Little Ben’s mock up of his ideas of incorporating Nevermore as a wedding spot isn’t bad…but there’s so much other stuff around it that is.
(All these photo can be found on Unsplash, the words are mine.)
Little Ben’s mock up of his ideas of incorporating Nevermore as a wedding spot isn’t bad…but there’s so much other stuff around it that is.
(All these photo can be found on Unsplash, the words are mine.)
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.
Using subterfuge learned from my seventh grade English teacher Mrs. Krimple (who, when her back was turned, kept tabs on us in the reflection of the window next to the blackboard), I watched Little Ben stop dead in his tracks when he caught sight of me behind the desk. His surprise quickly morphed into suspicion, casting a swift glance over the contents of the conference table, his face filled with relief when he found the papers undisturbed.
Focused on controlling my breathing (no reason to make him wonder why I was huffing and puffing), I continued to feign ignorance at his entrance, then watched his relief fade and irritation grow under my continued silence (taking a page out of chapter seventeen of Wood’s textbook)
Little Ben (stomping toward me): “What are you doing behind my desk?”
Me (turning to look him in the eye): “Enjoying the view.”
Unwilling to relinquish my place behind the Proprietor’s desk, I leaned a shoulder against the chilly window, ignoring Little Ben’s shooing motions.
Me: “Ben, why did you ask The Naturalist Club and the Historical Society to leave Nevermore?”
Little Ben (stopping at the edge of the desk): “I didn’t ask you up here to discuss my plans.”
Me (the sting of an electrical current sparking over my toes sucking the civility from my voice): “Oh, I’m sure you didn’t, but that’s where we’re starting.”
Gaining a slightly distracting ally, Orin strolled past Little Ben to stand next to me.
Orin (surveying Little Ben): “Do you need help, Caretaker?”
Little Ben (attempting to override my question): “I want to talk about a blip in security.”
Without taking my eyes off Little Ben, I shook my head no once, Orin tapped my shoulder in acknowledgment.
Orin: “Well, let me know if you do. When you finish up here, can you meet some of us under the Big Cedar?”
With an acknowledging dip of my chin, Orin departed, and I got down to brass tacks.
Me (glomming onto the title of Little Ben’s pipe-dream-dream-boards): “Does Big Ben know your plans to rebrand Nevermore?”
(Not that I knew what they were, but fifteen feet of poster board denotes some significant changes in the works.)
Little Ben (grinding his teeth): “Dad made me Provisional Proprietor.”
Me (flatly): That doesn’t answer my question.
Little Ben (defensiveness lacing his voice): “I don’t need to. I’m the Provisional Proprietor. Dad’s letter is there on the desk if you don’t believe me.”
Following his outstretched finger, I spied an envelope sitting in plain sight on the side of the desk (which probably reassured Little Ben that I hadn’t pawed thru his papers), pushing off the window I stepped over and picked it up. Coffee stains covered the entire front, the address reminded me of an inkblot from the Rorschach test, as the liquid had rendered the writing nearly illegible.
Flipping it over, I slid several (shockingly pristine) pages out and started to skim Big Ben’s neat writing. When Little Ben answered his cell, I took advantage of his distraction and took a pic of the letter’s first page (I’d taken pictures of everything else).
It confirmed Little Ben’s appointment as the Provisional Proprietor, which was hardly surprising, he was Big Ben’s son.
Me: “I don’t doubt he put you in charge, Ben.”
(I am still surprised that Big Ben rubber-stamped my lay-off, however.)
Little Ben (still distracted by his phone): “So glad we cleared that up. Now, about this security blip. A few weeks back, Dad’s alarm code was used to disarm this building. Obviously, it couldn’t have been him and I’m not sure what happened. The cameras malfunction the same night as well, so they’re no help.”
Ignoring his question for a moment (since I knew what was behind his “security blip”), my mind spun in another direction, on to another explanation for Big Ben’s prolonged absence.
Big Ben always said he’d only retire when he went toes up.
Taking advantage of my stupefied silence, Little Ben used his personal space (i.e., bulk) to edge me out from behind the Proprietor’s desk. Taking a seat, he fiddled with his papers for a moment, then waved me towards the guest chair already occupied by my stuff.
Me (blindly following his invitation): “Ben is your Dad okay? Did he have a heart attack? Stroke? Broke a hip? Cancer?”
Little Ben (on the back foot): “No. No. No. No.”
Me: “Was he in a car accident? Diagnoses with dementia? Blood clots?”
Little Ben (flummoxed): “No. No. No! Nothing’s happened! You know Pop, he’s healthy as a horse.”
Me (continuing my rapid-fire): “Then where is he?”
Little Ben (defensiveness lacing his voice): “He’s still in New Mexico, working on a project with a buddy, said he needed some extra time to get it up and running, so he made me Provisional Proprietor.”
Me (still fishing): “Does he still call for weekly updates?”
Little Ben (throwing up his hands): “Not weekly. Look, about the security blip, none of the locks were tampered with, nothing was taken or disturbed. I don’t want this happening again, do you have any ideas?”
Deciding he could do more harm if he tried to solve this problem on his own, I outlined some steps to ward off future ‘malfunctions’. Including carrying out long-overdue system maintenance and issuing new alarm codes to all employees. Which, unfortunately, will seriously curb any future surreptitious after-hours undertakings by yours truly.
Me (closing my eyes and taking a deep breath, I debated my options for a moment): “If you can’t find any evidence of tampering, this is what I would do…”
This day just keeps getting better and better.
Leaving a still laughing Leo to his work, I entered the stairwell for the fourth time today when the muffled click of kitten heels on hardwood hit my ears, pausing my ascent on the second stair. Only one person wears heels around here…
Lottie (hitting the push bar of the door above): “I’m heading to Sarah’s office now….Yes…Yes, I’ll walk Phoebe up to the lobby to meet you…back in a minute.”
Making a split-second decision, I ducked into the shadowy corner under the stairwell to wait for Lottie to walk past.
When playing hide-and-seek with an unknowing seeker, you can take advantage of more blatant hiding spots. But the fundaments still need following; hold your breath, do your best impression of a statue, attempt to reduce your mass to that of a mouse and chant ‘don’t-see-me-don’t-see-me-don’t-see-me’ in your head. Blending in with your surroundings is a plus, but not always an available option, today all I could do was offer up a silent thanks to past me for choosing to wear a dark woolen coat instead of my bright orange gore-tex.
Not even Lottie could miss my imitation of a pumpkin.
Why am I hiding from Little Ben’s secretary? Leo’s scuttlebutt raised a number of questions, none of which would get answered if we spoke in front of an audience. But in private? Perhaps I could pry out a few.
(And only a little to do with the fact that Lottie’s the pineapple to my pizza.)
Listening to Lottie descend the stairs, I enacted the principles of a champion hider and was only a little light-headed from the lack of oxygen when she finally past by me and out the door. Counting to five after it swung shut, I scampered swiftly up the stairs (thanking every lucky star in the sky my sneakers had dried enough to stop squeaking).
In two slightly wheezy (don’t tell Wood) minutes flat, I breezed past Lottie’s empty desk and into Little Ben’s new digs. When my entrance failed to elicit any expletives about barging in unannounced, I leaned back against the door, flipped the lock, and caught my breath.
Usually, the Proprietor’s Office brings a smile to my face.
With three out of four walls featuring floor-to-ceiling built-in bookcases filled with midnight blue bound books who’s bindings combine to create a mosaic – an unkindness of ravens taking flight from gnarled leafless trees under a full moon in silver filagree. How could you not smile at such a sight? (Big Ben never lends out these books ever – I’ve asked).
But today, this awe-inspiring biblio vista filled me with fury.
Skirting around a heaping conference table, I confronted the fifteen feet of display boards obscuring my favorite sight in all of Nevermore.
Well, I found Little Ben’s dream boards…….taped to the shelves. Big Ben will mount his son’s hide to the wall if he damages any of the books.
Intending to find a footstool to determine the damage, my eyes fell away from the offending adhesive and locked onto the papers pasted on the poster boards themselves.
Panic quickly supplanted ire as the series of adverts, slogans, sketches, maps, and action items, Little Ben had plastered across his unusually professional dream boards, penetrated my brain. If accurate, the bisecting timeline placed Sunny Valley Farm & Pet Cemetery as the first significant step in rebranding Nevermore.
(Even more curious? How spot-on Leo’s intelligence proved. My termination appeared as an action item dated two months prior to the date Little Ben handed me my pink slip – between other ticked off items of ‘secure financing for MacGregor Farm purchase’ and ‘shut off the boiler in Club House’. Seriously, how does Leo do it?)
Taking a deep breath and steeling my nerves, I focused on the problem at hand – time. Little Ben and/or Lottie could return at anytime since I’d yet to steal my very own TARDIS, I needed a way to examine this in detail later… Whipping out my phone, I started snapping pictures of every slip of paper featured on his Pipe-Dream-Dream-Board. Concentrating on the context and not the content – kept me from getting distracted – because even skimming them caused my insides to wobble about uncomfortably. Rapidly finishing my photo documentation, I turned my camera onto the conference table behind me.
Avoiding the two obvious workstations (no need to call attention to my unsanctioned scrutiny), I focused on the binders. Trying to keep my hands steady, I photographed the title pages, table of contents, and anything labeled ‘budget’. About the time I started perusing the boxes stacked next to the conference table, the sound of kitten heels accompanied by a heavier tread reached me thru the door.
With one ear, I listened to Little Ben giving Lottie further instructions, while frantically pulling the tops off the five boxes of promotional materials and stuffing one folder from each in my PULP tote. After replacing the box tops, I pulled the fourteen-foot scarf off my neck and crammed it around the folders in my bag. Then I flew across the room, tossing the tote, my coat, and purse into one of the guest chairs.
The locked door bought me just enough time to slip behind the Proprietor’s desk and watch (in the reflection of the floor to ceiling windows) Little Ben’s reaction when it dawned on him who’d spent an indefinite amount of unchaperoned time in his office.
Because Leo’s information dovetailed disturbingly with Little Ben’s Pipe-Dream-Dream-Boards to raise one singularly critical question…
Where in the world is Big Ben?
Aware my fish was about to bite I kept my tone even, “If Iron Creek floods the water will work the caskets to the surface and carry them downstream then into town. The City Council will hammer you over it.”
The Rye City Council is a constant source of headaches for Big Ben and his family. Over the last ninety years, they’ve attempted no less than eighteen times to carve up Nevermore for the ‘betterment’ of the city.
They will not be pleased to discover Little Ben expanded Nevermore boundaries further – even if his plan includes helping the city’s hungry. They’d be actively looking for any way to strip Little Ben of the land. Poorly placed graves would give them the ammunition they needed to accomplish the deed.
Circling my bait Little Ben stalled, “That’s just an urban legend.”
Tugging the line enticingly, “It’s not. Research the recent flooding in the south or call one of the others in the association – they’ll confirm the problem. I promise.”
Finally biting, he strove to appear uninterested in his own question, “Where would you place ‘the feature’ in Sunny Valley Farm?” A group of kids wandered close to us, so he used a euphemism. Didn’t matter, they were too busy talking amongst themselves to notice our conversation.
Taking a beat before answering to still myself, “I’m not very familiar with the farm. You should really ask the MacGregors, they’d know the best spot to place it. But from the narrow slice I’ve seen of the property, the field across the road from the Seven Roses might work. ” (Seven Roses is the name of Big Ben’s house in Nevermore) Shrugging I let my attention momentarily wavered off of Little Ben and onto Ruth who currently carried two plates filled with food matching our orders from the kitchen.
Wreathed in smiles, Little Ben bellowed his goodbyes and nearly knocked Beatrice’s burger out of Ruth’s hand with a particularly sizable sweeping gesture in my direction, “I nearly forgot why I originally came over here!”
My heart lurched in my chest.
“You left some stuff in the cottage when you left. I packed it up and moved the boxes to the main offices. Sarah said she’d call you about them, but I guess I saw you before she did. You should pick them up soon, I’m sure they’re in her way.” On that last note, he left us to clean our plates in peace.
It took a moment for my stomach to settle down enough so I could sate my Reuben colored craving. When he’d turned back around I’d half expected him to hand me paperwork banning me from Nevermore. Which would have been awkward.
Beatrice shifted her focus from her phone to me the moment Little Ben exited our sphere, “You handled him beautifully.”
Unable to speak, having taken a rather ambitious bite of my sandwich, I shrugged. When I was finally able to comment my voice sounded tired even to my ears, “My approval of his scheme means he won’t worry himself about how he was able to afford it.” It’s also why I was confident that my words worked. Whatever small portion of his conscious still bothering him about laying me off would quiet once he acted on my suggestions.
I did find it interesting that he did try to place a small wedge between Sarah and me.
We worked our way thru our dinners with yummy noises replacing actual conversation. When only a few stray fries remained on our plates talking resume.
“It is rather anti-climatic though, using my words to convince Little Ben he should reconsider where to put the pet cemetery. My backup plan featured breaking & entering, a switcharoo, and arts & crafts. Nail-biting stuff! But I suppose this produced more reliable results.”
Beatrice laughed at the rueful note in my voice, “Well after last night’s near-miss this solution is probably better. Speaking of last night… will your Aunt really send a copy of our piratey portrait to my parents?” Her smile fading at the end of her question, while her fingers started shredding the lettuce garnish on her plate.
“If they live within a hundred miles of Rye she’ll find them.” Sensing the tension at the table, “I can ask her not too.”
With a smile that didn’t entirely span her face, “I’d appreciate. We aren’t on speaking terms presently.”
(Sandwich Photo courtesy of Unsplash)
“Oh, you’re Phoebe’s former manager. I owe you a big thank you!” After this rather stunning declaration, she accidentally dropped her phone under the table. When she leaned over to retrieve it, she cut herself off mid-sentence.
Little Ben eyed me. I just shrugged.
Popping back up she continued on without missing a beat, “When you laid her off, you gave me the best roommate ever!” Focusing on her phone, which had started doing a fair impression of an angry bee, she addressed both of us, “Go ahead and ignore me, I need to respond to a bunch of emails from work. Apparently, someone shook an author’s hand, and now his publisher is freaking out. So I need to calm the waters.” Waving us on, she dove into her phone.
Trying not to split a seam at Beatrice’s comment and Little Ben’s befuddlement I wrestled my focus back onto what he’d been saying, “So Nevermore?”
Something which looked suspiciously like guilt flitted across his face but was quickly chased away by disdain. Shrugging it off he unglued his gaze from Beatrice and transferred it to me, “Er, yes, Nevermore. I was wondering if you did anything special to ward off trespassers. Specifically students from the high school.”
His question placed me squarely on boggy ground. Helping him meant the possibility of compromising my own avenues of ingress. But on the other hand, left to his own devices….
Too tired to be a jerk I answered, “Replace all the broken lights with bright new bulbs, make sure security varies their routes and up their numbers on holidays and when school is out.”
His answer made me glad I’d gone the route I did, “I was thinking of pulling the groundskeepers in for double duty. They always want extra hours, and they’re cheaper than the guards.”
Trying to head off all the avenues of objection, “Ben, they’ll like the hours right up until they run into a group of genuine vandals. People seriously bent on desecrating burials can turn very nasty very quick. The groundskeepers don’t have the skills to deal with them. And what if they got hurt? It would cost more money in the long run. Stick with our regular firm, they know the hotspots to watch and who they’re dealing with.”
Complaining, “They didn’t do any good last night! And we were featured in the Harvest’s Blotter!”
A ghost of a smile hovered over my lips, “They’ll work harder now. They don’t like losing. And helpful hint, don’t call the cops until after security has detained someone.” On that note, Ruth, our waitress placed a condiment carrier on the table (which the Rusty Hinge takes seriously – filling an old six-pack box with sriracha, horseradish, curry, brown sauce, relish, and ranch dressing. Ketchup and mustard never leave their tables).
Knowing the condiments signaled our impending meal he rushed on, “Have you seen the plans for Sunny Valley Farm?”
“Bait the hook well; this fish will bite.” Claudio advised Don Pedro and Leonardo when they were trying to trick Benedick into loving Beatrice (or trying to temper his pride enough to declare his love for her – but we can debate their motivations later).
Either way, Claudio’s line floated through my head when Little Ben asked his question. If I played my cards right Little Ben would choose the correct course of action on his own. Without me needing to employ any convoluted high-risk schemes to get him to see reason.
Delicately grasping the opportunity, “I saw the advertisement in The Daily Harvest.”.
Okay, so it still requires some guile on my part.
With a keen look in his eye, “So what did you think?”.
Infusing my words with a slightly upbeat tone, “Tapping into a new market is smart. Donating entire harvests to local food banks is genius. It will garner goodwill in the community, and I assume it’s tax deductible.”
Puffing up like a proud peacock, “I thought it was a good idea.”
Hesitating a beat before agreeing with him, I placed a note of doubt in my voice, “So long as the pet cemetery portion of the farm isn’t placed near Iron Creek – I don’t see why your new venture won’t be a success.”.
Confusion lined his face, “Why would that be a problem?”
(Take-Out from the Spare Rib from a previous visit…)
My half-day flipped into a full-day when a couple of the Senior Center members asked me for a favor. They had a hankering for barbeque and wanted to go to the best joint around, The Spare Rib. Familiar with the unyielding grip of a food craving we came up with a compromise. I would drive them there (it was an hour one way) if they got their food to go and didn’t eat in the Princess (good bbq is Messy with a capital ‘M’). The fact I just flat like Betty and Joan didn’t hurt either.
Moreover, the flu-induced set schedule ended in a couple of days and with it the regular hours. So earning a few extra brownie points amongst the Center’s members seemed wise.
When I finally dropped them off, bbq in hand, at their apartment building I was starving and had zero interest in cooking. While the bbq whetted my appetite, it wasn’t what my tastebuds hankered after this evening.
My heart’s desire could only be found at the Rusty Hinge – a nice thick Rueben sandwich (they make their own Rye bread, Russian dressing and sauerkraut – it is to die for) and hand-cut fries. When I slid into my preferred booth, the one in the back next to my favorite pinball machine, my bones fused to the vinyl.
My poor body was unused to the amount of running we did last night and needed a moment to regroup before attempting to retake my Addams Family crown (aka the high score that Benedict stole from me). Leaning my head against the scalloped cushion, I took a deep breath and let my mind float along the waves of ambient stimulus – the aroma of sautéing onions filtering from the kitchen, errant strands of dialogue emanating from the pinball machines and groans from the football fans watching their team commit yet another penalty. Slowly my mind spun until it landed on the conundrum Sarah placed in my lap earlier today (she’d texted me after our marshmallow bargain).
Sarah: Just thought I’d let you know – Little Ben was tipped off that you guys were coming last night.
Sarah: He let it slip to Seth last night. Someone called him. That’s how he had security, the MacGregors and the groundskeepers on site so fast.
Me: Crap. Are you sure he doesn’t know it was us?
Sarah: Yes. I don’t think he could keep it to himself if he did. He’d have called a meeting to inform all us you were banned from the property. Like he did with Sue.
Me: Any clue who called him?
Sarah: None. This is all second hand, I didn’t want to grill Seth – might send up a red flag.
Me: Thanks for the heads up!
(Or No Problem Any Time)
Ruth broke into my train of thought to take my order (and Beatrice’s she was meeting me here), which was fortuitous since I might have drifted off in another second.
If correct Sarah’s data spun the previous night’s events in a whole new direction. But who on earth knew we were bound for Nevermore last night? On top of that, other than Little Ben, who would care?
Speak of the devil, and he shall appear.
My mulling moved to the back burner when a familiar bulky form barreled across the floor towards my booth.
Little Ben boomed halfway across the floor, “Phoebe! I’m glad I’ve run into you!”
I’ve never ceased regretting telling Little Ben about my favorite greasy spoon.
Reaching my table Little Ben’s voice sunk into conspiratorial tone, ”Did you hear about what happened in Nevermore last night?”
“I read about it in the Blotter this morning.” His question told me Sarah’s assessment was correct. If Little Ben had figured out I was among those he’d chased around Nevermore last night, he’d have let everyone hither, thither and yon know it.
Little Ben’s face set into a grimace, “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” Without so much as a by your leave, he started moving towards the empty side of the booth to take a seat. Unfortunately (for him, not me) he found the booth’s entrance unexpectedly cutoff – Beatrice had arrived.
Taking off her long purple coat, she laid it down on the seat between us and slipped into the booth, “Sorry I’m late. Things are crazy at Pulp right now. Hello! I’m Beatrice.”
Biting my lip, I watched Little Ben’s frustration at being thwarted cross his face, “Hi. I’m Ben. I was just discussing something with Phoebe.”
Beatrice, draping herself with an air of innocence, “Oh, you’re Phoebe’s former manager. I owe you a big thank you!”
Sitting in front of the Senior Center I had a fifteen-minute window before my next fare. Still full from my Aunt’s excellent spread I left my turkey and Havarti on rye in my lunch box. Deciding instead to act on her intelligence. Sarah answered her phone on the third ring.
Sarah (trying hard to keep her amusement in check and failing): “Sooooo how was your night?”
Me (laughing with her): “Oh shut it.”
Sarah: “Why were you guys dressed like the Three Musketeers last night?”
Me (exasperated): “Pirates, we were pirates. And Wood thought it the perfect moment for payment on a delinquent bet.”
Sarah’s only response – laughter. I sincerely hope she’s somewhere where Little Ben can’t overhear her. Speaking of that pain in the….
Me: “So how’s Little Ben doing this morning?”
Sarah (imitating Little Ben at the end): “His Highness is pitching a fit and falling in it, ‘I stayed up all night, and they still got away.’.”
Me: “Does he have a clue?”
Me: “Well that’s a relief. But I had a different reason for the call.”
Sarah: “Oh yeah? What’s up?”
Me: “I need to know when Tiffany Grindle is scheduled to arrive at Nevermore.”
Sarah (whistling): “You don’t ask for small favors. I suppose you don’t want to tell me why you want to know.”
Me (trying hard not to sound too desperate): “I know, I know. I promise it’s nothing compromising and it is important…”
Sarah: “On one condition.”
Me (very wary): “….Okay.”
Why do all my friends have to be smart? Or in this case crafty. Sarah, being one of eight siblings (plus an endless network of cousins), knows precisely when she holds a trump card. It’s one of the reasons why I love and fear her.
Sarah: “Well it’s more provisional in flavor.”
Me: “Still not resting easy over here.”
Sarah: “When Big Ben gives you your job back…”
Me: “Sarah, he approved my lay-off.”
Sarah (going on despite my interruption): “When Big Ben sobers up from whatever Little Ben has laced his whiskey with, I would like you to open Tiderington vault. I’ve always wanted to know if the rumor that Helena was buried wearing all her diamonds is true.”
Me (startled): “What?”
Sarah: “To gruesome? Okay…. How about opening the Lenfest mausoleum to see if old man Gus laid his books to rest after he read them to pieces.”
Me: “Seriously? Substantiating rumors?”
*Sigh* So Sarah may know when she holds a trump card, but her ultimate use of them may need some work. Perhaps its the difference between being a twenty-something and a thirty-something.
Sarah: “I’ve been working here for eight years, and I’ve heard all kinds of things about the place. Just once I’d like to see with my own eyes if any of the stories are true! Tell me, is there really a giant crypt underneath the main house? Or a cellar full of bottles of cognac? Is the Gray Man real? Why are there no burials under the old willow in the middle of Nevermore? Is the Masonic cenotaph really the doorway to their meeting hall?”
Me (rolling my eyes on the other end of the line): “Where on earth did you hear that? And do you think this is the best use of a favor?”
Sarah: “Yes! These questions have been burning in my mind since I heard them on the playground! I gots to know!”
Me: “Since grade school? And here I thought you’d ask me for something sensible, like renting you the apartment over the maintenance center, so you could move out of your folk’s house.”
Sarah (jubilant): “Yes that! Could you do that? Then I could explore…I mean, be on call whenever you need me!”
Me: “Of course this is all dependent on Big Ben hiring me back, which again I must state, he approved.”
Sarah: “Pish posh, you’ll get your job back. Simon’s started a pool on when it’ll happen, and all the dates are taken! And if you feel bad about the slim possibility that you won’t be able to hold up your end of the bargain….Well, then you can…..get me fifty bucks worth of those homemade marshmallows from the candy store we stopped at up on the way home from the Fall Foliage Tour!”
Sarah: “Yup, marshmallows. Do we have a deal?”
What’s the old saying? Crazy like a fox? Yes, Sarah’s crazy like a fox.
My car was going to smell like candy floss again.