(Aunt Pearl got this postcard a week or so after I saw it with Aartie.)
Standing on the threshold of Aarti’s office, I took in the confusion of forms, files, and folders littering every surface. Then I surveyed the half-empty bookshelves lining her office and the corresponding jumbled of half-filled cartons stacked every which way, taking up every bit of space.
Save the back left corner.
Weirdly Aarti had chosen to fill it with a folded up outdoor chair, full-sized cooler, sleeping bag, lantern, and an uninflated air mattress. Items I never expect to see in Aarti’s office again.
Recalling Ina Von Haeville, I ignored the conundrum in the corner and eased my way into the office. Since I didn’t want to create any more turtles, by turning over another carton, I choose to stand in a small pocket of space behind her visitor’s chair. Carefully setting the Wynter box on top of another, I started fishing around for my notes on the Von Haeville plot in my pack.
Me (without looking up): “Dare I ask how things are going around here?”
Aarti (with a sigh): “Wishing you were still here. I don’t suppose you could talk Little Ben out of this nonsense? These buildings are some of the oldest in Rye, and he’s planning on pulling them down…”
Me (glancing up, my lips wearing a rueful smile): “As he’s the one who gave me my pink-slip, I doubt it.”
Aarti (with half a laugh): “A girl can hope.”
Finally, locating all the materials, I hazarded a few steps forward to hand them off.
Me: “I don’t mean to add to your workload right now, but the Von Haeville sisters don’t strike me as the sentimental types, and I’m not sure they’ll do right by their subterranean relations.”
Aarti (tapping her keyboard): “Let’s take a look and see what we know.”
Unwilling to tootle about the office looking at her books as I usually did, due to the aforementioned turtle effect, I settled on leafing thru the Wynter box while I waited.
Me (idly recalling Mr. Nelson’s story): “Do you think Wynter’s specter still roams Rye?”
Aarti (squinting at the computer screen): “It’s his unsolved murder that troubles Rye, not the man. His blackmail victims were haunted by their poor decisions and Wynter’s missing files. The rest of Rye joined the club after the Daily Harvest ran a letter to the editor penned by Wynter’s widow accusing the police of negligence and his colleagues of sipping champagne and celebrating his death. She shamed the entire town for thinking he got his just desserts.”
Me (following her logic): “So no specter, just a load guilty consciences.”
Aarti (dimpling): “That’s my theory….I’m not seeing anything about the Von Haeville’s having a cemetery on their property in the computer….If you’ve got a minute, there’s a local history text in our library that might mention it.”
Glancing at my watch, I judged I had about twenty minutes before Mrs. Lebondowsky finished up next-door.
Me: “Lead on.”
Leaving my pack and chauffeur’s cap on top of the Wynter box, I fell in step with Aarti and finally addressed the other less pressing, but no less curious, question stacked in the back corner of her office.
Me (curious): “Did Sam finally persuade you into abolishing your moratorium on camping?”
After a nasty encounter with a rattlesnake who’d nestled beneath her tent Aarti swore off the out-of-doors and, despite her wife’s reassurances, that their meeting was one in a million, Aarti’s stance hasn’t swayed an inch in years.
Aarti (stride hitching then quickening): “What?”
Me (giving the back of her head a puzzled look): “The sleeping bag and stuff in your office, are you going camping or planning a stay in a no-star motel?”
Aarti (giving a quick head toss and sharp laugh): “A no-star motel, that’s funny. No, I’m…”
Aarti’s answer stopped a half a beat before her feet. Only a quick sidestep on my part allowed me to narrowly avoid plowing right into her inert frame. It also afforded me the view of a bleak vista – a library bereft of books.
Though I doubt the barren shelves are the root cause of Aarti’s sudden stop. I believe that honor belonged to the veritable forest of upside-down picket signs sporting the same slogans as the banners outside on our right and enough camping equipment outfit a pint-sized jamboree on our left.
However, as I’m not the Amazing Kreskin, I might be wrong.
But I doubt it.
(BTW – the outdoor equipment made about as much sense in here as it did in Aarti’s office. The Historical Society’s never gone on so much as a nature walk with the Naturalists. So why would an academically inclined institution and indoor inclined individuals need sleeping bags, camp stoves, cots, and water jugs – but no tents or tarps?)
But I believe what really rooted Aarti’s feet to the floor and caused her mouth to form a flat line stood in the center of the room slitting open one of the plethora of cartons emblazoned with Paper & String’s logo sitting on the massive reading room table.
Aarti (finally coming to life): “It seems my volunteers moved the library early…”
(Library? It feels more akin to a command post now.)
Talia (calling out and interrupting Aarti): “Aarti, come here and take a look at these flyers! They’re absolutely perfect!”
Without turning around, the Naturalist’s Club President tilted her head to talk over her shoulder while keeping her eyes fixed on the box she was rifling through.
Talia: “The entire crew showed up before the provisions, so we knocked out the library while we were waiting, hope you don’t mind.”
Aarti (her voice taunt): “Talia, we aren’t….”
Whisking a colorful piece of paper from the parcel, Talia held it behind her back for Aarti to see. Edging to Aarti’s right, I caught sight of a postcard featuring ducklings sporting the Naturalist’s tagline ‘Don’t Pave Over Paradise’ inscribed below them.
Talia (not sensing the room): “Bob at P.S. put a free rush on our order. They look great, don’t they? I figured our more mature members could start licking stamps and addressing them while the kids finish moving the provisions for the sit-i…”
Aarti (not quite shouting cut Talia off mid-word): “Talia, come say hello to Phoebe!”