by Suzanne Conboy-Hill
Jody ran into the house, all pink and breathless, ‘There’s a thing in our garden!’ he announced, coughing slightly on ‘garden’ and having to inhale half way through.
‘Oh, really?’ his mother said, not looking up from the hoover that had just died. Jody recognised this as an adult’s empty communication, although he called it being ignored.
‘A thing, a metallic thing with gadgety arms, flashy lights, and a lid thingy that’s like, going whaawha whoomph!’
‘Whawha woomph …’ Jody’s mother had begun eviscerating the hoover, so the chances of getting her attention had just dropped below zero. Jody ducked into the living room where his father was reading his paper.
‘Dad, there’s a …’
‘Yes, I heard, a flashy whawha thing with gadgety arms. Really, Jody, if you want to be a scientist when you grow up, you’re going to have to learn about precision. Too much Dr Who, I reckon.’
The doorbell rang.
‘Good afternoon, sir,’ said the chap with the metal box under his arm and worry lines he kept trying to marshal into a smile. ‘I’m wondering if you might have seen anything, erm, unusual today.’
‘What sort of unusual?’ said Jody’s dad. ‘And who are you, just so I know?’
‘My apologies, I’m Dr Tim Blaney, director of the Institute for Advanced Science down the road.’ He waved an arm vaguely towards the old mansion that stood in several acres and had pictures of growling dogs on the gates and fences. ‘A piece of equipment has gone missing and we believe we’ve traced it to this locality.’
‘Oh? What is it then, this equipment? Name? Specs?’ Jody’s dad was in alpha male mode and fluffing up his credentials like a frilled lizard. ‘I’m a scientist myself,’ he said, and fumbled for a business card. Jody’s mother rolled her eyes and Jody waited for the list of accomplishments to be trotted out. ‘Worked on the prototype for the FiC-500. Called something else now, I expect, so it’s easier for lay people to pronounce.’ He lifted his chin and raised disdainful eyebrows.
‘Well, sir,’ said Dr Blaney, parrying the invitation to a shared sneer with a hasty concession, ‘I can see you’re a man of some knowledge and integrity, so I can tell you it’s a 10-series AD drone; also a prototype.’
‘Ah,’ Jody’s dad rocked back on his heels, ‘Serial number?’
‘Good. Good. Always going missing, those things, eh? Well, we’ll keep an eye out for it, you can rest assured.’ Jody’s dad shut the door.
‘You’ve no idea what that is, have you?’ Jody’s mother was pulling a face, trying not to laugh.
‘Of course I have. Pretty certain there were a couple at my last lab. Very rare though, and expensive. See Jody? Precision, that’s what you need. Know what something is and you can solve the problem.’
‘Dad, I don’t know what it is but I think I know where it is, it’s …’
‘Jody, this is scientist work, not little boy entertainment. What you saw was hardly likely to be a top secret device.’ He pulled his shoulders back, ‘Best leave it so someone who knows what they’re doing.’ And off he went towards the garage, rolling up his sleeves and muttering numbers under his breath, none of which were satisfactory if his eyebrows were to be believed.
When bedtime came, Jody lay awake in the dark, listening to the banging, scuffling, and bumping as items in the front room, the back room, the kitchen and then the loft went hither and thither, then hither again. It was still going on when he finally fell asleep and in the morning, before breakfast, Jody’s dad came shuffling down the stairs with cobwebs in his hair, dust on his sweater, and a spider hanging off his sleeve.
‘No luck, Dad?’
‘No, Son. I expect some idiot just mislaid it. Always one, even in the best labs. I remember having to put in some pretty keen security protocols myself to stop light-fingered numpties making off with things they didn’t understand.’
The doorbell rang again and Jody’s dad marched away with an air of martyred authority to answer it.
‘Dr Blaney, good morning. Did you find your … your missing item?’ He leaned forwards, lowered his voice and tapped his nose to indicate respect for secrecy, and also to side-step the crucial reference.
‘No, sir. We still believe it’s here somewhere. I take it you’ve been looking?’ Dr Blaney was eyeing the spider on Jody’s dad’s arm and the dust speckling his hair.
‘I have, but of course, those things are the devil to find, once they get hidden. Well, you’d know!’
‘Sir, what is it you believe you’re looking for?’
‘Well, after you said what it was, I naturally checked out the specs from my files, printed out a couple of sheets, and we all set to work.’
‘You checked out the specs …?’
‘Of course, and it’s not here. Goodbye, Dr Blaney.’ Jody’s dad, keen to shut down further enquiries with his search so far fruitless, was shutting the door as Dr Blaney started to consult a small screen he held in his hand. It flashed. When he turned left, it flashed a bit more.
‘I bet it’s a metallic thing with gadgety arms, flashy lights, and a lid thingy that’s like, going whaawha whoomph,’ Jody said, ducking under his dad’s arm and brushing the spider away to look up at Dr Blaney.
‘Yes – that’s precisely what it is! Well done, young man! Now, where is it?’
‘It’s in the garden, I’ll show you. It looks quite sad, actually.’ Jody dodged past his dad and ran off down the garden with Dr Blaney in tow, ‘Is that thing on the top for GPS? I bet the arms are to carry stuff. Does it deliver letters? It’s a delivery drone, isn’t it?’
Jody’s mother stuffed a chortle back into her throat, ‘That precise enough for you?’ She squeezed her husband’s arm, ‘I’m sure they’ll let you look if you ask nicely.’
(c) suzanne conboy-hill 2014.
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