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?