Unknown Number: “Tonight’s the night!”
He must be calling from an exam room phone again.
Wood (excitement oozing across the line): “Meet you in The Map Room in a half hour.”
Wood: “The Brace Affair is a go!”
He. Hung. Up. On. Me.
Well, this bodes…something.
On the plus side executing The Brace Affair might help to relieve the pins and needles I’ve been sitting on while waiting for the Lone Ranger to face his fears. He had four days left on the unspoken timetable.
On the downside, I’d answered Wood’s call on speakerphone and Mrs. Lebondowsky heard the entire exchange. She will delight in disseminating this piece of news amongst the rest of my regulars at the Center.
Mrs. Lebondowsky (trying for casual): “Hot date dear?”
Me (rolling with it): “Something like that.”
Mrs. Lebondowsky (smiling): “Well don’t give the barn away. Leave him wanting more – you’ll get a second date that way.”
Fortunately, she was my last fare today, and I only had three blocks left before I could drop her off. So I goosed the gas and hoped her advise stopped with that particular tidbit.
Seems Lady Luck rode with me tonight because Mrs. Lebondowsky went on to regale me about the last real date her Dear Frank took her on in 1965 (it sounded way nicer than any I’d enjoyed recently).
Only fifteen minutes late for Wood’s deadline (and ten bucks richer – Mrs. Lebondowsky tips well), I pulled the Princess up to the back gate of the Lavender Lady’s grounds. This maneuver meant a much shorter walk to the Map Room which significantly reduced my chances of inadvertently running into Ms. Hettie.
Pushing the gate open, I navigated the six steps and three stairs to the door and entered the redesignated shed. The lovely scent of curry greeted me before my friends got the chance or in fact noticed my arrival.
Me (surprised): “Laney? What are you doing here?”
Laney (turning my way, a wry smile on her face): “Hey. Wood convinced me this would be great Fun.”
The way she eyed the line of manual post-hole-diggers leaning against the bookshelves made clear her skepticism of her husband’s claim. Wood, entirely oblivious to his wife’s doubts, was currently helping Beatrice divvy up a mountain of rubber ducks into four separate piles. Not wanting to break their focus I decided to help the proceedings along by dishing up the boxes of take-out (which would keep Wood from hoarding the panang and Laney from skimping on her vegetables). When the two duck sorters finished their complicated and esoteric rubber ducky allotment algorithm, they swept each stack into separate sacks. Which allowed me to swoop in and place dinner on the table before they could fill it up with something else.
Wood (surprised when food appeared before him): “Morticia! When did you get here?”
Me (shaking my head and laughing a little): “When the ducks were still in mound position.”
Wood, who’d elected himself Capitan of The Brace Affair, started going over the refined strategy – between mouthfuls.
Wood (finishing his first bite): “Each of us will have a bag of about thirty-ish rubber ducks. We’ll use the post-hole-diggers to dig up a cylinder of dirt, then we’ll plant a duck and then dump the dirt back on top.”
Me (taking advantage of Wood’s now full mouth): “Where did the rubber ducks come from? I’ll pay you back for them. (Looking between Wood and Laney)”
Beatrice (waving at Wood to keep chewing, snagged my attention): “Don’t worry about it. I’m donating the ducks I’ve collected from geocaching to the cause. I needed more space in here anyways.”
Glancing up at the shelves above her head I noticed several large empty vases.
Me (a food coma starting to creep up on me): “Why tonight?”
Laney (faster on the draw than Wood): “The first storm of the season is predicted to hit this weekend. If you want those ducks to rise to the occasion, this is your best shot.”
Wood (now able to chime in): “And the moon is full tonight so we won’t need to use our flashlights as much.”
Beatrice: “I even bought a couple of steaks in case we need to distract some dogs.”
Beatrice: “Works in books. So someone must have tried it out at some point, otherwise, why would it keep appearing in print?”
Laney (laughing): “One minor detail, this is a silly plan, but you promised me a ridiculous amount of Fun…”
A wicked smile lit up Wood’s face. Without a word, he stood up and walked a few paces to where my extra boxes were stacked and pulled several garment bags off the top. Shoving his dinner plate aside he laid them down in front of him.
Wood (unzipping the zipper with a flourish): “Like this.”
While taking Mrs. Lewis’s cat, Mitzy, to the Vet I found this on their bulletin board…
Little Ben’s plans for the Sunny Valley Farm expansion for Nevermore. His plans always sound good, that’s where he gets you! They always sound reasonable until you get down to the nuts and bolts, that’s where they fall apart.
Like placing the pet cemetery on ground which floods regularly.
Hopefully the Brace Affair will change his mind.
We’d both employed the same cunning strategy – waiting. Perhaps my “plan” wasn’t as lame as I’d previously thought.
The coffee seemed to need a few more minutes to seep into my system to bad I didn’t have the time. Even in this deluge maintenance would be working (death doesn’t wait for a sunny day) and I really didn’t want to answer the inevitable questions they’d ask if they ran across me sitting in my car. I had a feeling my hair would give away last night’s sleeping arrangements.
Which meant Joseph and I had a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time.
Joseph (still looking amused): “So why were you waiting for me?”
Me (taking another swig straight from the thermos): “The Stalker, isn’t a Stalker, she’s a Woman In White.”
Joseph (his gaze sharpened): “Tell me.”
Me: “I found her genesis point when I went up into the mountains…”
While I laid the relevant events from the Fall Foliage Tour into a coherent narrative, Joseph sat in the passenger’s seat listening, his fingers tracing the inside band of his grey fedora over and over while I talked.
Joseph (enunciating each word): “You think she will come here, at some point.”
Me (nodding): “Yes. After I got back I asked Aunt Pearl about the whole affair, she told me Tiffany’s father still lives in Rye, so I expect she’ll come to Nevermore. When she does, we’ll need a plan.”
Aunt Pearl also hinted at some other old gossip about Tiffany, but wouldn’t repeat it, “not wishing to speak ill of the dead.”
Joseph: “A plan?”
Me (nodding): “If she’s allowed to wander the grounds she will find a Resident then hunt down the others. She won’t hesitate to increase her own power at their expense. With my odd hours and the uncertainty of when she’ll arrive we need to coordinate. You can contain her until I get here and salt her bones directly, right?”
Utterly oblivious to my companion, I failed to notice his amusement and continued to spout off half-formed ideas.
Still Me (spacing out for a moment): “Sarah would call me the moment she arrives if I asked…. Though if she’s cremated that would eliminate all our worries since fire purifies everything… I could ask Sarah to try to steer things that way…Then there’s the rubber ducks, work, sabotage, and I’ll need to shower sometime…”
Joseph (interrupting my revery, amused): “Phoebe.”
Me (fretting): “I could sleep in my car here after she’s found so I could be on hand more.”
Joseph (plonking me in the forehead with his index finger): “Phoebe. The Residents and I can manage her. What do you think happened before you came here?”
Me (puzzling): “I never put much thought into it.”
My brain jumping the tracks, how did they cope? The first burial happened in 1840, Nevermore (as it is now) came about in 1846, and I’ve been coming here for twenty-seven years, so that leaves one-hundred-and-seventy-eight-years unaccounted for. Something to think about later…
Joseph (catching my attention again): “…Woman In White.”
Me (my mind reversing from its derailed state): “Pardon?”
Joseph: “I will handle the Woman In White.”
Me (nodding, my head still not entirely on this portion of the conversation): “Okay, I’ll leave her to you…”
Joseph (a hard look creeping into his eyes): “You have a handle on Little Ben’s expansion? I assume there’s a problem.”
Me (nodding, diverted by the small opening he’d given me): “Yes to both…How did the Residents cope before I came?”
Joseph (his hands finally still): “They have me. I protect Nevermore and the Residents from all threats.”
Me (slowly sinking into the quicksand of the conversation): “Like Women In White, Stalkers, Walkers, and Soldiers?”
Joseph (somber): “And anything else.”
Me (feeling small): “So Nevermore doesn’t really need my help.”
Joseph (his tone commanding me to meet his eyes): “You value those who’ve been forgotten. You find the lost and bring them home. You protect those who undervalue you – no matter the cost. You are Nevermore’s most unique Resident because you choose to be here. You are needed, never doubt that.”
Not know what to say and trying not to cry – I moved on – Joseph doesn’t do tears.
Me (blinking rapidly): “Since I’m not here as much right now, how can I find you if I don’t want to ask a Resident to pass on a message?”
Joseph (looking at me thoughtfully, pausing for a beat longer than I’d anticipated): “Knock on a gate, Toby will lead you to me.”
Me: “What’s a Toby? And any gate?”
Joseph (smiling): “He’s shy. But I think he’s ready for you to meet him. And yes, any gate in Nevermore.”
Me (startled into dry eyes): “Wait, there’s a Resident I haven’t met yet?”
Joseph smiled, put on his hat an exited the Princess, the rain (plus his grey suit) erased him almost instantly from my sight. So many layers to the conversation, but no time to consider them if the clock on my dash was correct. I had precisely forty-five minutes to get home, shower, change and eat before my shift starts.
Aspirin, I also needed to take many aspirins, not being able to turn my head right – due to a stupid crick – won’t make my day any easier.
(Unsplash Picture Credit Here)
While Rye does not contain a single drive-thru Asian joint (which is a travesty), it does include an Italian one. So instead of eggrolls, I am eating spaghetti for dinner.
While both countries of culinary origin reside in the same hemisphere – spaghetti does not satisfy an eggroll craving.
In case you are wondering.
Despite the lack of pork, cabbage and plum sauce I attacked my dinner with gusto. While spaghetti & meatballs wasn’t what my stomach demanded, it did sate my hangries, leaving me in a mellower frame of mind. I offered up silent thanks to whichever god steered Joseph away from me pre-food. If he’d stopped by before, I might have taken him up on his offer to actively ‘persuade’ Little Ben to leave Nevermore.
After stowing away my trash, I snuggled under the Princess’s matching afghans and propped my tablet up against the steering wheel. Deciding my neurons needed a jump-start, I snagged one of the three thermoses of coffee from the back seat.
No rest for the wicked.
My brain and I needed to start working on my other problem, Sunny Valley Farm.
If Wood’s ridiculously fun Brace Affair didn’t do the job, I needed a fallback plan – which unfortunately placed the corner of Bitter and Sweet. Because, subversion, subterfuge, and counterfeiting aren’t pleasant words, but they defined what I might be forced to do to keep Nevermore safe.
Turning on my tablet, I opened my copy of the program Little Ben loves to use when concocting his proposals, campaigns, and announcements. Over the past few days, I’d retyped all of Little Ben’s original text and yesterday I’d copied all the graphics from the Sunny Valley Farm website (which thankfully did not include the proposed location yet).
All of this allowed me to while away the time waiting for Joseph by creating and/or updating the documents from the press packet Sarah’d given me.
Turns out this was only a one thermos task.
Switching tracks I tuned (which just sounds nicer than googled) my tablet to KARB hoping to catch the news. Leaning my seat back a bit and pulling the afghans over my arms I listened to the cymbals, drums, and piano of Brubeck’s Take Five start playing….
The rain beat down in time Diana Krall’s Devil May Care while my brain struggled to convince my unwilling eyes to open up just a crack. Yup, it was raining, the drops obscuring the mausoleums from my vision (which was impressive as they were touching distance away). With this small sensory input, my nerves decided to chime in and let my brain know their displeasure at sleeping in the Princess’s drivers seat….for, well crap, five hours.
An amused voice addressed me: “Good Morning.”
Crappity crap crap crap.
Rubbing my eyes…
Me (thickly): “Morning.”
Vision moderately clearer I attempted to turn my neck. Well, that was a bad idea. A crick informed me that under no uncertain terms should I attempt trying that feat again in the near future.
Turning my entire body, I leaned against the driver’s door and blinked at the man in my passenger seat.
The crease in his dove grey pants could slice a steak in half.
Trying to remove the custard filling from my head I leaned forward to snag the full thermos from behind the passenger’s seat. Not bothering with the cup I drank straight from the top.
Cold coffee is better than no coffee at all.
Joseph looked even more amused when I put the thermos down.
Joseph: “Long night?”
Me (it took a moment for me to quit staring at him): “Yes, I’ve been here since midnight.”
Joseph (tilting his head): “Problem with your new rooms?”
Me (waiting for the coffee to catch up): “No, nothing like that. I was waiting for you.”
Joseph (laughing quietly): “Funny, I’ve been waiting for you to wake up.”
One of the KARB’s vintage ads!
Day six of my fourteen hour fortnight.
FLYT held a general meeting last Friday which I missed due to the Fall Foliage Tour. It turns out one of the drivers came in sick with – swine, C, Spanish, bird, #10 – some variety of nasty flu which knocked out almost the entire fleet of FLYT drivers. Not wanting another rideshare program to “muscle into their territory” they asked the last standing healthy drivers to extend their service hours for a rather nice bonus, plus base pay, and tips.
When FLYT emailed me about Flu-Gate, I immediately contacted the Senior Center. I wasn’t the only driver the members used, but I didn’t want someone going without services because they couldn’t get a ride. It turns out one of the Center’s members did scheduling for Rye Memorial Hospital for forty years and hasn’t lost her touch. With sacred promises made by all not to fork up her work, she set a two-week schedule (for me, another driver who works the Center and the members). I think she may have issued a veiled threat somewhere to ensure compliance – hard to remember now – it feels like a hundred years ago.
At this point, I am not sure if the Princess’s driver’s seat is taking on my butt shape or my butt is taking on seat shape. These are the things I wonder about now. Either way, it’s been firmly planted since Tuesday morning.
Last night I dreamt scientist created a bottomless cup of coffee.
Even with all this driving, I’ve managed to wedge a tiny bit of multitasking into my day – monitoring the radio waves. Without a single fib I’ve managed to keep the Princess’s radio dial planted on KARB 98.1, Rye’s jazz/classical station – ‘Giving you energy thru the day!’. My fares grumbled a bit at first (they love their rock music) but gave in when they figured out I was working from 6 am to 8 pm helping them out.
Why am I on tenterhooks at the top of each hour? Because KARB’s news desk delights in scooping The Daily Harvest every chance they get (a feud which according to my Aunt Pearl dates back to an incident in high school between the Newspaper’s Managing Editor and Radio Station’s Manager). In the last year they’d been the first to report Stripper Gate (former mayor taking out visiting officials to said establishments), the apprehension of the Cascadia Con-man and the reacquisition of six lost Dutch Masters by RAM (Rye Art Museum and it turns out the paintings weren’t lost so much as stolen).
KARB is the only non-news station, west of the Mississippi, which employs four full-time investigative reporters – I’m pretty sure. So I figured if/when the sourest member of the Thin Green Line follows up on my materials – they will broadcast it first (it’s harder to monitor the Daily Harvest, traffic cops frown on reading & driving).
Are drive-thru egg rolls are a thing?
If they aren’t, they really should be because my shift’s finally over and I can’t go home yet and I’d really like some egg rolls or Mongolian beef with fried rice or pad thai or pho or banh mi or sushi.
Visions of wontons dance through my head…
Wouldn’t be the first time I ate dinner whilst wandering through Nevermore. According to my phone Rye doesn’t have a drive-thru Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese or Japanese restaurants, drat.
At the time I didn’t realize how serendipitous running into Joseph at The Crossroads was. When I’d taken care of Nevermore, we spoke daily, no big deal. Now that I’m out in the cold it’s not so easy, which fills me with an uncontrollable urge to kick Little Ben in the shins.
Why you ask is my chest crammed with a thousand angry bees who’d like a word with my former manager? Since returning from the Fall Foliage Tour seven and a half days ago, I’ve been unable to locate Joseph and let him know about the looming problem getting ready to land in Nevermore. Not wanting to alarm the Residents I’ve kept the news to myself but he needs to know, and we need to fix on a solution.
Why not ask them where Joseph is? Or pass a message onto him? Since my exile, this might lead to panic amongst the Residents, which could mean some uncomfortable nights for Little Ben in the cottage.
So I’d worked out a cunning plan which cut the Residents out of the equation entirely. Regrettably, it requires my butt to remain planted in the driver’s seat for a few more hours (hopefully only minutes, but I’m not holding my breath). My bright idea? I will sit in the Princess, in Nevermore until Joseph finds me – listening to the radio – drinking coffee.
Without egg rolls.
Not really sure what other business happens in a police parking lot.
Though if the police blotter’s any indication people are willing to do all kinds of silly things in the most inappropriate locations…(not that I’d know anything about that)
On the upside I have the precinct’s address now without needing to look it up online – if the sourest member of the forest service doesn’t follow thru on the tip!