In addition to writing mystery novels I write children’s books. Adventure novels for 9 to 12 year olds, set in British Columbia’s southern Gulf Islands. I love, love, love this scene with two of my favorite characters from those books; Larry and Graham, two hapless seagulls with large personalities and small brains. Scenes like this are so difficult to cut out of a book, but this one had to be removed from Sugar and Clive and the Movie Star for structural reasons. Fortunately there’s no reason I can’t share it here with you.
As a bit of background, for those not familiar, here is the cast of characters for this scene:
Sugar: a medium sized dog with a large-sized heart and our heroine;
Clive: Sugar’s best friend, a barn swallow who is as dignified as he is kind;
Willa: a dog who normally acts in films;
Liz and Kayla: Willa’s humans;
Marion: Sugar’s human;
Larry: an enormous and smelly seagull with a hero complex;
Graham: Larry’s slightly smaller, and slightly less bright, seagull cousin.
The next morning, Sugar did one of her very favorite things; she formed a plan. She thought that if she and Willa could find another animal who had worked in the movies, that creature might be able to tell her about other jobs that were available in the industry. In the early morning, Liz and Kayla dropped Willa off at Marion’s again. Willa didn’t have any scenes on the call sheet that day, and her humans rightly imagined that the dog would have more fun with Sugar than hanging around inside a trailer all day.
The idea Sugar had about talking to someone who had worked in films was a bit of a stab in the dark, but the problem was that every other job Sugar and Clive had suggested to Willa the day before hadn’t appealed to her. She was animal who needed an occupation; that much had been made very clear. So if the movies were what she was familiar with, and if she liked the people and the atmosphere on a movie set, then that was the industry they needed to find out more about.
The one creature on Dogwood Island who might know someone else who had worked in the movies was Larry the seagull. Though he could be challenging to deal with, he got around and saw most everything that happened on not only Dogwood, but all the surrounding Gulf Islands. And Sugar was fairly certain where they’d be able to find him.
Every week, the pub at Red Maple Marina set up an outdoor barbeque on their large deck that overlooked Cormorant Bay. The advantage of this, for a scrounger like Larry, was that the food was self-serve. The humans took their plates over to the buffet tables beside the grill and loaded up with burgers, hot dogs, coleslaw, baked potatoes, French fries, and assorted salads. This meant that the birds that hung around under the deck were certain to find morsels of food dropped through the wooden planks onto the rocky beach below.
The dogs and Clive left Figlina Farm as noon approached, and they found Larry under the deck, right where Sugar though he would be. The large bird was having a fierce debate with his cousin Graham about the best French fries served in the islands.
Where Larry was large, brash and confident, Graham was slightly smaller and much less confident than his cousin. He also was not ‘overburdened with smarts’ as Larry like to say, although this was a bit like the pot calling the kettle black.
“I’m telling you, the Clipper Marina on Galiano is the best. They hand cut the fry wedges right there and they’re huge. Plus!” Larry raised his voice and one wing high in the air before Graham could interrupt him, “Once a week the shrimp boat comes in and oh boy. Then you’re in for a treat.” Larry’s eyes became glassier than normal just thinking about this special treat. “Fresh french fries and shrimp. Dee-lish.”
If Willa was shocked by the two seagulls and their shouting, as well as how they pushed and shoved one another to emphasize points, she did not show it. Sugar had glanced at her often on their run over and saw that there was still a bit of left over shock about yesterday’s news. Her eyes had a sunken in appearance and she seemed to be moving on autopilot as they had run through the the ditches and fields to reach the marina. Though she had been full of enthusiasm about Sugar’s idea when she’d arrived on the farm that morning, as the hours passed worry had set in again.
The seagulls’ argument ended as soon as the dogs and Clive arrived, mostly because Graham couldn’t take his eyes off Willa. He was bird who fell in love five or six times a day. Willa was the lucky girl to be the recipient of his affection on this sunny afternoon.
“Who’s your friend, Sugar?” Graham asked and sucked in his belly a bit.
“This is Willa. Willa, meet Larry and Graham, Dogwood Island’s very best French fry spotters.”
Willa nodded at both birds and said hello.
“I’ll tell you what,” Larry said, grabbing Graham by the neck and pulling him in close to ruffle the feathers on his head, “the French fries are few and far between today. I think Graham is spreading his bad luck onto me.”
Graham broke away from Larry’s grasp and shook himself, smoothing and straightening his feathers. “You’re the bad luck,” he said, “I was here first.” He glanced over at Willa shyly to see if she was watching him.
She was, but not for the reasons Graham hoped. Willa had never seen a seagull as large as Larry or as dirty as the both of them. As a dog who was groomed almost every day, she couldn’t take her eyes off the stains and blobs of unidentifiable goo on both birds. She shuddered slightly imagining how sticky they were.
“Listen, Larry,” Sugar said, “we’ve come to ask you about something. Willa needs your help.”
“I’ll help!” Graham stepped forward and raised one wing like he was in a classroom. “I’ll help. What can I do? I’m right here. Helping.”
Larry guffawed and shoved his cousin with one wing. “They asked me, nitwit.”
Graham shoved Larry back, using both wing tips to push against Larry’s chest. The larger bird staggered back. He had been unprepared for the assault. This was not like his meek cousin at all. Larry’s eyes flamed and he launched himself at Graham.
They crashed together with an audible thump, and began rolling around on the pebbled and rocky shore.
“Hey,” Sugar yelled, trying to get their attention. “Hey!”
But the birds paid her no mind. They rolled and tumbled down toward the water, first one on top of the other, swatting and pushing with his wings, then the other. Grunts, squawks and insults were being thrown around at the same time, the birds calling each other every dirty name they could think of.
“You lousy French fry thief. If it weren’t for me you’d starve to death.”
“I’ll show you, meathead. You couldn’t help someone find a meal if they were sitting on it.”
The two white and grey bodies flailed and kicked with their webbed feet, pulling out feathers with their beaks.
Willa looked on, stunned. Finally distracted from her disastrous news. “Should we stop them?” She looked over at Sugar and Clive. “Should we pull them apart?”
Clive shrugged, used to this kind of display from the two larger birds. “They’ll either wear themselves out or they’ll…”
The birds had tumbled so far down the beach that they had reached the edge of the bay. Larry took one mighty swing at Graham, who, for once, reacted quickly. Larry’s wing sailed over Graham’s head as the target ducked and Larry fell beak first into the bay.
“…fall into the ocean,” Clive finished.
Larry stood up spluttering, sand liberally covering his face, neck and beak. He spat seawater and sand out of his mouth and shook his wings.
Graham stood ankle-deep in the water, his chest heaving, totally out of breath. “I,” gasp “win,” he said between breaths.
“As if.” Larry shoved Graham so that he landed on his butt in the water. The larger bird then marched up the pebbled beach, still flapping his wings, spraying water droplets around him. He walked up high enough to stand in front of Willa. “Alright, m’lady. How may I help?” He was acting as though the little scene they had just witnessed had not happened.
“Well, I, um…” Willa was so shocked by the argument that she’d lost use of her vocal chords.
Sugar stepped in to help her. “Larry we need access to your deep well of knowledge about the islands and your fine memory.” It always helped to butter Larry up before asking him for a favour.
Larry turned and stuck his tongue out at Graham, “Hear that? They want my expertise.”
Graham pretended not to hear and concentrated on brushing bits of sea shell off his chest and belly.
Larry turned back to Sugar. “What can I tell you?” he was showing off in front of Willa. The Larry Sugar knew was never cooperative unless there was something in it for him, but today he seemed dazzled by the little dog’s soft brown eyes and sweet smelling coat.
“I heard a rumor once,” Sugar said, “that there was a horse on Dogwood who had been in the movies. Apparently he used to tell stories about carrying soldiers into pretend battles and plowing fields with cameras pointed at him. But this was all before I arrived here. Do you know anything about him?”
Larry pressed his wingtips into his sides and stuck his elbows out, thinking. His eyes closed part-way and he made little humming noises. “A horse, you say.”
Sugar could tell he was stalling for time. Her heart sank a little. If Larry didn’t know who she was referring to, there was little chance anyone else on Dogwood would. He was the single best repository of knowledge about the island and its animals going years back.
The bird tapped one of his webbed feet and muttered to himself. Sugar glanced at Clive and could see he was thinking the same thing. Willa watched Larry hopefully, unaware of the danger in his inability to show off what he knew immediately. If he didn’t share what he knew instantly, that meant he probably didn’t know anything at all.
“Well, now,” the large bird finally said. Willa and Sugar’s ears perked up. “There was a grebe once, name of Sally, who said she was in a TV show over Gibsons way. No, not Sally,” Larry shook his head, thinking. “Susan. No, wait. Sylvia! That was it.”
He looked at the three animals who were watching him, triumphant.
Sugar’s ears and shoulders fell.
“But you don’t know of a horse. A tall brown horse, I remember someone saying. He had three white socks and a white face. And he’d worked on movie sets for a long time until he retired here.”
Larry shook his head slowly back and forth. “Can’t say as I remember anything like that. You should talk to this grebe though. She thinks they got a good shot of her landing in the water one day with their big camera thingies. Can’t confirm that myself, of course, since I don’t watch TV…”
Larry prattled on but Sugar had stopped listening. She was searching her memory, wondering who else might remember the stories of the movie horse and be able to help them.
“Titus.” Graham’s tinny voice broke into Sugar’s thoughts.
“What?” she said, looking over at him. He was standing on a rocky outcropping, one foot in a tide pool, fishing for something in the shallow water.
“The horse’s name is Titus.”
Sugar and Willa glanced at one another hopefully and then bounded over to where Graham stood.
“You know him?” Willa asked.
“I don’t know him personally,” he said, “but I know of him. He’s quite famous in his own way.”
Sugar heard Larry behind her almost growl, “Of course. Teetus. I knew that.”
Graham leaned to one side and looked around the dogs toward his cousin, “Not Teetus. Titus. Now who’s the nitwit?”
Willa danced a little on the spot, “Oh Graham! This is great!” She shook herself all over from the excitement. And then she couldn’t help herself; she leapt over the tide pool, landing beside Graham and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.
The bird looked up from his exploration, stars in his eyes.
“You’re….you’re welcome,” he finally choked out.
“This is fantastic.” Sugar turned and began to trot out from under the dock. “Thank you so much, Graham.”
The bird touched his cheek, dazed and dazzled. “No problem.”
Sugar, Clive and Willa all headed toward the sunlight beyond the underside of the pub dock. Just as the sky opened up above them, Clive thought to stop. He landed on a diagonal post that joined the deck to a supporting pillar and turned back to Graham. “Where can we find Titus?”
Graham blinked once. And then again.
“Graham?” Clive prompted.
“Oh yes. Titus. Right.” The bird shifted his gaze from Willa to Clive. “He’s not on Dogwood any more.”