“Oh, you’re Phoebe’s former manager. I owe you a big thank you!” After this rather stunning declaration, she accidentally dropped her phone under the table. When she leaned over to retrieve it, she cut herself off mid-sentence.
Little Ben eyed me. I just shrugged.
Popping back up she continued on without missing a beat, “When you laid her off, you gave me the best roommate ever!” Focusing on her phone, which had started doing a fair impression of an angry bee, she addressed both of us, “Go ahead and ignore me, I need to respond to a bunch of emails from work. Apparently, someone shook an author’s hand, and now his publisher is freaking out. So I need to calm the waters.” Waving us on, she dove into her phone.
Trying not to split a seam at Beatrice’s comment and Little Ben’s befuddlement I wrestled my focus back onto what he’d been saying, “So Nevermore?”
Something which looked suspiciously like guilt flitted across his face but was quickly chased away by disdain. Shrugging it off he unglued his gaze from Beatrice and transferred it to me, “Er, yes, Nevermore. I was wondering if you did anything special to ward off trespassers. Specifically students from the high school.”
His question placed me squarely on boggy ground. Helping him meant the possibility of compromising my own avenues of ingress. But on the other hand, left to his own devices….
Too tired to be a jerk I answered, “Replace all the broken lights with bright new bulbs, make sure security varies their routes and up their numbers on holidays and when school is out.”
His answer made me glad I’d gone the route I did, “I was thinking of pulling the groundskeepers in for double duty. They always want extra hours, and they’re cheaper than the guards.”
Trying to head off all the avenues of objection, “Ben, they’ll like the hours right up until they run into a group of genuine vandals. People seriously bent on desecrating burials can turn very nasty very quick. The groundskeepers don’t have the skills to deal with them. And what if they got hurt? It would cost more money in the long run. Stick with our regular firm, they know the hotspots to watch and who they’re dealing with.”
Complaining, “They didn’t do any good last night! And we were featured in the Harvest’s Blotter!”
A ghost of a smile hovered over my lips, “They’ll work harder now. They don’t like losing. And helpful hint, don’t call the cops until after security has detained someone.” On that note, Ruth, our waitress placed a condiment carrier on the table (which the Rusty Hinge takes seriously – filling an old six-pack box with sriracha, horseradish, curry, brown sauce, relish, and ranch dressing. Ketchup and mustard never leave their tables).
Knowing the condiments signaled our impending meal he rushed on, “Have you seen the plans for Sunny Valley Farm?”
“Bait the hook well; this fish will bite.” Claudio advised Don Pedro and Leonardo when they were trying to trick Benedick into loving Beatrice (or trying to temper his pride enough to declare his love for her – but we can debate their motivations later).
Either way, Claudio’s line floated through my head when Little Ben asked his question. If I played my cards right Little Ben would choose the correct course of action on his own. Without me needing to employ any convoluted high-risk schemes to get him to see reason.
Delicately grasping the opportunity, “I saw the advertisement in The Daily Harvest.”.
Okay, so it still requires some guile on my part.
With a keen look in his eye, “So what did you think?”.
Infusing my words with a slightly upbeat tone, “Tapping into a new market is smart. Donating entire harvests to local food banks is genius. It will garner goodwill in the community, and I assume it’s tax deductible.”
Puffing up like a proud peacock, “I thought it was a good idea.”
Hesitating a beat before agreeing with him, I placed a note of doubt in my voice, “So long as the pet cemetery portion of the farm isn’t placed near Iron Creek – I don’t see why your new venture won’t be a success.”.
Confusion lined his face, “Why would that be a problem?”
(Take-Out from the Spare Rib from a previous visit…)
My half-day flipped into a full-day when a couple of the Senior Center members asked me for a favor. They had a hankering for barbeque and wanted to go to the best joint around, The Spare Rib. Familiar with the unyielding grip of a food craving we came up with a compromise. I would drive them there (it was an hour one way) if they got their food to go and didn’t eat in the Princess (good bbq is Messy with a capital ‘M’). The fact I just flat like Betty and Joan didn’t hurt either.
Moreover, the flu-induced set schedule ended in a couple of days and with it the regular hours. So earning a few extra brownie points amongst the Center’s members seemed wise.
When I finally dropped them off, bbq in hand, at their apartment building I was starving and had zero interest in cooking. While the bbq whetted my appetite, it wasn’t what my tastebuds hankered after this evening.
My heart’s desire could only be found at the Rusty Hinge – a nice thick Rueben sandwich (they make their own Rye bread, Russian dressing and sauerkraut – it is to die for) and hand-cut fries. When I slid into my preferred booth, the one in the back next to my favorite pinball machine, my bones fused to the vinyl.
My poor body was unused to the amount of running we did last night and needed a moment to regroup before attempting to retake my Addams Family crown (aka the high score that Benedict stole from me). Leaning my head against the scalloped cushion, I took a deep breath and let my mind float along the waves of ambient stimulus – the aroma of sautéing onions filtering from the kitchen, errant strands of dialogue emanating from the pinball machines and groans from the football fans watching their team commit yet another penalty. Slowly my mind spun until it landed on the conundrum Sarah placed in my lap earlier today (she’d texted me after our marshmallow bargain).
Sarah: Just thought I’d let you know – Little Ben was tipped off that you guys were coming last night.
Sarah: He let it slip to Seth last night. Someone called him. That’s how he had security, the MacGregors and the groundskeepers on site so fast.
Me: Crap. Are you sure he doesn’t know it was us?
Sarah: Yes. I don’t think he could keep it to himself if he did. He’d have called a meeting to inform all us you were banned from the property. Like he did with Sue.
Me: Any clue who called him?
Sarah: None. This is all second hand, I didn’t want to grill Seth – might send up a red flag.
Me: Thanks for the heads up!
(Or No Problem Any Time)
Ruth broke into my train of thought to take my order (and Beatrice’s she was meeting me here), which was fortuitous since I might have drifted off in another second.
If correct Sarah’s data spun the previous night’s events in a whole new direction. But who on earth knew we were bound for Nevermore last night? On top of that, other than Little Ben, who would care?
Speak of the devil, and he shall appear.
My mulling moved to the back burner when a familiar bulky form barreled across the floor towards my booth.
Little Ben boomed halfway across the floor, “Phoebe! I’m glad I’ve run into you!”
I’ve never ceased regretting telling Little Ben about my favorite greasy spoon.
Reaching my table Little Ben’s voice sunk into conspiratorial tone, ”Did you hear about what happened in Nevermore last night?”
“I read about it in the Blotter this morning.” His question told me Sarah’s assessment was correct. If Little Ben had figured out I was among those he’d chased around Nevermore last night, he’d have let everyone hither, thither and yon know it.
Little Ben’s face set into a grimace, “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” Without so much as a by your leave, he started moving towards the empty side of the booth to take a seat. Unfortunately (for him, not me) he found the booth’s entrance unexpectedly cutoff – Beatrice had arrived.
Taking off her long purple coat, she laid it down on the seat between us and slipped into the booth, “Sorry I’m late. Things are crazy at Pulp right now. Hello! I’m Beatrice.”
Biting my lip, I watched Little Ben’s frustration at being thwarted cross his face, “Hi. I’m Ben. I was just discussing something with Phoebe.”
Beatrice, draping herself with an air of innocence, “Oh, you’re Phoebe’s former manager. I owe you a big thank you!”
The most interesting door I delivered a fare to this week!
It belongs to Slide, a guitar store here in Rye.
Sitting in front of the Senior Center I had a fifteen-minute window before my next fare. Still full from my Aunt’s excellent spread I left my turkey and Havarti on rye in my lunch box. Deciding instead to act on her intelligence. Sarah answered her phone on the third ring.
Sarah (trying hard to keep her amusement in check and failing): “Sooooo how was your night?”
Me (laughing with her): “Oh shut it.”
Sarah: “Why were you guys dressed like the Three Musketeers last night?”
Me (exasperated): “Pirates, we were pirates. And Wood thought it the perfect moment for payment on a delinquent bet.”
Sarah’s only response – laughter. I sincerely hope she’s somewhere where Little Ben can’t overhear her. Speaking of that pain in the….
Me: “So how’s Little Ben doing this morning?”
Sarah (imitating Little Ben at the end): “His Highness is pitching a fit and falling in it, ‘I stayed up all night, and they still got away.’.”
Me: “Does he have a clue?”
Me: “Well that’s a relief. But I had a different reason for the call.”
Sarah: “Oh yeah? What’s up?”
Me: “I need to know when Tiffany Grindle is scheduled to arrive at Nevermore.”
Sarah (whistling): “You don’t ask for small favors. I suppose you don’t want to tell me why you want to know.”
Me (trying hard not to sound too desperate): “I know, I know. I promise it’s nothing compromising and it is important…”
Sarah: “On one condition.”
Me (very wary): “….Okay.”
Why do all my friends have to be smart? Or in this case crafty. Sarah, being one of eight siblings (plus an endless network of cousins), knows precisely when she holds a trump card. It’s one of the reasons why I love and fear her.
Sarah: “Well it’s more provisional in flavor.”
Me: “Still not resting easy over here.”
Sarah: “When Big Ben gives you your job back…”
Me: “Sarah, he approved my lay-off.”
Sarah (going on despite my interruption): “When Big Ben sobers up from whatever Little Ben has laced his whiskey with, I would like you to open Tiderington vault. I’ve always wanted to know if the rumor that Helena was buried wearing all her diamonds is true.”
Me (startled): “What?”
Sarah: “To gruesome? Okay…. How about opening the Lenfest mausoleum to see if old man Gus laid his books to rest after he read them to pieces.”
Me: “Seriously? Substantiating rumors?”
*Sigh* So Sarah may know when she holds a trump card, but her ultimate use of them may need some work. Perhaps its the difference between being a twenty-something and a thirty-something.
Sarah: “I’ve been working here for eight years, and I’ve heard all kinds of things about the place. Just once I’d like to see with my own eyes if any of the stories are true! Tell me, is there really a giant crypt underneath the main house? Or a cellar full of bottles of cognac? Is the Gray Man real? Why are there no burials under the old willow in the middle of Nevermore? Is the Masonic cenotaph really the doorway to their meeting hall?”
Me (rolling my eyes on the other end of the line): “Where on earth did you hear that? And do you think this is the best use of a favor?”
Sarah: “Yes! These questions have been burning in my mind since I heard them on the playground! I gots to know!”
Me: “Since grade school? And here I thought you’d ask me for something sensible, like renting you the apartment over the maintenance center, so you could move out of your folk’s house.”
Sarah (jubilant): “Yes that! Could you do that? Then I could explore…I mean, be on call whenever you need me!”
Me: “Of course this is all dependent on Big Ben hiring me back, which again I must state, he approved.”
Sarah: “Pish posh, you’ll get your job back. Simon’s started a pool on when it’ll happen, and all the dates are taken! And if you feel bad about the slim possibility that you won’t be able to hold up your end of the bargain….Well, then you can…..get me fifty bucks worth of those homemade marshmallows from the candy store we stopped at up on the way home from the Fall Foliage Tour!”
Sarah: “Yup, marshmallows. Do we have a deal?”
What’s the old saying? Crazy like a fox? Yes, Sarah’s crazy like a fox.
My car was going to smell like candy floss again.
(Aunt Pearl’s breakfast spread!)
Looking far more alert than he had a few minutes previously (I blame the bacon, coffee would never do this to me) Wood went on, “Yeah, Morticia and I met Ranger…Ranger…Ranger Lade when we stayed at the Hilltop Hotel, on Ross Lake.” Eating a slice of bacon thoughtfully, “Morticia did you ever send him those scones you were talking about?”
My Aunt glanced between Wood and I, “Why would she send him scones?”
Please let the toaster catch on fire.
Before I could answer Wood lept in, “Morticia and the Ranger lobbed some pointed words at each other, which she regretted afterward. She thought sending scones might make up for her part in the episode. So did you?”
Tap dancing around my actual actions, “Nope, no bacon maple scones for the ranger. I thought it set a poor precedent to send pastries to anyone I crossed swords with, plus it felt a wee-bit stalkery.”
Please let my Aunt take the bait.
Okay, I know this conversation doesn’t sound dangerous. However, I saw the trap that Wood’s words inadvertently placed before me.
While strangers might not be able to figure out the part I played in leading the police to Mr. Grindle – these three could. Wood’s curiosity and intelligence could knit together Aunt and Uncle’s facts with what happened on our trip – thus leading him to me. My Uncle’s intuition coupled with a few peculiar incidents from my childhood (and Wood’s commentary) would allow him to make the same leap. Then there’s my Aunt, whose lie detector is finely wrought after four decades worth of students filtering through her home economics classroom. She can sniff out a lie at fifty paces. Which would cause her to ask more and more awkward questions until Wood and/or Uncle figured out I sent the anonymous letter.
(Just for the record, I don’t generally try to lie my way out of awkward conversations that my…..knack……occasionally places me in. I might hedge, nudge or massage the truth sometimes – see above – but outright lying I work hard on avoiding. The consequences, when you get caught, are never good. Especially when Wood discovers one. But that’s another story entirely.)
Fortunately, Aunt Pearl was unable to resist the softball I pitched her way, “What have I always said Phoebe? You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” These advise adjacent words caused Wood to smirk into his coffee cup and my Uncle to pat me on the back. My Aunt simply waited for my agreement.
Interjecting before the required response could leave my lips, “In Morticia’s defense he did call her stupid….” Wood’s words sent my Aunt and Uncle into fits. In the hubbub he’d created I cleared away my dishes and grabbed a slice of bacon for the road.
Knocking the conversation off on a new tangent (and further away from flimsy ground), “Uncle can I bum a ride back to the Lavender Lady? My shift starts in an hour, and I need to shower and change.”
Pushing himself away from the table. Uncle cleared his plate and headed towards the door, “No problem.” He paused for a moment while I gathered up the bits and pieces from my pirate ensemble. Eventually, I followed him to the door.
Both he and my Aunt ignored the rubber ducks which spilled out of my bag and onto the floor while I fumbled with my jacket.
Praying to any god who’d listen that we could divert my Aunt’s warped sense of humor, “Good Morning Uncle!” On the other side of the screen door, my Uncle set his golf clubs down on the porch.
Wood chimed in with a mouth full of eggs and bacon, “Morning! How was golf?” Wood winced as the screen door banged loudly against the frame when my Uncle walked into the kitchen.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full Dourwood.” My Aunt reminded him for the millionth time since we were children, “Dear I was just reading to them from this morning’s police blotter.”
A smile crept to the corners of his mouth, “Ah! I see.”
Walking across the kitchen he put his hand on my Aunt’s shoulder (she was starting to get up) and kissed her cheek while cuffing the back of Wood’s head, he then circled the table to plant a kiss on my crown. Completing the revolution around the table, he snagged the coffee pot off the stove – filling up a cup for himself and refilling ours. With the essential tasks taken care of, he sat down across from my Aunt.
She continued to pursue her twisted strain of conversation, “Seems the police think last night’s troubles could be a prelude to this year’s senior prank. Other than students, who else would dress up to trespass?” With this shot, my Aunt got up to fix my Uncle a plate. The instant she turned her back Wood sent my Uncle a hang-dog look while I laid my head on his shoulder and made doe eyes at him.
Happily, he helped us out, “Thank you for asking about my golf game Wood.”
My Aunt let loose a snort then tried to pretend she was containing a sneeze.
My Uncle’s side quivered but his voice stayed even, “I kept my score relatively low today, but Earl’s game was all over the map. Seems he was on the job until the wee hours of the morning investigating a case.”
Wood and I both froze our cute appeals for help melting into sick smiles. They were serious enough about rubber ducks that they assigned a detective to investigate?
Aunt Pearl placed a full plate in front of my Uncle, “Really? A case from last night you say?” She managed to pack in both glee and worry into her tone.
My Uncle took a large bite of eggs, then toast and chewed them slowly while the three of us held our breath waiting for him to finish.
Peppering his eggs, he started to take another bite when my Aunt (with a touch of impatience) attempted to tease a response out of my taciturn Uncle, “Dear, what new case is Earl working on?”
My Uncle’s sides quivered harder, “The Tiffany Grindle case took an unexpected turn.”
Wood cocked his head, my Aunt gave him the shorthand version of Tiffany’s disappearance and subsequent reappearance. Listening to her ‘news’ all over again I tried to merge my facts with her newly unearthed information – it painted quite the picture. When she finished my Uncle picked up the conversational thread.
Putting his fork down for the moment, “Seems Grindle confessed not only to Tiffany and David Waller’s murders but to two more, a woman he dated a few years ago who strayed and a coworker who got a promotion he coveted. Seems Grindle is a very jealous man.”
“Really?” I asked. The information sent my mind reeling back to my dilemma the corner of Bitter and Sweet. Nothing warms the heart like the knowledge that you’d chosen the correct course of action.
My Uncle nodded, “Really. He seemed ready to get it off his chest. Earl reckons the anonymous tip came from him.”
My Aunt did her best impression of an Irish Setter, “Anonymous tip?”
Smiling now my Uncle continued, “Yes, the only real loose end left. The ranger who found the remains went into the woods following information from an anonymous letter sent to him specifically. It contained GPS coordinates, pictures, a map and a statement of what he would find there. Grindle swears he never sent the letter. I tend to believe him. The letter was specific, but no prints were found on any of the papers, and it didn’t mention anything about Waller.” Shrugging off his consternation, my Uncle picked up his knife and fork and finished off the tail end of his breakfast.
Wood who looked much less bleary-eyed now asked, “This ranger, did he have a limp and an attitude?”
My Uncle’s turn to look curious, “As a matter of fact he did.”
Well, hell. Wood would make that connection.