Tag Archives: Edmund wynter

2.48d Tickle-Me-Elmo Give Me Strength

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(Perhaps Elmo’s transformation was spurred on by the rock’n’roll and drink beyond these doors…)

Leo (tossing a chicken bone onto his plate): “What a bench.”

Robbie (looking trepidatious): “What happened next? Please tell me you didn’t stick your fingers in your ears and hum…”

Me (laughing at Robbie’s allusion to my failed schoolyard strategy): “Just keep listening. This is where things get interesting.”

This is also the moment I’m supremely relieved the microphone sticks strictly to audio cues…Not only on account of how foolish it feels to admit, even to myself, that I had a Tickle-Me-Elmo inspired epiphany at my age. But also due to the serious bender, my subconscious sent that Little Red Menace on to secure said epiphany. Because not only did he pop into my head at that moment but in a blink of my mind’s eye, that sweet little giggling red muppet bopping around Sesame Street transformed into a lanky, scruffy, hedonistic beasty cavorting in an enchanted forest… Setting fires for fun or at the Goblin King’s command…Goblin King…O’Goblin King….damn I always forget that line….

The multitude of buttons on Josie’s jacket tapped softly against the center console, e-brake lever, and my half-empty coffee cup as she opened her coat. Our eyes briefly met as I rotated back forward and put the Princess into drive. I’ve no clue what expression my woefully poor poker face wore as my neurons flickered and fired during my Elmo inspired epiphany, but whatever it was prompted her to pull out an old chestnut. 

“Dear Lord, I had no idea you were still so sensitive. How on earth do you manage? Would a generous tip smooth those ruffled feathers of yours?”

She has no power over me. 

The sudden insight came and went in a flash and left me feeling lighter than freshly whipped meringue. 

Even better, my silence only lasted a few heartbeats and was entirely overshadowed by Josie’s sharp squawks of protest when I stomped on the brake and shut off the Princess’s engine in the middle of the Happy Planet parking lot.

Allowing her outrage peter itself out, I let the peace and quiet unspool between us for four or five seconds more before dropping the stack of claim slips in her lap. “Josie, you’ve got two choices, either I can engage another FLYT driver for you this evening, or I can drive you home. Choose one or the other. It doesn’t matter which, but one way or another, we’re done.”

Robbie (fist bumping me): “Hooray!!!”

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me.”

In an all-business tone, she picked up the claim slips off her lap and crumpled them in a tight fist. “That’s not going to work, I’ve too much to do before dad’s big party.”

“Not my problem.”

Jerking open her purse, Josie yanked out and unsnapped her wallet. “What’s it going to take?”

Staring her in the eye, I let my distaste shine in my reply. “Let me make this crystal clear Josie, I am not for sale. So either give me your address or get out.”

Shoving her wallet back into her bag. “Fine, take me home.”

As our voices were equally vehement and firm, neither our words nor tone was lost in the tumult of my tugging the phone free of its dashboard perch.

“Address.”

“You know where I live.”

“I’d say under Iron Creek Bridge, but that seems a little too on the nose.”

“Seriously, you’re going to play dumb?”

“Apparently.”

“You’re claiming not to know where I live after you practically Moon Bathed on my front doorstep the other night? That’s rich.”

“Fantastic, you live near Remembrance Park. Now a hint about your house number wouldn’t go amiss right about now….”

Her retort was rendered nearly, but not quite, unintelligible due to my tapping and swiping around in the FLYT ap. Followed by my phone resuming its roost and the unmistakable sound of the engine turning over. 

“Am I supposed to believe you weren’t spying on me?”

“For the love of Peter Parker, I was there on a lark, eating good food and trying to contact Edmund Wynter using a spirit board. Not trying to catch a glimpse of you what…drunk as a skunk? Cheating on your boyfriend? Howling at the moon? Get over yourself, you’re not that interesting.”

The rhythmic bounce of her leg told me my barb hit home, as did her ceaseless fiddling with the claim slips during the tense silence that reigned supreme until I pulled against the curb of Remembrance Park a few minutes later. 

“Hopefully, this is close enough for government work, since you’ve still not given me your address.”

Deliberately gathering her things at a snail’s pace, Josie took full advantage of her extra time in the Princess. Speaking in a voice carefully modulated into a convincing counterfeit of warmth and sincerity… “Speaking of work, yours not mine, don’t count on any further business from myself or my friends.”

“I’m heartbroken.”

Continuing on as if I hadn’t spoken. “It’s obvious you’re still holding onto hard feelings over a few minor pranks, and I can’t in good conscience expose them to your profound negativity.”

“Yeah, my refusal to listen to your steady stream of bile tonight must stem from that time you persuaded Sylvia Hershel to sprinkle itching powder in my gym clothes sophomore year.” In an attempt to expedite our parting, I slipped the Princess’s key out of the ignition and into my vest pocket. “Now that that’s all cleared up, let me grab your laundry, and we’ll settle up. Shall we?”

Unfortunately, the recording picked up neither Josie’s scathing look nor her rigid smile, though it did register the simultaneous squeak of the Princess’s doors as we exited the car. Followed by my seat moving forward, and the swishing sound of silk sliding inside diaphanous plastic dry cleaning bags as I removed the dazzling dresses from the Princess’s backseat. 

The last words picked up by the mic was my automatic, “Have a good night.” 

Me (turning off my phone): “The recording pretty much peters out at this point.”

Robbie: “Did she say anything else outside of mic range?”

Me (wryly): “Not a word, I do believe she thought her hair flip and three-cent tip rebuttal enough.”

Leo (interjecting): “Were you in the park to spy on her, Boss?”

Me (shaking my head): “Hand on heart, no, no, I wasn’t.”

Ira (looking thoughtful): “But isn’t it interesting that she accuses you doing so…”

Me (swirling my lemonade in my glass): “Not as interesting as the fact she didn’t actually think I was.”

Ira (brow creasing): “Then why was she trying to goad you into admitting you knew where she lived?”

Me: “Because, if I knew where she lived, then she’d know I’d seen Sarah leaving her house.”

This statement was met by a torrent of questions, all starting with the letter ‘W’ from Robbie and Leo. Ira no less curious, let them take point, mostly because getting a word in edgewise would’ve been well-nigh impossible. Beatrice, having already helped me piece together the whole rigmarole, stood and started gathering up everyone’s silverware into the empty drumette dish.

Beatrice (exchanging a smile Ira while absconding with his fork, interrupted Robbie): “Phoebe, why don’t you read everyone onto the same page while I clean up? The worksheets and papers are next to the radio under the Conventions and my laptop.”

Robbie (collecting everyone’s napkins and placemats): “Worksheets?”

Leo (standing stock-still in the middle of the kitchen and thus in nearly everyone’s way): “Forget the worksheets, you found a copy of the unabridged Conventions?”

2.38 Parlor Game No.1 – The Spirit Board

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(Laney’s design for the spirit board featured Morse Code…you know to weed out the undesirable tricksy spirits…)

Hunched over and walking backward around the picnic table, l concentrated on leaving an unbroken speckled line in my wake. A bemused Wood, who I caught from the corner of my eye, filching the last bite of baked beans off my plate, looked on. 

Wood: “You know, pouring salt on the grass is going to kill it, right?”

Me (concentrating on maintaining an even pour): “Between the dogs, sprinklers, and rain showers, the salt will wash away before any permanent damage is done, don’t worry.”

Wood: “But why are you salting the earth?”

Me (delivering the last words with my very best Count Dracula voice – which is still pretty bad): “It’s a two-for-one kind of deal. It keeps you safe from all the creepy-crawlies, and it’ll keep you safe from all the Creepy-Crawlies…”

Wood: “Safety first, that’s what you’re going with.”

Me: “Yup.”

Hiding my smile, I kept my eyes trained on the grains of Himalayan pink, Hawaiian black, and fresh hand-harvested sea salt sprinkling from the slit in the bag.

After a spot of investigation on the internet and a lengthy conversation with Joseph, I think we sussed out how The Woman In White was able to cross the spilled salt and attack me. The contents of the bag I’d grabbed from the supply closet that night in Nevermore weren’t precisely what I thought. Instead of pure rock salt Sam ordinarily ordered, this year, he bought a blend – equal parts gravel, urea crystals, and rock salt (of highly dubious quality). So between this less than stellar mixture and strength born of insanity – The Woman In White muscled her way across. 

We’re pretty sure.

Our lack of certainty on this particular point prompted me to use a salt blend Nevermore’s Residents helped me perfect but rarely use. 

The imperfect circle I’m drawing might be overkill, as Orin’s unknown Errant isn’t unknown to me. However, not knowing why Abraham Flared kept my hands steady and steps even while I finished my final revolution around the picnic table where Wood sat. 

Wood (sounding perplexed): “So what parlor game requires we sit within a ring of salt for safety?”

Me (walking back to the table and cramming the empty bag into my pack): “A spirit board.”

Wood (stupefied): “Ouija? Really? I can’t think of a single person I’m interested in contacting on the otherside.”

Me: “I know, but we’re not going to communicate with anyone there…”

With a flourish I placed the archival box, Aarti from the Historical Society lent me, in the middle of the table.

Wood (raising an eyebrow): “Okay…”

Me: “We’re going to try contacting the Grey Man.”

Wood: “Who?”

Opening the box, doing my best Vanna White impression, I flipped over formal photos, snapshots, snippets, and facsimiles. All the while explaining who Edmund Wynter was, his racket, the mystery surrounding his murder, and his notoriously active afterlife.

Me: “So what do you think? Want to give it a try?”

Wood (rolling his eyes): “I’m reconsidering my position on tiddlywinks.”

Wood loves all things weird and wacky but stands firmly in Houdini’s camp in regards to spiritualism. 

His wife, Laney, on the other hand, loves this kind of thing. In fact, she stitched me the spirit board I’d unfurled on the table years ago after I gave her first full tour of Nevermore. She wasn’t clear on exactly how it would help me with my duties as Caretaker, but she figured it was better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

(I didn’t have the heart to tell her spirit boards don’t actually attract their intended demographic.)

Me (trying for a reasonable tone while swallowing a laugh): “It might be our only chance to solve his murder…”

Wood: “Last chance?”

Me: “Sightings of him have dropped dramatically over the past twenty-five years.”

Wood (dryly): “Right. I’m sure the drop in sightings has nothing to do with the fact Wynter was murdered in nineteen-thirty-eight.”

Me: “We could ask him where he stashed his blackmail materials. If his wife or murderer didn’t already turn them to ash.”

Wood (momentarily forgetting he thought spirit boards were pure hokum): “You want to find Pandora’s Box? Think of all the trouble his blackmail ledger could cause, Wynter had access to every government record in Rye.”

Me (shrugging): “I wouldn’t read it, I hand it over to the police, they’d read it.”

Wood: “And Pandora only meant to sneak a peek inside that damned box. What if your great grandparents had something hushed up by Wynter? Wouldn’t you want to protect their memory? Or how about my Gran?”

A ripple of electricity arcing across my toes jolted me out of the hypothetical ethical pickle Wood’s question placed me in. Glancing around, I spotted a scowling Abraham standing in the entrance of the gazebo staring at me. Turning back to my Moon Bathing companion, I found the solution to two out of three of my burning dilemmas in the buzzing of his phone.

Me (snapping my fingers in inspiration): “Tell Laney you’ll call her back on video chat. She can help us break in the spirit board – you’ll get a boatload of husband points.” 

Wood, while muttering something about wishing Laney and I weren’t so close, answered his phone.

Wood: “Hey Twinkie, can you call me back on Facetime, please? Thanks…. Hey, where are you going?”

Me (getting up from the table): “The gazebo, my guy, just arrived.”

Wood (face lit by the glow of his phone): “Shout if you need me?”

Me (over my shoulder): “Of course! This shouldn’t take long.”

Stepping carefully over the ring of salt, I left Wood to catch Laney up with tonight’s entertainment. Walking past a glowering Abraham into the dim interior of the gazebo, he waited until I turned around and faced him before speaking.

Abraham: “I don’t care to be summoned, Caretaker.”

2.30 Illations

(Yeah, the ‘Prepare 4 Battle!’ isn’t worrisome at all…)

Now it didn’t take the keen mind of Sherlock Holmes to deduce that neither Aarti or Talia had intended to give me a glimpse inside their new war room. So during the ensuing and extremely awkward conversation (resulting from Aarti’s panicky shout), she and Talia pretended the library was still populated by books. While I allowed them to believe I was deaf, dumb, and blind.

Plus, I didn’t need to inquire after the picket signs or the flyers – their meaning is obvious.

However, it was Aarti and Talia’s conspicuous concern with distracting me from the mismatched mass of outdoor equipment, rather than the profusion of protest paraphernalia, that raised a red flag.

Indeed Aarti was so focused on drawing my attention away from the left side of the space, she offered to lend me the Wynter file to peruse it at my leisure. As I’m not a card-carrying member of the Historical Society, this was odd. Non-members don’t enjoy check-out privileges. Even as Nevermore’s Caretaker, they’d never allowed me to wander off with so much as a monograph – let alone a coveted collection of ephemera regarding Rye’s most notorious unsolved murder.

So I took her up on her offer.

Not for any real desire to pursue the subject further, as I agreed with Aarti’s assessment of Wynter’s ongoing legacy. But because accepting it allowed me to escape her and Talia’s watchful gazes and figure out why my brief peek at couple dozed chemical toilets caused them so much distress.

All of which, I hope, explains how I came to be lurking in a dusty storeroom surveilling my neighbors, acquaintances, and a few strangers. While idly comparing the merits of murder by mortification to Wednesday Addams’ scheme to scare her suitors to death.

Either way, both modus operandi sounded like a lot of work.

Deciding I’d seen enough and taken my speculation far enough, I crept cautiously to the door. Pulling it ajar, I took a quick peek, then slipped out and thru the door across the hall. After flipping the lock and turning on the lights, I made sure both stalls were empty before dropping my pack and Wynter’s file on the floor.

Leaning against the cool tile wall, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and counted to twelve before releasing it.

Explaining away a trip to the bathroom is far simpler than defending your presence in a darkened room whilst standing on a stepladder with murderous intentions spying on people who are eager to avoid your notice. 

Taking another measured breath, I calmly considered what I’d seen. 

Tossing aside the absurd notion, they were following the CDC’s Zombie Apocalypse Preparedness Guidelines. I came up with three possible theories as to why a human chain, comprised of Historical Society and Naturalist Club members, are currently shifting a trailer-truck full of water bottles, propane canisters, and freeze-dried food into the building next door. 

Since I had ten minutes to spare until I needed to meet Mrs. Lebondowsky at the Princess, I called the only Naturalist I thought might answer my questions truthfully.

Me (whispering): “Leo!”

Leo (puzzlement clear): “Boss?”

Me: “Yes. Are you alone?”

Leo (lowering his voice): “Yes. Why are we whispering?”

Me (waving my hand despite him not being able to see me): “Not important. Leo is the Naturalist Club sponsoring an equipment or food drive anytime soon?”

Leo: “Nope, we hold those in November…”

Me: “Are you guys gearing up for a colossal sized hiking or camping event?” 

Leo (I could feel his frown across the line): “No, nothing big’s happening until late August…why?”

Me (rubbing my throbbing temples): “Can you think of any reason why the Club would be hauling a tractor-trailer’s worth of food, water, and propane into their building? Or why the Historical Society has enough camping equipment to outfit the entire graduating class of Rye High in their library, but not a single tent?”

Leo: “Wait, where are you?”

Me: “You don’t want to know.”

Leo: “I really think I do.”

Me (scrunching my eyes closed): “Leo, please! Can you think of any reason?”

Leo: “No, there’s nothing on the calendar that would account for the amount of hardware you’re describing. Though….”

Leo went so quiet, for so long, I checked my phone to make sure the call hadn’t dropped.

Me: “Leo?”

Leo (speaking slowly): “Last Friday, Talia called me out of the blue before breakfast. She requested that I recuse myself from the board temporarily and stop attending meetings for a while…She said she didn’t want to put me in the position of choosing between the Club and my job if things got ugly with Little Ben.”

Me: “I saw picket signs and flyers upstairs.”

Leo (sounding stunned): “You don’t think they’ll go that far, do you? Protests I get, but occupying both buildings?” 

Me (opening my eyes and staring at the ceiling): “I think they’re calling it a sit-in.”

Leo: “That’s not better.”

Me: “Sit tight. If anyone asks, tell them what you told me, Talia asked you to leave the Club, and you don’t know anything.”

Leo: “Crap.”

2.29.b …Toil & Trouble

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(Aunt Pearl got this postcard a week or so after I saw it with Aartie.)

Standing on the threshold of Aarti’s office, I took in the confusion of forms, files, and folders littering every surface. Then I surveyed the half-empty bookshelves lining her office and the corresponding jumbled of half-filled cartons stacked every which way, taking up every bit of space.

Save the back left corner. 

Weirdly Aarti had chosen to fill it with a folded up outdoor chair, full-sized cooler, sleeping bag, lantern, and an uninflated air mattress. Items I never expect to see in Aarti’s office again.

Recalling Ina Von Haeville, I ignored the conundrum in the corner and eased my way into the office. Since I didn’t want to create any more turtles, by turning over another carton, I choose to stand in a small pocket of space behind her visitor’s chair. Carefully setting the Wynter box on top of another, I started fishing around for my notes on the Von Haeville plot in my pack.

Me (without looking up): “Dare I ask how things are going around here?”

Aarti (with a sigh): “Wishing you were still here. I don’t suppose you could talk Little Ben out of this nonsense? These buildings are some of the oldest in Rye, and he’s planning on pulling them down…”

Me (glancing up, my lips wearing a rueful smile): “As he’s the one who gave me my pink-slip, I doubt it.” 

Aarti (with half a laugh): “A girl can hope.”

Finally, locating all the materials, I hazarded a few steps forward to hand them off.

Me: “I don’t mean to add to your workload right now, but the Von Haeville sisters don’t strike me as the sentimental types, and I’m not sure they’ll do right by their subterranean relations.”

Aarti (tapping her keyboard): “Let’s take a look and see what we know.”

Unwilling to tootle about the office looking at her books as I usually did, due to the aforementioned turtle effect, I settled on leafing thru the Wynter box while I waited.

Me (idly recalling Mr. Nelson’s story): “Do you think Wynter’s specter still roams Rye?”

Aarti (squinting at the computer screen): “It’s his unsolved murder that troubles Rye, not the man. His blackmail victims were haunted by their poor decisions and Wynter’s missing files. The rest of Rye joined the club after the Daily Harvest ran a letter to the editor penned by Wynter’s widow accusing the police of negligence and his colleagues of sipping champagne and celebrating his death. She shamed the entire town for thinking he got his just desserts.”

Me (following her logic): “So no specter, just a load guilty consciences.”

Aarti (dimpling): “That’s my theory….I’m not seeing anything about the Von Haeville’s having a cemetery on their property in the computer….If you’ve got a minute, there’s a local history text in our library that might mention it.”

Glancing at my watch, I judged I had about twenty minutes before Mrs. Lebondowsky finished up next-door.

Me: “Lead on.”

Leaving my pack and chauffeur’s cap on top of the Wynter box, I fell in step with Aarti and finally addressed the other less pressing, but no less curious, question stacked in the back corner of her office.

Me (curious): “Did Sam finally persuade you into abolishing your moratorium on camping?”

After a nasty encounter with a rattlesnake who’d nestled beneath her tent Aarti swore off the out-of-doors and, despite her wife’s reassurances, that their meeting was one in a million, Aarti’s stance hasn’t swayed an inch in years. 

Aarti (stride hitching then quickening): “What?”

Me (giving the back of her head a puzzled look): “The sleeping bag and stuff in your office, are you going camping or planning a stay in a no-star motel?”

Aarti (giving a quick head toss and sharp laugh): “A no-star motel, that’s funny. No, I’m…”

Aarti’s answer stopped a half a beat before her feet. Only a quick sidestep on my part allowed me to narrowly avoid plowing right into her inert frame. It also afforded me the view of a bleak vista – a library bereft of books.

Though I doubt the barren shelves are the root cause of Aarti’s sudden stop. I believe that honor belonged to the veritable forest of upside-down picket signs sporting the same slogans as the banners outside on our right and enough camping equipment outfit a pint-sized jamboree on our left.

However, as I’m not the Amazing Kreskin, I might be wrong.

But I doubt it.

(BTW – the outdoor equipment made about as much sense in here as it did in Aarti’s office. The Historical Society’s never gone on so much as a nature walk with the Naturalists. So why would an academically inclined institution and indoor inclined individuals need sleeping bags, camp stoves, cots, and water jugs – but no tents or tarps?)

But I believe what really rooted Aarti’s feet to the floor and caused her mouth to form a flat line stood in the center of the room slitting open one of the plethora of cartons emblazoned with Paper & String’s logo sitting on the massive reading room table. 

Aarti (finally coming to life): “It seems my volunteers moved the library early…”

(Library? It feels more akin to a command post now.)

Talia (calling out and interrupting Aarti): “Aarti, come here and take a look at these flyers! They’re absolutely perfect!” 

Aarti: “Talia….”

Without turning around, the Naturalist’s Club President tilted her head to talk over her shoulder while keeping her eyes fixed on the box she was rifling through.

Talia: “The entire crew showed up before the provisions, so we knocked out the library while we were waiting, hope you don’t mind.”

Aarti (her voice taunt): “Talia, we aren’t….”

Whisking a colorful piece of paper from the parcel, Talia held it behind her back for Aarti to see. Edging to Aarti’s right, I caught sight of a postcard featuring ducklings sporting the Naturalist’s tagline ‘Don’t Pave Over Paradise’ inscribed below them. 

Talia (not sensing the room): “Bob at P.S. put a free rush on our order. They look great, don’t they? I figured our more mature members could start licking stamps and addressing them while the kids finish moving the provisions for the sit-i…”

Aarti (not quite shouting cut Talia off mid-word): “Talia, come say hello to Phoebe!”

2.29.a Boil, Boil…

(The problems the Woodlands faced prior to the Naturalists and Historical Society taking up residence.)

Fifteen years ago, Big Ben and I were at our wit’s end. 

Despite both of us living on-site and increased security – vandals, underage drinkers, illegal trash dumpers, and the like had started treating The Woodlands (an underutilized corner of Nevermore) as their own. Unfortunately, their destructive shenanigans started attracting all kinds of unwanted attention, like the Rye City Council’s. Whose members took it upon themselves to begin grumbling into KARB’s microphones about Nevermore’s ‘burgeoning reputation as host to Rye’s unsavory elements.’  

Around the same time, the Daily Harvest ran an article detailing the plight of the Rye Historical Society. Apparently, the group had drifted for over a decade thru a series of dreary office parks, abysmal basements, and one memorable stint above a bakery. Due to their itinerant state, they’d found it challenging to attract new members and keep their ledger from sporting more red ink than black. Both of these unfortunate realities caused their Director to admit she was close to dissolving the group.

Struck by a bolt of inspiration over my morning bowl of cereal, it took less than twenty minutes to arrange a meeting with the Director of the Historical Society, Big Ben and I for Noon. 

Though in fairness, my bolt of inspiration might also have doubled as a sugar rush. As I’d run out of coffee beans and eggs the day before, so I decided to start my day with a bowl of Fruit Loops and a bottle of cola (don’t tell Aunt Pearl). Either way, six hours after my meal fit for a fifth grader or undergrad, the Historical Society began moving into Nevermore’s original records building, and I went marketing.

My solution was a win-win for both of us. The Society found a permanent home, and Nevermore gained an effective deterrent against those of a more nefarious or destructive disposition.

The other byproduct of my bright idea? The deal cut Chief Councilman Lucas Reville off before he bandied about the phrase, he’d love to link with Nevermore’s name, ‘eminent domain.’

(The Naturalists moved into the neighboring building a year later, and with their traipsing about the grounds, added to the Historical Society’s constant watchful presence, the rest of Nevermore’s troublemakers moved on to greener pastures.)

However, the vital bit of the story here is the Historical Society’s legacy of relocation.

Now given the fact the Historical Society curated, cultivated, and housed an archive dedicated to preserving and recording Rye’s history the entire time they struggled to find a fixed address – you’d think they’d be pro’s at packing. 

Apparently, if I’m reading the controlled confusion before my eyes correctly, not so much. 

Layers of bubble-wrapped framed art leaned against the walls. Packing peanuts crunched intermittently underfoot. Box knives, scissors, plain newsprint, cardboard sheets, and cartons crowded the usually meticulously arranged room. Creating – with the help of oddly arranged extra pieces of furniture, haphazard piles of the aforementioned supplies, plus stray books, binders, and accordion files – a perilous and convoluted maze.

Standing in its center, looking absolutely nothing Jack Torrance or a minotaur, was Aarti Singh. 

The Director of the Rye Historical Society was in the midst of educating a group of volunteers on the best practice for packing books in a box. Which, as I’ve discovered from Beatrice’s work at PULP and my own recent-ish foray in house moving, is trickier than it sounds.

“Place packing materials in the corners and on the bottom, stack the books spine to spine. Separated them with more paper so they don’t rub together until you reach the top two inches of the box. Then place more paper on the top to keep them in place. This method keeps the pages crisp, corners unbumped, and the covers dent-free.”

Aarti spotted me a split second later after a precariously perched archival box landed at my feet with a resounding thump when I inadvertently nudged it onto the floor – by looking at it sideways. Exchanging grins across the chaos, I gave Aarti a quick nod when she held up an index finger asking for a moment. Plopping my pack next to the door, I knelt down and started gathering up the items the archive box had disgorged at the end of its short but rapid descent.

Listening to the rest of Aarti’s instructions with half an ear, my awareness of the room dwindled away when my eyes caught sight of a sun-darkened snippet. 

‘Edmund Wynter Found Murdered’ 

The Daily Harvest headline was accompanied by several grainy black-and-white pictures of Wynter during happier times and the lurid description of the circumstances surrounding the discovery of his body. My cleanup slowed to a snail’s pace as I started examining each photo, snippet, map, and memo individually before restoring them to their cardboard repository. 

So mesmerized by the materials shuffling through my hands, I’d failed to notice Aarti had both stopped issuing instructions and now stood grinning over me.

“Ah, you’ve found our file on Rye’s most notorious unsolved murder. Can’t blame you for ignoring me.”

Startled by the proximity of her voice, I nearly but not quite, tipped over the box again. Shooting her a sheepish grin, I hastily gathered up the last bits and bobs and stood up, slinging my pack over my shoulder.

“Funny thing, until a couple weeks ago, I’d never heard of Edmund Wynter or his notorious demise.” Picking up the box, I endeavored to seal the ephemera inside, only to have the odd-shaped flaps, a length of string, and an oddly placed segment of double-stick tape thwart my attempts. 

“Didn’t your Uncle ever discuss the case during dinner? The Harvest still runs articles about Wynter from time to time.”

Still being bested by an inanimate object, I stopped bobbling the box and consider her question. “No, Uncle never brought his work home with him. Probably worried about what we kids might accidentally repeat.”

Shooting an amused smirk at me, she nodded her head in understanding and moved on, “So what brings you by today?”

“I think I found another undocumented family cemetery. I suspect it might be in imminent jeopardy of being paved over.” (Which will undoubtedly cause Ina Von Haeville to rapidly sink into insanity and Fade.)

Snorting, then turning on her heel, Aarti motioned for me to follow, “Not unlike us. Follow me.” 

While my hands continued to fiddle with the Wynter box, my feet followed in Aarti’s footsteps, which safely navigated us through the maze of dusty steamer trunks, folding chairs, and disassembled tables towards the back of the building.

“Just a warning my office isn’t any better than the rest of this place at the moment….”

Boy, she wasn’t kidding. 

2.00 The Grey Man

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Turns out when you inadvertently scare the bejesus out of a septuagenarian, they don’t ask a whole lot of questions. 

Entirely engrossed in the mystery I’d lent him, Mr. Nelson didn’t notice me standing by the driver’s side door until I knocked on the window. After clutching his heart and hyperventilating for a few anxious moments, he leaned over and unlocked my door. 

I thought the Princess smelled like a fruit basket before. 

If the squares in his lap and the wrinkled cellophane packages in the back were any indication. He’d happily sampled his way through the entire marshmallow cornucopia. Sarah would just have to make do with twenty-five dollars worth of the suckers – she’d live. Handing me the Princess’s keys (locking him in the car without them felt slightly kidnapy), he finally noticed the swaths of gauze wrapped around my palms, wrists, and extending up my forearms.

Mr. Nelson (eyeing my bandages): “Are you up to driving?”

Me (shoveling reassurance into one word while turning over the ignition): “Yup.”

Pulling the Princess out of her impromptu hiding place, I gingerly steered the car while Mr. Nelson fumbled around in his seat.

Me (cranking up the heater): “You okay over there?”

Mr. Nelson (grumbling and struggling): “Yeah, the seat belt is wrapped around my arm…”

Me: “I’ll stop at the gates so you can sort yourself out.”

Mr. Nelson just grunted and continued to juggle the book, book-light, and marshmallows all the while trying to keep the seatbelt from strangling him. Neither of us appreciated the four speed bumps we bounced over on the way to the gates. He finally got his feathers smoothed by the time the Princess rolled to a stop at the Second Avenue entrance. Turning to place the remaining marshmallows into the box in the backseat – it was his turn to scare the bejesus out of me – with a rather loud and inarticulate exclamation.

Turnabout is fair play, I suppose. 

Me (staring wildly around, dimly registering the pricking of my toes): “What? Where?”

Mr. Nelson (jabbing the air wildly with his index finger): “Look! Over there!”

Looking around for the source of Mr. Nelson’s excitement – I glimpsed Joseph’s back as he strolled around the curve and out of sight. 

Mr. Nelson: “Did you see him? Did you see The Grey Man?’

Me (still trying to get a grip): “The Grey Man?”

Sitting back down in his seat, he gave me a look that made me wonder if I’d accidentally spoken in Swahili. Smoothing his re-ruffled feathers, Mr. Nelson took a deliberate moment before answering my question. Which was great because my heart couldn’t take another shock tonight. Who the hell is The Grey Man? 

Channeling my inner ostrich, I buried my head in metaphorical sand. This is tomorrow’s problem.

Pulling out into the quiet street, I steered the Princess towards my passenger’s house. 

Mr. Nelson (unknowingly stomping all over my tail feathers): “A bit before your time I dare say, before my own if truth be told. But they say Grey Man of Rye is, was Edmund Wynter. A corrupt politician from the early nineteen-thirties who was found one a quiet Sunday morning hanging from the oak tree in front of City Hall…”

Me (my foot barely touching the gas): “Serious?”

Mr. Nelson (a mischievous light in his eyes): “As a heart attack. The only clue? A note pinned on his chest with the words, ‘No More’ written on it.”

Me (the Princess moving at a crawl now): “No more? No More what?”

Mr. Nelson: “That question didn’t get answered for twenty years.”

Me (feeling like a myna bird): “Twenty years?”

Mr. Nelson: “A reporter at the Daily Harvest overheard a conversation when he was a kid, and remembered it. During a slow news summer, he started digging. Discovering not only the meaning of the note but the motive for Wynter’s murder – blackmail. Turns out Wynter, for a price, would alter any record in City Hall to suit. What his ‘clients’ didn’t know was he kept the original documents. Then when he needed a favor, he’d use the originals to extract it.”

Me: “But how does this relate to the Grey Man?” 

Mr. Nelson: “Right after Wynter’s gruesome death, people started to report sightings of him, wearing his trademark gray suit, all over town. Always looking over walls, thru windows, and around corners. It was whispered he was looking for his killer. However, after the story in the Daily Harvest, people began to wonder if he was really looking for his blackmail material, because none of his records ever resurfaced.”

How had I never heard this story before? Me, Morticia, Queen of the Macabre? (Mostly because people keep giving me skeleton themed gifts)

Me (snails were moving faster than we were): “Did they ever catch who killed him?”

Mr. Nelson: “No, and from the Daily Harvest coverage I’ve read, the police didn’t look very hard. Hey, your Uncle’s house is just up ahead. Can you pull in there?”

Me: “Sure. Why?”

Mr. Nelson (clearly excited): “I want to tell your Uncle I spotted the Gray Man! It’s been twenty years!”

Looking at my watch, which made me recall my current state of being (it was concealed by swaths of cotton), and because my ex-ray vision was down, I looked at my dash clock. Which informed me it was only ten o’clock. Still within calling hours of their house (which can extend pretty late if you have something interesting to say or show my Uncle). 

Turning into the drive, Mr. Nelson bounded out of the car before she’d rolled to a stop. Parking the Princess in her usual spot, I leaned my head against the headrest, took three deep breaths then opened the door. 

This should be fun.