This is one of several adds I placed in local papers in New Mexico after Mrs. Lebondowsky settled on the text. As Big Ben loves holding the news in his hands I’m hoping he’ll see one of my messages….
This is one of several adds I placed in local papers in New Mexico after Mrs. Lebondowsky settled on the text. As Big Ben loves holding the news in his hands I’m hoping he’ll see one of my messages….
For the second time today, I managed to snag my favorite seat in an eatery. Only this time, my backside rested against the vinyl seat of the best booth in my favorite dive in all of Rye.
Taking in a lung full of the wonderful smells emanating from the kitchen of the Rusty Hinge, my stomach reminded my mind the early lunch with Mrs. Lebondowsky was now a distant memory — gastronomically speaking. As today was Pie Day, or what the unenlightened call Monday, the sweet scent of apple and pumpkin spice swirled through the entire joint and proved impossible to resist.
Ordering a cup of coffee and a slice of pumpkin, I basked in the warm glow of the neon beer signs and the musical lures of the surrounding pinball machines for a few minutes (in point of fact, I was borderline giddy at being anywhere but inside the Lavender Lady this evening).
Tossing my chauffeur’s cap on the red vinyl stretching out next to me, I stopped reveling and took advantage of the forty minutes I’d stitched into my day. (Rather than heading home to change out of my uniform after my shift, I motored straight to the Rusty Hinge.)
Extracting my phone from my pack, I entered my code, tapped my recently dialed icon, chose the third number from the top, and dialed. Whilst listening to the ringing on the line, I pulled a pack of index cards and a pen out of my bag, then hung up a split second after the anticipated and ear grating first note of the out-of-service recording started playing.
Setting my phone aside, I slit open the pack of cards with my thumbnail, removed one, and started writing the message Mrs. Lebondowsky and I had crafted together over teriyaki.
Just enough information to hopefully pique his interest and pithy enough to catch the eye.
I’d managed to work my way thru a third of the pack, two cups of coffee, and my generous piece of pie before Leo joined me.
Leo (taking off his coat): “Hey boss, studying for an exam?”
Me: “Nope. Just part of my highly strategic plan to find Big Ben.”
Leo (flipping over and reading the top card of the completed stack): “Highly strategic? Wait, is this your real number?”
Me (finishing off the card I was working on): “No, I bought a burner phone…”
My explanation trailed off when Ruth, who’d apparently been keeping an eye out, popped by to take our order. Two local beers, three baskets of wings coated in tongue scorching sauces to split between us (maple-chipotle, sour-cherry habanero & lime, and gochujang-barbecue).
We’d shared wings once or twice before.
After Ruth moseyed out of earshot, Leo and I started speaking at the same time – I let him go first. So while I stowed my project away in my pack, he gingerly extracted a puffy plastic sack from his knitting bag.
Leo: “So what’s the grand plan?”
Me: “I know someone who knows someone who knows someone else, who put me in touch with a citizen of Silver City, and they’ve agreed to help us find Big Ben.”
No need to out Mrs. Lebondowsky as my source and Tavi Blume as my Silver City Operative.
(BTW – Tavi is an absolute stitch. As an avid reader of vintage gumshoe detective novels, Dashiell Hammett, in particular. Tavi admitted to yearning for an excuse to abscond with her husband’s fedora. Combine this craving with week four (of nine) of her vacation? Tavi was absolutely thrilled to help us track Big Ben down – after we explained the who, the what and the why behind our inquiry.
The fact our favor also allowed her to evade cleaning her classroom’s beakers, test tubes and graduated cylinders for another week might also have enlivened her enthusiasm for the endeavor.
Her one condition? I refer to her as my Silver City Operative.)
Leo: “Sounds, Byzantine.”
Me (leaning back against the seat): “Not really, it essentially boils down to my Operative papering Silver City with this message. Plus, the personal ads, I’m placing in the two local papers and the University’s.”
Leo (arching an eyebrow): “Your Operative?”
Me (grinning): “My Silver City Operative to be specific, we decided code names made it more fun, I’m Ms. Pinkerton…Is that my hat?”
Leo (his eyes twinkling and holding it up): “What do you think?”
Me (reaching for it): “It’s perfect!”
Remember when my five cousins and their significant others all failed to place a bet on me in the Black-And-Blue-Becker-Betting-Pool?
Well, I decided to commemorate their insulting lack of faith in my ability to ruin one of Aunt Pearl’s mortifying family photos with an exceptional hat. A chapeau so extraordinary unforgettable none of my cousins will neglect to consider placing a wager on me again!
So what one-of-a-kind confection did I commission Leo to crochet for me?
The giant land squid concocted on the Island of Dr. Cousteau that I claimed dyed me purple the night I showed up on Uncle and Aunt Pearl’s doorstep covered in a bruise of epic proportions.
Me (pulling it on, I laughed as Squiddy’s arms tickled my ears): “It fits perfectly! I love it! Thank you!”
A genteel voice called out: Phoebe? Phoebe Arden, is that you?
Well crap, where’d she come from?
Walking into the library, I watched the librarians perk up like prairie dogs at the sight of the cake box I carried carefully thru the main doors. Passing by the main circulation desk, the staff forced me to revise my choice of wee beastie when they caught the fragrance of cake & icing emanating from the box and started chirping in understated excitement to one another. (We are in a library after all.)
Marmots, they reminded me of marmots.
Without breaking stride or making eye contact, I followed the roundabout route through the stacks to the perch of all research for the Rye Public Library System – the desk of Mrs. Schmit. The Librarian Extraordinaire was replacing the phone receiver when I turned the corner and covered the last few yards of space between us.
Mrs. Schmit: “What on earth did you bring in that box? I’ve fielded three calls about it!”
Placing it carefully on the counter, I lifted the lid and gave her a sneak peek before answering her question.
Me: “My part of our bargain.”
My Librarian Extraordinaire, as I’ve mentioned requires a commensurately complex sweet to question ratio – the more offbeat the question is, the more elaborate sugary treat I must provide (book/music recommendations are free btw). When homemade treats enter the equation, she knows I mean business.
In this case? The query wasn’t complex, so much as convoluted.
I need a sound strategy to work Ira’s list of establishments Big Ben might be patronizing. Hope, in my experience, is often as fickle as Luck and counting on either mistress to locate Big Ben felt foolhardy at best.
Especially since I’m conducting my search over the phone and from three states away.
However, last night’s discourse over dinner (i.e., the convergence of odd coincidences in Nevermore) left me in possession of two opposing desires – wanting everyone in Silver City, New Mexico, aware of my search for Big Ben and no one in Rye alert to my quest.
Placing Mrs. Schmit unintentionally in the position of needing to produce an answer with one arm tied behind her back. (Hopefully, she’ll take my informational reticence as a challenge and not as an insult.)
Hence the famed cake, half-payment/half-apology.
Sliding the box closer to her side of the counter, she carefully pushed the lid of the box further back and took a good long look & sniff of my offering (I’d taken extra time to decorate it).
Mrs. Schmit: “Your Aunt’s Orange Blossom Honey Cake?”
Me: “Made fresh this morning.”
Mrs. Schmit: “Do you need help unraveling the meaning of life?”
Me: “I already have that answer. It’s forty-two. No, I need…”
Mrs. Schmit: “Hold that thought. Come around to this side of the counter and take a seat. I need to tuck this away, so the vultures stop circling.”
Rotating on my axis (aka my ankles), I discovered she wasn’t joking. Apparently, word’s gotten out about our arrangement. I counted no less than six staffers, not so subtly trying to catch a glimpse of the contents of the cake box. One librarian might have actually been assisting a patron, but her cohorts? Their actions were dubious at best, or perhaps one of Mrs. Schmit’s colleagues attended the Unseen University and learned to anticipate required call numbers? It would explain why the piece of paper he repeatedly referenced while edging his way towards the counter was blank. My favorite, other than the volunteer cleaning a shelf by waving a feather duster four inches above it, was the librarian who’d climbed one of the nearby rolling ladders to reshelve a mass-market paperback in the midsts of the Main Branch’s encyclopedia collection. (I wasn’t kidding when I said my Aunt’s cake is legendary town fave.)
Suppressing a smile at their antics, I followed Mrs. Schmit’s instructions and found my familiar chair.
Mrs. Schmit: “Their noses are better than a bloodhound’s when buttercream’s involved. Now that they’re dispersing, what answer do you need that requires your Aunt’s blue ribbon winner?”
Me: “I need help finding someone who isn’t missing.”
Mrs. Schmit: “Come again?”
It took a while to explain (without giving the game away), but eventually, Mrs. Schmit leaned back in her chair, her mind rapidly translating my theoretical explanation into practical application. The thoughtful silence and reclined attitude lasted for less than a minute before her fingers flew over her keyboard.
Mrs. Schmit: “Wait here and keep an eye on my cake, please.”
Standing up abruptly, Mrs. Schmit strode into the stacks, call numbers in hand. Fortunately, fisticuffs weren’t needed to defend her treat – my presence proved a sufficient enough deterrent to keep the frosting poachers at bay until the formidable Mrs. Schmit returned, books in hand.
Mrs. Schmit: “You need to perform an old fashion skiptrace. Though since you’re looking for a friend who fell off the grid, rather than someone actively dodging you, you should have an easier time of it.”
An hour later, Mrs. Schmit accompanied me to the main counter and checked out a stack of books with titles like How To Find Deadbeats, Dirtbags, and Cheats; Bill Collecting & You and Missing Persons And Where To Find Them. (BTW, the Librarian Extraordinaire was taking an early lunch so she could run her cake home, far away from her overly solicitous colleagues.)
None of the books entirely addressed my current needs. Still, they did provide inspiration on how to tackle the employees of the greasy spoons, motels, hotels, tackle shops, and taverns; I’m sure will feature on Ira’s list without sounding like a deranged stalker or an inept Private Investigator.
Me (thru clenched teeth): “What about that Brownie Stealing Bench?”
Aunt Pearl (lips twitching upwards in response): “Do you remember how she earned that nickname, dear?”
Pondering her hint, I took a bite of a crinkle cookie and nearly choked to death on it when the memory Aunt Pearl was referring to flooded my mind in full technicolor splendor (having a crumb go down the wrong pipe might also have played a part).
The summer I turned thirteen, my Uncle got a wild hair one night and took Aunt Pearl, my cousins, Wood, and I to a drive-in movie. We were initially bummed that we’d missed The Creature From The Black Lagoon by a week and were stuck watching Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood.
We’d seen the Disney version with all its singing and dancing, how different could it be? Turns out very. Watching the silver screen archery tricks and swashbuckling, we were soon spellbound, our disappointment of missing Gill-Man entirely forgotten.
(We were so enthralled in fact we forgot to bicker, squabble or pummel each other – bring peace & quiet into our midsts for the first time in a week, which was probably the point of the entire endeavor.)
The very next morning, we transformed the woods behind our house into Sherwood Forest. We into its Merry Me. Then we spent the rest of the summer questing and perfecting our swordplay. (BTW – both Uncle and Aunt Pearl steadfastly refused to arm a pack of six teens with bows and arrows – no matter how much we pleaded our case – pointing out our homemade wooden swords caused more than enough mayhem.)
When September rolled around, we retired our sabers and replaced them with pencils. While my cousins and Wood moved on to other extracurricular activities (ballet in Wood’s case apparently), I remained stubbornly fixed on Robin Hood. Devoting all my free time to the devouring of every book, the Librarian Extraordinaire Mrs. Schmit dug out of the stacks for me. Somewhere around the twelfth book into my self-imposed reading regimen, it happened…
I watched Josie Reville steal Summer Yates’ brownie.
Seizing my chance to foil a real dastardly deed, I reported the crime to King Richard the Lionhearted, aka my homeroom teacher Mrs. Sable.
(Snitches might get stitches, but if I’d attempted to thwart the Great Brownie Heist on my own? Josie would have sicced her sycophants – Agata Canetti, Larissa Cardenes, Thomi Margazoitis & Kiyomi Kimura – on me. So I opted for the possibility of stitches later to the guarantee of stitches now.)
Turns out, I’d misjudged Mrs. Sable – she wasn’t King Richard – but his devious brother Prince John in disguise. Instead of righting this very obvious wrong, she cut me off mid-story and scolded me (in front of the entire cafeteria) for tattling. When I asked what I was supposed to have done, instead, she expanded her dressing-down to include whining.
Then sentenced me to detention for the rest of the week.
Heaping insult onto injury? Summer’s brownie was never recovered, and Josie got off scot-free. (She snickered at me from behind Mrs. Sable’s back the entire time I was being told off.)
So my dumb-ass-adult-self quietly accepted my termination after eighteen plus years of employment (plus another seven years of volunteering) from Little Ben because I was afraid Big Ben might think me a tattle-tale if I called to ask, “What the hell man?” When his son let me go.
After Aunt Pearl finished pounding my back, she pushed her mug of coffee my way – to help wash away the offending crumb from my craw.
Me (rasping): “Well crap, of all the stupid reasons…”
Aunt Pearl: “Glad I could help you find an answer, dear.”
Me (saluting her with her mug): “Thanks.”
Perhaps now, if I ever get a hold of Big Ben, I’ll feel less tetchy while talking to him.
Pushing up from the table, I check the timer – two minutes left. Hoping to distract my Aunt away from her usual refrain pertaining to Nevermore and now FLYT (i.e., I was too smart to be a Caretaker or a Chauffeur), I placed a bowl under the stand mixer.
Aunt Pearl (falling for it hook, line and sinker): “You’re welcome…do you need help making the frosting dear?”*
Me (keeping my smile on the inside): “No, but I could use a ride to the library when I’m done. I don’t want to dump the cake on the ground walking there.”
Aunt Pearl (visibly disappointed): “Oh, the cake’s not for dessert tonight?”**
Me (controlling my lips): “No, Aunt Pearl, I made you guys cookies.”
Aunt Pearl (rising from her chair): “Let me know when you’re ready, and I’ll drive you.”
Hiding her “heartbreak” over losing the prospect of cake rather poorly, Aunt Pearl drug herself (and several krumkakes) out the door to get ready.
Her exit cued the buzz of my timer.
Pulling on the oven mitts, I let loose the broad grin that had threatened during our last exchange, and carefully removed the Orange Blossom Honey cupcakes from the oven.
*(Aunt Pearl Subtext: Can I “sample” a spoonful or five for you, dear?)
**(Subtext of her disappointment: You’re not leaving the cake here unattended, so I can nibble on it until your Uncle gets home. Then blame a family of mice, who’s conveniently scampered away into the aether, for the missing portion?)
(Apparently my mac’n’cheese flavor, is a twist on Haitian Spaghetti! And it’s great!)
Me (trying to keep hope in check): “Help you…”
Leo: “…fix Nevermore?”
With a bemused expression, Ira explained.
Shortly after his unnecessary promotion and upon discovering his copy of the Conventions missing, Ira placed a call to Big Ben. Only to find both Big Ben’s landline and cell were no longer in service. Discussing his unease with his Missus, she asked him one particularly salient question; “Who in Nevermore do you and Big Ben both trust?”
Her words were still rolling around in the back of Ira’s brain when he and Leo got to talking after the latter approached the former about trying to persuade Little Ben from ejecting the Naturalists from Nevermore.
Their mutual troubles lead to their first “summit” in the Rare Records Room.
Over a few beers and bowls of mac’n’cheese, they rewound, reviewed, and rehashed every episode, major or minor, occurring in Nevermore over the past year. My unexpected termination quickly made their list of nebulously linked hinky feeling events. So did Big Ben’s radio silence and unprecedented extended absence from Nevermore. At about this point, Leo, in a fit of frustration, wondered where their guesswork was getting them – that’s when Ira repeated his Missus’s question.
Needless to say, their answers matched.
And here we are.
Taking a measured sip of my second drink, I slowly rolled it across my tongue, feeling oddly relieved that I wasn’t the only one who’d felt an ill wind blowing through Nevermore.
Me (taking a deep breath): “I’m pretty sure I know what Little Ben and the Board of Managers have been working on.”
Leo (cut in utterly astonished): “How? Even I couldn’t finagle that….”
Me (drily): “How did you find out about the NDA’s?”
Leo (wiggling his eyebrows): “Touché.”
With timing, only servers can muster our bowls of bespoke mac’n’cheese arrived. Since the eighth wonder of the world required our complete concentration to properly appreciate, our conversation stuttered to a stop until Leo, and I licked our bowls clean (Ira restrained himself from following suit, but then he can eat here whenever he chooses).
Once we recalled our place, which took a moment due to the sheer quantity of cheese hurtling through our arteries, I filled them in on Little Ben’s rebranding plans.
Leo (bleakly): “So there’s no hope of the Naturalists staying in Nevermore.”
Not wanting to mouth platitudes, I stayed silent.
Ira (slowly): “I agree, the financial questions need answering.”
Leo: “What do the missing Conventions and Ira’s promotion have to do with rebranding Nevermore?”
Me: “No clue. But the timing seems curious.”
We gnashed our teeth on our list nebulously linked hinky affairs over two more rounds of drinks, without a single bolt of lightning striking our table. Bereft of inspiration, we created a to-do list and ordered dessert.
First and foremost, since Big Ben hasn’t set foot in Nevermore for nearly a year and none of us know what he knows about current events inside Nevermore – we’re going to make sure he knows.
(On reflection, the extra cocktails might have been a mistake.)
In other words, we’re going to track Big Ben down.
Since I’m the only one who owns a real beef with Little Ben, even if it’s a bit late in the day to take umbrage at my pink slip, I’ll raise the least suspicion should Little Ben get wind of our attempts (plus he can’t fire me again). So Ira’s going to drop a list by Uncle and Aunt Pearl’s house of every phone number, address, hotel, motel, and haunt in New Mexico Big Ben’s ever included in a memo, email, or mentioned in passing.
Hopefully, I’ll hit the jackpot with one of them.
The scheme makes me feel prickly inside, as it smacks of tattling, but I couldn’t (and still haven’t) come up with a superior alternative.
Speaking of prickly situations, since Leo’s perched at the heart of Nevermore’s grapevine and my Ms. Hettie theory fell through, I requested he ferret out the name of Little Ben’s anonymous source for me.
Without admitting to playing any part in the farce, I gave Leo every scrap of data in my possession about the mysterious tipster who alerted Little Ben the night of The Brace Affair. (Aka the night Ira’s groundskeepers chased us all over Nevermore.) Explaining my request away as another nebulously linked hinky feeling event in need of an answer – I think Ira bought it.
I was thrilled when our slices apple pie, featuring a very melty piece of cheddar cheese on top, arrived tableside at that moment, completely derailing our conversation off the topic of trespassing pirates…After our initial bite of pie, we hammered out a few other details; don’t risk your job looking for answers; don’t talk to anyone attached to Nevermore about our suspicions, and no, I will not refer to you as 006-&-a-half. Even if you knit a suitable hat.
But all too soon, the cheese, alcohol, and sugar caught up with us.
(Btw, leaving the Rare Records Room is nearly as complicated as entering – I exited two doors down behind the florist’s shop.
While listening to the peppy hoot of an owl, I picked up my phone off the nightstand, found Big Ben’s number, and hit dial. My ears were immediately assaulted by three ascending tones and an automated message, “I’m sorry, the number you have entered has been temporarily disconnected, changed, or is no longer in service. If you feel you’ve reached this recording in error…”
Giving up on my phone and sleep, I heaved myself out of bed, pulled on a pair of well-loved pants and an old t-shirt then padded down to the kitchen. I might not know what’s happening to Nevermore or how to fix it, but at least, I know what my next step is.
I need to bake a cake.
Leaving a still laughing Leo to his work, I entered the stairwell for the fourth time today when the muffled click of kitten heels on hardwood hit my ears, pausing my ascent on the second stair. Only one person wears heels around here…
Lottie (hitting the push bar of the door above): “I’m heading to Sarah’s office now….Yes…Yes, I’ll walk Phoebe up to the lobby to meet you…back in a minute.”
Making a split-second decision, I ducked into the shadowy corner under the stairwell to wait for Lottie to walk past.
When playing hide-and-seek with an unknowing seeker, you can take advantage of more blatant hiding spots. But the fundaments still need following; hold your breath, do your best impression of a statue, attempt to reduce your mass to that of a mouse and chant ‘don’t-see-me-don’t-see-me-don’t-see-me’ in your head. Blending in with your surroundings is a plus, but not always an available option, today all I could do was offer up a silent thanks to past me for choosing to wear a dark woolen coat instead of my bright orange gore-tex.
Not even Lottie could miss my imitation of a pumpkin.
Why am I hiding from Little Ben’s secretary? Leo’s scuttlebutt raised a number of questions, none of which would get answered if we spoke in front of an audience. But in private? Perhaps I could pry out a few.
(And only a little to do with the fact that Lottie’s the pineapple to my pizza.)
Listening to Lottie descend the stairs, I enacted the principles of a champion hider and was only a little light-headed from the lack of oxygen when she finally past by me and out the door. Counting to five after it swung shut, I scampered swiftly up the stairs (thanking every lucky star in the sky my sneakers had dried enough to stop squeaking).
In two slightly wheezy (don’t tell Wood) minutes flat, I breezed past Lottie’s empty desk and into Little Ben’s new digs. When my entrance failed to elicit any expletives about barging in unannounced, I leaned back against the door, flipped the lock, and caught my breath.
Usually, the Proprietor’s Office brings a smile to my face.
With three out of four walls featuring floor-to-ceiling built-in bookcases filled with midnight blue bound books who’s bindings combine to create a mosaic – an unkindness of ravens taking flight from gnarled leafless trees under a full moon in silver filagree. How could you not smile at such a sight? (Big Ben never lends out these books ever – I’ve asked).
But today, this awe-inspiring biblio vista filled me with fury.
Skirting around a heaping conference table, I confronted the fifteen feet of display boards obscuring my favorite sight in all of Nevermore.
Well, I found Little Ben’s dream boards…….taped to the shelves. Big Ben will mount his son’s hide to the wall if he damages any of the books.
Intending to find a footstool to determine the damage, my eyes fell away from the offending adhesive and locked onto the papers pasted on the poster boards themselves.
Panic quickly supplanted ire as the series of adverts, slogans, sketches, maps, and action items, Little Ben had plastered across his unusually professional dream boards, penetrated my brain. If accurate, the bisecting timeline placed Sunny Valley Farm & Pet Cemetery as the first significant step in rebranding Nevermore.
(Even more curious? How spot-on Leo’s intelligence proved. My termination appeared as an action item dated two months prior to the date Little Ben handed me my pink slip – between other ticked off items of ‘secure financing for MacGregor Farm purchase’ and ‘shut off the boiler in Club House’. Seriously, how does Leo do it?)
Taking a deep breath and steeling my nerves, I focused on the problem at hand – time. Little Ben and/or Lottie could return at anytime since I’d yet to steal my very own TARDIS, I needed a way to examine this in detail later… Whipping out my phone, I started snapping pictures of every slip of paper featured on his Pipe-Dream-Dream-Board. Concentrating on the context and not the content – kept me from getting distracted – because even skimming them caused my insides to wobble about uncomfortably. Rapidly finishing my photo documentation, I turned my camera onto the conference table behind me.
Avoiding the two obvious workstations (no need to call attention to my unsanctioned scrutiny), I focused on the binders. Trying to keep my hands steady, I photographed the title pages, table of contents, and anything labeled ‘budget’. About the time I started perusing the boxes stacked next to the conference table, the sound of kitten heels accompanied by a heavier tread reached me thru the door.
With one ear, I listened to Little Ben giving Lottie further instructions, while frantically pulling the tops off the five boxes of promotional materials and stuffing one folder from each in my PULP tote. After replacing the box tops, I pulled the fourteen-foot scarf off my neck and crammed it around the folders in my bag. Then I flew across the room, tossing the tote, my coat, and purse into one of the guest chairs.
The locked door bought me just enough time to slip behind the Proprietor’s desk and watch (in the reflection of the floor to ceiling windows) Little Ben’s reaction when it dawned on him who’d spent an indefinite amount of unchaperoned time in his office.
Because Leo’s information dovetailed disturbingly with Little Ben’s Pipe-Dream-Dream-Boards to raise one singularly critical question…
Where in the world is Big Ben?
Rolling down the window of sickly pumpkin colored hybrid, “Talking on your phone again?” The opening salvo.
Returning fire, I gestured with my phone, “Sure looks that way.” I opened my email, hoping the glowing screen and obvious inattention would spark the idea of leaving me alone.
No such luck, “Well, could you follow me to the cottage? I have some work to do.”
Seriously, he wouldn’t lift a finger for me unless something caught on fire or froze and now he’s Mr. Fix-It? Pulling patience up from my socks, “Ben, it’s after five, couldn’t it wait until tomorrow? And shouldn’t you be giving your dad a call? You know he wants weekly updates, I am sure he’d like to hear how the cost saving measures went.” Hoping my invoking of the Dad card or my current unemployment status would make him leave (petty I know, but the man was leaning on my last nerve).
Funny thing, Ben wouldn’t look me in the eye. Maybe he did feel bad about letting me go. Normally he’s too focused on his goals to notice other people. “Dad and I switched update days. So since I am free to put in some time tonight, I want to get the new hot water heater installed. I will need your assistance to finish tonight.”
Got that wrong.
Diverted by indignation of his expectation of my participation in the installation I went on the offensive, “Ben, I don’t work here anymore. And my lease, which runs through the end of the month states all non-emergency repairs need to either be completed or halted at the end of the business day, five.” Yes, I reread my lease after he delivered the eviction notice. Ben wouldn’t do anything unlawful, but annoying? Absolutely.
Changing tactics he huffed, “I would have expected more dedication from you.”
Really? The loyalty card? Wrong play. Planting my hands on the hood of the Princess, I leaned towards him. “Ben, until four days ago, I worked here for over eighteen years. You let me go to finance one of your projects. Fine. But I am not going to give you free labor for improvements you should have made to my cottage years ago.”
Retreating he puffed, “Well if you refuse to help, I will do it tomorrow.” With that last wild jab towards my conscience he pulled away, leaving me alone in the dark (dusk doesn’t last long). Leaning against the Princess I discovered that I felt reluctant to return home at this moment. The word “no” didn’t always seep into and saturate Ben’s brain and I didn’t want to get roped into a cottage improvement project. Even the chill spreading through my bones and the tingling of my toes on this clear autumn night could not propel me forth.
“I could convince him to leave you know.” I smiled when I herd his voice, the man in the sleek grey suit leaning next to me could indeed pull such a feat off. Joseph sounded bored with the very idea; I knew better. I rolled around his idea in my mind, but the sugary coating of it dissolved too soon and left nothing but the sour center which sucked the sweetness away.
I leaned my head back and stared at the stars while mirroring his dispassionate tone, “I am not sure you could. He’s sunk a lot of money into two large projects that I know of and I’m not sure he really can afford to live outside Nevermore.”
Turning towards me, “It wouldn’t take much.”
Rolling my neck so I could look him in the face, “It would leave Nevermore without a Caretaker, the Residents alone and wouldn’t guarantee they’d rehire me. But I appreciate the thought.”
“Well, the offer is a standing one. Just ask.” I smiled, he nodded then departed. A man of few words, Joseph.
An involuntary shiver wracked through me, convincing me that I should head home. Winding my way through the lanes, trees and gravestones, I stopped when I turned the last corner to my cottage – Ben’s hybrid stood in the drive and every window in the cottage glowed with light. Did he think I’d fall for this obvious flanking technique?
Stupid. Adult. Behavior.
Turn the other cheek my ass. Should take Joesph up on his offer. See how he liked my end game!
Thankful of the Princess’s small turning radius I decided to hit the Rusty Hinge for dinner and a very aggressive game of pinball instead. Just as I completed the maneuver and pressed the go pedal, I thought I caught sight of Joseph watching the cottage out the corner of my eye. Of course when I looked back it was only old Hugh standing there (Hugh Grunbaum providing a perch for crows since 1953).
Nope. Not worried about that at all….