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.
(Okay, so it wasn’t quite this wet…but it felt like it!)
Problem solved, Little Ben promptly expelled me from the Proprietor’s Office. Which initially, I found vexing as I still had several more questions to ask him. But his haste did provide one advantage – he never gave my bulging PULP tote a second glance. Allowing me to stroll out the main doors to the Princess (after retrieving my keys from Sam in Reception) with a bevy of snaffled documents without anyone being the wiser.
Stowing the aforementioned tote in the passenger side footwell, as the Princess’s backseat/trunk was filled with moist cardboard boxes, I gave a flummoxed looking Lottie a little wave and drove further into Nevermore. It didn’t take long for the Big Cedar to come into view, but it did take a few minutes to wend my way to the parking spot beneath it’s dripping boughs.
Wishing that the weather would let up for a few minutes (it didn’t), I pulled on my hat & gloves and exited the Princess. My prickling toes leading me over some seriously squelchy turf directly to the knot of waiting Residents Orin asked me to meet.
When I stepped into the thicket, they erupted in unison: How are you feeling? / Orin & Joseph said you were fine, but we wanted to make sure. / What made you mad earlier? Little Ben? / We missed you. / Did you really stop the Woman In White by yourself? / Everyone’s okay. / You should see my squirrel, he’s so cute now!
After assuring them, I was on the mend (visibly reducing their anxiety). Let them know Orin had relayed their get-well wishes (making him beam). Expressed relief the Woman In White hadn’t harmed them (wreathing the group in smiles) and let them know Joseph was the one who’d really saved the day (a clarification none accepted, which was weird). They caught me up on all the latest gossip in Nevermore (mainly encompassing the work ethic of the two new groundskeepers & Mazy’s squirrel buddy).
Only after I let loose a bone-rattling shiver did Orin call the congress to a halt (wool, a wondrous fiber, can only absorb so much water).
After many goodbyes and a bit more squirrel gossip, Orin accompanied back to the Princess, ostensibly to keep me from slipping on the swampy grass. However, my spidey sense was tingling (which was about the only sensation I could feel – since everything between and including my fingers and toes felt numb). He waited until we were well away from the others before he spoke.
Orin (quietly): “I happened upon an Errant, Caretaker.”
Well, this day just keeps getting better and better.
Me (sinking laces deep into the mud): “What happened?”
Orin: “Took a stroll through the old neighborhood to see what’s new when I caught a glimpse of him in Remembrance Park. Before I could decide what to do, he saw me and Flared.”
Me (sliding): “Did he pursue you?”
Orin (steadying me): “Nope.”
Me (back under the Big Cedar I used a rock to scrape some of the mud off my shoe): “Well, that’s something. I take it you’ve not bumped into him before?”
Orin: “Nope, never, and I visit pretty regularly.”
Me (studying my slightly cleaner sneaker): “Did you tell Joseph?”
Orin (nodding): “Yes, he’s prohibited anyone from venturing within a six-block radius until you investigate.”
Me (sighing): “Anything else?”
Orin (thoughtfully): “The Flare felt more like a warning, don’t come closer, rather than belligerent.”
Me (nodding while unlocking the driver’s side door): “Thanks Orin, I’ll check it out.”
Squeezing my shoulder once in sympathy, Orin turned on his heel and strode away. Ensconced in the Princess, I cranked up the heat then rested my head against the steering wheel. Waiting for the feeling to return to my extremities, acknowledging what the weather tried to tell me earlier – I should’ve stayed at home (if nothing else today proves the old adage when it rains it pours).
Seems my recovery/break/staycation is over.
I need something sweet.
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.
Flowers, puppies and birds – three beings which enjoy the several inches of rain that fell over the past few hours…
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?
So this should give some context for the amount of rain that came down from the sky for several hours today…this is the runoff from a nearby building…and this wasn’t even when it was raining the hardest!
The rain beat mercilessly against the Princess’s windscreen, leaning forward, I struggled to see anything thru the deluge. The wipers were doing their level best, but visibility still sucked. As omens go, I’m pretty sure someone is telling me to go back home.
But after nineteen days of hiding out in the Lavender Lady, waiting for my face (among other portions of my anatomy) to resume something akin to a natural hue, I needed a new set of walls to look at, hence my current unsanctioned expedition in the Princess.
The only real positive to come out of the aftermath of my confrontation with the Woman In White (beyond the demonstration of my friends and family’s affections, and you know, stopping her), was winning the Black And Blue Becker Betting Pool.
In an unexpected, unprecedented, and insulting twist, Uncle revealed that no one placed a wager on me ruining the next family portrait! Which sent the pot into immediate adjudication, i.e., Aunt Pearl, who awarded it to me because I’d flown so far under everyone’s radar. Happily, the rude windfall sorted out my rent & bills while keeping me in chicken wings during my “seclusion”.
(I mean seriously not one of my cousins bet on me? I’ve sported my fair share of lumps, bumps, and bruises over the years! Gggrrr…)
But back to me driving thru a monsoon in the Princess.
The night Wood patched me up in my Aunt & Uncle’s kitchen, he extracted two promises as payment for services rendered. The first? My solemn word that I would follow doctor’s orders (i.e., his) to the letter until he pronounced me fit as a fiddle. Which, other than embarrassing bouts of shirtless poking and prodding (which found me unearthing, from the bottom of the undies-drawer, my only full-coverage-granny-style brassiere), were easily followed.
Until this morning, when the Stir-Crazies came to visit, accompanied their annoying cousins Ants-In-The-Pants and Cabin-Fever.
Exacerbating the brouhaha, these unwanted visitors were causing in my psyche. My darling friends, in their zeal to help me heal – furnished me with anything and everything they thought I might require (Beatrice brought books from PULP, Laney supplied takeout and Uncle brought over his chessboard). Which inadvertently, but successfully, stripped me of any reason/excuse to leave the Lavender Lady.
Until an hour ago.
The Golden Ticket to the magical world of adventure outside the Non-Judgmental-Elastic-Waistband-Pants-Land? A sour email from Little Ben complaining about my “boxes of old junk” cluttering up Sarah’s Domain & Depository.
Normally, I’d let his grumbling roll off my back, like water off a duck, but the way things stand right now? It wouldn’t be politic to intentionally irritate him. What if he started paying attention to my skulking around Nevermore? Things could get unnecessarily sticky.
Thus with my justifications firmly in place, confident in my ability to talk my way out of trouble if Wood found out about my expedition (he’d only prohibited driving FLYT fares). The Princess and I motored towards the main gates of Nevermore at a perfectly respectable hour……under a National Weather Service Winter Storm Warning. (Which adds a certain zing to the adventure! Don’t you agree?)
Pulling in next to a maintenance truck, I took a moment to study (as best I could) the vintage neon sign of The Three Roses (Nevermore’s onsite flower shop). The high winds made me ridiculously glad Little Ben had finally been persuaded to refurbish it two summers ago (it could probably withstand a tornado now).
Unable to stall any longer, I scampered from the Princess thru the automatic doors of the main building. Which inadvertently placed me on a collision course with Nevermore’s Chief Grounds Keeper. Luckily, Ira possesses excellent reflexes because I didn’t see him in my mad dash.
Ira (a smile creasing his face): “Phoebe? You’re a sight for sore eyes.”
Not counting Big Ben, Ira’s Nevermore’s longest-tenured employee (he has me beat by twenty-five years).
Me (pushing my hood away from my face, returning his smile): “Right back at you! How are things?”
Ira (glancing over his shoulder and lowering his voice a notch): “Fair to middling, but I can’t talk now. Call me soon, and I’ll buy you a beer after work.”
Me (spidey senses tingling): “I’ll hold you to that.”
Tipping his cap, he walked out the doors, while I pondered his troubling words for a moment.
Recalling my original objective, and hoping to pull off the secondary goal of avoiding detection by Little Ben and his secretary/spy Lottie, I hustled towards the setting of my recent spat of bad dreams. All the while silently cursing my less than stealthy sneakers. As predicted, the notorious stretch of linoleum bordered by plain beige walls looked just as dull as I knew it would. This Proof of Blandness satisfied the small reservations my mind insisted on toying around with about coming down to the scene of The Confrontation.
It didn’t hurt that my sneakers squeaked so much with every step I felt like an awkward participant in a dance party attended solely by boisterous but invisible mice.