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.”

2.14.b Jade Colored Glasses

2.14 Jade colored glasses

If the Emerald City ever possessed an abandoned cemetery, this is precisely what it would look like. 

The only difference? Rather than the gleam of emeralds arresting the eye, lichens and mosses mimicked the jeweled tones made famous by that legendary city (and entirely engulfed every headstone). The lack of those brilliant precious stones, as we don’t actually live in the land of Oz, is probably for the best. Since it significantly reduces the chances of grave robbers raiding the place. On the flip side, if a frieze of emeralds rimmed the central burial or statue’s plinth, might have kept the tenants of this family plot on someone’s radar.

Seriously, if the entrance is any indication, no one’s visited this place in forty years. 

“They’re pulling our legacy apart for money, it’s a disgrace, I know. But I can’t stop them, Maud.”

Catching me in the midst of a spider shimmy, I turned towards the sour voice and spied a woman in a rose-colored silk suit sitting primly on a variegated green bench. 

Fantastic. Another woman wearing pink.

Our Lady of the Rose Suit (hands clenched into fists): “How can I save it, Maud?”

Her vinegary tone didn’t impart any warm fuzzies. 

Thankful for the thick layer of evergreen fir needles underfoot, I took a couple silent steps to my left, following her gaze trying to gain a glimpse of the elusive Maud and….nothing. So on the upside, she hadn’t pounced on (or in fact acknowledge) me after my unceremonious eruption into the verdant family plot. 

On the downside, she appeared to be talking to herself – which never bodes well.

Our Lady of the Rose Suit (lips puckered): “Yes, they’ve emptied the library.”

Taking advantage of her disregard, I scrutinized Our Lady of the Rose Suit carefully. Her accessories (a matching rose-colored pillbox hat & rhinestone-studded cat-eye glasses and white gloves) plus the cut of her clothes reminded me of the illustrations on early 1950s Simplicity Patterns. 

(I’m familiar with them due to spending time in Aunt Pearl’s sewing room. Being a Home Ec. Teacher and packrat – she’s kept all of her, and my Great Aunt’s sewing patterns – under the premise of everything old is new again, eventually.)

Coupling this sartorial impression with her rigid posture and general air, Our Lady of the Rose Suit struck me as a woman who required an introduction before saying more than a hello or commenting on the weather. (Not unlike Ms. Hettie – the sourest lemon on any tree.) 

Which means, at minimum, I need her name.

Gazing at the dozen and a half moss encrusted gravestones, I wiggled my toes in my shoes, hoping they’d give me my usual shortcut. But instead, and despite the fact, my sneakers had finally stopped squelching wetly with each step, they persisted in their impression of icicles. Fantastic.

Our Lady of the Rose Suit: “They’ve ordered the molding, panels and cabinets stripped out next.”

Okay, fine, I don’t need them to figure this out. I possess other skills.

Pulling out a small notebook, pencil and pocket knife from my pack (while palming a small tin of high-quality hand-cut sea salt, just in case), I used the first two items to sketch out the layout of the Von Haeville family plot, then numbered the stones on my rough map.

Stepping over the fallen fir bough to my left, whilst keeping a weather eye and half an ear on Our Lady of the Rose Suit, I knelt down in front of the second stone on my list. Using my pocket knife, I skimmed the emerald green coating from the marker’s face revealing, “David Von Haeville, Loving Brother, Husband, and Father 1890 – 1977”. 

Crap. 

She didn’t shift an inch in response to my actions – not that I want her to pounce mind you – but ninety-nine percent of Residents take an interest in any activity near their genesis points, especially if no one’s popped by in a while. 

Our Lady of the Rose Suit: “No, I never moved it.”

Recording the epithet on David’s stone into my notebook, I crab-walked to stone number three. Using the same process as before, I scraped away the grave moss and recorded what lay beneath. Then repeated the same process until a bright current flickered across my fingers on lucky number fourteen (lucky because that meant she started off as a Resident). 

Peeling away the thin green rind, I discovered Our Lady of the Rose Suit’s name – Ina Von Haeville. Weirdly, only Ina’s name was etched into the stone, nothing else.

Ina Von Haeville (fists bouncing slightly off her lap): “Yes, it’s the last one left unsullied by their influence.”

Now the rubber meets the road – let’s see how aware she really is…

Sitting back on my heels, I closed my eyes, took several measured breaths, leaned forward, and placed my hand back on Ina’s marker. Ignoring the electricity sparking over my fingers, I concentrated directly on Ina’s Vita. No stinging or biting, unlike the last pink-clad woman who’s Vita caused my arm to go numb. But it did contain a few discordant notes, less than I expected, characteristic of an Errant or Resident suffering from loneliness and/or isolation. 

Ina Von Haeville (voice disconcertingly close): “What do you think you’re doing.”

Birdies

after tootsiepop

This is one of the members of the dynasty of kinglets that flitted around as I past thru the narrow gap in the gate, in the garden and family plot! Shame they didn’t seem interested in eating spiders…

2.14.a Another Reason To Loath This Day?

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SPIDER! 

Spider! Spider! Spider!

Spider in my hair!

Crap! Crap! Crap! 

Scrubbing the dewy web I’d walked thru energetically from my face, I started inwardly cursing the lack of essential maintenance to the manor. A second later, when my nerve ending perceived eight legs scuttling over my scalp, my curses turned audible (and rather blue), while I attempted to dissuade the arachnid from remaining on my person. Which sounds way classier than reality – which featured more face scrubbing, hair fluffing, hasty outwear removal, and thrashing about trying to fling Aragog off me. (Aragog, Hagrid’s spider friend from Harry Potter and the approximate size of the bloodthirsty predator I’d spied lying in wait in its’ web a nanosecond before my forward momentum carried me thru it.)

Shaking my coat out vigorously and venting, “Forking spiders! Why are there always spiders? And why can’t Errants ever be easy? And those stupid forking Von Haeville sisters! Locking me out!…”

“Loathsome children, no better than their mother, really. No appreciation for family traditions…” The woman’s voice trailed off into a low murmur.

The unexpected agreement from a reedy voice the other side of the wildly untrimmed hedgerow cut my own spleen short. Standing on my tiptoes and craning my neck, I managed to catch a glimpse of a rusty row of wrought iron spear tops peaking thru the foliage. The sight of the barrier lifted an invisible weight off my shoulder (or perhaps my fanged foe leapt off, either way, they felt better), Beatrice mentioned in passing something about a family plot on the property didn’t she? 

Taking a deep breath, I pulled my coat on and gave my backpack and scarf a good shake – just in case. (I do not want that brown behemoth moving in and making my ear canal its new abode.) 

Standing back, I scrutinized the tall feral hedge. There two yards ahead, an inch of burnt orange poking out – a gate latch. Keeping my eyes firmly fixed on the oxidized iron, I took a careful step forward, unwilling to tangle with more artfully strung gossamer spun at exactly face height…

….Again…..Today. 

In point of fact, I’d walked thru three other (hopefully) unoccupied webs while dodging mossy statues, thorny bushes, and standing water. The water, a well-camouflaged puddle, I’d actually encountered first and avoided as successfully as that last bit of spider silk. The resulting moist pant cuffs, socks, and shoes (if you’re going to do something, do it well) lead to me stumbled around this unintended labyrinth for the better part of an hour trying to hone in on my first impression. 

Numb toes aren’t frustrating at all.

Also not frustrating? The hedge. Left to its own devices for so long, its’ swallowed up the open gate and the entrance once cut into it. 

Fantastic, now I get to go where spiders live (webs are just where they hunt). Stupid. Forking. Day.

Psyching myself up, I plunged headlong into and thru the green garden border. (Probably not the wisest thing to do, diving in headlong, but the thought of hidden spiders threatened to dissolve my nerve.)

2.13.b Shut The Front Door

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(Thank the gods above and below I didn’t need to break this lock…)

You know a wonderful way to work thru negative feelings? Visualization. 

Visualize a balloon (I prefer a red one). Next, fill it with all the pessimistic, unhelpful, and unproductive thoughts, tie it off with string and release it into a limitless blue sky. Finally, watch it grow smaller and smaller until it floats entirely out of sight (and thus out of mind).

What isn’t encourage? 

Smashing a very large rock against a very small lock while visualizing said stone as your fist and corroded metal as someone’s smug smile. 

It’s a little too touchy beat-y. 

Flipping my bangs off my sweaty forehead, I ignored the immature impulse to use my nose print on the grungy glass door as a bullseye and expedite my reunion with the charming Von Haeville sisters. I’m pretty sure they’d bill me for parts & labor to replace the inlay, despite the number of panes already missing from their frames across the derelict manor. (Plus breaking a window is impolite unless blood, fire or a zombie horde is involved.)

But a padlock is a horse of a different color altogether. 

Just enough destruction to sate my ire and minor enough damage for them to pardon (and hopefully choke on). 

All I needed to do, to effectively neutralize any outrage over my bargain basement bit of vandalism, is, “What was I supposed to do, trapped outside on a thirty-degree day? I couldn’t call because I forgot my phone in the car and you didn’t know the gate was locked. Did you?” So unless Miss Limburger owns to knowingly locking me out, which Beatrice and/or Mr. John Dupree would take her apart over, I don’t foresee an issue. 

A wide grin/grimace stole over my lips (my aim is not flawless) while I imagined the look on their faces when I pose my “innocent” question. (Petty, I know, but she slammed a door on my nose!)

About the time I was certain getting to the center of a tootsie pop would require less licks than this lock, it gave way. 

Tossing the metal bones aside, I tested the gate – as everything around here is either rusted or overgrown or both – it, of course, required more than a simple touch to open. Placing my palms against the silvered wooden boards, I pushed with all my might. The hinges hesitated for a moment, then elicited a screech worthy of a bad b-movie special effect……and opened approximately fourteen inches.

Visualizing myself as a Twiggy didn’t help a whit. 

But taking off my bulky pumpkin-colored coat, fourteen-foot wool scarf, and camera backpack, I tossed them thru the opening first. Followed by some scrabbling, much shivering, and a few curses…I was finally free! 

Taking a deep breath (after donning my cold weather kit again), I savored the silence for a moment. The spell broke a few moments later when a flock of kinglets fluttered past where I stood. Looking up and down the unused lane, trying to divine which way would lead me to the front door faster, left or right, I took a step forward for a better view.

My smile melted away when option number three trampled over my toes.

Gazing into the formal garden gone to seed, my eyes were unable to immediately discern the Errant’s location. Putting off the dubious but entertaining pleasure of reuniting with the group, I followed the pricking in my toes forward into the neglected formal garden. 

2.13.a She’s A Full-On Monet

2.14 Mouldy Manor

(This was way back in the house, straight ahead is the kitchen.)

Ever catch sight of a vintage car off in the distance motoring in your direction? Like a 1955 PV544 Volvo, all rounded curves and chrome accents (substitute any vintage vehicle here – I happen to appreciate old Volvos and pink VW Rabbits). Your mind fills in the details the distance renders indistinct, thus allowing your eyes to perceive a thing of beauty rolling closer.

But…

(There’s always a but….)

The nearer the throwback to bygone days comes, the more knackered it appears – the grill’s held in place by a length of wire, the entire body is pockmarked with shallow rust flecked dents and several visibly distinct stratum of grime augment the chipped/scratched paint.

Cinderella turns into an Ugly Stepsister in a matter of moments.

Apparently, this phenomenon can also afflict substantially sized manors – because not even the chirping bluebird of spring could put the bloom back on this sprawling heap of lichen smothered stone and peeling paint I pulled the Princess in front of. 

Me (ogling): “This house looks like the Lavender Lady’s destitute cousin!”

Beatrice (looking up): “It does rather.”

Me (resisting the urge to count every missing pane of glass): “Who are the people standing with Mr. John Dupree?” 

Beatrice (following my gaze): “For curiosity’s sake, are you going to keep referring to Dupree so formally?”

Me (chuckling): “Yes. Unless you happen to know his middle name?”

Beatrice (lips twitching): Unfortunately, I’m unaware of his middle name and those of today’s clients, the Von Haeville sisters, and their lawyer Mr. Ottoman.

Sighing in disappointment at Beatrice’s lack of information, I concentrated on wedging the Princess into a tight spot at the end of the turnaround without grazing the bumper of the stately black four-door in front of me while leaving enough room for my roommate to open her door. 

Me (engaging the handbrake and shutting off the ignition): “I’ll wait here until you’re finished….”

Thinking I’d use the time to peruse the images of Little Ben’s plans on my tablet, I started to dip my hand between the console and my seat when Beatrice redirected my plans by refilling my lap with blueprints. Which she then requested my help in rerolling – the entire twenty-five pounds worth. 

The steering wheel didn’t prove a hindrance at all.

Ten minutes and one paper cut later, Beatrice then “invited” me to meet her clients (in other words: double as her pack mule). While working up a sweat, hauling reams of assorted paper products, and an extensive tool kit up the weedy drive, I contemplated Beatrice and Wood’s divergent definitions of light-duty (btw my chest felt fine).

On the upside, the greeting I received from the statuesque blonde Von Haeville sister cooled me right off…

Miss Von Haeville (regarding me with the same expression I reserve for a wedge of Limburger cheese): “And you are?”

Beatrice (smoothly cutting in): “This is my girl Friday.”

Mrs. Von Haeville, the Elder (and designated spokeswoman of the three sisters apparently): “Miss…Miss…I don’t think I caught your last name.”

Beatrice (with a smile that showed all her teeth): “Just call me Ms. Beatrice.”

Mrs. Von Haeville, the Elder (face flushing): “Fine. Ms. Beatrice, the presence of an assistant here today, is entirely unacceptable…”

Huh. I’ve never heard anyone emphasize a word like that outside a costume drama because it didn’t take a linguistic anthropologist to decipher that ‘assistant’ really meant ‘The Help’. 

Mr. Ottoman (placing a hand on the mature woman’s mink cuff): “Ms. Beatrice, what Mrs. Von Haeville means to say is the family is not comfortable with an additional individual outside you and Mr. Dupree aware of the details of today’s activities.”

Wordier, but not much better.

Beatrice (in a tone which wouldn’t melt butter): “If you want me to find what you’ve lost, she stays.”

When Mrs. Von Haeville, the Elder, started sputtering (and the other two murmured darkly behind her), I seized my chance to spend the day studying Little Ben’s plans. (Snuggling under matching afghans in the Princess sounded more enjoyable than succumbing to hypothermia under the sister’s frigid stares inside.)

Me (bobbling my burdens): “If you don’t want me in the house while Beatrice works, no problem. Just show me a surface I can set these down on, and I’ll wait in my car until she finishes up.”

Six sets of eyes swiveled my way.

Mrs. Von Haeville the Elder (issuing a curt nod): “That’s acceptable.” 

Beatrice (saccharine smile aimed at the Elder): “Why don’t you take a stroll around the back garden instead? Get some fresh air? There’s even a fenced family plot if you’re interested. I cleared the area two weeks ago. Interestingly, the same day I requested these blueprints – that were couriered over this morning.”

Mr. Ottoman (glancing between his indignant client, my unblinking roommate, and me): “That’s a fair request. Who wants to sit in a car all day? Why don’t we head inside and get started…”

The next half-hour featured much toe-tapping and harumphing while the three of us set down and up Beatrice’s plans in the musty, cavernous foyer. When we finally finished, Miss Limburger escorted me past an assortment of empty, moldering rooms to the backdoor.

Me (pausing on the threshold): “Any idea how long this will take?”

Miss Limburger (holding the door open): “No.”

Turning back to ask where to find a ladies’ room in this rabbit warren, my nose left a print on the dusty pane of glass set into the closed door (which possibly possesses the only hinges in the entire manor that don’t protest when used). Miss. Limburger, without meeting my wide-eyed gaze (but wearing an infuriating half-smile), threw the deadbolt, turned on her heel, and walked briskly out of sight, leaving my flabbergasted self standing in the midsts of an overgrown kitchen garden, mouth hanging open.

Way to keep it classy lady.

2.12 Don’t Make Me Turn This Car Around

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(Yeah a case and less documents would’ve made today so much easier…)

“Beatrice, seriously, you need to either roll that up or move it onto your lap, otherwise I am stopping the Princess, and you’re going to sit in the backseat!”

Thank the gods Mr. John Dupree had taken one look at the Princess and decided to meet us there! As amusing as it would have been to watch him try to fit his frame in my tiny VW Rabbit (and listen to his overly starch suit crinkle) – I was glad I had the option of shoving Beatrice back there!

Why? I quickly discovered, without ever having once wondered, that I cannot drive with architectural plans strewn over the dash, the stick shift, and propped up against my person! I need to see thru my whole windshield, not just a narrow field – call me silly, but being able to see a granny crossing the road is a real concern at the moment (the members of the Senior Center would not be amused if I hit a fellow octiginarian….).

A variant of this conversation had been going on for the last twenty-five miles.

But in all seriousness, I now understand why Mr. John Dupree made sure I signed a legally binding contract before chauffeuring Beatrice. (Come to think of it I don’t think I’d ever ridden with her before, we usually met up someplace…..well the things you learn on micro-sized road trips.)

It also explains why he hadn’t volunteered for the duty himself and why my salary for a single day’s work was so generous.

“Beatrice, seriously, study another, smaller piece of paper I am begging you, or I am pulling over your choice.” Carefully I started steering the Princess towards the shoulder, devoutly hoping my tires weren’t heading directly at a ditch.

Somewhere from behind the castle of paper, I heard a muttered, “Fine!” This was followed immediately by copious amounts of rustling, which reminded me of squirrels running through the fallen leaves in our backyard. Eventually, Beatrice emerged from behind a plethora of documentation.

“Why don’t you load all this onto your tablet so you can study it easier?”

Capping the highlighter, “Because clients like this count on discretion. They don’t want to risk someone finding out that their dear old great grandad might have left a stash of racy love letters lying around. So they want analog – which means lots of paper.” 

“This doesn’t appear more secure…” Thankfully she finally shifted the blueprints obscuring the windscreen onto her lap.

“It isn’t, but Dupree couldn’t convince them that no one was actually interested enough in their dirty laundry to hack into his servers.” Her voice dry as dust on the subject of today’s clients. Shaking her head, “If they’d drop the original plans off the first time I asked for them, we might have enjoyed the drive.”

Which, now that I could finally witness it in wide angles was rather lovely, all evergreens, frost tipped grass, farm animals and rustic houses. We’d left the outskirts of Rye about fifty minutes ago, and according to my phone, we had another ten to go before we reached our destination. 

Still nosing through the documents, which in concession to my not so muffled grumblings she kept below the dash (but were still resting against my shoulder/thigh/elbow), “I thought you’d be more curious about my other job.”

“I was, right up until you smacked me in the head with a ten-pound roll of paper and then used me as an easel for over an hour.” 

“Yes, that could kill one’s curiosity…” Contrition colored her words (but only a small portion of the papers changed positions).

Noticing (in my delightfully unimpeded peripheral vision) her cheeks turning pink, I threw her a bone, “So why do you need so many architectural drawings?”

Slightly bemused, Beatrice answered, “They tell me where the bones of the house are, which in turn gives me a solid starting point.”

Waiting for a beat, “Starting point? For what?”

“To find what they’ve lost.” 

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