Tag Archives: Brace Affair

2.47 Happanstance or Design?

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One of the side benefits of visiting Samuel? Perusing the shelves Filbert’s Market for inspiration. Unfortunately, since I still had several hours left on my meter for today, I could only shop from the middle aisles. Even with this geographical limitation, my muse didn’t fail me, as the low sodium soy sauce featured on the aisle three end-cap provided the inspiration I was looking for. 

It had been an absolute age since I’d made garlic chicken wings. 

So after grabbing a bottle of soy, I snagged a bag of brown sugar, gochujang, a bulb of garlic, and the most massive cup of coffee the deli had to offer. I took my culinary cover for visiting Filbert’s to the front and stood in another line until my favorite checker (Bev don’t call me Beverly) handed me a receipt.

After depositing the shelf-stable ingredients in the Princess’s trunk and the coffee in the cupholder, I tootled towards the Diner On The Corner. In short order, I was pulling the Princess against the curb, just down the block from the restaurant, to wait for Mr. Fernandez’s call.

Settling in, I took a moment to take in the beauty of the bare-branched trees, then dove into my discordant to-do list. Pulling the reporter’s notebook (Uncle had given me from his personal stationery stash last night to help sort out my priorities) and the atypical copy of the Conventions out from under the driver’s seat, I propped the former against the latter and went to work.

Checking Samuel’s name off the list of Errants, I need to alert about a possible newcomer and/or threat (since it’s not always clear which category they fall under until Joseph & I vet them), felt nice. Adding an asterisk next to Eliza’s name, felt less so. She’d hit the panic button once when a flock of sparrow’s dust bath divots ‘gouged’ the ground near her Origin Point. So what stopped her from using the Relay when an Errant of indeterminate intentions approached? On the upside, when I visit Eliza, I can exchange notes with Abraham and keep up my end of our bargain.

Moving on to easier, though no less relevant notes, I jotted down a few thoughts on sides to accompany soy-glazed garlic wings. Then sketched out a relatively goof-proof plan to sneak a copy of My Neighbor Totoro into Filbert’s break-room tv for Samuel. About the time I was vacillating over the line item about me flying to New Mexico myself to find Big Ben, a flock of birds erupted from behind my seat.

Not literally, thank the gods above and below. 

Me (pressing the button of my handsfree headset hooked over my ear): “Hop 2863, do you need me to pull around the front for you, Mr. Fernandez?” 

Hesitant Voice: “Hey Morticia, it’s Sarah.”

That’ll teach me for not assigning individual ringtones to people, one more thing to add to the to-do list.

Me: “Oh, hey, Sarah. Sorry, I was expecting a call from a FLYT fare. What’s up?”

Sarah: “Sorry, I didn’t realize you were still working.”

Me (letting out a little laugh): “Pulling extra hours. The nieces and nephews handed out their Christmas lists last week, and I’m going to buy the most obnoxious toy – my cousins will kill me for getting – off each one.”

Sarah (returning my laugh): “You know payback’s a bench, right?”

Me (grin fading): “Yeah, well, I like being cool Auntie Morticia.” 

Sarah: “Wait, I thought you always got them books.”

Me (tapping my fingers on the gilt-edged tome sitting in my lap): “Those too. That’s why I’m working extra hours until Yule.”

Sarah (clearing her throat): “Speaking of which…”

Me (closing my eyes): “Hey Sarah, I know you didn’t call to talk about the niblings, but my FLYT ap just popped, and I need to pick up my fare. Can you shoot me a text? Or can I call you after my shift? I get off at nine…”

Sarah (brightly): “I’ll text you. Stay safe in the salt mines!”

Me (forcing cheer into my words): “Back at you.”

Pressing the button on my headset, I disconnected, roughly unhooked the earpiece, and threw it onto my dash. 

Okay, I lied. 

Mr. Fernandez won’t finish for at least another twenty minutes, but I couldn’t take talking to Sarah right now……Because I’d love nothing more than to take Robbie’s advice.

Closing my eyes, I imagined clearing the air over the Brace Affair with Sarah over bowls of ramen (one of her favorites). I’d listen to her side and she mine. I’d tell her I understood the difficulty of divided loyalties and the tightrope one walked in managing them. We’d have a laugh, slurp our soup, and put it behind us.

Unfortunately, my newly minted sense of suspicion supplanted this pie-in-the-sky vision with the memory of that first forking phone call. 

Opening my eyes, I stared at the rosy oval scars on the heels of my hands, that forking phone call. It fashioned and fit a lens of mistrust over my mind’s eye, modifying the meaning of every word, gesture, and deed stored in my memory of her.

Not the least of which makes me wonder if Little Ben really did rifle thru Sarah’s desk and discombobulate her paperwork. The circumstance she claimed caused her to give me the wrong date for the Woman In White’s arrival in Nevermore. (Leading me to confront a homicidal Errant entirely underprepared.) Who exactly would’ve been waiting for me if I’d shown up on the date she gave me?

Then there’s the random happenstance of her being on hand the very last time I laid either eyes or hands on my copy of the Conventions. In point of fact, she helped box up the remaining portion of my library that day – which included the aforementioned policy manual.

Coincidence or pattern?

2.26 Leaving On A Jet Plane

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Pulling into a parking spot in front of the Rye Regional Airport, I looked over at my first passenger in a little over a month and smiled. Beatrice, wearing nearly opaque sunglasses, leaned against the Princess’s window fast asleep, her neck twisted in an angle I’m sure will prove less than pleasant upon waking. Trying to inspire her into consciousness, I got out of the car, pulled her bags out of the trunk, and wheeled them to the passenger side door – without attempting to muffle, stifle or dampen the sounds my actions created in the slightest.

Her muscles didn’t quiver once – which frankly wasn’t surprising due to the smashing success of the Twinkle Toes Review. 

Initially, even with an agreement to keep his complaints to himself in place, Wood balked at watching hours of himself on tape. Parading him past a table heaving under all his favorite foods, plus twelve tubs of Mac’n’cheese from the Rare Records Room, finally persuaded him to give the party a chance. 

After he loaded his plate, we pressed play and less than fifteen minutes into the first home movie, an epic battle between cross-district peewee soccer rivals, he was laughing like a loon. Soon he was expanding on the stories his Gran spun and by the end of the evening had related a few originals of his own. 

Apparently, listening to his Gran’s running and rambling commentary caught by her camcorder’s microphone with the ears of an older man burned away the lingering feelings of embarrassment leftover in his brain by his younger self. 

I’m pretty sure the application of a few fingers of scotch over the coarse of the day may have eased him towards this newfound wisdom.

It’s certainly at the root of my roommate’s current comatose condition.

The other source of her inert state was due to our wildly miscalculated timetable. Between bathroom breaks, intermittent romps around the backyard (to help aid digestion and unclog our cheese-filled arteries), footwork demonstrations (which only Wood and Beatrice showed any aptitude at), and one walk/mosey to the corner store for gummy bears & worms (to settle the argument on which is better) the party effortlessly exceeded its allotted time.

Then Beatrice pulled out the good bottle.

Around ten pm, I extracted myself, to a chorus of boos, from our stroll down memory lane and stumbled my way to bed. (More than a little excited to start driving for FLYT again in the morning, I didn’t want to be hungover/exhausted/grumpy on my first day back.)

I haven’t a clue how long the others continued to natter. But six hours, two alarms and one shower later, I discovered Sarah curled up on our living room couch, Beatrice snuggled in the recliner in the office, and Wood doing his impression of a buzzsaw in Beatrice’s room. The two empty bottles of Oban next to the kitchen sink gave me a fair clue what prompted the impromptu sleepover. (When I’d said goodnight neither bottle had been cracked open or in fact out of the liquor closet.) 

My inner trickster urged me to rouse them by playing Reveille at full volume on my phone while flipping on the overhead lights in my friend’s respective rooms.

Deciding against saddling my friends with the moniker of The Monday Morning Murderer Squad, I began brewing a veritable sea of coffee and recycling last night’s leftovers into this morning’s breakfast. The aroma of frying eggs, butter, bacon, biscuits, and gouda accompanied by the sounds of the coffee percolator plus the jaunty selections played by KARB’s morning DJ had the last of the fearsome foursome lurching into the kitchen (and collapsing into a heap on the floor as the table hadn’t been moved back yet) twenty minutes later.

After each downed a mug of the best bean-based drink known to man Beatrice found Wood’s shoe, Laney’s coat, and Sarah’s keys, I placed a quart-sized go-mug of coffee in each of their hands, a breakfast sandwich in their other and pushed them all out the Lavender Lady’s door to start their day. Beatrice and I followed them thirty minutes later in roughly the same state (only with more baggage and a shower under our belts), and here we are.

Standing on the curb, I gazed through the windshield at the still form of my roommate and hit speed dial on my phone. It took a beat for my ringtone to penetrate her brain, but when her hands finally twitched in response – she hung up on me. Fortunately (for me, not her) the second time I rang her, the crick in her neck announced itself – hurling her directly into consciousness and out of the Princess.

Handing her a handful of vitamins, two aspirins, and a bottle of water, I unsuccessfully attempted to suppress a grin.

Me: “Come on, let’s get you checked in.”

While I wheeled her luggage along, she silently worked her way through the pills. 

The upside of catching the first flight out of Rye? You don’t have to wait in any lines, the gate agents are friendly, and your luggage always makes it on the plane. The downside? Nothing’s open. Hence our brown-bag breakfast that Beatrice was finally awake enough to enjoy. Since I wasn’t due at the Senior Center for an hour and Beatrice wasn’t scheduled to take-off for another two, we snagged a couple of seats on the landside of the airport and tucked into our homemade breakfast sandwiches & cups of coffee.

When only crumbs and dredges remained of our meal, Beatrice finally looked human again. Apparently, she felt the same because she removed her sunglasses (letting sunbeams from the nearby windows hit her retinas unfiltered) and leapt directly into conversation.

Beatrice: “An interesting fact came to light yesterday.”

Me: “Is it Laney’s secretly addiction to turkey and dressing tv dinners?”

Beatrice (clearly picking her words carefully): “No, though that is inexplicable, no, this has to do with the Brace Affair*.”

Me (perplexed): “Really? I’m all ears.”

Beatrice: “Seems Ms. Hettie isn’t the only one who had the opportunity to overhear our plans.”

Taking my thunderstruck silence correctly, Beatrice continued.

Beatrice: “While you were keeping Dourwood occupied, Laney joined Sarah and me in the kitchen. Laney went on to say it felt like an age since she’d seen Sarah – they started comparing notes, and turns out the last time they hung out was just after our trip to Pumpkin Mountain…”

Sensing I was about to interrupt, Beatrice put her index finger up, stalling my questions in my throat.

Beatrice (placing air quotes at the end of the sentence): “…However, the last time they saw each other was the evening Laney stopped by to drop off some reference books she borrowed from Sarah and to tell her we were ‘heading into Nevermore that night to plant the rubber ducks’.”

Me (sinking feeling): “Those were her exact words? Please don’t tell me she….”

Beatrice (finishing my sentence): “….uttered them in the lobby of the main building in Nevermore? Apparently, she did.”

(Laney is many amazing things – but quiet isn’t one of them.)

Me (disappointment lancing thru my lungs as I thought thru the ramifications of this shiny new fact): “So potentially anyone who was walking by or standing near the lobby could have heard them talking. So knowing who ratted us out won’t give me any real answers…” 

Beatrice (nodding her head in sympathy): “Other than who was in the building that night? No, I don’t think so.”

Me (letting loose a sigh): “Crap!”

*(AKA, the night Laney, Wood, Beatrice and I ran around Nevermore as pirates trying to dissuade Little Ben from placing the new pet cemetery directly adjacent to a river bed.) 

2.17.b The Next Miss Marple I’m Not

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Choking on my pull of pumpkin milkshake, I wrestled with the Princess’s steering wheel trying to keep her from swerving into the oncoming lane (there wasn’t anyone else in sight, but keeping up good habits is always recommended). Not once, in our months of sharing rooms in the Lavender Lady, did I suspect Ms. Hettie and Beatrice were related.

My Miss Marple skills need some work. Perhaps I should ask Leo for some knitting lessons….

“Your Great Aunt? That piece of sour candy is your Great Aunt?” 

Holy mother forking shirt balls, I should probably not refer to Ms. Hettie like that to her niece. 

“You should hear what she calls you.” Beatrice said in her mildest voice. “What made you think she snitched on us to Little Ben?”

Distracted from panicking over my gaffe (which also successfully lowered my volume dial from a nine to a five), “She was the only one I could think of, outside of the four of us, who might have known where we were going.”

“How? Oh, right, the sea shanty…”

Glad she glommed onto my train of reasoning so quickly, “She keeps pretty close tabs on us, and Little Ben was tipped off…So I thought she might have made the call.”

Silently nodding her head in time with Moonlight Serenade (KARB was paying tribute to Glenn Miller today), she took a moment to respond, “It makes sense I grant you, but no, she would never do something like that. She can’t stand tattling. Plus, I’m her favorite niece.”

Back to square one. 

Bummed at the conviction Beatrice spoke with, I moved on. “Why didn’t you tell me you two were related?” 

Clearly laughing at me without actually uttering a sound, Beatrice made an effort to smooth my jangled nerves. “Because you two clearly enjoy your skirmishes, and I didn’t want to ruin it.”

“I don’t know if I’d use the word enjoy…”

My statement generated a stare; I could physically feel boring into the right side of my skull. “Really? So you didn’t bake several batches of Earl Grey cookies, filling the entire house with their aroma last week, in order to lure Ms. Hettie into the back garden? Where I found you both enjoying them, drinking London fogs and bickering about quail when I got home?”

Hunching over the steering wheel, “Those were extenuating circumstances, I was going stir crazy, and she brought the tea…” The words sounded petulant, even to my ears. “Fine, I did. But when you say I lured her with cookies, it sounds unsavory.”

Actually laughing now, Beatrice grabbed her lemonade at took a long draw.

“So why don’t you call her Great Aunt Hettie or just Aunt Hettie?”

Fidgeting with the straw, “During a visit, when I was younger, I overheard her telling my mother that being called great by us kids made her feel old, so I started calling Ms. Hettie instead. It stuck.”

Curiosity creeping into my voice, “I’ve never asked, but how did you end up living downstairs from Ms. Hettie?”

Putting down her drink, she ran her thumb up and down the seatbelt a couple of times before answering, “Ms. Hettie took me in and told my family off after we had a falling out. We respect each other’s space, so the arrangement worked well for both of us, now I keep them from pestering her about moving to someplace smaller.

Sensing her reluctance to canvas the topic further, I moved on to something much funner. “Do you think Wood suspects?”

Out of the corner of my eye, I watched a smile slowly chase away her frown, “No. I spoke to Laney yesterday, and he thinks he’s coming over to give you one last check-up and a celebratory dinner. He’s clueless about the evening’s entertainment.”

Grinning, “You’ve tested the VCR?”

“Of course.”