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Birdwatching

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“Miss Hathaway!” Milburn Drysdale bellowed in desperation from the other room.

“Right here, Chief,” Jane replied, trying to sound like her chipper self, but an edge of something like exasperation colored the words if anyone had been listening closely enough. Drysdale never did that, so she was fine.

“What the devil are you doing?” he grumbled as he stalked through the door, a rumpled mess.

“Birdwatching,” she said, taking the binoculars away from her eyes. “In that tree next door at the Clampetts’ there’s a particularly lovely speckled…”

“Never mind that,” he said, grabbing the binoculars and shaking them at her. “What about the Poindexter account! Do we still have it or not!”

“Yes, Chief, I was able to save it,” Jane said, smiling to herself as he all but collapsed in relief into one of the armchairs. “I only had to point out that the interest he would have been earning at the other bank wouldn’t have come close to…”

“Whatever,” Drysdale said, fanning himself with a copy of the Wall Street Journal. “I haven’t slept a wink all night. I kept having nightmares about thousands of bags of money disappearing through a gaping hole the size of the Titanic.”

“No worries, everything’s fine once again,” she said, patting him gently on the hand. He was a good banker, at any rate. In spite of all his greed and ridiculous schemes, he really was very protective of his clients’ money. Sometimes he needed reminding that it wasn’t actually his, of course, but his heart, what there was of it, was in the right place.

“So, any word yet on Granny?” he said, his voice still a bit too high-pitched.

“Fear not, the bout of homesickness seems to have passed. All I needed to do was play a few Tennessee Ernie Ford records and she was back to her old self, happy as can be. Well, that and a small application of white lightning didn’t hurt,” Jane replied, allowing herself a little giggle.

Granny had actually given her a thimbleful of the recipe herself five hours ago, and she was still giddy. The old lady had seemed to think it would do her good. Jane smiled again, thinking of the exceptionally kind woman who reminded her so much of her own grandmother. It must have been over twenty years since her nana had gone on to her reward, and her own parents had followed not long after. The Clampetts felt like family to her now, though, and so did her boss, though he might qualify more as a cranky uncle no one wanted to talk to at Thanksgiving, but family nonetheless. It was a nice feeling, having people who liked her for being herself rather than for her ability to win accounts or get them out of the sort of foolish and ridiculous situations Mr. Drysdale managed to constantly fall into.

He was railing again, going off in a tirade about something or other involving new banking regulations but sounding for all the world like a small child having a tantrum in a candy store. She rolled her eyes and silently wondered how on earth he had managed not to have an aneurysm yet. Then she realized the answer was most likely herself.

“Don’t worry about it, Chief,” she said, shaking her head tolerantly. “The money’s in the vaults, the clients are happy, and you needn’t have a care in the world.”

“Coffee,” he barked finally as he plopped into one of the rather ghastly overstuffed chairs his wife had picked from some home fashion magazine that had managed to fool everyone in Beverly Hills into thinking the editors knew what taste was. Personally, she suspected they were colorblind.

“Got it,” she said, ignoring the rudeness of the order and deciding that job security was paramount over trying to get her boss to understand the basic rules of common courtesy for the thousandth time in the last two weeks.

Jane slung her binoculars over her shoulder and strode briskly towards the Drysdales’ kitchen. At least his wife was out of the house, playing mahjong with the neighbors, probably gossiping a blue streak about the nouveau riche neighbors her husband was forcing her to put up with. Frankly, Jane wondered how the Clampetts managed to stand living within a five mile radius of the woman, let alone next door. Decent people shouldn’t live in Beverly Hills, she thought once again, and she wondered when, not if, they would eventually return to the hills they obviously still loved so dearly. She hoped it wouldn’t be too soon as she opened the can of coffee and ran the water for the carafe.

She hadn’t been entirely honest with her boss, and as she stood at the sink, looking out the window at the backyard, she could just see the tops of the pillars that surrounded the Clampetts’ cement pond. No, swimming pool, she mentally corrected herself, smiling at the mistake. Elly May was probably still out there with her pets. While Jane had indeed spied a rare warbler perched in the hedge, she hadn’t been able to help noticing the stunningly pretty blonde girl in the sky blue bikini sitting beside the pool at the same time. Granted, her attention hadn’t been all that unusual since Elly had also been playfully splashing an orangutan and a skunk, both of whom seemed perfectly happy with the game. Jane couldn’t blame them. If she was honest with herself, she would have been to play as well.

“Miss Jane, I think yer pot’s full up,” said a voice directly behind her, nearly causing her to drop the blasted thing into the sink.

“Goodness, I didn’t know you were there,” she said, gripping her hand to her chest and noticing that, yes, the carafe was filled to overflowing.

“I’m sorry, Miss Jane. I didn’t mean no harm,” Elly May said.

“No harm done,” Jane said, feeling rather embarrassed at being caught doing anything inattentively. “What brings you by?”

“I was just wonderin’ if you had a mind to come over and have a late lunch with us,” she said, and Jane noticed for the first time that there was a raccoon currently draped around the girl's shoulders. In most of Beverly Hills, that wouldn’t be all that unusual, providing that that raccoon was dead, but this one was most certainly alive. To wear one otherwise would never have entered Elly’s head, and the creature looked up, weirdly tame, and clicked at her fondly.

“Lunch?” she said, almost as though she’d forgotten what the word meant.

“Yeah,” Elly said, giving the raccoon a tender scratch behind the ears. “I saw you birdwatchin’ out Mr. Drysdale’s window and thought maybe you might come over. Granny and Pa and Jethro are out doin’ other things, and the critters and me were gettin’ lonely. Granny has some leftover possum in the icebox fer sandwiches and such.”

While the dining selection sounded less than enticing, the rest sounded very nice indeed.

“Well, thank you, yes. I’m about due for a break anyway,” Jane said. “Just let me finish making Mr Drysdale’s coffee and I’ll come over.”

“Good! Me and Duke’ll be waitin’ in the kitchen fer you,” Elly said, really looking pleased.

Jane used a monumental amount of will power not to watch the blonde walk out the door as the view in that bikini was entirely too interesting. Still, she made the boss’s coffee quickly, delivered it to him as he was still expounding upon the infernal stress of running a bank, and slipped out the door again without his probably ever noticing that no one was there to listen to his continuing complaints. That was both one of the good and bad things about Mr. Drysdale: he wasn’t the most observant of bosses.

Jane loved going to the Clampetts’ home. The giant white marble edifice might look as staunchly snobbish as any other house in the city, but what was inside was truly a home. She walked towards the comfortable kitchen in the back of the house, and there was Elly May, doing her best to be domestic, which usually meant disaster. Currently, three squirrels were playing a game of tag across the kitchen table while the orangutan sat at Mr. Clampett’s usual spot, casually grabbing possum meat from a platter when Elly’s back was turned. Unfortunately, judging by his expression and abrupt departure, it wasn’t much of an advertisement for Granny’s cooking.

“Oh, hi!” Elly said. “I thought we could eat out by the cement pond. It’s a nice day and all.”

“A picnic? Oh, lovely,” Jane said, smiling. “Here, let me help with that.”

She grabbed some plates and forks as well as a pitcher of lemonade, and with Elly carrying the sandwiches, they headed towards the Clampetts’ back yard. For Beverly Hills, it really was quite a spacious spot, but Jane knew that to the Clampetts, used to the pristine beauty of the real hills, it must seem like a tiny postage stamp of home.

“What're you thinkin’ about, Miss Jane?” Elly asked, catching her pensive expression.

“Oh, nothing,” she said. “Just that this is a pretty spot.”

“Sure is,” Elly said, but she looked a little sad. “The critters like it, anyway, and the flowers are nice.”

“Indeed,” Jane said.

“Granny says it’d make a right pretty place to have a weddin’ in,” Elly May said quietly, sounding like she was admitting something terrible. “She says if I don’t get married soon, I’m gonna turn into an old maid. Back home, I already would be.”

“I highly doubt that,” Jane said, wincing at the words “old maid.” She had been called that often enough herself, and she knew how it stung. “You don’t stand much chance of winding up like me.”

“But I don’t wanna marry up with any of the boys 'round here,” Elly said, crossing her arms firmly. “I don’t think I even like ‘em, let alone love ‘em.”

“Well, if you don’t like them, then definitely don’t marry them,” Jane said, actually feeling a little alarmed. “That never leads to an agreeable ending. Granny and your father haven’t been pressuring you too much lately to find a husband, have they?”

“No moreso than usual,” Elly said, stopping to feed a bit of bread to her skunk. “But usual’s more than enough most days.”

“I can only guess how annoying that must be,” Jane said, thinking of how determined Granny could be when she got an idea into her head. She loved the old woman, but she could be very bull-headed. Jane sighed and took a sip of lemonade.

“So, why were you watchin’ me through yer spyglasses?” Elly asked conversationally.

Jane’s spit take was truly impressive.

“Gosh, I’m sorry! I prolly didn’t put enough sugar in that!” Elly said, looking horrified.

“No, no, it’s fine,” Jane lied, because in truth it didn’t seem as though Elly had put in too little sugar so much as none at all, though that hadn’t been what caused the reaction. “I apologize. I didn’t mean to stare, but I just—”

“Oh, that’s all right, Miss Jane,” Elly said with a smile. “I knowed you was up there. It didn’t bother me none. It’s a right lot better than most of them Hollywood boys lookin’ at me. Sometimes they make me feel like one of them bearded ladies in a carnival act they stare so much. Least they could do is pay two bits.”

Jane actually laughed at the image of Elly May with a beard, perhaps in pony tails as well, and after a few seconds, Elly May joined in.

“I guess it is kind of silly,” Elly said, “but it don’t make it any less true. So, why were you watchin’ me?”

Jane suddenly found that taking another sip of lemonade in spite of the adverse effects on her tooth enamel was entirely warranted. However, Elly just waited patiently for her response.

“I saw a bird,” she finally said, which was true enough, “and when it flew on, I just… stayed.”

“Cause you liked what you saw?” Elly prompted her gently.

“Yes,” she finally admitted. “Yes, I did.”

Duke chose that moment to saunter lazily up to the table. He stood still for a moment, looking at both of them with his head tipped to one side as though considering things, then sat down beside Jane. After a moment, he rested his enormous head in her lap, and she patted the dog fondly.

“He likes you,” Elly May said. “Duke don’t like just anyone. When he takes it into his head to like a body, that’s a right big compliment.”

Elly reached over and joined her hand with Jane’s in stroking the dog’s head.

“I really don’t mind,” Elly May said, giving the other woman’s hand a squeeze. “I don’t reckon I know just what it means yet, but I do know I don’t mind one little bit.”

Something leaped in the middle of Jane’s chest, a sort of hope that she had long ago decided was foolish to hold on to, a thought that she might someday be something other than the Chief’s girl Friday or the woman who lived alone in the apartment where no one ever visited. Elly smiled, and Jane smiled back. It was only a start, a picnic with critters and cold possum sandwiches and dreadful lemonade, but it was still a beginning, and beginnings can lead to happy endings.