1.24 One More Time With Feeling

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(My plate after Beatrice and I dished up our late dinner!)

The shadows shrouding the walk between the alley (where I was allowed to park the Princess) and the Lavender Lady were only slightly shallower than those I’d encountered in Nevermore this evening. We really needed some landscape lights back here. 

I’d take a candlelit lantern at this point.

Fearing Ms. Hettie might mistake me for a prowler if I used my flashlight to traverse the walkway, I made do with the intermittent moonlight. Walking at a pace which snails would find laughable, I finally made it to my door, my toes remaining unscathed for the first time tonight. Win!

My victory lasted precisely three paces. 

The same toes which Mr. Grindle’s crutch repeatedly mashed and I stubbed against a tombstone were abused once more when they came to an abrupt halt against the metal joint of my roommate’s suitcase. Which she’d thoughtfully left lying just inside the door. No longer needing to stay silent I gave full voice to the sentiments felt by my beleaguered digits, this venting allowed me to catch myself before kicking the suitcase with the same foot in retaliation for the pain and suffering it caused (who says a fool can’t learn?). 

Me (borrowing the profanity filter from The Good Place): “Holy mother forking shirt balls! Steel-toed Forking boots, part of my first Forking paycheck needs to fund the purchase of Forking steel-toed boots.”

While I hopped about yelling Beatrice stuck her head out of the kitchen.

Beatrice: “While not a traditional greeting, I’ll take it. Hello Phoebe.”

Continuing to hop around, I glared in her general direction while my litany of questionable language streamed on unabated. I wonder if Wood would look at my toes to ascertain if they sustained any hairline fractures this evening…

Beatrice (unfazed by spectacle I presented, waved her hand towards her baggage): “I’ll pick those up in a second. Come into the kitchen. I fixed snacks.”

The swinging door swooshed back and forth when she went back into the kitchen fanning the pleasant aromas of sautéed onions, garlic, and basil in my direction. Snacks? Deciding it was pure foolishness to hop on one foot down a hallway strewn with bags, boxes and a crate (Seriously? A crate? I don’t remember hauling this much stuff to the airport), I put both feet on the floor and threaded my way through the maze. 

Opening the kitchen door with care, I scanned the floor before looking at a rather amused Beatrice and the platter of bruschetta she held in her hands. 

Beatrice: “No new objects in here to trip over in here I’m afraid.”

Placing the platter on the table between us, she waited until I sat down before dividing the tomato topped toast between our two plates.

Beatrice: “Senior dance tonight? I didn’t think the Center was open this late.”

Me (needing a moment to chew and swallow before answering): “Nothing so exciting. Forgot to turn my meter off, got a late fare.” 

Beatrice (arching an eyebrow): “Someone give you a hard time?”

Me: “No, just a weird guy. Good tipper. Speaking of weird, what’s up with Ms. Hettie?”

Beatrice (delicately nibbling her little slice of heaven): “You met our landlady? By the way, do not ever call her that.”

Me: “She accused me of being a thief.”

Beatrice (snorted): “Seriously? You met her? And she conversed with you? Did someone introduce you two?”

Me (muttering): “Technically we spoke if you call throwing accusations and general unhelpfulness speaking.” 

Beatrice (cocking her head): “No you don’t get it, she doesn’t talk to anyone unless introduced to them. Ever.” 

Me: “She wasn’t shy with me.”

Beatrice (hand hovering over her plate): “What happened?”

Describing my fruitless quest of locating the mythical storage area, the general crabbiness of Ms. Hettie and her accusatory air to Beatrice I finally appreciated the ridiculousness of the entire episode. The only hitch in the giddy-up? I still had an island of boxes in the middle of my room which is starting to morph into an oddly shaped laundry pile. 

Beatrice (looked thoughtful while she polished off her portion of the late night snack): “Maybe she likes you? I am not sure. She’s not rude to me, but quirky I suppose could come off the same way…”

Me (finishing off my food, I grabbed our plates and put them in the sink): “Well if you could show me where the storage area is I’d be grateful. Maybe Ms. Hettie will come by while were moving stuff, and you can witness her hostility towards me first hand.”

Beatrice: “How about tomorrow? Early? If you get up around six, I can show you the building before I head to work.”

Me: “Sounds like a plan.”

The early bird catches the worm, right?

1.23 Is It Tresspasing If You Have Keys?

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The upside about driving for FLYT? My black uniform doubles as ninja gear or perhaps cat burglar attire, either way, I am tough to see at night (I prefer ninja btw). When Ben gave me my walking papers, he was so intent on wresting my cottage keys from my fingers he forgot about my ring of skeleton keys to Nevermore. Since old habits die hard, I never leave home without them, fortuitous in this case since I need to make one more stop tonight.

The Princess’s tires rolled quietly over the pavement away from Mr. Grindle’s house towards Ash and Second – unofficially known as the Nevermore Crossroads. 

The bane of my professional existence. 

Well, when my professional title included the word caretaker in it. Why? High schoolers insist on scaling the walls for the thrill (and bragging rites) of drinking atop the moldering bones of notorious criminals sent to the gallows and the poor souls who died by their own hand (when they started defacing the graves, I actively started discouraged them). Fortunately for me, the next foray by these teenage hooligans would be soon – the streetlight on the crossroads was out – thickening the shadows on both sides of the wall by a factor of ten. Which, at this moment, suited me just fine. 

After parking the Princess two streets down, I hugged the shadows (which was ridiculously easy) until I reached the Crossroads’ gates, where I used my master key to open the West one (the South one tended to squeak) and slipped thru. The moon, obscured by clouds, didn’t illuminate much tonight. So I pulled a small flashlight out of my purse and turned it on then started following the perimeter wall north. 

I felt the probability of my discovery pretty low. Little Ben loathed this corner of the property, even during the day, claiming it unsettled him, meaning he would not step foot here at night on patrol. Since the high school hooligans found another spot for their shenanigans this evening, they wouldn’t rat me out either. So unless some weird cult decided to take up residence in the past week, my trusty flashlight and I were fine. Plus I needed it to navigate, graveyards at night and obstacle courses share many painful similarities – only one has more atmosphere.

Pretty soon the cheap concrete markers of the condemned gave way to the more conventional marble ones of Rye’s working class. Just on the other side of this invisible border, I spied Joseph leaning against a headstone, the brim of his fedora giving him away (no statue in the entirety of Nevermore wore more than garland on their heads). And because my focus wavered from the ground level obstacles for a split second too long, my toe found the edge of one of the aforementioned marble headstones. On the upside, my foot forgot where Mr. Grindle had stepped on it repeatedly a half hour earlier. By the time I’d finished whisper yelling ‘Ow!’ and clutching my poor toes Joseph stood next to me.

Joseph (amusement coloring his voice): “You rang?”

Me (trying hard not to put too much weight on my injured foot): “Hardy har har.”

Joseph (his hands hovering near my elbow): “You should sit, give your foot a rest.”

Me: “No, I can’t stay that long.”

Joseph (sensing the tone): “Alright. What’s the news?”

Me (gingerly standing upright again): “Stalker.” 

Joseph, his full attention on me, waited for more words.

Me: I happened on her tonight while driving a fare. She claimed to have injured Mr. Grindle and was able to shift her gaze for a moment. 

Joseph (looking up at the stars): “You questioned her.”

Me: Yes, circuitously. I needed more information than just my fare’s name and address.

Joseph shook his head and started on a rant I knew would not paint me with flattering colors. I cut him off.

Me: “Look, I needed information, and I got what I needed. She is so focused on him she’ll forget me by tomorrow.” 

Joseph (obviously not happy): “What’s next?”

Me (wishing I could’ve burned that pink slip): “Spread the word among the Residents, no one wanders east of my new apartment or into downtown proper until I get this fixed.” 

Joseph: “No problem.”

He turned and started walking away. I knew his unhappiness stemmed from the risk I took engaging Miss 80’s glam. Drat.

Me (trying for levity): “Thanks, Joseph. Oh, and tell the Residents I am also looking into this Farm nonsense Ben is starting.”

Joseph touched the brim of his hat and disappeared from the circle of light from my flashlight. 

Sigh.

Home again, home again jiggety jig.

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…

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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.

Diamonds and Pearls…

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One of my first FLYT fares – a nice lady of a certain age wearing (you guessed it) diamonds, pearls and the cutest pillbox hat – wanted me to drop her off at this door. Not a clue what lays beyond the threshold, but she confidently strode (in sensible heels) thru the door.

I think my career with FLYT might prove more interesting than I first supposed…

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