The Hillbaley Ho Down & Extravaganza


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The Listmaker's Lair

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See Part One

"So nice of you to come." The ListMaker, Ma "Needles" Baley offers me a drink. Rather she offers one to Mr. Domo Lorigato, the Japanese businessman as whom I am posing. A fellow modern-day pirate who has come to admire the work of one of the most quietly successful manufacturers of all time. Someone who is hoping to learn a little of Ma Baley's success to use back in his own country. The fact that I look very much Ukrainian does not seem to register on Ma Baley's face.

I politely decline her offer and indicate that I am on tight schedule. Can we see the operation at once? A flash of concern from Ma Baley. Later, I learn she was simply wondering if she finished her list of things to store in the garage for the winter that morning. She invites me to follow her. My resolve is shaking as I am led deep into the bowels of the hospital. I notice a faint clicking sound that seems to get louder as we descend.

We round one last corner and I am faced with a room of epic proportions. It stretches for what seems like miles in all directions. The air is stale and windowless and the walls have been painted a shade of green found only on appliances from the 1950s. This reporter wishes never to see it again.

Filling the room as far as they eye can see is row after row of elderly ladies sitting in small plastic chairs (Ma Baley informs me, proudly, that they are taken from the local elementary school). Wandering the aisles are several men similar to the ones guarding the nurses' desk. Each of them wear masks of what appears to be some mutant version of Andy Griffith. Upright freezers are placed at strategic locations and I notice the mutant Andy Griffiths reach in on occasion and withdraw frozen extension cords which they brandish with surprising agility. The old biddies are all knitting at a feverish pace. The clicking of knitting needles is deafening.

The Listmaker: Ma "Needles" Baley

"Welcome to Goodwin Lodge," Ma Baley announces with a sweeping gesture of her arm.

I watch in horror as one particularly ancient woman slips from her chair writhing in pain. "ARTHRITIS!" she cries "ARTHRITIS!!!" The guards are on her in seconds and she is dragged away violently screaming "I'M ALL RIGHT! I JUST NEED SOME BEN GAY!!". A new "recruit", as Ma puts it, is led in with a look of confusion on her face. She is thrown into the now vacant chair, given a pair of knitting needles and a ball of cheap yarn, and told rather sternly, "KNIT". She gives a weak protest, "I'm more of a crocheter". The guard next to her raises an extension cord menacingly. "KNIT!" he commands only slightly louder than the first time. As realization dawns on the old woman's face, she slumps her shoulders and begins manipulating the needles expertly looking frantically for a means of escape. Those next to her don't even look up.

Ma Baley beams at the cold efficiency in which glitches like this are handled. I venture a question, "What happened to the other woman?" She gives a bone-chilling laugh but doesn't answer. She produces a list out of nowhere and crosses an item off.

She hands me a set of ear muffs (both encapsulated in a decorative wool covering) and grabs a set for herself. We are heading down to the production floor. With the ear muffs on, the clicking becomes even more ominous. As if searching for a way inside my body, it seems to crawl up the base of my spine and make my teeth chatter. It has absolutely no effect on Ma.

As we wander through the rows, everyone in the immediate vicinity makes an extra effort not to be noticed. Their heads droop lower and their knitting needles move in a blur. Ma stops intermittently to inspect the work of some of the old ladies. Most of the time, she nods appreciatively sometimes even offering advice which is always received with gratitude that appears to be fueled more by fear and relief than a desire to please.

On one inspecting occasion, Ma looks at the future afghan disapprovingly. Her gaze switches coolly between the half-finished quilt and the frightened woman in the chair. She looks up at a nearby guard and nods almost imperceptibly. That's all he needs. She is dragged away screaming incoherently as it is obvious she has no teeth. Another "recruit" appears as we move on.

Ma stops at one particularly young woman, apparently to inspect her work. Unlike the others, this woman has an air of authority around her and she stares Ma straight in the eye, almost defiantly. Ma gives the afghan a cursory look before matching the woman's gaze. For several long seconds, the two women glare at each other before Ma smiles softly to herself and continues on. The other woman returns to her work but not before casting a warning glance at me.

We eventually find our way to an office that seems to come out of nowhere. The intent is obvious - to keep visitors from leaving unexpectedly. The inside is small but warmly decorated and, I notice after removing my ear muffs, it is soundproof. Ma motions me to a chair and waits until I sit before taking a seat herself.

We make idle conversation for a few minutes and I steer the conversation toward the operation I have just seen. My cover story allows me to ask detailed questions without arousing suspicion. She gets somewhat tight-lipped when I delve into her past. I scribble notes furiously but my mind is elsewhere. The long trek through the knitters has weakened my resolve and my only thought is to escape.

At this point, I make my fatal mistake: "It must be hard keeping a place like this fom the local authorities." Ma stares at me before nodding slowly. My mind races and I recall where I have seen the defiant knitter's face before; she is the wife of the chief of police in Teulon and according to my cover story, a dear friend of Mr. Lorigato.

Ma rises from her chair and moves to the front of the desk, directly in front of me. "Have you have a chance to check out any of the sights in Teulon?" she asks carefully. I shake my head and mumble something indicating no. She smiles at me knowingly. "You really should see what our humble town has to offer," she says, "and make sure you check out our local publication. It's a hoot!" Already fearing the answer, I ask anyway, "What's the name of it?"

She answers only moments before a knock on the door: "The Hillbaley Ho Down and Extravaganza"

... next time - Escape!