Tag Archives: books

2.08 Needs Must When The Devil Drives

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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?

1.12 Dourwood’s Days Are Numbered!

I choked on my on the coffee. I was going to kill Wood – he’s such a liar – he never talked to her. Trying to compose a suitable answer in my head on the fly, while calculating the amount of money it would take to replace the titles of mine in his possession (I decided yelling at him would be more economical) when Beatrice started laughing.

“That was mean, forgive me. I wasn’t sure if Dourwood told you he tried to set us up the other night. I am glad he did, so I can clear the air – I am not looking for a girlfriend, I am looking for a roommate.”

Wheezing I nodded and waved for her to go on. Trying to listen, laugh and cough discreetly didn’t allow for much contribution to the subject at the moment. It also mitigated the relief I felt at the moment, since choking tends to drown out most everything else.

“You remember I told you about my break-in a few weeks back?” I nodded for her to continue, my power of speech not quite there yet.

“The thing is, the break-in made my landlady, Ms. Hettie, nervous – especially since I travel frequently. And when she gets nervous she gets cranky. Well, crankier. So I thought having a roommate might maker her feel more secure. I can offer a discounted rent; if you’re willing to grab stuff I send to a P.O. Box and coordinate your travel with mine, so we can have someone home most nights. What do you think?” She regarded me  with a hopeful look, but there was that competitive gleam as well – like this was her master stroke in keeping the house breakers at bay. Once again I wondered if she regarded thwarting them as a competitive sport.

Working past my speculation into stupefaction, I’m not sure why I thought we were meeting but I never saw this coming. My shoulders started to relax for the first time since Ben dropped by. I swear she felt my natural hesitation of moving in with a practical stranger melting under the thought of an affordable rent or in fact simply a roof over my head. Twelve days to find a place and move into it seemed daunting, “Plus all the books you can read.” She knew her audience – I wavered, “Months before they are released.” Now she was playing hardball.

Practicality replaced surprise and the odd suspicion. Buying a bit of time I hedged, ”Can I see your place and my room first before I decide?” Making sure I didn’t commit to some dark, depressing house at the end of a dank lane. Though I am not sure I would turn it down even then (later I thought this a bit rich, since I lived in a cemetery), the specter of pleading for a place with Aunt Pearl – even short term – haunted me.

“No problem. Do you want to see it now?” she asked while she got ready to head out.

“Don’t you have to go back to work?” Mirroring her movements I put on my jacket and scarf.

“The joy of my job is the built-in flexibility. As long as I get my work done on time my boss doesn’t care when I come in.”

I asked for a to go cup and we left The Altar.

I counted myself lucky when we decided to take separate cars. It allowed me to call Wood while I followed her home (using a hands-free device, of course). He verified that as far as he knew Beatrice didn’t harbor any latent axe murdering tendencies. Or mental instabilities which would again lead her towards the aforementioned axe wielding predilections. Or general flakiness which would find her trunk filled with all my first editions, heading to New York with dreams of starring in A Chorus Line inadvertently financed by me (You laugh but my early twenties were weird and expensive). Wood assured me that these possibilities were extremely remote. The most unusual thing he knew of Beatrice happened twelve years previous and featured a herd of goats, a sorority house and the staging of an epic prank. When Wood hung up I felt reassured about Beatrice’s character, despite the goats.

1.8 Lessons In Random Ordering

(To Be Clear – this is not The Fungus House!)

Random ordering is not a sound strategy in a place called The Fungus House.

Beatrice’s mushroom pho looked like a pretty piece of modern art in a bowl.

Wood’s portobello burger looked like an actual burger with cheese, ketchup and lettuce – I think a special sauce might have made an appearance as well.

My lentil and mushroom shepherds pie looked like a sick topiary covered in week old snow.

While contemplating how to tackle the beige mountain that was my dinner (while eating as little of it as possible) I tried to shift the topic off my impending homelessness on to anything else. Wood beat me to the punch.

“So Bee how is life in the book world treating you?”

My ears perked up, “Books?”

A smile crossed her face, “I am a buyer and store promoter for Pulp. I just got back from a trade show in New York. Oh Wood, I got the new Neil Gaiman advanced reader copy for you”. She dug in her briefcase and handed Wood the aforementioned book.

I have never been so jealous of Wood as I was right this instant. I love Gaiman. Eight more months I would have to wait for his new book to hit the shelves. I wonder if Wood would loan it to me when he was finished. Now to the important question, “You get to see where books are born?”

“Something like that, publishers hold book expos to promote their hot, new or exciting titles. Pulp sends me to figure out what is the genuine article and what is just hype. The only unfortunate thing about the trip was my place was broken into while I was gone.”

“That’s no good. Did they take anything irreplaceable?” Wood asked while tucking the book next to his leg.

“No, that’s what’s weird, they only stole a couple old paperbacks and that painting you hate. But other than that, they just rifled through the place and left.” She leaned back in the booth, the conversation causing her to lose her appetite, or perhaps she was full – her bowl was nearly empty.

“Well that doesn’t sound too bad, the painting was hideous. Do you know how they got in?” Wood chimed in while I made sympathetic noises.

“The police weren’t sure. The working theory is that Ms. Hettie left a window upstairs open and they found her key to open the door and went downstairs. They left her stuff alone. If they cased the place, they would have known she would be home soon and the police would investigate immediately rather than a week later.”

Chiming in, “Did you change you locks?”.

“On all the doors and windows. I made it much harder to get in, should they decide for round two.” A hint of competitiveness (or annoyance, it was hard to tell) crept into her voice – apparently thwarting thieves was a sport?

Speaking of larceny, Wood knew I was eyeing his book (he did after all turn me onto Gaiman), when my hand started creeping towards the volume he and the book scooted away from me, “Excuse me for a minute, ladies, I need to use the facilities and put this in my car before I forget it.”

Drat.

It was then that the bright pins and needles sensation began pricking my toes. Curling them in my shoes I did my best imitation of Winged Victory (you know the statue), trying not to crane my neck to spot who’d popped up into the restaurant. Fortunately I didn’t wonder long – two dancers waltzed past me and started to gliding their way through the restaurant. I tried not to stare but her dress was so beautiful. It reminded me of the wedding dress Grace Kelley’s character wore in her last movie High Society, graceful lines with lace and chiffon swishing elegantly about her knees. Her partner was harder to make out, more the idea of a tuxedo giving him form than what he actually possessed. Or perhaps his partner just sucked all the light towards her, it was hard to tell. In either case, my fellow diners ate on, oblivious to the spectacle circling through them and I lost the thread of the conversation entirely.

“Her dress is lovely isn’t it.”

Startled I refocused on the woman sitting across from me, “Her dress?”

“The couple dancing, her dress is deliciously vintage isn’t it?”

At this point my mouth did a great goldfish impression, “You see them?”

Before she could answer Wood came back to the table patting his pockets, “Beatrice do you know where my keys are?”

Distracted from the dancers by Wood’s question I asked, “Why would she know where your keys are?”

“Bee always finds my keys when I lose them.” Wood looked expectantly at Beatrice.

I could feel her eyes rolling, “You are the only person I know who loses them so regularly.”

“Please?” Wood did his best imitation of a cocker spaniel.

Beatrice closed her eyes for a moment, “They are under the table over there.” She pointed an empty table near the restrooms.

Wood hustled over to where Beatrice pointed, taking the book with him (gggrrrr!), “That’s a neat trick.” I commented, relieved the dancers had left without noticing me.

She smiled, “You think so?”

After dinner we all ended up at The Rusty Hinge, drinking beer, playing pinball and shooting the breeze (where I managed to scarf down a bacon burger with Wood being none the wiser). The Fungus House was a distant memory by the end of the night.

(Above Burger Photo Credit)