Turns out when you inadvertently scare the bejesus out of a septuagenarian, they don’t ask a whole lot of questions.
Entirely engrossed in the mystery I’d lent him, Mr. Nelson didn’t notice me standing by the driver’s side door until I knocked on the window. After clutching his heart and hyperventilating for a few anxious moments, he leaned over and unlocked my door.
I thought the Princess smelled like a fruit basket before.
If the squares in his lap and the wrinkled cellophane packages in the back were any indication. He’d happily sampled his way through the entire marshmallow cornucopia. Sarah would just have to make do with twenty-five dollars worth of the suckers – she’d live. Handing me the Princess’s keys (locking him in the car without them felt slightly kidnapy), he finally noticed the swaths of gauze wrapped around my palms, wrists, and extending up my forearms.
Mr. Nelson (eyeing my bandages): “Are you up to driving?”
Me (shoveling reassurance into one word while turning over the ignition): “Yup.”
Pulling the Princess out of her impromptu hiding place, I gingerly steered the car while Mr. Nelson fumbled around in his seat.
Me (cranking up the heater): “You okay over there?”
Mr. Nelson (grumbling and struggling): “Yeah, the seat belt is wrapped around my arm…”
Me: “I’ll stop at the gates so you can sort yourself out.”
Mr. Nelson just grunted and continued to juggle the book, book-light, and marshmallows all the while trying to keep the seatbelt from strangling him. Neither of us appreciated the four speed bumps we bounced over on the way to the gates. He finally got his feathers smoothed by the time the Princess rolled to a stop at the Second Avenue entrance. Turning to place the remaining marshmallows into the box in the backseat – it was his turn to scare the bejesus out of me – with a rather loud and inarticulate exclamation.
Turnabout is fair play, I suppose.
Me (staring wildly around, dimly registering the pricking of my toes): “What? Where?”
Mr. Nelson (jabbing the air wildly with his index finger): “Look! Over there!”
Looking around for the source of Mr. Nelson’s excitement – I glimpsed Joseph’s back as he strolled around the curve and out of sight.
Mr. Nelson: “Did you see him? Did you see The Grey Man?’
Me (still trying to get a grip): “The Grey Man?”
Sitting back down in his seat, he gave me a look that made me wonder if I’d accidentally spoken in Swahili. Smoothing his re-ruffled feathers, Mr. Nelson took a deliberate moment before answering my question. Which was great because my heart couldn’t take another shock tonight. Who the hell is The Grey Man?
Channeling my inner ostrich, I buried my head in metaphorical sand. This is tomorrow’s problem.
Pulling out into the quiet street, I steered the Princess towards my passenger’s house.
Mr. Nelson (unknowingly stomping all over my tail feathers): “A bit before your time I dare say, before my own if truth be told. But they say Grey Man of Rye is, was Edmund Wynter. A corrupt politician from the early nineteen-thirties who was found one a quiet Sunday morning hanging from the oak tree in front of City Hall…”
Me (my foot barely touching the gas): “Serious?”
Mr. Nelson (a mischievous light in his eyes): “As a heart attack. The only clue? A note pinned on his chest with the words, ‘No More’ written on it.”
Me (the Princess moving at a crawl now): “No more? No More what?”
Mr. Nelson: “That question didn’t get answered for twenty years.”
Me (feeling like a myna bird): “Twenty years?”
Mr. Nelson: “A reporter at the Daily Harvest overheard a conversation when he was a kid, and remembered it. During a slow news summer, he started digging. Discovering not only the meaning of the note but the motive for Wynter’s murder – blackmail. Turns out Wynter, for a price, would alter any record in City Hall to suit. What his ‘clients’ didn’t know was he kept the original documents. Then when he needed a favor, he’d use the originals to extract it.”
Me: “But how does this relate to the Grey Man?”
Mr. Nelson: “Right after Wynter’s gruesome death, people started to report sightings of him, wearing his trademark gray suit, all over town. Always looking over walls, thru windows, and around corners. It was whispered he was looking for his killer. However, after the story in the Daily Harvest, people began to wonder if he was really looking for his blackmail material, because none of his records ever resurfaced.”
How had I never heard this story before? Me, Morticia, Queen of the Macabre? (Mostly because people keep giving me skeleton themed gifts)
Me (snails were moving faster than we were): “Did they ever catch who killed him?”
Mr. Nelson: “No, and from the Daily Harvest coverage I’ve read, the police didn’t look very hard. Hey, your Uncle’s house is just up ahead. Can you pull in there?”
Me: “Sure. Why?”
Mr. Nelson (clearly excited): “I want to tell your Uncle I spotted the Gray Man! It’s been twenty years!”
Looking at my watch, which made me recall my current state of being (it was concealed by swaths of cotton), and because my ex-ray vision was down, I looked at my dash clock. Which informed me it was only ten o’clock. Still within calling hours of their house (which can extend pretty late if you have something interesting to say or show my Uncle).
Turning into the drive, Mr. Nelson bounded out of the car before she’d rolled to a stop. Parking the Princess in her usual spot, I leaned my head against the headrest, took three deep breaths then opened the door.
This should be fun.