Helpful Hint: One of the easiest ways of raising suspicion is by acting suspiciously.
Now I know this seems self-evident. But how do you think so many kids get caught with their hand in the cookie jar? So rather than furtively tiptoeing out the basement of the Historical Society building. I marched bold as brass back up the maintenance stairs thru the low gate and out the front doors. (After availing myself of some soap and water to wash the grime off my hands and face.)
No one looked askance at me once.
(Okay, so no one actually witnessed my exit – but my theory’s still sound.)
On the upside, I beat Mrs. Lebondowsky back to the Princess, so I had a few minutes of peace to piece together what I saw inside with what I knew of Little Ben’s ultimate rebranding plans…My quiet time lasted precisely thirty-seconds after I settled into the driver’s seat as my phone, once again, startled me out of my revere by ringing.
Me: “Leo? Has something happened in the last seven minutes I should know about?”
Leo: “No, I just forgot to tell you I finished your order last night.”
Me (doing a happy dance in the seat): “Woot!”
Leo (chuckling): “Meet you at the Rusty Hinge for wings and a beer?”
Me: “Great! Eight?”
Leo: “Sounds like a plan.”
Me (recalling Beatrice’s earlier intelligence): “Oh! Remind me to tell you about the new info about who might have ratted the pirates out to Little Ben…”
On that note, plans firmly fixed, Leo and I hung up. Which proved fortuitous as Mrs. Lebondowsky was puffing her way up the incline towards the Princess. Turning over the engine in anticipation of her arrival, I idled in place. Then waited until she’d sorted herself out in the passenger’s seat before using the roundabout at the end of the drive and headed towards Nevermore’s exit.
Uncharacteristically quiet (after our hellos), Mrs. Lebondowsky continued to fuss in her seat, tweaking the charm bracelet on her wrist, rearranging her handbag and conducting micro-adjustments on her seat belt.
Me (casting her a sideways look): “Everything alright, Mrs. Lebondowsky? Did you get the low down on last Friday’s meeting?”
Mrs. Lebondowsky (sighing): “I did dear thank you for asking. But I think my Dear Frank might be right, finding things out isn’t always for the best…”
Me (steering the Princess onto Ash Street): “Do these things you speak of connect with the stockpiled camping gear and supplies I saw inside?”
Mrs. Lebondowsky (letting out a short gasp): “Milt asked me not to discuss it…”
Me (glancing her way as the traffic slowed for the stoplight): “It’s okay, Mrs. Lebondowsky, I’m not asking you to.”
Mrs. Lebondowsky (floundering): “Oh, okay. It’s just..Milt thought…”
Me (aiming a shot in the dark): “That because I used to be Nevermore’s Caretaker, I might rat the Club out to Little Ben?”
Mrs. Lebondowsky (shifting in her seat): “Well, I tried telling him you’re better than that, but he didn’t want to listen…”
Me: “It’s okay, Mrs. Lebondowsky, I get it.”
(Milt Fielding is Talia’s second in command, and I’m not surprised he cast aspersions on my character – he’s still bent out of shape because I rejected his ten-point plan to make Nevermore greener. Though how he believed I would retire Nevermore’s fleet of hearses en masse in favor of custom-built motorcycle sidecars, I will never know – and that was the tamest of his ideas.)
Mrs. Lebondowsky (settling in her seat): “Thank you, dear.”
Me: “But I have to ask, are you happy with all their plans?”
Mrs. Lebondowsky (giving me a long look before answering): “I imagine they believe they are…a necessary evil.”
Me (whipping a u-turn): “How do you feel about Teriyaki?”
Mrs. Lebondowsky (startled at my conversational and actual u-turn): “It’s tastes good?”
Pulling the Princess between the faded white lines of a parking slot four minutes later, I motioned Mrs. Lebondowsky to follow me inside my absolute favorite mom & pop teriyaki joint in Rye.
They’d helped me keep body and soul together when I first moved out of Uncle and Aunt Pearl’s house and discovered my cooking skills were subpar at best. (Yes, I realize Aunt Pearl’s a Home Ec. teacher – but I didn’t pay much attention to the culinary sciences until I needed to feed myself regularly.)
The owners of the incongruously named Ebenezer’s Teriyaki (who knew me on sight – as I’ve been darkening their door for the past twenty years) gave me a wide grin when I walked in and gestured us to take any table we liked. As we were a bit early for the lunch rush, we were spoiled for choice, so I selected my favorite seat by the window. Akiko called my usual order back to her husband (I don’t vary it very often) and bustled over to our table with a pot of tea, two cups, one menu, and a smile. A slightly breathless Mrs. Lebondowsky ordered the lunch special and then gave me a quizzical look after Akiko went back to help her husband with our meals.
Mrs. Lebondowsky (pouring us both tea): “Something on your mind, dear?”
Me (unwrapping my chopsticks): “Earlier today, I had a bright idea, and after what we just saw back there, I think we might both benefit from it. However, it will require a little discretion on your part.”
Mrs. Lebondowsky (leaning forward): “Yes?”
Me (sipping my tea): “Do you happen to know anyone in Silver City, New Mexico?”