Category Archives: Phoebe

2.18.b The Sun Will Come Out, Tomorrow…

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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.” 

Beatrice: “Meaning….”

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?”

Me: “Yes.”

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.”

Me: “Why?”

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. 

2.18.a My Ode To The Rotary Phone

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Engrossed in my reading (and separated by the kitchen door), the melody of Mercury – The Winged Messenger by Gustav Holst, only registered in the back of my brain because it proved an odd counterpoint to KARB’s current music selection, Cat and Mouse by Aaron Copland. 

(If The Witchdoctor by Alvin and the Chipmunks, had sounded I would have paid more attention since Wood rarely calls anyone at this hour. If you’re wondering, my assigned ringtone is Queen’s A Kind of Magic.) 

My ears did perk when the cadence of Beatrice’s voice changed from cordiality to open animosity when she figured out exactly who was on the other end of the line. It also didn’t hurt that her voice grew significantly louder due to an increase in volume and a decrease in proximity.

“How did you get this number?….That’s not an answer…Why are you calling me? No, I’m not interested in having lunch with you….I said no…” 

Looking up from my study materials strewn over the kitchen table, I watched her march into the kitchen, over to the alcohol cupboard, and yank it open. “Why do you think I can help? You told everyone I was a liar and a thief.” Pouring a substantial amount of Bourbon into a glass, from the good bottle, she slugged the entire thing back like water whilst listening to the tap-dancing someone was doing on the other end of the line.

Then she poured a refill.

“Since when? We haven’t spoken in fifteen, sixteen years. He’s never even let me lay eyes on her, said I was a bad influence. Which, by the way, is the nicest thing any of you have ever called me, and now you’re asking me out to lunch?”

Spitting out my highlighter cap, I got up from the kitchen table and started putting together a plate of snacks; smoked cheddar, crackers, apple wedges, and dark chocolate. Beatrice needed something in her to keep the acid and alcohol from punching a hole through her stomach lining.

“…What, so you can shift the blame onto me? No thanks. I’m not interested.” Without another word, she jabbed her phone with her forefinger and simply stared unseeingly at the screen.

Waiting a beat, “Don’t you miss rotary telephones?” 

Watching Beatrice quirk an eyebrow in my direction, I continued on using my sunniest debate club tone. 

“Pressing a glowing red dot on a screen doesn’t convey the same sense of ire, or frankly feel as satisfying, as hanging up on someone using a rotary telephone. Don’t you think? Back in the day, when the receiver slammed against the cradle, the person on the other end knew, without a shadow of a doubt, exactly how irked you were.

You never worried about shattering the glass or smashing the case because the suckers were virtually indestructible. 

Yeah, they took an absolute age to dial, but this was an unintended feature. Those old phones made you stop and think – while dialing – if you really wanted to call the other person back and apologize or continue fighting. They were simply the perfect phone! Aunt Pearl staunchly refuses to give hers up, despite the fact its older than all us kids, and no one under the age of thirty knows how to use it.” 

(True story. I had to teach Robbie’s date how to dial the phone a few weeks back. It didn’t make me feel ancient at all…)

Lips tipping slightly upwards, Beatrice tossed her cell next to the plate of nibbles I set in one of the few paper-free spots on the kitchen table.  

Me (resuming my spot): “Eat, you’ll feel better.”

Dropping into the chair opposite, looking unhappy but less angry, she chose an apple wedge to toy with rather than eat. Waiting for her to break the silence, which wasn’t really very quiet as KARB was now playing Thelonious Monk’s version of Round Midnight (they broadcast one version or another of this song every day at this hour), I resumed my reading.

Beatrice (tapping the back of her phone absently): “So, no more funk?”

Me (looking up from a Nevermore’s new ad campaign): “No more funk. It took two showers and half my stash of Wayward Witch bath products, but Muck Duck Pond’s stench is a distant memory.”

Clearly still troubled, and close to finishing her second tumbler of bourbon without having eaten a bite, I decided to address the elephant pirouetting in a pink tutu around the room.

Me (setting down my pen): “You want to talk about it?”

2.17.b The Next Miss Marple I’m Not

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Choking on my pull of pumpkin milkshake, I wrestled with the Princess’s steering wheel trying to keep her from swerving into the oncoming lane (there wasn’t anyone else in sight, but keeping up good habits is always recommended). Not once, in our months of sharing rooms in the Lavender Lady, did I suspect Ms. Hettie and Beatrice were related.

My Miss Marple skills need some work. Perhaps I should ask Leo for some knitting lessons….

“Your Great Aunt? That piece of sour candy is your Great Aunt?” 

Holy mother forking shirt balls, I should probably not refer to Ms. Hettie like that to her niece. 

“You should hear what she calls you.” Beatrice said in her mildest voice. “What made you think she snitched on us to Little Ben?”

Distracted from panicking over my gaffe (which also successfully lowered my volume dial from a nine to a five), “She was the only one I could think of, outside of the four of us, who might have known where we were going.”

“How? Oh, right, the sea shanty…”

Glad she glommed onto my train of reasoning so quickly, “She keeps pretty close tabs on us, and Little Ben was tipped off…So I thought she might have made the call.”

Silently nodding her head in time with Moonlight Serenade (KARB was paying tribute to Glenn Miller today), she took a moment to respond, “It makes sense I grant you, but no, she would never do something like that. She can’t stand tattling. Plus, I’m her favorite niece.”

Back to square one. 

Bummed at the conviction Beatrice spoke with, I moved on. “Why didn’t you tell me you two were related?” 

Clearly laughing at me without actually uttering a sound, Beatrice made an effort to smooth my jangled nerves. “Because you two clearly enjoy your skirmishes, and I didn’t want to ruin it.”

“I don’t know if I’d use the word enjoy…”

My statement generated a stare; I could physically feel boring into the right side of my skull. “Really? So you didn’t bake several batches of Earl Grey cookies, filling the entire house with their aroma last week, in order to lure Ms. Hettie into the back garden? Where I found you both enjoying them, drinking London fogs and bickering about quail when I got home?”

Hunching over the steering wheel, “Those were extenuating circumstances, I was going stir crazy, and she brought the tea…” The words sounded petulant, even to my ears. “Fine, I did. But when you say I lured her with cookies, it sounds unsavory.”

Actually laughing now, Beatrice grabbed her lemonade at took a long draw.

“So why don’t you call her Great Aunt Hettie or just Aunt Hettie?”

Fidgeting with the straw, “During a visit, when I was younger, I overheard her telling my mother that being called great by us kids made her feel old, so I started calling Ms. Hettie instead. It stuck.”

Curiosity creeping into my voice, “I’ve never asked, but how did you end up living downstairs from Ms. Hettie?”

Putting down her drink, she ran her thumb up and down the seatbelt a couple of times before answering, “Ms. Hettie took me in and told my family off after we had a falling out. We respect each other’s space, so the arrangement worked well for both of us, now I keep them from pestering her about moving to someplace smaller.

Sensing her reluctance to canvas the topic further, I moved on to something much funner. “Do you think Wood suspects?”

Out of the corner of my eye, I watched a smile slowly chase away her frown, “No. I spoke to Laney yesterday, and he thinks he’s coming over to give you one last check-up and a celebratory dinner. He’s clueless about the evening’s entertainment.”

Grinning, “You’ve tested the VCR?”

“Of course.”

2.17.a Burgers & Revelations

2.18 Lunch

I think I’m in love. 

After one-hundred-and-fifteen years of tinkering, fiddling, and experimentation has culminated in this plate of grass-fed goodness sitting between Beatrice and me (we’re sharing). Containing the ideal ratio of sauce to bun to beef with a wonderful fringe of fresh groceries (lettuce, tomato & onion), this burger is perfect in every particular.

Taking another bite, I closed my eyes, recalling a fun little factoid Wood and I discovered in fifth grade – which blew our minds. 

Did you know the hamburger didn’t gain widespread popularity in the U.S. until the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair? On its own, this doesn’t sound startling. But combined with our family history unit? We couldn’t believe our eyes. 

Born between 1888 and 1902, our great-grandparent’s childhood plates might possibly, have been bereft of our favorite dinnertime staple.

Staring stupidly at the numbers written in our own hand, we turned tail and ran to Wood’s Gran, who didn’t laugh at our horror (though looking back she was probably tempted). Unable to verify our deductions, as she’d never gotten into an in-depth discussion of burgers with her mother, she did disclose an even more shocking piece of information.

She hadn’t tasted her first McDonald’s cheeseburger until her thirty-fifth birthday. His Gran then went on to admit she grew up in a world without  Ronald McDonald, Grimace, The Hamburglar, and Mayor McCheese. Minds blown his Gran gave us both a cookie and told us not to worry – she’d eaten enough cheeseburgers since to make up for her McDonald’s-less childhood.

Smiling at the shadow of my past flabbergast, I reopened my eyes just in time to keep our mound of napkins from sailing across the lawn on the brisk breeze snatching at my hair. Beatrice, in her own burger induced thrall, chewed on obliviously. 

Perhaps a bit brisk for alfresco dining, I’d still chosen a picnic table outside, due to the subtle funk still clinging tenaciously to me. Despite using an entire tube of wet wipes and changing into my spare uniform (extras of I stashed in the Princess after the Tomato Soup Incident), I couldn’t entirely shake the unique scent of Muck Duck Pond. 

On the upside, my new swampy perfume put the Von Haeville sisters and Mr. Ottoman off from joining us for lunch, they’d gotten their orders to go. (Mr. John Dupree took a different road home and missed out on this piece of ambrosia.) 

Me (finally feeling human again, we continued our discussion from the Princess): “Did you find what they were looking for?”

Beatrice (dipping a fry in ketchup): “Yes, tucked under a loose floorboard in the master bedroom. Pretty standard hiding place really, not sure why they didn’t find it themselves…Did she really lock you out?”

Having just taken a bite of my burger, all I could do was nod.

Beatrice (licking salt off her fingers and moving on): “Did you find the family plot?”

Me (swallowing): “Yes, and completed an informal study for the Rye Historical Society. If it’s not already in the national registry, they’ll list it and request permission to complete a formal survey.”

(BTW – finishing my infernal ‘informal study’ led directly to my besmirching. After Ina Von Haeville set off to find IT, I lagged behind recording the last three markers on my map. When I finally scrambled through the hedge after her, she was so far ahead that I had to follow her line to keep her in sight – right through Much Duck Pond.) 

Beatrice (grinning): “That will put a bee in the sister’s bonnets.”

Me: “Why?”

Beatrice: “From what Dupree gleaned, they haven’t disclosed the cemetery’s existence to their buyers…”

Me (wry smile curving my lips): “That’ll even the score for making me clean up outside. The Historical Society will make sure the buyers know about it.”

(Yes, they made me walk around the house and clean up in the Princess. The Elder Von Haeville sister staunchly refused to allow me to walk thru the house. When Beatrice wondered aloud why it mattered, as the maid hadn’t mopped up in years, the two really started taking verbal swings at each other. They only stopped when I stepped in and relented to the Elder’s request. Figuring that giving an eyeful to the local fauna, while changing, a small price to pay for keeping my secret, secret.)

Finishing up our shared lunch (and dropping a few loose fries on the ground for the house sparrows hopping about our feet), we headed to the Princess. Where I finally mustered up the courage to broach my million dollar question with Beatrice.

Me (occupying my hands with starting the Princess): “How well do you know Ms. Crab-Apple Hettie?”

Beatrice (wearing a Mona Lisa smile): “Why?”

Me (hedging): “The night we dressed as pirates and planted rubber ducks in Nevermore, do you think she’s the one who warned Little Ben we were coming?”

Beatrice (without hesitating): “No.”

Me (grabbing my milkshake for a sip): “Are you sure?” 

Beatrice (eyes twinkling sporting a wide Cheshire grin): “Pretty sure, she’s my Great Aunt.”

Wait?! What?!!? Crap!!!!! Crapity, Crap, Crap Crap!!!!

2.16 Hello, It’s Me Again!

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Miss Limburger: “How did you get back in?”

What am I, a stray cat?

Turning away from the sink’s sorely disappointing taps (not that I’d held out much hope they’d work, but nothing ventured) towards the door, I witnessed the rest of the group’s faces when they walked into the kitchen and beheld my muddy splendor. (Mr. John Dupree’s chin hit the ground so hard I practically heard it.)

Beatrice (with a suspiciously straight face): “What on earth happened to you?” 

Mrs. Von Haeville The Elder (covering her nose with a hankie): “What are you doing in here? I thought we agreed that you were to wait outside.”

Mr. John Dupree (jaw still on the floor): “Are you missing a shoe?”

Apparently, I’d lost all the ground I’d made up with the bespoke man – by wearing said ground.

The Quiet Von Haeville Sister (stepping forward and handed me a packet of towelettes from her purse): “These should help.”

Ina Von Haeville (the corners of her mouth turned down): “At least one of them learned some manners, not that it matters. Will you be able to guard IT on your own?”

Me (sliding a glance to Ina Von Haeville and nodding while accepting the wipes): “Thank you.”

Ina Von Haeville (scowling at her nieces): “Then I’m leaving, I will not stay in the same room with those girls.”

Good to her word, and with one last milk curdling glare at her step-nieces (causing them to shiver in unison), she left the building.

Beatrice (studying the mud trail, closed closet, and me): “Seriously, what happened?”

Time to keep my word to Ina Von Haeville – which means I need to swivel the spotlight off of myself – and I knew right where to shine it.

Me (throwing Miss Limburger to the wolves): “I tore my coat escaping from the garden Miss Von Haeville locked me in. I probably have at least one spider wandering about my person after walking thru its web. And I lost my shoe, in the morass optimistically called an ornamental garden, getting back to the house.”

(BTW, this doesn’t even make my top ten most mortifying moments – but I must admit – explaining one lost a shoe is a new one.)

Beatrice & Mr. John Dupree (in unison to Miss Limburger): “You locked her outside?”

Miss Limburger (on the back foot): “I..umm…”

Mrs. Von Haeville The Elder (a small smug smile on her lips): “If Mary locked you out, how did you get back in?”

She’s Mary? 

I think Miss Limburger suits her better. I wonder if her mother ever repeated the old pearl – if you keep pulling that face, it will freeze that way. Because she perpetually looks like a wedge of Limburger is under her nose. If she hadn’t been wearing the identical expression when we first met, I might think her current countenance had something to do with the odoriferousness of the sludge currently coating me. 

Did I mention that Muck Duck Pond supported a respectable population of ducks? (Who were not pleased to meet me.)

Either way, her elder sister isn’t saving her bacon today…

Me (brandishing the token of brass triumphantly): “Got lucky and found a spare key hidden the eave.”

Mrs. Von Haeville The Elder (looking between her sisters): “Did you know….?”

Just as Ina predicted, both women shook their heads no.

Mrs. Von Haeville The Elder: How did you find it, if we didn’t even know it was there?

Me (handing the key to Mr. Ottoman): “Born under a lucky star, I guess.”

Mr. John Dupree (in full lawyer mode smoothly cutting Beatrice off): “You will be replacing her damaged items. Correct?”

Instantly the three women burst into indignant protests aimed at avoiding all accountability.

Me (visualizing a shark’s smile): “Why don’t we call it even, my shoe for the padlock I broke getting out of the garden?”

Mr. Ottoman (in soothing tones to Beatrice & Mr. John Dupree, while trying to shush his clients): “That sounds fair. Ms. Beatrice, why don’t we finish up while your…your Girl Friday cleans up?”

Spotlight successfully swiveled. 

2.15.b A Tale of Two Paths

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(Okay, I didn’t have time to take a pic of Muck Duck Pond. But the wary distrust of this duck gives you an idea of how the mallards felt today when I disturbed them…)

Have you ever read The Family Circus? 

Growing up, it was one of my must-read comic strips in the Daily Harvest’s funny pages (FoxTrot, Far Side, Garfield, and Blondie, were the others I read religiously – in case you’re wondering). 

One of my favorite reoccurring bits? When Billy takes five-thousand steps to complete a five-hundred step chore.

Meaning? When asked by an adult to complete a simple task, like gather firewood. He would wander hither, thither, and yon before finally finishing. (He didn’t lollygag per se, but felt following a straight line the least exciting accomplish anything). To demonstrate Billy’s meanderings, the illustrator, Bill Keane, would draw a dotted line highlighting the roundabout route, Billy took to complete his errand. 

My original path from the house to the family plot would’ve made Billy proud, full of zigzags, backtracking, and detours. It was delightfully circuitous. The way Ina Von Haeville chose for my return trip was its’ complete antithesis. With a single-minded determination (to thwart the three sisters from finding IT, whatever IT is), she strode in an unswerving straight line thru the garden without heeding a single one of my pleas or curses. 

Which explains how three-ish hours after breaking free of the walled garden, I stood staring at that forking fourteen-inch gap between the gate and its post again – decorated with muck well past to my knees and missing a shoe – angry as an adder whose naps been disturbed.

Tossing my tattered coat, sweaty scarf, and mud smudged backpack thru the gate first, I slithered thru the slender gap after them.

Ina Von Haeville (pacing at the door): “Took you long enough.”

Ignoring her waspish stare, I concentrated on reassembling my ensemble.

Ina Von Haeville (shepherding me towards the door): “IT’s just on the other side…”

Me (taking a deep breath): “Fantastic, the door’s locked.”

Emitting a derisive laugh, she pointed to a gap in the eave just above my head.

Ina Von Haeville (tapping the woodwork to emphasize her point): “There’s a spare key right here. My grandmother Lily hid one here because she kept locking herself out, those girls never listened to my stories, I’m sure it’s still there.”

Me (staring at decades worth of spider webs clogging the opening): “No. Absolutely not. I’m not reaching blindly into a dirty, spider filled hidey-hole for a key which may or may not be there.”

Ina Von Haeville (wrinkling her nose): “I don’t think anyone will notice the extra dirt.”

Me (exhaling very slowly): “I got filthy following you.”

Ina Von Haeville (eyeing me): “Really? I just thought this was your normal state.”

Seriously? Who did she know that sported this much mud spread about their person? Did she miss my swearing a blue streak while leading me thru Muck Duck Pond? (Yes, with real-life ducks, Mallards if I’m not mistaken.) 

Me (taking a deep breath): “I’m going to try a window.”

I studied the back of the house while putting some space between us striving to reign in my annoyance. Why didn’t I think of this plan previously? With the number of panes missing from the windows, there must be a gap near a latch. 

Ina Von Haeville (chillily): “We don’t have time for this.”

Me (flipping open my pocket knife while approaching the most likely candidate): “Black Widow bites may not bother you, but they do me.”

Ina Von Haeville: “Fine.”

A second later, goosebumps swept across my skin, followed by the sound of metal tinkling against stone.

Ina Von Haeville (pointing to walk): “The key was right where I said it was.”

Me (out of the corner of my eye, I spied it lying on the pavement): “So it was.”

Pulling a hankie from my pocket, I poured half of the tin of hand-cut sea salt into the center. Then, I placed the grungy key into the mound and started rubbing the grime away. Unhappy with the pause in our progress, Ina Von Haeville pushed past me into the kitchen, where she resumed her pacing.

Eventually, I followed her inside. Keeping my ears peeled for any telltale sounds of the search party’s presence, I met her in the middle of the floor.

Ina Von Haeville: “Do you promise never to allow any of those girls to lay a finger on what I’m going to give you?”

Me (shivering in the cold despite myself): “I promise.”

Ina Von Haeville (weighing my words): “Over there is the broom closet, open the door. On the left-hand side of the top shelf, there’s small knothole missing its center, hook your little finger through it, and pull down.”

Standing on my tiptoes, I groped around until I discovered the aforementioned knot and yanked – fighting the unoiled hinge – it finally gave way with one protracted squeak (which I’m ninety percent certain didn’t come from catching a mouse’s tail in the mechanism). 

Revealing…a secret nook? 

I suppose every old house has at least one – a removable baseboard, hollow stair, a hidden closet shelf – why not a secret compartment in a broom closet? 

Question is what’s inside? Coins, stamps, needles, buttons, or a tarot card collection – the possibilities abound…

Ina Von Haeville: “IT’s three inches to your left.”

The answer? A dense film of dust (which only enhanced my current spot-on impression of Pigpen from Peanuts – another of my funny pages faves) and one small wooden box.

Huh.

Not what I was expecting, but it makes sense. Aunt Pearl gave me something similar the day I moved into Nevermore’s Caretaker’s Cottage – only mine is made of tin.

Ina Von Haeville (trumpeting): “The last Von Haeville tradition left.”

After using my slightly soiled hankie to wipe away as much of the grime as it would hold, I opened it up, much to my companion’s delight.

Ina Von Haeville: “The Von Haeville secret family recipes! Lily’s blue ribbon winning quince jelly, Herman’s famous mornay sauce, all of them. Even the apple pie recipe that won me first place at the state fair! Every Von Haeville is given a box on their sixteenth birthday, this is the last copy, and I’m giving it to you.”

Me (quietly): “Thank you, but why me?”

Ina Von Haeville (wreathed in her first genuine smile): There isn’t any other way of keeping our recipes out of the dustheap; either the girls would toss them like they did David’s or the wreckers will destroy them when they pull down the house. I’d rather they get used by someone who obviously enjoys eating…

The last part of her sentence was lost under what sounded like a herd of turtles heading our way.

Ina Von Haeville: “They must have taken the back stairs! Quick, hide It!”

Without a word, I slipped her secret family recipe box into my pack and zipped it closed. Then did a quick scan of the kitchen – an unmistakable muddy line lead the eye to the closet.

Well, that won’t due….

Ina Von Haeville (flabbergasted): “What on earth are you doing?”

Ignoring her, I continued to channel my inner Billy and ran around the kitchen like a chicken with its’ head cut off – leaving a dotted line in my wake – as my shoe and sock were still sopping from my trek thru Muck Duck Pond.

Obfuscation complete, I waited for Beatrice and her search party to join us.

2.15.a An Inadvertent Introduction

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(Rough map of the Von Haeville family plot.)

Ina Von Haeville: “Cat got your tongue girl? What do you think you’re doing?”

Letting my hand fall to my side, I opened my eyes and noticed that Ina’s nails were painted the same rosy shade as her suit.

Ina Von Haeville (leaning over the headstone towards me her brow set in a scowl): “Well? Answer Me!”

Moving my gaze up from her painted nails to her narrowing eyes, my brain understood she was suffering, however, countering her curdled tone with honey in mine proved difficult.  

Me (my breath fuming the frigid air): “Good afternoon! My name’s Phoebe Arden. I’m completing a survey for the Rye Historical Society. As I’m sure you’re aware, they hold a geological interest in the county’s most venerated families. I’m here gathering information for their records.”

Levering myself upright, my eyes never wavering from hers, I flipped open my notebook and showed her my work. 

Ina Von Haeville (studying my rough sketch): “This is what’s left of my family.”

Me: “What about the three sisters?”

Ina Von Haeville: “Their Von Haeville’s in name only! David adopted those girls the day he married their mother. She never bothered learning our family traditions, so neither did they!”

For not being genetically related, they sure seem to share a similar sour center.

Ina Von Haeville (the ambient temperature around her plunging): “You’re not related to Elizabeth, Mary or Catherine – are you?”

Those are the weird sister’s names? I’d imagined at least would be a derivative of Hecate.

Me (swallowing my tart retorts with a smile while trying not to shiver): “Not as far as I know. My mother was a Becker before she married my father. He’s originally from Bangor, Maine. So I doubt there’s any cross over there.”

Ina Von Haeville (eyes glazing over): “Thought not. Those three have no sense of family loyalty! They sold the house, my great grandfather built. Oh Maud….”

Turning away, Ina started back towards her mottled green bench. 

Crap.

Me (putting some punch in my voice): “I saw the Von Haeville sisters in the house this morning. They brought in an expert and tools…”

Well, that was the exact wrong/right thing to say (and mostly true).

Ina Von Haeville (jerking to a stop): “Tools? They’re going to find it! What are we going to do? What are we going to do!?….”

Fuming and fretting Ina paced in tighter and tighter circles around the central stone slab while repeating the question over and over again. While she boiled and bubbled, I slipped my notes back into my pack and slung it over my shoulder. When my breath started forming a fume, I knew her attention was squarely back on me…

Ina Von Haeville (with a curled lip): “You look like you enjoy eating.”

Seriously? Swiping at my weight? I’m no bean pole, but my hips aren’t that wide…

Me (grinding my teeth): “Yes, I’ve been known to enjoy a meal.”

Ina Von Haeville (smirking at my admission): “I thought so.”

A tepid breeze blew past me momentarily when indecision crept across her face. 

Ina Von Haeville (softly): “There’s no other way, Maud…If you promise never to let those girls lay a hand on it, I will give it to you.”

Me: “It?”

Ina Von Haeville (voice wavering): “The only Von Haeville tradition they’ve left intact. “

Blind promises are always risky…Plus, how horrible can it be? Wait, don’t answer that.

Me: “I promise.”

Please don’t let it be what Beatrice was hired to find…..

Ina Von Haeville (turning on her heel): “Follow me.”

2.14.b Jade Colored Glasses

2.14 Jade colored glasses

If the Emerald City ever possessed an abandoned cemetery, this is precisely what it would look like. 

The only difference? Rather than the gleam of emeralds arresting the eye, lichens and mosses mimicked the jeweled tones made famous by that legendary city (and entirely engulfed every headstone). The lack of those brilliant precious stones, as we don’t actually live in the land of Oz, is probably for the best. Since it significantly reduces the chances of grave robbers raiding the place. On the flip side, if a frieze of emeralds rimmed the central burial or statue’s plinth, might have kept the tenants of this family plot on someone’s radar.

Seriously, if the entrance is any indication, no one’s visited this place in forty years. 

“They’re pulling our legacy apart for money, it’s a disgrace, I know. But I can’t stop them, Maud.”

Catching me in the midst of a spider shimmy, I turned towards the sour voice and spied a woman in a rose-colored silk suit sitting primly on a variegated green bench. 

Fantastic. Another woman wearing pink.

Our Lady of the Rose Suit (hands clenched into fists): “How can I save it, Maud?”

Her vinegary tone didn’t impart any warm fuzzies. 

Thankful for the thick layer of evergreen fir needles underfoot, I took a couple silent steps to my left, following her gaze trying to gain a glimpse of the elusive Maud and….nothing. So on the upside, she hadn’t pounced on (or in fact acknowledge) me after my unceremonious eruption into the verdant family plot. 

On the downside, she appeared to be talking to herself – which never bodes well.

Our Lady of the Rose Suit (lips puckered): “Yes, they’ve emptied the library.”

Taking advantage of her disregard, I scrutinized Our Lady of the Rose Suit carefully. Her accessories (a matching rose-colored pillbox hat & rhinestone-studded cat-eye glasses and white gloves) plus the cut of her clothes reminded me of the illustrations on early 1950s Simplicity Patterns. 

(I’m familiar with them due to spending time in Aunt Pearl’s sewing room. Being a Home Ec. Teacher and packrat – she’s kept all of her, and my Great Aunt’s sewing patterns – under the premise of everything old is new again, eventually.)

Coupling this sartorial impression with her rigid posture and general air, Our Lady of the Rose Suit struck me as a woman who required an introduction before saying more than a hello or commenting on the weather. (Not unlike Ms. Hettie – the sourest lemon on any tree.) 

Which means, at minimum, I need her name.

Gazing at the dozen and a half moss encrusted gravestones, I wiggled my toes in my shoes, hoping they’d give me my usual shortcut. But instead, and despite the fact, my sneakers had finally stopped squelching wetly with each step, they persisted in their impression of icicles. Fantastic.

Our Lady of the Rose Suit: “They’ve ordered the molding, panels and cabinets stripped out next.”

Okay, fine, I don’t need them to figure this out. I possess other skills.

Pulling out a small notebook, pencil and pocket knife from my pack (while palming a small tin of high-quality hand-cut sea salt, just in case), I used the first two items to sketch out the layout of the Von Haeville family plot, then numbered the stones on my rough map.

Stepping over the fallen fir bough to my left, whilst keeping a weather eye and half an ear on Our Lady of the Rose Suit, I knelt down in front of the second stone on my list. Using my pocket knife, I skimmed the emerald green coating from the marker’s face revealing, “David Von Haeville, Loving Brother, Husband, and Father 1890 – 1977”. 

Crap. 

She didn’t shift an inch in response to my actions – not that I want her to pounce mind you – but ninety-nine percent of Residents take an interest in any activity near their genesis points, especially if no one’s popped by in a while. 

Our Lady of the Rose Suit: “No, I never moved it.”

Recording the epithet on David’s stone into my notebook, I crab-walked to stone number three. Using the same process as before, I scraped away the grave moss and recorded what lay beneath. Then repeated the same process until a bright current flickered across my fingers on lucky number fourteen (lucky because that meant she started off as a Resident). 

Peeling away the thin green rind, I discovered Our Lady of the Rose Suit’s name – Ina Von Haeville. Weirdly, only Ina’s name was etched into the stone, nothing else.

Ina Von Haeville (fists bouncing slightly off her lap): “Yes, it’s the last one left unsullied by their influence.”

Now the rubber meets the road – let’s see how aware she really is…

Sitting back on my heels, I closed my eyes, took several measured breaths, leaned forward, and placed my hand back on Ina’s marker. Ignoring the electricity sparking over my fingers, I concentrated directly on Ina’s Vita. No stinging or biting, unlike the last pink-clad woman who’s Vita caused my arm to go numb. But it did contain a few discordant notes, less than I expected, characteristic of an Errant or Resident suffering from loneliness and/or isolation. 

Ina Von Haeville (voice disconcertingly close): “What do you think you’re doing.”

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