Monthly Archives: June 2021

2.53 What’s the Worst That Can Happen?

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(Now, I’ve never been to California and seen the Redwood Forest – but this is what my imagination pulls up when I think of them…)

Spotting a flash of light off in the distance, I shrunk into the deepest shadow shrouding the corner between the South and West gates of The Crossroads. Straining my ears, I heard the tell-tale sound of tires striking a speed bump as the automobile rolled closer. Channeling my inner redwood, endeavoring to match the stillness of those massive trunks, I watched the car carrying Nevermorian security cruise unhurriedly past my hiding spot. Admittedly there’s a substantial expanse of grass between myself and the cruiser – but even a locked door – draws the critical eye of a good guard. 

It wasn’t until the red glow of the taillights finally faded to small specks that I let my mind drift off of its tremendously tall loci and exhaled gustily. Detaching myself from the gloom, I jogged in place for a minute to warm up. (By way of payment, the walls responsible for casting the concealing shadows, sucked the warmth from the marrow of my bones.) No longer as stiff or chilly, I pulled up my sleeve and stared at two glowing green hands. 

Fork.

Thirty-four minutes had already slipped by since I scampered out my front door. 

Dear gods above and below, please let Leo, Robbie, and Beatrice have found something in their research that immediately arrested their attention. Thus allowing my pretext, of heading down to the Map Room to fetch my old school yearbooks, to stay intact. Because I really don’t want to own my overriding reason for following Ira to Nevermore.

On the upside, I’ve landed on a plausible and truthful rationale for keeping tabs on Ira – should anyone realize I’ve scarpered. I’ll cite my genuine anxiety about Ira’s safety. Since he needs to waltz past the majority of people cahooting together to retrieve the potential evidence of Sarah’s duplicity. (Thus, my tail makes sense.)

At no point, if an explanation is required, will I concede my genuine motivation. Which essentially boils down to Ira’s parting shot – “I’m going to Nevermore, what could possibly happen?” 

Seriously? Would you care for the answer in alphabetical or chronological order.

In an attempt to make him appear less tempting to the Fates, I enlisted the aid of someone who’s aces at tiptoeing around Nevermore undetected. As I couldn’t just let Ira stroll thru automatic doors of Nevermore’s main building (mosey his way back to the security hub, copy several days worth of security video & logs, then retrace his steps) all by himself.

Hence my pell-mell run down the back garden path, over several neighboring lawns, and along the sidewalks to the closest corner of Nevermore. Pleading to the universe during the entire – heart-rending, lung-busting, sneaker-slapping – run for Joseph to be hanging about The Crossroads tonight. 

Someone must’ve heard me because no sooner had I tripped onto the grounds – Joseph was at my side. Doubled over and panting, I managed to vocalize Ira, main building, and keep safe. 

He needed no other information.

Raising my cuff, I glanced at the luminous hands on my watch again and found only two minutes had ticked by. 

Waiting is the worst.

“He’s safely out of Nevermore.”

Leaping six inches in the air at the wildly unexpected sound of Joseph’s voice next to my ear, I narrowly suppressed the surprised scream my throat yearned to expel. “Jiminy Christmas, you should wear a bell….Thank you for looking after him.”

A smile I couldn’t see, due to the lack of light, colored his voice. “You are welcome. Though he needed very little help from me.”

“Thank the gods.” Shoulders sagging, my mind spontaneously called up the image of the redwood again. Only this time, my feet were its roots, and I watched my anxiety flow thru them and saturate the ground beneath my sneakers. 

(It didn’t seem to matter much to my mind that this wasn’t how roots worked.)

Head tilted, I saw concern in Joseph’s eyes as a match flared to life, lighting the cigarette stationed between his lips. “Why the panic? Ira didn’t go anyplace he didn’t rightfully have access too.”

Transfixed for a moment by the red coal, which glowed a hair brighter as he inhaled, it took a moment to recall my reasonable and honest excuse. “He might’ve been caught in the midst of downloading some compromising information…” 

“Indeed.” The amused tinge of his voice spoken volumes.

Scuffing the toe of my sneaker on the ground, I gave in. “Alright, Ira tempted the Weird Sisters right before he left the apartment, and I couldn’t take a chance of something or someone happening to him.”

Tilting his head, he took another drag of the cigarette. “You worried he might come to harm?”

Snorting without humor, I tipped my head back and stared at the twinkling stars for a second, forming my reply. “Maybe? Worst case scenario…”

“Why take the risk?”

“Proof, he and the others needed a hair more to fully believe Sarah’s guilt.” Straightening my shoulders, I dove straight into the niggling set of doubts that’d been pestering me. “You remember the incorrect dates Sarah gave me for the arrival and burial of Tiffany Grindle’s remains? She was the only one who knew there was a chance I was going to break into the building and/or creep about Nevermore…”

“…and if she set a trap, you’d know for certain where her loyalties lie.” 

Holding the half-finished smoke towards me, I shook my head at the unspoken offer (Joseph has far superior night vision) and answered his other question. “Let’s just say her explanation for the mix-up no longer satisfies.”

He paused, holding in the lungful of cigarette for a moment before expelling it. “These fabricated dates of Sarah’s started the night after you subdued the Woman In White, correct?”

“And the three following…” My voice trailing off as the implications of his answer hit me – extinguishing the small sliver of hope I’d unconsciously held onto in a dark secret part of my heart.

I watched his still smoldering smoke drop to the ground and disappear beneath the heel of his shoe. “Security guards were stationed all over Nevermore and inside Sarah’s Domain & Depository for the seven nights following our…adventure.” 

Rocking back, I blinked quickly up at the moon, trying to breathe around the lump in my throat. Should’ve taken a puff of his cigarette, could’ve blamed the salty liquid leaking from my eyes on smoke irritation. 

2.52 King Arthur, Antonio Stradivari & KARB

Did you know author Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote a book around 1136 called the Historia Regum Britanniae (The History of the Kings of Britain)? 

Yes? No?

Never fear if you’ve never heard of this title before – unless you’re keen on exploring the profusion of stories surrounding the legend of King Arthur – you’re unlikely to have run across it. Especially since Thomas Malory’s later work (around 349 years later), Le Morte d’Arthur eclipsed Geoffrey’s tome by several orders of magnitude. In any case, the Historia Regum Britanniae’s biggest claim to literary fame is the fact most scholars consider it to be the first narrative and (on the whole) fictional account of King Arthur’s life. 

Beatrice and I unsurprisingly, are both aware of this kernel of information. (Thus illustrating why the Fates smiled the day we met. She studied the metamorphosis of the Arthurian legend as an undergrad in college. While Librarian Extraordinaire Mrs. Schmidt introduced me to the Round Table and it’s King – after I’d polished off every Robin Hood related story the stacks of the Rye Public Library had to offer. But I digress…)

Due to Beatrice’s familiarity with said tome, her ears perked up when she heard the name Monmouth uttered on the radio. Regrettably, she tuned right back out when KARB’s newsreader failed to mention either King Arthur or Geoffrey in the story. Last night this scrap of information turned more maddening than a musical ear-worm, as Beatrice tried to recall it after catching sight of a mind-map I was constructing on her computer. (I’d created the aforementioned mind-map to tease out a coherent pattern from all of our assembled notes, deductions, and facts.)

The branch which caught Beatrice’s eye dealt with the Board of Managers, more specifically Nevermore’s Head of Legal, Nathaniel Monmouth. 

I can ascribe this brilliant bit of deduction to the six minutes and twenty-seven seconds Beatrice spent pacing the length of her office while softly repeating Nathaniel’s surname over and over again to herself. Her spot-on imitation of a broken record stopped as suddenly as it started – whereupon I found myself, and the chair I was sitting on, shoved/rolled away from the computer’s keyboard.

Tapping quickly, Beatrice soon brought up a bite-sized blurb archived on KARB’s website. 

She then did a small fist pump in triumph.

Monmouth Wins Stradivarius - KARB breaking newsjpg

I couldn’t believe it – of all the news for Nathaniel to keep mum about. 

For weeks, Nathaniel crowed about Klara’s successful promotion/challenge from eleventh to tenth chair in the second violin section, yet he stays silent about this prestigious grant? According to the article’s date, we worked together for roughly two months prior to my pink slip, and not once did he breathe the word Stradivarius around me.

Nudging Beatrice aside, I pulled up Klara Monmouth’s bio on the Rye Symphony homepage. Said bio included both a new photo of Klara sitting in full concert dress with Stradivarius resting on her knee and a link to the Goodfellow Music Conservatory. 

Clicking the helpfully provided link, I scrolled down Goodfellow’s main page until a familiar face stopped me cold. Turns out Goodfellow’s Chief Librarian is one of the sniggering sycophants who help Josie steal Summer’s brownie back in middle school – Thomi Margaziotis.

(Now back to Friday night.)

“So you think Josie bribed Nathaniel to look the other way about Little Ben’s presence on the Board, by arranging a once in a lifetime opportunity for his wife?” Stopping midway through the stack of rebranding propaganda I’d liberated from Little Ben’s office, my cousin tilted his head and goggled at me.

“Cultivating quid pro quo arrangements is something Josie learned at her father’s knee.”

Beatrice, seeing I’d just taken a healthy slug of coffee, expanded on our theory. “It’s brilliant because tracing favors between friends is troublesome at best.”

The situation doesn’t start smelling fishy until you start digging into Library’s endowment history.

The majority of instruments, unsurprisingly, go to current students studying at the Conservatory. The few instruments straying outside those hallowed halls, nine times out of ten, find themselves in the hands of alumni. The rare non-alum loans typically go to musicians completing specific projects – like the group creating a soundbank of every known Stradivari violin, viola, cello, mandolin, and harp in the world.

“I’m guessing Klara doesn’t fall within any of those groups?” 

“Nope.” 

Sensing Robbie had a few follow-up questions to Beatrice’s one-word reply – I cut in. “Between her Linked-in profile, symphony bio, and wealth of social media posts – we couldn’t find anything approaching the Conservatory’s customary lending profile.” 

Ira, having finished his third colorful tiny cake, rested his forearms on the table and laced his fingers together. “Phoebe, I agree there’s a lot of coincidence at play here, but do you really believe Sarah and Nathaniel are working to the detriment of Nevermore with Josie Reville? I just can’t see Sarah being that calculating.”

Resisting the urge to close my eyes and take a deep breath, to try and dissipate the lead encrusting my stomach, I met Ira’s gaze instead. “If you’re willing, we might even be able to confirm my theory.”

That got everyone’s attention.

“What did you have in mind?”

2.51.b Revelatory Reading

“…that’s why Little Ben gave Ira a paper promotion.” Smoke practically poured out of Leo’s ears as he careened towards the same conclusion Beatrice and I reached last night. “He wants control of Nevermore’s coffers.”

Robbie, “How would flipping one vote help him? He’d still need to sway Ira’s replacement, plus everyone else.”

Ira, leaning back against his chair, a shrewd light in his eyes. “The move makes Gavin the most junior member of the Board. Everyone else has at least a decade of service on him, undoubtedly he will follow their lead. And I’m guessing my promotion wasn’t Little Ben’s first or last step at influencing the Board, was it?”

Unearthing, from the pile of promotional material I’d absconded with months ago, I found one of Little Ben’s new business cards and tossed it into the center of the table with a flick of my wrist. Ira remained still, but Leo and Robbie leaned forward to read fine print embossed beneath the heavy script of ‘Ben Abernathy, Provisional Proprietor…’

‘…Caretaker.’ 

Picking the card slowly and deliberately off the table, Leo stared into space, gears whirring away in his head, while his hand used the edge of the card to tattooed a staccato beat against the tabletop. “He didn’t just take-over your Cottage. Damn, how did I miss that?”

From the off, my dismissal from Nevermore felt funny.

Little Ben’s wafer-thin cover story hinged on his intent to funnel my salary back into Nevermore. More specifically, into his new Sunny Valley Farm & Pet Cemetery scheme. On the face of it made a modicum sense – until he literally spent all of this ‘savings’ on updating The Cottage. At the time I was so topsy-turvy from being issued a pink slip and eviction notice within the same breath, I chalked up the frittering away of funds to his general lack of good sense and judgment.

It never once crossed my mind something more laid beneath, until Beatrice read our scribe’s account of their first few months as Provisional Proprietor. Then Little Ben’s cock-and-bull story shattered like a hammer striking glass. 

My layoff was never about saving money. It was about co-opting my job title to gain a seat and vote on the Board of Managers. 

Leo’s gaze remained unfocused as he absorbed the implications, the only outward sign of what was going on between his ears was the continued tapping of Little Ben’s card. Ira merely leaned back in his chair and nodded periodically to himself. Beatrice, having already canvassed this ground with me last night, got up from the table and started making coffee. I followed her lead, only my trajectory aimed me towards the paper line tin sitting further down the counter from the coffeepot.

Robbie, after rereading the short passage about the composition of the Board, found his voice first. “Surely, the Head of Legal wouldn’t allow this to happen. There’s an obvious conflict in having Little Ben, as Provisional Proprietor, sit on the Board.” 

Setting the now open tin of birthday cake madeleines in the center of the table, minus one, I returned to my seat. “Let’s put a pin in that question for a second and try to think of another reasonable explanation as to why Little Ben would want to co-opt my job title.”

Ira, unfolding his arms, leaned forward and chose one of the delightfully speckled madeleines from the tin. “Your theory explains a great many things, not the least of which is why all the unabridged copies of the Conventions went missing. But I’ve known that boy for his entire life and worked with him for well over twenty years. He doesn’t have the cunning in him to pull off this kind of chicanery.”

“I agree. But now ask yourself, why was it so important for Josie to figure out if I’d seen Sarah leaving her house.” Popping the last half of my madeleine in my mouth, I chewed up the deliciously sweet cake waiting for one of them to respond. 

Tipping his head Ira regarded me thoughtfully. “You think the three of them are working together?”

“Not quite, due to the bad blood between Lucas Reville and Big Ben, I can’t really see Little Ben would work with Josie.” Gnawing on my lip, my eyes drawn to Leo’s uneven drumming of Little Ben’s card, I continued. “I believe Sarah and Josie are working together to influence Little Ben. To what ending I’m not sure, but I doubt it’s for the good of Nevermore.”

“Cuz, I know the Brownie Stealing Bench is the root of all evil, but this is closing in on conspiracy theory territory…” Robbie’s uncertain tone was belied by his hand/arm as it stretched across the table to grab the top six inches of Nevermore rebranding materials.

After a sip of coffee, waiting to see if any of the others wanted to chime in, I turned the laptop screen so they could see it. “I agree, it sounds cockeyed. However, let me show you something…”