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.
Lists help me get more done in less time. Who doesn’t like that?
Plus when I can knock out a whole list in a day, I give myself a treat! Usually a book or magazine…
(In this case, the treat is avoiding the last item on the list for as long as possible!)
WWNDD? Well, Nancy Drew would put on her big girl panties and follow her new friend inside the shed. Fortune favors the bold. The lights flipped on when I hit the threshold.
This garden shed did not meet any of my preconceived notions.
Missing were the overwhelmingly potent odors of fertilizers, insecticides and machine oils. Instead, the delicate bouquet of old paper, whiskey, and cedar greeted me. The aromatic infusion of these scents into my surplus seemed a much more pleasant prospect than what I’d envisioned on the walk down.
Gazing around the space, I also noted the lack of axes, saws, hoes, spades, and mowers. Taking their place on one wall was wooden floor to ceiling flat filing cabinets. Mirrored on the opposing side were traditional bookcases, crammed full of oversized, spiral bound and stapled together books. The cases, like the ones in the house, had their middle shelves dedicated to fascinating artifacts. Only, in this case, the words ‘fascinating artifacts’ should be swapped for ‘unadulterated kitsch’. Stout vases filled with mini-troll dolls, rubber ducks, compasses, plastic goldfish and the occasional dragon and that was only a fraction of her unique collection.
Who knew a lawn separated a virtual natural history museum from a corner five-and-dime? Or that the shed shared a disturbing similarity to a mad man’s blue box? I swear Beatrice’s shed was bigger on the inside.
Spying an empty area by the back window, I reckoned my boxes would easily fit under it while my kitchen table would work beautifully in the center of the room. This place looked like it desperately needed a surface to set things on.
Beatrice (looking oddly proud): “Dourwood didn’t think you’d make it inside.”
Wood told? Beatrice knew I was freaking out on my walk down? I could not think of a bad enough word to call them. Setting my mug down on the counter to my left, I crossed my arms and pinned my housemate down with a stare.
Me (trying to control my mortification): “He told you about it?”
Beatrice (hands held up in front of her while talking fast): “No. He called while I was in Scotland and mentioned your problem locating the storage area. Trying to help you out. When I told him where it was, he laughed. I asked why but he just bet me ten bucks you’d never step foot in here, I pressed, but he never told me why.”
Me: “Harrumph. Is that why you chose to walk down here at six in the morning? In the dark?”
Beatrice (reddening slightly): I apologize, I do need to get to work early today. But facing your fears is essential for personal growth? I just wanted to help.
While I worked out how angry/annoyed/embarrassed I felt, my eyes stray back to the odd assortment of neat junk on her shelves. She should never let a toddler loose in here. They’d go nuts. I found the flat files just as curious, not even the main branch of the library has this many cabinets.
Me (still trying to gauge my level mortification): “Is it to nosey to ask what’s in the drawers?”
Beatrice (audibly exhaling): “Not at all – I collect maps. My collection grew too large for the apartment, so I moved them out here.”
I let her explanation go – it held most of the truth – the legs of the cabinets and bookcases matched the ghost of furniture past (the divots in the carpet) in my room. A room which is larger in square footage than the shed, curious thing to fib about.
Me (looking thoughtfully at the floor to ceiling installation): “What kind of maps?”
Beatrice (walking over and pulling open a drawer): “All kinds. Local, regional, antique, obsolete. Cartography fascinates me.”
Me (wholly diverted now): “Any treasure maps?”
Beatrice (sensing the humor in the question, she closed the drawer and walked to the counter): “No. Alas, the only one I found turned out to be fraudulent.”
Me (remembering my current conundrum): “Does your collection include an index? I’m looking for a place called Pumpkin Mountain.”
Beatrice (opening a cupboard above the counter and selecting two keys off a row of hooks, turned to me): “Never heard of it, but when I get home tonight I can see what I can find for you. Any reason?”
Me (thinking quickly): “One of my fares’ mentioned it in passing. I thought they might be pulling my leg, sounds like a place you’d find Jack Skellington hanging out in. Now I’m curious if it’s a real place.”
Beatrice (regarding me with interest): “No problem. I like a challenge. Any clue where to find it?”
Me (thinking back): “Mountains. Someplace which allows camping you need to hike to, that’s all I know.”
Beatrice (handing me the keys, her cheeks still red): “Narrows it down a bit, I’ll see what I can do. Here are the keys, if you could lock both locks when you leave I’d appreciate it and please don’t leave them lying about – some of these maps took a long time to find.”
Me (pulling out my Nevermore keys and slipping them onto ring): “No problem.”
Beatrice: “Thanks. Can you forgive me?”
Me (deliberating): “Bring home take-out from anywhere but The Fungus House and promise not to do it again and we’ll be okay.”
Beatrice: “Japanese or Chinese?”
My housemate peeled off when we approached the alley, I heard her car door slam and her engine turn over in the quiet of the morning (still needed to work out how annoyed I felt about her and Wood’s shenanigans).
Our apartment windows lit the walk enough to keep me from stumbling the rest of the way to my door. With my eyes focused so intently on the house, it allowed a bit of movement to catch my eye. For a moment a curtain swayed slightly just before a soft light turned off in Ms. Hettie’s portion of the house.
Perhaps she was more vigilant that Beatrice realized.
Irrational fears come in all flavors – beards, butterflies, spiders, clowns, rollercoasters, darkness, snakes, mice, ghosts, death, blood, needles, dogs, public speaking, the color yellow, heights, and bathing – for instance. If a long Latin name attaches itself to your favorite, you know it is someone else’s too, like some weird and wonderful ice-cream concoction. I’ve never found a name for mine (not sure if this makes me feel like a special snowflake or freak), but I do know its point of origin.
During spring vacation just after I turned nine (munching on a cookie), my purple sneakers and I felt the need to investigate an ominous din emanating from within our garden shed. Using all the skills I’d gleaned from Cherry Ames, Nancy Drew and Scooby Doo – I crept, quiet as cat’s paws, towards the side window. Easing my way between the bushes and the wall I peered over the windowsill. Old and dusty spider webs shrouded the source of the scrapes, bumps, and groans from my eyes while keeping most of the sun out.
I almost lost my nerve when I wondered what exactly skittered around in the corners of the shed where the light didn’t reach.
Not wanting to chicken out (Cherry and Nancy never did), I tip-toed slowly around the corner of the shed and peaked thru the door. The semi-darkness of the interior imbued the sheers, saws, and shovels with all kinds of sinister intent. When a fresh round of scraping started my eyes flew to the epicenter of the sound, the shadows cast such an aura of menace I failed to recognize my Uncle wrestling the mower off the wall. I yipped. He turned. I beaned him with my cookie. Then channeling my inner Shaggy & Scooby, I ran pell-mell back to the house and tried to explain to my Aunt about the dangerous criminal I’d seen in the shed.
Might not sound like much, but my nine-year-old self etched the episode in technicolor splendor in my memory (My Uncle laughed after he wiped the crumbs off his face. I never set foot in the shed again – we had seriously shaggy lawn the summer he tried to get me over my fear – but that’s another story).
So when I figured out where Beatrice was leading me at six am the next morning – in the dark – I felt trepidatious (a beautifully long word which sounds way better than ‘fraidy-cat). Little gremlins started tap dancing their way up and down my spine reminding me of that inauspicious day – which of course did nothing to curb my fears. But in fairness that’s not their job.
While I psyched myself out, Beatrice lead me unerringly down the garden path (apparently she ate a ton of carrots as a kid and now reaps the benefits of excellent night vision) towards the shed I’d found in my previous foray. On the upside, I’d fortified myself with a fantastic cup of coffee which helped dispel the chill in the air (and my heart).
Just about the time I figured I could live with Laundry Island (what I’d taken to calling my surplus possessions) and seriously debating whether I really needed the extra space in my room and unbruised shins – we arrived.
The orange glow from the sodium streetlamp on the adjoining road lit up the front of the shed nicely – didn’t make me feel like we were stuck in a jack-o-lantern at all. In the morning quiet I could hear Beatrice’s boots scrape over the wooden steps and snick of two locks disengaging – smiling at me over her shoulder she opened the door and walked into the darkness.
WWNDD – What Would Nancy Drew Do?
(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?
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.
Home again, home again jiggety jig.
Tonight’s sunset, as seen from the Lavender Lady, seems like it happened days ago now.