Category Archives: Phoebe

2.23 Roadblocks

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(I have no recollection of ever purchasing a box of hands…)

The ransacking of my bedroom, after Aunt Pearl dropped me at the Lavender Lady library books in hand, yielded several exciting finds. Apparently, I own five copies of Melville’s Moby Dick (and haven’t cracked the cover of a single one), an entire box of mannequin hands I don’t recall purchasing, and my favorite purple sweater misplaced during the move.

Unfortunately, my copy of Nevermore’s Conventions (the massive three-ring binder dedicated to its history, bylaws, policies, and general guidance) was nowhere to be found.

Quelle surprise.

Of course, this revelation only came after two-hundred-and-forty-nine minutes of rifling, piling, and sifting through the contents of my closet and bookcases. My scouring ceased the moment I unearthed a wad of documents stuffed in the middle of a geology text. Apparently, my Caretaker employment contract, Cottage lease agreement, and other Nevermore related paperwork decided, after eighteen years of residing inside the front cover of the Conventions, to go on holiday.

Right.

One more mystifying incident to add to the list.

Sitting on the sun-warmed stone bench, I took a deep breath of the vapor rising from the surface of my coffee. Closing my eyes, I cast my mind back, endeavoring to recollect the last time I held it…I’d taken a gulp of coffee and…pulled it from a stout moving crate in order to reference my lease! I’d needed to know the hour Little Ben could/would come by for the Cottage’s keys. Then something pulled me away…and the rest of the memory is swallowed up by the chaos of coordinating the convoy of vehicles carrying my possessions to the Lavender Lady. 

Drat. 

Sighing in vexation, I opened my eyes. The view reaching my retinas mellowed my mood slightly. 

Dawn and dusk are my two favorite times to sit outside in Nevermore. Tonight, the sparrows sang to each other, sun colored the clouds orange and the fragrance of freshly mown grass filled the air – reminding me exactly why I’m still trying to take care of this place. However, my other unique and oblique responsibility quickly supplanted this initial reminder by sending ripples of electricity across my toes, pulling me from my reverie. 

Me (tracing of the stylized letter ‘A’ etched in the stone bench): “I was hoping you’d find me.”

Taking a seat next to me, “You’re the only one I know who eats bacon & eggs at this hour. I simply followed the scent.”

Fishing around inside the paper sack, I pulled out one of the egg, bacon & maple rolls I’d been too trepidatious to partake of before Joseph’s arrival. 

Me: “Guilty”

Joseph (concern coloring his voice): “How are you feeling?”

Speaking of foibles, Joseph may find my love of breakfast dishes for dinner unconventional; however, he owns one or two idiosyncrasies himself. Case in point, he was asking after my health because we haven’t seen each other since the night we confronted the Woman In White. Why? Because, for reasons known only to him, he never leaves Nevermore’s grounds. 

For any reason. 

Ever.

(He’s repeatedly rebuffed my questions about this quirk – btw.)

So I filled him on what happened after I left Nevermore that night, segueing rather nicely into the quandaries currently plaguing me. By the time I finished, the Golden Hour had transitioned smoothly into the Blue Hour, and my stomach let out a fierce grumble, letting me know of an egg, bacon & maple roll-shaped hole I needed to fill posthaste.

Me (summing up after a swig of coffee): “So, you wouldn’t happen to know where to find Big Ben or a copy of Conventions, would you?”

Taking a bite of my savory, I let him digest everything I’d just laid on him. About the time I was debating between licking the leftover bacony goodness off my left thumb or using my handkerchief as a napkin, Joseph broke the silence. 

Joseph: “Yes, and no.”

Me (drily): “Well, that clears things right up.”

Joseph (chuckling): “Yes, I know the location of a copy. Yes, I can loan it to you.”

Bouncing off the seat and onto my feet, I waited for him to follow suit.  

Joseph (an air of regret surrounding him): “No, I cannot retrieve tonight.” 

The rollercoaster of emotions accompanying his words prompted me to rake my fingers thru my hair. (It wasn’t until Beatrice delicately sniffed the air later wondering why I smelled of bacon that I recalled I’d neither wiped or licked the leftover bacon grease off my fingers.)

Joseph (unintentionally deflating me further): “You know there are elements of Nevermore which must remain unpublished. Regrettably, the whereabouts of this particular copy is one of those elements.”

Turning away from him, I aim my aggravation at the moon. The main food for my frustration, above and beyond needing to wait for possible answers, was the understanding of his position. (Though the underlying current of his words, i.e., the sands of the Sahara would reclaim the Great Pyramid of Giza before he’d budged, grated.)

Me (still zeroed in on the moon): “Any clue how soon?”

Joseph (pausing for several beats): “Tomorrow, a week, ten days? I cannot retrieve it until the immediate vicinity is clear of both Residents and staff. “

Me (pivoting on my heal): “Do you know Nevermore’s bylaws?”

Joseph (who’d risen at some point, touched my arm): “I wish I could give you some easy answers.”

Me (sighing): “I know. I’d just hoped things would move quicker. I can pull on other threads until you can collect it.”

Joseph: “One of them being Orin’s Errant?” 

Me (throwing up my hands): “Crap!”

(Obviously, Joseph correctly guessed I’d forgotten about that small task.)

2.22 To The Library! (Hermione Would Be So Proud.)

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Walking into the library, I watched the librarians perk up like prairie dogs at the sight of the cake box I carried carefully thru the main doors. Passing by the main circulation desk, the staff forced me to revise my choice of wee beastie when they caught the fragrance of cake & icing emanating from the box and started chirping in understated excitement to one another. (We are in a library after all.)

Marmots, they reminded me of marmots.

Without breaking stride or making eye contact, I followed the roundabout route through the stacks to the perch of all research for the Rye Public Library System – the desk of Mrs. Schmit. The Librarian Extraordinaire was replacing the phone receiver when I turned the corner and covered the last few yards of space between us.

Mrs. Schmit: “What on earth did you bring in that box? I’ve fielded three calls about it!”

Placing it carefully on the counter, I lifted the lid and gave her a sneak peek before answering her question. 

Me: “My part of our bargain.”

My Librarian Extraordinaire, as I’ve mentioned requires a commensurately complex sweet to question ratio – the more offbeat the question is, the more elaborate sugary treat I must provide (book/music recommendations are free btw). When homemade treats enter the equation, she knows I mean business.

In this case? The query wasn’t complex, so much as convoluted. 

I need a sound strategy to work Ira’s list of establishments Big Ben might be patronizing. Hope, in my experience, is often as fickle as Luck and counting on either mistress to locate Big Ben felt foolhardy at best. 

Especially since I’m conducting my search over the phone and from three states away. 

However, last night’s discourse over dinner (i.e., the convergence of odd coincidences in Nevermore) left me in possession of two opposing desires –  wanting everyone in Silver City, New Mexico, aware of my search for Big Ben and no one in Rye alert to my quest.

Placing Mrs. Schmit unintentionally in the position of needing to produce an answer with one arm tied behind her back. (Hopefully, she’ll take my informational reticence as a challenge and not as an insult.)

Hence the famed cake, half-payment/half-apology. 

(All delicious.)

Sliding the box closer to her side of the counter, she carefully pushed the lid of the box further back and took a good long look & sniff of my offering (I’d taken extra time to decorate it).

Mrs. Schmit: “Your Aunt’s Orange Blossom Honey Cake?” 

Me: “Made fresh this morning.”

Mrs. Schmit: “Do you need help unraveling the meaning of life?”

Me: “I already have that answer. It’s forty-two. No, I need…”

Mrs. Schmit: “Hold that thought. Come around to this side of the counter and take a seat. I need to tuck this away, so the vultures stop circling.”

Rotating on my axis (aka my ankles), I discovered she wasn’t joking. Apparently, word’s gotten out about our arrangement. I counted no less than six staffers, not so subtly trying to catch a glimpse of the contents of the cake box. One librarian might have actually been assisting a patron, but her cohorts? Their actions were dubious at best, or perhaps one of Mrs. Schmit’s colleagues attended the Unseen University and learned to anticipate required call numbers? It would explain why the piece of paper he repeatedly referenced while edging his way towards the counter was blank. My favorite, other than the volunteer cleaning a shelf by waving a feather duster four inches above it, was the librarian who’d climbed one of the nearby rolling ladders to reshelve a mass-market paperback in the midsts of the Main Branch’s encyclopedia collection. (I wasn’t kidding when I said my Aunt’s cake is legendary town fave.) 

Suppressing a smile at their antics, I followed Mrs. Schmit’s instructions and found my familiar chair.

Mrs. Schmit: “Their noses are better than a bloodhound’s when buttercream’s involved. Now that they’re dispersing, what answer do you need that requires your Aunt’s blue ribbon winner?”

Me: “I need help finding someone who isn’t missing.”

Mrs. Schmit: “Come again?”

It took a while to explain (without giving the game away), but eventually, Mrs. Schmit leaned back in her chair, her mind rapidly translating my theoretical explanation into practical application. The thoughtful silence and reclined attitude lasted for less than a minute before her fingers flew over her keyboard.

Mrs. Schmit: “Wait here and keep an eye on my cake, please.”

Standing up abruptly, Mrs. Schmit strode into the stacks, call numbers in hand. Fortunately, fisticuffs weren’t needed to defend her treat – my presence proved a sufficient enough deterrent to keep the frosting poachers at bay until the formidable Mrs. Schmit returned, books in hand.

Mrs. Schmit: “You need to perform an old fashion skiptrace. Though since you’re looking for a friend who fell off the grid, rather than someone actively dodging you, you should have an easier time of it.”

An hour later, Mrs. Schmit accompanied me to the main counter and checked out a stack of books with titles like How To Find Deadbeats, Dirtbags, and Cheats; Bill Collecting & You and Missing Persons And Where To Find Them. (BTW, the Librarian Extraordinaire was taking an early lunch so she could run her cake home, far away from her overly solicitous colleagues.)

None of the books entirely addressed my current needs. Still, they did provide inspiration on how to tackle the employees of the greasy spoons, motels, hotels, tackle shops, and taverns; I’m sure will feature on Ira’s list without sounding like a deranged stalker or an inept Private Investigator.

Hopefully.

2.21.a Bedhead and Baking

Do you suppose it’s possible for a person to absorb enough Aqua Net they no longer suffer from bedhead? 

It’s my pet theory concerning Aunt Pearl. I shared it once with Wood, but he just spouted some Latin at me, cum hoc ergo propter hoc, then changed the subject to Man City’s defensive shape in their last match against United.

I believe, her heyday habit of exhausting three cans a week, securing her beehive, elegantly explains her historic lack of bedhead. (She’s down to a can a month now, just keep the tank topped off.) All she has to do is run a brush thru her hair once, and it stays fixed in that fashion until she decides to restyle. 

Case in point, its six-thirty in the morning, and her hair’s perfectly coifed… 

Me (winding the kitchen timer to seventeen minutes): “Coffee?”

Aunt Pearl: “Please.”

Grabbing a new cup from the cupboard, I filled it, topped off my own, then carried both to the kitchen table where I paused for the first time in nearly three hours and settled into a chair across from my Aunt.

Me: “Did I make too much noise?”

Aunt Pearl: “Quiet as a church mouse. The aroma of your lingonberry and lemon muffins woke me.”

Me (smiling into my cup): “Really?”

Aunt Pearl: “No, I smelled the orange blossom honey cake. I’m surprised Robbie’s not down here trying to help himself to the frosting.”

Me: “He was, but I haven’t made it yet, the cakes are still too hot to frost. I sent him off with some decoy chocolate crinkle cookies.”

Aunt Pearl (visibly impressed): “Smart.”

Me (pointing to the cooling racks between us on the table): “It’s the same reason behind shortbread for Uncle and krumkake for you. The muffins happened because I got bored.”

Aunt Pearl’s Orange Blossom Honey Cake is a fan favorite in our house, the Lu’s next door, pot lucks, company picnics, staff rooms, and carnival cakewalks. If I hadn’t headed them off at the pass with their favorite treats, my cakes, even in their current frostingless state, would never make it to their destination.

Aunt Pearl (sampling the krumkake): “Anything on your mind, dear?”

Me: “Nope, just couldn’t sleep.”

Aunt Pearl (clearly skeptical): “Really? You’ve stocked your own bake sale table before the birds start chirping because you couldn’t sleep?”

Me: “I also drank an entire pot of coffee by myself?”

This defense cut no ice with my Aunt.

Placing me on the end of her patented, ‘Spill the beans kid I’ve got all day’ stares, she slowly and very deliberately dunked a piece of krumkake in her coffee. Cracking easily under the weight of her unwavering eye contact, I slowly outlined the barest of basics of the problems currently plaguing me. 

(I blame the Aqua Net, the nimbus of fumes surrounding her must-have befuddled me – it’s the only explanation why I started spelling out my troubles to the one person who never fancied my job at Nevermore.) 

Me (ending my tale with a bit of grousing): “Why didn’t I call Big Ben when Little Ben first handed me my pink slip? He might have mentioned where he was staying in New Mexico or his buddy’s name…”

Aunt Pearl (smiling the infuriating smile of a guardian who knows an answer you don’t): “I know why you didn’t call Big Ben.”

Me (her words cut thru my mental fog like a knife): “You do?”

Aunt Pearl: “So do you. Remember, Josie Reville?”

2.20.b Cheesy Strategies

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(Apparently my mac’n’cheese flavor, is a twist on Haitian Spaghetti! And it’s great!)

Me (trying to keep hope in check): “Help you…”

Leo: “…fix Nevermore?”

With a bemused expression, Ira explained.

Shortly after his unnecessary promotion and upon discovering his copy of the Conventions missing, Ira placed a call to Big Ben. Only to find both Big Ben’s landline and cell were no longer in service. Discussing his unease with his Missus, she asked him one particularly salient question; “Who in Nevermore do you and Big Ben both trust?” 

Her words were still rolling around in the back of Ira’s brain when he and Leo got to talking after the latter approached the former about trying to persuade Little Ben from ejecting the Naturalists from Nevermore. 

Their mutual troubles lead to their first “summit” in the Rare Records Room.

Over a few beers and bowls of mac’n’cheese, they rewound, reviewed, and rehashed every episode, major or minor, occurring in Nevermore over the past year. My unexpected termination quickly made their list of nebulously linked hinky feeling events. So did Big Ben’s radio silence and unprecedented extended absence from Nevermore. At about this point, Leo, in a fit of frustration, wondered where their guesswork was getting them – that’s when Ira repeated his Missus’s question. 

Needless to say, their answers matched.

And here we are.

Taking a measured sip of my second drink, I slowly rolled it across my tongue, feeling oddly relieved that I wasn’t the only one who’d felt an ill wind blowing through Nevermore.

Me (taking a deep breath): “I’m pretty sure I know what Little Ben and the Board of Managers have been working on.”

Leo (cut in utterly astonished): “How? Even I couldn’t finagle that….”

Me (drily): “How did you find out about the NDA’s?”

Leo (wiggling his eyebrows): “Touché.”

With timing, only servers can muster our bowls of bespoke mac’n’cheese arrived. Since the eighth wonder of the world required our complete concentration to properly appreciate, our conversation stuttered to a stop until Leo, and I licked our bowls clean (Ira restrained himself from following suit, but then he can eat here whenever he chooses). 

Once we recalled our place, which took a moment due to the sheer quantity of cheese hurtling through our arteries, I filled them in on Little Ben’s rebranding plans.

Leo (bleakly): “So there’s no hope of the Naturalists staying in Nevermore.”

Not wanting to mouth platitudes, I stayed silent.

Ira (slowly): “I agree, the financial questions need answering.”

Leo: “What do the missing Conventions and Ira’s promotion have to do with rebranding Nevermore?”

Me: “No clue. But the timing seems curious.”

We gnashed our teeth on our list nebulously linked hinky affairs over two more rounds of drinks, without a single bolt of lightning striking our table. Bereft of inspiration, we created a to-do list and ordered dessert.

First and foremost, since Big Ben hasn’t set foot in Nevermore for nearly a year and none of us know what he knows about current events inside Nevermore – we’re going to make sure he knows. 

(On reflection, the extra cocktails might have been a mistake.)

In other words, we’re going to track Big Ben down. 

Since I’m the only one who owns a real beef with Little Ben, even if it’s a bit late in the day to take umbrage at my pink slip, I’ll raise the least suspicion should Little Ben get wind of our attempts (plus he can’t fire me again). So Ira’s going to drop a list by Uncle and Aunt Pearl’s house of every phone number, address, hotel, motel, and haunt in New Mexico Big Ben’s ever included in a memo, email, or mentioned in passing.

Hopefully, I’ll hit the jackpot with one of them. 

The scheme makes me feel prickly inside, as it smacks of tattling, but I couldn’t (and still haven’t) come up with a superior alternative.

Speaking of prickly situations, since Leo’s perched at the heart of Nevermore’s grapevine and my Ms. Hettie theory fell through, I requested he ferret out the name of Little Ben’s anonymous source for me. 

Without admitting to playing any part in the farce, I gave Leo every scrap of data in my possession about the mysterious tipster who alerted Little Ben the night of The Brace Affair. (Aka the night Ira’s groundskeepers chased us all over Nevermore.) Explaining my request away as another nebulously linked hinky feeling event in need of an answer – I think Ira bought it.

I was thrilled when our slices apple pie, featuring a very melty piece of cheddar cheese on top, arrived tableside at that moment, completely derailing our conversation off the topic of trespassing pirates…After our initial bite of pie, we hammered out a few other details; don’t risk your job looking for answers; don’t talk to anyone attached to Nevermore about our suspicions, and no, I will not refer to you as 006-&-a-half. Even if you knit a suitable hat. 

But all too soon, the cheese, alcohol, and sugar caught up with us.

(Btw, leaving the Rare Records Room is nearly as complicated as entering –  I exited two doors down behind the florist’s shop.

While listening to the peppy hoot of an owl, I picked up my phone off the nightstand, found Big Ben’s number, and hit dial. My ears were immediately assaulted by three ascending tones and an automated message, “I’m sorry, the number you have entered has been temporarily disconnected, changed, or is no longer in service. If you feel you’ve reached this recording in error…” 

Giving up on my phone and sleep, I heaved myself out of bed, pulled on a pair of well-loved pants and an old t-shirt then padded down to the kitchen. I might not know what’s happening to Nevermore or how to fix it, but at least, I know what my next step is.

I need to bake a cake.

2.20.a Hey Mr. Sandman, Why Has Thou Forsaken me?

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Turning over onto my side, snuggling further under the covers, I gazed past Aunt Pearl’s second-best lace curtains at the moon. I wonder who first posited it was made of Swiss cheese. A clever cheesemonger? It’s a wonder some adman along the way didn’t rename it moon cheese, to sell a few more slices…Thank heavens, the lovely chef at the Rare Records Room didn’t sprinkle any moon cheese into my divine dish of ooey-gooey golden goodness. Because whichever name that white waxy cheese goes by, it’s not for me…I still can’t believe Ira’s a member of the Rare Records Room. How he convinced them to cater part of Wood’s party for me, I’ll never know. 

Speaking of unexpected surprises, how can a man his age pull off puppy dog eyes? 

Well crap. 

Flopping onto my back, staring at the shadows dancing across the ceiling, my thoughts flung me from the precipice of sleep. Finishing the job off properly, I unpacked tonight’s dinner conversation from memory for reexamination. (Though technically it’s three am so it’s yesterday’s dinner conversation.)

Thanks only to Ira’s foresight in choosing a discrete dining table, Leo’s blurted statement of doom wasn’t broadcasted across the entire speakeasy. 

Ira (quietly clearing his throat): “Not rotten so much as peculiar. Which is why I chose the Rare Record’s Room for dinner and why Leo’s here. We’ve been comparing notes about Nevermore, and we’re concerned…So we called you.”

Tracing patterns in the condensation on my glass, I waited for either man to continue.

Ira: “Did you hear about my promotion?”

Me (startled): “Promotion? That’s not possible.”

Ira (looking me in the eye): “Be that as it may, I’m now the Head of Facilities and Maintenance. Little Ben gave Gavin my old job title.”

Me: “Did your duties change? Or Gavin’s?”

Ira (shaking his head): “Mine no. Gavin’s, yes. He’s now required to attend meetings I’ve been politely rebuffed from, despite being his supervisor.”

Leo (interjecting): “Which is weird, because they’re listed as Board of Managers meetings on the calendar.”

Me (wracking my brain): “Nevermore’s never had a board of anything since I’ve been there….Did you ask Gavin about them?”

Leo (chiming in while Ira nodded): “From what I’ve gathered, every member signed a non-disclosure agreement, with some steep penalties if violated.”

Me: “So he’s afraid of losing his job.”

Leo: “Among other things, and with the baby on the way, he can’t risk it.”

Ira & I (in unison): “Larissa’s pregnant?”

Leo (grinning): “Yup, just announced it this morning.” 

In unconscious synchronicity, we toasted the happy couple – they’d been trying for a while now. (It also allowed me to polish off my first custom marionberry infused cocktail, which packed quite a wallop and is the reason why I’m currently enjoying the comforts of Uncle and Aunt Pearl’s guest room. Uncle came and fetched me after I’d called to say I was a bit too buzzed to bus home).

Me (shaking my head): “So, besides Gavin, who else is on this Board of Managers?”

Leo: “Little Ben, of course, and the other department heads? I’m not one-hundred percent sure. They always meet before anyone’s scheduled to come in.”

Ira (gripping his drink): “I’ve never sat on a board for Nevermore either. However, back when I first started, I believe my predecessor took part in one right after Big Ben’s mother past away. But I’d just met my future Missus, and it was above my pay grade, so I didn’t pay it much attention…”

Me (exhaling slowly): “I wonder if the Nevermore Conventions could provide some clarification…What?”

Ira (exchanging glances with Leo): “That leads us to our other oddity, neither Leo or I can find a copy of the Conventions. Mine’s vanished into thin air. And I’ve turned both my office and the maintenance building upside down looking for it.”

Leo: “Sarah, Lottie, Nathaniel, and Little Ben’s copies are all missing from their bookshelves as well.”

Ira: “We were hoping you still had the Caretaker’s copy.”

Me (trying to visualize my bookcases): “Huh. Now that you mention it, I don’t recall running across recently…”

Both men looked crestfallen at my negative.

Me (slowly): “But I might know someone who could find me a copy.”

Leo (eyes shining): “So does that mean you’ll help us?”

2.19.b We Are Programmed To Receive…

2.19 1:2 pic my surreptiscious snap of the Rare Records RoomDressed in a well-loved Eagles t-shirt, jeans just this side of threadbare, purple kicks, and a Cheshire Cat grin the (new) Doorman held it open and stepped aside, “Please come in. If I can steal those keys from you?” Handing him the ring, I moved to the left (heels against the edge of the fabled postage-stamp-sized stage – squee!) and watched him close & relock the door – which incidentally is obfuscated on both sides. 

Tumblers pivoted, and keys pocketed. His mischievous smile returned, “If you could follow me, Ms. Arden.” 

Falling in step, I attempted to casually scan the room, which proved difficult due to the towering blind spot created by my guide’s broad shoulders and the narrowness of the room. Unwilling to hyperextend my neck trying to gain a comprehensive look around him, I settled for a few sideways sneak peeks at the other patrons, who returned my looks with curious glances of their own. 

In a flash, my escort was gesturing towards the right half-moon booth in the back of the speakeasy. Pausing for a moment before taking a seat, I caught my first panoramic view at the Rare Records Room and… 

…Holy Cats Batman!

Gold records arranged like dragon scales decorated every square inch of the walls not occupied by long back leather bench seats or the bar. Oh man, and the bar. The bar is a thing of beauty. A counterpoint to the modern feel of the rest of the room, the swirls and whorls of the art deco design, when combined by the eye, created a dragon curled possessively around his horde. Unlike Smaug’s golden trove, this dragon guards sixty feet of glowing liquor bottles – twelve rows deep (without a single repeat, I’m assured). Golden light, emitted from three dusty brass and crystal chandeliers, dappled the entire establishment (the dust would drive Aunt Pearl crazy, but it adds to the overall atmosphere of the joint).

Ira’s delighted voice recalled me to reality before my gaping mouth caught any flies. “Good evening Phoebe. I take it you’ve never eaten here before?” 

Me (snapping my jaw shut): “What gave it away?”

Ira (eyes crinkling): “First-timers are always struck with the same look.”

Me: “Do the rumors do justice to the mac’n’cheese?”

Ira (slow smile spreading across his face): “No.”

Me (returning his smile): “Then prepare yourself to see that expression again…”

Ira (chuckling): “Looking forward to it.”

Diverting our conversation, my guide reappeared at the periphery of our table.

My Guide: “Would you like your drinks now or wait for the last member of your party to arrive?”

Ira: “We’ll wait, he won’t be long.”

Heart sinking into the leather cushions I fussed with my cutlery, an audience of any kind would curtail me from asking virtually every question on my list (and yes, I’d written them down – so I wouldn’t forget one under the influence of cheese). 

Sidetracking me from my wilty feelings My Guide, after ascertaining this was my first visit, started quizzing me. First up? My favorite & least favorite flavors, cheeses, pastas, flowers, colors, and allergies. Then he inquired after my fondest & saddest memory, best friend and three things I couldn’t live without. Finally, to round out the twenty-questions session, he asked me to name something, anything, I hated. 

After he departed, I wasn’t sure if I’d just finished a creepy stalker quiz, psychological evaluation, or both. 

Taking a sip of water, I was saved from trying to recollect my place in the conversation by the arrival of the last member of our party (and apparently I wasn’t the only one with Hogwarts on my mind).

Leo (wearing a red and gold Weasley inspired sweater & grin): “Evening Ira, Boss….Did you just get The Grilling?”

Well, that’s all the confirmation I’ll ever need to prove I’ll never make it on the professional poker circuit.

Scooching over so Leo could take a seat, we were saved from an awkward pause by both the rituals of polite conversation and then by My Guide’s timely arrival with a tray of one-of-a-kind cocktails tailored to our tastes. He also reassured us our dinners were bubbling away in the oven as we spoke.

(If it’s half as good as this marionberry vodka drink, I will be spoiled for any other mac’n’cheese for all eternity.)

Realizing my companion’s concoctions remained untouched, I lowered my glass, bouncing my gaze between the two men, both of whom appeared unexpectedly uncomfortable. Unsure of the root cause, I rode the pause, waiting for one of them to speak (with the barest flutter of butterfly wings starting in my stomach).

Leo (blurting): “Something’s rotten in Nevermore, and we don’t know what to do.”

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