Category Archives: The Woman

1.40 What’s A Rizzo?

Sam’s earnest pronouncement threw both Wood and me.

Wood: “The Pink Lady? Is Rizzo going to pop out of the trees and show us the worst thing she could do?” 

Sam (perplexed): “What’s a Rizzo?”

It took a beat for Sam’s question to sink in.

Me (my coffee forgotten in my hand, disbelief coloring my words): “John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, the best high school musical of all time?” 

Sam (still confused): “No…Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens were in High School Musical.”

Me (somewhere the chat circuits must have gotten crossed): “What?”

Did the Squirrels spike the coffee before the adults made it downstairs? Or did Sam turn into a conversational wizard overnight? 

Wood (cocking his head): “Sandy, Danny Zuko, Kenickie, Frenchy? Grease is the word. The movie Grease. You’ve never seen it? The Pink Ladies are a clique of girls who rule Rydell High, Rizzo is their tough but tender leader. Sound familiar?”

Sam (shaking his head): “Never heard of it, is it new?” 

Me (trying hard not to hit my head against something really hard): “No, it came out around nineteen-seventy-seven or seventy-eight? Somewhere in there.”

Sam (face lighting up, doing fast math): “Oh, that’s why I haven’t heard of it!… It came out eighteen years before I was born. So I should see it?”

Wood and I shared a look. Unlike Sam, we couldn’t make that claim, we might have only been six months old at the time – but it still counted.

Me (muttering): “What do they teach in schools now?” 

Wood (with a sigh): “Yes, you need to watch it.” 

Me (shaking my head, trying to clear this conversation out): “So if the Pink Lady you’re talking about isn’t Rizzo, then who’s yours?”

Sam (who looked like he finally found a piece of solid ground – glanced around and lowered his voice): “The Pink Lady comes down Pumpkin Mountain on foggy days searching for hikers she can lure astray. Once you’re off the trail, she runs ahead and then calls out for you to follow her voice. When you are well and truly lost she vanishes into the mist, leaving you to the elements. My friend’s, cousin’s best friend swears he met her once!”

This story doesn’t sound fishy at all.

Wood (trying hard not to laugh): “How did your friend’s, cousin’s best friend get away?”

Sam (earnestness painting his features): “Sat down in the middle of the trail and refused to budge an inch.”

Wood (clearly enjoying the story): “Did she still try to lure him off the trail?” 

Sam (his mouth turning up on one side while he spun his yarn): “Sure did! Promised to show him something special, something secret – all he had to do was follow her. He said ‘No thank you, ma’am.’ And waited three and a half hours for the fog to lift then ran down the mountain. Said the whole time he sat there it felt like she was watching him.”

Staring off into space I kept half an ear on the exchange; something felt familiar here, but I could almost grasp it.

Me (the niggling suspicion closer now): “All of her victims are male, right? They hope the ‘something special’ might require nudity?”

Sam (trying to keep his smile under control): “How did you guess? My friends and I think she must have coaxed those two guys from our high school over the cliff – they knew the area to well to walk over it accidentally. That’s why my friend’s cousin’s bestie didn’t follow her. He remembered the stories. Then about four years ago The Pink Lady upped her game – persuaded three brothers, hikers, to chase after her. The rangers found them a few days later at the base of the same cliff. That’s when people around here stopped hiking Pumpkin Mountain, and Hilltop instituted a new safety policy.”

Wood (looking incredulous): “Seriously? Safety first? That’s the moral of your story?” 

Sam (ears turning pink and a corporate demeanor descending over his countenance): “Hilltop Hotel will not be renting any boats today. The weather will likely worsen which may lead to disorientation on unfamiliar terrain. So we advise, for the safety of our guests, that they follow the well-marked paths within the vicinity of Hilltop. We are sorry for any inconvenience this causes, blah, blah, blah. The official spiel is boring!”

Wood (smiling): “I agree. But why do they call her The Pink Lady?”

Sam (still smiling): “My friend’s cousin’s bestie says she wore a bright pink shirt when she tried to tempt him.” 

Definitely, my Stalker, Tiffany Grindle but whatever else felt familiar about Sam’s story darted just out of my grasp. It reminded me of that annoying sensation when a word is on the tip of your tongue, (or hippocampus in this case) but refuses recollection.

Drat.

(This is utterly not my photo from Grease – here’s where it came from.)

1.36 Where Did Indy Find The Grail?

(My very sophisticated tools and a random heart I found carved near the glade!)

My friend’s voices evaporated away into silence quicker than I expected while following the invisible line thru the old growth. Fortunately, I didn’t need to venture very far outside of my comfort zone, the pricking in my toes turned into a steady thrumming sensation when I stepped into the narrow glade.

Studying the clearing, I appreciated the cleverness of the hiding spot. Now I understood why no one ever accidentally stumbled upon my unintended traveler. 

The glade owed its existence to dozens of rockfalls deposited by the cliff which heaved itself up in front of me (who knew boulders could bounce?). The rockfalls kept the area clear of anything more than the scraggliest flora the forest had to offer. Immediately inside the cliff’s hurling radius lay my destination, a modest mound (by comparison) of discarded stones. Due to the layers of moss, long grass, sword ferns and one scrappy cedar, it appeared to one of the oldest of the cliff’s deposits.

I looked at my watch. Time’s up I murmured to myself. The possibility of seeing my posterior au natural would only keep my compatriots at bay for so long. Soon, they’d come looking for me. 

When I emerged back at our picnic site, Bert and Ernie greeted me like a long-lost friend. 

Wood (balling up the brown bag his lunch came in): “Everything ok? We’re almost done eating.”

Me: “I’m fine, I don’t think my stomach is accustomed to processing an entirely organic dinner.”

Beatrice (concern & reluctance coloring her tone): “We could turn around and head back…” 

Me: “Don’t do that. The summit is only a half hour-ish away, I can wait here while my stomach calms down. You can pick me up on your way back.”

This plan met with varying levels of reluctance, but in the end, my vote broke the deadlock. The group would continue without me. Wood placed me under strict orders that I would stay put until they got back (I crossed my fingers). Waiting until their voices faded into the distance, I dashed back into the trees. 

The second time I entered the glade I stopped to observe the area with jaded eyes, the dozens of natural phenomenon camouflaged the one false feature well. Knowledge or happenstance? Which did he rely on I wonder to conceal her genesis point?  

Leaning my pack against a nearby stone, I pulled my recently acquired map and trusty GPS device out then recorded the coordinates next to the ‘x’ I’d written on my approximate location. With that done I set to work with my handy collapsable metal shovel and work gloves. Pulling the blanket of fauna away from the false rockfall proved easier than I expected, the large stones concealed underneath aided my progress.

Two scrapes, one smooshed toe and forty-five very sweaty minutes later – my efforts and elbow grease uncovered two-thirds of a rough stone cairn (the cedar proved too tenacious to remove). 

Pulling off a work glove I placed my bare hand on an exposed stone – an electric current raced up my arm – startled I snatched my hand away. I rocked back on my heels while rubbing the spasming muscles in my arm. Trying to calm down I closed my eyes and enjoyed the brisk air playing across my sweaty face, but my mind wouldn’t settle. Instead, it flew away trying to merge and manipulate this new wrinkle into something which fit into the whole I’d pieced together. Shaking myself, I stood up stiffly and put my glove on again. I could borrow trouble later.

Making an ungodly racket (and risking pinched fingers) I levered a rough line of rocks off the spine of the cairn. I couldn’t help the noise. I needed to finish before my friends swung back to collect me and time was running out. When I finally shoved the last rock aside, I collapsed my spade and traded it for a five-pound bag of salt from my pack.

Taking a deep breath, reigning myself in – I poured a steady, unbroken line of unrefined sea salt within the fissure I’d just created. To help infuse the salt into the cairn quicker, I poured a canteen of purified water roughly along the same dusty off-white line. Then I exchanged the empty container for the other five-pound sack of flakey sea salt. Then proceeded to methodically cover the entirety of the mound and surrounding ground with a fine dusting. When the bag was exhausted, I stowed it away and surveyed the area making sure I left nothing (other than the sea salt) behind. 

With the job done I grabbed my pack and walked away. 

1.29 Extra! Extra!

The next stop on my about town list – the Rye Public Library. 

The lair of Mrs. Schmit. 

The Librarian’s librarian. The supreme commander of the Reference Desk. No fact, book or bibliography reference resides in obscurity when she needs to locate it. She plays the dewy decimal system with the same passion as her church’s organ during a Sunday solo. When the Board punted the card catalog into the realm of obsoletism, some thought she’d retire – not Mrs. Schmit – computers just made her faster. 

I have witness school children descend into fisticuffs to sort out who would prevail upon her skill for a school report (the answer was neither). 

I frequent her desk often enough posing odd and esoteric questions Mrs. Schmit imposed a sweets tax – the more exotic the request, the more exotic sweet I must supply (either this is an early warning system, or initially she thought this might discourage me). Occasionally I wonder if this arrangement is standard practice for other patrons, but she’s skinny as a bean pole – so I think not.

I am not sure who felt more dejected when I stood before Mrs. Schmit’s domain, me because she stayed home with the sniffles today or the library volunteer manning the desk when I kept the lid of the pastry box closed. The two dozen pumpkin spiced crinkle cookies, I’d bought at The Alter, added a subtle sweetness to the air. Which made my solo research a bit more pleasant, the volunteer admonished me later for eating, but forgave the violation when I offered him one.

You cannot sit at the left elbow of a treasure like Mrs. Schmit without picking up a few tricks of the trade along the way (like all good teachers – she’ll guide you in a search, but your hand must actually do the work – unless you pay her in sugar, then she’ll man the mouse herself). So in roughly double (or triple, but who’s counting) the time it would take us “together” – the microfiche archive of The Daily Harvest (our punny local paper) provided the basics for my tag-a-long passenger. 

Tiffany (Roth) Grindle disappeared over the Fourth of July weekend in 1987 somewhere in the North Cascades National Park. 

Delving further into public records (and the pastry box) I added a few more pieces to the picture. Mr. Grindle married Tiffany Roth in October 1985, and they purchased a home together in January 1986 (where he still lived) and in July 1994 (the standard seven years without a hint of life) he had Tiffany declared dead in absentia – almost to the day she disappeared. 

The newspaper and public records supported large swaths of my unexpected passenger’s suppositions. However, the most crucial postulation remained utterly unsubstantiated, i.e., that he murdered her. None of The Harvest’s articles ever hinted in the general direction of foul play, let alone leveled an accusation. The consensus seemed to think that Tiffany got lost and died of heat exhaustion or in the wildfires – nature causes basically. 

No one suspected Tiffany’s husband of any misdeeds, which fit her story.

Mulling this over (and eating another cookie) I skimmed over the rest of Mr. Grindle’s records. I found two entries somewhat revelatory, the first, a Phillip Roth transferred a piece of property to Mr. Grindle about ten years ago (a summer house I think, judging from the address). The second entry filed a year ago, gave Mr. Grindle power of attorney over the same Phillip Roth. So perhaps the support of Tiffany’s father kept the winds of doubt diverted – if nothing else it shows a continued relationship of some sort there.

Deciding I’d found what I could, the pastry box and I left the Library (much to the consternation of the volunteer, who’d hinted his willingness to take it off my hands). Stymied for the moment, I puttered my way home in the Princess – Beatrice’s map collection far outstripped the Library’s holdings, so I decided to wait until she got back for further research. 

Which meant I needed to figure out which task to tackle next – call Sarah or move my boxes.

1.22 The Way Home

Version 2

What do you do when you unexpectedly find yourself in the mire? You keep putting one foot in front of the other and walk thru it. Mr. Grindle’s return call sucked me forcibly out of the rabbit hole I’d fallen into while sitting in a poorly lit park parking lot. 

Step One: Start the car.

My accident prone passenger waited patiently by the curb for me, swaying slightly on his crutches. This time his ingress into the Princess’s passenger seat featured more Three Stooges antics than the grace of applied physics. My toes bore the brunt of his reentry (the whack to the back of my head with his crutch was an accident, and it only smarted a little). By the time I’d limped to the driver’s seat, The Woman already sat amongst the fluff in my backseat.

Step Two: Fishing

Me (glancing in the rearview mirror trying to confirm the carbon date of her clothes): “So straight home then?”

Mr. Grindle: “Yes.”

The Woman (her eyes fixed on Mr. Grindle’s silhouette): “He murdered me you know.”

Me (testing her): “Did you use any of the more exciting stories to explain your leg?”

The Woman: “He explained me away.”

Mr. Grindle: “No, I told my colleagues the truth when it happened. So no one asked.”

Me: “To bad. The one about breaking it in a whitewater rafting accident while escaping a ferocious man-eating bear while you were camping was inspired. But I suppose honesty is the best policy.”

The Woman: “A bear wasn’t chasing him.”

Mr. Grindle: “Less interesting though.”

Me (I suppressed a shiver at her words): “Going to do anything fun after the cast comes off?” 

The Woman: “He cast off his ring when he buried me.”

Mr. Grindle (with feeling): “Yes, I am going to scratch an itch on my calf.”

Me (leaving her no other opening): “Camping?”

The Woman: “He discovered me camping at Pumpkin Mountain.”

Mr. Grindle: “No. Maybe I’ll run in one of those five-k’s my firm is always sponsoring.”

Me (pushing my luck): “Hiking?”

The Woman (deliberately detaching her gaze from my fare and placing it on me): “You don’t have to hike far to find my body.”

Mr. Grindle: “The out-of-doors doesn’t particularly interest me, a walk around Blue Lake is as close as I come. Maybe that’s what I’ll do.”

Me (looking straight ahead, adding extra pressure to the gas peddle and cheer to my voice): “Just thought you might try getting an actual bear story for the next party.”

The Woman (swiveling her attention back to its original object): “No search party came close to finding me.”

Mr. Grindle: “Wouldn’t that be fun!”

We lapsed into a thoughtful silence, which didn’t last more than two minutes before arriving at Mr. Grindle’s doorstep. Fortunately for my toes, his exit from the Princess was far less hazardous than his entry. When I closed the passenger door and glanced into my backseat, the Woman was gone. I helped Mr. Grindle weave his way up the steps to his front door. I didn’t want him to trip and break his other leg or his neck (which was a distinct possibility since the spirits he’d imbibed at the party seemed to be catching up with him). After he “helped” me unlock his front door I retraced my steps to the Princess.

Step 3: Get the hell out of Dodge.

I took a moment to sort out the FLYT ride record while sitting in his drive, this time I remembered to turn my status to ‘Off Duty’. When the front yard flooded with light I glanced up and saw The Woman’s profile filling the window. Mr. Grindle was nowhere to in sight, must still be wrestling off his coat in the foyer. Not wanting to capture her attention again I turned the key in the Princess’s ignition and reversed out of the drive. Trying, with some difficulty, to stop myself from taking one last  assessment of the 80’s glam the Woman wore.

Just as I turned the corner, my FLYT app dinged lighting up my screen – Fare #86 Tip Received: $25. 

I wonder if he meant to tip me more than the cost of the ride? 

1.21 When It Rains….

On the upside finding parking near Mr. Grindle’s event proved rather easy. A poorly lit lot provided by a neighborhood park worked out just fine. Might kill my eyes to plumb the depths of the internet in the low light but I suppose that’s just the price of doing business. I chose to ignore the hostile looks from the kids drinking in the bushes off to my right. It seems that even the frigid weather won’t deter them from passing a bottle around.

But I already knew that.

I didn’t lie when I told Mr. Grindle I was going to read while he ate dinner and drank champagne. No clue if this was the actual menu, but he looked way too snazzy to snack on pizza bites and swill beer (personally, mine feature copious amounts of melted cheese and mixed vodka drinks). Back to the point – I didn’t let slip my intention to investigate him.

While the woman’s words were disturbing their accuracy needed establishing.

First I plugged his last name into the internet and discovered it wasn’t nearly unique enough for so broad a search. So unless I was interested in a ninety-three-year-old bird watcher in Ontario, a doctor who practiced in Florida or numerous marathon participants I needed to look elsewhere. I decided to try The Daily Harvest, our local paper (proving the history of puns and local newspapers runs deep – our town’s name is Rye) – where I struck out – kinda. The keyword search came up with several articles mentioning cases Mr. Grindle won (he’s a lawyer) and three or four features about charitable endowments he’d made. 

None of the text I read linked him to a missing or murdered woman.

The possibility the woman lied crossed my mind. Then I read a small disclaimer at the bottom of my search window, The Daily Harvest’s online archive only went back to 2000, which might explain her absence from it. 

Only by raiding the closets of a young Mellisa Milano, Molly Ringwald, Cyndi Lauper, or an early Madonna would you achieve the same look The Woman sported. The neon pink of her top made the Pink Princess look positively drab by comparison. Add that to her acid washed jeans, three inches of rubber bracelets on her wrist and blond hair teased within an inch of its life, even I’m able to carbon date those fashion trends. 

Didn’t hurt that I’d witnessed them first hand.

All of which meant a nice visit with Mrs. Schmit at the Rye Public Library. They’ve kept copies of the Daily Harvest since the very first edition hit newsstands in 1898. Luckily for me, I only needed to go back thirty years to the totally tubular eighties.

Plan in place I focused back on my phone, started to quit my search when a familiar logo popped out from the advertisers’ column…

sunny valley farm flier copy 2

I read the advert.

I reread it.

Ben laid me off to start a Pet Cemetery Farm.

Hey, boys and girls don’t worry about Lucky – he’ll spend eternity fertilizing our crops! Helping them grow big and strong! You won’t need to wait even a season to see him again! His essence will live on in every carrot, turnip, and parsnip – which you can purchase (at a reasonable price in our market) and put in your soup pot! The circle of life in action! 

I could not believe Big Ben would ever go for this, this, this tommyrot. Even more pressing – how am I going to explain this to the Residents?

I found the possible culpability of my passenger in murderous activities less disturbing than the advert. Why? The Woman’s account of her death could feature distortions, slight exaggerations or be entirely fictional – facts needed verification. Plus with Mr. Grindle’s very broken leg – I felt confident in my ability to outrun him, or I could drive the Princess into a tree and break his other leg and if desperation truly struck I could drive us to Nevermore. All solid plans.

Sunny Valley? At first glance, it sounds excellent, feeding the poor and euphemizing your kids, all in one fell swoop. But I knew better. Ben’s eye for the absurd never let him down – with his gaze fixed on Nevermore I feared he’d trade up from ridiculous to fiasco in a heartbeat.

And I am not there to fix it.

Of course, my phone rings now.

1.20 The Game’s Afoot…

IMG_1875

Mr. Grindle lived on the opposite edge of the Old Town and his destination (according to my FLYT driver app) just over a mile away. When I pulled up to the curb, I spied a silver-haired man in his fifties. When he turned to lock the door I knew why he’d called a car – his left leg was completely encased in a plaster cast. His breath bellowed in front of him while he huffed and puffed down the walk to the car (the cold air made him look like a dragon). I felt the previous week’s masterclass of levering people into and out of the Princess would come in handy here (a VW Rabbit, no matter how cute – is not the car of choice for those with old or broken bones).

Mr. Grindle (chuckling): “Nice hat.”

Me (touching me head, I’d forgotten about my chauffeur’s cap – I smiled): “My regulars like it.”

Mr. Grindle (smiling and skating over his hat snark): “Thanks for the ride. I can’t drive until this cast comes off and I have to attend this dinner.”

Me (opening the passenger side door): “No problem. I am glad to drive you, though I won’t be available later.” 

Talking became technical for a moment while I helped Mr. Grindle translate the laws of physics into practical application which allowed him to fit comfortably to the Princess’s passenger seat. I hustled to the driver’s side (after stowing his crutches in the back) while he settled in for the short ride.

Me (puffing a bit): “So how’d you hurt your leg?”

Mr. Grindle (shaking his head and laughing at himself): “A rake jumped under my feet. I got tangled up and fell hard on my leg. Wish it was from something more interesting than that. Makes me sound like an old man.”

Me (quietly laughing with him while tapping my phone for directions): “Accidents are invariably silly or mundane. Remember when the President choked on a pretzel? With the Secret Service all around? No one ever comes off sounding like Fred Astaire.”

Mr. Grindle: “I suppose. Maybe I can make something better up?”

Not needing my encouragement, Mr. Grindle started entertaining various less plausible, but far more amusing scenarios to explain his current state. My attention diverted from the funny fabrications when an electric current arced across my toes. Startled I looked up and caught a reflection in my review mirror – a woman in her early twenties sat amongst the kitsch in my backseat staring at Mr. Grindle. 

The Woman: “He murdered me you know.”

Mr. Grindle: “I do need to get to the dinner by seven thirty, so if we could get going….”

His words broke through her rather stunning declaration (and my stinging toes).

Me (turning the car over): “No problem, sir.”

Keeping my eyes fixed on the road, my hands in the ten and two position.

Me: “So how long will you be there?”

The Woman: “Forever. He buried me deep.”

Mr. Grindle: “The dinner is only suppose to last until nine.” 

Me (changing plans): “Would you like me to wait for you?”

The Woman: “I waited but no one ever found me.”

Mr. Grindle (surprised): “I thought you said you would be unavailable later.”

Me (thinking on the fly): “A couple of hours isn’t very long. Plus you can make a quick escape if you need to.”

The Woman: “I tried to escape, but he shot me in the back.”

Mr. Grindle: “If it isn’t any trouble, it would be nice not to have to wait.”

Me: “No trouble at all, I can read in the car as easily as at home.”

The Woman: “I didn’t know he meant trouble when I found him in camp.”

Mr. Grindle (shifting in his seat, trying to get into his coat pocket – I think): “Do I need to do anything in FLYT…”

Me: “No, I will take care of it.”

The Woman: “He took care of everything, no one ever suspected.”

The ride ended almost as soon as the conversation did – I thanked whatever god who heeded my prayer (I didn’t care which). The Woman fell silent when we did, her focus on Mr. Grindle – much like when a cat catches you in a staring contest – never wavered. To my profound relief she never notice my furtive glances in her direction. I pulled into the driveway Mr. Grindle pointed out and helped him unfold from a sitting to an upright position – while assuring him all he had to do was call when he was ready to leave.

When I got back into the car The Woman was gone.

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