Vina, with her dad in tow, returns (as does the Bogeyman, dressed as usual in camouflage-tan, with dappled greens and grays, his cover-alls tie-dyed to blend in with The Lab's luxuriant background).

"Oh, oh," Vina bristles at the squirrel's untimely absence. There is nothing more embarrassing than to have one's proof go 'poof' - although the vacant cage confirms the varmint's versatility.

  





        
 

"Vina, are you sure you locked it?" Poppie likewise scowls; the undone padlocks, on inspection, bear a brace of telltale scratches that suggests their works were jimmied. Theft? A pure albino squirrel would fetch a handsome price, no question, had a thief sneaked past security. Poppie glances round, beyond his daughter, catches Dede's eye, and, with a mute command, dispatches him to search.

Noticing her notebook has been opened, Vina wonders why the squirrel would have an interest in her latest computations, for the page (besmirched with paw prints) shows how body parts are shrinkable - the solution to her long-sought-after goal. Not that someone ten years old can justify much impatience, although Time gone by in grown-up estimation, crawls for youth. A single day can last a week, when it is raining out, for instance, and the kite you want to fly cannot be flown till clouds disperse. A week, if Sunday is your birthday, seen from Monday, takes forever, when the gift that you expect is one for which you crave and crave. A year, if teeth have fallen out and you anticipate their replacements, is eternal; what a drag to have a gap define your smile. Are ticks and tocks, then, not as regular as devices used to measure them? Even adults swear at time-clocks when the hours at work drag out. Perhaps, as Vina likes to phrase it, "Time is me, so what" is accurate, meaning Time, in actual fact, at best is inexact.

"Cross my heart and hope to die," she solemnly swears, "I locked it. Double locked it. He's too clever." ('Too damn smart for his own damn good,' she thinks but censors, never cussing in her father's prudish presence.)

"Did you tamper with its brain," he asks?"

"I told you, 'it's' a he. And no I didn't. Not directly. I just spliced a pair of genes. For coloration, not intelligence. He was orange and dumb, last night. Today he's white as once he was, and bright as me."

"As I."

"As I. Or even brighter. Look; he's read my notes, the scoundrel. If I ever get my hands on him again, I'll wring his neck!"

"Ha, ha, ha," her father finally sums up his reaction. Disbelieving Vina's explanation does not blunt its charm. And though the absent squirrel is worrisome, barring theft it will be found, at which point Poppie can assess the truth himself.

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