Category Archives: Phoebe

2.30 Illations

(Yeah, the ‘Prepare 4 Battle!’ isn’t worrisome at all…)

Now it didn’t take the keen mind of Sherlock Holmes to deduce that neither Aarti or Talia had intended to give me a glimpse inside their new war room. So during the ensuing and extremely awkward conversation (resulting from Aarti’s panicky shout), she and Talia pretended the library was still populated by books. While I allowed them to believe I was deaf, dumb, and blind.

Plus, I didn’t need to inquire after the picket signs or the flyers – their meaning is obvious.

However, it was Aarti and Talia’s conspicuous concern with distracting me from the mismatched mass of outdoor equipment, rather than the profusion of protest paraphernalia, that raised a red flag.

Indeed Aarti was so focused on drawing my attention away from the left side of the space, she offered to lend me the Wynter file to peruse it at my leisure. As I’m not a card-carrying member of the Historical Society, this was odd. Non-members don’t enjoy check-out privileges. Even as Nevermore’s Caretaker, they’d never allowed me to wander off with so much as a monograph – let alone a coveted collection of ephemera regarding Rye’s most notorious unsolved murder.

So I took her up on her offer.

Not for any real desire to pursue the subject further, as I agreed with Aarti’s assessment of Wynter’s ongoing legacy. But because accepting it allowed me to escape her and Talia’s watchful gazes and figure out why my brief peek at couple dozed chemical toilets caused them so much distress.

All of which, I hope, explains how I came to be lurking in a dusty storeroom surveilling my neighbors, acquaintances, and a few strangers. While idly comparing the merits of murder by mortification to Wednesday Addams’ scheme to scare her suitors to death.

Either way, both modus operandi sounded like a lot of work.

Deciding I’d seen enough and taken my speculation far enough, I crept cautiously to the door. Pulling it ajar, I took a quick peek, then slipped out and thru the door across the hall. After flipping the lock and turning on the lights, I made sure both stalls were empty before dropping my pack and Wynter’s file on the floor.

Leaning against the cool tile wall, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and counted to twelve before releasing it.

Explaining away a trip to the bathroom is far simpler than defending your presence in a darkened room whilst standing on a stepladder with murderous intentions spying on people who are eager to avoid your notice. 

Taking another measured breath, I calmly considered what I’d seen. 

Tossing aside the absurd notion, they were following the CDC’s Zombie Apocalypse Preparedness Guidelines. I came up with three possible theories as to why a human chain, comprised of Historical Society and Naturalist Club members, are currently shifting a trailer-truck full of water bottles, propane canisters, and freeze-dried food into the building next door. 

Since I had ten minutes to spare until I needed to meet Mrs. Lebondowsky at the Princess, I called the only Naturalist I thought might answer my questions truthfully.

Me (whispering): “Leo!”

Leo (puzzlement clear): “Boss?”

Me: “Yes. Are you alone?”

Leo (lowering his voice): “Yes. Why are we whispering?”

Me (waving my hand despite him not being able to see me): “Not important. Leo is the Naturalist Club sponsoring an equipment or food drive anytime soon?”

Leo: “Nope, we hold those in November…”

Me: “Are you guys gearing up for a colossal sized hiking or camping event?” 

Leo (I could feel his frown across the line): “No, nothing big’s happening until late August…why?”

Me (rubbing my throbbing temples): “Can you think of any reason why the Club would be hauling a tractor-trailer’s worth of food, water, and propane into their building? Or why the Historical Society has enough camping equipment to outfit the entire graduating class of Rye High in their library, but not a single tent?”

Leo: “Wait, where are you?”

Me: “You don’t want to know.”

Leo: “I really think I do.”

Me (scrunching my eyes closed): “Leo, please! Can you think of any reason?”

Leo: “No, there’s nothing on the calendar that would account for the amount of hardware you’re describing. Though….”

Leo went so quiet, for so long, I checked my phone to make sure the call hadn’t dropped.

Me: “Leo?”

Leo (speaking slowly): “Last Friday, Talia called me out of the blue before breakfast. She requested that I recuse myself from the board temporarily and stop attending meetings for a while…She said she didn’t want to put me in the position of choosing between the Club and my job if things got ugly with Little Ben.”

Me: “I saw picket signs and flyers upstairs.”

Leo (sounding stunned): “You don’t think they’ll go that far, do you? Protests I get, but occupying both buildings?” 

Me (opening my eyes and staring at the ceiling): “I think they’re calling it a sit-in.”

Leo: “That’s not better.”

Me: “Sit tight. If anyone asks, tell them what you told me, Talia asked you to leave the Club, and you don’t know anything.”

Leo: “Crap.”

2.29.b …Toil & Trouble

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(Aunt Pearl got this postcard a week or so after I saw it with Aartie.)

Standing on the threshold of Aarti’s office, I took in the confusion of forms, files, and folders littering every surface. Then I surveyed the half-empty bookshelves lining her office and the corresponding jumbled of half-filled cartons stacked every which way, taking up every bit of space.

Save the back left corner. 

Weirdly Aarti had chosen to fill it with a folded up outdoor chair, full-sized cooler, sleeping bag, lantern, and an uninflated air mattress. Items I never expect to see in Aarti’s office again.

Recalling Ina Von Haeville, I ignored the conundrum in the corner and eased my way into the office. Since I didn’t want to create any more turtles, by turning over another carton, I choose to stand in a small pocket of space behind her visitor’s chair. Carefully setting the Wynter box on top of another, I started fishing around for my notes on the Von Haeville plot in my pack.

Me (without looking up): “Dare I ask how things are going around here?”

Aarti (with a sigh): “Wishing you were still here. I don’t suppose you could talk Little Ben out of this nonsense? These buildings are some of the oldest in Rye, and he’s planning on pulling them down…”

Me (glancing up, my lips wearing a rueful smile): “As he’s the one who gave me my pink-slip, I doubt it.” 

Aarti (with half a laugh): “A girl can hope.”

Finally, locating all the materials, I hazarded a few steps forward to hand them off.

Me: “I don’t mean to add to your workload right now, but the Von Haeville sisters don’t strike me as the sentimental types, and I’m not sure they’ll do right by their subterranean relations.”

Aarti (tapping her keyboard): “Let’s take a look and see what we know.”

Unwilling to tootle about the office looking at her books as I usually did, due to the aforementioned turtle effect, I settled on leafing thru the Wynter box while I waited.

Me (idly recalling Mr. Nelson’s story): “Do you think Wynter’s specter still roams Rye?”

Aarti (squinting at the computer screen): “It’s his unsolved murder that troubles Rye, not the man. His blackmail victims were haunted by their poor decisions and Wynter’s missing files. The rest of Rye joined the club after the Daily Harvest ran a letter to the editor penned by Wynter’s widow accusing the police of negligence and his colleagues of sipping champagne and celebrating his death. She shamed the entire town for thinking he got his just desserts.”

Me (following her logic): “So no specter, just a load guilty consciences.”

Aarti (dimpling): “That’s my theory….I’m not seeing anything about the Von Haeville’s having a cemetery on their property in the computer….If you’ve got a minute, there’s a local history text in our library that might mention it.”

Glancing at my watch, I judged I had about twenty minutes before Mrs. Lebondowsky finished up next-door.

Me: “Lead on.”

Leaving my pack and chauffeur’s cap on top of the Wynter box, I fell in step with Aarti and finally addressed the other less pressing, but no less curious, question stacked in the back corner of her office.

Me (curious): “Did Sam finally persuade you into abolishing your moratorium on camping?”

After a nasty encounter with a rattlesnake who’d nestled beneath her tent Aarti swore off the out-of-doors and, despite her wife’s reassurances, that their meeting was one in a million, Aarti’s stance hasn’t swayed an inch in years. 

Aarti (stride hitching then quickening): “What?”

Me (giving the back of her head a puzzled look): “The sleeping bag and stuff in your office, are you going camping or planning a stay in a no-star motel?”

Aarti (giving a quick head toss and sharp laugh): “A no-star motel, that’s funny. No, I’m…”

Aarti’s answer stopped a half a beat before her feet. Only a quick sidestep on my part allowed me to narrowly avoid plowing right into her inert frame. It also afforded me the view of a bleak vista – a library bereft of books.

Though I doubt the barren shelves are the root cause of Aarti’s sudden stop. I believe that honor belonged to the veritable forest of upside-down picket signs sporting the same slogans as the banners outside on our right and enough camping equipment outfit a pint-sized jamboree on our left.

However, as I’m not the Amazing Kreskin, I might be wrong.

But I doubt it.

(BTW – the outdoor equipment made about as much sense in here as it did in Aarti’s office. The Historical Society’s never gone on so much as a nature walk with the Naturalists. So why would an academically inclined institution and indoor inclined individuals need sleeping bags, camp stoves, cots, and water jugs – but no tents or tarps?)

But I believe what really rooted Aarti’s feet to the floor and caused her mouth to form a flat line stood in the center of the room slitting open one of the plethora of cartons emblazoned with Paper & String’s logo sitting on the massive reading room table. 

Aarti (finally coming to life): “It seems my volunteers moved the library early…”

(Library? It feels more akin to a command post now.)

Talia (calling out and interrupting Aarti): “Aarti, come here and take a look at these flyers! They’re absolutely perfect!” 

Aarti: “Talia….”

Without turning around, the Naturalist’s Club President tilted her head to talk over her shoulder while keeping her eyes fixed on the box she was rifling through.

Talia: “The entire crew showed up before the provisions, so we knocked out the library while we were waiting, hope you don’t mind.”

Aarti (her voice taunt): “Talia, we aren’t….”

Whisking a colorful piece of paper from the parcel, Talia held it behind her back for Aarti to see. Edging to Aarti’s right, I caught sight of a postcard featuring ducklings sporting the Naturalist’s tagline ‘Don’t Pave Over Paradise’ inscribed below them. 

Talia (not sensing the room): “Bob at P.S. put a free rush on our order. They look great, don’t they? I figured our more mature members could start licking stamps and addressing them while the kids finish moving the provisions for the sit-i…”

Aarti (not quite shouting cut Talia off mid-word): “Talia, come say hello to Phoebe!”

2.28 Curiosity Killed The Cat You Know

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(The flyer I found laying around in the foyer of the building…)

A sneeze tickling my nose and sent my mind down an odd tangent – I wonder how often Dear Frank is chagrined by something Mrs. Lebondowsky does because her relief on not being judged for indulging her curiosity was crystal clear. 

This unproductive line of thought helped distract me from the monstrous sneeze threatening to alert someone I was definitely someplace I oughtn’t…

…Dear Frank should consider himself a lucky man. 

Can you imagine if Mrs. Lebondowsky’s ‘Dear Frank’ was married to me? His current wife may occasionally cause him consternation with her busybody leanings, but ‘Dear Frank’ would drop dead of embarrassment within a week of marrying me.

Especially if he ever asked why I came home covered in dust!

Picture his scandalization during my explanation of how I found myself in the basement of the Historical Society building, peering over the tops of musty/dusty cardboard boxes – so I could sneak a peek out a cobwebbed rimmed window.

Dear Frank’s ticker couldn’t take the strain. As it is my own can barely tolerate it, due mainly to Mrs. Lebondowsky texting me, she’d needed another half hour, which caused my phone to chirp loudly during my attempt at stealth. 

After peeling myself off the ceiling, which took more than a few heartbeats to accomplish, I refocused my attention on my skulking.

(Even better? The fright scared away my sneeze: thus rendering my next bit of musing – on whether or not I could be charged with murder if I killed Dear Frank with mortification – moot.)

Rising slowly up on my tiptoes using the cardboard boxes in front of me for balance, as the last thing I needed to do was knock them over or break my neck while perched on the top step of this rickety step ladder. I finally caught a glimpse of the items the bucket brigade, just beyond the windowpane, was shifting from the brimming truck to inside the building. 

You’d think the human chain would be handing off items in the other direction since Little Ben failed to renew their lease… But in light of the club’s vote, the decorations adorning the buildings and the conversation in Aarti’s library – the cots, sleeping bags, propane stoves, propane, toilet paper, pots pans and so forth moving inside made sense.

Worrisome and alarming sense.

When Mrs. Lebondowsky and I got our first gander of the twin brick buildings housing the Historical Society and Naturalist Club, forty minutes ago, my foot lifted off the gas of its own volition, causing the Princess to roll quietly to a stop. (Which isn’t as dramatic as it sounds – Nevermore’s speed limit is only five miles per hour). 

Mrs. Lebondowsky awed tone encapsulated the sight perfectly, “Wow.”

“Seriously.” Gripping the steering wheel, I leaned forward. “Who knew snowmen could look that creepy.”

“Perhaps they’re only unsettling due to the cute pictures behind them?” Mrs. Lebondowsky’s answer didn’t contain a note of conviction. Her second held a fringe of hopeful doubt. “Maybe they’ll look less menacing when we get closer.”

Pulling the Princess into the only available curbside parking spot Mrs. Lebondowsky and I continued to take in the bedecked brick buildings at the end of the lane. “Would you mind if I headed over to the Historical Society while you take care of business next door? I need to drop off some notes with Aarti.” Since she’d paid for a block of time, I’d typically wait in the car until she finished…but I was more than a little curious about what was happening myself (and I actually owned a salient reason for stopping by).

Gathering up her things, “Go ahead, dear. I’ll probably be a half-hour or so. If I beat you back to the Princess, I’ll text you.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Walking down the lane framed by a multitude of cars, we drew closer to the ghosts of snowmen past that now dotted the grassy verge before both buildings (with a significant number congregating around the city planning boards). The wooden cutouts, which ordinarily graced the area during the holidays, usually wore friendly faces, top hats with poinsettias in their bands, corncob pipes, carrot noses, and the occasional scarf. 

Now each erstwhile snowman sported a matte black finish and lilac lettering listing a significant fact about the buildings or the Historical Society itself. The feature Mrs. Lebondowsky and I both found sinister, was the realistic crimson eyes painted on each of the upcycled snowmen (and much like the Mona Lisa, the eyes followed your every move). 

She and I both agreed that the snowmen did not become less unsettling upon closer acquaintance. Though the creepiness of silhouettes was brilliant. They both drew the eye towards the Society’s objections while simultaneously repelling them onto their and Naturalist’s grievances. 

(As the snowmen weren’t the only repurposed holiday decorations festooning the buildings.)

Strung across the structure’s crowns were a pair of banners proclaiming ‘Protecting Yesterday – From Today – For Tomorrow’ and ‘Don’t Pave Over Paradise’ who’s messages I’m sure would morph to ‘Merry Saturnalia’ and ‘Happy Winter Solstice’ should a fierce wind happen to invert them. 

Then there are the white, purple, and red strands of twinkle lights edging every corner of both edifices. Spotlighting not only the important architectural features; but the blown-up photos, placed in every window, of the most adorable fuzzy and feathered denizens that call Nevermore home.

(Mazy will be ecstatic when she sees that someone other than her and I are looking out for her squirrel buddies.)

After we rushed past the shadows of malevolent snowmen, our paths diverged. 

On my way up the stairs to the Historical Society, a multitude of sounds reached my ears; jabbering, laughing, scraping, and the groaning of humans and springs alike. Curious, my feet swerved over to the side window in the entryway – which only offered a narrow view over the fence – featuring a pallet of bottled water.

Weird, the Naturalist’s theme last year was ‘Dismiss Your Dependance on Single-Use Plastics’….

Recalling my mission, I turned away from the window, tucked away these peculiar details in the back of my brain, and moved towards the quiet of the Rye’s Historical Society’s main office. 

2.27 Back In The Saddle Again

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Triumphant returns take many forms, sometimes the hero is heralded with ticker tape and trumpets. Other times it is a restrained nod of a coworker at the office water cooler. If you’re Bilbo Baggins, you’re met by an empty house cleared out by your lamentable relations. Mine? The Senior Center crew (aka my FLYT regulars) met the Princess and I in the Center’s parking lot with a bag of mini doughnuts from Fryed and friendly smiles. (Or in the case of the other Senior Center FLYT driver desperate relief – apparently, they worked him but good while I was gone).

Their warm reception, featuring powdered sugared sustenance, helped dispel a fraction of the blue funk I felt over losing significant ground in my rat hunt.

While happy to see me, The Crew apparently had bigger fish to fry, so after one last demonstration of genial affability, a pat on the hood for the Princess and the arm for me, they returned to their ruminations. The air around them was so pensive I don’t think I could lighten the mood if I tried. Though I’d like to imagine making a ludicrous announcement – such as an intent to swap my stock chauffeur’s uniform with a pink-polka-dot bikini and sparkly silver Ugg boots – might at least have drawn a chuckle. 

So instead of making a funny, I kept my mouth full and ears open to the grist they were milling.

Mr. Fernandez (confirming something Mr. Eccles said that I didn’t hear): “My daughter told me the same thing.”

Happily, before I pinged their radars by asking a followup question, Mrs. Lebondowsky, who’d huffed and puffed her way from the bus stop to the same cluster of The Crew I’d just joined, asked it for me.

Mrs. Lebondowsky: “Told you what Albert? Hello Phoebe, sorry I’m late, dear. My Frank couldn’t find his glasses. Turns out, he’d tucked them in my carryon and forgot to take them out when we got home yesterday.”

Mr. Fernandez: “Elena told me the Naturalists Club and the Rye Historical Society voted to band together last Friday.”

(Band together? On one side, you have detail-oriented individuals with an in-depth knowledge of Rye highly. On the other, you have a leadership group with literally decades of experience in civil disobedience and a pack of fearless kids backing them up. I have a feeling neither side will go gently into that good night. Bad news for Little Ben.)

Mrs. Lebondowsky (eyes wide): “My Frank and I missed a meeting! What happened?”

Mr. Nelson (jumping in): “The City put up construction and inspection boards in front of their buildings.”

Mrs. Lebondowsky: “What does that mean?” 

Mr. Nelson: According to the review boards? It looks like Little Ben wants to redevelop the Nevermore by tearing down both buildings and chopping down a good chunk of The Woodlands.

(So, Little Ben’s rebranding scheme is starting in earnest. Crap! I need to find Big Ben faster.)

Mrs. Lebondowsky (turning to me): “Can you stop this?”

Mr. Fernandez answered for me as I’d just stuffed my face with a mini doughnut.

Mr. Fernandez: “That’s not fair Vi, you know that Junior laid her off for no good reason.”

(This is why I stay on their good side: I never mentioned why I started driving for FLYT. But given their brains, silver-haired camouflage, and spare time I’m not surprised they ferreted out why I started my career as a chauffeur. They can dig up pretty much anything they want about anyone in Rye…….wait that gives me an idea…)

Mrs. Lebondowsky (wringing her hands): “Your right, I know your right…I apologize, Phoebe.”

Me (thickly): “Don’t worry about it. I’d ask the same question if I were in your shoes.”

Putting a pin in my bolt of inspiration, I nudged the conversation onto more material matters after Mrs. Chen was nearly run over by a car pulling into the Center’s lot. 

Me (raising my voice): “Okay guys flip open your phones, I’m going to switch my ap to on duty so you can book rides with the Princess and I again!”

After The Crew located their readers and phones, they counted me down (just like New Year’s Eve) from five until I swiped my FLYT meter to ‘on’. Twenty-five minutes of furious activity (and a bit of swearing) ensued as they filled the bulk of my regular FLYT hours for the next few weeks – which warmed the cockles of my heart even better than the doughnuts (as rent is due with depressing regularity.)

Mrs. Lebondowsky scored my first block of time for the day. 

Me (buckling my seatbelt): “So what’s our first stop? Pins & Needles?”

(Rye’s finest fiber gallery & fabric store and her home away from home.)

Mrs. Lebondowsky (her ears turning pink): “Well, I think I need to stop by the Naturalist Society first. I’ve drafted a few crochet patterns for the fundraiser, and I should drop them off so they can add them to the shopping site immediately.”

Me (turning the engine over): “No problem, Mrs. Lebondowsky.”

Turning out of the Senior Center’s parking lot, Mrs. Lebondowsky switched the radio on and hummed happily along with KARB’s current musical selection – Ravel’s Bolero – for a moment before she let lose a quiet chuckle.

Mrs. Lebondowsky: “Thank you, dear, for not turning a hair at my request, Dear Frank really hates it when I’m a nosey parker.”

Me (grinning with her): “No problem, Mrs. Lebondowsky.”

2.26 Leaving On A Jet Plane

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Pulling into a parking spot in front of the Rye Regional Airport, I looked over at my first passenger in a little over a month and smiled. Beatrice, wearing nearly opaque sunglasses, leaned against the Princess’s window fast asleep, her neck twisted in an angle I’m sure will prove less than pleasant upon waking. Trying to inspire her into consciousness, I got out of the car, pulled her bags out of the trunk, and wheeled them to the passenger side door – without attempting to muffle, stifle or dampen the sounds my actions created in the slightest.

Her muscles didn’t quiver once – which frankly wasn’t surprising due to the smashing success of the Twinkle Toes Review. 

Initially, even with an agreement to keep his complaints to himself in place, Wood balked at watching hours of himself on tape. Parading him past a table heaving under all his favorite foods, plus twelve tubs of Mac’n’cheese from the Rare Records Room, finally persuaded him to give the party a chance. 

After he loaded his plate, we pressed play and less than fifteen minutes into the first home movie, an epic battle between cross-district peewee soccer rivals, he was laughing like a loon. Soon he was expanding on the stories his Gran spun and by the end of the evening had related a few originals of his own. 

Apparently, listening to his Gran’s running and rambling commentary caught by her camcorder’s microphone with the ears of an older man burned away the lingering feelings of embarrassment leftover in his brain by his younger self. 

I’m pretty sure the application of a few fingers of scotch over the coarse of the day may have eased him towards this newfound wisdom.

It’s certainly at the root of my roommate’s current comatose condition.

The other source of her inert state was due to our wildly miscalculated timetable. Between bathroom breaks, intermittent romps around the backyard (to help aid digestion and unclog our cheese-filled arteries), footwork demonstrations (which only Wood and Beatrice showed any aptitude at), and one walk/mosey to the corner store for gummy bears & worms (to settle the argument on which is better) the party effortlessly exceeded its allotted time.

Then Beatrice pulled out the good bottle.

Around ten pm, I extracted myself, to a chorus of boos, from our stroll down memory lane and stumbled my way to bed. (More than a little excited to start driving for FLYT again in the morning, I didn’t want to be hungover/exhausted/grumpy on my first day back.)

I haven’t a clue how long the others continued to natter. But six hours, two alarms and one shower later, I discovered Sarah curled up on our living room couch, Beatrice snuggled in the recliner in the office, and Wood doing his impression of a buzzsaw in Beatrice’s room. The two empty bottles of Oban next to the kitchen sink gave me a fair clue what prompted the impromptu sleepover. (When I’d said goodnight neither bottle had been cracked open or in fact out of the liquor closet.) 

My inner trickster urged me to rouse them by playing Reveille at full volume on my phone while flipping on the overhead lights in my friend’s respective rooms.

Deciding against saddling my friends with the moniker of The Monday Morning Murderer Squad, I began brewing a veritable sea of coffee and recycling last night’s leftovers into this morning’s breakfast. The aroma of frying eggs, butter, bacon, biscuits, and gouda accompanied by the sounds of the coffee percolator plus the jaunty selections played by KARB’s morning DJ had the last of the fearsome foursome lurching into the kitchen (and collapsing into a heap on the floor as the table hadn’t been moved back yet) twenty minutes later.

After each downed a mug of the best bean-based drink known to man Beatrice found Wood’s shoe, Laney’s coat, and Sarah’s keys, I placed a quart-sized go-mug of coffee in each of their hands, a breakfast sandwich in their other and pushed them all out the Lavender Lady’s door to start their day. Beatrice and I followed them thirty minutes later in roughly the same state (only with more baggage and a shower under our belts), and here we are.

Standing on the curb, I gazed through the windshield at the still form of my roommate and hit speed dial on my phone. It took a beat for my ringtone to penetrate her brain, but when her hands finally twitched in response – she hung up on me. Fortunately (for me, not her) the second time I rang her, the crick in her neck announced itself – hurling her directly into consciousness and out of the Princess.

Handing her a handful of vitamins, two aspirins, and a bottle of water, I unsuccessfully attempted to suppress a grin.

Me: “Come on, let’s get you checked in.”

While I wheeled her luggage along, she silently worked her way through the pills. 

The upside of catching the first flight out of Rye? You don’t have to wait in any lines, the gate agents are friendly, and your luggage always makes it on the plane. The downside? Nothing’s open. Hence our brown-bag breakfast that Beatrice was finally awake enough to enjoy. Since I wasn’t due at the Senior Center for an hour and Beatrice wasn’t scheduled to take-off for another two, we snagged a couple of seats on the landside of the airport and tucked into our homemade breakfast sandwiches & cups of coffee.

When only crumbs and dredges remained of our meal, Beatrice finally looked human again. Apparently, she felt the same because she removed her sunglasses (letting sunbeams from the nearby windows hit her retinas unfiltered) and leapt directly into conversation.

Beatrice: “An interesting fact came to light yesterday.”

Me: “Is it Laney’s secretly addiction to turkey and dressing tv dinners?”

Beatrice (clearly picking her words carefully): “No, though that is inexplicable, no, this has to do with the Brace Affair*.”

Me (perplexed): “Really? I’m all ears.”

Beatrice: “Seems Ms. Hettie isn’t the only one who had the opportunity to overhear our plans.”

Taking my thunderstruck silence correctly, Beatrice continued.

Beatrice: “While you were keeping Dourwood occupied, Laney joined Sarah and me in the kitchen. Laney went on to say it felt like an age since she’d seen Sarah – they started comparing notes, and turns out the last time they hung out was just after our trip to Pumpkin Mountain…”

Sensing I was about to interrupt, Beatrice put her index finger up, stalling my questions in my throat.

Beatrice (placing air quotes at the end of the sentence): “…However, the last time they saw each other was the evening Laney stopped by to drop off some reference books she borrowed from Sarah and to tell her we were ‘heading into Nevermore that night to plant the rubber ducks’.”

Me (sinking feeling): “Those were her exact words? Please don’t tell me she….”

Beatrice (finishing my sentence): “….uttered them in the lobby of the main building in Nevermore? Apparently, she did.”

(Laney is many amazing things – but quiet isn’t one of them.)

Me (disappointment lancing thru my lungs as I thought thru the ramifications of this shiny new fact): “So potentially anyone who was walking by or standing near the lobby could have heard them talking. So knowing who ratted us out won’t give me any real answers…” 

Beatrice (nodding her head in sympathy): “Other than who was in the building that night? No, I don’t think so.”

Me (letting loose a sigh): “Crap!”

*(AKA, the night Laney, Wood, Beatrice and I ran around Nevermore as pirates trying to dissuade Little Ben from placing the new pet cemetery directly adjacent to a river bed.) 

2.25.b Today Only! A Three For One Special!

IMG_5519(The corner doesn’t allow photography….)

Why am I standing on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet? 

Again.

Today was supposed to be nothing but fun, food, and home movies – not no-win scenarios. Though I guess most people who find themselves standing under this streetlamp often wonder how things went sideways so fast. (Jake Gittes, Hamlet, and Captain Kirk habitually find themselves here – in case you’re wondering).

The impossible choice facing me today? Either I place Wood at risk, or I risk damaging our friendship.  

For one hot second, I thought about putting pen to paper without harboring any intention of abiding by the agreement. However, the same little voice in my head, which caused me to confess in the first place, wondered what kind of friend perpetuated that kind of fraud on another. 

It also pointed out that that level of deceit guaranteed a visit to the Corner of Bitter and Sweet every time I spoke to, hung out with, or thought of Wood. Until I either I confessed to my sins (and hoped he didn’t unfriend me) or we stopped hanging out all together, drifted apart and stopped being friends.

Both my conscience and I agreed all those eventualities sucked. 

Walking over to where Wood was sitting by the window, I dropped bonelessly into the chair opposite his.

Me: “Can I think about it overnight?”

Wood: “Nope. Either sign it and let me into the weird frontier or don’t.”

Me (speaking slowly due to a brainwave): “Then, there are a few stipulations I’d like to include.”

Wood (leaning forward, eyes gleaming): “Let’s hear them.”

We haggled, finagled, dickered, bickered, bartered, and bargained, but eventually, we hammered out an agreement we both found acceptable. 

Wood’s original terms remained unaltered, though he did manage to wrangle an addendum out of me. Should he be out of town or sick when I needed help, either I enlist a stand-in or wait until he could participate. (Thus closing a loophole that hadn’t occurred to me.)

In return, I managed to pry two significant concessions from Wood. 

First, while accompanying me on an outing, he needs to follow my instructions, even if they sound mad, to the letter. Second, I could decline to answer any question he poses without any followups or pouting. 

Violating my terms will require the forfeiture of his vintage volume of Sherlock Holmes published in 1892. 

Fair’s, fair after all.

It wasn’t until the hopping herd of hares (Laney, Beatrice, and Sarah) started setting out the spread that Wood and I noticed ninety minutes ticked off the clock during our wheedling and dealing. However, rather than trying to talk his way out of the Office, Wood leaned back in his chair and gave me an impish grin.

Wood: “Do you think they’ve finished prepping for the party?”

Me (pausing mid pen stroke): “Wait, is that why you were early? Did you know about our party before you arrived?”

Wood’s grin turned wicked. 

Me (placing a note of warning in my voice): “Dourwood Utley, did you know?”

Wood (plucking the signed document out of my hand): “Just thought I’d allow you to clear your conscience.”

Me (aghast): “You tricked me into coming clean?”

Wood (inking his name below mine): “Morticia, I know you did your best to keep your promise. I also know you’d beat yourself up until you ended up confessing, apologizing, and forking over the book anyway. I don’t ever want to make you unhappy. So I figured out a way to fast-forward your process by a couple of months and give you a do-over.”

Taking a deep breath, I held it until the count of twelve, then steadily released it. (Trying to tamp down the heartburn and indignation his statement filled my chest with. It didn’t help he made a valid point. Drat him.) 

Wood: “Forgive me?”

Me (sighing): “Maybe…But how did you figure out I broke our original agreement?”

Wood: “I saw the Princess parked in front of The Alter.” 

Me (rolling my eyes): “Of course you did. And the party?”

Wood (now grinning): “The Smurf Spectacular part Two? I’m not telling.”

Me (wicked smile of my own spreading across my face): “Oh, our party doesn’t feature Smurfs.”

Wood (looking dubious): “But Laney said….”

Me (holding out my hand): “Gentleman’s agreement, I’ll forgive you and tell you about our theme. If you promise not to complain about today’s feature presentation and tell me how you found out.”

Wood (suspicion plain upon his face): “Deal.”

Ignoring the groans my explanation of today’s entertainment produced, as Wood’s not particularly keen on watching his Gran’s home movies, I moved on. (For him they are akin to Aunt Pearl’s appallingly stylized holiday family photos. The difference being in his Gran’s videos she coos over Wood’s performance the entire time and interjects random stories, which may or may not be relevant to what’s happening.

Me: “Your turn spill, how did you find out?”

Wood (looking at his feet ruefully): “Laney talks in her sleep.”

Me (laughing): “Well, that explains a few things.”

2.25.a Kobayashi Maru

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(Our first agreement…seems a bit tattered…)

Me (ignoring his glee): “I pulled my bookshelves apart looking for something yesterday, but if we work together, it shouldn’t take too long to locate Chamber of Secrets.”

On the upside, at least I found a sliver of a silver lining to the mystifying vanishing act pulled by my copy of Nevermore’s Conventions. It will take well over an hour to excavate the aforementioned book from the jumbled up piles currently cluttering up most of my bedroom floor (especially if I’m only helpful adjacent). 

Hip, Hip, Hooray for my hapless housekeeping!

Wood (leaning against the desk): “Do you really want to break your set?”

Me (shrugging): “Not particularly. But a deal’s a deal.”

Wood (looking frighteningly thoughtful): “Well, you did do pretty well following doctor’s orders….”

Me (tilting my head): “Except when I didn’t.”

Wood (ignoring me): “…and I don’t want an incomplete set either…”

Me (squinting): “Does one book really count as a set?”

Wood (still ignoring me): “…perhaps our first deal wasn’t entirely equitable since you were under the influence of painkillers and hurt at the time…”

Me (eyes goggling): “First deal? That implies there’s a second…..wait, are you saying you want to make another deal?”

Wood (snapping his fingers at me): “That sounds like a great idea!”

Letting me stew, Wood pulled a documents folder from beneath his Gladstone, unzipped it, and handed me a crisp sheet of paper.

Me: “Ummm…..”

Wood (giving me a tight grin): “Here it is, either we stick our original bargain, and you can grab me Dobby’s first adventure with Harry Potter while I head to the kitchen to see what smells so good. Or we sign this new deal, and I’ll stay in here until the cabal decides they’re ready for me to join the party.”

Me (mind working at warp speed): “You came prepared with a new deal? You couldn’t know I was going to confess. I didn’t know. I might have tied you to a chair.”

Wood: “Do you own any rope?”

Me (narrowing my eyes): “Not the point…Wait…You knew I broke our deal before you got here today, didn’t you.” 

Wood (giving me a smile that nearly reached his eyes): “Sure did.”

Me: “How?”

Wood (chuckling): “Later. Now read my proposal.”

Me (wrinkling my nose): “Fine, Mephistopheles.”

Wood settled into the window seat to wait with his feet up while I paced the length of the room, evaluating the particulars and subtext layered into the few short sentences.

At first glance, his deal sounds chillingly reasonable. Should I ever find myself entering a situation where I know – ahead of time – I might come to harm. I am required to bring Wood along as backup. No questions asked. If I break said deal, I forfeit my entire run of signed first print Harry Potters to him.

Putting a pin in the fact, Wood’s incapable of restraining himself from asking questions and my lack of discretionary income (blowing twenty to thirty grand rebuilding the set if I lose it isn’t in the cards).

Accepting the proposal means potentially; placing him in harm’s way if I misjudge a situation and/or causing irreparable damage to his professional reputation should we get caught performing marginally illegal, supremely weird, or inexplicable acts. (Which, if you haven’t already figured it out yet, occur more often than not when Nevermore requires my aid.)

Neither of my points adjusted his attitude a whit. He simply stated he understood the risks, has complete faith in me and then reminded me his reputation isn’t mine to manage. (To a man who went Trick-or-Treating for the hell of it last July, I wasn’t surprised he brushed aside my appeal to his professionalism.)

Then there’s the delightful chance my extracurricular activities will convince him I’m a lunatic. (Because I don’t think telling him I’m ‘rehearsing for my improv group’ is going cut it now – especially if we’re standing in the middle of Nevermore at midnight and I look like I’m talking to myself.)

On the other hand, if I decide keeping my secrets is more important -there’s a distinct possibility my refusal will plop a permanent blot on our friendship. 

His earlier waggishness belied tension I could see radiating from his frame. Coupled with the fact a salmon would find it tough to swim against the undercurrents in the room, tells me he’d take an opt-out as a sign that I don’t trust him. (I don’t think he’ll find a shred of comfort in the fact he’s the only one I’ve ever come close to telling about my Knack, Nevermore and the Residents.)

Never mind the fact if I don’t sign, he’ll walk straight into the kitchen and ruin our surprise…

Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath…and dug my nails into my palms – finally figuring out exactly where this document places me.

Crap.

2.24.b Falling on my Sword

(Turns out Yarn is the closest to rope we had in our apartment…)

Wood: “You going to give me a hint about what’s happening here?”

Me (plastering on a serene smile): “Nope.”

Wood (walking into the Office while giving me the stink eye): “You know the drill.”

Thank the gods above and below for Beatrice’s contribution to today’s soiree was airpots of strong black coffee and jam-filled pastries from The Alter. I’m going to need every iota of sugar and caffeine present in my bloodstream to fast-talk Wood into staying put. 

Especially since I knew that he knew, we’d actively conspired against him (in the nicest possible way). 

Wood immediately started the familiar routine of unpacking his instruments on the side table, loudly not asking any more questions about why the apartment not only smelled of chicken but of bacon, barbecue and brisket as well. He also visibly restrained himself from questioning our decision to relocate our kitchen table to the living room and dress it in its Sunday best. Even the ringing doorbell and the words ’special delivery’ which carried clearly through the Office door a minute later (heralding the arrival of the twelve tubs of mac’n’cheese from the Rare Records Room) failed to elicit any comment. 

While we followed the familiar checkup routine I wracked my brain for a bright idea on how to stall Wood for forty-five minutes: he already knew how to solve the Chinese finger trap in the pen/pencil mug; locking him in the office set a poor precedent (plus he could always just climb out the window); slipping him a mickey won’t work because neither Beatrice nor I own a bottle of knock drops, and bonking him on the head is just plain rude. 

After entertaining and rejecting each ludicrous notion in turn, positive if Wood placed the cool disc of his stethoscope against my temple, all he’d hear was static, my conscience finally proffered the perfect solution.

Wood (patting me on the shoulder): “I pronounce you fit for FLYT.”

Hopping off the desk, I pulled my blouse on over my tank, closed my eye, took a deep breath…and fell on my sword.

Me (blurting to his back): “I broke our agreement. I left the house, drove to Nevermore, and ran around before you okayed it.”

The night I showed up bruised and battered on Uncle and Aunt Pearl’s doorstep, I scared the ever-loving crap out of them, and they (unsurprisingly) required an explanation for said injuries. Whilst the incomplete (but truthful) account I gave Wood, was enough for him, we both knew it wouldn’t cut the mustard with either Uncle or Aunt Pearl. 

Which meant I needed to secure the silver-tongued services of Wood…and they didn’t come cheap.

In exchange for persuading Uncle & Aunt Pearl not to call Earl (family friend and Rye police detective), I promised to follow every order, suggestion, and hint made by him until he pronounced me sound in wind and limb. Well acquainted with my inability to layabout idly (even when sick as a dog), he requested I put up my signed copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets as collateral (the second book in my complete run of signed first British prints).

And here we are.

Wood (turning towards me, a sly smile lighting his face): “Man, you really don’t want me going out there yet, do you.”

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