Category Archives: The Map Room

1.67 Coffee Doesn’t Cause Insomnia

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What’s a girl to do at three-thirty-six am when finally sick of counting sheep, backwards and her own breath? (Which btw gets really creepy when you start imagining the monster under your bed doing the same thing – counting your breath.) Well, thanks to three separate demographics in Rye – insomniacs, college students, and the night shift there is only one (reputable) place to go at this hour. The HUB. 

The HUB is a gathering of food trucks situated between Rye University’s dorms and the industrial core (insomniacs motor in) which are open from dusk till dawn. There’s a fair amount of turnover in cuisine choices, but there are a few perennial favorites which haven’t shifted an inch in twenty years (honestly, I am not sure they can – where the rubber meets the road looks permanently fused). 

The oldest among them was my current four-thirty in the morning destination, Fried.

It’s my firm belief Fried makes the most delectable donuts known to man. My favorites are their powdered sugar coated mini donuts – five for five bucks. If I’m feeling truly exotic, I might go for the chocolate covered ones with multicolored sprinkles. But generally, the powdered sugar minis command my full attention (one doesn’t look for exotic in comfort food, or at least I don’t when driven out of bed at this hour).  Today I made an extra purchase, two bags of plain minis in addition to my perennial faves.

Turns out that while my body was tired enough to sleep for a week, my mind wasn’t. Six hours of drifting off and waking up again only to find ten minutes ticked off the clock – does not for a restful sleep make (and the more math you do – figuring out many hours you have left before you need to get up – the more awake you are).

What fun. 

So when I heard the early bird’s first chirp, I bolted from my bed. 

When Little Ben booted me from Nevermore, I never realized how much I enjoyed walking around the grounds in the morning. With all the recent events I’d only managed to arrive at sunset or just after nightfall in Nevermore (the morning I woke up in my car doesn’t count – the rain made it so dark it was basically twilight). Deciding I was fed up with the current state of affairs I decided to eat donuts and watch Nevermore’s four-legged and winged residents wake up. 

The ten bucks of plain doughnuts were for them. Everyone can use a treat every now and again.

Which explains why I am currently sitting on the Princess’s hood, wrapped up in my coat with an afghan under my butt in the back-forty of Nevermore watching the first rays of the sun peek over the treetops. I’d crumbled the plain doughnuts under several trees/snags I’d seen flocks of birds and squirrels perched in previously. Then I settled in to wait and watch.

Despite the quiet peace and the thrill of watching the critters scurry out to collect their breakfast, my mind returned like an owl to gnaw on old bones.

None of the Inebriated Three had a clue who tipped Little Ben off the other night, they hadn’t told a soul what we’d planned (I’d asked). And if the informant knew where we were going why didn’t they tell him who we were? 

The delicious yeasty, sugary smell triggered the correlation. The questions my Uncle asked over his powdered sugared pancakes about the anonymous letter in the Tiffany Grindle case – were similar to my own. When I tipped off the Surliest Ranger, I’d only included the information I knew for proof positive. 

What if Little Ben’s mystery caller did the same thing? 

When we’d gone to and fro from the Lavender Lady the backyard lights were off, making the walkway extremely dark. Both my chauffer’s uniform and pirate costume covered me from head to toe in black (shirt shoes, pants, and hat). Which allowed me to easily blend into the night. 

Unlike myself, the others were decked out in much lighter colors. Their work clothes ranged from a taupe to light grey. Their pirate ensembles all featured white shirts and large white plumes in their tricorn hats. The rest of their pirate regalia while dark did catch the eye when hit by light, Wood’s was sapphire colored, Beatrice’s ruby and Laney’s emerald.  

When the Inebriated Three past thru the narrow patch of the back path illuminated by a streetlamp – the quick flash of three-sevenths of the rainbow could have caught the eye. Dressed in an obsidian colored costume someone might have easily missed my entrance and exit. Especially since I’d lagged behind the others both times locking up. 

More details from the other night flew thru my brain once it started manipulating this twisty piece of logic. I’d parked down the street from the Lavender Lady’s back gate, and the Map Room’s door faces the road. No one looking out the rear windows of the big house could have seen me arrive.

What if the tipster, like the anonymous letter writer, hit closer to home than we suspected?

1.51 Rubber Ducky You’re The One…

Unknown Number: “Tonight’s the night!”

Me: “Wood?”

He must be calling from an exam room phone again.

Wood (excitement oozing across the line): “Meet you in The Map Room in a half hour.”

Me: “But….”

Wood: “The Brace Affair is a go!”

He. Hung. Up. On. Me. 

Well, this bodes…something.

On the plus side executing The Brace Affair might help to relieve the pins and needles I’ve been sitting on while waiting for the Lone Ranger to face his fears. He had four days left on the unspoken timetable. 

On the downside, I’d answered Wood’s call on speakerphone and Mrs. Lebondowsky heard the entire exchange. She will delight in disseminating this piece of news amongst the rest of my regulars at the Center.

Mrs. Lebondowsky (trying for casual): “Hot date dear?”

Me (rolling with it): “Something like that.”

Mrs. Lebondowsky (smiling): “Well don’t give the barn away. Leave him wanting more – you’ll get a second date that way.”

Fortunately, she was my last fare today, and I only had three blocks left before I could drop her off. So I goosed the gas and hoped her advise stopped with that particular tidbit. 

Seems Lady Luck rode with me tonight because Mrs. Lebondowsky went on to regale me about the last real date her Dear Frank took her on in 1965 (it sounded way nicer than any I’d enjoyed recently).

Only fifteen minutes late for Wood’s deadline (and ten bucks richer – Mrs. Lebondowsky tips well), I pulled the Princess up to the back gate of the Lavender Lady’s grounds. This maneuver meant a much shorter walk to the Map Room which significantly reduced my chances of inadvertently running into Ms. Hettie. 

Pushing the gate open, I navigated the six steps and three stairs to the door and entered the redesignated shed. The lovely scent of curry greeted me before my friends got the chance or in fact noticed my arrival.

Me (surprised): “Laney? What are you doing here?”

Laney (turning my way, a wry smile on her face): “Hey. Wood convinced me this would be great Fun.” 

The way she eyed the line of manual post-hole-diggers leaning against the bookshelves made clear her skepticism of her husband’s claim. Wood, entirely oblivious to his wife’s doubts, was currently helping Beatrice divvy up a mountain of rubber ducks into four separate piles. Not wanting to break their focus I decided to help the proceedings along by dishing up the boxes of take-out (which would keep Wood from hoarding the panang and Laney from skimping on her vegetables). When the two duck sorters finished their complicated and esoteric rubber ducky allotment algorithm, they swept each stack into separate sacks. Which allowed me to swoop in and place dinner on the table before they could fill it up with something else.

Wood (surprised when food appeared before him): “Morticia! When did you get here?”

Me (shaking my head and laughing a little): “When the ducks were still in mound position.”

Wood, who’d elected himself Capitan of The Brace Affair, started going over the refined strategy – between mouthfuls. 

Wood (finishing his first bite): “Each of us will have a bag of about thirty-ish rubber ducks. We’ll use the post-hole-diggers to dig up a cylinder of dirt, then we’ll plant a duck and then dump the dirt back on top.” 

Me (taking advantage of Wood’s now full mouth): “Where did the rubber ducks come from? I’ll pay you back for them. (Looking between Wood and Laney)”

Beatrice (waving at Wood to keep chewing, snagged my attention): “Don’t worry about it. I’m donating the ducks I’ve collected from geocaching to the cause.  I needed more space in here anyways.”

Glancing up at the shelves above her head I noticed several large empty vases.

Me (a food coma starting to creep up on me): “Why tonight?”

Laney (faster on the draw than Wood): “The first storm of the season is predicted to hit this weekend. If you want those ducks to rise to the occasion, this is your best shot.”

Wood (now able to chime in): “And the moon is full tonight so we won’t need to use our flashlights as much.”

Beatrice: “I even bought a couple of steaks in case we need to distract some dogs.”

Me: “Really?”

Beatrice: “Works in books. So someone must have tried it out at some point, otherwise, why would it keep appearing in print?”

Laney (laughing): “One minor detail, this is a silly plan, but you promised me a ridiculous amount of Fun…”

A wicked smile lit up Wood’s face. Without a word, he stood up and walked a few paces to where my extra boxes were stacked and pulled several garment bags off the top. Shoving his dinner plate aside he laid them down in front of him.

Wood (unzipping the zipper with a flourish): “Like this.”

1.32 Whiplash

Piling the leftovers back into the box (we made quite a dent, and to my supreme joy – I would have hom bow for breakfast!). Unfortunately, our cleanup gave Wood the opening he needed for his own investigations…

Wood (indignation coloring his tone): “Morticia! You drank my soda.”

Sarah: “I thought you were going to say, ‘you sunk my battleship!’”

Beatrice (laughing): “He’s mad she filched his whiskey and soda.”

Me (with an air of satisfaction): “Sure did, no guilt at all, though that might be the liquor talking.”

Wood: “You owe me a drink!”

Beatrice: “Actually, I believe you both owe me one. Since Phoebe finished off the liquor, you pilfered from my cabinet.”

Ignoring Wood’s sputtering, Beatrice pulled a bottle (and four glass) out of one of the cupboards in the front while I wiped down the table. She poured an inch into each glass and passed them around, then unfurled the map. Clustering on the southern edge, scouring the surface trying to find Pumpkin Mountain amongst all the other entertainingly named features. My favorite? Joker Mountain, everyone needs a hidaway I suppose.

Beatrice (pointing at a feature near the middle of the map): “There, Pumpkin Mountain right on the lake.”

Wood (tracing his finger over the map): “That’s right. Laney and I went the Hilltop Hotel just south of there this last summer – we played on the lake the entire time. We never hiked up that far…”

Laney chose this year’s vacation spot, a trip which did not feature any soccer or soccer adjacent events the entire week.

Wood had fun…eventually.

Me (following hiking trails with my finger): “Looks like I’ll have to hike in.” 

Wood: “Why?”

Me (the whiskey slowing my ability to think of a plausible explanation or of anything at all, so I said the first thing that popped into my head): “Thought it might be a fun fall expedition.”

Wood: “That’s a great idea! Laney’s been dying to get away. I thought we’d hit L.A. and watch an L.A. Football Club match. But this is so much better! You’ll go, Bee? And you too Sarah? We’ll stay at the Hilltop Hotel and hike up Pumpkin Mountain! I’ll get so many husband kudos! Woot! We can even take the boys!” 

Wood started doing a little dance around the shed (I say little because while spacious, we were still in a shed). His enthusiasm was infectious. 

Beatrice (laughing): “When do you want to go?”

Wood whipped out his phone and started furiously typing on it, then borrowed Beatrice’s and started talking to someone on the other end, while firing questions at the three of us. 

Me (inwardly & outwardly fretting): “Wood, I thought I’d go up by myself, camping…”

Wood: “Don’t worry Morticia, Laney and I will cover your room. It’ll be your early birthday present! You’ll have more fun with us!”

Any other time trying to get our schedules to line up was akin to herding kittens, but somehow in under thirty minutes Wood, Laney (via text), Beatrice and Sarah worked out a three-day Fall Foliage Tour. 

Fantastic. How on earth was I going to find and nullify my tag-along with all of them hiking with me?

1.31 Moving, Maps and Bad News

Version 3After nosing thru the dredges of the take-out boxes, hoping against hope I would find neglected pork filled hom bow amongst them, I remembered my earlier research. I waited until Sarah finished her rant on why she firmly believed no one under the age of seven should come into contact with clowns (Wood pulling faces to illustrate her tale), before asking my question.

Me: “Beatrice…”

Wood: “You should call her Bee, it would save time.” 

Me: “You’ve known her for years. Beatrice works fine for me.”

Wood: “But, she buzzes like a bumble bee between books.”

He looked very proud of his string of alliterations. Sarah sat back, trying not to laugh at our exchange. I wonder if Wood nipped a sip of something from the shed’s liquor cabinet during the move.

Beatrice (sounding slightly insulted): “Is that why you call me Bee? Because I remind you of a bug?”

Wood: “In the best possible way.”

Me (trying to save Wood from himself): “Anywayssss Beatrice, I figured out Pumpkin Mountain is somewhere in the North Cascades. Does this narrow it down enough to help?”

Beatrice (turning in her chair started to peruse the books next to her): “Yes, it does. Give me a minute.”

Wood: “Oh! Sounds like a place you’d find Tim Burton filming.” 

While Beatrice flipped thru books calling out numbers, Wood stood by the flat files leafing thru maps which may or may not have corresponded to Beatrice’s numbers. While they amused themselves, I focused on Sarah and went straight to the point.

Me: “So what’s Little Ben’s plan?”

Sarah (grabbed her purse and pulled out a manila envelope): “I snagged a press packet for you, but the gist? His Highness bought MacGregor farm lock, stock, and box top from the widow. He’s keeping the oldest son on to manage the farm and Mrs. MacGregor for tours.” 

Me (leafing thru the glossy-paged packet): “Ok, where is he placing the pet cemetery? Not near the fields or farm animals, I hope.”

Sarah: “No. He’s earmarked the strip of land adjacent to creek’s bank on the farm side.”

Setting down the papers I leaned back in my chair, rubbing my fists in my eyes, wishing Sarah had better news.

Sarah: “I did ask him why. He said the ground was soft enough he could use the old equipment you’d retired from Nevermore. So with the tax deductions from donated harvests, without the purchase of new equipment, no longer paying your salary and reducing his personal expenses, he believes he’ll recoup the money spent buying the farm in less than eighteen months.”

Me: “Crap. No one’s tried talking to him about alternative areas?”

Sarah: “I think the MacGregor’s tried but didn’t get anywhere. Why? Is it that bad?”

Swiveling my blurry eyes towards Wood’s enthusiastic drawer pulling, I grabbed his cola and took a sip. Whiskey. I knew he filched something! Swapping his cup for mine, I continued to work on his drink and Sarah’s information.

Me (finally finding the Sunny Valley Farm map amongst the literature and pointed at the proposed area): “MacGregor Farm sits directly on Iron Creek and floods periodically right where he intends to place the pet cemetery.” 

Sarah: “So bad.”

Wood (his interest diverted back in our direction): “Why?”

Me: “Caskets are surprisingly buoyant. Combine that fact with soft ground and flood waters? They’ll get worked up to the surface in no time flat then get washed downstream onto public land. Can you imagine some unsuspecting person, probably kids, finding and opening one?” 

Wood (taking a sip of his drink and looking quizzically at it): “So bad.”

Beatrice (holding a map in her hands): “You don’t work there anymore. Nevermore isn’t strictly your problem anymore.”

Wood and Sarah swapped glances while studiously avoiding mine.

Me (sighing): “Nevermore is my responsibility, I promised to look after it.”

Beatrice (her gaze inscrutable): “Okay, how can I help?”

Me (finishing Wood’s fortified soda): “Not sure yet. Did you find Pumpkin Mountain?”

Beatrice (looking down): “Help me clear off the table, I’ll show you.”

1.30 Takeaway

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(Teriyaki Salmon, Miso and California Rolls were the first items we unpacked! So Good!)

Recalling my initial reaction to Sunny Valley Farm, I decided to wait until I got home before calling Sarah. Crashing the Princess due to distracted driving (i.e., Little Ben drives me to distraction) wouldn’t fit within my budgetary constraints at the moment. So I opted to sit on the garden wall in the Lavender Lady’s back garden and watch the squirrels and birds fight over acorns while I dialed her number.

Waiting for Sarah answer, I took stock of all the good things surrounding me – my toes felt warm and cozy in my wool socks, my crochet scarf kept the brisk air off my neck, and a handful of cookies kept my tummy full on this fine fall day. Sarah picked up on the fourth ring.

Sarah (chirping): “Hey mom! I can’t talk right now. I’m at work. Mind if I stop by for dinner tonight?”

Me: “Little Ben’s right there?”

Sarah (still chirpy): “Yup! So dinner?”

Me: “Seven sound good?”

Sarah (still channeling her inner cheerleader): “Great! See you then! Love you!”

Click.

Little Ben must have been standing right next to her. 

Which isn’t as creepy as it sounds, Sarah Armstrong is Nevermore’s Chief Funeral Director (she prefers the title mortician, but Big Ben won’t let her change it). Who often works within close proximity of Little Ben. I texted Beatrice and added an extra entree to the Chinese takeout order for this evening.  Then thought about it and added three more and a side of hom bow to my request. 

Fortunately, my earlier tasks ate up enough of the day that seven pm rolled around rather quickly. Three hours flew by while I disassembled Laundry Island, made my bed and participated in a lengthy discussion Harold S. Ellington (Beatrice’s skeleton) about my current inquiry while dusting the front room (nope not stalling at all).

At a quarter of seven, Beatrice rolled thru the front door juggling two large boxes filled with takeout containers plus her bag and briefcase. Relieving her of the boxes, I breathed in the wonderfully spicey smells of General Tso’s Chicken and Mongolian Beef. Setting the boxes down on the entryway table I perused the selections, egg rolls, yakisoba, all kinds of veggies covered in multiple sauces (I love sauce) and a variety of rice dishes. At this point, my stomach realized the pancakes and cookies left the building hours ago and threatened to attack the takeout boxes directly, Alien-style.

Beatrice (a bit out of breath): “So, why did I buy enough food to feed a small army?”

Me (wishing I could filch an egg roll): “I might have invited one?”

Beatrice: “That’s a good reason. Why?”

Me: “To help move my table and stuff into the garden shed.”

Beatrice (smiled and arched her eyebrow): “Nothing to do with not wanting to go by yourself?”

Me: “Nope.”

And with timing only Dourwood can muster, he knocked, saving my bacon from Beatrice’s follow-up funny.

Wood: “Bee! Morticia! How are the new housemates doing? Hmm…do I smell Chinese?”

Me: “Sure do. Sushi too! And you’ll get some right after you help me move some stuff into storage.”

Wood: “Morticia, I would love to, but I’m not dressed for it. My suit….”

Me (crossing my arms over my chest, trying to look stern):”…Is perfectly fine. And after you help me move my boxes, we’ll eat the takeout in the shed. Where you can pay Beatrice the ten bucks, you owe her.”

Wood (laughing, looking between Beatrice and I): “Ahh, you told her about the bet? Thick as thieves already! I knew you guys would be great together! Let me grab my sneakers out of the car and roll up my sleeves. That food smells terrific by the way, had an emergency ear infection come in, so I missed lunch.”

He gave me a quick squeeze then darted back outside again. 

Beatrice (shaking her head and laughing): “Can I change? Or should my penance extend to trying to bend and lift while wearing a pencil skirt?” 

Me (smiling): “No, go change. You bought food, that was our deal.”

Sarah walked in with Wood who’d retrieved his sneakers. Things moved quickly with three people (Sarah only carried the food down, wasn’t fair to rope her into Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum’s atonement), everyone laughed when I recounted (with Wood providing sound effects) why I disliked garden sheds. My 50’s style Formica and aluminum kitchen table fit perfectly into the middle of the shed – providing a flat and stable surface for both eating and map reading. 

Fortunately for Wood and I, tonight the former came before the latter.

1.26 “Help”

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WWNDD? Well, Nancy Drew would put on her big girl panties and follow her new friend inside the shed. Fortune favors the bold. The lights flipped on when I hit the threshold.

This garden shed did not meet any of my preconceived notions.

Missing were the overwhelmingly potent odors of fertilizers, insecticides and machine oils. Instead, the delicate bouquet of old paper, whiskey, and cedar greeted me. The aromatic infusion of these scents into my surplus seemed a much more pleasant prospect than what I’d envisioned on the walk down.

Gazing around the space, I also noted the lack of axes, saws, hoes, spades, and mowers. Taking their place on one wall was wooden floor to ceiling flat filing cabinets. Mirrored on the opposing side were traditional bookcases, crammed full of oversized, spiral bound and stapled together books. The cases, like the ones in the house, had their middle shelves dedicated to fascinating artifacts. Only, in this case, the words ‘fascinating artifacts’ should be swapped for ‘unadulterated kitsch’. Stout vases filled with mini-troll dolls, rubber ducks, compasses, plastic goldfish and the occasional dragon and that was only a fraction of her unique collection. 

Who knew a lawn separated a virtual natural history museum from a corner five-and-dime? Or that the shed shared a disturbing similarity to a mad man’s blue box? I swear Beatrice’s shed was bigger on the inside.

Spying an empty area by the back window, I reckoned my boxes would easily fit under it while my kitchen table would work beautifully in the center of the room. This place looked like it desperately needed a surface to set things on.

Beatrice (looking oddly proud): “Dourwood didn’t think you’d make it inside.”

Wood told? Beatrice knew I was freaking out on my walk down? I could not think of a bad enough word to call them. Setting my mug down on the counter to my left, I crossed my arms and pinned my housemate down with a stare.

Me (trying to control my mortification): “He told you about it?”

Beatrice (hands held up in front of her while talking fast): “No. He called while I was in Scotland and mentioned your problem locating the storage area. Trying to help you out. When I told him where it was, he laughed. I asked why but he just bet me ten bucks you’d never step foot in here, I pressed, but he never told me why.”

Me: “Harrumph. Is that why you chose to walk down here at six in the morning? In the dark?” 

Beatrice (reddening slightly): I apologize, I do need to get to work early today. But facing your fears is essential for personal growth? I just wanted to help. 

While I worked out how angry/annoyed/embarrassed I felt, my eyes stray back to the odd assortment of neat junk on her shelves. She should never let a toddler loose in here. They’d go nuts. I found the flat files just as curious, not even the main branch of the library has this many cabinets.

Me  (still trying to gauge my level mortification): “Is it to nosey to ask what’s in the drawers?” 

Beatrice (audibly exhaling): “Not at all – I collect maps. My collection grew too large for the apartment, so I moved them out here.”

I let her explanation go – it held most of the truth – the legs of the cabinets and bookcases matched the ghost of furniture past (the divots in the carpet) in my room. A room which is larger in square footage than the shed, curious thing to fib about. 

Me (looking thoughtfully at the floor to ceiling installation): “What kind of maps?”

Beatrice (walking over and pulling open a drawer): “All kinds. Local, regional, antique, obsolete. Cartography fascinates me.”

Me (wholly diverted now): “Any treasure maps?”

Beatrice (sensing the humor in the question, she closed the drawer and walked to the counter): “No. Alas, the only one I found turned out to be fraudulent.” 

Me (remembering my current conundrum): “Does your collection include an index? I’m looking for a place called Pumpkin Mountain.”

Beatrice (opening a cupboard above the counter and selecting two keys off a row of hooks, turned to me): “Never heard of it, but when I get home tonight I can see what I can find for you. Any reason?”

Me (thinking quickly): “One of my fares’ mentioned it in passing. I thought they might be pulling my leg, sounds like a place you’d find Jack Skellington hanging out in. Now I’m curious if it’s a real place.”

Beatrice (regarding me with interest): “No problem. I like a challenge. Any clue where to find it?”

Me (thinking back): “Mountains. Someplace which allows camping you need to hike to, that’s all I know.”

Beatrice (handing me the keys, her cheeks still red): “Narrows it down a bit, I’ll see what I can do. Here are the keys, if you could lock both locks when you leave I’d appreciate it and please don’t leave them lying about – some of these maps took a long time to find.”

Me (pulling out my Nevermore keys and slipping them onto ring): “No problem.”

Beatrice: “Thanks. Can you forgive me?”

Me (deliberating): “Bring home take-out from anywhere but The Fungus House and promise not to do it again and we’ll be okay.”

Beatrice: “Japanese or Chinese?”

Me: “Yes.”

My housemate peeled off when we approached the alley, I heard her car door slam and her engine turn over in the quiet of the morning (still needed to work out how annoyed I felt about her and Wood’s shenanigans). 

Our apartment windows lit the walk enough to keep me from stumbling the rest of the way to my door. With my eyes focused so intently on the house, it allowed a bit of movement to catch my eye. For a moment a curtain swayed slightly just before a soft light turned off in Ms. Hettie’s portion of the house. 

Perhaps she was more vigilant that Beatrice realized.