"What's on the agenda for this afternoon?" Cody asked his "little sister".
"Scarecrows!" she declared. "I have the clothes and stuff in one of the empty box stalls in the barn. We've converted it into a temporary workshop so that we don't track straw into the house or the bunkhouse."
Rising from the table she stopped at the back door long enough to grab her denim jacket to wear. In her part of California it was getting chilly and the barn was unheated by anything but warm animals.
In the barn they were greeted by four of Cayce's hands including her foreman, Alex McGregor who greeted them with a twinkle in his eyes.
"Well, well, the city boys are back. How are you boys?" he asked.
"McGregor," Cody grinned back at him. "We're fine. The boss lady, here, is planning on putting us to work on scarecrows."
"Coming down in the world to do that aren't you?" Smokey Jim Kennelly couldn't help ribbing them himself. He and the detectives got along quite well and had quickly become fast friends when they all realized how much they cared about Cayce and the Lazy M.
"Compared to some of our jobs, lately," Nick told him, "this is coming up in the world."
The others all laughed. Cayce gave each of them a burlap sack to draw a face on plus the clothes to stuff with straw. There were several pairs of jeans as well as shirts and jackets and hats to go with them. There was paint and colored pencils to do the faces with. All the supplies were laid out on nearby straw bales that had been covered with a canvas tarp to protect it. A dozen or so bales of straw were nearby and it was obvious, from the way the straw was strewn all over the place, that the scarecrow workshop had been busy for a while.
There was a small cassette recorder on the shelf. Coming from it was an assortment of Easy Listening and oldies music as well as some country. Soon, though, Halloween took over and a variety of "spooky" songs came along including the themes from Casper the Friendly Ghost, The Addams Family, The Munsters, Bewitched and, best of all - to Cayce's mind at least - Bobby "Boris" Pickett's "Monster Mash" which had her and Boz giggling so hard they couldn't do much of anything else.
"You're getting sillier by the minute," Nick told her in mock disdain. In reality that song always made him laugh as well. He just wasn't going to let her know that. He'd never hear the end of it from her or his partners.
Two hours later there were enough scarecrows to put a couple on the porch of the main house and outside the bunkhouse. The others were loaded into the back of the station wagon and taken into town by Smokey and Frank Harding who were going to help get the parts for the booths in preparation for assembly in the morning. KC Campion and Brian Hays were taking the stake truck loaded with hay bales and dried corn stalks they'd collected. Both loads were headed for the town square where they would be stored in a tent until morning.
That afternoon Cayce took her brothers on a trail ride in the crisp fall air. The sun shone brightly in a blue sky with puffy white marshmallow clouds. It was a break from working on the festival - all they had left to do was make some jack o'lanterns to put out at the Lazy M. Cayce planned on buying apples and the supplies to make candy apples and their caramel counterparts at the festival. She would do that in the morning.
An hour later they returned to the barn where Brian and KC took over the care of the horses, sending their employer and her guests into a warm house where they started a fire in the fireplace with the intention of popping corn later - much to Murray's delight. Last Christmas he had learned how to pop corn over an open fire and he really enjoyed it.
"What's for dinner?" Cody as he wandered into the kitchen a half hour later. It was almost five o'clock that night.
Cayce looked up from the large kitchen table where she was putting something in the oven. There was flower on her nose and her hands as well as her clothes. She never wore an apron unless she was wearing good clothes.
"Homemade pizza," she told him. "one with everything for you guys and one with just sausage for me."
Looking around Cody could see that the oven was on and Cayce was in the midst of putting the final touches on their pizzas.
"Can I do anything to help?" he asked.
Cayce was rolling her sleeves up. "I've got dishes to wash and the table to clean up once the pizzas are in the oven," she said. "I'll wash . You can dry."
"Agreed - and I'll clean the table for you."
"Where are Nick and Murray?" his hostess inquired.
"Murray's reading one of your books on the Indian Wars. I think Nick's dozing on the couch."
"Ah. Well the pizzas will be ready in about half an hour. It depends on how the crust cooks. Sometimes it's soggy at first and needs more than the half hour it's supposed to bake."
The pair made quick work of cleaning up from the supper preparations and setting the table. Cody went down to the cellar to bring up some extra soda while Cayce put out paper plates, napkins, crushed red pepper and glasses. Allen got ice from the freezer for the drinks.
While Cayce took the pizzas out of the oven and placed them on the trivets she'd placed on the table Cody went and informed his partners that supper was on the table. The tantalizing aroma of tomato sauce, cheese and other toppings made everyone's mouths water.
It was a jolly foursome that shared the meal. The men brought Cayce up to date on things in King harbor - especially how they had helped Lieutenant Ted Quinlan (usually their worst enemy or arch nemesis) with a case involving a bomber who had targeted minority businesses and community centers. They left out the part about Cody's head injury.
"He was using his son and the boys at the Institute?" Cayce was shocked.
"Yeah, but he's in jail now and Chad is living with his mom now," Nick said.
"I think they'll be fine. The boy has a lot to unlearn but I don't think his heart was ever really in it," Cody told her. "It was more like he was a puppet and his father the puppet master."
"What's happening tomorrow?" Murray asked in an attempt to change the subject to something more pleasant.
"Tomorrow we go to town early and help where needed," was the answer.
At seven the next morning, Saturday, the detectives and the young rancher climbed into the station wagon and headed for town. McGregor, Woody Hartnett and Carl Ryan followed in the Bronco. Each vehicle had lunches for the occupants plus the power and hand tools they might need to put the booths together. In addition they and hardware and some scrap lumber with which to make minor repairs.
The downtown area of Sunny Acres was just starting to get busy when the group from the Lazy M arrived. Sergeant Ellsbury, of the police department as assigning some of his men to various intersections to put up traffic barriers and direct traffic around the square. They would be strategically located at the crosswalks where the major intersections were. The officer saw Cayce and her crew arrive and indicated to her and Woody where they should park. They pulled in to the main parking lot and got right to work.
First off the pieces to the booths had to be taken to their designated locations and assembled. Cayce had a map that showed which booths went where. Additional documentation explained in written instructions and diagrams what the pieces were and how to put them together. Soon two detectives and two Lazy M hands were putting together the wooden booths and ensuring that they were level and steady. It wouldn't do for one of them to fall over at the slightest touch. They were placed in their proper location under the guidance of committee members, Cayce and their partner. All went well except for Cody getting a couple of fingers mashed by his hammer and pinched between sections of a booth he was assembling.
He didn't get a whole lot of sympathy from Nick, who had been down this road before, but Cayce made him sit down, out of the way, with an ice pack to help with the potential swelling. Not for long did Cody sit because he was well aware of the dirty looks he was getting from Nick for "milking it".
With several teams of four working together it didn't take long for the booths and tables to be set out. Next came the decorations. Dried corn stalks and hay bales were dragged or wrestled into place. Cayce and Boz placed pumpkins, gourds and Indian corn on counters and bales. The corn stalks were propped up and secured with twine. Several booths had scarecrows of various sizes.
"Ohh! Look at these!" Cayce squealed at one of the booths. "Aren't they cute?"
What she was looking at was dolls made to look like pumpkin people and miniature scarecrows. There were also stuffed toy pumpkins, some of which looked like jack o'lanterns.
"Cayce, don't you think you have enough scarecrows and jack o'lanterns?" Nick asked.
"Nick, those are outside scarecrows and jack o'lanterns," Cayce explained as patiently as she could. "These are indoor scarecrows and jack o'lanterns. They'd look cute on the mantle and the coffee table."
Ryder just rolled his eyes. There was no arguing with that kind of logic - especially when his partners agreed with her. Murray he could understand. But Cody? Cody should have had more sense than that and usually did. What was this hold that Cayce had over him?
The group moved along and presently came to the location for the giant pumpkin contest. Already there were several entires, each weighing upwards of five hundred pounds but the best one was yet to arrive.
For the next couple of hours Cayce and company roamed around town, seeing the sights and checking out the merchandise that would be for sale. They made a trip to the supermarket to get the supplies for the candy and caramel apples. Upon their return they set up the camp stove - which also had an oven - and prepared to fix the treats.
"Miss Cayce! The committee wants to see you over at the giant pumpkin display," Carl Ryan told her.
"Me? What do they want me for?" she wondered aloud.
Carl grinned knowingly, his brown eyes twinkling. "They said something about you being 'the right man for the job'".
Cayce looked at him suspiciously. "You know what this is about don't you?"
"Carl just continued grinning and said," You go on now. Woody and I will take care of the apples until the next shift arrives around noon."
That did it. Her curiosity was aroused. Just what did the Festival Committee want with her? The detectives were also curious and followed along.
When they arrived they found that all of the giant pumpkins had arrived, been weighed and awarded their prizes. The largest one had weighed in at one thousand six hundred and ten pounds.
"That would make a great jack o'lantern," Cayce said.
"Yes, but you'd need a flood light to illuminate it with," Boz said.
"Ah, Cayce McKenna," Tom Coleman, the chairman greeted her. "Just the person I want to see."
"So I heard," she said. "What's up?"
"We need your expertise in the jack o'lantern department," Coleman told her. "We want you to turn the giant pumpkin contest winner into a jack o'lantern."
"What? I was only joking," she said.
"But it's a great idea!" Coleman said.
Cayce looked at the detectives. Murray looked thoughtful - like he was considering the possibilities. Nick and Cody looked ready to explode with laughter.
"You two think this is funny, don't you?" She glared at them.
"Very," Nick said.
Cody wisely kept his mouth shut but the expression on his face said it all. He, too, thought it was funny and he felt it was a project that was right up her alley.
"Ok. I'll do it," she said. "But I'm going to need help and I think these three gentlemen," gesturing toward her band of brothers, "are just the ones to help me out."
"I'm out of here," Nick said.
"No you're not!" Cayce grabbed him by the arm. "If you think you're going to stand around kibitzing and not help me you've got another thing coming," she told him.
Arguing would be useless he could see. Beside he couldn't leave Cody and Boz alone with her - there was no telling what they'd cook up for revenge.
"Ok, now that that's settled," Cayce said, "there are a few things we need."
"Such as?" the committee chairman asked.
"First of all move this pumpkin to the center of the square. You've going to want it to be the focal point of the activities. I guarantee it will draw an audience both while we're working on it and after we're done.
"We can do that," Coleman said. "The equipment that brought it here is still available."
"Cody, Nick, we're going to need three ladders - extension ladders first and then step ladders, a jigsaw and some tools to scoop out the pulp and the seeds. Turning to Murray, she said "Boz we're going to need a design for the face, a floodlight and a little more help."
She looked around and indicated where she wanted the giant gourd located, then took Murray with her back to the Lazy M to get the things she needed but didn't have there. An hour later they were back with cookie sheets, oil and salt for roasting the weeds as well as a small electric stove with an oven. They also brought plastic baggies to put the cooled seeds into.
Brian Hays and KC Campion came back with them to take charge of roasting, and bagging, the seeds which would be free to anyone who wanted them. A few seed would be withheld for the owner/donor to use next year to see if he could repeat his success.
Murray and Cayce had collaborated on the design for the face and come up with one that was cute and goofy. The drawing would be a guide when it came time to do the actual carving. While at the ranch they had located a couple of different floodlights. They wouldn't know which one would be best until they finished the carving. The light would be set up inside the finished product to provide the light that a candle would provide for a normal sized jack o'lantern.
Within minutes Cayce was marshaling her troops and issuing orders.
"Cody, Nick, set the ladders up against the pumpkin on three sides please. Murray spread that plastic tablecloth on the ground there." She indicated a spot on the ground a few feet away where the pulp and seeds could be separated without the person doing the job being underfoot. "You're in charge of separating the seeds from the pulp. Brian and KC will take the seeds and spread them on the greased cookie sheets, salt them and roast them. You can help bag them."
Turning to her two employees she said, "You can set the stove up over there and plug it into that outlet on the bandstand."
Everyone scurried about to do as she said. When they were through she climbed up one of the ladders to start drawing the circle where they would cut the top off of the pumpkin in order to start cleaning it out. It was a good three and a half feet in circumference at the top. It would required several people to remove it and lower it to the ground once the final cut was made.
What Cayce started, Cody and Nick finished. When the final cut had been made the three of them carefully removed the top and handed it to the waiting cowboys and committee members who stood by. The top was placed on a separate piece of plastic and covered with a tarp to keep it clean and to prevent its drying out.
"Now comes the hard part," Cayce said as she removed her jacket and rolled up her sleeves. "Now we get to work on the inside."
So saying she picked up a small garden spade, and some tongs, and climbed back up her ladder to get started. Boz took her jacket and set it aside in a safe place, then returned to watch and wait for the pulp to start arriving for him to work on. Each scoop of pulp and seeds was placed on a sheet of plastic and carried over to where Murray stood ready to separate it. It wasn't until he got started that he remembered just how slippery of a job it was.
"Ooops, there goes another one," he giggled as a slippery seed escaped his grasp.
He needn't have worried. KC and Brian picked them up and put them in a colander to be rinsed before they were spread on the cookie sheets. They had already gotten water from the local diner to rinse them with. Several of the committee members pitched in and they soon had a relay going between the pun, the seeders as they were being called and the water. A couple of teens were pressed into service to dispose of the unneeded pulp and the seeds too small for anyone to eat.
After a while the teens go restless and bored. When some of their buddies came along and razzed them they got up and started fooling around, and unfortunately push came to shove - literally.
"Hey! Watch it!" Cayce yelped when one of them jostled the ladder she was on. She had no desire to go head first into that muck. She was leaning over the opening at the time.
The teens settled down after that. They didn't want the fiery Cayce to come after them and they were slightly worried about her two muscular friends - meaning Nick and Cody. Both looked more than capable of laying them out if anything happened to her.
In about an hour and a half they had the pumpkin cleaned out and ready to be carved. Two of the stepladders were removed and the third one positioned where Cayce could start the drawing. Nick and Cody steadied the ladder while Murray guided her in the drawing from a vantage point about two feet back from the hollowed out pumpkin where he could see clearly what she was doing.
"Hold everything!" she exclaimed. "I think this calls for secrecy and an unveiling later on. Let's rig up a canvas curtain around this thing - say four feet back to allow us room to maneuver."
"That's a boss idea," Murray said. "It'll make it a great surprise for all the kids."
"And the adults," Cayce grinned. "Some of them are nothing but big kids."
The three detectives and the Lazy M men pitched in and set up the poles and the canvas to form the private workshop. It didn't take long with everyone working together and soon Cayce was back at work on the pumpkin. Bozinsky was a competent guide for the artwork and soon the face of the jack o'lantern was ready to carve.
"Did you guys ever hear the legend of how the jack o'lantern got its name?" Cayce asked with a gleam in her eye.
"No, I can't say as I have," Nick replied. "How about you guys?"
"No," Cody said with a look at Murray. "I think we're about to find out though." Looking at Cayce he said, "I know I'm going to regret this, but just what is the story behind jack o'lanterns?"
"Well it's like this, there was this guy named Stingy Jack - an Irishman from what I'm told..."
"Of course, an Irishman," Nick said. "With you it's always an Irishman."
"Or a Scotsman," Cody added.
"Sssh!" Boz hushed his partners. "Go on, Cayce. I want to hear it."
"Well, he was a real cheapskate. He conned the Devil into turning himself into a coin to pay for the drinks Jack was supposed to buy them. When he put the coin in his pocket it was next to a silver cross and the devil couldn't turn back into his original shape because of it. When Jack freed him he made a bargain with him – in exchange for his freedom the devil would not bother Jack for a year."
"The year went by and Jack conned the devil into climbing a tree to pick a piece of fruit. Then he carved a cross into the tree trunk and the devil couldn't come down until he promised not to bother Jack for ten years. When Jack died God couldn't let such an unsavory character into Heaven. The devil was upset about the trick that Jack had played on him and wouldn't claim his soul. He sent Jack off into the dark night with a hollowed out gourd in which he had a lighted coal. And he's roamed the earth ever since then."
The two older detectives burst into laughter when they heard that one. Murray looked pensive but finally started laughing. The two lazy M hands just shook their heads. They'd heard this story before. Cayce was a very apt story teller at times.
Soon enough the jack o'lantern's face had been carved and now it was time to put the flood light into play.
"How are you going light him up without the floodlight tipping over?" Nick wanted to know.
"Simple. We carve a hole in the back, where nobody will notice it. Two of us stand on stepladders to lower it in by tying some twine to it. Someone else lies on the ground in the back and uses a hook on the end of a wooden rod to grab the cord and pull it out the hole in the back. When it gets dark we plug it in at the band stand - the guys are finished roasting the seeds and the stove is already loaded on the truck ready to go back to the ranch."
Cody and Nick got the job of lowering the floodlight into the jack o'lantern while Cayce lay on the ground with the hook. Campion and Hays steadied the ladders for the detectives and Murray took the cord to the bandstand and made ready to plug it in. Three members of the committee stood by and handed up the top to be replaced before the King Harbor men climbed back down and removed the ladders.
When it was finally almost completely dark, the canvas was taken down, the poles removed and, finally, Murray was given the signal to plug in the spotlight. Cayce stood by with Nick and Cody on either side. When the floodlight came on the jack o'lantern's face was clearly seen by all the bystanders and passersby. The two oldest "brothers" put an arm around Cayce's shoulders and gave her a hug as they admired their handiwork. It had been a big chore but the looks on the faces of all who saw it made it worth while. The giant jack o'lantern was a tremendous success.
"I have a question, Cayce," Nick said with a twinkle in his blue eyes.
"What's that?" she asked.
"What are you going to do for an encore next year?"