(Before and after pictures of my state of mind after KARB’s news report.)
Mr. Nelson sat quietly next to me, clutching his seat, while I channeled my inner Lewis Hamilton (world champion F1 driver). The Princess was more vocal in her protests against my rather cavalier attitude towards her right now. She is many things but a Formula One car? Not even in her wildest dreams.
I willed the lights ahead of me to turn green since stopping for reds wasn’t going to happen.
When I finally passed thru Nevermore’s side gates, I rued the day I’d persuaded Little Ben to install these forking speed bumps. Their existence was currently hindering me from taking the lanes at speed. However Lady Luck was with me when we finally came within sight of the main building, everything looked buttoned up and empty.
Even better? The assortment of marshmallows presently in the Princess, coupled with an effervescent historical mystery, read by book light in such a unique setting provided more than enough entertainment for Mr. Nelson’s Monday night. Or so he assured me.
The Princess was parked between a retaining wall and the recycler.
Seems he really didn’t want to owe my Uncle a favor anymore.
What did? The fact I told Joseph we had five days before the Woman In White was supposed to arrive.
Slipping from my parking spot around to the back entrance I used my keys to let myself in (it took four tries to get the key in the lock). After carefully punching in Big Ben’s security code into the alarm panel with a shaky hand (the last thing I needed to do was get that wrong) I headed straight to the maintenance closet.
Opening the door, I breathed a sigh of relief. It seems Sam (our admin) had placed the winter supply order I’d put together before Little Ben laid me off. Which meant I could head straight over and heft a twenty-five-pound bag of rock salt off the shelf. Not the highest quality of salt but the sheer quantity should suffice. Exiting the supply closet, I headed further into the building towards Sarah’s Domain & Depository. Where I knew I would find the Woman In White’s bones.
My one fervent hope? That she’d elected to maintain her vigil over her husband rather than her remains.
When the electric current arched over my toes my heart sunk to their level – she was in Nevermore. The only upside was the fact she wasn’t running around the grounds yet. Bouncing quietly on the balls of my feet down the rest of the hallway, my heart nearly stopped when I spied the seam of light leaking from under Sarah’s door. My ears detected muffled voices emanating from the other side. I set the bag of rock salt down softly against the wall. Then very slowly pulled down on the lever handle opening it just a sliver.
“He needs punishing!” she screeched at Joseph.
Well, that explains why she wasn’t pursuing the Residents yet.
“He will be. You followed him to the police station, watched his interrogation, and witnessed his confession.” Joseph answered in a flat voice, stepping forward he inadvertently gave me a better angle to watch him from. It also revealed the plain cedar box to his right. I didn’t need to read the small brass plate to know what resided inside, the susurration gave its contents away.
A wind whipped thru the room scattering forms, print-outs and general papers left out in its wake.
Won’t that be fun to straighten up later.
With her frustration vented and Joseph unmoved by it, she changed tactics. Her voice melted into a mellifluous timber, and her movements turned languid while she slowly closed the gap between them. “He murdered me. I want to punish him. Me, not someone else, you understand…” On her last words, she reached up to his collar and traced the parallel lines of his lapels down his chest.
Trying to play the siren to lure him into complying with her wishes?
I couldn’t see her face, but Joseph’s looked unimpressed.
When her hands reached the middle of his chest they disappeared from my view – but her arms gave her away – the split second prior to the punch she tensed.
Hurry, hurry, hurry! I knew her aim. If she grasped his heart, she could use it to find his bones and siphon away the energy held within. Lurching sideways I fished for the knife in my pocket. Finally grasping it, I quickly slit the sack sitting next to me halfway open.
The simple latch on the brass-bound box would take a single moment to open. Then I could finish what I started on Pumpkin Mountain. Picking up the sack of salt with one hand and reaching for the door with the other I prepared to confront the Woman In White myself.
However, Joseph’s bored tone stayed my hand on the handle, “Are you finished now?”
As much as I love the Princess, the car in the new FLYT ad is drool worthy!
You should have seen the general store/diner/butcher/post office owner’s face when I asked for fifty bucks worth of their homemade marshmallows at seven a.m.
Sarah’s order filled an entire box.
Their marshmallows are sold by the pound and it turns out fluff & stuff doesn’t weigh much. It took full pans of raspberry, chocolate, ginger, cherry lime, poppyseed, vanilla, pineapple, pumpkin spice and apple cinnamon to fill the fifty dollar favor. Adding to their legendary start to a random Monday morning, I also purchased another fifty bucks worth of assorted brightly colored homemade hard candy.
The Princess smelled like the weirdest fruit basket ever.
A half-hour, one hundred dollars, two bemused clerks and many empty trays later the Princess and I were bopping along and listening to the tunes Mrs. Schmit (librarian extraordinaire) had recommended I check out. While they didn’t fall within my usual musical preferences, I found myself enjoying them none the less. In any event, the cd’s were preferable to the white noise my radio currently wanted to pump out.
The tunes, the road, and the scenery accomplished what my pillows were unable too.
Quiet my mind.
Opening my window the chilly air smacked me in my face and made me feel refreshed, despite last night’s fitful sleep (and when I say chilly I mean single digits – I was lucky not to have snow swirling thru the window). So with a song in my heart and candy in my mouth, I wound my way to work.
The problem with putting your worries on the back burner? Small things can slip past you.
Just past seven pm Mr. Nelson, my last scheduled fare of the day, brought the errant detail to my attention, “Would you mind if I flipped the radio over to the news?”
Huh. I’d been enjoying Mrs. Schmit’s musical selections so much that I’d never switched over to the radio when I’d descended from my marshmallow mountain expedition (and since it was only slightly warmer in the lowlands, in the teens, I’d left the candy in my car all day. I’d cut my timing a bit fine this morning. The aroma elicited some entertaining commentary from my passengers).
Pondering which of Mrs. Schmit’s selections was my favorite, I listened with half an ear to the deep timber of KARB’s news reader starting on today’s headlines: “The Rye city council approve the University’s expansion project. The Rye Art Museum rediscovered a Renoir painting lost since 1928. But first, Rye police released the remains of Tiffany Grindle today. No word yet if her memorial service will be open to the public. Her body was discovered…..”
The buzzing in my ears drowned out the rest of the story. Gripping the wheel with sweaty palms, my seat belt tightening against my chest as I barely stopped in time for the red light in front of me.
She was in Nevermore.
The Woman In White was in Nevermore.
And I had a fare.
Crapity, crap, crap, crap!
“Are you okay? You are very pale and breathing hard…” Mr. Nelson’s question broke thru the sheer panic enveloping me in a way the blaring horns behind me hadn’t. It seems the light had turned green again.
I have to get to Nevermore.
“Do you have any plans tonight?” Spinning the Princess’s wheel, I made a u-turn in the intersection and put my foot down hard on the accelerator.
Mr. Nelson hesitated a moment before answering, “Nothing special….”
Aiming for cheery, “Fantastic! How would you like to eat some marshmallows and read a book while I take care of an emerg…urgent matter? And your next six trips are free.”
Violating Rye speeding laws, I cut a corner to shave a few seconds off my travel time to Nevermore, “Yup marshmallows and the new Deanna Raybourn mystery.”
Not sure how a seventy-two-year-old army veteran would enjoy a historical mystery featuring a lepidopterist – but it’s what I got.
“Your Becker’s niece aren’t you?” His voice filled with speculation.
Wrenching the steering wheel, taking a hard right, “That’s me.”
The Princess is many things, but high performance she isn’t. Maybe if I invest in some good cornering tires….
“You tell him we’re even and I’ll wait in the car for you.”
“Fantastic! You don’t spook easily, do you?”
My sack of deep-fried perfection sat forgotten in my lap.
Now I understood why cops eat doughnuts and drink coffee, they’re essential tools in stimulating the cognitive processes.
Continuing to wrack my brain – I didn’t think I’d spoken or been spoken to while we traversed the walkway. I certainly hadn’t sung the sea shanty.
The Sea Shanty.
That’s how she knew where we went, the last line before the refrain, ‘Now we are bound for Nevermore.’ (Plus a bit of dumb luck on her part, we might have gone anywhere)
But why? What would Ms. Hettie gain by calling Little Ben?
That’s why I suppose they call them the million dollar questions – if they were easy – anyone could answer them. Uncrossing my legs I rubbed my calves and thighs, ignoring the pins and needle sensation running down them and into my feet.
“If you don’t finish eating those up you’re going to find yourself surrounded by seagulls soon.”
The voice’s good point removed me from my revery, prompting me to nibble one of the bite-sized bits of perfection. Proving my theory wouldn’t happen today, and while I’d put the Sunny Valley Farm problem to bed, I still had other irons in the fire.
Me: “Good morning Mazy.”
Mazy is Nevermore’s Resident Naturalist.
Mazy: “Good Morning Caretaker.”
She stood next to me, and we watched the critters scamper to and fro enjoying their unexpectedly easy breakfast.
Mazy (excited): “Oh! There’s my little guy! The little grey squirrel with the white tuft on the top of his tail, he’s eating some crumbs from the middle mound! See, right there!”
Mazy loves her squirrel buddy very much. Orin’s sweet on Mazy. Which is why he’d tried his hand at extortion during our escape. The quickest way to her heart is to help one of her critters. Since Joseph actually sent him to help us (and the fact he’d played a practical joke), Orin couldn’t really hold me to my promise. But I didn’t feel like splitting hairs about it.
Me: “Mazy, I will come by and feed him as often as I am able, but it won’t be every day…”
Mazy (smiling widely): “No problem! A couple of extra meals a week should fatten him right up! I’ll let you know if he moves from this thicket, but I think he’s chosen his favorite tree now.”
Me (putting on my serious face): “Mazy can you do me a favor and pass a message to Joseph for me?”
Mazy: “No problem!”
Me: “Tell him that she’ll arrive in five days.”
Mazy (upbeat as ever): “Easy! I’ll go let him know now.”
On that note, she skipped away following her squirrel buddy (and presumably also towards Joseph) into the thicket. Since it was finally light enough, I slid with less grace than an elephant on ice, off of the Princess’s hood. Climbing into the car I put the remaining doughnuts in my lap (they were in a bag btw – though at this point with the amount of powdered sugar on my person I am not sure that distinction really mattered) made sure my coffees were accessible and set out for a drive.
If my maths were correct (and most math done when you are trying to sleep is) the early start to my day meant I could drive up, buy fifty bucks worth of marshmallows and be back before I needed to start my shift.
Switching my stereo over to the cd player I settled into the beautiful drive into the mountains – the Princess and I alone on the road.
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).
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?
Aware my fish was about to bite I kept my tone even, “If Iron Creek floods the water will work the caskets to the surface and carry them downstream then into town. The City Council will hammer you over it.”
The Rye City Council is a constant source of headaches for Big Ben and his family. Over the last ninety years, they’ve attempted no less than eighteen times to carve up Nevermore for the ‘betterment’ of the city.
They will not be pleased to discover Little Ben expanded Nevermore boundaries further – even if his plan includes helping the city’s hungry. They’d be actively looking for any way to strip Little Ben of the land. Poorly placed graves would give them the ammunition they needed to accomplish the deed.
Circling my bait Little Ben stalled, “That’s just an urban legend.”
Tugging the line enticingly, “It’s not. Research the recent flooding in the south or call one of the others in the association – they’ll confirm the problem. I promise.”
Finally biting, he strove to appear uninterested in his own question, “Where would you place ‘the feature’ in Sunny Valley Farm?” A group of kids wandered close to us, so he used a euphemism. Didn’t matter, they were too busy talking amongst themselves to notice our conversation.
Taking a beat before answering to still myself, “I’m not very familiar with the farm. You should really ask the MacGregors, they’d know the best spot to place it. But from the narrow slice I’ve seen of the property, the field across the road from the Seven Roses might work. ” (Seven Roses is the name of Big Ben’s house in Nevermore) Shrugging I let my attention momentarily wavered off of Little Ben and onto Ruth who currently carried two plates filled with food matching our orders from the kitchen.
Wreathed in smiles, Little Ben bellowed his goodbyes and nearly knocked Beatrice’s burger out of Ruth’s hand with a particularly sizable sweeping gesture in my direction, “I nearly forgot why I originally came over here!”
My heart lurched in my chest.
“You left some stuff in the cottage when you left. I packed it up and moved the boxes to the main offices. Sarah said she’d call you about them, but I guess I saw you before she did. You should pick them up soon, I’m sure they’re in her way.” On that last note, he left us to clean our plates in peace.
It took a moment for my stomach to settle down enough so I could sate my Reuben colored craving. When he’d turned back around I’d half expected him to hand me paperwork banning me from Nevermore. Which would have been awkward.
Beatrice shifted her focus from her phone to me the moment Little Ben exited our sphere, “You handled him beautifully.”
Unable to speak, having taken a rather ambitious bite of my sandwich, I shrugged. When I was finally able to comment my voice sounded tired even to my ears, “My approval of his scheme means he won’t worry himself about how he was able to afford it.” It’s also why I was confident that my words worked. Whatever small portion of his conscious still bothering him about laying me off would quiet once he acted on my suggestions.
I did find it interesting that he did try to place a small wedge between Sarah and me.
We worked our way thru our dinners with yummy noises replacing actual conversation. When only a few stray fries remained on our plates talking resume.
“It is rather anti-climatic though, using my words to convince Little Ben he should reconsider where to put the pet cemetery. My backup plan featured breaking & entering, a switcharoo, and arts & crafts. Nail-biting stuff! But I suppose this produced more reliable results.”
Beatrice laughed at the rueful note in my voice, “Well after last night’s near-miss this solution is probably better. Speaking of last night… will your Aunt really send a copy of our piratey portrait to my parents?” Her smile fading at the end of her question, while her fingers started shredding the lettuce garnish on her plate.
“If they live within a hundred miles of Rye she’ll find them.” Sensing the tension at the table, “I can ask her not too.”
With a smile that didn’t entirely span her face, “I’d appreciate. We aren’t on speaking terms presently.”
(Sandwich Photo courtesy of Unsplash)