2.55 Saturday’s Child Works Hard for a Living

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Earlier in the evening, as the rest of us participated in a respectful squabble over Ira’s intention to fetch further and more definitive proof of Sarah’s guilt, Leo was entertaining an entirely different line of reasoning. 

(One he thankfully elucidated to the group prior to Ira leaving the Lavender Lady since it provided me with the perfect cover for ensuring Ira’s safety! It’s not that Leo, Robbie, or Ira doubted either what I saw of the conclusions I’d drawn – they just found it challenging to picture Sarah in such a dim light. But back to Leo’s dilemma….)

How on earth could we convince Little Ben he’s being eased along a primrose path?

It didn’t matter how many deductions, recordings, or eyewitness accounts we gathered. Little Ben would surely dismiss them out of hand the second he discovered I had generated the majority of them. Undoubtedly, he’d perceive my suspicions as a massive case of sour grapes due to my dismissal and his subsequent ‘success’. 

Subtracting me from the equation wouldn’t work either.

Challenging his manipulation of the Board of Managers would fall just as flat. With Big Ben still in the wind and the Board itself controlled by Little Ben, Sarah, and Nathaniel – he’d turn defensive and, therefore, deaf the second we mentioned his sins.

Leaving us in the weeds – because if we can’t get Little Ben to see the ruinous route he’s traveling – it doesn’t matter a whit what we know. Arriving at this last stop of his train of thought left Leo feeling flummoxed, and the rest of us ready to spout mild abuse whilst he continued to relentlessly radda-tap-tap the edge of Little Ben’s business card against the tabletop.

Fortunately, before his syncopated beat produced a four-letter-word from any of us, he stopped. 

Not because he realized the rest of were ready to reach across the table and rip the card from his fingers. But on account of the theory, Beatrice and I gave regarding the Stradivarius violin. 

This was an angle we could work, which might actually work…

“Are you hoping to persuade Little Ben with the power of your deductions or the brilliance of your arts and crafts?” 

Carefully placing the glue tipped piece of yarn onto the poster-board, I cautiously raised my index finger and was pleased when the fibers failed to follow. Looking over my shoulder, I saw my unusually perky roommate standing in the kitchen doorway in her pajamas and afflicted with an epic case of bedhead. 

“Something can work on two levels.” Shooting a grin at her skeptical snort, I continued. “Little Ben’s a visual learner, I though a diagram might help him grasp what we found last night.”

Plus, I couldn’t fall back asleep after waking up at a quarter to five this morning.

Pausing next to me for a moment before heading to the percolator, Beatrice surveyed my work, then pointed at the upper right-hand corner where I’d placed Agata’s photo. “You might need a smidge more glitter, right there.”

“You think?” Standing back, I scrutinized my handiwork with a critical eye. 

Obviously choking back a chuckle. “No.”

“Okay, so I went a hair crazy.”

Watching Beatrice out of the corner of my eye, my heart fluttered for a second when she swiped a fingertip across the kitchen counter and then carefully scrutinize it. Crap. Staring down at my creation, with the same intensity a cat regards a bowl of ice cream, I endeavored to ignore the weight of Beatrice’s narrow gaze. 

Catching my furtive glance thru the fringe of my bangs, her inner Queen Victoria ‘I am Not amused’ face forced me to revise my previous statement. “A smidge crazy?”

Please don’t let her look in the sink – I haven’t had a chance to wash away the unicorn sick yet. 

(Seriously, that’s what it looks like.)

In my defense, after a tiny, minuscule, microscopic amount of glitter spilled off the poster-board onto the kitchen table as I rotated it. (So the Elmer’s glue received an even coat of the sparkly stuff.) I decided to work over the sink. This brilliant idea meant I needed to move the poster-board and its mounds of excess glitter to the sink….

Superfine glitter + giant sneeze = a dazzling kitchen. 

Honestly, it would’ve coated the kitchen no matter where the sneeze happened, and I did my best to clean it up…but once glitter tastes freedom, it’s a bit like a tribble with a steady food source and no predators – it multiplies rapidly. (And who doesn’t enjoy the odd sparkle festooning their person?…………………………Right? It certainly makes the multicolored macaroons on my flannel pajamas pop and spark.)

Fishing out the woven trivet from under my crafting supplies, Beatrice set down the fresh pot of coffee and joined me at the table. “Luckily, Ms. Hettie will completely understand why I need to burn down the house.”

“Ha. Ha.” Placing dot of glue on the poster-board, I held the ball of yarn above it and snipped off the correct length, connecting Sarah’s photo to Rye High’s 1998 Prom Queen. “I’ll bet you a five-spot Ms. Hettie is secretly a fan of glitter.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“Think of those sweatshirts she constantly wears. Nearly all of them have little glitter or metallic paint or small rhinestones on them.”

“Huh. There might be something in that…” Sipping her mug of coffee, Beatrice leaned forward for a closer look at my work.

Turning the entire board 180 degrees, so she didn’t get a crick in her neck, I watched Beatrice’s hovering finger trace the strands of yarn I’d used to highlight the links between Josie and her collaborators. “You’d think they’d have been more careful in concealing their roles in Josie’s scheme.”

Rising from the table, I stepped over to the sink to rinse the old coffee from my mug (while also taking a moment to swish, splash and swash the water around in an attempt to disperse the glitter glaze currently coating it). “Honestly, I don’t think it ever crossed Josie’s mind that anyone would go looking – as everyone but Sarah has at least one degree of separation dividing their actions from scrutiny.”

“Any clue why she’s trying to undermine Nevermore?”

Before I could form an answer, our front door reverberated under an energetic knock – that kept going for several beats longer than Ms. Manners would ever countenance.

Looking at each other, we uttered the same sentence together. “Are you expecting someone?”

In a stunning display, that would’ve beat Wood’s personal best, Beatrice pounced. “Jinx! You owe me a Coke!” Shooting me a mischievous grin, she scooted around the table in the direction of the front door, leaving me to follow silently in her wake – trying to recall if we’d said Ms. Hettie’s name three times out loud.

Pausing to look thru the peephole, Beatrice started slightly. “Morticia, when did you say Little Ben was stopping by?”

Released from the jinx, I glanced at my watch. “One, why?”

“Well, prepare yourself.” Unbolting the door, Beatrice swung it open, revealing Little Ben standing on our doormat.

“Is Morticia home?”

Stepping around my roommate, unwittingly shielding her from the stiff northerly breeze that decided now was the time to start nipping at my bare toes, it also forcibly reminded me I was still wearing pajamas. “Ben, what are you doing here? We aren’t supposed to get together until one.” 

Shifting his weight between his feet, a flush creeping across his face, he glanced around for a second before stumbling over some stunning words. “I…I…..I’ve got….There’s a problem with Nevermore, and I don’t know what to do, and I can’t wait…..because I really need your help.”

Utterly astonished, I stepped back from the door and let Little Ben in.

2.54 It’s Not What You Know…

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Despite the relatively short walk back to the Lavender Lady, Joseph insisted on providing an escort. His confirmation of my hunch, unfortunately, lead to a pair of slightly soggy eyes, which shocked and appalled us both in equal measure. Hence, Orin’s presence on my left. 

(Finding out Sarah hadn’t been a friend of mine for some time, stung a surprising amount.)

“Would you like me to keep on tabs on her?”

Giving him a wane smile, I shook my head at Orin’s offer. “That’s not necessary.” 

“I don’t mind.” Ambling easily next to me, his casual tone didn’t fool me. 

Embedding himself in Sarah’s life, on the off chance he might discover a new nugget of information, isn’t going to happen. Not only is it sleazy to spy on someone in such a manner, but it’s also incredibly cruel to Orin. Isolation and loneliness are highly corrosive elements to Errants and Residents alike. As Sarah’s life is filled with a plethora of people should Orin insert himself in her life, it could quickly drive him around the bend.

“Really, don’t worry about it. I’ve got her number now.” Nearing the Lavander Lady’s back gate, another thought occurred to me. “Though, if you’re bored, it would be a huge help if you could track down Abraham and pass on a message for me.”

“Shoot.” 

“If you could let him know; I’ve check-in with about half the Errants in Rye without finding anything unusual. I’m planning on visiting everyone else over the next week or two.”

Nodding briskly, we paused under the orange glow of the streetlamp by the garden gate. “Anything else?” 

Leaning a hip against the slats of the fence for a moment, I shook my head. “Not that I can think of unless you’ve spotted an Errant sporting a green suit wandering about?” Watching Orin’s head duplicate the previous motion of my own, I moved on. “You’ll probably find Abraham hanging-out with Eliza.”

“Then, that’s where I’ll start. Take care, Caretaker.” 

“Night, Orin, and thanks.”

Touching his cap, Orin turned on his heel in the direction of the park. Pushing open the gate, ignoring the single butterfly in my stomach that steadfastly refuses to acknowledge the rechristening of Beatrice’s shed, I quickly mounted The Map Room’s shallow steps. 

Thankfully, the Lepidoptera I’d dubbed Mrs. Futtersworth, winged it after I flipped on the lights.

Standing before the waist-high wall of boxes, I silently patted my past self on the back for her meticulous labeling skills. Quickly locating the correct cardboard cube containing seven years’ worth of yearbooks, it took mere moments to extract them from their repository, shut off the lights, lock the door, and retrace my earlier route up the garden path. (Only at a far more sedate pace.)

Thankfully my belated arrival back at the Lavender Lady didn’t spawn a single one of my worst-case scenarios. Instead, I found myself nose to nose with one very pushy cousin (and when I say pushy, I mean that in the literal sense of the word). 

“Does the name Kiyomi Kimura mean anything to you?”

“Come again?”

“Kiyomi Kimura, do you know her?” 

“She was one of Josie’s sycophants, why?”

“Her name came up, she’s the Garden Club’s secretary, by the way, and it’s been killing me because I know, I know her…”

“You’re probably recalling the time Wood literally stood on Aunt and Uncle’s rooftop shouting about Rye High winning both the girl’s and boy’s state soccer titles. He and Kiyomi captained their respective sides.”

Dancing out of the way, and thus allowing me to actually enter the apartment, Robbie successfully blocked my attempt to set down my armload of yearbooks. Pressing his advantage further, he deftly shepherded me towards Beatrice’s office by nudging, bumping and jostling me along.

It took less than a second for our guffaws to fill the hall as his herding technique devolved into him, bodily shoving me along while I did my best to emulate a boulder. (Which didn’t work, neither did visualizing redwood roots binding my sneakers to the floor or picturing my bones turning into lead. In case your wondering.)

Robbie, who didn’t view his additional seven inches and fifty plus pounds as an unsportsmanlike advantage, crowed in triumph as he manhandled me across the threshold. Panting slightly and still wearing an impish grin, Robbie promptly flopped onto a pile of forest green cushions customarily found on the living room couch and picked up his tablet. The others, all of whom wore varying expressions of amusement at our antics, resumed their work. Ira, who’d handily beat me back here, sat at Beatrice’s computer zipping thru the security video Joseph already summed up for me. Beatrice and Leo sat opposite each other in the chairs by the window, typing on their respective laptops. 

“The Brownie Stealing Bench and Kiyomi were friends in high school.” Robbie, after tapping in his password, aimed my answer at Leo.

Leo transferred his gaze from his screen onto me. “Are you sure?”

Stifling the memories of their mocking laugher, I answered. “Yes.” 

“How about Larissa Cardenes and Agata Canetti?”

Crossing the room, I set the yearbooks on the edge of the desk where Ira was working and divested myself of my jacket. “Part of the core group as well.”

“Derek Workman?”

“Ummm…..he was in our class…I think one of them went to prom with him, maybe? I’ll check.”

Luckily, stealing a cushion from the edge of Robbie’s nest only elicited a few minor grumbles from its creator. Satisfied the theft wasn’t going to result in getting winged in the head by a retaliatory flying frosted cookie, I set my purloined bit of padding betwixt Leo and Beatrice. 

Before I started skimming through my senior year yearbook, for the Prom Court photo-montage, I glanced up at Leo. “So, I gather the hunch panned out?” 

Catching my glance, Leo gave me a wide wolfish smile.

2.53 What’s the Worst That Can Happen?

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(Now, I’ve never been to California and seen the Redwood Forest – but this is what my imagination pulls up when I think of them…)

Spotting a flash of light off in the distance, I shrunk into the deepest shadow shrouding the corner between the South and West gates of The Crossroads. Straining my ears, I heard the tell-tale sound of tires striking a speed bump as the automobile rolled closer. Channeling my inner redwood, endeavoring to match the stillness of those massive trunks, I watched the car carrying Nevermorian security cruise unhurriedly past my hiding spot. Admittedly there’s a substantial expanse of grass between myself and the cruiser – but even a locked door – draws the critical eye of a good guard. 

It wasn’t until the red glow of the taillights finally faded to small specks that I let my mind drift off of its tremendously tall loci and exhaled gustily. Detaching myself from the gloom, I jogged in place for a minute to warm up. (By way of payment, the walls responsible for casting the concealing shadows, sucked the warmth from the marrow of my bones.) No longer as stiff or chilly, I pulled up my sleeve and stared at two glowing green hands. 

Fork.

Thirty-four minutes had already slipped by since I scampered out my front door. 

Dear gods above and below, please let Leo, Robbie, and Beatrice have found something in their research that immediately arrested their attention. Thus allowing my pretext, of heading down to the Map Room to fetch my old school yearbooks, to stay intact. Because I really don’t want to own my overriding reason for following Ira to Nevermore.

On the upside, I’ve landed on a plausible and truthful rationale for keeping tabs on Ira – should anyone realize I’ve scarpered. I’ll cite my genuine anxiety about Ira’s safety. Since he needs to waltz past the majority of people cahooting together to retrieve the potential evidence of Sarah’s duplicity. (Thus, my tail makes sense.)

At no point, if an explanation is required, will I concede my genuine motivation. Which essentially boils down to Ira’s parting shot – “I’m going to Nevermore, what could possibly happen?” 

Seriously? Would you care for the answer in alphabetical or chronological order.

In an attempt to make him appear less tempting to the Fates, I enlisted the aid of someone who’s aces at tiptoeing around Nevermore undetected. As I couldn’t just let Ira stroll thru automatic doors of Nevermore’s main building (mosey his way back to the security hub, copy several days worth of security video & logs, then retrace his steps) all by himself.

Hence my pell-mell run down the back garden path, over several neighboring lawns, and along the sidewalks to the closest corner of Nevermore. Pleading to the universe during the entire – heart-rending, lung-busting, sneaker-slapping – run for Joseph to be hanging about The Crossroads tonight. 

Someone must’ve heard me because no sooner had I tripped onto the grounds – Joseph was at my side. Doubled over and panting, I managed to vocalize Ira, main building, and keep safe. 

He needed no other information.

Raising my cuff, I glanced at the luminous hands on my watch again and found only two minutes had ticked by. 

Waiting is the worst.

“He’s safely out of Nevermore.”

Leaping six inches in the air at the wildly unexpected sound of Joseph’s voice next to my ear, I narrowly suppressed the surprised scream my throat yearned to expel. “Jiminy Christmas, you should wear a bell….Thank you for looking after him.”

A smile I couldn’t see, due to the lack of light, colored his voice. “You are welcome. Though he needed very little help from me.”

“Thank the gods.” Shoulders sagging, my mind spontaneously called up the image of the redwood again. Only this time, my feet were its roots, and I watched my anxiety flow thru them and saturate the ground beneath my sneakers. 

(It didn’t seem to matter much to my mind that this wasn’t how roots worked.)

Head tilted, I saw concern in Joseph’s eyes as a match flared to life, lighting the cigarette stationed between his lips. “Why the panic? Ira didn’t go anyplace he didn’t rightfully have access too.”

Transfixed for a moment by the red coal, which glowed a hair brighter as he inhaled, it took a moment to recall my reasonable and honest excuse. “He might’ve been caught in the midst of downloading some compromising information…” 

“Indeed.” The amused tinge of his voice spoken volumes.

Scuffing the toe of my sneaker on the ground, I gave in. “Alright, Ira tempted the Weird Sisters right before he left the apartment, and I couldn’t take a chance of something or someone happening to him.”

Tilting his head, he took another drag of the cigarette. “You worried he might come to harm?”

Snorting without humor, I tipped my head back and stared at the twinkling stars for a second, forming my reply. “Maybe? Worst case scenario…”

“Why take the risk?”

“Proof, he and the others needed a hair more to fully believe Sarah’s guilt.” Straightening my shoulders, I dove straight into the niggling set of doubts that’d been pestering me. “You remember the incorrect dates Sarah gave me for the arrival and burial of Tiffany Grindle’s remains? She was the only one who knew there was a chance I was going to break into the building and/or creep about Nevermore…”

“…and if she set a trap, you’d know for certain where her loyalties lie.” 

Holding the half-finished smoke towards me, I shook my head at the unspoken offer (Joseph has far superior night vision) and answered his other question. “Let’s just say her explanation for the mix-up no longer satisfies.”

He paused, holding in the lungful of cigarette for a moment before expelling it. “These fabricated dates of Sarah’s started the night after you subdued the Woman In White, correct?”

“And the three following…” My voice trailing off as the implications of his answer hit me – extinguishing the small sliver of hope I’d unconsciously held onto in a dark secret part of my heart.

I watched his still smoldering smoke drop to the ground and disappear beneath the heel of his shoe. “Security guards were stationed all over Nevermore and inside Sarah’s Domain & Depository for the seven nights following our…adventure.” 

Rocking back, I blinked quickly up at the moon, trying to breathe around the lump in my throat. Should’ve taken a puff of his cigarette, could’ve blamed the salty liquid leaking from my eyes on smoke irritation. 

2.52 King Arthur, Antonio Stradivari & KARB

Did you know author Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote a book around 1136 called the Historia Regum Britanniae (The History of the Kings of Britain)? 

Yes? No?

Never fear if you’ve never heard of this title before – unless you’re keen on exploring the profusion of stories surrounding the legend of King Arthur – you’re unlikely to have run across it. Especially since Thomas Malory’s later work (around 349 years later), Le Morte d’Arthur eclipsed Geoffrey’s tome by several orders of magnitude. In any case, the Historia Regum Britanniae’s biggest claim to literary fame is the fact most scholars consider it to be the first narrative and (on the whole) fictional account of King Arthur’s life. 

Beatrice and I unsurprisingly, are both aware of this kernel of information. (Thus illustrating why the Fates smiled the day we met. She studied the metamorphosis of the Arthurian legend as an undergrad in college. While Librarian Extraordinaire Mrs. Schmidt introduced me to the Round Table and it’s King – after I’d polished off every Robin Hood related story the stacks of the Rye Public Library had to offer. But I digress…)

Due to Beatrice’s familiarity with said tome, her ears perked up when she heard the name Monmouth uttered on the radio. Regrettably, she tuned right back out when KARB’s newsreader failed to mention either King Arthur or Geoffrey in the story. Last night this scrap of information turned more maddening than a musical ear-worm, as Beatrice tried to recall it after catching sight of a mind-map I was constructing on her computer. (I’d created the aforementioned mind-map to tease out a coherent pattern from all of our assembled notes, deductions, and facts.)

The branch which caught Beatrice’s eye dealt with the Board of Managers, more specifically Nevermore’s Head of Legal, Nathaniel Monmouth. 

I can ascribe this brilliant bit of deduction to the six minutes and twenty-seven seconds Beatrice spent pacing the length of her office while softly repeating Nathaniel’s surname over and over again to herself. Her spot-on imitation of a broken record stopped as suddenly as it started – whereupon I found myself, and the chair I was sitting on, shoved/rolled away from the computer’s keyboard.

Tapping quickly, Beatrice soon brought up a bite-sized blurb archived on KARB’s website. 

She then did a small fist pump in triumph.

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I couldn’t believe it – of all the news for Nathaniel to keep mum about. 

For weeks, Nathaniel crowed about Klara’s successful promotion/challenge from eleventh to tenth chair in the second violin section, yet he stays silent about this prestigious grant? According to the article’s date, we worked together for roughly two months prior to my pink slip, and not once did he breathe the word Stradivarius around me.

Nudging Beatrice aside, I pulled up Klara Monmouth’s bio on the Rye Symphony homepage. Said bio included both a new photo of Klara sitting in full concert dress with Stradivarius resting on her knee and a link to the Goodfellow Music Conservatory. 

Clicking the helpfully provided link, I scrolled down Goodfellow’s main page until a familiar face stopped me cold. Turns out Goodfellow’s Chief Librarian is one of the sniggering sycophants who help Josie steal Summer’s brownie back in middle school – Thomi Margaziotis.

(Now back to Friday night.)

“So you think Josie bribed Nathaniel to look the other way about Little Ben’s presence on the Board, by arranging a once in a lifetime opportunity for his wife?” Stopping midway through the stack of rebranding propaganda I’d liberated from Little Ben’s office, my cousin tilted his head and goggled at me.

“Cultivating quid pro quo arrangements is something Josie learned at her father’s knee.”

Beatrice, seeing I’d just taken a healthy slug of coffee, expanded on our theory. “It’s brilliant because tracing favors between friends is troublesome at best.”

The situation doesn’t start smelling fishy until you start digging into Library’s endowment history.

The majority of instruments, unsurprisingly, go to current students studying at the Conservatory. The few instruments straying outside those hallowed halls, nine times out of ten, find themselves in the hands of alumni. The rare non-alum loans typically go to musicians completing specific projects – like the group creating a soundbank of every known Stradivari violin, viola, cello, mandolin, and harp in the world.

“I’m guessing Klara doesn’t fall within any of those groups?” 

“Nope.” 

Sensing Robbie had a few follow-up questions to Beatrice’s one-word reply – I cut in. “Between her Linked-in profile, symphony bio, and wealth of social media posts – we couldn’t find anything approaching the Conservatory’s customary lending profile.” 

Ira, having finished his third colorful tiny cake, rested his forearms on the table and laced his fingers together. “Phoebe, I agree there’s a lot of coincidence at play here, but do you really believe Sarah and Nathaniel are working to the detriment of Nevermore with Josie Reville? I just can’t see Sarah being that calculating.”

Resisting the urge to close my eyes and take a deep breath, to try and dissipate the lead encrusting my stomach, I met Ira’s gaze instead. “If you’re willing, we might even be able to confirm my theory.”

That got everyone’s attention.

“What did you have in mind?”

2.51.b Revelatory Reading

“…that’s why Little Ben gave Ira a paper promotion.” Smoke practically poured out of Leo’s ears as he careened towards the same conclusion Beatrice and I reached last night. “He wants control of Nevermore’s coffers.”

Robbie, “How would flipping one vote help him? He’d still need to sway Ira’s replacement, plus everyone else.”

Ira, leaning back against his chair, a shrewd light in his eyes. “The move makes Gavin the most junior member of the Board. Everyone else has at least a decade of service on him, undoubtedly he will follow their lead. And I’m guessing my promotion wasn’t Little Ben’s first or last step at influencing the Board, was it?”

Unearthing, from the pile of promotional material I’d absconded with months ago, I found one of Little Ben’s new business cards and tossed it into the center of the table with a flick of my wrist. Ira remained still, but Leo and Robbie leaned forward to read fine print embossed beneath the heavy script of ‘Ben Abernathy, Provisional Proprietor…’

‘…Caretaker.’ 

Picking the card slowly and deliberately off the table, Leo stared into space, gears whirring away in his head, while his hand used the edge of the card to tattooed a staccato beat against the tabletop. “He didn’t just take-over your Cottage. Damn, how did I miss that?”

From the off, my dismissal from Nevermore felt funny.

Little Ben’s wafer-thin cover story hinged on his intent to funnel my salary back into Nevermore. More specifically, into his new Sunny Valley Farm & Pet Cemetery scheme. On the face of it made a modicum sense – until he literally spent all of this ‘savings’ on updating The Cottage. At the time I was so topsy-turvy from being issued a pink slip and eviction notice within the same breath, I chalked up the frittering away of funds to his general lack of good sense and judgment.

It never once crossed my mind something more laid beneath, until Beatrice read our scribe’s account of their first few months as Provisional Proprietor. Then Little Ben’s cock-and-bull story shattered like a hammer striking glass. 

My layoff was never about saving money. It was about co-opting my job title to gain a seat and vote on the Board of Managers. 

Leo’s gaze remained unfocused as he absorbed the implications, the only outward sign of what was going on between his ears was the continued tapping of Little Ben’s card. Ira merely leaned back in his chair and nodded periodically to himself. Beatrice, having already canvassed this ground with me last night, got up from the table and started making coffee. I followed her lead, only my trajectory aimed me towards the paper line tin sitting further down the counter from the coffeepot.

Robbie, after rereading the short passage about the composition of the Board, found his voice first. “Surely, the Head of Legal wouldn’t allow this to happen. There’s an obvious conflict in having Little Ben, as Provisional Proprietor, sit on the Board.” 

Setting the now open tin of birthday cake madeleines in the center of the table, minus one, I returned to my seat. “Let’s put a pin in that question for a second and try to think of another reasonable explanation as to why Little Ben would want to co-opt my job title.”

Ira, unfolding his arms, leaned forward and chose one of the delightfully speckled madeleines from the tin. “Your theory explains a great many things, not the least of which is why all the unabridged copies of the Conventions went missing. But I’ve known that boy for his entire life and worked with him for well over twenty years. He doesn’t have the cunning in him to pull off this kind of chicanery.”

“I agree. But now ask yourself, why was it so important for Josie to figure out if I’d seen Sarah leaving her house.” Popping the last half of my madeleine in my mouth, I chewed up the deliciously sweet cake waiting for one of them to respond. 

Tipping his head Ira regarded me thoughtfully. “You think the three of them are working together?”

“Not quite, due to the bad blood between Lucas Reville and Big Ben, I can’t really see Little Ben would work with Josie.” Gnawing on my lip, my eyes drawn to Leo’s uneven drumming of Little Ben’s card, I continued. “I believe Sarah and Josie are working together to influence Little Ben. To what ending I’m not sure, but I doubt it’s for the good of Nevermore.”

“Cuz, I know the Brownie Stealing Bench is the root of all evil, but this is closing in on conspiracy theory territory…” Robbie’s uncertain tone was belied by his hand/arm as it stretched across the table to grab the top six inches of Nevermore rebranding materials.

After a sip of coffee, waiting to see if any of the others wanted to chime in, I turned the laptop screen so they could see it. “I agree, it sounds cockeyed. However, let me show you something…”

2.51.a TGIF

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Leo (standing stock-still in the middle of the kitchen and thus in nearly everyone’s way): “Forget the worksheets, you found a copy of the unabridged Conventions?”

Me (fetching the stack of materials from next to the radio): “Nope, still a big goose egg on that front. The copy Beatrice and I’ve been working with is the great-great-grandparent of the Conventions’ current iteration.”

Leo, who finally moved out of the center of the kitchen, joined me at the table ostensibly to wipe it down with a sponge. Waiting until the worst of the sticky soy glaze had been cleaned away, I set down my armful of information. Leo, executing a first-class jump shot, pitched the sponge over Ira and Beatrice’s heads and into the kitchen sink – then turned back towards the table.

Leo (taking the chair across from me): “So where did you find it, Boss?”

Me (slipping the handouts out from between the salient pages): “Beatrice transcribed a couple of crucial passages for you guys.” 

Robbie (tossing the napkins and placemats into the laundry hamper): “Transcribed?”

Wordlessly I open the atypical copy of the Conventions to a random page and swiveled it around so the Leo, Robbie, and Ira (both of whom had joined Leo and I at the table after finishing their self-appointed chores) could get a clear gander at the pages.

Ira (emitted a low whistle): “All this needs is a couple of illustrations, and you’d have a classier version of the Voynich manuscript.”

Beatrice (pouring the detergent into the dishwasher): “Fortunately, it isn’t quite as unintelligible as that document.”

Me (pushing the laptop’s power button): “Though undoubtedly, this is the author that prompted the powers-that-be’s switch to a movable typeface.”

And created, thank the gods above and below, a table of contents and an index. 

Because it’s all well and good to explicitly and formally elucidate the best practices and policies concerning a whole host of likely, plausible but unlikely and utterly improbable events that could occur within the borders of Nevermore. But without a clear and concise method of finding and extracting said information from its’ 2,236 pages. You’re stuck in the role of gawking onlooker when a graveside brawl erupts amongst mourning family members when one faction takes umbrage with another, at the lack of classic punk music during the beloved family member’s service (the Ramones in particular).

Unfortunately, my reliance on the aforementioned feature directly contributed to my failure to read the Conventions’ current iteration in its totality. Well, I suppose if I’m totally truthful, my reliance on the index really sprang from two sources: A) the now obviously erroneous assumption I’d always have access to its pages and B) the fact I found the gargantuan size of the binder a smidge intimidating. Which considering the number of pages in the Harry Potter, Nancy Drew, and Amelia Peabody series, which I devoured as fast as I could turn the page, you’d think 2,236 pages easy-peezie. 

However, 2,236 pages quickly multiply to 4,472 when you realize you’re reading prose drier than a breeze blowing across the sands of the Gobi desert.

The heirloom edition of the Conventions, on the other hand, doesn’t suffer from this arid affliction (or find itself cursed with even a cursory index). As it doesn’t so much layout guidelines for things like hiring, firing, or corrective action as it chronicles said events. My favorite admonishment was issued to one Dolores Sullivan, who apparently our author caught cheating at the Egg & Spoon race during the Summer Company Picnic. 

Which begs the question – how? 

Did Dolores glue her egg to the spoon? Use a soup spoon rather than a teaspoon? Tamper with the egg itself, weighing it down from the inside? All three methods, it seems to me, would be easily detectable. So how did she plan on getting away with it? 

Despite the rigorous care taken in recording the daily minutia of Nevermore – the enumeration of which allowed Beatrice (once she deciphered the madness behind our author’s method) to hurtle her way from cover to cover – our author failed to fill in the blanks on how Dolores endeavored to perpetrate her fraud. 

This lapse in detail vexed both Beatrice and me.

Not only because the tone of the passage made it seem as if our author was the only one who saw thru the deception. But on account of the fact, we’re relying on our scribe to reliably archive the finer points of their experience as Provisional Proprietor.

Robbie (running an eye over the first of the several stapled pages I handed to him): “This is the condensed version?”

Me: “More or less. I wanted to give you guys all the info, in case I missed a nuance somewhere.”

Ira (setting his packet down on the table in front of him): “Give us the broad strokes.”

Me (taking a deep breath): “Alright, this is what Beatrice and I worked out…”

Similarly to Little Ben, our scribe unexpectedly became the Provisional Proprietor of Nevermore. (Though in their case, the promotion came about on account of a heart attack suffered by their predecessor rather than an inexplicable vanishing act.) To help our newly minted Provisional Proprietor, as Nevermorian tradition dictates, the Board of Managers was convened. 

The Board of Managers is composed of the Head of Legal, Chief Groundskeeper, Longest Tenured Employee (outside the other four), Chief Funeral Director, and Caretaker. Together they not only advise the Provisional Proprietor – a majority vote of the Board is required to access Nevermore’s coffers… 

Leo (shaking his head): “You think Little Ben’s manipulating the Board somehow, don’t you…”

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