Category Archives: Little Ben

1.66 Why Am I Helping Him Again?

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.” 

“No problem.”

(Sandwich Photo courtesy of Unsplash)

1.65 Much Ado About Nothing

“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?”

1.64 A Conundrum

IMG_0235

(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.

Me: ?????

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!

Sarah: NPAT

(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.

“Hey, Ben.”

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!” 

1.63 Crazy Like A Fox

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?”

Sarah: “Nope.”

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!”

Me: “Marshmallows.”

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.

(Crayons and coloring worksheet are my photos. The Hallway Photo is courtesy of Unsplash and the Throng of Kids Photo is Courtesy of NYPL)

1.21 When It Rains….

On the upside finding parking near Mr. Grindle’s event proved rather easy. A poorly lit lot provided by a neighborhood park worked out just fine. Might kill my eyes to plumb the depths of the internet in the low light but I suppose that’s just the price of doing business. I chose to ignore the hostile looks from the kids drinking in the bushes off to my right. It seems that even the frigid weather won’t deter them from passing a bottle around.

But I already knew that.

I didn’t lie when I told Mr. Grindle I was going to read while he ate dinner and drank champagne. No clue if this was the actual menu, but he looked way too snazzy to snack on pizza bites and swill beer (personally, mine feature copious amounts of melted cheese and mixed vodka drinks). Back to the point – I didn’t let slip my intention to investigate him.

While the woman’s words were disturbing their accuracy needed establishing.

First I plugged his last name into the internet and discovered it wasn’t nearly unique enough for so broad a search. So unless I was interested in a ninety-three-year-old bird watcher in Ontario, a doctor who practiced in Florida or numerous marathon participants I needed to look elsewhere. I decided to try The Daily Harvest, our local paper (proving the history of puns and local newspapers runs deep – our town’s name is Rye) – where I struck out – kinda. The keyword search came up with several articles mentioning cases Mr. Grindle won (he’s a lawyer) and three or four features about charitable endowments he’d made. 

None of the text I read linked him to a missing or murdered woman.

The possibility the woman lied crossed my mind. Then I read a small disclaimer at the bottom of my search window, The Daily Harvest’s online archive only went back to 2000, which might explain her absence from it. 

Only by raiding the closets of a young Mellisa Milano, Molly Ringwald, Cyndi Lauper, or an early Madonna would you achieve the same look The Woman sported. The neon pink of her top made the Pink Princess look positively drab by comparison. Add that to her acid washed jeans, three inches of rubber bracelets on her wrist and blond hair teased within an inch of its life, even I’m able to carbon date those fashion trends. 

Didn’t hurt that I’d witnessed them first hand.

All of which meant a nice visit with Mrs. Schmit at the Rye Public Library. They’ve kept copies of the Daily Harvest since the very first edition hit newsstands in 1898. Luckily for me, I only needed to go back thirty years to the totally tubular eighties.

Plan in place I focused back on my phone, started to quit my search when a familiar logo popped out from the advertisers’ column…

sunny valley farm flier copy 2

I read the advert.

I reread it.

Ben laid me off to start a Pet Cemetery Farm.

Hey, boys and girls don’t worry about Lucky – he’ll spend eternity fertilizing our crops! Helping them grow big and strong! You won’t need to wait even a season to see him again! His essence will live on in every carrot, turnip, and parsnip – which you can purchase (at a reasonable price in our market) and put in your soup pot! The circle of life in action! 

I could not believe Big Ben would ever go for this, this, this tommyrot. Even more pressing – how am I going to explain this to the Residents?

I found the possible culpability of my passenger in murderous activities less disturbing than the advert. Why? The Woman’s account of her death could feature distortions, slight exaggerations or be entirely fictional – facts needed verification. Plus with Mr. Grindle’s very broken leg – I felt confident in my ability to outrun him, or I could drive the Princess into a tree and break his other leg and if desperation truly struck I could drive us to Nevermore. All solid plans.

Sunny Valley? At first glance, it sounds excellent, feeding the poor and euphemizing your kids, all in one fell swoop. But I knew better. Ben’s eye for the absurd never let him down – with his gaze fixed on Nevermore I feared he’d trade up from ridiculous to fiasco in a heartbeat.

And I am not there to fix it.

Of course, my phone rings now.

1.15 Sweet and Sour

IMG_6454

Rolling down the window of sickly pumpkin colored hybrid, “Talking on your phone again?” The opening salvo.

Returning fire, I gestured with my phone, “Sure looks that way.” I opened my email, hoping the glowing screen and obvious inattention would spark the idea of leaving me alone.

No such luck, “Well, could you follow me to the cottage? I have some work to do.”

Seriously, he wouldn’t lift a finger for me unless something caught on fire or froze and now he’s Mr. Fix-It? Pulling patience up from my socks, “Ben, it’s after five, couldn’t it wait until tomorrow? And shouldn’t you be giving your dad a call? You know he wants weekly updates, I am sure he’d like to hear how the cost saving measures went.” Hoping my invoking of the Dad card or my current unemployment status would make him leave (petty I know, but the man was leaning on my last nerve).

Funny thing, Ben wouldn’t look me in the eye. Maybe he did feel bad about letting me go. Normally he’s too focused on his goals to notice other people. “Dad and I switched update days. So since I am free to put in some time tonight, I want to get the new hot water heater installed. I will need your assistance to finish tonight.”

Got that wrong.

Diverted by indignation of his expectation of my participation in the installation I went on the offensive, “Ben, I don’t work here anymore. And my lease, which runs through the end of the month states all non-emergency repairs need to either be completed or halted at the end of the business day, five.” Yes, I reread my lease after he delivered the eviction notice. Ben wouldn’t do anything unlawful, but annoying? Absolutely.

Changing tactics he huffed, “I would have expected more dedication from you.”

Really? The loyalty card? Wrong play. Planting my hands on the hood of the Princess, I leaned towards him. “Ben, until four days ago, I worked here for over eighteen years. You let me go to finance one of your projects. Fine. But I am not going to give you free labor for improvements you should have made to my cottage years ago.”

Retreating he puffed, “Well if you refuse to help, I will do it tomorrow.” With that last wild jab towards my conscience he pulled away, leaving me alone in the dark (dusk doesn’t last long). Leaning against the Princess I discovered that I felt reluctant to return home at this moment. The word “no” didn’t always seep into and saturate Ben’s brain and I didn’t want to get roped into a cottage improvement project. Even the chill spreading through my bones and the tingling of my toes on this clear autumn night could not propel me forth.

“I could convince him to leave you know.” I smiled when I herd his voice, the man in the sleek grey suit leaning next to me could indeed pull such a feat off. Joseph sounded bored with the very idea; I knew better. I rolled around his idea in my mind, but the sugary coating of it dissolved too soon and left nothing but the sour center which sucked the sweetness away.

I leaned my head back and stared at the stars while mirroring his dispassionate tone, “I am not sure you could. He’s sunk a lot of money into two large projects that I know of and I’m not sure he really can afford to live outside Nevermore.”

Turning towards me, “It wouldn’t take much.”

Rolling my neck so I could look him in the face, “It would leave Nevermore without a Caretaker, the Residents alone and wouldn’t guarantee they’d rehire me. But I appreciate the thought.”

“Well, the offer is a standing one. Just ask.” I smiled, he nodded then departed. A man of few words, Joseph.

An involuntary shiver wracked through me, convincing me that I should head home. Winding my way through the lanes, trees and gravestones, I stopped when I turned the last corner to my cottage – Ben’s hybrid stood in the drive and every window in the cottage glowed with light. Did he think I’d fall for this obvious flanking technique?

Stupid. Adult. Behavior.

Turn the other cheek my ass. Should take Joesph up on his offer. See how he liked my end game!

Thankful of the Princess’s small turning radius I decided to hit the Rusty Hinge for dinner and a very aggressive game of pinball instead. Just as I completed the maneuver and pressed the go pedal, I thought I caught sight of Joseph watching the cottage out the corner of my eye. Of course when I looked back it was only old Hugh standing there (Hugh Grunbaum providing a perch for crows since 1953).

Nope. Not worried about that at all….