Parting ways with Sarah at the stairwell, we set out to complete our separate missions – the only hitch in the giddy-up?
Little Ben wasn’t in his office.
To clarify, not only was his person missing – but so was his desk, dream boards, and Lottie (his secretary).
Which prompts the question, what the hell?
Unwilling to waste my time cooling my heels in front of an obviously unoccupied office, I strolled down the corridor, peering thru doors hoping to catch someone between calls. But unfortunately, at three pm, on a stormy Friday afternoon, no one was around.
Which suited me just fine.
In Nevermore, there are two desks which remain occupied during business hours – Reception and Receiving – and one of those desks is manned by a veritable fount of office gossip, Leo Wasinski. Anyone could tell me where to find Little Ben. But Leo could tell me what prompted the office switch, details on the move and probably what Little Ben had eaten for breakfast. (Plus I was absolutely dying to see what enthusiastic but odd creation his knitting needles had festooned his frame with today.)
Beelining it back downstairs, I found the gentleman right where I knew he would be, working diligently at his desk on the loading dock. And not for the first time, I wondered how exactly he managed to acquire his seemingly inexhaustible stream of insider information – while sitting in plain view of anyone walking by.
Receiving is many things, but private is not one of them.
A squeaky hinge alerted Leo to my entrance into his territory, “Hey boss!”
Beholding his hat, it took a moment to frame a proper reply – as it seemed I’d interrupted it in the midst of strangling and devouring him whole.
Me (laughing): “What is on your head!”
Leo (his grin hitting two hundred watts): “Pete!”
Me (rolling my eyes): “Hello, Pete!”
If you’re Leo; it’s perfectly normal for your winter headgear to unhinge its jaw and start swallowing the top of your skull, while its body coils around its “snack’s” neck in order to choke Leo into submission. (It did look really warm & fuzzy and surprisingly cute, Leo is very talented – but twisted.)
Leo (chuckling): “Pete’s an endangered striped whipsnake. The Naturalist Club is raising money and awareness by selling handmade hats and scarves featuring endangered animals to fund our move. This is my contribution to the cause…”
Me: “Wait. Rewind, the Naturalist Club is moving?”
Leo (dimming): “Hadn’t you heard? You’re not the only one Ben’s booted from Nevermore. He gave the Club three months to move and cut off access to the grounds for our programs.”
Me (shocked): “Little Ben doesn’t have the authority to do that.”
Placing a boot against the metal stool next to his desk, he shoved it towards me.
Leo (no longer smiling): “Sit.”
I took the hint.
Leo: “Little Ben’s the Provisional Proprietor.”
Holy mother forking shirt balls.
Me: “What? How? When?”
Leo: “The day after you moved out of the Cottage, he switched offices and made the announcement. He’s been holed up there ever since, ‘planning Nevermore’s future’. Last week he started in earnest, offering early retirement to all the old-timers, axed the apprentice program, asked the Club to leave, and he’s scheduled a meeting with the head of the Historical Society for this coming Tuesday. Make of that what you will.”
Me (voice tight): “So he’s eliminating all the programs I pulled in.”
Leo (eyeing me): “Pretty much. He’s also nixed the plans to certify Nevermore as a Natural Habitat.”
Taking a deep breath, I shoved my fury and four-letter opinions down towards my toes. Leo may have been the first person I hired as Caretaker, who knits marginally inappropriate attire for work and whose gregarious nature makes him a riot to hang with – but at heart, he’s a gossip.
The last thing I needed to do was blow my top like Vesuvius – in front of him.
Me (evenly): “Has anyone brought this up with Big Ben?”
Leo: “Can’t, he hasn’t been home since he left for vacation. Little Ben’s promotion came via letter.”
Me (eyes wide): “Wait, Big Ben didn’t come back for the holidays?”
Well, that explains why he hadn’t called to wish me a Happy Christmas last year.
Me: “Is he okay?”
Leo (shrugging): “As far as I know.”
Me: “Well, crap. At least this answers my question.”
Leo raised an eyebrow.
Me (getting up): “Where Little Ben’s office is.”
Leo (smiling again stood with me): “Another interesting item? I have it on good authority Big Ben’s letter arrived well before Little Ben issued you your pink slip.”
Not sure what to make of that morsel of information, I decided to change the subject.
Me (trying to pull off cheerful): “I’ve never asked, but do you ever make custom hats for people?”
Leo (cocking his head): “Sometimes, why?”
Me (a wicked smile wreathed my face): “I believe I’m in need of a giant….”
Leo split a seam when I described exactly what I was hoping he could knit up for me, after some technical questions and measurements he assured me he could make my vision come to life.
My cousins will never forget about me in the Black And Blue Becker Betting Pool again! Woot!