Tag Archives: fiction

2.44 Oh Baloney…

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Rubbing my face, my fingers hardly felt the divots the wire spiral of my notebook dug into my face. Realizing my eyes were no longer open, and hadn’t been so for some time, I eased my eyelids apart. They found Uncle, still sitting at his desk, grinding thru the pile of primary source materials Ira included in his envelope.

Wow, there’s two words my mind hadn’t united in years, primary and source. 

I could practically taste the baloney and mustard sandwiches we used to snack on whenever Uncle proofread and fact-checked my school reports. Other than a few extra lines on both our faces, not much in the office has changed since those days. 

Man, now I really want baloney and yellow mustard on white with a side of sweet pickles and potato chips.

Too bad, there’s absolutely no way I’m setting foot in Aunt Pearl’s kitchen until we finish. She nearly pitched a fit and fell in it upon realizing she was losing her fastest cupcake froster for a few hours. Only my solemn promise to wield a pastry bag on her behalf once we wound things up in here diverted her wrath. Though the timely arrival of my cousins, their spouses, and the niblings with an awe-inspiring supply of vanilla beans, butter, powdered sugar, and heavy-cream might have done more to accomplish that deed than my word.

I wonder if one of my cousins would be willing to fetch me sandwich fixing…

Cheered at the prospect of fulfilling my baloney flavored dreams, I picked up my phone and discovered two texts waiting. (I’d put my phone on silent to help Uncle stay in the zone.) 

Shoving my seasoned sausage craving aside for a second, I opened the message from my Silver City Operative Tavi. Not only did she enthusiastically agree to tackle the pithy list of places Big Ben mentioned in his correspondence with Ira. She also sent me a snapshot of her wearing her investigator’s outfit – greatcoat, fedora, wingtips, and all. After returning the wide grin of the woman in the picture, I flipped over to my FLYT ap and added extra credits to her ride account. Then arranged for her to receive a munificent quantity of thank-you-hanging-up-my-desperately-seeking-Big-Ben-signs-all-over-town tacos the next time she visited her favorite family-owned taqueria. (Which to the untrained eye might resemble a gift certificate.)

Switching back to my texts, I read the other pending message from Mrs. Lebondowsky. The Naturalist and Historical Society have enlisted the help of several regional environmental groups to help populate their picket lines at Nevermore’s entrances – freeing them up to start the sit-in. If tonight’s emergency vote goes the way Mrs. Lebondowsky thinks it will – she’ll let me know.

Staring sightlessly at my phone, pondering, my tummy let loose a deep rumble reminding me of the craving I’d yet to satisfy. Picking up my phone, I texted the cousin that ticked off the boxes of: (a) someone willing to swipe sandwich supplies, (b) who’s cake decorating skills are poor enough that Aunt Pearl wouldn’t immediately miss them, and (c) who is honing his professionally nosiness.

He replied with a thumbs-up in five-seconds flat.

Uncle, who was still zeroed in on the data, didn’t even look up when I set aside Joseph’s purported copy of the Conventions so I could heave myself off the couch. Pressing my ear against the door, I waited until the squeaky floorboard in the hall augmented the hurly-burly sounds bouncing down the corridor before easing it open for my cousin to dart thru. (Seems neither of us is keen on getting caught should Aunt Pearl investigate the familiar creak.)

Robbie, arms ladened with sandwich fixings, chips, and soda, gave me a wide grin.

Robbie: “Hey cuz! You’re timing is marvelous!”

Putting my finger against my lips, I tipped my head towards the side-table. Following my lead, he set down the sandwich components onto the narrow surface once I’d moved Uncle’s awards out of the splash zone. You never know when the mustard bottle might get feisty.

Me (starting to assemble the sandwiches): “Did I save you from dishpan hands?”

Robbie (matching my low tone): “Yeah, and the drama. Mom started ‘touching up’ the cookies Ruby frosted, and she’s fit to be tied.”

I wonder if Aunt Pearl’s really that invested in the success of the school district’s Carnival or if her confections are competing with someone else’s. 

I’d place good money on the latter.

Robbie (casting an eye towards the desk): “…So what are you guys doing in here? Mom never said.”

That didn’t take long. Glancing over at Uncle, who apparently wasn’t as tuned out to the room as I’d thought, as he was coming over to grab a sandwich. 

Uncle (reading my mind): “It’s up to you. Though I think he could help.”

Holding up a finger at Robbie, forestalling the bevy of probing queries his quivering countenance promised, I took a contemplative bite of the yen satisfying sandwich. (BTW – They’re just as scrumptious as I remembered.) 

Me (after taking a swig of soda to wash everything down): “I need your promise not to repeat a word of what’s said in this room to anyone.”

Robbie (lowering his unsullied sandwich): “You have it.”

Me (receiving a nod from Uncle): “Remember the time Uncle and Aunt Pearl rescued Wood, Laney, Beatrice, and I up from Nevermore in the middle of the night?”

Robbie (laughing): “The night Wood dressed you guys like the cast from Pirates of Penzance? What about it?”

Me (exchanging looks with Uncle): “Well, you see, there was more to that night than us settling a bet….”

2.43.b Carnivals & Cakes

Rewind eight hours. 

Before, KARB aired Berlioz’s, Béatrice et Bénédict. Before, I baked several breakfast treats. Before, I ingested several gallons of coffee. 

I sat alone in the kitchen of the Lavender Lady, listening to Wood tootle off in the direction of the living-room couch, finishing off the last swig of my beer…….When my eyes slowly slid towards the corner of Ira’s envelope peeking out of my pack. 

Firming up my upper lip, I told myself the contents would be exactly the same tomorrow morning. 

Emphatically nodding my head, my mind made up, I happened to notice a ring of condensation the bottom of my beer bottle left on the table. Getting up, I grab a rag from the sink and wipe down the table, then the counters. Because if you’re going to do one, you may as well do the other. However, whilst taking care of the counters, I knocked over the stack of empty containers I’d packed the Moon Bathing nibbles in. Deciding I couldn’t leave dirty dishes for Beatrice to find in the morning, I unloaded, reloaded, and ran the dishwasher. Because that’s what good roommates do. Similarly, I couldn’t leave the stack of soiled blankets sitting on the kitchen chair, so I washed them as well.

Scanning the kitchen, cleanup complete, my eyes once again strayed towards the manila covered temptation……and caved. One quick peek, to give my subconscious something other than Toby to chew on, what could it hurt?

Famous. Last. Words. 

Fast forward eight hours and twenty-seven minutes.  

Past the anatomizing of Ira’s information down to the subatomic level. Past the flabbergasting discovery of double-dealings. Past my forty-five-minute catnap hunched over the table, on top of my spiral-bound notebook. (I’m lucky to only have a wire imprint on my face. I’d missed dozing on my uncapped hot pink highlighter by mere inches.) Past Wood and Beatrice looks of incredulity when I’d begged off from their afternoon plan to partake of barbecue and sniff old books in favor of completing a chore.

Stepping out of the Princess and onto the drive, I leaned my seat forward and pulled my hulking pack from the backseat. Trudging around the side of the house, I slowly climbed the back stairs and pushed open the door. 

Stunned by the spectacle hitting my retinas, it took me a moment to recall the last time I beheld such a sight. (I do believe it occurred the year Robbie’s school hosted the regional Spelling Bee finals and the PTA pounced on the opportunity to fund their after school programs.) Every surface, plus a few extras brought in especially, were covered in unfrosted cakes, cupcakes, cookies, the odd pie, a half dozen loaves of bread, and one sad-looking pan of sausage rolls. 

My early morning efforts paled in comparison.

Amid this unadulterated homage to flour, eggs, and butter stood Aunt Pearl operating my great-grandmother’s stand mixer. Next to her stood my niece Ruby. Who, for reasons outside my ken, was responding to my Aunt’s instructions with expressive meows.

Aunt Pearl (over her shoulder): “Jesse, if you forgot the whole vanilla beans again, you can turn right back around.”

Me: “It’s not Jesse Aunt Pearl.”

Ruby (at the sound of my voice, she started scrabbling off her stool): “Ppuurrrrr? Meow!!!”

Aunt Pearl: “Hello Dear! Give us a minute. We’re almost done.”

Drifting towards the two-foot square of open space at the kitchen table, where Uncle sat sipping his coffee and reading his stack of newspapers, I looked around for another seat. Deciding the chances of finding a chair free of thumbprint cookie trays slim to none, I dropped both my pack and backside onto the floor. 

Uncle (setting aside his paper): “So what brings you by? Besides the floorshow.”

Me (leaning against the cabinet, my legs stretched out in front of me): “Did Aunt Pearl lose a bet?”

Uncle (chuckling): “No, one of the vendors for the district’s Carnival pulled out at the last minute. So your Aunt’s helping bridge the gap. She roped the whole neighborhood, plus Jesse, Tad, Dylan, and Dwight, into helping.”

Heart sinking, I reconsidered asking Beatrice and Wood for help, then rejected the idea immediately. There’s no way I could ask without being an awful friend. Ira and Leo were similarly off-limits. Maybe Mrs. Schmit? I trust her….but do I trust her that far?

Uncle (forehead crinkling in concern): “Phoebe?”

Me (pulling my heavy pack towards me): “Sorry, I didn’t realize you guys were so busy. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have bothered you with this…”

Uncle (tilting his head): “With?”

Me (sighing): “I was hoping you could double-check my work.”

Uncle’s gaze sharpened. However, before either of us could say anything else, Ruby scampered onto my lap purring madly, and Aunt Pearl thunked a bowl of frosting at my Uncle’s elbow. 

Ruby (four inches from the end of my nose): “Auntie Morticia! Come see! Come See! Grandma’s saving the Carnival’s cakewalk! And she’s going to let me decorate the cookies! I get to use ALL the frosting I want!… What’s wrong with your face?”

Aunt Pearl (bustling over): “Ruby’s right, what’s wrong with your face? You look tired. Did you not sleep well? Do you want some coffee? Can you stay and frost some cupcakes?”

It didn’t take the intuition of Nancy Drew to figure out Aunt Pearl let Ruby sample some frosting, her blue-tinged teeth told the story. The dark tint to Aunt Pearl’s lips told a similar sugar-filled tale. As did the fact neither waited for or required a response to their series of rapid-fire questions.

Me (sliding Ruby off my lap): “No, Aunt Pearl. I’m fine. I should be going….”

Uncle (finishing my sentence): “…back to my office. Mind if I take the coffee pot back with us, Pearl?”

2.43.a Much Ado About Something

The loud thwack followed by a bellowed expletive pulled me away from watching the icing melt in delicious rivulets across the tops of my fresh from the oven cinnamon buns. Waiting for Wood to hobble in gave me time to consolidate the contents of Ira’s envelope, Beatrice’s laptop, and Joseph’s book. In their place, I laid out coffee and the aforementioned buns. 

Nothing like sugar, butter, and caffeine to help overcome trauma. Wood limped into the kitchen just as I was setting out the utensils, plates, and mugs.

Me: “Did the make-up case get you?”

Wood: “No, the carry-on.”

Apparently, Beatrice switched her plans and flew in late last night. Her presence was easily deduced upon our arrival back at the Lavender Lady due to the matching six-piece luggage set littering the hallway when we walked in.

Me: “Count yourself lucky it wasn’t the steamer trunk, the brass corners suck.”

Giving half-laugh Wood pointed at the pot and pan on the table for permission to dig in, giving him the nod, I put the cookie dough in the refrigerator. Tapping in time with KARB’s current selection, The Ghost Rags, I stuck the muffin tin in the oven, wound the timer then joined Wood at the table.

Pouring my umpteenth cup of coffee, I posed the question that had been troubling me for the last hour.

“Margret, from Much Ado About Nothing, do you think she was secretly in league with Borachio and Don John?”

Pausing, his cinnamon bun laden turner hanging in mid-air, Wood ran a critical eye over me. My besmirched apron prompted his gaze to shift past my shoulder onto the flour-coated stand mixer, the pan of shortbread next to it, and a dish filled sink sitting behind me. 

I’m also reasonably sure he didn’t miss, as I did in my quick tidying up, the dough encrusted spatula I’d left next to my haphazardly packed backpack. Or the fact I had the loopy imprint of a spiral-bound notebook wire across my left cheek and temple.

Wood (finally finishing dishing up his sticky breakfast bun): “Morticia, are these scratch-made or from a tube?”

Me (over the rim of my mug): “Scratch.”

Wood (waving his knife towards my new face decoration): “We didn’t roll in until after two, how much sleep did you get?”

Me (glossing over his question): “Enough. Now Margaret part and parcel in Don John’s scheme or not?”

In point of fact, I got a solid forty-five minutes while my cinnamon roll dough doubled in volume. But who’s counting? Other than Wood.

Wood (clearly unimpressed by my one-word response): “If I recall, everyone ended up forgiving her in the end…”

Catching the tail end of the answer, Beatrice, looking bright-eyed & bushy-tailed (pretty much the exact opposite of the last time I laid eyes on her), walked in. 

Beatrice (grabbing the seat next to Wood): “Forgive who? Me? I apologize for leaving my suitcases in the hall, bad habit. I didn’t get in until midnight, and I couldn’t face lugging them around anymore…”

Me: “No, biggie. Margaret from Much Ado, victim or villain?”

Wood (mumbling): “No biggie for you, my toes will never be the same.”

Beatrice straightened her curving lips at Wood’s grumblings, topping off Wood’s mug and mine before using the pot to pour her own.

Beatrice (seeing and visibly ignoring the red zigzag on my face): “hmmm…..It would add an extra shadow to the play if Margaret had designs on Claudio for herself…However, I think she was a victim of Don John’s scheming. Why?”

Me: “But why stay silent in the face of your friend’s disgrace? When Hero’s own father wishes for her death?”

Beatrice: “Would you want to announce at a wedding, to everyone and god, about your sexual role-playing the night before? Where you not only assumed your friend’s name but donned her clothes and used her room for the assignation? There’s an excellent chance Leonato would have cast Margaret out of his house on the spot, in complete disgrace.”

Me: “True, but the Friar proved himself more than able to temper Leonato’s fury.”

Beatrice: “With Benedict’s help. I’m not sure Margaret would have faired so well in Benedict’s opinion without Borachio’s confession in his hip pocket.”

Me: “I suppose. I’m just stuck on the fact the word of a confirmed knave cleared her, whereas her actions seem to condemn her.”

Wood (around a mouthful of sugar and spice): “Morticia, you’ve never given a flying fork about Margaret, let alone lost sleep over her, what’s really eating you?”

Ding!

Riding the pause with professional ease, Wood waited patiently for my reply while I scrabbled around, swapping the shortbread pan for the muffin tin in the oven. Fortunately, by the time I retook my seat, I’d formed a better answer than, ‘Nothing.’

Me (shrugging): “Just passing the time.”

Wood (clearly skeptical): “Right.”

Apparently, it wasn’t that much better, but it did possess the virtue of being the truth.

2.42.b Wonderland

Crouching back down next to the Toby, who was selflessly offering his tummy up for scritches, Wood tilted his head to continue talking to Joseph. “He’s a sweet little guy. How old is he?”

Joseph, clearly amused at Toby’s shameless behavior, stood next to Wood. “I’m not sure, Toby was full-grown when he adopted me.”

“I’ve two of my own, Bert and Ernie.”

“Do they follow you around? Toby’s my personal shadow.”

Stopping the hysterical giggle threatening to escape me by biting down on it. I watched two pivotal pieces of my life that I’d always presumed would remain poles apart make banal chitchat over another impossible thing.

If I find four more before breakfast, I’ll tie the White Queen’s record. 

The stray thought stole the breath from my lungs. 

Can you imagine seeing six impossible things before breakfast? My paradigms feel fractured at a mere two. 

Pulling up the cuff of my coat to expose my watch face, I nearly wept when it read half-past one. It’s a brand new day that makes my next meal breakfast. I don’t care if I’m still stuffed to the gills from our moon bathing nibbles, we’re hitting The Alter for coffee and danishes. 

This madness must end.

“………Morticia.”

Glancing blankly up at the sound of my name, I did my best impression of Dickens. “Huh?”

Wood, placing the back of his hand against my forehead for a second, caught me up to speed. “Joseph asked if I could watch Toby while he spoke to you in private for a minute. I said it’s fine with me if it’s fine with you.”

Giving him a reassuring smile, “Yeah, sorry, it’s okay. He’s the guy I came here to talk to tonight.”

Nodding, we both watched Joseph issue Toby his marching orders, “This will take a few minutes. Please stay here with Dourwood.” At Toby’s yip of agreement, Joseph turned to me, I shot Wood a quick smile, and then he and I wordlessly headed towards the back of the Manor and out of earshot. 

Sinking onto the top step, resting my elbows on my knees, I watched Wood and Toby dash amongst the rose beds having a grand old time together. 

Joseph has a dog. 

Clearly not the most spectacular gap in my knowledge about the man, but I found it unsettling all the same. 

“So Nevermore has four-legged Residents?”

“Not Residents, Resident. Toby’s unique in Nevermore though that might change with the pet cemetery annex.”

“Any other Residents I’ve not met yet?”

“A few.”

Glancing over my shoulder, I saw his poker face in place. “More than one but less than twenty?”

“Yes.”

Knowing that was the best I was going to get, I moved on. “HOW is Wood playing fetch with a Resident?”

“Just a trick, Toby learned.”

“What like rolling over?” 

Chuckling at my sarcasm. “Toby knows that one as well.”

“Can other Residents perform this ‘trick’?”

Joseph shook his head. “No, just Toby.”

“Okay, then how are you doing it?”

Joseph gave me a little shrug and a maddening sphinx-like smile.

Rotating my head slowly, stretching out the tight muscles in my neck, I vacillated between wanting to flick him in the forehead and cutting loose a mammoth-sized sigh. Sensing my perturbation, he swept both unhelpful impulses aside by slipping a thick leather-bound book onto my lap.

“A copy of the Conventions as requested.”

“Are you sure?” 

Joseph laughed at my disbelief. 

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“You realize it looks nothing like any other copy I’ve ever laid eyes on.”

“Nevertheless.”

Cracking the spine, I carefully leafed past the endpapers to the cursive filled first page. Sadly, the poor lighting on the porch and the slant of the handwriting made it difficult to decipher on the spot. 

I have a feeling this book could benefit from an index.

“Do you think it will help Nevermore?”

“No idea, but it stands to reason if both my and Ira’s copies went walkabout there’s something salient inside. Speaking of walkabouts, Orin’s Errant….” Letting the impossible issues drop, as I’d learned a clam has looser lips than Joseph, I filled him in on Abraham’s antics, intelligence, and our plans. 

His face didn’t turn grave until the protests came up. 

Of course, he knew of them, they’re literally on Nevermore’s doorstep. However, he’d been unaware of the extent of unrest Little Ben’s plans had churned up in Rye. “The silver lining in all this bad press and protests is they work in our favor. Not only are they pointing out what Nevermore would lose with the demolition and deforestation, but they will also cause delays.”

Staring up at the stars, he quietly asked, “Does everything rest on finding Big Ben?”

“Not everything…Okay, everything.” Stroking the leather book sitting in my lap. “I’ll find a Plan B.” 

“I know you will try Phoebe.” 

2.42.a Nevermore’s Most Reticent Resident

(Wild Rose Manor’s rose beds during better times.)

Pausing on the Nevermore side of the Wild Rose gate, I used my set of skeleton keys to relock the lock behind us. Then, I accidentally scared the peewaddens out Wood by following Joseph’s instructions and energetically rapping my knuckles against the solid oak door.

Wood (scanning the windows and whisper shouting): “Ssshhh! You’re going to wake someone up!”

Me (grinning and stepping around him): “Relax, no one’s lived here in decades, and security only checks on the house at dusk and dawn, so we’re safe.”

Which is one of the reasons why I’d chosen to meet Joseph here instead of the Crossroads.

Though by the state of things, I’m not sure anyone but security has swung by Wild Rose Manor in some time. Several of the lightbulbs that should be burning brightly were dark, a deep drift of leaves decorated the porch, and the lawn underfoot was shaggy. However, the detail I found most shocking was the state of the rose beds. The plants were leggy, their leaves starting to sport rust spots, and every bush was crowded with spent flower heads.

What on earth’s keeping Ira from dispatching his groundskeepers to taken care of them? On the upside, the negligence should provide me some pretty good cover when Joseph gets here. 

Talking to plants is a thing – right? 

Crowley, from Good Omens, kept an apartment full of house-plants terrified by talking to them and occasionally mulching them. However, the pertinent point here is I’ve got a plant talking precedent. Though I’m sure, Wood will have something pithy to say about using a demon as a role model – even if deep, deep down he’s a little good…

Either way, it’s better cover than trying to convince him I’m rehearsing for an improv workshop – again.

Wood (following me up the path): “So why are we here?”

Me (stepping towards the roses near a working light): “I need to talk to a guy.”

Wood (watching me start to deadhead the roses): “A different guy than earlier?”

Me (starting to create a small brown mound of blossoms): “Yup. There you go, you gorgeous thing….”

Wood (grinning): “Thanks, I’ve started running in the mornings.”

Me (rolling my eyes): “Not you, the rose bush. Talking to them promotes growth. So, running?”

Wood (absently answering me): “Yeah, it helps me wake up in the morning….Do you hear that?”

Off in the distance, the bright bark of a dog broke the night. Dropping the last spent flower on the ground, I wiped the blade of my pocket knife on my jeans then put it away. Joining Wood on the central path between the rose beds, I started walking towards the rapidly swelling sound.

Wood: “Does Nevermore’s security guards use dogs?”

Me: “Every now and again, but they prefer shepherds or mastiffs. That’s a little dog’s voice…”

Stepping in front of Wood at the first pinprick in my toes not only saved me from explaining my watery eyes away (the current arching across my toes was brisk). It also kept Wood from witnessing my jaw hit the ground when a pint-sized blur of white fur bounded thru the lavender, ricocheted off my shins and landed on his haunches at my feet. 

Me (utterly failing to pick up my jaw back up): “Toby?”

Tongue lolling out in a mischievous smile, only a small dog can manage to make charming, the little terrier jumped up, planted his front paws on my knees, and gave me a joyful yip.

Wood (walking around me): “Friend of yours?”

Hand trembling, I touched Toby’s furry head and received a friendly frisson of electricity up my arm as well as a quick lick. Bouncing back onto four paws, the little dog took a shy sniff of Wood’s ankle. 

Me (feeling like I’d just downed a stiff drink too fast): “I believe his name is Toby.”

Wood, who adores all canines, crouched down and held out his hand for a sniff. Cautiously Toby inched forward until he was in nose range. Apparently liking what he sniffed, he bellied forward a few more steps. Allowing Wood to give him a quick head scratch before dancing out of reach again.

Wood (concentrating on making a new friend): “Hello Toby! What are you doing running around Nevermore all by yourself at this hour?”

Joseph (following the path around the lavender): “Apparently, he’s trying to alert everyone to our presence. Good-evening Phoebe.”

Upon hearing Joseph’s voice, Toby raced over, completed one tight circuit around his legs, then dashed back to flirt with Wood. However, instead of playing Toby’s game Wood stood up, waited a beat for me to perform introductions before realizing none were forthcoming, and held a hand out to Joseph. 

Who. Took. It.

Wood: “Dourwood Utley, nice to meet you.”

Joseph (a breath of hesitation between first and last name): “Joseph Marx, nice to meet you as well.”

Doing my best impression of a goldfish, I stared at the spot where the two men just clasped hands, gobsmacked.

2.41 A Wind From the North

Version 2

Wood and I watched, from the Princess’s cozy confines, a patrol car cruise slowly past us. Fighting the instinct to hunker down, I sucked on my slightly scorched index finger while fastening my seatbelt with the other. Much to our mutual relief, the cruiser turned the corner, crawl by the park, then thankfully roll out sight. 

The appearance of the police at the site of our Moon Bathing soiree, after the Beagle and his Human, tootled past us on one last jaunt around the block, is probably pure coincidence. Undoubtedly the one-man watch missed the eerie flickering blue flames of the Snapdragon dish…

…that could possibly be seen from space due to an inadvertently heavy-handed pour from the bottle of apple brandy. (The fact we were laughing like an asylum of loons while popping bits of fire into our mouths – I’m sure escaped his notice as well.)

Pondering the question, should we count this as a close shave with the boys in blue, I turned towards the Princess’s passenger seat for a second opinion. Only to find an unsmiling Wood staring at the space up the street Sarah’s car had occupied up until a few minutes ago. 

Me (using a hankie to wipe the drool off my sore finger): “You think Sarah’s doing okay?”

Wood: “Can you drive past the park for me? Slowly?”

Me (incredulous and yet still turning the engine over): “You want me to follow the cop car?”

Wood: “I’ll explain in a minute.”

Shrugging, I depressed the handbrake, pulled the Princess into non-existent traffic, and followed the police car’s line around the corner. Instead of taking one last gander at the scene of our misdemeanor, Wood stared intently at the opposite side of the street then lapsed into a pensive silence. 

Concentrating on the distant tail lights, trying to divine which way the officer would turn, I let Wood follow his train of thought in peace. I even refrained from letting out a whoop of delight when the police cruiser decided to turn the opposite direction of Nevermore. 

Wood (breaking his own silence): “This isn’t the way home.”

Me: “We’ve one more stop to make.”

Wood (falling back into his thoughts): “Okay.”

Me (glancing over): “You going to tell me what’s going on, or do I need to start pulling teeth?”

Wood (frowning): “I think I’ve got a pretty good idea why Sarah was acting so weird.”

Me: “Shoot.”

Wood (slowly): “A couple of minutes after you stopped shouting in the gazebo and I said goodnight to Laney, the front door of that big brick house across the way opened. All I could see were silhouettes, so I started playing ‘What Are They Saying?’ in my head.” 

Me (looking for a parking spot): “Always fun.”

Wood (nodding): “Eventually, without any hugs, kisses, or handshakes, one outline went back inside, and the other walked towards the street.”

Me (carefully pulling the Princess between two huge SUVs): “An inevitable outcome at a front door.”

Wood (flicking my leg for interrupting again): “I lost interest in the scene until I heard a woman’s voice call out, ‘Sarah! Wait!’. That’s when I saw our Sarah standing under a street lamp across the way, a second later another woman jogged up and handed her something.”

Me (shutting down the Princess’s engine): “Okay…”

Wood: “Morticia, I’m seventy-five percent certain the other woman was Josie Reville.”

Me (jaw involuntarily dropping): “You’re kidding. The Brownie Stealing Bench? Did you know they knew each other?”

Wood (half laughing at the end of his sentence): “No, I didn’t, but if Sarah were hanging out with Josie tonight, it would explain why she was so weird at first. The bad blood between you two is NOT a secret.”

Silently my mind whirred, churning out rational reasons why Sarah might intentionally spend time in The Brownie Stealing Bench’s company. Unfortunately, since I couldn’t fathom spending more than two minutes together with her, my imagination quickly went into overdrive. Spinning out one improbable possibility after another. 

Wood (nudging me): “I might be wrong. That’s why I asked you to drive by the house, I was trying to see if her name was on the letterbox, which of course it wasn’t.”

Me (drumming my fingers against the steering wheel): “The obvious way to prove you right or wrong is to knock on the front door. But that’s not going to happen. The Beagle’s Human is far too nosey for a successful stakeout, even if we used your car….”

Wood (splitting a spare cookie in two and holding half out to me): “Are you really that worried about it?”

Me (around my bite of cookie): “Maybe.” 

Wood pursed his lips at me.

Me (rolling my eyes): “Alright, I’ll be an adult and let it lie. There’s no accounting for taste. In any case, I don’t suppose you’d be willing to hang out here while I pop into Nevermore for a second?”

Wood (unbuckling his seatbelt): “Not a chance.”

Me: “It was worth a try.”

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