Category Archives: Sarah

2.47 Happanstance or Design?

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One of the side benefits of visiting Samuel? Perusing the shelves Filbert’s Market for inspiration. Unfortunately, since I still had several hours left on my meter for today, I could only shop from the middle aisles. Even with this geographical limitation, my muse didn’t fail me, as the low sodium soy sauce featured on the aisle three end-cap provided the inspiration I was looking for. 

It had been an absolute age since I’d made garlic chicken wings. 

So after grabbing a bottle of soy, I snagged a bag of brown sugar, gochujang, a bulb of garlic, and the most massive cup of coffee the deli had to offer. I took my culinary cover for visiting Filbert’s to the front and stood in another line until my favorite checker (Bev don’t call me Beverly) handed me a receipt.

After depositing the shelf-stable ingredients in the Princess’s trunk and the coffee in the cupholder, I tootled towards the Diner On The Corner. In short order, I was pulling the Princess against the curb, just down the block from the restaurant, to wait for Mr. Fernandez’s call.

Settling in, I took a moment to take in the beauty of the bare-branched trees, then dove into my discordant to-do list. Pulling the reporter’s notebook (Uncle had given me from his personal stationery stash last night to help sort out my priorities) and the atypical copy of the Conventions out from under the driver’s seat, I propped the former against the latter and went to work.

Checking Samuel’s name off the list of Errants, I need to alert about a possible newcomer and/or threat (since it’s not always clear which category they fall under until Joseph & I vet them), felt nice. Adding an asterisk next to Eliza’s name, felt less so. She’d hit the panic button once when a flock of sparrow’s dust bath divots ‘gouged’ the ground near her Origin Point. So what stopped her from using the Relay when an Errant of indeterminate intentions approached? On the upside, when I visit Eliza, I can exchange notes with Abraham and keep up my end of our bargain.

Moving on to easier, though no less relevant notes, I jotted down a few thoughts on sides to accompany soy-glazed garlic wings. Then sketched out a relatively goof-proof plan to sneak a copy of My Neighbor Totoro into Filbert’s break-room tv for Samuel. About the time I was vacillating over the line item about me flying to New Mexico myself to find Big Ben, a flock of birds erupted from behind my seat.

Not literally, thank the gods above and below. 

Me (pressing the button of my handsfree headset hooked over my ear): “Hop 2863, do you need me to pull around the front for you, Mr. Fernandez?” 

Hesitant Voice: “Hey Morticia, it’s Sarah.”

That’ll teach me for not assigning individual ringtones to people, one more thing to add to the to-do list.

Me: “Oh, hey, Sarah. Sorry, I was expecting a call from a FLYT fare. What’s up?”

Sarah: “Sorry, I didn’t realize you were still working.”

Me (letting out a little laugh): “Pulling extra hours. The nieces and nephews handed out their Christmas lists last week, and I’m going to buy the most obnoxious toy – my cousins will kill me for getting – off each one.”

Sarah (returning my laugh): “You know payback’s a bench, right?”

Me (grin fading): “Yeah, well, I like being cool Auntie Morticia.” 

Sarah: “Wait, I thought you always got them books.”

Me (tapping my fingers on the gilt-edged tome sitting in my lap): “Those too. That’s why I’m working extra hours until Yule.”

Sarah (clearing her throat): “Speaking of which…”

Me (closing my eyes): “Hey Sarah, I know you didn’t call to talk about the niblings, but my FLYT ap just popped, and I need to pick up my fare. Can you shoot me a text? Or can I call you after my shift? I get off at nine…”

Sarah (brightly): “I’ll text you. Stay safe in the salt mines!”

Me (forcing cheer into my words): “Back at you.”

Pressing the button on my headset, I disconnected, roughly unhooked the earpiece, and threw it onto my dash. 

Okay, I lied. 

Mr. Fernandez won’t finish for at least another twenty minutes, but I couldn’t take talking to Sarah right now……Because I’d love nothing more than to take Robbie’s advice.

Closing my eyes, I imagined clearing the air over the Brace Affair with Sarah over bowls of ramen (one of her favorites). I’d listen to her side and she mine. I’d tell her I understood the difficulty of divided loyalties and the tightrope one walked in managing them. We’d have a laugh, slurp our soup, and put it behind us.

Unfortunately, my newly minted sense of suspicion supplanted this pie-in-the-sky vision with the memory of that first forking phone call. 

Opening my eyes, I stared at the rosy oval scars on the heels of my hands, that forking phone call. It fashioned and fit a lens of mistrust over my mind’s eye, modifying the meaning of every word, gesture, and deed stored in my memory of her.

Not the least of which makes me wonder if Little Ben really did rifle thru Sarah’s desk and discombobulate her paperwork. The circumstance she claimed caused her to give me the wrong date for the Woman In White’s arrival in Nevermore. (Leading me to confront a homicidal Errant entirely underprepared.) Who exactly would’ve been waiting for me if I’d shown up on the date she gave me?

Then there’s the random happenstance of her being on hand the very last time I laid either eyes or hands on my copy of the Conventions. In point of fact, she helped box up the remaining portion of my library that day – which included the aforementioned policy manual.

Coincidence or pattern?

2.45 An Obvious Fact…

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(What was waiting for the three of us at the end of our deductions…)

Standing behind Robbie, watching the security video over his shoulder for the umpteenth time, the lump ice dwelling in the pit of my stomach started making the bologna sandwich feel like a bad idea. Uncle, who’d declined an additional screening, sat at his desk hands steepled together deep in thought. Pressing the touchpad on Beatrice’s laptop Robbie skipped backwards in the footage and watched the entire episode again.

Then again. 

When he rewound it for a third consecutive viewing, he climbed aboard the same train of thought Uncle, and I’d already taken a whirl on. Restless, I got up and started to pace around the perimeter of the room. 

Robbie (eyes glued to the screen): “You’re sure there was no one else in the building?”

Me (tracing my finger over the spines of the books): “I cross-referenced the video feeds with time punches, everyone had left for the day.”

Robbie (his leg bouncing like mad): “Someone not scheduled could have stopped by? Or a salaried employee could’ve stayed late…”

Me (looking across the room at the back of his head, I shook mine): “All accounted for, and the alarm report and entrance logs both agree that no one else was in the building by this point.”

Robbie (turning in his seat to look at me): “Would you mind if I double-checked?”

Uncle (rising from his chair): “Another set of eyes never hurt.”

Passing the laptop over to me, as I’d finished my revolution of the room, Robbie got to his feet and joined Uncle behind the desk. Listening with half an ear to Uncle’s summation of each report Ira included in his envelope, I sat down and cued up the video. 

Pressing play, I watched the empty lobby for a few seconds until the Judas, the Brutus, the veritable Peter Pettigrew of Nevermore, strode into view. 

Walking over to the alarm panel, Sarah punched in her code (according to the alarm activity report – disarming it), then unlocked the adjacent door and let Laney inside. They spoke for a few minutes before Laney handed over the books she’d borrowed after which they exchanged hugs, Laney left (to join Beatrice, Wood and I for dinner, ducks and pirate-themed fun) and Sarah relocked the door.

It’s at this point in the footage where I wish the video contained audio because after she stops waving at Laney – Sarah pulls out her cell and makes two calls.

The first, significantly longer than the second, prompted Sarah to pace in tight figure eights in front of the main entrance while jerkily gesturing to the person on the other end of the line. Following her conversation with whomsoever, Sarah stood stock still, head hanging for a few minutes before dialing the next number.

Four minutes after the second conversation ended, Sarah unlocked the doors again. Only this time, Little Ben walked in. Six minutes later, according to the night watchmen’s log, Little Ben called to request extra security for Nevermore.

Me (stopping the video and looking over at Uncle who’d swapped seats with his son): “Didn’t Sherlock Holmes warn us that there’s nothing worse than an obvious fact?”

Uncle (holding the mouth of the potato chip bag towards me): “Actually, he said there’s nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”

Me (declining his offer of delectable fat-soaked starch): “I like mine better.”

Uncle (nodding sagely): “I know.” 

And let me tell you how I’d kicked myself for not seeing this sooner….

Sarah had known most of the details of The Brace Affair because she was there when we’d hatched the plan. Between Sarah’s foreknowledge and her friendship, I bet that’s why Laney didn’t count her as ‘anyone’ when I asked if she’d told anyone about our plans that night. 

Robbie (massaging his temples): “Okay, I agree it looks like Sarah ratted you out. But I still don’t get why? She’s your friend.”

Me (shaking my head): “Technically, she didn’t rat us out. She only told Little Ben someone was coming. I spoke to him afterward, he had no clue who he was chasing.”

Robbie (looking relieved): “So it’s possible she was skating the line between being a good friend and a good employee.” 

Me (shrugging): “Maybe.”

Robbie (waving his hand over the papers): “Have you tried talking to her about this?” 

Me (smiling sadly): “Nope.”

Robbie (disbelief evident): “Why not?”

Uncle (heaving himself up from the chair, taking Beatrice’s laptop off my lap): “Probably for the same reason I wouldn’t.”

Robbie (looking towards Uncle, confused): “But this whole thing could be just a huge misunderstanding.”

Uncle (waving for Robbie to stay put, he set down the electronic device on the desk): “Your right it could. However, neither your cousin or I believe Little Ben was the first person Sarah told about the impeding pirate landing. That’s what was bothering you about the video, isn’t it Phoebe?”

Me: “That’s part of it.”

Robbie: “Wait, how did you guys get there?”

Uncle (tapping the trackpad): “Watch the video again……..See how Sarah stares out the glass doors after the second call, and she unlocks the doors a good minute before Little Ben walks thru them.”

Robbie (squinting at the screen): “She was waiting for him.”

Uncle (using his teacher tone): “Correct. Now, watch the first phone call again.”

Robbie (leaning forward): “She’s arguing with someone?”

Uncle (pointing at the screen): “She loses an argument with someone, watch her deflate, she’s staring at the floor, not out the door.”

Robbie (glancing between us): “Okay, I admit it looks bad. But, playing devil’s advocate here, all you really have is evidence she made a call.”

Unfortunately, due to Aunt Pearl deciding she could no longer countenance our absence from the kitchen burst in to retrieve us. I didn’t get a chance to tell Robbie my suspicions were based on more than just one call.

2.41 A Wind From the North

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Wood and I watched, from the Princess’s cozy confines, a patrol car cruise slowly past us. Fighting the instinct to hunker down, I sucked on my slightly scorched index finger while fastening my seatbelt with the other. Much to our mutual relief, the cruiser turned the corner, crawl by the park, then thankfully roll out sight. 

The appearance of the police at the site of our Moon Bathing soiree, after the Beagle and his Human, tootled past us on one last jaunt around the block, is probably pure coincidence. Undoubtedly the one-man watch missed the eerie flickering blue flames of the Snapdragon dish…

…that could possibly be seen from space due to an inadvertently heavy-handed pour from the bottle of apple brandy. (The fact we were laughing like an asylum of loons while popping bits of fire into our mouths – I’m sure escaped his notice as well.)

Pondering the question, should we count this as a close shave with the boys in blue, I turned towards the Princess’s passenger seat for a second opinion. Only to find an unsmiling Wood staring at the space up the street Sarah’s car had occupied up until a few minutes ago. 

Me (using a hankie to wipe the drool off my sore finger): “You think Sarah’s doing okay?”

Wood: “Can you drive past the park for me? Slowly?”

Me (incredulous and yet still turning the engine over): “You want me to follow the cop car?”

Wood: “I’ll explain in a minute.”

Shrugging, I depressed the handbrake, pulled the Princess into non-existent traffic, and followed the police car’s line around the corner. Instead of taking one last gander at the scene of our misdemeanor, Wood stared intently at the opposite side of the street then lapsed into a pensive silence. 

Concentrating on the distant tail lights, trying to divine which way the officer would turn, I let Wood follow his train of thought in peace. I even refrained from letting out a whoop of delight when the police cruiser decided to turn the opposite direction of Nevermore. 

Wood (breaking his own silence): “This isn’t the way home.”

Me: “We’ve one more stop to make.”

Wood (falling back into his thoughts): “Okay.”

Me (glancing over): “You going to tell me what’s going on, or do I need to start pulling teeth?”

Wood (frowning): “I think I’ve got a pretty good idea why Sarah was acting so weird.”

Me: “Shoot.”

Wood (slowly): “A couple of minutes after you stopped shouting in the gazebo and I said goodnight to Laney, the front door of that big brick house across the way opened. All I could see were silhouettes, so I started playing ‘What Are They Saying?’ in my head.” 

Me (looking for a parking spot): “Always fun.”

Wood (nodding): “Eventually, without any hugs, kisses, or handshakes, one outline went back inside, and the other walked towards the street.”

Me (carefully pulling the Princess between two huge SUVs): “An inevitable outcome at a front door.”

Wood (flicking my leg for interrupting again): “I lost interest in the scene until I heard a woman’s voice call out, ‘Sarah! Wait!’. That’s when I saw our Sarah standing under a street lamp across the way, a second later another woman jogged up and handed her something.”

Me (shutting down the Princess’s engine): “Okay…”

Wood: “Morticia, I’m seventy-five percent certain the other woman was Josie Reville.”

Me (jaw involuntarily dropping): “You’re kidding. The Brownie Stealing Bench? Did you know they knew each other?”

Wood (half laughing at the end of his sentence): “No, I didn’t, but if Sarah were hanging out with Josie tonight, it would explain why she was so weird at first. The bad blood between you two is NOT a secret.”

Silently my mind whirred, churning out rational reasons why Sarah might intentionally spend time in The Brownie Stealing Bench’s company. Unfortunately, since I couldn’t fathom spending more than two minutes together with her, my imagination quickly went into overdrive. Spinning out one improbable possibility after another. 

Wood (nudging me): “I might be wrong. That’s why I asked you to drive by the house, I was trying to see if her name was on the letterbox, which of course it wasn’t.”

Me (drumming my fingers against the steering wheel): “The obvious way to prove you right or wrong is to knock on the front door. But that’s not going to happen. The Beagle’s Human is far too nosey for a successful stakeout, even if we used your car….”

Wood (splitting a spare cookie in two and holding half out to me): “Are you really that worried about it?”

Me (around my bite of cookie): “Maybe.” 

Wood pursed his lips at me.

Me (rolling my eyes): “Alright, I’ll be an adult and let it lie. There’s no accounting for taste. In any case, I don’t suppose you’d be willing to hang out here while I pop into Nevermore for a second?”

Wood (unbuckling his seatbelt): “Not a chance.”

Me: “It was worth a try.”

2.40 Parlor Game No. 2 – Snapdragon

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(What the snap dragon looked like aflame – though taking a pic at night is difficult….)

Stopping just shy of requiring a blood oath, Abraham finally agreed not to seek out our unknown curious Errant on his own, so long as I promised to keep him in the loop. 

Parting ways, my mind raced to fold in this new wrinkle.… My hunt for Big Ben is on autopilot at the moment unless I suck it up and ask Uncle for help….I’m knocking out my visit to Nevermore tonight, though Wood doesn’t know it yet. I’m unsealing Ira’s envelope after forty winks….So visiting the Genesis Points of Rye’s Errants seems feasible….I can fit a few drop-bys during my FLYT shifts if I’m careful…

Wood: “Morticia, you’ll never guess who I found wandering by…” 

Me (wide-eyed): “Sarah!” 

Wood: “Ah, you guessed.”

Me (laughing): “She’s sitting at the table, you dolt.”

Sarah (staring down at the table): “Hey Phoebe. Wood said you guys were out here moon bathing.”

Me (stepping next to a seated Wood): “Yup, you should join us!”

Sarah: “Isn’t the Lavender Lady’s backyard more convenient?”

Sarah’s curtly delivered question arrested my forward momentum. Leaving my knee leaning against the table edge and my sneaker planted on the seat next to Wood. Sarah, who was quickly denuding the plaid blanket of its pills, misses the quick shrug Wood gave me.  

Me (slowly): “It is. However, it also has Ms. Hettie, who’s proven to have a low threshold for late-night frivolity.”

Sarah (pressing): “But why here? Why Remembrance Park?”

Me (trying to fathom her driving tone): “Have you ever heard of the Grey Man?”

Sarah (nodding): “Yes…”

Me: “Well, apparently he’s been spotted skulking around here several times over the years. Which makes sense since he used to live two streets over. Anyways, I thought I’d break in the spirit board Laney stitched for me and try contacting Wynter in a place he’s known to semi-frequent.”

Sarah (pushing): “Then why were you hanging out in the gazebo?”

Wood (unruffled): “Morticia was giving me some privacy while I face-timed Laney.”

Sarah (looking up finally): “Oh. So you guys really are just Moon Bathing?”

Words along the lines of – ‘What do you think we were doing?’ – died in my throat in response to a surreptitious squeeze of my sneaker. Snapping my mouth firmly closed, Wood picked up the conversational baton and did what he does best – putting people at ease.

Letting their voices buzz in my ears like so many bees, I took a good long look at Sarah. Dark rings hung low under her eyes, her blouse appeared more voluminous than usual, and her nails were bitten nearly to the quick. 

She looked terrible. 

Continuing to woolgather on how to get Sarah to eat a good meal, my eyes wandered restlessly onto the canvas tote sitting next to her. Slumped open, the distinct letterhead of Nevermore at the top of a wad of documents caught my eye. Followed by a couple of thick purple rebranding binders I’d last spied in Little Ben’s office.

Sarah, noticing the direction of my gaze, slipped the bag under the table.

Wood (calling my attention back to the table): “Morticia, Laney is dying to try out the spirit board. But has an early meeting, so she asked if we could postpone the reading until she got home. I told her you’d be okay with it.”

Me (laughing): “I don’t know, can you handle both of us having that much fun?”

Wood (grinning): “I’ll start cross-training immediately.”

Me (pointing at the hamper): “Sarah why don’t you make a plate while I set up our other entertainment, we’ve still got plenty of everything.”

Sarah, who’d downshifted from denuding the blanket to merely tracing the pattern with her index finger, hesitated just long enough in following my suggestion that Wood took the reins. Leaving him to it, I moved to the other end of the table and begun prepping my parlor game provisions.

Wood (offhanded): “Little Ben must be losing his marbles at KARB’s coverage of the protesters inside Nevermore.”

Sarah (after swallowing a massive bite of meatloaf sandwich): “You’ve no idea. Today, after His Highness heard KARB’s noon news break, he cussed out the radio for twenty minutes then stomped around for the rest of the day.”

Wood (dishing up a small bowl of chili): “Why?”

Sarah (pausing between bites): “Rye’s Garden Club and the University’s Botanical department publicly condemned his proposed expansion. I’m not looking forward to working with him after his meeting with the Aarti and Talia.”

Me (debating with myself while sprinkling raisins into the shallow dish): “Leave a steamed milk on his desk next to a jelly doughnut, that usually calms him down. Cherry’s is his favorite, but raspberry works as well. Both need to come from The Alter.”

Sarah (meeting my gaze for the first time): “Thanks, I’ll try that…”

Me (lighting a wooden match and carefully setting the apple brandy aflame): “Now have either of you ever played snapdragon?”

Between the brilliant blue flames leaping from the dish, the heart-pounding thrill of dipping our fingers into the blaze, and eating raisins still alight, Sarah’s unease burned away. Allowing the three of us to laugh easily in the pale moonlight. 

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.) 

2.06 Curiouser and Curiouser

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A wave of sound crashed over me when I pulled open the door. It seems it’s one of those days down here.

Hoping my ears wouldn’t start bleeding, I waded my way into Sarah’s Domain & Depository towards the epicenter of sound. I could practically see the Beastie Boys’ beats bouncing around her workroom like some crazy red rubber ball.

Sarah’s Law #11: The higher you crank the volume, the faster you work. 

This law applies equally well, too (working thru) feelings, paperwork, and home repair. With the side benefit of warning all who approach of her current mood – whatever’s playing plus its relative decibel level equals her state of mind. (Essentially her stereo doubles as a mood ring.)

What did today’s selection tell me about Sarah’s current disposition? 

Fight For Your Right + Unadulterated Din = Irked at Little Ben or Filling out Forms*

(It can’t be both: I hadn’t heard the bass throbbing THROUGH the door)

When I made it to the threshold of her office, I discovered my second guess won the prize. A veritable snowdrift of unfamiliar reports littered the top of Sarah’s desk, easing my trepidation about dropping by Nevermore unannounced (from our long association I knew she’d take any excuse for a break). The woman herself sat with her back towards me, filling in a spreadsheet on her computer.

Waiting for her fingers to stop flying across the keyboard, my own fished around in the Pulp book bag I’d borrowed from Beatrice, while my eyes scanned foreign diagrams/graphs/budgets. When Sarah finally paused, I dropped seven-sealed plastic bags on her desk. The unexpected deposit caused her to jump about a mile out of her chair, and by the time she’d recovered (and reduced the volume on No Sleep Till Brooklyn), my butt was firmly planted in her guest chair.

“You nearly gave me a heart attack!”

Unable to keep the mischievousness out of my smile, “Nearly? I’ll try harder next time.” Gesturing to the bags steepled in front of her, while she continued to theatrically clutch her heart (I say theatrically because she was clutching the right side of her chest), “But perhaps you’ll forgive me in exchange for some marshmallows?”

“Marshmallows!” Quicker than a puma pouncing on its prey Sarah opened the bag closest to her and popped a square of cherry-lime into her mouth, effectively cut off all speech. When she started opening up the other bags to stick her face inside and inhale their scents (and filling her cheeks). I decided to intervene on behalf of her tastebuds, raspberry, chocolate, ginger, cherry-lime, lemon poppyseed, vanilla, and pineapple should not commingle. 

“I know we agreed on fifty dollars worth…” Exaggerating her chewing, Sarah held up her index finger to pause my words. 

Finally finished her spot-on imitation of a chipmunk, “I don’t really deserve any in the first place since I gave you the wrong arrival time for the remains.” Putting down the ziplock, she looked forlornly at their contents. “Sorry again…”

I’d called her a couple days after The Confrontation, asking if KARB’s news desk mixed up the arrival date for Tiffany Grindle’s remains. Turns out Little Ben rifled thru and upset her paperwork (without her knowledge) leading to two sets of paperwork getting shuffled together and her giving me a Vernan Jones’s arrival date instead. Sarah fell over herself, apologizing for the inadvertent blunder. 

But none of the Residents got hurt, and the Woman In White was neutralized – so a deal is a deal. (And in fairness I’m only delivering on half of it: Mr. Nelson, in addition to absconding with my mystery, sampled every flavor before he polished off the pumpkin-spice and apple-cinnamon portions). 

Motioning towards the confections, “I already accepted your apology. But if you don’t think you deserve any, I could always take them back…” My teasing rejoinder resulted in Sarah whipping the bags out of sight while emitting a marshmallow muffled growl. “…that’s what I thought. But the real reason I stopped by, beyond needing the Lavender Lady to stop smelling like a candy shop, was to pick up some boxes Little Ben said you’re hanging onto for me?”

“Oh yes, His Highness and your boxes.” Rolling her eyes heavenward, she stood up and walked a few paces to her closet, “I caught Himself in the midst of tossing them in the compactor.” Ignoring my offer to help (not that I was supposed to be lifting anything), Sarah scrabbled around under the hanging coats and eventually produced four dusty cartons. 

“That’s it?”

Cocking her head to the side, Sarah answered, “Yes?…”

A laugh popped out of my mouth, unbidden, “Four? He made it sound like there was at least a dozen!”

“That’s His Highness for you, making mountains out of molehills.” 

Shaking my head, I took a closer look at the forgotten cartons. Three sported labels with the enlightening description of “stuff” written in my hand. The nonconformist fourth, by far the grimmest of the lot, was devoid of markings and bound up with twine, “I’ve not a single recollection of what’s inside any of them…”

My comment was cut short by the insistent ring of Sarah’s desk phone. Putting her index finger to her lips, she picked it up, “Mortuary……Yes, Phoebe’s here. Yes, she’s picking up her boxes. Nope……….. Yes………………….. Sure…… I’ll get right on that….Okay, bye.” 

Replacing the receiver with a sigh, Sarah looked over at me, “His Highness has requested the pleasure of your company.”

“Well, crap.” 

“That about sums it up. Have a marshmallow.” 

While chewing the square of delightful raspberry fluff she’d offered me, I toed my boxes of mysterious “stuff”. Then applied more pressure until they shifted slightly. Crap, they didn’t fall within my light-duty lifting limitations set by Wood…

Sarah happily solved my dilemma before I finished chewing, “Why don’t you head up now. I’ll load the boxes in your car and leave your keys with Sam. That way, you can make a clean getaway when you finish up with His Highness.” 

Laughing, “I will gladly take you up on your gracious offer. Even though I know you’re really avoiding filling out all that new paperwork for a few minutes more.”**

Sarah blushed but didn’t deny it.

*Personally I think she cranks up the volume to stay awake while completing her paperwork – apparently Big Ben finds drool stained statements a tad unprofessional. 

**Despite my ribbing, it was a really nice offer. Not wanting to put her in an awkward position if my illegal adjacent after-hours visit ever came to light, I’d kept her in the dark about my injuries.

1.64 A Conundrum

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(Take-Out from the Spare Rib from a previous visit…)

My half-day flipped into a full-day when a couple of the Senior Center members asked me for a favor. They had a hankering for barbeque and wanted to go to the best joint around, The Spare Rib. Familiar with the unyielding grip of a food craving we came up with a compromise. I would drive them there (it was an hour one way) if they got their food to go and didn’t eat in the Princess (good bbq is Messy with a capital ‘M’). The fact I just flat like Betty and Joan didn’t hurt either.

Moreover, the flu-induced set schedule ended in a couple of days and with it the regular hours. So earning a few extra brownie points amongst the Center’s members seemed wise. 

When I finally dropped them off, bbq in hand, at their apartment building I was starving and had zero interest in cooking. While the bbq whetted my appetite, it wasn’t what my tastebuds hankered after this evening.

My heart’s desire could only be found at the Rusty Hinge – a nice thick Rueben sandwich (they make their own Rye bread, Russian dressing and sauerkraut – it is to die for) and hand-cut fries. When I slid into my preferred booth, the one in the back next to my favorite pinball machine, my bones fused to the vinyl. 

My poor body was unused to the amount of running we did last night and needed a moment to regroup before attempting to retake my Addams Family crown (aka the high score that Benedict stole from me). Leaning my head against the scalloped cushion, I took a deep breath and let my mind float along the waves of ambient stimulus – the aroma of sautéing onions filtering from the kitchen, errant strands of dialogue emanating from the pinball machines and groans from the football fans watching their team commit yet another penalty. Slowly my mind spun until it landed on the conundrum Sarah placed in my lap earlier today (she’d texted me after our marshmallow bargain).

Sarah: Just thought I’d let you know – Little Ben was tipped off that you guys were coming last night.

Me: ?????

Sarah: He let it slip to Seth last night. Someone called him. That’s how he had security, the MacGregors and the groundskeepers on site so fast.

Me: Crap. Are you sure he doesn’t know it was us?

Sarah: Yes. I don’t think he could keep it to himself if he did. He’d have called a meeting to inform all us you were banned from the property. Like he did with Sue.

Me: Any clue who called him?

Sarah: None. This is all second hand, I didn’t want to grill Seth – might send up a red flag.

Me: Thanks for the heads up!

Sarah: NPAT

(Or No Problem Any Time)

Ruth broke into my train of thought to take my order (and Beatrice’s she was meeting me here), which was fortuitous since I might have drifted off in another second.

If correct Sarah’s data spun the previous night’s events in a whole new direction. But who on earth knew we were bound for Nevermore last night? On top of that, other than Little Ben, who would care?

Speak of the devil, and he shall appear.

My mulling moved to the back burner when a familiar bulky form barreled across the floor towards my booth. 

Little Ben boomed halfway across the floor, “Phoebe! I’m glad I’ve run into you!”

I’ve never ceased regretting telling Little Ben about my favorite greasy spoon.

“Hey, Ben.”

Reaching my table Little Ben’s voice sunk into conspiratorial tone, ”Did you hear about what happened in Nevermore last night?”

“I read about it in the Blotter this morning.” His question told me Sarah’s assessment was correct. If Little Ben had figured out I was among those he’d chased around Nevermore last night, he’d have let everyone hither, thither and yon know it.

Little Ben’s face set into a grimace, “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” Without so much as a by your leave, he started moving towards the empty side of the booth to take a seat. Unfortunately (for him, not me) he found the booth’s entrance unexpectedly cutoff – Beatrice had arrived. 

Taking off her long purple coat, she laid it down on the seat between us and slipped into the booth, “Sorry I’m late. Things are crazy at Pulp right now. Hello! I’m Beatrice.” 

Biting my lip, I watched Little Ben’s frustration at being thwarted cross his face, “Hi. I’m Ben. I was just discussing something with Phoebe.”

Beatrice, draping herself with an air of innocence, “Oh, you’re Phoebe’s former manager. I owe you a big thank you!” 

1.63 Crazy Like A Fox

Sitting in front of the Senior Center I had a fifteen-minute window before my next fare. Still full from my Aunt’s excellent spread I left my turkey and Havarti on rye in my lunch box. Deciding instead to act on her intelligence. Sarah answered her phone on the third ring.

Sarah (trying hard to keep her amusement in check and failing): “Sooooo how was your night?”

Me (laughing with her): “Oh shut it.” 

Sarah: “Why were you guys dressed like the Three Musketeers last night?”

Me (exasperated): “Pirates, we were pirates. And Wood thought it the perfect moment for payment on a delinquent bet.”

Sarah’s only response – laughter. I sincerely hope she’s somewhere where Little Ben can’t overhear her. Speaking of that pain in the….

Me: “So how’s Little Ben doing this morning?”

Sarah (imitating Little Ben at the end): “His Highness is pitching a fit and falling in it, ‘I stayed up all night, and they still got away.’.”

Me: “Does he have a clue?”

Sarah: “Nope.”

Me: “Well that’s a relief. But I had a different reason for the call.”

Sarah: “Oh yeah? What’s up?”

Me: “I need to know when Tiffany Grindle is scheduled to arrive at Nevermore.”

Sarah (whistling): “You don’t ask for small favors. I suppose you don’t want to tell me why you want to know.”

Me (trying hard not to sound too desperate): “I know, I know. I promise it’s nothing compromising and it is important…”

Sarah: “On one condition.”

Me (very wary): “….Okay.”

Why do all my friends have to be smart? Or in this case crafty. Sarah, being one of eight siblings (plus an endless network of cousins), knows precisely when she holds a trump card. It’s one of the reasons why I love and fear her. 

Sarah: “Well it’s more provisional in flavor.”

Me: “Still not resting easy over here.”

Sarah: “When Big Ben gives you your job back…”

Me: “Sarah, he approved my lay-off.”

Sarah (going on despite my interruption): “When Big Ben sobers up from whatever Little Ben has laced his whiskey with, I would like you to open Tiderington vault. I’ve always wanted to know if the rumor that Helena was buried wearing all her diamonds is true.”

Me (startled): “What?”

Sarah: “To gruesome? Okay…. How about opening the Lenfest mausoleum to see if old man Gus laid his books to rest after he read them to pieces.”

Me: “Seriously? Substantiating rumors?” 

*Sigh* So Sarah may know when she holds a trump card, but her ultimate use of them may need some work. Perhaps its the difference between being a twenty-something and a thirty-something.

Sarah: “I’ve been working here for eight years, and I’ve heard all kinds of things about the place. Just once I’d like to see with my own eyes if any of the stories are true! Tell me, is there really a giant crypt underneath the main house? Or a cellar full of bottles of cognac? Is the Gray Man real? Why are there no burials under the old willow in the middle of Nevermore? Is the Masonic cenotaph really the doorway to their meeting hall?”

Me (rolling my eyes on the other end of the line): “Where on earth did you hear that? And do you think this is the best use of a favor?”

Sarah: “Yes! These questions have been burning in my mind since I heard them on the playground! I gots to know!”

Me: “Since grade school? And here I thought you’d ask me for something sensible, like renting you the apartment over the maintenance center, so you could move out of your folk’s house.”

Sarah (jubilant): “Yes that! Could you do that? Then I could explore…I mean, be on call whenever you need me!”

Me: “Of course this is all dependent on Big Ben hiring me back, which again I must state, he approved.”

Sarah: “Pish posh, you’ll get your job back. Simon’s started a pool on when it’ll happen, and all the dates are taken! And if you feel bad about the slim possibility that you won’t be able to hold up your end of the bargain….Well, then you can…..get me fifty bucks worth of those homemade marshmallows from the candy store we stopped at up on the way home from the Fall Foliage Tour!”

Me: “Marshmallows.”

Sarah: “Yup, marshmallows. Do we have a deal?”

What’s the old saying? Crazy like a fox? Yes, Sarah’s crazy like a fox. 

My car was going to smell like candy floss again.

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

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