Monthly Archives: April 2021

2.44 Oh Baloney…

IMG_5080

Rubbing my face, my fingers hardly felt the divots the wire spiral of my notebook dug into my face. Realizing my eyes were no longer open, and hadn’t been so for some time, I eased my eyelids apart. They found Uncle, still sitting at his desk, grinding thru the pile of primary source materials Ira included in his envelope.

Wow, there’s two words my mind hadn’t united in years, primary and source. 

I could practically taste the baloney and mustard sandwiches we used to snack on whenever Uncle proofread and fact-checked my school reports. Other than a few extra lines on both our faces, not much in the office has changed since those days. 

Man, now I really want baloney and yellow mustard on white with a side of sweet pickles and potato chips.

Too bad, there’s absolutely no way I’m setting foot in Aunt Pearl’s kitchen until we finish. She nearly pitched a fit and fell in it upon realizing she was losing her fastest cupcake froster for a few hours. Only my solemn promise to wield a pastry bag on her behalf once we wound things up in here diverted her wrath. Though the timely arrival of my cousins, their spouses, and the niblings with an awe-inspiring supply of vanilla beans, butter, powdered sugar, and heavy-cream might have done more to accomplish that deed than my word.

I wonder if one of my cousins would be willing to fetch me sandwich fixing…

Cheered at the prospect of fulfilling my baloney flavored dreams, I picked up my phone and discovered two texts waiting. (I’d put my phone on silent to help Uncle stay in the zone.) 

Shoving my seasoned sausage craving aside for a second, I opened the message from my Silver City Operative Tavi. Not only did she enthusiastically agree to tackle the pithy list of places Big Ben mentioned in his correspondence with Ira. She also sent me a snapshot of her wearing her investigator’s outfit – greatcoat, fedora, wingtips, and all. After returning the wide grin of the woman in the picture, I flipped over to my FLYT ap and added extra credits to her ride account. Then arranged for her to receive a munificent quantity of thank-you-hanging-up-my-desperately-seeking-Big-Ben-signs-all-over-town tacos the next time she visited her favorite family-owned taqueria. (Which to the untrained eye might resemble a gift certificate.)

Switching back to my texts, I read the other pending message from Mrs. Lebondowsky. The Naturalist and Historical Society have enlisted the help of several regional environmental groups to help populate their picket lines at Nevermore’s entrances – freeing them up to start the sit-in. If tonight’s emergency vote goes the way Mrs. Lebondowsky thinks it will – she’ll let me know.

Staring sightlessly at my phone, pondering, my tummy let loose a deep rumble reminding me of the craving I’d yet to satisfy. Picking up my phone, I texted the cousin that ticked off the boxes of: (a) someone willing to swipe sandwich supplies, (b) who’s cake decorating skills are poor enough that Aunt Pearl wouldn’t immediately miss them, and (c) who is honing his professionally nosiness.

He replied with a thumbs-up in five-seconds flat.

Uncle, who was still zeroed in on the data, didn’t even look up when I set aside Joseph’s purported copy of the Conventions so I could heave myself off the couch. Pressing my ear against the door, I waited until the squeaky floorboard in the hall augmented the hurly-burly sounds bouncing down the corridor before easing it open for my cousin to dart thru. (Seems neither of us is keen on getting caught should Aunt Pearl investigate the familiar creak.)

Robbie, arms ladened with sandwich fixings, chips, and soda, gave me a wide grin.

Robbie: “Hey cuz! You’re timing is marvelous!”

Putting my finger against my lips, I tipped my head towards the side-table. Following my lead, he set down the sandwich components onto the narrow surface once I’d moved Uncle’s awards out of the splash zone. You never know when the mustard bottle might get feisty.

Me (starting to assemble the sandwiches): “Did I save you from dishpan hands?”

Robbie (matching my low tone): “Yeah, and the drama. Mom started ‘touching up’ the cookies Ruby frosted, and she’s fit to be tied.”

I wonder if Aunt Pearl’s really that invested in the success of the school district’s Carnival or if her confections are competing with someone else’s. 

I’d place good money on the latter.

Robbie (casting an eye towards the desk): “…So what are you guys doing in here? Mom never said.”

That didn’t take long. Glancing over at Uncle, who apparently wasn’t as tuned out to the room as I’d thought, as he was coming over to grab a sandwich. 

Uncle (reading my mind): “It’s up to you. Though I think he could help.”

Holding up a finger at Robbie, forestalling the bevy of probing queries his quivering countenance promised, I took a contemplative bite of the yen satisfying sandwich. (BTW – They’re just as scrumptious as I remembered.) 

Me (after taking a swig of soda to wash everything down): “I need your promise not to repeat a word of what’s said in this room to anyone.”

Robbie (lowering his unsullied sandwich): “You have it.”

Me (receiving a nod from Uncle): “Remember the time Uncle and Aunt Pearl rescued Wood, Laney, Beatrice, and I up from Nevermore in the middle of the night?”

Robbie (laughing): “The night Wood dressed you guys like the cast from Pirates of Penzance? What about it?”

Me (exchanging looks with Uncle): “Well, you see, there was more to that night than us settling a bet….”

2.43.b Carnivals & Cakes

Rewind eight hours. 

Before, KARB aired Berlioz’s, Béatrice et Bénédict. Before, I baked several breakfast treats. Before, I ingested several gallons of coffee. 

I sat alone in the kitchen of the Lavender Lady, listening to Wood tootle off in the direction of the living-room couch, finishing off the last swig of my beer…….When my eyes slowly slid towards the corner of Ira’s envelope peeking out of my pack. 

Firming up my upper lip, I told myself the contents would be exactly the same tomorrow morning. 

Emphatically nodding my head, my mind made up, I happened to notice a ring of condensation the bottom of my beer bottle left on the table. Getting up, I grab a rag from the sink and wipe down the table, then the counters. Because if you’re going to do one, you may as well do the other. However, whilst taking care of the counters, I knocked over the stack of empty containers I’d packed the Moon Bathing nibbles in. Deciding I couldn’t leave dirty dishes for Beatrice to find in the morning, I unloaded, reloaded, and ran the dishwasher. Because that’s what good roommates do. Similarly, I couldn’t leave the stack of soiled blankets sitting on the kitchen chair, so I washed them as well.

Scanning the kitchen, cleanup complete, my eyes once again strayed towards the manila covered temptation……and caved. One quick peek, to give my subconscious something other than Toby to chew on, what could it hurt?

Famous. Last. Words. 

Fast forward eight hours and twenty-seven minutes.  

Past the anatomizing of Ira’s information down to the subatomic level. Past the flabbergasting discovery of double-dealings. Past my forty-five-minute catnap hunched over the table, on top of my spiral-bound notebook. (I’m lucky to only have a wire imprint on my face. I’d missed dozing on my uncapped hot pink highlighter by mere inches.) Past Wood and Beatrice looks of incredulity when I’d begged off from their afternoon plan to partake of barbecue and sniff old books in favor of completing a chore.

Stepping out of the Princess and onto the drive, I leaned my seat forward and pulled my hulking pack from the backseat. Trudging around the side of the house, I slowly climbed the back stairs and pushed open the door. 

Stunned by the spectacle hitting my retinas, it took me a moment to recall the last time I beheld such a sight. (I do believe it occurred the year Robbie’s school hosted the regional Spelling Bee finals and the PTA pounced on the opportunity to fund their after school programs.) Every surface, plus a few extras brought in especially, were covered in unfrosted cakes, cupcakes, cookies, the odd pie, a half dozen loaves of bread, and one sad-looking pan of sausage rolls. 

My early morning efforts paled in comparison.

Amid this unadulterated homage to flour, eggs, and butter stood Aunt Pearl operating my great-grandmother’s stand mixer. Next to her stood my niece Ruby. Who, for reasons outside my ken, was responding to my Aunt’s instructions with expressive meows.

Aunt Pearl (over her shoulder): “Jesse, if you forgot the whole vanilla beans again, you can turn right back around.”

Me: “It’s not Jesse Aunt Pearl.”

Ruby (at the sound of my voice, she started scrabbling off her stool): “Ppuurrrrr? Meow!!!”

Aunt Pearl: “Hello Dear! Give us a minute. We’re almost done.”

Drifting towards the two-foot square of open space at the kitchen table, where Uncle sat sipping his coffee and reading his stack of newspapers, I looked around for another seat. Deciding the chances of finding a chair free of thumbprint cookie trays slim to none, I dropped both my pack and backside onto the floor. 

Uncle (setting aside his paper): “So what brings you by? Besides the floorshow.”

Me (leaning against the cabinet, my legs stretched out in front of me): “Did Aunt Pearl lose a bet?”

Uncle (chuckling): “No, one of the vendors for the district’s Carnival pulled out at the last minute. So your Aunt’s helping bridge the gap. She roped the whole neighborhood, plus Jesse, Tad, Dylan, and Dwight, into helping.”

Heart sinking, I reconsidered asking Beatrice and Wood for help, then rejected the idea immediately. There’s no way I could ask without being an awful friend. Ira and Leo were similarly off-limits. Maybe Mrs. Schmit? I trust her….but do I trust her that far?

Uncle (forehead crinkling in concern): “Phoebe?”

Me (pulling my heavy pack towards me): “Sorry, I didn’t realize you guys were so busy. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have bothered you with this…”

Uncle (tilting his head): “With?”

Me (sighing): “I was hoping you could double-check my work.”

Uncle’s gaze sharpened. However, before either of us could say anything else, Ruby scampered onto my lap purring madly, and Aunt Pearl thunked a bowl of frosting at my Uncle’s elbow. 

Ruby (four inches from the end of my nose): “Auntie Morticia! Come see! Come See! Grandma’s saving the Carnival’s cakewalk! And she’s going to let me decorate the cookies! I get to use ALL the frosting I want!… What’s wrong with your face?”

Aunt Pearl (bustling over): “Ruby’s right, what’s wrong with your face? You look tired. Did you not sleep well? Do you want some coffee? Can you stay and frost some cupcakes?”

It didn’t take the intuition of Nancy Drew to figure out Aunt Pearl let Ruby sample some frosting, her blue-tinged teeth told the story. The dark tint to Aunt Pearl’s lips told a similar sugar-filled tale. As did the fact neither waited for or required a response to their series of rapid-fire questions.

Me (sliding Ruby off my lap): “No, Aunt Pearl. I’m fine. I should be going….”

Uncle (finishing my sentence): “…back to my office. Mind if I take the coffee pot back with us, Pearl?”

2.43.a Much Ado About Something

The loud thwack followed by a bellowed expletive pulled me away from watching the icing melt in delicious rivulets across the tops of my fresh from the oven cinnamon buns. Waiting for Wood to hobble in gave me time to consolidate the contents of Ira’s envelope, Beatrice’s laptop, and Joseph’s book. In their place, I laid out coffee and the aforementioned buns. 

Nothing like sugar, butter, and caffeine to help overcome trauma. Wood limped into the kitchen just as I was setting out the utensils, plates, and mugs.

Me: “Did the make-up case get you?”

Wood: “No, the carry-on.”

Apparently, Beatrice switched her plans and flew in late last night. Her presence was easily deduced upon our arrival back at the Lavender Lady due to the matching six-piece luggage set littering the hallway when we walked in.

Me: “Count yourself lucky it wasn’t the steamer trunk, the brass corners suck.”

Giving half-laugh Wood pointed at the pot and pan on the table for permission to dig in, giving him the nod, I put the cookie dough in the refrigerator. Tapping in time with KARB’s current selection, The Ghost Rags, I stuck the muffin tin in the oven, wound the timer then joined Wood at the table.

Pouring my umpteenth cup of coffee, I posed the question that had been troubling me for the last hour.

“Margret, from Much Ado About Nothing, do you think she was secretly in league with Borachio and Don John?”

Pausing, his cinnamon bun laden turner hanging in mid-air, Wood ran a critical eye over me. My besmirched apron prompted his gaze to shift past my shoulder onto the flour-coated stand mixer, the pan of shortbread next to it, and a dish filled sink sitting behind me. 

I’m also reasonably sure he didn’t miss, as I did in my quick tidying up, the dough encrusted spatula I’d left next to my haphazardly packed backpack. Or the fact I had the loopy imprint of a spiral-bound notebook wire across my left cheek and temple.

Wood (finally finishing dishing up his sticky breakfast bun): “Morticia, are these scratch-made or from a tube?”

Me (over the rim of my mug): “Scratch.”

Wood (waving his knife towards my new face decoration): “We didn’t roll in until after two, how much sleep did you get?”

Me (glossing over his question): “Enough. Now Margaret part and parcel in Don John’s scheme or not?”

In point of fact, I got a solid forty-five minutes while my cinnamon roll dough doubled in volume. But who’s counting? Other than Wood.

Wood (clearly unimpressed by my one-word response): “If I recall, everyone ended up forgiving her in the end…”

Catching the tail end of the answer, Beatrice, looking bright-eyed & bushy-tailed (pretty much the exact opposite of the last time I laid eyes on her), walked in. 

Beatrice (grabbing the seat next to Wood): “Forgive who? Me? I apologize for leaving my suitcases in the hall, bad habit. I didn’t get in until midnight, and I couldn’t face lugging them around anymore…”

Me: “No, biggie. Margaret from Much Ado, victim or villain?”

Wood (mumbling): “No biggie for you, my toes will never be the same.”

Beatrice straightened her curving lips at Wood’s grumblings, topping off Wood’s mug and mine before using the pot to pour her own.

Beatrice (seeing and visibly ignoring the red zigzag on my face): “hmmm…..It would add an extra shadow to the play if Margaret had designs on Claudio for herself…However, I think she was a victim of Don John’s scheming. Why?”

Me: “But why stay silent in the face of your friend’s disgrace? When Hero’s own father wishes for her death?”

Beatrice: “Would you want to announce at a wedding, to everyone and god, about your sexual role-playing the night before? Where you not only assumed your friend’s name but donned her clothes and used her room for the assignation? There’s an excellent chance Leonato would have cast Margaret out of his house on the spot, in complete disgrace.”

Me: “True, but the Friar proved himself more than able to temper Leonato’s fury.”

Beatrice: “With Benedict’s help. I’m not sure Margaret would have faired so well in Benedict’s opinion without Borachio’s confession in his hip pocket.”

Me: “I suppose. I’m just stuck on the fact the word of a confirmed knave cleared her, whereas her actions seem to condemn her.”

Wood (around a mouthful of sugar and spice): “Morticia, you’ve never given a flying fork about Margaret, let alone lost sleep over her, what’s really eating you?”

Ding!

Riding the pause with professional ease, Wood waited patiently for my reply while I scrabbled around, swapping the shortbread pan for the muffin tin in the oven. Fortunately, by the time I retook my seat, I’d formed a better answer than, ‘Nothing.’

Me (shrugging): “Just passing the time.”

Wood (clearly skeptical): “Right.”

Apparently, it wasn’t that much better, but it did possess the virtue of being the truth.