(Yeah, the ‘Prepare 4 Battle!’ isn’t worrisome at all…)
Now it didn’t take the keen mind of Sherlock Holmes to deduce that neither Aarti or Talia had intended to give me a glimpse inside their new war room. So during the ensuing and extremely awkward conversation (resulting from Aarti’s panicky shout), she and Talia pretended the library was still populated by books. While I allowed them to believe I was deaf, dumb, and blind.
Plus, I didn’t need to inquire after the picket signs or the flyers – their meaning is obvious.
However, it was Aarti and Talia’s conspicuous concern with distracting me from the mismatched mass of outdoor equipment, rather than the profusion of protest paraphernalia, that raised a red flag.
Indeed Aarti was so focused on drawing my attention away from the left side of the space, she offered to lend me the Wynter file to peruse it at my leisure. As I’m not a card-carrying member of the Historical Society, this was odd. Non-members don’t enjoy check-out privileges. Even as Nevermore’s Caretaker, they’d never allowed me to wander off with so much as a monograph – let alone a coveted collection of ephemera regarding Rye’s most notorious unsolved murder.
So I took her up on her offer.
Not for any real desire to pursue the subject further, as I agreed with Aarti’s assessment of Wynter’s ongoing legacy. But because accepting it allowed me to escape her and Talia’s watchful gazes and figure out why my brief peek at couple dozed chemical toilets caused them so much distress.
All of which, I hope, explains how I came to be lurking in a dusty storeroom surveilling my neighbors, acquaintances, and a few strangers. While idly comparing the merits of murder by mortification to Wednesday Addams’ scheme to scare her suitors to death.
Either way, both modus operandi sounded like a lot of work.
Deciding I’d seen enough and taken my speculation far enough, I crept cautiously to the door. Pulling it ajar, I took a quick peek, then slipped out and thru the door across the hall. After flipping the lock and turning on the lights, I made sure both stalls were empty before dropping my pack and Wynter’s file on the floor.
Leaning against the cool tile wall, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and counted to twelve before releasing it.
Explaining away a trip to the bathroom is far simpler than defending your presence in a darkened room whilst standing on a stepladder with murderous intentions spying on people who are eager to avoid your notice.
Taking another measured breath, I calmly considered what I’d seen.
Tossing aside the absurd notion, they were following the CDC’s Zombie Apocalypse Preparedness Guidelines. I came up with three possible theories as to why a human chain, comprised of Historical Society and Naturalist Club members, are currently shifting a trailer-truck full of water bottles, propane canisters, and freeze-dried food into the building next door.
Since I had ten minutes to spare until I needed to meet Mrs. Lebondowsky at the Princess, I called the only Naturalist I thought might answer my questions truthfully.
Me (whispering): “Leo!”
Leo (puzzlement clear): “Boss?”
Me: “Yes. Are you alone?”
Leo (lowering his voice): “Yes. Why are we whispering?”
Me (waving my hand despite him not being able to see me): “Not important. Leo is the Naturalist Club sponsoring an equipment or food drive anytime soon?”
Leo: “Nope, we hold those in November…”
Me: “Are you guys gearing up for a colossal sized hiking or camping event?”
Leo (I could feel his frown across the line): “No, nothing big’s happening until late August…why?”
Me (rubbing my throbbing temples): “Can you think of any reason why the Club would be hauling a tractor-trailer’s worth of food, water, and propane into their building? Or why the Historical Society has enough camping equipment to outfit the entire graduating class of Rye High in their library, but not a single tent?”
Leo: “Wait, where are you?”
Me: “You don’t want to know.”
Leo: “I really think I do.”
Me (scrunching my eyes closed): “Leo, please! Can you think of any reason?”
Leo: “No, there’s nothing on the calendar that would account for the amount of hardware you’re describing. Though….”
Leo went so quiet, for so long, I checked my phone to make sure the call hadn’t dropped.
Leo (speaking slowly): “Last Friday, Talia called me out of the blue before breakfast. She requested that I recuse myself from the board temporarily and stop attending meetings for a while…She said she didn’t want to put me in the position of choosing between the Club and my job if things got ugly with Little Ben.”
Me: “I saw picket signs and flyers upstairs.”
Leo (sounding stunned): “You don’t think they’ll go that far, do you? Protests I get, but occupying both buildings?”
Me (opening my eyes and staring at the ceiling): “I think they’re calling it a sit-in.”
Leo: “That’s not better.”
Me: “Sit tight. If anyone asks, tell them what you told me, Talia asked you to leave the Club, and you don’t know anything.”