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Death, Guns and Sticky Buns

AS I WROTE THE ARTICLE ABOUT MACK MACmillan's death, I thought how anticlimactic it was to write a news article like this for a weekly newspaper. By the time the paper came out on Saturday, the Lickin Creek Grapevine would have spread every detail. I was still surprised at how little interest there had been in his death. A gaggle of TV reporters and wire service people had showed up for a day and a half, then moved on. As far as most of the world was concerned, it was as if he'd never existed. I finished the story with a line saying the coroner had ruled it an accidental death.

Why do you suppose there hasn't been more fuss made about Macmillan? I asked Cassie as I handed her the finished product. I know he retired from Congress a while ago, but still

She shrugged. It's probably because he wasn't really considered local. Mack lived in Gettysburg, and as far as Lickin Creekers are concerned, Gettysburg might just as well be on the other side of the world, not the other side of the mountain.

I didn't know he lived in Gettysburg. Guess I assumed he lived here, since he and his wife were so involved with the college.

They have a horse farm on the edge of the battlefield, called Shoestring Hill Farm. A name in keeping with the good-old-boy image Macmillan liked to project. She added, You look tired, Tori, Can you go home and take a nap? You should rest up for your surgery tomorrow.

It's not surgery, Cassie. It's just a minor procedure. And no, I can't take a nap. I have to run over to the college and ask some more questions.

Jennifer was at her usual post in the hall of the administration building, but her face told me something was wrong. I'm leaving, she said. They expect me to do the work of three people for half pay.

I'm sorry, I said.

Don't be. I'm now a free woman!

Jennifer's last official duty was to direct me to Professor Nakamura's office, which was on the second floor of the building. I chose to climb the circular staircase rather than use the elevator. That was an error, I soon decided. The staircase swayed, and although I only had to climb one flight, it was a long way up. Halfway, at the landing, I made the mistake of looking down through the center of the staircase, past the iron bars that braced it, and as I realized how far down it was to the marble floor of the lobby, my acrophobia was triggered. I grabbed hold of the railing, which shook, adding to my panic. I leaned my shoulder against the solid outside wall and practically flew the rest of the way up the stairs. On the firm safety of the second floor, I vowed to use only the elevator from now on.

Although a light fixture hung from the ceiling, it was not turned on, and the hallway was very dark. Professor Nakamura's office was at the end of it. I rapped on the door, and a female voice told me to enter.

I was in a small interior reception room, which was crowded by a desk and two visitors chairs. The woman sitting at the desk introduced herself as Professor Nakamura's secretary.

I need to speak to him, I told her. President Godlove has asked me to look into Mr. Macmillan's death.

A small smile crossed her face. I imagine he's also told you to lay the blame anywhere but on the college.

Not in so many words. Is the professor in?

She shook her head. He doesn't have classes on Thursdays, so he takes the whole day off.

Can you give me his phone number? I can talk to him at home.

Not today. He's out of town.


No, he's either hugging trees or saving deer. I'm not sure which cause it is today. She shook her head. The old fool thinks he should be right out there with the kids. Keeps telling me you're only as old as you feel. Although her words were edged with sarcasm, the tone of her voice and the concern on her face showed me she was genuinely fond of him.

I've heard Professor Nakamura turned in his resignation when Macmillan became chairman of the board. Do you have any idea why?

If I did, I wouldn't tell you.

I respected her loyalty. I'll try again tomorrow, I said. By the way, do you know a woman named Moonbeam Nakamura in Gettysburg?

Her smile faded. The kook? Of course I know her.

She's Ken's daughter-in-law. Or I guess I should say ex-daughter-in-law.

Bad feelings there?

Heavens no. He thinks she's fabulous.

This time I took the elevator down to the hall, where the receptionist's desk was deserted.

If I couldn't question the professor himself, perhaps I could learn something from his ex-daughter-in-law, Moonbeam Nakamura, the holistic healer of Gettysburg. I needed to drive over there anyway and look into the story Luscious had told me about antiques being stolen from the battlefield. Since he'd suggested there might be a tie-in with the robbery at the fire department, I thought it important to follow through. I could take care of two tasks in one trip.

In Gettysburg, I headed south on Baltimore Street, passing the Memorial Church of the Prince of Peace-a dark gray stone edifice with a red door and a round bell tower-many small two-story houses, some with shops on the ground floor levels, and the historic Dobbin House Tavern. The skyline was dominated by a huge gray tower topped by an alien spacecraft, which seemed to grow taller as I got closer. When I came to a confusing intersection where tourist Gettysburg collided head-on with history, I had no idea which road to take, but I've always heard when in doubt, go right. So that's what I did, and drove past several art galleries, a lot of T-shirt and souvenir shops, the National Civil War Wax Museum, and the Lincoln Train Museum.

At last, I saw a sign directing me to the National Park Service Visitor Center. I turned in, just missed being rear-ended by a house on wheels, and parked behind the building next to a huge overflowing trash container. The tower I'd seen driving in, loomed over the battlefield, dwarfing both the visitor center and the

Cyclorama building. I could see an elevator going up inside it, and figured it had to be a tourist attraction, albeit a strange-looking one.

Because the tourist season was over, the visitor center wasn't crowded at all. I glanced into the gift shop and was tempted by the large display of books, but my nonexistent bank account wouldn't allow me to go in. Standing behind a long counter were several park rangers in khaki uniforms, but they all looked busy, so I decided to look at the exhibits. On the main floor were lots of guns, which I didn't find particularly interesting. Downstairs, I found some more interesting displays. In light of what Luscious had told me about General Meade's sword having been stolen from the building, I carefully examined the display cases. They didn't look particularly secure. Most had glass fronts, held in place by exposed screws. Even the doors to the cases appeared to have locks that could easily be picked. There seemed to be quite a few exit doors for a burglar to escape through, but I did notice they all were wired to sound an alarm if opened.

Back upstairs, I approached a ranger, who looked up from the map spread on the counter before her and smiled a greeting. I whipped out my notebook, told her I was a reporter from the Lickin Creek Chronicle, and said I was working on a story about the theft of General Meade's sword.

The professional smile was still there, but a shadow came down over the rest of her face. I don't know what you're talking about, she said.

Suddenly, my arms were seized from behind. I screamed, and several tourists turned to stare at me, then ran from the building. Obviously, they'd taken me for a terrorist.

Please be quiet, ma'am. We just want to ask you a few questions.

I was hustled into an office by two burly rangers. Just what do you think you're doing? I said indignantly

You were acting suspicious, miss. Snooping around the exhibit cases. We'd like to know why.

May I please get my ID cards out of my purse? I was afraid they'd shoot me or something if I moved without permission.

Go ahead.

I produced enough identification to prove to them that I really was Tori Miracle and that I really worked for a newspaper. Then I had to explain why I was examining their cases so closely.

Off the record, miss, we're trying to downplay the thefts. Some people around here already think we don't take proper care of the collection. The articles disappeared way back last spring, and the fuss has died down. We'd like to keep it that way.

You said articles. What else was stolen?

The two men glanced at each other. Some battle flags, belt buckles, insignia, all things that could be easily carried out by one or two people.

All from the display cases?

One of them shook his head. Ninety-two percent of the collection is stored in the basement, below the exhibit area.

Everything that was taken was quite valuable, I suppose?

To the right person.

Did they disappear during working hours?

No. We found them gone when we opened up in the morning. Why are you so interested?

Some valuable antiques were stolen this week from a Lickin Creek collection. I thought there might be a tie-in.

What was stolen?

Some trumpets from the volunteer fire company headquarters. Why are you laughing?

I hardly think the kind of petty thief who'd steal some old tin trumpets is in the same class as the cat burglar who stole General Meade's sword.

So you're saying Lickin Creek has a lower class of thieves than Gettysburg? That's an odd kind of snobbery.

The two men quickly ushered me out of the building, as though afraid I might contaminate a tourist or two.

I know when I'm not wanted, I said, shaking my arms free from their grip.

While trying to get my car started, I seethed with anger. However, the day wasn't wasted. I still had time to visit Moonbeam Nakamura. While waiting for the traffic to subside at the square, I recalled my brief encounter with her in the restaurant. Moonbeam was the only person I'd talked to who had referred to Mack's death as murder. And she seemed to be in a relationship with the repulsive reenactor Woody Woodruff. I can help you, she had said. Had she been trying to tell me in code that she knew what had happened? I had a lot more to ask her than why her father-in-law had disliked the retired congressman.

This time, the street was empty when I parked in front of Dreamgate. How anybody could make a living tucked away on this remote back street was beyond me. The sign on the door said CRYSTALS, CANDLES, ESSENTIAL OILS, COLOR THERAPEUTICS, AND CHANNELING: CLASSES AVAILABLE IN AROMATHERAPY, FENG SHUI, DRUMMING, AND REIKI. AURA READINGS BY APPOINTMENT. If there was anything she'd missed, it had probably been accidental. Moonbeam seemed to provide something for everybody, or at least everybody whose tastes were New Age.

The door swung open before I touched it. Come in. Come in. Moonbeam stood before me in a long white dress with a crinkly pleated skirt. So many strings of agate beads hung from her neck, I wondered how she could stand up straight. Around her shoulders was draped a purple rayon shawl embroidered with roses, decorated with sequins, and edged with fringe. She wore Birkenstocks as big as Volkswagens on her feet. I thought she looked like a refugee from a German fairy tale. Garnet's sister would have found her outfit attractive. I didn't.

I knew you'd come today.

Oh yes, I nearly forgot-you're psychic.

I am. But that's not why. When I learned you are having surgery tomorrow for breast cancer, I thought

Where did you hear that? It's not true. I can't believe the way rumors spread around here.

She stepped back as though affronted. I don't remember where I heard it. Guess it's just one of those things that float in the air.

Great! Now my personal health issues were floating in the air. The Lickin Creek Grapevine obviously had longer tendrils than I suspected for it to reach all the way to Gettysburg.

The air inside the shop smelled of patchouli incense, and the only light came from dozens of burning candles set about the room. My eyes smarted from the heavy smoke and odors.

and I thought you'd be in for some help, she continued as if I hadn't interrupted her. Come sit down and let me think about what you need. She led me to a cozy corner in the back of the room, where two chairs faced each other across a low table. I sat on the chair she pointed to and watched as she lit a purple candle and placed it on the table.

Look, Moonbeam. I didn't come for a health consultation. I only want to ask you a few questions about your father-in-law and your I grasped for the right words and finally came up with your friend, Woody.

Close your eyes and relax, Tori.

How long have you known Woody?

Take a deep breath and hold it. From somewhere came the sound of a choir of angels.

Is he trustworthy?

Let's try that again, Tori. Take a deep breath, hold it good now, exhale slowly.

Can you think of any reason he'd want Representative Macmillan dead?

Picture a place where you have been truly happy. Now imagine you are there.

Could he have been mistaken about the ammunition he took to the college?

You are walking in that special place. Take a deep breath. Exhale and let the tension flow away from you. You are happy in your special place.

A tropical beach. Palm trees. Turquoise waters. Sand scrunching beneath my feet. Salt spray tingling my nose. Sun burning my skin, but in a good way. Gentle waves caressing my ankles, rolling away, coming back.

From far away, someone called my name. I smiled and looked around for the person. Tori Tori

I saw no one. Was she hidden by the dunes?

when you wake up you will be totally refreshed. Whenever you are feeling down, your special place will always be there for you. Now open your eyes.

My eyes popped open. You hypnotized me!

She smiled. Don't you feel better?

I do. But that's not what I came for.

I know what you came for. And I can also tell you what you want to know about Woody. And maybe even my father-in-law, although I can't imagine why you're interested in him. Why don't you come home with me and have dinner? We can talk there.

I'm not sure

There's no need to be nervous, Tori. I'm not as weird as I look; I dress this way because my customers expect it. I'm a member of the Chamber of Commerce, volunteer at the hospital once a month, drive an SUV, and have a teenage daughter who's at the age where she gives me weekly migraines. How much more normal can a person be? The only really odd thing about me is I'm a registered Democrat-a rarity in south-central Pennsylvania.

She called out to someone in the back. Phoebe, I'm going now. Please be sure the door is locked when you leave. I don't want another call from the police telling me the door's open.

A young woman dressed all in black including her lipstick, and heavily hung with silver crosses, stuck her head through the bamboo curtain. Like it was my fault

Moonbeam sighed. It was your fault, Phoebe. You didn't lock the door. She picked up her purse, an antique mesh bag, and said to me, Let's go.

Maybe I was still hypnotized, but I went with her.

You can follow me, Moonbeam said. My car's right in front of yours.

It only took five minutes to reach Moonbeam's Victorian house on the edge of town. It sat far back on a large lot. On either side were smaller, modern ranch houses.

Used to be my parents farmhouse, she told me as I joined her on the sidewalk. Now I've only got a few acres left.

It's lovely, I said, admiring the turret, the stained-glass windows, and the big front porch that circled around one side of the building. As we climbed the steps, I heard dogs barking inside.

After my divorce, I took in a boarder, Moonbeam explained. It's awfully expensive keeping up an old house like this. She's an animal cruelty prevention officer, so I never know what I'm going to find when I come home.

When she opened the door, an animal the size of a wolf leaped at me. In the resulting commotion, while more than one person tried to pull it away, I realized it hadn't ripped my throat out. In fact, the beast was doing its best to drown me with its huge pink tongue.

I'm so sorry, a woman said, pulling him off me. She had him under control now, his black collar tightly gripped in her hand. He's half coyote, but he's really lovable.

Tori, this is my housemate, Gloria Zimmerman.

Gloria was a beautiful woman with short light brown hair, who stood only a little taller than me. And probably weighed a lot less. Even though she was wearing a tan unisex uniform, she struck me as looking far too glamorous to be an animal cruelty prevention officer.

After I had shaken her hand, the one that wasn't restraining the coyote, Moonbeam took me into the living room.

This is my daughter, Tamsin, she said.

The girl sprawled on the sofa in front of the TV didn't look up. What's for dinner? she asked. The first thing I noticed was her hair, for it hung to her waist, straight and shiny like her mother's, but whereas Moonbeam's hair was silvery blond, Tamsin's could be described as black as a raven's wing. Can we have pizza?

Moonbeam looked at me. What do you think?

I'm a pizza addict.

Good. I'll call. She went out of the room, leaving me with the teenager, who had never turned her eyes away from the television set.

What an unusual name, I said, thinking it my duty to make conversation.

I hate it. My grandfather picked it. She pointed the remote at the TV and changed channels. I hate watching news. Who cares about all that dumb stuff.

She wasn't paying any attention to me, so I sat down across from her and studied her. With her flawless ivory skin, dark almond-shaped eyes, and high cheekbones, she could have been beautiful. But the permanent sulk on her face ruined the effect. I could understand how she gave her mother migraines.

While she watched cartoons, I looked around the living room, noticing the many knickknacks and family photos that made it feel quite homey. An oaken cabinet with glass doors displayed small ceramic figures, and one in particular caught my eye-a tiny carousel horse mounted on a wooden base. It reminded me of Dari-ous's carousel, and I was walking over to take a closer look at the figurine when Gloria came in with her arms full of adorable kittens. She handed two to me, and I sat down to pet them. One was orange and white, just like Fred, and he purred as I scratched his little chin. The mother cat, a large black-and-white tabby, jumped onto the arm of my chair to make sure I wasn't hurting her babies.

Would you like to have one? Gloria asked. I rescued them this morning from a trailer. Their owner died a couple of days ago and nobody thought about the cats. They probably wouldn't have survived another day without food or water.

I reluctantly passed the kittens back to her. I already have two cats.

How about a homeless llama?

I laughed. I'm kind of homeless myself.

An emu, then?

No thank you. My cats are quite enough.

The door bell chimed, and Moonbeam called from the back, Can you get that, Tamsin?

Tamsin made no move to get anything, and Gloria's arms were full of cats, so I went to the front door. A delivery man stood on the porch, and I was glad to see he held two large boxes. I'd be able to eat all I wanted instead of pretending one slice of medium pizza was all I ever had. Moonbeam paid him, refusing to take any contribution from me.

The four of us-Moonbeam, Tamsin, Gloria, and I- were soon sitting in the dining room at an enormous mahogany table, dividing the first pizza. Tamsin complained about the pepperoni, claiming to be a vegetarian, but I noticed she only picked off a few pieces before gobbling down several slices.

Now, Moonbeam said, after we had eased our hunger, what is it you wanted to know about my father-in-law?

I heard a rumor that he had some sort of grudge against Macmillan. More than a grudge really, because it was enough to make him resign rather than work with the man. Do you know anything about it?

Not much, Moonbeam said. I remember when he wrote his letter resigning effective the end of this semester, I tried to talk him out of it. But he said he had no respect for the man and didn't want to work with him. When I asked him why, he seemed reluctant to talk. Finally, he said it had something to do with Mac-millan's war record. He said it happened a long time ago, and it was something he didn't want to talk about. When Ken talks about the war, Tori, he means World War II.

Was he in the service?

Oh yes. He's very proud of having served in the 442nd Regiment in Italy and France.

I've heard of it-the Go for Broke regiment-all Japanese Americans.

Right. But after the war, he became a Quaker. So now he's a pacifist. Since the Korean War, he's been actively involved in antiwar protests.

And other good causes, too, I gather. I didn't mention his secretary had called him a tree-hugger.

Gramps is a do-gooder, Tamsin said. I think he's dumb.

Has anyone seen my Tylenol? Moonbeam asked. Tamsin, why don't you get started on your homework?

The girl grabbed a wedge of pizza and slammed out of the room.

Teenagers. Moonbeam sighed plaintively. I don't understand why I have so much trouble Well, never mind. I haven't been much help to you so far, Tori. I know you're trying to find out why Macmillan was killed, but I am sure my sweet father-in-law had nothing to do with it.

You seem very close to your father-in-law even though you're divorced, I remarked. That's kind of unusual.

Dad's a wonderful man, Moonbeam said, spearing a piece of pepperoni from the pizza. I don't know how he raised such a dumb-ass son.

Where is your ex living? I asked.

About six blocks from here. He teaches math and coaches football at Gettysburg High School. Had a midlife crisis which only a former, much younger, student could help him through.

Oooh. Nasty stuff. Sorry to have brought it up.

Don't feel bad. I'm better off without him. And he does make a point of seeing Tamsin regularly.

I'm not sorry to see him gone, Gloria said. It was the first comment she'd made since we sat down to eat, and it caught me by surprise.

Who? Moonbeam's husband?

No, Mack Macmillan.

Did you know Mack? I asked.

Unfortunately, yes. After his retirement, he became a lobbyist for the Pennsylvania dog breeding industry.

For years I've tried to get a law passed in Harris-burg outlawing puppy mills. I've testified at the state capitol a dozen times, but it never got anywhere because of him.

What's wrong with selling dogs? I asked. Isn't dog breeding a legitimate business?

She shuddered. Sure, if it's done humanely. But many farms here in Pennsylvania, especially ones in rural areas, are puppy mills where hundreds of dogs are penned up under the worst conditions imaginable. The bitches are bred immediately after having a litter, so they never get a chance to get their strength back. The puppies are shipped off to pet stores before they should leave their mothers. They're often sick or have congenital defects and need to be destroyed. It's just awful. The poor things live their whole lives packed together like like animals.

They are animals, Moonbeam pointed out.

No creature of God should live that kind of life.

You're telling me Macmillan supported this?

He certainly did. No big surprise, considering he raised puppies at his own farm. Dogs can bring in big bucks, if you've got enough of them to exploit.

I thought he owned a horse farm, I said.

True. But that's his wife's pet project. I think the puppy sales support the horses.

This conversation reminded me of the sad little white dogs I'd seen at the Amish farm. Do you have any authority over the area west of Lickin Creek?

I do. Why do you ask?

There's a farm out there. The Hostettler place. They've got some dogs penned up there under disgusting conditions. You probably should take a look.

Gloria helped herself to another slice of pizza. I'll check it out, she said.

As long as we're speaking ill of the dead, Moonbeam said, I might as well tell you I didn't like him much either. He started coming into the shop last summer, and was always rude to us, especially to Phoebe.

Can't say I blame him for that, Gloria said. She asks for it. But you never said anything about him being a customer. How come?

Because, even though there are no formal rules about patient-healer privilege in holistic medicine, I didn't think I should mention it.

Are you saying that Macmillan was a client of yours? I had trouble picturing the dignified congressman in her shop.

Since last summer. He came in for the first time about a month after his wife's accident. She was still in the hospital. Moonbeam paused for emphasis. He bought powdered rhinoceros horn!

Moonbeam! You don't sell that stuff, do you? You know rhinos are an endangered species! Gloria was so indignant, she spluttered a piece of pepperoni halfway across the table.

Don't look at me that way, Gloria. It's synthetic. I get it from China.

How can you be sure?

I broke into their argument, hoping to get us back on the subject. Isn't rhino horn supposed to be an aphrodisiac?

Moonbeam looked as pleased as a teacher whose students had finally grasped long division. Exactly, and his wife was still in the hospital.

Maybe he was looking forward to her return, I suggested.

Not on your life, Tori, Moonbeam said. While she was in the medical center, he was running around with a topless dancer from the Brick Shed House. My guess is she wanted more from him than companionship. That's why he came to see me.

What's the Brick Shed House? I asked.

An adult toy store. I'm surprised you haven't noticed it on the road between here and Lickin Creek. It's set back from the road behind a stockade fence.

Gloria snickered. The guys think nobody can see them go in if they park behind the fence.

Do you know the name of the dancer he was seeing?

Lillie White. Moonbeam giggled. Isn't that a hoot of a name for a topless dancer? She changed the subject. At Dreamgate you asked me some questions about Woody. I guess I should tell you we're very close. Very close, if you understand what I mean.

I didn't want to tell her he'd made a pass at me, and I didn't have to because Gloria broke in. He's an S.O.B., Moonbeam, and you know it. He'll go after anything that wears a skirt. If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times, he's using you-for you know what.

Moonbeam turned to her boarder with fury in her eyes. And I've told you a thousand times I don't want to hear any more negative comments about Woody. You don't know him the way I do.

I hear he took Leslie Schmalberger to the dance at the high school last week. Rumor has it they did a very sexy tango.

Moonbeam's lower lip quivered, but she still stood up to her housemate. Woody and I had a few problems to work out. We decided to date other people for a while. But we're going to get back together. I'm sure of it.

So who have you dated?

That's mean-spirited, Gloria. You know I haven't gone out with anybody.

The silent air over the table was charged with electricity.

How could someone like Moonbeam, who was obviously well educated and even attractive in an oddball sort of way, be so blind when it came to her choice in men? My best friend, Alice-Ann, was the same way. For once, I was proud of being sensible, even felt a little virtuous, for having picked someone as steady as Garnet.

From the living room, Tamsin called, Mom! I forgot chorus practice is tonight. You've got to take me. Right now.

As Moonbeam grimaced, I shoved a kitten off my lap and reached for my bag. I have to go too. Thanks for dinner, Moonbeam. And for all the information.

I'm sorry I couldn't tell you more about my father-in-law. He teaches on Friday mornings, so you can catch him at the college.

On my way across the mountain, I noticed the Brick Shed House for the first time. It was a large concrete building, not brick, I noted with amusement. On top was a large sign, red letters on a yellow background, that said ADULT BOOKS, TOYS, AND VIDEOS. Smaller signs, nailed to the stockade fence, said OPEN 24 HOURS, LIVE NUDE DANCERS, and TRUCK PARKING IN BACK.

Since I was here, it seemed like a good idea to go in and ask Lillie White about her relationship with the former congressman, but when I pulled into the gravel parking lot I saw half a dozen cars parked with their backs to the fence to hide their license plates from view, and lost my nerve. I'd come another day when there were no customers to see me.

For a few hours, while I'd been with Moonbeam, I hadn't given any thought to tomorrow's surgical procedure. But now, in the car, driving back to Lickin Creek, worry and fear of the unknown overwhelmed me. With my head swimming and my eyes brimming with tears of self-pity, I barely noticed I'd passed the turnoff to the borough. I kept driving, past one farm after another, until I came to a boarded-up peach stand. There, I turned right and continued on until I saw the black mailbox with the name Hostettler in white letters.

I parked as close to the barn as I could, and walked slowly, as though in a trance, toward the Mail Pouch tobacco sign. When I came to the door in the foundation wall, I knocked, rather gently, almost as if I didn't want anyone to know I was there. Just as I was about to give up, the door opened and there stood Darious, wearing only a pair of jeans. His golden curls were tousled, as if he'd just awakened from a nap.

He blinked a couple of times, then smiled. Tori! I was just dreaming about you. What are you doing here?

I need to ride your carousel again.

He stood back while I slipped inside. And suddenly I was in his arms, and his lips were pressed against mine.

Wednesday Morning | Death, Guns and Sticky Buns | Friday