The very creature I imagined was flapping about inside me…
The very creature I imagined was flapping about inside me…
(Okay, so it was decorated within an inch go its’ life – but I did put powdered sugar & edible glitter on my cake! Mr. Ikeda was impressed by the cake pan.)
Gazing at the Frosty the Snowman themed winter wreath hanging in the center of the battered door, a small smile crept across my face. My cousins and I still get together every year, usually in July (so we can pretend it’s cooler outside than whatever thermometer’s reading) and watch animated flakes of snow spring to life under the influence of a festive and magical chapeau. The only difference between our viewings now, versus when we were kids, is that our eggnog is spiked with more than just holiday cheer.
Standing on the top step, taking in the other trimmings bedecking the warm red brick of the unfamiliar home, I took a moment to bask in the warm glow of nostalgia. Turns out, recalling our unseasonal tomfoolery helped to settle the kaleidoscope of butterflies who’d been residing in my mid-section since last evening.
Deciding I couldn’t continue to stand on the stoop basking in recollections, I shifted the plastic cake carrier to my off-hand, mindful of the delicately piped icing inside. Raising my now free dominant hand, I gave the door an energetic knock – which resulted in a cacophony of barking to erupt on the otherside.
The winged insects infecting my middle lurched back to life at the unexpected sound.
They wobbled further still when incessant yapping produced a hollering human. “Knock it off, you three!” Thankfully, the dogs and my fluttering butterflies quieted as the voice grew louder. “You’ve only got four good teeth between you what are you going to do, gum them to death?”
Hearing the telltale sound of a chain being slid aside, I attempted to school my features into something that didn’t give away the fact the dog owner’s obvious exasperation made me want to laugh.
“Come on, move back, or you’ll never get a chance to defend the castle…” By the end of the sentence, five eyes were scrutinizing my ankles, knees, and calves with clear suspicion. Another two, six inches above my own, regarded me with a glint of good humor.
“Mr. Ikeda? I’m Phoebe Arden, Caretaker of Nevermore, we spoke on the phone last night…”
“How do you do! Come on in.” Giving me a friendly smile, he stepped back and beckoned me inside. However, the pint-sized trio of tail-wagging pooches had other ideas. Clustering tightly around my shoes, they made movement impossible. At their intense circling, sniffing, and nosing of my pant’s cuffs, Mr. Ikeda’s easy smile faltered.
“O’ dear, I forgot…. Are you wearing socks that rise above the ankles?”
Unsure of the source of Mr. Ikeda’s worry or the right answer, I opted for honesty.
“Yes? Though, I must admit they don’t match.”
“That’s a relief. ” Rallying visibly at my affirmative, Mr. Ikeda wrangled his pack of indeterminate breed pooches back and ushered me inside. “I’ve no idea why they do it, but Korben, Rhod, and Vito will spend hours licking your ankles if they aren’t covered. Drove my wife nuts in the summertime.”
The chuckle, resulting from the vision of these three elderly hounds hunting down sandal-clad feet in the summertime, soothed the polychromatic bugs.
I did my best to return the favor. “Well, most good four-legged companions have at least one quirk. My Aunt’s old cat continually tried to groom her. Libby ruined a number of my Aunt’s hair-dos back in the day.” Hoping to move away from animal anecdotes and closer to the matters at hand, I held up the plastic cake carrier for Mr. Ikeda’s inspection. “Since you invited me over for a cup of tea, I baked something sweet for us to eat.”
After attempting to divine its contents, by peering thru smudged glasses at the translucent lid, he gave up. “My ex-ray vision seems to be on the fritz, what did you make?”
“A gingerbread cake.”
Clapping his hands, which made the puppers start yipping again, he beamed at me. “Fresh homemade gingerbread, how exciting! Follow me.”
Despite wanting to stay off of pet-related topics, I succumbed to temptation. Due in part to the silence, but mostly to the madcap exuberance, the canine triumvirate exhibited as we ambled down the hallway. “Mr. Ikeda, did you name your dogs after Korben Dallas, Ruby Rhod, and Vito Cornelius?”
“A fellow fan of the Fifth Element?” Pushing open a door near the back of the house.
“I’ve watched it once or twice.” Or a half a million times.
Grinning down at the dogs, who seemed more interested in the cake than me at this point, I nearly plowed right into Mr. Ikeda, who’d paused to open a door and flip on a switch. Expecting to step into a kitchen, I was more than a little surprised to find myself in a room dedicated to hobby trains. And when I say hobby trains, I mean an HO scale replica of the whole of Rye (and the surrounding area) from June 1938. Spliced seamlessly into the scene was Iron Horse Railway – a rail system of Mr. Ikeda’s own devising.
It easily took up three-quarters of the room.
Feeling my mind blue screen at the sheer scope of the build, it was hard to focus on a single question long enough to ask it. “Why…How many…How did you get into trains?”
Mr. Ikeda, standing near the middle of the wall to wall workbench opposite his mammoth miniature, contemplated my question for a moment. “My wife didn’t like how the bank occupied my thoughts on my days off, so she found me a hobby. What do you think?”
Traversing down the edge of the table carefully, not wanting to accidentally dislodge a building or topple over a tree, I stared down at the detailed model that put every diorama I ever made to shame. “This. Is. Awesome.”
(I’m not kidding. It is one of the most impressive things I’ve seen….ever.)
Eyes twinkling, he came to stand next to me. “It’s not bad. I’m thinking of knocking out the living room wall so I can add a mountain range, a desert, and a river gorge…But you didn’t come over to discuss my hobby. May I?” Relieving me of the cake carrier, he crossed back to his workbench and gently placed it in the open space he’d created while I goggled over his ‘hobby’. Pulling out two mismatched mugs from under his bench, he flicked the switch of the electric tea kettle then turned back to me. “I hope you don’t mind talking in here, Sundays are my dedicated train day…”
Recalling my actual reason for stopping by, I stepped back from the scale model (I could feel myself starting to obsess over) and joined him at the workbench. “No, this is great, really great, and I’d love to talk about this….” Gesticulating my arm in several wide and wild motions in the direction of perfection in miniature. “…at length. But you’re right, it’s not why I’m here, and I apologize for intruding on your day off. But what I need to discuss with you is time-sensitive.”
“So you said on the phone.” Taking a seat on a wooden stool, he motioned for me to take the one opposite him. “Now, what can’t wait until Monday morning?”
Setting my pack on the indicated stool, I pulled out a folder thick with paper, before parking my backside on the seat. Taking a deep breath, reminding myself not to fidget, I followed the Aunt Pearl and the Red King’s advice. “I’m not sure if you’re aware, as CFO of Western Regional, but Ben Abernathy Junior took out a loan with your institution about a year and a half ago or so.”
Tilting his head, Mr. Ikeda’s expression became unreadable. “I am.”
Lacing my fingers together, I continued to plow forward, trying hard to meet his eyes. “Well, due to that loan and our inability to pay it back in full by ten am tomorrow morning as requested, we are forced to relinquish our collateral. Which means I need to terminate the lease for Western Mutual’s headquarters.”
(I will celebrate properly later…but this is how I feel on the inside!)
I did not manage to thrust my left foot into a tangerine sneaker before Mr. John Dupree arrived at the Lavender Lady. Nor did I accomplish the aforementioned feat soon, or even soon adjacent, after his arrival.
Mr. John Dupree’s casual Saturday attire constituted a lopapeysa in shades that reminded me of the Colombia Basin in summer, soft chocolate tinted trousers, and shiny mahogany hued shoes. In other words – he looked just as dapper dressed down as he did suited up.
(In case you, like me, never heard the word ‘lopapeysa’ before – it’s apparently a traditional Icelandic sweater with a distinctive pattern knitted into it. After I compliment its craftsmanship, Mr. John Dupree happily told me the history of his wooly jumper, purchased while on vacation in Reykjavik.)
My non-traditional twosome, of black sock and bright shoe, did not go unnoticed. In fact, it received a swift arch of Mr. John Dupree’s eyebrow, a split second conversation pause followed by rapid dive down to brass tacks.
Which included: a set of speedy introductions, a posthaste hiring of Mr. John Dupree to represent Nevermore, a bare-bones outline of our initial needs, a match set of brisk phone calls to Ira and Leo, a teeth-gnashing wait for their arrival, another set of quick introductions, an interminable wait as Mr. John Dupree penned a clause Ira insisted on including in the contract, some signatures, a fair bit of countersigning, one stamp and then step two was finished.
I am – officially – Nevermore’s Caretaker once again.
And I’ve still failed to carve out a pair of seconds to rectify my deficiency of shoes. Which presently is least of my problems, a point Mr. John Dupree was making enormously clear over some celebratory cups of coffee.
“The language is simple. If Nevermore defaults, the collateral is forfeit, i.e., half of Nevermore’s estate.” Shaking his head, Mr. John Dupree turned to Little Ben and chucked the loan documents onto the kitchen table between them in disgust. “Why did you sign this? The terms are godawful.”
Squirming under the scrutiny of Mr. John Dupree’s intense gaze, Little Ben shrunk slightly. “Putting up that much collateral lowered the interest rate to practically nothing, so it seemed like a good move. Sarah and Nathaniel didn’t think the small print mattered much since we were on solid financial footing…”
“Be that as it may, their advise was poor.”
“Should’ve listened to Lottie.” Was his only (and muttered) reply.
Watching the unbound bits of glitter spring, whirl, and glimmer across the table, I waited for Mr. John Dupree to drop the other shoe. Turning to include Ira and me in the next bit of news, he didn’t fail.
“I don’t see any legal loophole in the loan or the loan call.”
Once again woebegone, Little Ben, addressed the depths of his mug in a hoarse voice. “So what you’re saying is either I forfeit half of Nevermore to the bank or sell a third to the city…..This is going to kill Pop.”
And there it is…The proverbial fork in the road. No matter which route we choose – we lose…and Josie wins.
Getting up from the table, I limped to the liquor closet.
“Good idea, I think we could all use a nip of something…” Beatrice’s initial thumbs-up morphed to horror when she spotted what I actually pulled from her cupboard dedicated to fermented grape and grain. “You stashed that, in there?”
“I’ll decontaminate the closet later, I promise.”
“Drinking glitter-infused alcohol is not a thing.”
“I don’t know…” Leo countered, clearly succumbing to a wistful reverie. “….Goldschlager is pretty tasty.”
Head down, I bit my lip to keep them from curving upwards. Mr. John Dupree, undoubtedly sensing our sudden descent in the direction of pure whimsy, pulled us up short.
Meeting his gaze with a half-smile, I told him.
“Door number three.”
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