Do I look shifty? Really, I’d like to know.
I might occasionally harbor the odd larcenous thought about a book – but I never follow up on them – I just enjoy entertaining the fancy.
It’s mental calisthenics. Right?
Okay, okay, I am starting in the middle, so let’s go back to the beginning.
Last night Beatrice offered me a sterling opportunity to make a couple of coins while chauffeuring her around for her other job. I didn’t tell her I would have driven her for free if it meant getting out of the house and putting on real pants, but I kept that information to myself.
Which explains why at a quarter of eight, I’m in the Map Room (waiting for Beatrice) contemplating a shelf full of previously empty vases. (The ones which formerly housed her rubber ducky collection that she’d acquired while geocaching – before we lost the bulk of them during our pirate shenanigans). Those empty vases had nagged at me ever since Beatrice had donated her yellow friends to the cause. She wouldn’t accept money or sincere thanks, so instead – to show my appreciation – I filled them to the brim with homemade hard candy. The crinkly cellophane and rainbow of translucent colors really tied the rest of the kitsch of the room together!
With a happy smile decorating my face, I scrabbled under the table to retrieve a few of the free spirits which had decided that living in a vase wasn’t for them.
While on all fours amongst the dining set’s legs, a quick radda-tap-tap sounded at the door – followed by the entrance of a pair of black wingtips and charcoal grey cuffed pants. “Hello?” I called out while trying to negotiate my way out from under the furniture while gripping two handfuls of candy – who were determined to stay where I found them.
“Beatrice? Why are you under the table?”
A loud thunk punctuated the question, but before I could dispel Mr. Wingtip’s misapprehension, his lovely baritone pattered on, “When you rejoin the land of the standing, I have three possible contracts for you. Two in town, one cross country. RAM cut the check for the return of the Renoir, I have it here for you. Are you still firm on your no pets policy? You could make a mint. I had six inquiries just last week. I drew up the paperwork you requested last night….”
Finally, solving the maze of table legs, I stood up and discovered Mr. Wingtips was a lean whip of a man who, when wearing his hat, must brush the Map Room’s ceiling.
He finally looked up when I set the crinkling handfuls of candy down on the table, “You are not Beatrice.”
Trying to put him at ease, I held out my empty hand and smiled, “Nope, but she should be here any minute. My name is Phoebe, Phoebe Arden. I’m Beatrice’s roommate and driver for the day!”
Whisking the papers he’d fanned out over the table back into his briefcase, he snapped it resolutely closed, all the while ignoring my outstretched hand.
Using a tone that wasn’t precisely ill-mannered, but edging in that direction, “You should have told me you weren’t Beatrice.” He crossed his arms and watched me thru narrow eyes.
(See?! I did not do anything suspicious! He’s just bent out of shape because he made a gaffe!)
“You didn’t give me a chance to tell you. Nor did you wait for me to answer the door after you knocked.” Mirroring his stance (though he loomed much more effectively than I) but not his tone, I leaned more towards genial reasonability.
My words cut no ice with the bespoke man.
“Well, I see you two’ve met…” Beatrice’s dry comment cut thru the tension. Things turned technical at this point with the snappy man reopening his briefcase (and resumed his nattering) while Beatrice smoothed things over and provided introductions.
Turns out the natty man of the black wingtips was, in fact, John Dupree of Treuawley, Trenaman, and Dupree.
Whose demeanor visibly thawed while watching me sign a stack of papers he’d prepared. Which, when boiled down to their essence – stated that I needed to keep my trap shut about anything I see, hear or smell (?) while accompanying Beatrice on a job. (Why it took ten pages, three signatures and twelve separate initials to say, I don’t know – but he stated he wanted to “keep things formal”).
(I aim to please.)
He then handed over pounds of assorted document and blueprints for Beatrice to review (which is why she needed a driver), and we headed out to execute today’s contract (their words, not mine).