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2.23 Roadblocks

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(I have no recollection of ever purchasing a box of hands…)

The ransacking of my bedroom, after Aunt Pearl dropped me at the Lavender Lady library books in hand, yielded several exciting finds. Apparently, I own five copies of Melville’s Moby Dick (and haven’t cracked the cover of a single one), an entire box of mannequin hands I don’t recall purchasing, and my favorite purple sweater misplaced during the move.

Unfortunately, my copy of Nevermore’s Conventions (the massive three-ring binder dedicated to its history, bylaws, policies, and general guidance) was nowhere to be found.

Quelle surprise.

Of course, this revelation only came after two-hundred-and-forty-nine minutes of rifling, piling, and sifting through the contents of my closet and bookcases. My scouring ceased the moment I unearthed a wad of documents stuffed in the middle of a geology text. Apparently, my Caretaker employment contract, Cottage lease agreement, and other Nevermore related paperwork decided, after eighteen years of residing inside the front cover of the Conventions, to go on holiday.

Right.

One more mystifying incident to add to the list.

Sitting on the sun-warmed stone bench, I took a deep breath of the vapor rising from the surface of my coffee. Closing my eyes, I cast my mind back, endeavoring to recollect the last time I held it…I’d taken a gulp of coffee and…pulled it from a stout moving crate in order to reference my lease! I’d needed to know the hour Little Ben could/would come by for the Cottage’s keys. Then something pulled me away…and the rest of the memory is swallowed up by the chaos of coordinating the convoy of vehicles carrying my possessions to the Lavender Lady. 

Drat. 

Sighing in vexation, I opened my eyes. The view reaching my retinas mellowed my mood slightly. 

Dawn and dusk are my two favorite times to sit outside in Nevermore. Tonight, the sparrows sang to each other, sun colored the clouds orange and the fragrance of freshly mown grass filled the air – reminding me exactly why I’m still trying to take care of this place. However, my other unique and oblique responsibility quickly supplanted this initial reminder by sending ripples of electricity across my toes, pulling me from my reverie. 

Me (tracing of the stylized letter ‘A’ etched in the stone bench): “I was hoping you’d find me.”

Taking a seat next to me, “You’re the only one I know who eats bacon & eggs at this hour. I simply followed the scent.”

Fishing around inside the paper sack, I pulled out one of the egg, bacon & maple rolls I’d been too trepidatious to partake of before Joseph’s arrival. 

Me: “Guilty”

Joseph (concern coloring his voice): “How are you feeling?”

Speaking of foibles, Joseph may find my love of breakfast dishes for dinner unconventional; however, he owns one or two idiosyncrasies himself. Case in point, he was asking after my health because we haven’t seen each other since the night we confronted the Woman In White. Why? Because, for reasons known only to him, he never leaves Nevermore’s grounds. 

For any reason. 

Ever.

(He’s repeatedly rebuffed my questions about this quirk – btw.)

So I filled him on what happened after I left Nevermore that night, segueing rather nicely into the quandaries currently plaguing me. By the time I finished, the Golden Hour had transitioned smoothly into the Blue Hour, and my stomach let out a fierce grumble, letting me know of an egg, bacon & maple roll-shaped hole I needed to fill posthaste.

Me (summing up after a swig of coffee): “So, you wouldn’t happen to know where to find Big Ben or a copy of Conventions, would you?”

Taking a bite of my savory, I let him digest everything I’d just laid on him. About the time I was debating between licking the leftover bacony goodness off my left thumb or using my handkerchief as a napkin, Joseph broke the silence. 

Joseph: “Yes, and no.”

Me (drily): “Well, that clears things right up.”

Joseph (chuckling): “Yes, I know the location of a copy. Yes, I can loan it to you.”

Bouncing off the seat and onto my feet, I waited for him to follow suit.  

Joseph (an air of regret surrounding him): “No, I cannot retrieve tonight.” 

The rollercoaster of emotions accompanying his words prompted me to rake my fingers thru my hair. (It wasn’t until Beatrice delicately sniffed the air later wondering why I smelled of bacon that I recalled I’d neither wiped or licked the leftover bacon grease off my fingers.)

Joseph (unintentionally deflating me further): “You know there are elements of Nevermore which must remain unpublished. Regrettably, the whereabouts of this particular copy is one of those elements.”

Turning away from him, I aim my aggravation at the moon. The main food for my frustration, above and beyond needing to wait for possible answers, was the understanding of his position. (Though the underlying current of his words, i.e., the sands of the Sahara would reclaim the Great Pyramid of Giza before he’d budged, grated.)

Me (still zeroed in on the moon): “Any clue how soon?”

Joseph (pausing for several beats): “Tomorrow, a week, ten days? I cannot retrieve it until the immediate vicinity is clear of both Residents and staff. “

Me (pivoting on my heal): “Do you know Nevermore’s bylaws?”

Joseph (who’d risen at some point, touched my arm): “I wish I could give you some easy answers.”

Me (sighing): “I know. I’d just hoped things would move quicker. I can pull on other threads until you can collect it.”

Joseph: “One of them being Orin’s Errant?” 

Me (throwing up my hands): “Crap!”

(Obviously, Joseph correctly guessed I’d forgotten about that small task.)

2.15.a An Inadvertent Introduction

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(Rough map of the Von Haeville family plot.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: “What about the three sisters?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: “It?”

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

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

Me: “I promise.”

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

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