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?
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…
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.
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.
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…
The upside for driving with FLYT? I get to see all kinds of new things, like restaurants, I never knew existed in our fair city.
For example? Heads & Tails a little sushi place (which qualifies as a hole-in-the-wall-joint because my old kitchen has more square footage than they do) where I ate this unique dish, shishamo (I say unique because I’d never eaten it before).
It was pretty tasty, but needed some kind of dipping sauce in my humble opinion to cut the smokey flavor.
This was the rest of my lunch, both delicious and pretty!
(The Princess as she was when I bought her, before spiffing her up!)
FLYT: Whether it’s hop, skip or a jump, start your trip with us!
My new interim career: chauffeur. Sounds glamorous right?
On my first day I donned black slacks, vest and white button up (I left off the cap – I thought it a touch too much coupled with my very pink car) – put the FLYT sticker and light bar in the Pink Princess – then set my app to ‘on duty’ and waited for my first fare! Where would the day take me?
We all carry preconceived notions around of what people should look like based on their jobs. I know I got many an amused backwards looks when I listed my previous position as cemetery caretaker. I mean what euphemism could I possible use? Remains concierge? Churchyard curator? Grass custodian? Seriously – call a spade a spade. FLYT labels their drivers based on the number of seats in their cars (thus the recommended length of their trips) and I saw similar amusement aimed my way. My spidey sense should’ve tingled.
The Princess fell into the ‘Hop’ scope of work. Meaning? I could drive one passenger (plus luggage) within the recommended radius of twenty miles (I could go further- but I wouldn’t appear at the top of the skip or jump lists). No big deal – the airport, retail core and restaurant district all fell under my purview.
I didn’t drive anywhere close to the big three my first week or even my second. (Looking back it’s funny now.)
I now know why there are so few drivers in the Hop category and why FLYT pushed my application through so fast (one week may not seem like much – but a background check normally takes two alone) when they discovered how much I loved my car.
I am a glorified granny mobile.
Don’t let seniors fool you, technology does not scare them and once they figure it out (or remember to wear their glasses) they have zero problems using it. When they find a favorite app? It spreads through the senior center quicker than greased lightning. When there is a new driver on their favorite rideshare app – who is actually polite? The information spreads faster than warm butter on a hot skillet.
I now know where the best podiatrist in town is. In fact I don’t think there is a medical center of any size or flavor I haven’t visited. I have loaded hundreds of bags of groceries into and out of the Princess’s trunk. My knowledge of rumors, facts and fabrications of my fair metropolis dwarfs – by several orders of magnitude – anything my Aunt Pearl’s nosy network could even dream of discovering (the senior center is non-denominational and is closed mouthed to anyone under sixty-seven unless you are stuck in a car at a red light and want to talk about something, anything other than what’s going to happen at the urologist today – while Aunt Pearl is limited to school/church gossip grape vine).
I wear my chauffeur cap now because they think it’s cute. The waterproof seat covers I purchased for quick cleanup if a drunk got sick on them are now covered with lovely Scandinavian brocade covers. I mentioned to one of my regulars the name of my car and they all ran with it. They’ve filled her small back seat with homemade throw pillows, crocheted afghans and a woven basket for my lunch (they decided my cooler clashed with the spirit of the Princess – it was blue). Every item remained faithful to the color scheme of black and pink, nothing clashed (I am not sure this is due to a happy accident or if they had a meeting and decided on a color scheme).
While the other FLYT drivers do their level best to graduate to the Skip category just as fast as they can – I was in no hurry to leave Hop behind. Sure my car perpetually smelled of talcum powder and floral perfume, they weren’t great tippers and expected me to walk them to their doors. In the rain. Carrying their bags. Always. But the ladies of a certain age gave me their tried and true recipes because they discovered I enjoyed cooking. The elderly gents diagnosed the knocking in my engine before the situation became dire. They regaled me with old war stories, scandals and worries – I felt more like a bartender than a driver. They reminded me of the residents of Nevermore, they just wanted someone to listen and I was more than happy to.
They kept me so busy I didn’t see my first sans-senior-center-fare until the end of the week (my part-time job turned pretty steady, pretty quickly). The only reason it happened was because I forgot to swipe my driver app to ‘off duty’ when I got home. Well, that and the fact the center closed at five today. Despite the long day, the ladies’ monthly round robin of beauty, I decided to grab this last fare – my forgetfulness wasn’t his fault.
No good deed ever goes unpunished.