Sunday morning, Jim and Norah were back at the judge's tent, comfortably seated on the sofa at a quarter to eleven. "I heard you and Dean put on quite a show at the shooting gallery booth yesterday." Norah said, sipping from a cup of coffee. "It's the talk of the town. Why, I couldn't get my next-door neighbor, Irene to stop talking about it in church this morning until the sermon started."
"It was an interesting experience, getting schooled by a kid." Jim admitted ruefully. Truth be told, it kind of reminded him of his early days with Sandburg.
"It sounded to me like you were pretty evenly matched," Norah said. "Even the tie-breaker could've gone either way."
About to comment further, Jim heard the tent flap opening and seconds later Dean and Amanda entered the tent. Amanda was wearing a pink woolen business suit, the jacket cut to reveal the zebra-striped blouse underneath. Dean was wearing jeans—black instead of blue—and a navy jacket with a turned-over collar. The young man stopped long enough to remove his jacket and sling it over the chair at his assigned judge's table, and then caught up with Amanda as she approached them.
"Good morning, Jim, Norah. I trust everyone's ready for the final judging?" Amanda smiled at their polite nods and kept talking. "As I said yesterday, the festival committee tallied your scores for all the pies and the top five scoring pies have been determined. The whole pies and your individual slices were carefully refrigerated overnight, and then placed on the first table. You've also got fresh score sheets on your tables. Everything's ready for you. Remember, after everyone's scored the pies, you're going to get together, compare notes and hash out an over-all winning pie. As I indicated yesterday, underneath each full pie are three copies of the recipe, if you need it for some reason. Jennifer will be in touch with me by phone, so when you've settled on the winning entrant, let her know and I'll join you here. Again, on behalf of the Festival's Committee, thanks to all of you and happy judging!"
"I'll leave you to get to your work." Amanda strolled towards the exit, Dean walking with her until he split off to approach the table of pies.
Jim, only two steps behind Dean in reaching the pie-laden table, saw the younger man glance at the numbers of the five pies still in the race: #13, #11, #7, #4 and #8. Then Dean shook his head, and picked up a piece of the right-most pie, #8. Jim decided to start from the left side, again and after a quick glance at the whole pie to aid in his presentation evaluation, he picked up the first slice of pie #13. Then he walked quickly back to his table—they were seated at the same tables that they'd occupied yesterday—and sat. He checked over the pie slice's appearance, and then picked up a fork and chewed, letting his sense of smell sort the various flavors: apple, crisp, and sweet, sugar, flour, cinnamon—a bit too much cinnamon, and Jim made a note to check the recipe for the amount, it had to be well over a teaspoon.
Concentrating on his pie piece, Jim put his fork down, then picked up his pencil and gave the lilac-plated pie his marks. After that, he rose and headed for the pie table, quickly falling into a rhythm of walk, soak up the pie in-situ, take the piece back to his table, study the pie's appearance, inside and out, savor a couple of bites, then mark down the pie's scores. With yesterday behind him, he had a full routine worked out in detail. He kept track of how the other judges were doing, mostly by listening. It was super-easy to tell Dean's booted strides from Norah's sensibly-soled working flats, and it didn't surprise him at all that Dean was faster than Norah in his pie judging. Jim wasn't too far behind Dean, as he saw Dean return to his seat pie-less as Jim left to retrieve his last piece of pie.
Picking up his fifth and final slice, Jim carried it back to his table and sat down. Pie #8. He glanced at the plating—one of the few slices that was presented on a plain piece of white china, he noted with approval, giving the slice a 5 for presentation. Then he studied the crust for a few seconds, looking for unevenly cooked spots, any brownish signs of overcooking, but the slice was a uniform golden brown. The crust was nicely flaked; the fork cut through it easily, inside consistency was uniform. He sampled the piece, the taste also earning his approval. Then Jim wrote his scores for the last piece: 5, 5, 4, 4, 5. He set down his pencil with relief, reaching for the water glass to cleanse his palate—no, to drink something that wasn't remotely sweet-tasting. For an instant, he flashed back to being blindfolded and drinking the sour milk by mistake during Sandburg's ill-conceived Sentinel taste test. He took a swig of water.
Ah, nice cold water. This had been interesting, but the next time Aunt Helen asked him to be a judge, he was turning her down, politely but firmly. Too much of a good thing. Even with his senses working overtime, it was harder than he'd expected to ferret out the subtle differences in taste, texture, and appearance among the dozens of pie choices and rank them accordingly.
Idly, he glanced at his fellow judges. Norah was writing down her scores; he toyed with the idea of boosting his vision to read exactly what she was writing, but that was pointless. He'd know in a few minutes, wouldn't he? Then he glanced at Dean's table. Although he appeared outwardly calm, Jim could hear the younger man fidget, one leg bouncing ever-so-slightly against the floor. Well, what did you expect of the younger generation? And Sandburg accused *me* of having the attention span of a gerbil.
A few minutes later, Norah wrote down her last score. She set the pencil on her tabletop with a relieved sigh. "Done!"
Dean smiled at her, probably pleased to have something to do. "Now the fun part begins. How do we want to do this, take turns?"
"No," Norah spoke consideringly. "I think the contest has the best idea. Let's add up the scores and see which pie comes out in first place. We might've all made the same decision already, without even knowing it."
"Good idea," Jim rose from his table, grabbing his chair and his scoring sheets. "Since you suggested it, we'll use your table." He circled Dean's table, nose on the alert for that whiff of whatever-it-was, then placed his chair on the floor and sat. While he was situating himself, Dean grabbed his own chair and joined them at Norah's table.
"Anyone got a calculator?" Dean asked a slight smirk on his face.
"I'll do it," Norah picked up all the papers, quickly sorting them into piles by pie number. "I work with numbers all the time, this is a snap."
"Numbers, huh? D'ya teach math or something?" Dean asked.
"No, I run a bakery, here in Cashmere—Great Scott Baked Goods and Tea House. You should stop by; I'll treat you to a free dessert."
She picked up her pencil, flipped over a blank form and scribbled away on the back of the form.
"You're on—as long as it's not apple pie," Dean said.
Jim got the feeling the kid was only half-joking, but he could see where Dean might be apple pie'd out at the moment.
Norah chuckled. "No apple pie," she promised. Then she looked up from her calculations. "Okay, the winning pie is... #11." She frowned. "Do we all agree with that? Which pie is it?"
"It's the second one I tasted," Jim said, remembering that he'd used his first pie, #13 as his standard pie to measure against, and he'd ranked two pies higher, #11 and #8. "It was a good pie, but I scored #8 higher, I liked it better over-all."
"Hmmm, I gave that one high marks, too." Norah said. She consulted her tallies. "But it came out fourth overall." She turned to look at Dean, and Jim also glanced questioningly at the younger man. "Why'd you give it a one in taste and appearance, Dean? I thought it tasted very well, and it certainly was nicely plated."
"It was nicely plated," Dean agreed. "But, whoever baked it cheated, and the best way to account for that was in the taste score and presentation, so I gave it ones. Would've been zeroes, but one's the lowest score allowed."
"What do you mean, cheated?" Norah glanced pointedly at Dean. "I've been to the festival for years, and there's never been a hint of cheating."
Dean handed a piece of paper to Norah. "That's the recipe sheet for Number Eight."
"It only says it used Cameo apples in a Secret Family Recipe," Jim read the paper from across the table, upside-down.
"That's because this pie-maker didn't use Cameo apples," Dean asserted calmly. "He or she used Splendour apples instead—and Splendour's not on the list of Washington's most popular apples, so the pie's disqualified."
"Wait a minute, you're telling me you can taste the difference between Cameo apples and Splendour apples? How?" Jim couldn't stop himself from jumping on the kid's claim. The only way he could think that Dean could make that kind of taste distinction was if the kid was another Sentinel—and he and Blair had been down that rocky road before. That would explain the kid's marksmanship, too. If Jim had another Alex Barnes on his hands, he wanted to know about it. Yesterday.
"I do a lot of travelling in my line of work. And I've eaten a lot of pies, at a lot of diners. There's one in Kokomo, Indiana—Kokomo's Kozy Korner Diner, if you can believe that. And they have the best apple pie in the Midwest—it tastes just like pie #8. I know that the Kozy Korner uses Splendour apples—that's Splendour with a 'u', whoever named it wanted them to sound impressive. They're not normally available in the grocery markets, because they bruise too easily. But they taste freakin' awesome—especially when they're baked, like in pie #8."
Jim stared at the kid, trying to rattle him. "Are you telling me your sense of taste today is as accurate as your sense of sight yesterday at the shooting gallery?" Are you a Sentinel? He bumped up his hearing, listening for a tell-tale increase in Dean's breathing, an admission of lying.
"What are you talking about, dude?"
Dean remained outwardly—and inwardly—calm, but Jim couldn't be objective about this. He rose to his feet; hands placed firmly on the table and leaned across it, getting in the kid's face. "You heard me! How are you so certain that you taste Splendour apples, one variety out of the hundreds of known apple species?"
"Gentlemen!" Norah interrupted almost shouting. She slapped at Jim's forearm, getting his attention. "Let's take a breather, all right? It's close to lunchtime. Go put something other than pie in your stomachs and we'll reconvene back here at one. Now, git, both of you." She waited at the table, arms crossed firmly in front of her and tapping her toes impatiently until Dean rose from the table and sauntered to the tent's exit.
Jim reached for his cell phone, flipped it open and text-messaged Blair. "? Helen get Splendour apple. Bring 2 lunch now. C ya few." Then he too left the tent, heading for the festival's outdoor food court.
Jim met Helen and Blair at the "Pit Stop," rolling his eyes at the name. Blair staked out a picnic table while Jim placed their orders. Shortly afterwards, he was munching contentedly on the roast beef sandwich that he'd ordered. Blair and Helen prattled on about their morning's fun and ate their grilled chicken salads—full of apple slices of course, with a small Waldorf salad on the side.
Jim swallowed his last bite of sandwich—correction, Panini, whatever the heck that was, and drank the last of his water, clearing his palate. "Did you find a Splendour apple?"
Blair reached into his coat pocket and brought out a napkin-wrapped bundle. "Sure, Jim, no problem. The exhibitor at the apple variety booth I was tellin' you about yesterday had several." He handed the apple over to Jim, who inspected it carefully.
The pinkish-red apple was large, with a small brown spot on its side and Jim remembered the kid's comment that Splendour apples bruised too easily to be sold in grocery stores. He bit into the apple, exposing its white interior. He carefully crunched his way around the apple, memorizing and savoring its taste. He placed the core on the tabletop and glanced up to find Helen and Blair watching him. "Thanks, Chief. I'll explain later." Jim's gaze flicked to his watch. "Now, I've got to get back to the tent. See you two later this afternoon, all right?"
Blair nodded while Helen asked, "Jim, dear, you are planning on attending the auction, right?"
"Wouldn't miss it," Jim promised as he rose to his feet. He slowly made his way back to the judge's tent. He had to cross most of the square to do it, since the food court was located on the north side of the Square, almost directly opposite the judge's tent. He began skirting the parking lot on the east side of the Square, halting in surprise when he spotted Dean out of the corner of his eye. The kid was leaning nonchalantly against a vintage black muscle car.
Jim ducked behind a convenient tree and notched up his vision, appreciatively noting the details of the almost-cherry looking black '67 Chevy Impala. His opinion of the kid rose a bit; anyone who owned and looked after that car—and it was clear to Jim that Dean owned the car he leaned against—couldn't be all bad.
Dean was talking on his cell phone and Jim boosted his hearing without really even noticing.
Dean's tone was respectful, which totally threw Jim. The Sentinel's hearing rose another level so he could clearly hear the other side of the conversation.
"I trust you're through dawdling with that girl now." The voice was gruff, with a distinct edge to it.
"Almost, sir. I'll be finished later this afternoon."
"Good. Because I need your help on the job I'm working on."
"Where are you, Dad? I'll come—"
"No. We'll meet at Caleb's, just earlier than planned. I'll expect you in Lincoln before supper tomorrow night."
"No side trips to Palo Alto, either. Sammy's fine—and I need you in Lincoln."
"Do I have to make it an order? Stay away from Palo Alto."
"Yes, sir." Dean's tone was flat.
"Good. I'll see you tomorrow, Dean." Dean's dad broke the connection.
Jim watched as Dean pocketed his cell phone, then back-kicked the tire behind him. Seconds later, the kid calmed down, patting the Impala's hood. "Sorry, baby." Dean took a deep breath, straightened his shoulders, then walked purposefully away, heading for the judge's tent.
So, he and Dean had something in common, after all—and it wasn't heightened senses.
Jim entered the tent and walked over to Norah's table, where she and Dean were patiently awaiting his arrival. He sat down in the empty seat. "Sorry I overreacted earlier," Jim apologized. "Now, let's settle this like reasonable adults, hmm? Norah, what are the top two pies by points?"
Norah scanned the notebook in front of her. "Numbers 4 and 11."
"Fine. I'm going to re-sample Dean's reject, and 4 and 11 and judge them all again. You can keep your current ratings, or re-taste any of these three again, too." Jim stood, and crossed over to the pie table, picking up a spare plate and putting a new piece of #8 on the plate. He sat down in his chair at Norah's table—they weren't keeping their scores a secret from each other, this late in the game. Norah left to get at least one piece of pie for resampling, but Dean remained seated.
Jim took a long sip of water and then picked up his fork and scooped a piece of the allegedly disqualified pie into his mouth. He chewed slowly, filtering out the sugar, crust, nutmeg, cinnamon, flour, and barest hint of parsley (!), until only the apple's flavor remained on his taste buds. He recognized this particular apple taste; he'd just eaten it recently, at lunch. Son of a bitch, the kid's right. This pie's made with Splendour apples. Jim scored it accordingly, and then sampled pie #11 again, followed by #4. He rescored those two slices, and then put his pencil down. Norah had also finished her re-sampling, and Dean hadn't re-sampled or re-judged any pie slices.
"So, Jim. What's your conclusion?" Dean asked.
"I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt if you'll tell me how you know that Kokomo diner used Splendour apples. You don't strike me as the recipe-gathering type," Jim joked lightly.
"I stayed in town for almost two weeks, working a job. So I ate at the diner a lot and got to be on good terms with the waitress there." Dean smiled a twinkle in his eye and Jim knew exactly what he meant when he repeated: "Really good terms." He shrugged. "Their apple pie was my favorite dessert, and before I left town, Diane told me all about the pie's secret ingredient: Splendour apples."
"All right, I believe you. That knocks #8 out of the competition, so I vote for #11."
Dean lightly patted his stomach. "That's my favorite."
"Well...I'm partial to Granny Smith apples, so my choice would be #4, but in the interest of unity, I'll go along with you two. Number 11."
"All right, then, that's settled." Jim said after Norah made it unanimous. "Let's go tell Jennifer and she can get ahold of Amanda."
Norah stood up."I'll go tell Jennifer. It was nice meeting you two. I trust I'll see you both at the presentation and auction later this afternoon."
"Looking forward to it." Jim said. "Blair says I'm a natural auctioneer."
"I'm sorry I'm gonna miss that," Dean sounded sincere. "But my meeting's been moved up to tomorrow, so I'm hitting the road as soon as I tell Mandy goodbye."
"Oh, too bad. Well, drive safely then, Dean. Good-bye." She walked towards the tent's exit.
Jim impulsively pulled out his business card and held it out to Dean. "If you're ever in Cascade, look me up."
Dean hesitated a moment, then plucked the card out of his hand and pocketed it.
"I'll treat you to a meal," Jim offered. "And I promise, no apple pie for dessert!"