Beatrice sent me this text after she got home…
Beatrice sent me this text after she got home…
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?”
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.
Pulling into a parking spot in front of the Rye Regional Airport, I looked over at my first passenger in a little over a month and smiled. Beatrice, wearing nearly opaque sunglasses, leaned against the Princess’s window fast asleep, her neck twisted in an angle I’m sure will prove less than pleasant upon waking. Trying to inspire her into consciousness, I got out of the car, pulled her bags out of the trunk, and wheeled them to the passenger side door – without attempting to muffle, stifle or dampen the sounds my actions created in the slightest.
Her muscles didn’t quiver once – which frankly wasn’t surprising due to the smashing success of the Twinkle Toes Review.
Initially, even with an agreement to keep his complaints to himself in place, Wood balked at watching hours of himself on tape. Parading him past a table heaving under all his favorite foods, plus twelve tubs of Mac’n’cheese from the Rare Records Room, finally persuaded him to give the party a chance.
After he loaded his plate, we pressed play and less than fifteen minutes into the first home movie, an epic battle between cross-district peewee soccer rivals, he was laughing like a loon. Soon he was expanding on the stories his Gran spun and by the end of the evening had related a few originals of his own.
Apparently, listening to his Gran’s running and rambling commentary caught by her camcorder’s microphone with the ears of an older man burned away the lingering feelings of embarrassment leftover in his brain by his younger self.
I’m pretty sure the application of a few fingers of scotch over the coarse of the day may have eased him towards this newfound wisdom.
It’s certainly at the root of my roommate’s current comatose condition.
The other source of her inert state was due to our wildly miscalculated timetable. Between bathroom breaks, intermittent romps around the backyard (to help aid digestion and unclog our cheese-filled arteries), footwork demonstrations (which only Wood and Beatrice showed any aptitude at), and one walk/mosey to the corner store for gummy bears & worms (to settle the argument on which is better) the party effortlessly exceeded its allotted time.
Then Beatrice pulled out the good bottle.
Around ten pm, I extracted myself, to a chorus of boos, from our stroll down memory lane and stumbled my way to bed. (More than a little excited to start driving for FLYT again in the morning, I didn’t want to be hungover/exhausted/grumpy on my first day back.)
I haven’t a clue how long the others continued to natter. But six hours, two alarms and one shower later, I discovered Sarah curled up on our living room couch, Beatrice snuggled in the recliner in the office, and Wood doing his impression of a buzzsaw in Beatrice’s room. The two empty bottles of Oban next to the kitchen sink gave me a fair clue what prompted the impromptu sleepover. (When I’d said goodnight neither bottle had been cracked open or in fact out of the liquor closet.)
My inner trickster urged me to rouse them by playing Reveille at full volume on my phone while flipping on the overhead lights in my friend’s respective rooms.
Deciding against saddling my friends with the moniker of The Monday Morning Murderer Squad, I began brewing a veritable sea of coffee and recycling last night’s leftovers into this morning’s breakfast. The aroma of frying eggs, butter, bacon, biscuits, and gouda accompanied by the sounds of the coffee percolator plus the jaunty selections played by KARB’s morning DJ had the last of the fearsome foursome lurching into the kitchen (and collapsing into a heap on the floor as the table hadn’t been moved back yet) twenty minutes later.
After each downed a mug of the best bean-based drink known to man Beatrice found Wood’s shoe, Laney’s coat, and Sarah’s keys, I placed a quart-sized go-mug of coffee in each of their hands, a breakfast sandwich in their other and pushed them all out the Lavender Lady’s door to start their day. Beatrice and I followed them thirty minutes later in roughly the same state (only with more baggage and a shower under our belts), and here we are.
Standing on the curb, I gazed through the windshield at the still form of my roommate and hit speed dial on my phone. It took a beat for my ringtone to penetrate her brain, but when her hands finally twitched in response – she hung up on me. Fortunately (for me, not her) the second time I rang her, the crick in her neck announced itself – hurling her directly into consciousness and out of the Princess.
Handing her a handful of vitamins, two aspirins, and a bottle of water, I unsuccessfully attempted to suppress a grin.
Me: “Come on, let’s get you checked in.”
While I wheeled her luggage along, she silently worked her way through the pills.
The upside of catching the first flight out of Rye? You don’t have to wait in any lines, the gate agents are friendly, and your luggage always makes it on the plane. The downside? Nothing’s open. Hence our brown-bag breakfast that Beatrice was finally awake enough to enjoy. Since I wasn’t due at the Senior Center for an hour and Beatrice wasn’t scheduled to take-off for another two, we snagged a couple of seats on the landside of the airport and tucked into our homemade breakfast sandwiches & cups of coffee.
When only crumbs and dredges remained of our meal, Beatrice finally looked human again. Apparently, she felt the same because she removed her sunglasses (letting sunbeams from the nearby windows hit her retinas unfiltered) and leapt directly into conversation.
Beatrice: “An interesting fact came to light yesterday.”
Me: “Is it Laney’s secretly addiction to turkey and dressing tv dinners?”
Beatrice (clearly picking her words carefully): “No, though that is inexplicable, no, this has to do with the Brace Affair*.”
Me (perplexed): “Really? I’m all ears.”
Beatrice: “Seems Ms. Hettie isn’t the only one who had the opportunity to overhear our plans.”
Taking my thunderstruck silence correctly, Beatrice continued.
Beatrice: “While you were keeping Dourwood occupied, Laney joined Sarah and me in the kitchen. Laney went on to say it felt like an age since she’d seen Sarah – they started comparing notes, and turns out the last time they hung out was just after our trip to Pumpkin Mountain…”
Sensing I was about to interrupt, Beatrice put her index finger up, stalling my questions in my throat.
Beatrice (placing air quotes at the end of the sentence): “…However, the last time they saw each other was the evening Laney stopped by to drop off some reference books she borrowed from Sarah and to tell her we were ‘heading into Nevermore that night to plant the rubber ducks’.”
Me (sinking feeling): “Those were her exact words? Please don’t tell me she….”
Beatrice (finishing my sentence): “….uttered them in the lobby of the main building in Nevermore? Apparently, she did.”
(Laney is many amazing things – but quiet isn’t one of them.)
Me (disappointment lancing thru my lungs as I thought thru the ramifications of this shiny new fact): “So potentially anyone who was walking by or standing near the lobby could have heard them talking. So knowing who ratted us out won’t give me any real answers…”
Beatrice (nodding her head in sympathy): “Other than who was in the building that night? No, I don’t think so.”
Me (letting loose a sigh): “Crap!”
*(AKA, the night Laney, Wood, Beatrice and I ran around Nevermore as pirates trying to dissuade Little Ben from placing the new pet cemetery directly adjacent to a river bed.)
Beatrice (mumbling around the chunk of apple she finally shoved into her mouth): “Not really.”
Unsurprised by her response, I shrugged, she would tell me about it or not. I can’t force her to spill her troubles. The slightly uncomfortable bubble created by her negative answer popped when her hand changed course from the snack plate to the brochure lying next to it.
Beatrice (opening the glossy trifold paper): “I didn’t know Nevermore hosted weddings.”
Me: “It doesn’t.”
Beatrice (tilting her head and rotating the pamphlet): “Then what am I looking at?”
Me (popping a bit of smoked cheddar in my mouth): “Can we keep this between us?”
Beatrice (leaning forward, drawing more promotional materials to her): “Yes.”
Me (snagging her glass before she could object): “Remember a few days back, when I went to Nevermore to pick up the boxes Sarah saved for me?…”
Beatrice, who apparently was only partially absorbed in reading every scrap of paper I’d put on the table, waved me forward in my story. Quietly pleased she’d found something other than her phone to focus on, I continued – after finishing my impression of a fish out of water. Apparently, only one of us can drink Pappy Van Winkle bourbon like it’s water.
Hint: It’s not me.
Me (still wheezing a bit): “I heard some rumors about Little Ben and Nevermore. When I went looking for answers, I found all this.”
Beatrice (arching an eyebrow): “Found?”
Me (squirming): “Not the point of the story.”
Beatrice, once again laughing at me without uttering a sound, motioned for me to continue.
Me (cheeks still hot): “As I was saying, what I found doesn’t make sense.”
Beatrice (glancing up): “Why?”
Me: “Because Little Ben’s only the Provisional Proprietor of Nevermore.”
Me (sliding the enlarged pictures of Little Ben’s Pipe-dream-dream-boards and Big Ben’s letter to the top of the pile): “Basically, it’s a fancy name for an acting manager/heir. It allows the Proprietor to take a step back from day-to-day operations while giving his replacement a safety net to work over. Which doesn’t work if Big Ben is gone for two years! Provided Little Ben’s timeline is accurate.”
Beatrice (interrupting my rant, squinting at the pictures): “Are all the buildings and services outlined here new?”
Me (throwing my hands up in the air): “Yes! That’s what I don’t get. If Big Ben is going to be gone for two years and give his son the latitude to rebrand Nevermore – why name him Provisional Proprietor?”
Beatrice (setting aside the photos for another brochure): “Perhaps Senior’s keeping a veto in his back pocket in case Junior goes off the rails.”
Me: “Maybe, but once again, that only works if Big Ben’s here keeping an eye on things.”
Beatrice: “What do you think of these new amenities?”
Me (picking up Beatrice’s glass again, only to find it empty): “The ideas are mostly solid, but the details undoubtedly need tweaking. They always do.”
Beatrice (starting to sort the papers into neat piles, tossing Little Ben’s new business card to the side): “So Junior dreams big but stumbles over the nitty-gritty, correct? So what happens if the Sunny Valley Farm and Cemetery’s renovations and business plan go off without a huge hitch. Thanks in no small part to your efforts?”
Me (trying to figure out my roommate’s method of sorting): “He’ll gain confidence.”
Beatrice (still shuffling): “Is two years enough time for his grand plan to come to fruition?”
Beatrice: “Do you think Junior wants his rebranding complete before Senior comes back?”
Leaning my head back, I squeezed my eyes closed, ignoring the squelchy feeling in my stomach. Recalling Wood’s ambitious plans for Doctor Hansen’s practice, after the elder statesman retires.
Me (opening my eyes): “I think he wants to put his own stamp on Nevermore, make it his own. So yes, I think he does.”
Pushing away from the table, her sorting finished, Beatrice, fetched a new glass and the remnants of the good bottle of bourbon from the cupboard. Setting the second glass in front of me, she splashed a reasonable amount of the amber-colored liquid into each before speaking.
Beatrice (Mona Lisa smile in place): “Drink this, it’ll help.”
Beatrice: “You’re missing the bigger picture.”
Me: “Bigger picture?”
Beatrice (tapping the nearest of the thirteen uneven piles of paper): “How is Junior going to get all of these improvements, three of which are pretty significant, built? Given that it’s unlikely Senior’s absence will extend the full two years?”
Looking, really looking at the thirteen unequal piles, the acid in my stomach started churning – the gulp of Kentucky’s finest didn’t help a whit.
Beatrice (taking my swig as confirmation of her summation): “Simultaneously construction. It’s the only way I can see Junior finishing his “rebranding” before Senior returns.”
Lowering my head onto the cool tabletop (after downing a less reasonable amount of bluegrass hooch), I let the ideas wash over me; How on earth am I going to explain this to the Residents? Or Joseph? And keep everyone calm, cool, and collected? Even worse, what if he moves some graves? Dear Gods above and below, what if Mazy’s squirrel buddy gets hurt…
Beatrice (grimly turning a photo of a budget page towards me): “That’s only a small part of the bigger picture…”
Me (raising my head): “That’s the small part?”
Beatrice: “How is he going to pay for it?”
Me (staggering out of my chair): “I have to make some calls….”
Beatrice: “It’s after midnight, no one in the know will be happy to take your call.”
Me (dropping back into my chair): “Well crap.”
Beatrice (picking up our glasses and putting them into the sink): “Sleep on it. You’ll ask better ones tomorrow.”
Me (rubbing my eyes): “You’re right. You’re right.”
Unaccustomed to ingesting that much bourbon in one sitting (and feeling weary/fuzzy for it), I left Little Ben’s rebranding plans on the table and shuffled out of the kitchen after Beatrice, shutting off the radio and lights as I went.
Engrossed in my reading (and separated by the kitchen door), the melody of Mercury – The Winged Messenger by Gustav Holst, only registered in the back of my brain because it proved an odd counterpoint to KARB’s current music selection, Cat and Mouse by Aaron Copland.
(If The Witchdoctor by Alvin and the Chipmunks, had sounded I would have paid more attention since Wood rarely calls anyone at this hour. If you’re wondering, my assigned ringtone is Queen’s A Kind of Magic.)
My ears did perk when the cadence of Beatrice’s voice changed from cordiality to open animosity when she figured out exactly who was on the other end of the line. It also didn’t hurt that her voice grew significantly louder due to an increase in volume and a decrease in proximity.
“How did you get this number?….That’s not an answer…Why are you calling me? No, I’m not interested in having lunch with you….I said no…”
Looking up from my study materials strewn over the kitchen table, I watched her march into the kitchen, over to the alcohol cupboard, and yank it open. “Why do you think I can help? You told everyone I was a liar and a thief.” Pouring a substantial amount of Bourbon into a glass, from the good bottle, she slugged the entire thing back like water whilst listening to the tap-dancing someone was doing on the other end of the line.
Then she poured a refill.
“Since when? We haven’t spoken in fifteen, sixteen years. He’s never even let me lay eyes on her, said I was a bad influence. Which, by the way, is the nicest thing any of you have ever called me, and now you’re asking me out to lunch?”
Spitting out my highlighter cap, I got up from the kitchen table and started putting together a plate of snacks; smoked cheddar, crackers, apple wedges, and dark chocolate. Beatrice needed something in her to keep the acid and alcohol from punching a hole through her stomach lining.
“…What, so you can shift the blame onto me? No thanks. I’m not interested.” Without another word, she jabbed her phone with her forefinger and simply stared unseeingly at the screen.
Waiting a beat, “Don’t you miss rotary telephones?”
Watching Beatrice quirk an eyebrow in my direction, I continued on using my sunniest debate club tone.
“Pressing a glowing red dot on a screen doesn’t convey the same sense of ire, or frankly feel as satisfying, as hanging up on someone using a rotary telephone. Don’t you think? Back in the day, when the receiver slammed against the cradle, the person on the other end knew, without a shadow of a doubt, exactly how irked you were.
You never worried about shattering the glass or smashing the case because the suckers were virtually indestructible.
Yeah, they took an absolute age to dial, but this was an unintended feature. Those old phones made you stop and think – while dialing – if you really wanted to call the other person back and apologize or continue fighting. They were simply the perfect phone! Aunt Pearl staunchly refuses to give hers up, despite the fact its older than all us kids, and no one under the age of thirty knows how to use it.”
(True story. I had to teach Robbie’s date how to dial the phone a few weeks back. It didn’t make me feel ancient at all…)
Lips tipping slightly upwards, Beatrice tossed her cell next to the plate of nibbles I set in one of the few paper-free spots on the kitchen table.
Me (resuming my spot): “Eat, you’ll feel better.”
Dropping into the chair opposite, looking unhappy but less angry, she chose an apple wedge to toy with rather than eat. Waiting for her to break the silence, which wasn’t really very quiet as KARB was now playing Thelonious Monk’s version of Round Midnight (they broadcast one version or another of this song every day at this hour), I resumed my reading.
Beatrice (tapping the back of her phone absently): “So, no more funk?”
Me (looking up from a Nevermore’s new ad campaign): “No more funk. It took two showers and half my stash of Wayward Witch bath products, but Muck Duck Pond’s stench is a distant memory.”
Clearly still troubled, and close to finishing her second tumbler of bourbon without having eaten a bite, I decided to address the elephant pirouetting in a pink tutu around the room.
Me (setting down my pen): “You want to talk about it?”
Choking on my pull of pumpkin milkshake, I wrestled with the Princess’s steering wheel trying to keep her from swerving into the oncoming lane (there wasn’t anyone else in sight, but keeping up good habits is always recommended). Not once, in our months of sharing rooms in the Lavender Lady, did I suspect Ms. Hettie and Beatrice were related.
My Miss Marple skills need some work. Perhaps I should ask Leo for some knitting lessons….
“Your Great Aunt? That piece of sour candy is your Great Aunt?”
Holy mother forking shirt balls, I should probably not refer to Ms. Hettie like that to her niece.
“You should hear what she calls you.” Beatrice said in her mildest voice. “What made you think she snitched on us to Little Ben?”
Distracted from panicking over my gaffe (which also successfully lowered my volume dial from a nine to a five), “She was the only one I could think of, outside of the four of us, who might have known where we were going.”
“How? Oh, right, the sea shanty…”
Glad she glommed onto my train of reasoning so quickly, “She keeps pretty close tabs on us, and Little Ben was tipped off…So I thought she might have made the call.”
Silently nodding her head in time with Moonlight Serenade (KARB was paying tribute to Glenn Miller today), she took a moment to respond, “It makes sense I grant you, but no, she would never do something like that. She can’t stand tattling. Plus, I’m her favorite niece.”
Back to square one.
Bummed at the conviction Beatrice spoke with, I moved on. “Why didn’t you tell me you two were related?”
Clearly laughing at me without actually uttering a sound, Beatrice made an effort to smooth my jangled nerves. “Because you two clearly enjoy your skirmishes, and I didn’t want to ruin it.”
“I don’t know if I’d use the word enjoy…”
My statement generated a stare; I could physically feel boring into the right side of my skull. “Really? So you didn’t bake several batches of Earl Grey cookies, filling the entire house with their aroma last week, in order to lure Ms. Hettie into the back garden? Where I found you both enjoying them, drinking London fogs and bickering about quail when I got home?”
Hunching over the steering wheel, “Those were extenuating circumstances, I was going stir crazy, and she brought the tea…” The words sounded petulant, even to my ears. “Fine, I did. But when you say I lured her with cookies, it sounds unsavory.”
Actually laughing now, Beatrice grabbed her lemonade at took a long draw.
“So why don’t you call her Great Aunt Hettie or just Aunt Hettie?”
Fidgeting with the straw, “During a visit, when I was younger, I overheard her telling my mother that being called great by us kids made her feel old, so I started calling Ms. Hettie instead. It stuck.”
Curiosity creeping into my voice, “I’ve never asked, but how did you end up living downstairs from Ms. Hettie?”
Putting down her drink, she ran her thumb up and down the seatbelt a couple of times before answering, “Ms. Hettie took me in and told my family off after we had a falling out. We respect each other’s space, so the arrangement worked well for both of us, now I keep them from pestering her about moving to someplace smaller.
Sensing her reluctance to canvas the topic further, I moved on to something much funner. “Do you think Wood suspects?”
Out of the corner of my eye, I watched a smile slowly chase away her frown, “No. I spoke to Laney yesterday, and he thinks he’s coming over to give you one last check-up and a celebratory dinner. He’s clueless about the evening’s entertainment.”
Grinning, “You’ve tested the VCR?”
I think I’m in love.
After one-hundred-and-fifteen years of tinkering, fiddling, and experimentation has culminated in this plate of grass-fed goodness sitting between Beatrice and me (we’re sharing). Containing the ideal ratio of sauce to bun to beef with a wonderful fringe of fresh groceries (lettuce, tomato & onion), this burger is perfect in every particular.
Taking another bite, I closed my eyes, recalling a fun little factoid Wood and I discovered in fifth grade – which blew our minds.
Did you know the hamburger didn’t gain widespread popularity in the U.S. until the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair? On its own, this doesn’t sound startling. But combined with our family history unit? We couldn’t believe our eyes.
Born between 1888 and 1902, our great-grandparent’s childhood plates might possibly, have been bereft of our favorite dinnertime staple.
Staring stupidly at the numbers written in our own hand, we turned tail and ran to Wood’s Gran, who didn’t laugh at our horror (though looking back she was probably tempted). Unable to verify our deductions, as she’d never gotten into an in-depth discussion of burgers with her mother, she did disclose an even more shocking piece of information.
She hadn’t tasted her first McDonald’s cheeseburger until her thirty-fifth birthday. His Gran then went on to admit she grew up in a world without Ronald McDonald, Grimace, The Hamburglar, and Mayor McCheese. Minds blown his Gran gave us both a cookie and told us not to worry – she’d eaten enough cheeseburgers since to make up for her McDonald’s-less childhood.
Smiling at the shadow of my past flabbergast, I reopened my eyes just in time to keep our mound of napkins from sailing across the lawn on the brisk breeze snatching at my hair. Beatrice, in her own burger induced thrall, chewed on obliviously.
Perhaps a bit brisk for alfresco dining, I’d still chosen a picnic table outside, due to the subtle funk still clinging tenaciously to me. Despite using an entire tube of wet wipes and changing into my spare uniform (extras of I stashed in the Princess after the Tomato Soup Incident), I couldn’t entirely shake the unique scent of Muck Duck Pond.
On the upside, my new swampy perfume put the Von Haeville sisters and Mr. Ottoman off from joining us for lunch, they’d gotten their orders to go. (Mr. John Dupree took a different road home and missed out on this piece of ambrosia.)
Me (finally feeling human again, we continued our discussion from the Princess): “Did you find what they were looking for?”
Beatrice (dipping a fry in ketchup): “Yes, tucked under a loose floorboard in the master bedroom. Pretty standard hiding place really, not sure why they didn’t find it themselves…Did she really lock you out?”
Having just taken a bite of my burger, all I could do was nod.
Beatrice (licking salt off her fingers and moving on): “Did you find the family plot?”
Me (swallowing): “Yes, and completed an informal study for the Rye Historical Society. If it’s not already in the national registry, they’ll list it and request permission to complete a formal survey.”
(BTW – finishing my infernal ‘informal study’ led directly to my besmirching. After Ina Von Haeville set off to find IT, I lagged behind recording the last three markers on my map. When I finally scrambled through the hedge after her, she was so far ahead that I had to follow her line to keep her in sight – right through Much Duck Pond.)
Beatrice (grinning): “That will put a bee in the sister’s bonnets.”
Beatrice: “From what Dupree gleaned, they haven’t disclosed the cemetery’s existence to their buyers…”
Me (wry smile curving my lips): “That’ll even the score for making me clean up outside. The Historical Society will make sure the buyers know about it.”
(Yes, they made me walk around the house and clean up in the Princess. The Elder Von Haeville sister staunchly refused to allow me to walk thru the house. When Beatrice wondered aloud why it mattered, as the maid hadn’t mopped up in years, the two really started taking verbal swings at each other. They only stopped when I stepped in and relented to the Elder’s request. Figuring that giving an eyeful to the local fauna, while changing, a small price to pay for keeping my secret, secret.)
Finishing up our shared lunch (and dropping a few loose fries on the ground for the house sparrows hopping about our feet), we headed to the Princess. Where I finally mustered up the courage to broach my million dollar question with Beatrice.
Me (occupying my hands with starting the Princess): “How well do you know Ms. Crab-Apple Hettie?”
Beatrice (wearing a Mona Lisa smile): “Why?”
Me (hedging): “The night we dressed as pirates and planted rubber ducks in Nevermore, do you think she’s the one who warned Little Ben we were coming?”
Beatrice (without hesitating): “No.”
Me (grabbing my milkshake for a sip): “Are you sure?”
Beatrice (eyes twinkling sporting a wide Cheshire grin): “Pretty sure, she’s my Great Aunt.”
Wait?! What?!!? Crap!!!!! Crapity, Crap, Crap Crap!!!!
Miss Limburger: “How did you get back in?”
What am I, a stray cat?
Turning away from the sink’s sorely disappointing taps (not that I’d held out much hope they’d work, but nothing ventured) towards the door, I witnessed the rest of the group’s faces when they walked into the kitchen and beheld my muddy splendor. (Mr. John Dupree’s chin hit the ground so hard I practically heard it.)
Beatrice (with a suspiciously straight face): “What on earth happened to you?”
Mrs. Von Haeville The Elder (covering her nose with a hankie): “What are you doing in here? I thought we agreed that you were to wait outside.”
Mr. John Dupree (jaw still on the floor): “Are you missing a shoe?”
Apparently, I’d lost all the ground I’d made up with the bespoke man – by wearing said ground.
The Quiet Von Haeville Sister (stepping forward and handed me a packet of towelettes from her purse): “These should help.”
Ina Von Haeville (the corners of her mouth turned down): “At least one of them learned some manners, not that it matters. Will you be able to guard IT on your own?”
Me (sliding a glance to Ina Von Haeville and nodding while accepting the wipes): “Thank you.”
Ina Von Haeville (scowling at her nieces): “Then I’m leaving, I will not stay in the same room with those girls.”
Good to her word, and with one last milk curdling glare at her step-nieces (causing them to shiver in unison), she left the building.
Beatrice (studying the mud trail, closed closet, and me): “Seriously, what happened?”
Time to keep my word to Ina Von Haeville – which means I need to swivel the spotlight off of myself – and I knew right where to shine it.
Me (throwing Miss Limburger to the wolves): “I tore my coat escaping from the garden Miss Von Haeville locked me in. I probably have at least one spider wandering about my person after walking thru its web. And I lost my shoe, in the morass optimistically called an ornamental garden, getting back to the house.”
(BTW, this doesn’t even make my top ten most mortifying moments – but I must admit – explaining one lost a shoe is a new one.)
Beatrice & Mr. John Dupree (in unison to Miss Limburger): “You locked her outside?”
Miss Limburger (on the back foot): “I..umm…”
Mrs. Von Haeville The Elder (a small smug smile on her lips): “If Mary locked you out, how did you get back in?”
I think Miss Limburger suits her better. I wonder if her mother ever repeated the old pearl – if you keep pulling that face, it will freeze that way. Because she perpetually looks like a wedge of Limburger is under her nose. If she hadn’t been wearing the identical expression when we first met, I might think her current countenance had something to do with the odoriferousness of the sludge currently coating me.
Did I mention that Muck Duck Pond supported a respectable population of ducks? (Who were not pleased to meet me.)
Either way, her elder sister isn’t saving her bacon today…
Me (brandishing the token of brass triumphantly): “Got lucky and found a spare key hidden the eave.”
Mrs. Von Haeville The Elder (looking between her sisters): “Did you know….?”
Just as Ina predicted, both women shook their heads no.
Mrs. Von Haeville The Elder: How did you find it, if we didn’t even know it was there?
Me (handing the key to Mr. Ottoman): “Born under a lucky star, I guess.”
Mr. John Dupree (in full lawyer mode smoothly cutting Beatrice off): “You will be replacing her damaged items. Correct?”
Instantly the three women burst into indignant protests aimed at avoiding all accountability.
Me (visualizing a shark’s smile): “Why don’t we call it even, my shoe for the padlock I broke getting out of the garden?”
Mr. Ottoman (in soothing tones to Beatrice & Mr. John Dupree, while trying to shush his clients): “That sounds fair. Ms. Beatrice, why don’t we finish up while your…your Girl Friday cleans up?”
Spotlight successfully swiveled.