Category Archives: Big Ben

2.65 Janus Faced

IMG_5732

Initially, when we’d talked today over, over rum last night, I’d meant to fire Sarah at this point in the conversation.

The meeting with Nathaniel this morning went off without a hitch. Once he spotted Big Ben tapping the cover of the Conventions – Little Ben and Leo retrieved from the topmost shelf of his closet while packing up his office – Nathaniel signed his termination paperwork without a word. Big Ben and security escorted him promptly from the premises.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t even broach the subject of dismissal with Sarah yet.

Although Big Ben and I ferreted out her copy of the Conventions (stowed away in a locked drawer of her desk), there were still four more unaccounted for, and only she knew their location. (I’d played with the notion of engaging Beatrice’s services, for finding lost things, to locate the missing binders – but she’d already dedicated enough time to Nevermore. Plus, pulling Beatrice in so I could fire Sarah faster would place me squarely on Santa’s naughty list for being a lousy friend.) 

So rather than saying something like, ‘Hey, you worked with my schoolyard archenemy to overextend and undermined Nevermore for fun and profit, pack up your tools and go.’ I engaged the intercom on Big Ben’s phone.

“Lottie, could you please bring me some water?”

“Still or sparkling?” Crackled out of the vintage speaker.

“Dealer’s choice.”

Lifting my finger off the red button, I wondered whether I should’ve asked for a paper bag instead – Sarah’s lungs were working so rapidly, and so hard I worried she was going to pass out. 

(I was concerned about her well-being – only because I was keen on keeping some of the, well, quirkier sounding guidelines, policies, and traditions from being broadcast across Rye and/or studied in detail by outside parties. Not for any lingering feelings of friendship, mind you.)

Watching the vivid red blotches gracing her cheeks swiftly dull to a light rose – I skipped around the desk to where Sarah was sitting and (nicely) shoved her head between her knees. Continuing to rest my hand on her shoulder, I managed to keep her from springing up in surprise when Lottie sashayed in (on leopard print kitten heels) carrying a bottle of water and a glass. Because of her, well indelicate attitude, Sarah missed the hairy eyeball Lottie aimed her way before retreating to her desk again. 

(Big Ben only gave Lottie the bare essentials, but apparently, she’d been uncomfortable with the trajectory of the Board for months and immediately pinned the blame on Sarah without either of us giving her a hint.)

It took a couple of minutes for Sarah to get a grip, but after she did and finished off half the water – she looked human again. Or at least less likely to pitch forward, knock herself out on the edge of the desk and require immediate medical assistance due to a self-inflicted concussion.

Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, Sarah scooted back from her treacherous perch on the edge of the chair. “How did you find out?”

“Does it matter?”

“I just…No, I suppose not. So what happens now?”

“You’re going to tell me where the other copies of the Conventions are.”

Blinking, she looked slightly startled. “At my house.”

Pushing off the desk, I walked back around it and grabbed my pack. “Super, let’s go get them. I’ll drive.”

“That’s it? You don’t have any other questions for me?”

Unable to stop myself, I gave voice to the kernel of hurt throbbing near the middle of my spine. “You used Laney for information. Nearly got her, Wood, & Beatrice arrested. Tried not once but twice to have me taken into custody and managed to sweet-talk Little Ben into laying me off from the job I love – all so you could help Josie Reville break part Nevermore. Is there anything left to ask?”

The atmosphere in the Princess on the ride over to Sarah’s house was thick and entirely silent. Thank the gods above and below it was late enough in the morning all her siblings were at school or work, Sarah’s family is great, but today the last thing I’m interested in is making small talk. Pulling into the empty drive, I shut off the engine, and we exited the car.

Trailing behind Sarah to the back gate, I nearly let loose a string of four-letter words when a faint ripple of electricity started arching across my toes. Knowing said words would be misconstrued, I bit my tongue, then bit it again when the tingling in my toes grew more acute as I crossed over the threshold. 

Crap. 

Unless something seriously dramatic or highly violent occurred within these four walls, since I’d last been over (and now that I think about it, it’s been a while since Sarah’s invited me by – go figure), there’s zero reason for the pricking sensation. Her house, like ninety-four-percent of Rye, has never been a hotbed of activity for either Errants or Residents. 

Torn, my forward momentum stalled in response to my gaze bouncing between Sarah’s back (as she plodded towards the stairs) and the archway leading to the front of the house. 

Sensing I was no longer in step with her, Sarah slowly revolved back to face me. “The binders are up in my room. Do you want to come up or stay down here?”

I really wanted to follow her. 

Taking off my jacket, I slipped it and my pack onto a kitchen stool next to the island. “I’ll stay down here.” 

Silently cursing myself out, I waited until Sarah moved out of sight before scurrying over and slipping out the kitchen doorway and following the increasingly intense current arching across my toes. Treading quickly and carefully down the hallway, thankful for the thick pile of the carpet which deadened my footfalls, I approached the open arch leading to the living room – halting a hairsbreadth from the entrance.

Hugging the wall, I craned my neck just enough so I could see around the corner and inside the room.

2.63 A Rum Do…

2.63 a Rum do

(Okay, so Big Ben and Bill both helped Nevermore – but I’m still tempted to tell them to take a long walk off a short pier!)

Puffed up and ruffled, a red-faced Little Ben shot up from his chair. Unfortunately, because he was sitting between Big Ben and me, he was hemmed in. Rotating in the postage-stamp-sized gap between our knees, Little Ben turned towards the grate and chucked a hunk of wood into the fire – sending sparks and ash up the chimney and onto the hearth. After stomping the smoldering embers out, he rounded on me. 

“I’m not a sucker.”

“I agree, you’re not.” Watching him pick up his rum and slug it all in one swallow, I regretted prompting him to refill it. “However, Sarah used her years of experience and her position of trust to manipulate you. While Josie used her web of friends and her job at Western Mutual to shepherd you into the impossible choice we now have to make.”

Rubbing a hand across his face, Little Ben set his empty glass on the mantle and segued slightly off-topic. “Mr. Ikeda didn’t change his mind?”

Sighing, I shook my head. “No….” Before I could elaborate or broach the subject of sacrificing Sunny Valley Farm, thus piling worse news on top of bad, the low report of a cork being removed from a bottle broke into our strained conversation. Reminding us of the third person sitting in the half-moon before the fire.

“I’m assuming you two are talking about the loan call?” Pausing for a second, to glance between us, Big Ben returned to tilting the bottle over his glass at our nods. “Bill rescinded it this afternoon.”

Sinking unceremoniously onto the hearth, Little Ben’s eyes were more than a little moist at the news. “I..I..I…thank…” The rest of Little Ben’s sputtering remarks were drowned as the ire I banked earlier boiled over – again.

“What the fork man, were you waiting for the perfect dramatic moment to tell us?” Skewering Big Ben, who looked neither sheepish nor apologetic, to his chair with my patented schoolmarm look. (Which unfortunately isn’t very potent since I’ve never stepped foot in a classroom to teach. Though it has been known to stop rambunctious toddlers in their tracks.) 

I finished off my brief tirade strong…kinda.

“Phhhffwwiff….Bill!” 

Thru narrow eyes, I thought I detected a small smile decorating Big Ben’s face, but the rim of his rum glass obscured too much of his mouth to be sure, and by the time he lowered it again there wasn’t a trace of amusement to be found on his countenance. So I let it slide. (Plus, vacillating between so many emotions over such a short time, the rum and lack of sleep, was wearing me out.)

“Bill Ikeda and I’ve known each other for years, he called me right after you left with the news.”

“He knew before I left his house Nevermore was safe?”

At my not so quiet grumbling, Big Ben did crack a smile. “How carefully did you read those deeds and leases from my safe?” 

Starting to seething a bit, I shrugged. “Mr. John Dupree had gone home by the time Beatrice and Ira figured out what they were looking at, so we did the best we could….” 

“Bill couldn’t speak to you about Western Mutual’s lease because your name isn’t on it. He did try to give you a hint…” Reading Little Ben’s apologetic look, he shot my way correctly (he’d pushed me into going Mr. Ikeda’s alone, afraid he’d mess up the meeting), Big Ben continued. “…It wouldn’t have mattered if you’d gone with her Junior. The leases you found aren’t part of Nevermore’s assets. They’re mine alone.”  

Understanding finally dawning, my churning downgraded to a simmer. “…And Mr. Ikeda couldn’t tell me he rescinded the loan call because my name wasn’t on the papers. But why did he do it? Not that I’m complaining mind you…And, better question, how the fork did he call you? All I’ve been getting, for months now, is that stupid out of service recording.” 

“He has faith in Nevermore, he used his phone, and I replace my cell this morning. Oh, and he wanted me to remind you, you forgot your cake carrier at his house….But back to the topic at hand…” Blinking at Big Ben, I tried to follow the conversational u-turn, at my wide-eyed frown, he gave me a hint. “…The con?”

“Oh, yeah, that.” Holding out my glass for another splash of rum, I tried to refocus (fully aware the alcohol wouldn’t help – but needing a moment). “I’m sorry, Ben, parts of this are going to sound harsh…”

Rolling his shoulders, Little Ben gave me an unhappy smile. “Don’t worry about it, just pretend I’m a fly on the wall.”

Cracking my neck, I started with clearing up a curious element before plunging directly into the heart of the racket run on him. “Ben, did you know the Provisional Proprietor isn’t allowed to sit on the Board of Managers?”

Shrugging, Little Ben dropped his hands helplessly onto his knees. “No, but Nathaniel never said anything about it, so I figured it was fine.” 

Leaning forward, Big Ben, tilted his head. “Why didn’t you consult the Conventions? Like I asked you to…”

“I tried, but I couldn’t figure out where your copy was.” Holding up my hand, I forestalled the rhubarb brewing between the two. “And that was their first move, creating a vacuum of knowledge among the members of the Board.”

“What was the second?”

“Bribery.” 

It took longer than I liked, but I finally figured out their game.

The whole con rested on Sarah’s ability to control the Board of Managers, which meant they needed a guaranteed majority, so their first order of business was refashioning it to suit their purposes. Josie’s talent for spotting avarice in others didn’t fail her in this quest, and neither did Nathaniel. By arranging for Nathaniel’s wife to receive that prestigious grant, Josie bought Nathaniel’s vote. They also purchased his silence, which allowed them to install you as a part of the Board and divide me from Nevermore. 

Then Sarah convinced you to give Ira a paper promotion to prevent him from grounding your ambitions – as they needed your dreams for Nevermore to flow forth unchecked. 

The for-sale-sign planted on the edge of the MacGregor’s farm just after Sarah gave you Big Ben’s letter proved serendipitous. By persuading you to pay cash, they – in one fell swoop – drained a fair chunk of Nevermore’s savings. Once you started working on the new Sunny Valley Farm expansion, I’m assuming Sarah steered you towards renovating Nevermore proper. Already in for a penny, you applied for the loan. 

Unfortunately, because you’re a big picture person and trusted Sarah – you didn’t see her coaxing you into overextending Nevermore and into conflict with the Naturalists and the Historical Society.

This is where Josie began piling on the pressure. 

First, she used, asked, bribed members inside the Rye’s Rose Club and the University’s Herbarium & Botanical Gardens to condemn your plans to rip out the woodlands. Then she cajoled, blackmailed, sweet-talked members of KARB and ‘Rise and Shine Rye’ to report the story – and due to their constant coverage, events started to snowball. 

Once the protests reached critical mass – Josie brought the crisis to a crescendo by using her position at Western Regional to call the loan immediately due. Whereupon Josie’s father Lucas, Chief Councilman of Rye, swooped in with a proposal, and because Sarah controls the Board, the sale to the city was a sure thing.

I’ve no clue what Sarah gets from all of this, but Josie’s motives are clear, it shows Lucas her political chops by doing to one thing he’s never managed – carve up Nevermore. 

Feeling weary, I watched Big Ben nod in understanding, and a ruddy flush creep-up Little Ben’s neck and across his face. “Like I said, there’s a lot I still don’t know, but I’m fairly certain these are the hits.”

With a sly light in his eye, Big Ben leaned towards me. “Okay, so what do you want to do about it?”

2.62 Bing! Bang! Zoom! To the Moon…

IMG_7093

(Breathing fire and spitting glass – that’s how I felt seeing him after so long!)

A booming, rolling velvety laugh crashed into my furious roar in the middle of the room. “Well, that puts me in my place, doesn’t it.” Still chuckling, Big Ben wiped his eyes with a square of linen he extracted from his back pocket before beckoning me forward again.

Refusing to let his good humor (as well as my own relief at seeing him hail, whole and inside Nevermore) melt my temper, my sneakers remained rooted in place. “I’ve got a fair bit more for you, you jerk. Where the hell have you been? Why didn’t you call me? I’ve been worried sick…..”

Holding both palms in the air in surrender, Big Ben took a step back. “I’m sorry Kiddo, I really am, I didn’t mean to stay away so long.” Glancing at his son, who stood in a miserable silence next to him, the creases in Big Ben’s face grew deeper. Looking every bit as old as his seventy-eight years, Big Ben folded himself into one of the wingbacks set in front of the fire and motioned me towards its’ mate. “Please, sit.”

Still feeling more than a little mutinous, I eschewed the proffered chair, choosing to let the blazing fire in the hearth warm the backs of my legs instead. 

“Junior, why don’t you get us a bucket of ice, a bottle of rum, and three glasses from the kitchen. I need a second alone with Phoebe.” Looking more than happy to escape, Little Ben silently did as he was bid, hustling rapidly out of the room. Following his progeny’s hasty exit, Big Ben transferred his gaze up to mine – and cut the legs out from under my next tirade. “I apologize for not calling you, I wanted to….doesn’t matter now.” Waving aside his own thoughts, he regrouped and moved on. “What does matter is I owe you many explanations and a much better apology, which I’m planning on providing. But first, we need to talk about the right mess Junior’s made of Nevermore…”

“Ice cube trays are empty.” Glasses in one hand and a stout bottle in the other Little Ben traipsed back into the room. “I offered Pop my resignation right before tore in here.”

Recoiling at the unexpected humility from Little Ben, I banked my ire. 

Dropping into the high-backed leather chair across from Big Ben, I silently reveled in the light scorching my skin received from the hot fabric. “You didn’t accept it, did you?” Taking the offered empty glass from Little Ben, I ignored the light flickering off the gilt-edged Halloween illustration in favor of watching his dad. Who studied me shrewdly in return, before cracking a sly smile and the bottle open. “After what he’s told me about the state of things, is there a reason why I shouldn’t?”

Unable to repress the sigh that started somewhere around my knees, I held out my glass for a splash of rum and waited for Little Ben to finish pulling up a chair. “There’s more than enough blame for everyone to shoulder their fair share…” After giving Big Ben a hard stare, I shifted it onto the fire in the grate. “…but Ben’s portion needs to be distributed among a few more people.”

“I don’t understand.” Feeling Little Ben tense next to me, I gave him a small, sad smile.

“Tell me, who’s idea was it to lay me off?”

Settling into his chair, Little Ben considered my question for a moment before holding his glass out towards his dad. “After Sarah gave me Pop’s letter promoting me to Provisional Proprietor, she took me out for a celebratory beer, and we got to talking. I kinda moaned about you being on the Board of Managers, because I thought you’d stifle all my good ideas…” Hunching his shoulders, Little Ben skirted past the rest of his past-self’s less than sterling thoughts on my disposition. “…then Sarah said something weird because I thought you guys were tight, she kind of suggested you couldn’t smother any idea of mine if I appointed someone else Caretaker.”

Swirling the dark liquid in his glass, Big Ben unexpectedly focused on a different portion of his son’s story. “Why did Sarah give you the letter?” 

Frowning slightly, Little Ben followed it up with a shrug. “Leo was out on vacation, and his fill-in accidentally put it in her box.”

“Did she open it, before you did Junior?”

“Yeah, she wasn’t paying attention when she was going thru her mail and accidentally opened it. She ran it up to me right after she figured out her mistake….Why are you looking at me like that, Morticia?”

Snapping my jaw closed with an audible click, I took a quick slug of my drink. “Big Ben, when did you send the letter?”

“Last day of June.” 

Eyebrows drawn together and confusion plain on his face, Little Ben countered his father. “You must be mistaken, I didn’t get the letter until September.”

Closing my eyes, I fit this piece of the puzzle in place, and finally saw the forest for the trees. “Don’t worry Ben, you’re both right.” Opening them back up, I rotated my head on my shoulders and looked Little Ben in the eye. “You’re going to want to refill your glass before I start because there’s no way I can sugarcoat this for you…” Watching father and son exchange identically uneasy looks, they both followed my advice and topped off their tumblers. “At some point, between when Big Ben sent his letter, and you received it – Sarah fell in with Josie Reville. Together they laid out a con – to take advantage of both your dad’s absence and your zeal, to break Nevermore apart.”

“Phoebe….” Swiveling my head, I watched (with some fascination) the knuckles of Big Ben’s hand, holding the glass of golden liquid, turned white. “…how sure of this, are you sure?”

“I don’t know all the whys and wherefores, but I’ve got a pretty good grasp on the broad strokes.” 

2.61 …Going Nowhere…

IMG_3793

Resting an elbow against the driver side door, I absently twisted a lock of hair around my finger, pointedly ignoring the phone that accidentally on purpose now rested underneath my pack on the passenger’s seat. The five missed calls from Little Ben, failed video chat with Leo, and the single text from Beatrice lurking next to me could go unacknowledged for a few minutes more. 

We knew approaching him was a long shot, but not a single one of us ever imagined a scenario where Mr. Ikeda refused to hear me out. For fork’s sake, Leo and I managed not only to get inside the sit-in last night (which was no mean feat in and of itself), we negotiated an end to it. Both the Naturalists and the Historical Society signed new leases, promised to get the picketers from their sister organizations to go home this afternoon, and issued a favorable press release. 

I mean…it took the six of us over fourteen hours to accomplish this coup, but we did, and Mr. Ikeda didn’t want to hear it? I…I…I managed to stammer out a ‘thank-you for your time’ thru a plastered on plastic smile before fleeing the scene for the comforting confines of the Princess sitting on the curb outside his house…

…I just couldn’t bring myself to start her up. Because there isn’t enough time to fashion a door number four before tomorrow morning’s deadline…

Going to the bank branch is a non-starter. If their CFO won’t listen there’s little chance they will……We are not selling to the Rye City Council, even if our refusal means cutting off our noses despite our faces. Watching the workmen wrench all the headstones from the ground and build a ballpark over the old bones…I can’t even….The Residents…….Maybe we can get an extension to keep Nevermore off the butcher’s block? 

It would give Little Ben, and I time to get a better handle on the contents of his father’s safe. I’m sure not every piece of property we discovered last night is rented out at the moment. Perhaps we could make enough money from selling one or two of those lots to make up the shortfall? Or, for that matter, we could satisfy the bank with Sunny Valley Farm – then we wouldn’t need to negotiate uncharted waters of these heretofore unknown Nevermorian assets. The majority of Little Ben’s plans got sent to the scrap heap yesterday, without even a whimper from him, what’s one more? 

Leaning my head against the rest, feeling rotten at the thought, I cast about for another option…. Unfortunately, the baying of the rowdy three cut my brown study short. 

Unable to bear the thought of being invited on a walk with Mr. Ikeda and his horde of hounds (or alternatively being ignored by all of them), I finally slotted the key into the Princess’s ignition. Pulling away from the curb, I drove down the street without any definite destination in mind. 

I continued driving to Nowhere (man what a great name for a bookshop) until the winter sun started sinking in the sky. In the murkiness of twilight, sitting at a stoplight, I finally realized the Princess’s tires had, in a meandering serpentine kind of way, been steadily aiming me at Nevermore rather than Nowhere. Understanding that putting off bad news wasn’t actually helping anyone – I took the shortest route to the main gates.

Creeping past Little Ben’s cottage, annoyance at the man begun to balloon when the dark windowpanes failed to show the barest flicker of an incandescent lightbulb. He’d promised, on a stack of bibles (though only figuratively), last night/this morning to stay put until I swung by to tell him how the meeting went. 

(The fact that said meeting occurred several hours in the past and I’d willfully ignored my phone since – didn’t hinder my growing ire a whit.) 

Hitting the brakes, I leaned sideways and hunted for my cell. Finally freeing it, one glance at the glowing screen lanced the bubble of irritation inside me. I’d missed no less than twenty-two texts and thirteen calls from Little Ben over the last couple of hours. Mentally kicking myself for my thoughtlessness, I opened my messages. Scrolling past the first few variants on ‘how did it go,’ I glommed onto the next relevant note; ‘Guessing it didn’t go great Heading to Pop’s to look at more papers.’ 

Figuring I’d see him soon enough, I left the rest of his communiques unread/unplayed.

Wending my way thru Nevermore to Big Ben’s house, I practiced my apology to Little Ben for going AWOL. Then tried to find the words to tell him we’ll probably need to forfeit Sunny Valley Farm.

Rounding the last bend, it didn’t take the deductive powers of Nancy Drew to figure out Little Ben was still inside the house. Even if his orange hybrid hadn’t been in the drive, and it was, every window from the attic to the cellar was streaked with light. Pulling the Princess in behind Little Ben’s car, I grabbed my pack off the passenger seat and jogged to the front door where, unlike earlier today, my knocks went entirely unheeded. 

Unwilling to cool my heels on the front porch, I tried the knob – which turned in my hand. Letting myself in, I stood at the base of the stairs in the foyer and did my best impression of Aunt Pearl calling my cousins and I (as kids) to supper from the front porch of our house.

“Ben?! It’s Morticia, where are you?”

“…Back. Here!…” 

The muffled voice, coming from somewhere in the rear of the house, set my feet in motion. It also, and unsurprisingly, grew louder as I drew closer to its source…it also grew deeper? Pausing, I listened to a familiar cadence creep down the hall…a distinctive baritone I hadn’t heard in nearly two years was clearly telling someone off…..Using the ticked-off bellowing as a beacon, I took off in a headlong run down the hall. Ignoring the pricking of my toes, my heart’s not so subtle attempt to beat itself free of its cage and the fact my breath sounded akin to a malfunctioning whistle on a boiling tea kettle – I galloped forward like Hades himself was on my heels. Hurtling into the room seconds later, arms akimbo with helter-skelter hair, I could only blink at its occupants.

The ironed haired gentleman, standing with his back to the flaming fireplace, broke off from bawling out his son. Chuckling at my wild-eyed entrance, he held his arms wide and gave me a wonderfully warm smile.

“Hey, Kiddo, I’m glad to see you….”

Bent at the waist, my lungs rapidly re-oxygenating my blood thru swift, shallow gulps of air, Big Ben’s words buzzed like so many bees in my ears……head…….chest……until their buzzing finally shook loose a few choice ones of my own….

“WHERE THE FORK HAVE YOU BEEN YOU INCONSIDERATE ASH-HOLE!”

2.36.a Metaphorical Carrots

IMG_9500

(I do like theSudsy Bubble’s neon sign.)

The continuous rustling, scampering, and whispering outside Uncle’s office door woke me from my full stop sleep. Cracking an eye slowly open, the first thing to kiss my retinas was a weak grey light sidling thru the gap in the curtains. Groaning inwardly, I rapped a knuckle against the hardwood floor twice. 

The niblings giggled in response then scurried off towards the kitchen.

Taking a look at my watch, which read a ridiculously small single-digit number, I managed to heave one leg out from under the well-loved quilt and plant my barefoot on the cool floorboards.

I maintained this pose for the next two minutes.

(The late bedtime, beers, and bull shirting coupled with the absurd – but predictable – early rising of the niblings was producing a speed from me only a three-toed sloth could admire.)

Coaxing the rest of my limbs into coordinating their efforts, I finally sat up. Blinking, my eyesight gradually came into focus on the elephant sitting stoically on the edge of the oak desk, waiting for me to wake up.

The patient pachyderm being a worn inter-office envelope. In theory, it contains a list of names Big Ben dropped in his correspondence with Ira. But after examining the envelope last night, I’m certain Ira included a whole lot more information than just a simple list.

(I’d like to say my powers of deduction have improved…But the fact is the envelope’s bulky, somewhat lumpy and weighs approximately the same as Uncle’s leather-bound, fully illustrated, gilt-edged copy of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities made this illation rather obvious.)

Even though I knew the niblings would return shortly to strong-arm me into ‘helping’ them make banana pancakes and bacon – I longed to solve the riddle wrapped in buff-colored paper. However, the same sly voice in my head that staid my hands last night kept my butt firmly planted on the couch this morning.

It not-so-subtly reminded me that I needed a carrot. 

Not a literal carrot – only donkeys are motivated into action by root vegetable dangling from a stick – but a metaphorical carrot.

Like New Magazine Day.

Founded just under twenty years ago, New Magazine Day developed in response to an unfortunate incident at the Sudsy Bubble Laundromat. When a tremendously tedious chore turned unexpectedly mortifying after the cute guy at the next machine remarked on the shabby state of my underpants. 

In fairness, they were faded, ever so slightly pilled, and threadbare – but that’s beside the point. Snarky Underpants Guy’s comment was a Grade-A violation of laundromat etiquette! Tenets including: never leaving your clothes unattended, never overloading a machine, and never folding a stranger’s finished load. 

You definitely don’t allude to, offer opinions on or critique another patron’s drawers! 

They’re called unmentionables for a reason! 

In any case, instead of wiping the smirk off his face with a well deserved verbal skewering – I turned beet red, stammered out a nonsensical apology, ducked my head, and scurried away (ah, the joys of being nineteen). His subsequent laughter at my very obvious embarrassment caused me to contemplate abandoning my clothes on the spot. Fortunately, I’m made of sterner stuff (and calculated I didn’t have enough money in my checking account to replace them) and waited the sixty-five agonizing minutes for the dryer to finish fluffing my last load. 

Then I booked it out of there, vowing never to set foot inside those four walls ever again. A completely ineffectual vow, as the Sudsy Bubble was both the closest & cheapest of the laundromats in Rye.

Three weeks later, grasping at straws, i.e., dressed in the dredges of my closet, I showed up to Family Feast Day wearing a nuclear green polyester skirt and vest set given to me by my colorblind Grandmother one Christmas.

Aunt Pearl immediately sensed something was wrong.

After sussing out why I was wearing an outfit only Don Knotts could love, she told me I had nothing to be embarrassed about and offered to blister Snarky Underpants Guy’s ears for me. An offer I declined on the grounds it wouldn’t make the situation any less cringeworthy. Nodding thoughtfully over her coffee cup for a few moments, Aunt Pearl leaned forward and confided in me how she managed to sit thru her bi-weekly meetings with her sourpuss of a Principle. 

On the way home, after each of the aforementioned maddening meetings, she stops off at either the Yarn Underground, Warp and Woof or The Crafty Fox to buy herself a little something. A skein of yarn, a yard of fabric or kit – it just needed to be something she’d enjoy playing with – as a reward for keeping her mouth shut. By following her carrot down the straight & narrow, she got something new to craft, kept the peace, and remained gainfully employed. 

(It also explains how Aunt Pearl’s sewing space slowly engulfed the neighboring room – she worked with said pettifogger for fifteen more years after giving me this kernel of wisdom.) 

All I needed to do was find my carrot.

Mulling this over the next day while contemplating which would be worse – wearing my high school P.E. uniform or the ghastly bridesmaid’s dress Jesse’s new husband chose – my eyes landed on a stack of months old magazines I’d borrowed from the Library. 

Eureka! My carrot! I’d buy myself the latest issues of all my favorites magazines to get me past my dread, thru the front doors, and recharge my closet with clean cloths! 

(BTW – I ended up at the Sudsy Bubble at six-thirty am, carrying twelve magazines, in my old P.E. uniform. I used seven machines simultaneously to get every scrap of fabric washed, fluffed, and folded in one go. Thankfully it was a Sunday, and no one, other than the attendant, was around. Otherwise, I’d have been committing a Grade-B violation of laundromat etiquette! Speaking of violations, I didn’t run into Snarky Underpants Guy again for over a month, and happily, my stack of magazines allowed me to ignore him entirely.) 

Ever since then, New Magazine Day has worked beautifully as my go-to carrot.

Until now.

The foot-high stack of unread magazines next to my bed testifies that I needed something more substantial to compel me into investigating the Errant that Flared at Orin.

2.32 Brevity Is The Soul Of Wit…

2.32 Berevity is the Soul of whit

For the second time today, I managed to snag my favorite seat in an eatery. Only this time, my backside rested against the vinyl seat of the best booth in my favorite dive in all of Rye. 

Taking in a lung full of the wonderful smells emanating from the kitchen of the Rusty Hinge, my stomach reminded my mind the early lunch with Mrs. Lebondowsky was now a distant memory — gastronomically speaking. As today was Pie Day, or what the unenlightened call Monday, the sweet scent of apple and pumpkin spice swirled through the entire joint and proved impossible to resist. 

Ordering a cup of coffee and a slice of pumpkin, I basked in the warm glow of the neon beer signs and the musical lures of the surrounding pinball machines for a few minutes (in point of fact, I was borderline giddy at being anywhere but inside the Lavender Lady this evening). 

Tossing my chauffeur’s cap on the red vinyl stretching out next to me, I stopped reveling and took advantage of the forty minutes I’d stitched into my day. (Rather than heading home to change out of my uniform after my shift, I motored straight to the Rusty Hinge.)

Extracting my phone from my pack, I entered my code, tapped my recently dialed icon, chose the third number from the top, and dialed. Whilst listening to the ringing on the line, I pulled a pack of index cards and a pen out of my bag, then hung up a split second after the anticipated and ear grating first note of the out-of-service recording started playing.

Setting my phone aside, I slit open the pack of cards with my thumbnail, removed one, and started writing the message Mrs. Lebondowsky and I had crafted together over teriyaki.

IMG_5895

Just enough information to hopefully pique his interest and pithy enough to catch the eye. 

I’d managed to work my way thru a third of the pack, two cups of coffee, and my generous piece of pie before Leo joined me.

Leo (taking off his coat): “Hey boss, studying for an exam?”

Me: “Nope. Just part of my highly strategic plan to find Big Ben.”

Leo (flipping over and reading the top card of the completed stack): “Highly strategic? Wait, is this your real number?”

Me (finishing off the card I was working on): “No, I bought a burner phone…”

My explanation trailed off when Ruth, who’d apparently been keeping an eye out, popped by to take our order. Two local beers, three baskets of wings coated in tongue scorching sauces to split between us (maple-chipotle, sour-cherry habanero & lime, and gochujang-barbecue). 

We’d shared wings once or twice before. 

After Ruth moseyed out of earshot, Leo and I started speaking at the same time – I let him go first. So while I stowed my project away in my pack, he gingerly extracted a puffy plastic sack from his knitting bag.

Leo: “So what’s the grand plan?”

Me: “I know someone who knows someone who knows someone else, who put me in touch with a citizen of Silver City, and they’ve agreed to help us find Big Ben.” 

No need to out Mrs. Lebondowsky as my source and Tavi Blume as my Silver City Operative. 

(BTW – Tavi is an absolute stitch. As an avid reader of vintage gumshoe detective novels, Dashiell Hammett, in particular. Tavi admitted to yearning for an excuse to abscond with her husband’s fedora. Combine this craving with week four (of nine) of her vacation? Tavi was absolutely thrilled to help us track Big Ben down – after we explained the who, the what and the why behind our inquiry.

The fact our favor also allowed her to evade cleaning her classroom’s beakers, test tubes and graduated cylinders for another week might also have enlivened her enthusiasm for the endeavor. 

Her one condition? I refer to her as my Silver City Operative.)

Leo: “Sounds, Byzantine.”

Me (leaning back against the seat): “Not really, it essentially boils down to my Operative papering Silver City with this message. Plus, the personal ads, I’m placing in the two local papers and the University’s.”

Leo (arching an eyebrow): “Your Operative?”

Me (grinning): “My Silver City Operative to be specific, we decided code names made it more fun, I’m Ms. Pinkerton…Is that my hat?”

Leo (his eyes twinkling and holding it up): “What do you think?” 

Me (reaching for it): “It’s perfect!”

Remember when my five cousins and their significant others all failed to place a bet on me in the Black-And-Blue-Becker-Betting-Pool?

Well, I decided to commemorate their insulting lack of faith in my ability to ruin one of Aunt Pearl’s mortifying family photos with an exceptional hat. A chapeau so extraordinary unforgettable none of my cousins will neglect to consider placing a wager on me again!

So what one-of-a-kind confection did I commission Leo to crochet for me? 

Squiddy! 

The giant land squid concocted on the Island of Dr. Cousteau that I claimed dyed me purple the night I showed up on Uncle and Aunt Pearl’s doorstep covered in a bruise of epic proportions. 

Me (pulling it on, I laughed as Squiddy’s arms tickled my ears): “It fits perfectly! I love it! Thank you!”

A genteel voice called out: Phoebe? Phoebe Arden, is that you? 

Well crap, where’d she come from?

« Older Entries