Mr. and Mrs. Andrews sat calmly, posing for the painting they had commissioned. Their dog Digby panted at Mr. Andrews’ side, the summer heat as hard on him as it was on Mrs. Andrews in her many-layered dress.
Their dress was ridiculous in this day and age, and no modern person in his right mind would ever put up with such heavy woolen clothing in such blistering heat for the sake of a fancy painting, even if it was a bargain in historic Fort Edmonton Park. So it is not difficult to conclude that something sinister was afoot.
That sinister element was, of course, love. Not between Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, of course. No, that had faded long ago. They were surely committed companions, and cherished confidants, but it simply wasn’t realistic in this day and age that a married couple could love each other longer than 10 years. Nor was the romance between Mr. or Mrs. Andrews and their beloved hound, though surely strong affection existed there. No, the case was that Mrs. Andrews was madly in love with Jesse, the Fort Edmonton Park photographer.
His head was underneath the black cloth now, muffling his voice as he called out directions for them to sit straighter, move ever so slightly this way, make sure to look up or the painter – who would be painting the portrait from this photograph – would cover their faces in shadows. Mrs. Andrews regarded with some pleasure Jesse’s well-formed backside in those fancy olden-day trousers. Oooh, she thought, I’d like to get my hands on-
“Something distracting you, dear?” Mr. Andrews interrupted. He was whispering, and trying to resist the urge to mop at the waterfall of perspiration pouring down his face. How had she convinced him to do this again? Ah, yes, he remembered now. She had assured him that agents of T.R.O.U.S.E.R.S. – Those Rogues Of Uganda Seeking Everything Really Scummy – were at work in this very park, using one of the old-timey buildings as a headquarters. As CSIS agents, they had been commissioned with the task of blending in on this overly hot first of July. Mrs. Andrews was rigourously attempting to keep her aching back straight, and the sun grew hotter and hotter. How long could it take to take one stupid-
“There we are, folks!” Jesse’s high, chirping voice called out. Digby howled as he did every time he’d heard the man’s voice.
“Oh, thank goodness, Jesse,” Mrs. Andrews intoned all sing-songily, “I thought I was about to crumble into a pile of cinders!” She giggled rather as my mother does when she thinks she’s being cute and girlish. Jesse laughed along, but only because he was an excellent customer service professional, and he knew it. Mr. Andrews harrumphed convincingly. When he had to play a part, he really got into it.
“Yes, well, thank you, my good man. We’ll be back at the end of the day to collect. And here’s a little something extra for your troubles.” Mr. Andrews winked and pressed and shiny dime into Jesse’s hand.
What? This was 1905 Street, and that was a lot of money then!
“Yes, thank you, dear!” Mrs. Andrews winked as well, and Jesse felt the sudden urgency of making himself scarce. But today was not his lucky day. Up strode Cyril, Jesse’s immediate supervisor who had the run of all 1905 and 1912 Streets.
“Bad news, Jesse, my boy!” Cyril also really got into his parts. “Young master Ephraim” – the employee’s name was Jeffrey, but we’ll let it slide, for art’s sake – “Master Ephraim is held up on the farm. Please stay on for another hour and a half, and there’s an extra penny in it for you, there’s a good lad!”
One of the awful things about working in a historic park was that the managers thought it was ‘quaint’ to pay period salary.
“Oh, why, isn’t that just wonderful?” enthused Mrs. Andrews as she took the underpayed young man by the arm, “That will give Jesse and I plenty of time to get to know each other!” She winked at Mr. Andrews, who winked in return, that last sentence having determined before they’d left home this morning for “You go back and search in the Indian Teepees, and I’ll make a thorough investigation of the Masonic Lodge above the cafe.” Then she winked at Cyril, who was actually another CSIS agent who happened to know of Mrs. Andrews’ affection for Jesse. He winked in return. Then she winked at Jesse, who vomited a little in his mouth upon seeing the antediluvian woman attempt to flirt with him. So Mr. Andrews took off, and Cyril found reasons to visit another shop, and Mrs. Andrews and Jesse absquastulated to the development booth.
Jesse looked questioningly at Mrs. Andrews before twirling in a circle.
“Look, Mrs. Andrews, you’re all very nice, but I –“ He stopped talking, as characters in this narrative are wont to do, looking at the object in Mrs. Andrews’ hand. It was a gun, and, judging by the looks of it, one stolen from another stop on 1905 Street, but Jesse was loathe to jump to conclusions about the lethality of the weapon being pointed at him.
“Oh, my precious Jesse,” she whispered, and stepped very close indeed, “you think you’re so clever, don’t you?” She exhaled deeply – she probably thought it was sultry - , and Jesse could smell the bacon, eggs, and orange juice that she’d enjoyed earlier.
“Um, well, I don’t know that I, um, why are you, um, going to shoot you?” Mrs. Andrews laughed in a way she probably thought made her sound like an old-timey movie star.
“I’m not going to shoot you!” she said, scorn apparent in her voice, “At least, not if you cooperate. Now, listen closely to me: I need two things. First, you will reveal to me T.R.O.U.S.E.R.S.’ secret object here in Edmonton, you filthy Ugandan Scumbag!”
Mrs. Andrews’ was not normally such a xenophobe, but she had found it to be a useful interrogation technique in the past. She continued.
“And second, you will,” she forced her wrinkled, gravity-tortured face into a thin smile, “provide me with ‘company’ this evening.” The vomit returned to Jesse’s mouth.
“I think there’s been some mistake! Mrs. Andrews, I’m not, I think, I think you’ve mistaken me for someone else. I’m not on any secret mission! I’m just trying to save up some money for college. I mean, for Pete’s sake, do I look Ugandan? This- this is not what I signed up for!” He screamed that last bit at the heavens in overdramatic angst, and memories of his Aunt Ethel’s advice to him came to mind.
‘Don’t take that job at Fort Edmonton Park’ she’d warned from under her ghost costume. It had been dress-up day. ‘It will be nothing but trouble. I know these jobs! It’s all conspiracy theorists and unwanted romantic advances!’
The ghost floated from his mind and he came back to the present.
“Don’t lie to me!” Mrs. Andrews was shouting at him, “I know full well you’re a T.R.O.U.S.E.R.S. agent! Do you think I don’t recognize the marks?!” She point at the rose tattoo on his forearm. He tried to keep it covered when working at the park, but sometimes the sleeve slid up. Mrs. Andrews started screaming again.
“Now tell me where the rest of you are hiding! Tell me, you dirty Africa-“ And her racist rant ended as she was skewered by a comically long sword. She fell to the ground, revealing, standing behind her, a man dressed as Zorro and Jesse’s Aunt Ethel, dress in a seductive red dress and looking significantly younger than usual. There was only a twenty-year age difference between, them, though. Jesse breathed a sigh of relief.
“Aunt Ethel,” he gasped out, “You’re just in time! This crazy woman, she, she knows!”
“Yes,” Ethel hummed as she pulled a rose out from between Zorro-man’s teeth, “But all is well. We’ve taken care of those pesky CSIS agents.”
Jesse wiped the sweat from his brow and smiled.
“And you,” Ethel continued, “You will go far in T.R.O.U.S.E.R.S.”
“Keep up de gret werk,” Zorro-man said, and with that, they all moved aside the large rock covering their cave, and descended to conspire with their Ugandan colleagues...