Tag Archives: finder of lost things

2.40 Parlor Game No. 2 – Snapdragon

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(What the snap dragon looked like aflame – though taking a pic at night is difficult….)

Stopping just shy of requiring a blood oath, Abraham finally agreed not to seek out our unknown curious Errant on his own, so long as I promised to keep him in the loop. 

Parting ways, my mind raced to fold in this new wrinkle.… My hunt for Big Ben is on autopilot at the moment unless I suck it up and ask Uncle for help….I’m knocking out my visit to Nevermore tonight, though Wood doesn’t know it yet. I’m unsealing Ira’s envelope after forty winks….So visiting the Genesis Points of Rye’s Errants seems feasible….I can fit a few drop-bys during my FLYT shifts if I’m careful…

Wood: “Morticia, you’ll never guess who I found wandering by…” 

Me (wide-eyed): “Sarah!” 

Wood: “Ah, you guessed.”

Me (laughing): “She’s sitting at the table, you dolt.”

Sarah (staring down at the table): “Hey Phoebe. Wood said you guys were out here moon bathing.”

Me (stepping next to a seated Wood): “Yup, you should join us!”

Sarah: “Isn’t the Lavender Lady’s backyard more convenient?”

Sarah’s curtly delivered question arrested my forward momentum. Leaving my knee leaning against the table edge and my sneaker planted on the seat next to Wood. Sarah, who was quickly denuding the plaid blanket of its pills, misses the quick shrug Wood gave me.  

Me (slowly): “It is. However, it also has Ms. Hettie, who’s proven to have a low threshold for late-night frivolity.”

Sarah (pressing): “But why here? Why Remembrance Park?”

Me (trying to fathom her driving tone): “Have you ever heard of the Grey Man?”

Sarah (nodding): “Yes…”

Me: “Well, apparently he’s been spotted skulking around here several times over the years. Which makes sense since he used to live two streets over. Anyways, I thought I’d break in the spirit board Laney stitched for me and try contacting Wynter in a place he’s known to semi-frequent.”

Sarah (pushing): “Then why were you hanging out in the gazebo?”

Wood (unruffled): “Morticia was giving me some privacy while I face-timed Laney.”

Sarah (looking up finally): “Oh. So you guys really are just Moon Bathing?”

Words along the lines of – ‘What do you think we were doing?’ – died in my throat in response to a surreptitious squeeze of my sneaker. Snapping my mouth firmly closed, Wood picked up the conversational baton and did what he does best – putting people at ease.

Letting their voices buzz in my ears like so many bees, I took a good long look at Sarah. Dark rings hung low under her eyes, her blouse appeared more voluminous than usual, and her nails were bitten nearly to the quick. 

She looked terrible. 

Continuing to woolgather on how to get Sarah to eat a good meal, my eyes wandered restlessly onto the canvas tote sitting next to her. Slumped open, the distinct letterhead of Nevermore at the top of a wad of documents caught my eye. Followed by a couple of thick purple rebranding binders I’d last spied in Little Ben’s office.

Sarah, noticing the direction of my gaze, slipped the bag under the table.

Wood (calling my attention back to the table): “Morticia, Laney is dying to try out the spirit board. But has an early meeting, so she asked if we could postpone the reading until she got home. I told her you’d be okay with it.”

Me (laughing): “I don’t know, can you handle both of us having that much fun?”

Wood (grinning): “I’ll start cross-training immediately.”

Me (pointing at the hamper): “Sarah why don’t you make a plate while I set up our other entertainment, we’ve still got plenty of everything.”

Sarah, who’d downshifted from denuding the blanket to merely tracing the pattern with her index finger, hesitated just long enough in following my suggestion that Wood took the reins. Leaving him to it, I moved to the other end of the table and begun prepping my parlor game provisions.

Wood (offhanded): “Little Ben must be losing his marbles at KARB’s coverage of the protesters inside Nevermore.”

Sarah (after swallowing a massive bite of meatloaf sandwich): “You’ve no idea. Today, after His Highness heard KARB’s noon news break, he cussed out the radio for twenty minutes then stomped around for the rest of the day.”

Wood (dishing up a small bowl of chili): “Why?”

Sarah (pausing between bites): “Rye’s Garden Club and the University’s Botanical department publicly condemned his proposed expansion. I’m not looking forward to working with him after his meeting with the Aarti and Talia.”

Me (debating with myself while sprinkling raisins into the shallow dish): “Leave a steamed milk on his desk next to a jelly doughnut, that usually calms him down. Cherry’s is his favorite, but raspberry works as well. Both need to come from The Alter.”

Sarah (meeting my gaze for the first time): “Thanks, I’ll try that…”

Me (lighting a wooden match and carefully setting the apple brandy aflame): “Now have either of you ever played snapdragon?”

Between the brilliant blue flames leaping from the dish, the heart-pounding thrill of dipping our fingers into the blaze, and eating raisins still alight, Sarah’s unease burned away. Allowing the three of us to laugh easily in the pale moonlight. 

2.37.a Moon Bathing

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Tooting the Princess horn, I waited for Wood to meet me in his drive. Restless, I pulled my phone out of its holder on the dash and dialed Big Ben’s number. Listening to the first note of the overly familiar out-of-service message start to play, I hung up, wishing I didn’t feel a little disappointed every time he didn’t answer. 

Tossing the phone in the cupholder, I closed my eyes, leaned back, and rested my palms against the steering wheel.

Visualizing Ira’s enigmatic envelope, I counted my breaths and tried to calm the fork down. Unfortunately, my brain took this as a cue to replayed the memory of the Woman In White’s hand plunging into my chest, trying to strip my Vita. Then, and more disturbingly, my mind morphed the memory into a nightmare – by showing me the Woman In White killing Wood instead. 

My brain wasn’t being remotely helpful presently – in case you’re wondering.

Tossing aside the advice of gently noting the negative thought, then letting it go, since my little grey cells decided to play the vision of Wood dying on a loop (quickly converting my insides into a mass of quivering jelly). I dove directly into the heart of the maelstrom instead. Reminding my troubled brain that an encounter with an Errant did not automatically lead to them trying to strip one’s Vita. A Woman In White of the caliber I encountered earlier this year is extraordinarily rare. And the majority of Errants aren’t mad as hatters. 

Even more promising, the Errant in Remembrance Park warned Orin off. 

Plus, I packed fifteen pounds of the purest salt in my pack….and stashed another fifteen pounds in the Princess’s trunk….

The rationalizing helped, the sheer quantity of salt on hand helped more – but neither completely dispel my wibble wobbles or made the memory of the Woman In White retreat entirely. 

Drat my brain.

Taking one last lung-busting breath, I held it until the count of six then slowly exhaled to the count of twelve. Whilst not precisely calm, I did manage to unlock my elbows, stop pressing my back against the seat, and unclenched my death grip on the steering wheel. 

Reopening my eyes, I caught a bit of movement in my peripheral vision, cracking my neck as I turned it, I found Wood waving at me. Leaning over, I unlocked the Princess’s door and let him in.

Me: “Why didn’t you knock?”

Wood: “You looked like you were having a moment.”

Nodding, because it was true, I started backing the Princess out of Wood’s drive. Wood scenting the air like a bloodhound, pivoting in place, then stared at the provisions I’d packed in the backseat. 

Wood: “We’re going on a picnic?”

Me: “Sort of, I thought I’d take you Moon Bathing.”

Wood (flatly): “Moon Bathing.”

Me (stepping on the gas): “It’s like sunbathing but safer?”

Feeling his eyes on me, I continued to concentrate on my driving. This morning on Uncle and Aunt Pearl’s back porch, we’d managed to nail down the time and place I’d pick him up from for our nocturnal adventure. But before I told him the whys, my bleary-eyed cousins meandered into the kitchen and started bellowing for their children. The Niblings wisely evaporated into the wilderness I’d successfully hidden in the evening before. Leaving Wood and I to explain that yes, indeed, we made three kinds of pancakes, bacon, eggs, fruit, and coffee for breakfast. Bequeathing them, as is our family tradition, an unholy mess to mop up in exchange for our early morning culinary efforts. 

(They’d needed a stepladder to wipe up all the spatter.)

They were in a more forgiving state of mind after they’d sampled The Stack. Hopefully, so would Wood after he saw what I’d packed.

Wood (staring at me steadily): “Morticia, why are we Moon Bathing?”

Taking a deep breath, I gave Wood the exact level of truth I thought we’d both be comfortable with. (It’s also one of the reasons why I’d stuff the picnic basket with his most portable favorite foods).

Me (turning onto a side street): “I need to talk to a guy at Remembrance Park. The thing is I don’t know when he’ll turn up, and I didn’t want to wait alone. So I thought we could give Moon Bathing a try.”

Wood digested my explanation. He finally broke the thoughtful silence when I pulled the Princess next to the curb a half a block down from the park.

Wood (releasing his seatbelt): “This guy, does he have anything to do with our Agreement?”

Me (busying my hands): “Tangentially.”

Wood: “So, Moon Bathing is a smokescreen?”

Me (sighing): “Yes.”

Wood (bouncing out of the Princess): “Fantastic!” 

2.36.a Metaphorical Carrots

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(I do like theSudsy Bubble’s neon sign.)

The continuous rustling, scampering, and whispering outside Uncle’s office door woke me from my full stop sleep. Cracking an eye slowly open, the first thing to kiss my retinas was a weak grey light sidling thru the gap in the curtains. Groaning inwardly, I rapped a knuckle against the hardwood floor twice. 

The niblings giggled in response then scurried off towards the kitchen.

Taking a look at my watch, which read a ridiculously small single-digit number, I managed to heave one leg out from under the well-loved quilt and plant my barefoot on the cool floorboards.

I maintained this pose for the next two minutes.

(The late bedtime, beers, and bull shirting coupled with the absurd – but predictable – early rising of the niblings was producing a speed from me only a three-toed sloth could admire.)

Coaxing the rest of my limbs into coordinating their efforts, I finally sat up. Blinking, my eyesight gradually came into focus on the elephant sitting stoically on the edge of the oak desk, waiting for me to wake up.

The patient pachyderm being a worn inter-office envelope. In theory, it contains a list of names Big Ben dropped in his correspondence with Ira. But after examining the envelope last night, I’m certain Ira included a whole lot more information than just a simple list.

(I’d like to say my powers of deduction have improved…But the fact is the envelope’s bulky, somewhat lumpy and weighs approximately the same as Uncle’s leather-bound, fully illustrated, gilt-edged copy of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities made this illation rather obvious.)

Even though I knew the niblings would return shortly to strong-arm me into ‘helping’ them make banana pancakes and bacon – I longed to solve the riddle wrapped in buff-colored paper. However, the same sly voice in my head that staid my hands last night kept my butt firmly planted on the couch this morning.

It not-so-subtly reminded me that I needed a carrot. 

Not a literal carrot – only donkeys are motivated into action by root vegetable dangling from a stick – but a metaphorical carrot.

Like New Magazine Day.

Founded just under twenty years ago, New Magazine Day developed in response to an unfortunate incident at the Sudsy Bubble Laundromat. When a tremendously tedious chore turned unexpectedly mortifying after the cute guy at the next machine remarked on the shabby state of my underpants. 

In fairness, they were faded, ever so slightly pilled, and threadbare – but that’s beside the point. Snarky Underpants Guy’s comment was a Grade-A violation of laundromat etiquette! Tenets including: never leaving your clothes unattended, never overloading a machine, and never folding a stranger’s finished load. 

You definitely don’t allude to, offer opinions on or critique another patron’s drawers! 

They’re called unmentionables for a reason! 

In any case, instead of wiping the smirk off his face with a well deserved verbal skewering – I turned beet red, stammered out a nonsensical apology, ducked my head, and scurried away (ah, the joys of being nineteen). His subsequent laughter at my very obvious embarrassment caused me to contemplate abandoning my clothes on the spot. Fortunately, I’m made of sterner stuff (and calculated I didn’t have enough money in my checking account to replace them) and waited the sixty-five agonizing minutes for the dryer to finish fluffing my last load. 

Then I booked it out of there, vowing never to set foot inside those four walls ever again. A completely ineffectual vow, as the Sudsy Bubble was both the closest & cheapest of the laundromats in Rye.

Three weeks later, grasping at straws, i.e., dressed in the dredges of my closet, I showed up to Family Feast Day wearing a nuclear green polyester skirt and vest set given to me by my colorblind Grandmother one Christmas.

Aunt Pearl immediately sensed something was wrong.

After sussing out why I was wearing an outfit only Don Knotts could love, she told me I had nothing to be embarrassed about and offered to blister Snarky Underpants Guy’s ears for me. An offer I declined on the grounds it wouldn’t make the situation any less cringeworthy. Nodding thoughtfully over her coffee cup for a few moments, Aunt Pearl leaned forward and confided in me how she managed to sit thru her bi-weekly meetings with her sourpuss of a Principle. 

On the way home, after each of the aforementioned maddening meetings, she stops off at either the Yarn Underground, Warp and Woof or The Crafty Fox to buy herself a little something. A skein of yarn, a yard of fabric or kit – it just needed to be something she’d enjoy playing with – as a reward for keeping her mouth shut. By following her carrot down the straight & narrow, she got something new to craft, kept the peace, and remained gainfully employed. 

(It also explains how Aunt Pearl’s sewing space slowly engulfed the neighboring room – she worked with said pettifogger for fifteen more years after giving me this kernel of wisdom.) 

All I needed to do was find my carrot.

Mulling this over the next day while contemplating which would be worse – wearing my high school P.E. uniform or the ghastly bridesmaid’s dress Jesse’s new husband chose – my eyes landed on a stack of months old magazines I’d borrowed from the Library. 

Eureka! My carrot! I’d buy myself the latest issues of all my favorites magazines to get me past my dread, thru the front doors, and recharge my closet with clean cloths! 

(BTW – I ended up at the Sudsy Bubble at six-thirty am, carrying twelve magazines, in my old P.E. uniform. I used seven machines simultaneously to get every scrap of fabric washed, fluffed, and folded in one go. Thankfully it was a Sunday, and no one, other than the attendant, was around. Otherwise, I’d have been committing a Grade-B violation of laundromat etiquette! Speaking of violations, I didn’t run into Snarky Underpants Guy again for over a month, and happily, my stack of magazines allowed me to ignore him entirely.) 

Ever since then, New Magazine Day has worked beautifully as my go-to carrot.

Until now.

The foot-high stack of unread magazines next to my bed testifies that I needed something more substantial to compel me into investigating the Errant that Flared at Orin.

2.33.b …The Brownie Stealing Bench

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I’m not sure who my words shocked more Leo, Josie, or I. I’m thinking Leo, only because he nearly spat out his mouthful of beer.

Regarding me cooly for a split second, she shifted her focus back onto a red-faced Leo, who’d swiftly stopped choking and/or coughing, without any further acknowledgement.

Josie (smile a little tight at the edges): “I’ve been struggling to find a perfect gift for KARB’s Programming Director. You probably haven’t heard, as David’s only told a select few, but he’s handing over the reins to my inamorato Julien Dewinter and retiring at the end of next month. I think he’d love your work.”

Is she using selective hearing on me? Seriously? And how ostentatious, inamorato, why not just call Julien her boyfriend?

Leo (returning her smile with a polite one of his own): “Thank-you, but…”

Me (thoughtfully interrupting Leo): “Perhaps a viper is to on the nose. How about a spider? You could go as Arachne, from that story by Ovid, I’m sure Leo could whip up a cobweb mini dress and an appropriate eight-legged hat…”

Easing her left hip against the edge of the table, giving me an excellent view of her backside, Josie continued to pretend I was existentially challenged. 

Well, who’d have thunk it – I do believe I’ve found a fourth solution for dealing with Josie and her ilk – and I owe it all to Ms. Hettie.

Josie (ratcheting up her charm-o-meter): “If you have a moment right now, we could discuss designs and your fee. I’m sure Phoebe won’t mind moving to the bar while we talk business. I believe she’s on excellent terms with the bartender.”

Woot! She just intimated I was a drunk! I wonder which Ms. Hettie would appreciate more; butter cookies or a bottle of bourbon? I feel I ought to repay her for the year of verbal sparring and zinger training I’ve received.

Me (snapping my fingers): “I’ve got it! You should go as a magpie! They’re handsome and thieving, just like you!”

Leo utterly failed to suppress a guffaw. 

Man, how did I miss this? I never once considered needling-her-back as a viable defense! Probably because we were in school and she’d have made my life a misery.

Josie (turning back to me, her tone tetchy): “Are you still bent out of shape over that brownie thing back in junior high? It was over twenty years ago, we’re different people now, let it go. You’ll feel better for it.”

Is she trying to out adult me?

Me (Cheshire smile splitting my face – I let her): “Naw, don’t wanna.”

Ready to take the lumps Josie’s sub-zero stare promised were in the offing, Ruth quadrupled her tip by arriving at our table with our wing order a split second before the icy blast.

Leo (delighted): “Dinner!”

Digging into the baskets, Leo started distributing the sides and dividing the wings equally between our plates – as is our tradition – and successfully diffused the impending sleety squall.

Me: “Sorry, Josie. I’d ask you to join, but we only ordered enough for the two of us tonight.”

Josie (stiffly): “No problem, I’m a vegan anyway.”

Me (quizzically): “Really?” 

Josie: “Yes, really, eating animals is beastly.”

Me (shrugging): “How very ethical of you.”

Josie (addressing Leo): “Can I contact you about the commission early next week?” 

Leo (setting down his barbecue-gochujang coated drumette): “Unfortunately, I’m not taking on any new projects at the moment.”

Josie: “Are you sure? A vintage microphone hat would be perfect, and I’d pay triple since I know its short notice.”

Leo: “Sorry, Josie, Phoebe’s hat is the last custom order I’m doing for a while.”

Josie (letting loose a healthy sigh, then smiling): “I suppose it’s for the best. I’m not sure Julien would be comfortable giving his former boss something cute. Well, it was nice running into you, Phoebe, and a pleasure to meet you, Leo. I’ll see you both around.”

Dear lords above and below, I hope not.

After delivering her parting shot, using a tone that would make even Jack Frost shiver, she turned on her heel to leave – without waiting for our response. Unable to resist needling her one last time, I decided to impart a helpful laundry tip Aunt Pearl gave me soon after I discovered this place.

Me: “Hey Josie, you’ll want to run the front of your blouse and the bottom edge of your cuff under cold water, then soak it in liquid detergent for a couple of days before you wash it.”

Without sparing a glance at the tell-tale reddish specks splattered across her shirt, she turned towards my voice, her mouth compressed in a flat rigid line.

Josie (icicles hanging off the word): “Why?”

Me: “It’s the only way to keep that buffalo sauce stain from setting.”

Wow, I do believe Josie Reville just flipped me off.

Ms. Hettie’s definitely deserves both a bottle of bourbon and several dozen butter cookies.

Leo (regarding me with amusement): “Does the Hinge serve buffalo sauce on anything other than their chicken wings?”

Me (grinning): “No, no, they do not.”

2.32 Brevity Is The Soul Of Wit…

2.32 Berevity is the Soul of whit

For the second time today, I managed to snag my favorite seat in an eatery. Only this time, my backside rested against the vinyl seat of the best booth in my favorite dive in all of Rye. 

Taking in a lung full of the wonderful smells emanating from the kitchen of the Rusty Hinge, my stomach reminded my mind the early lunch with Mrs. Lebondowsky was now a distant memory — gastronomically speaking. As today was Pie Day, or what the unenlightened call Monday, the sweet scent of apple and pumpkin spice swirled through the entire joint and proved impossible to resist. 

Ordering a cup of coffee and a slice of pumpkin, I basked in the warm glow of the neon beer signs and the musical lures of the surrounding pinball machines for a few minutes (in point of fact, I was borderline giddy at being anywhere but inside the Lavender Lady this evening). 

Tossing my chauffeur’s cap on the red vinyl stretching out next to me, I stopped reveling and took advantage of the forty minutes I’d stitched into my day. (Rather than heading home to change out of my uniform after my shift, I motored straight to the Rusty Hinge.)

Extracting my phone from my pack, I entered my code, tapped my recently dialed icon, chose the third number from the top, and dialed. Whilst listening to the ringing on the line, I pulled a pack of index cards and a pen out of my bag, then hung up a split second after the anticipated and ear grating first note of the out-of-service recording started playing.

Setting my phone aside, I slit open the pack of cards with my thumbnail, removed one, and started writing the message Mrs. Lebondowsky and I had crafted together over teriyaki.

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Just enough information to hopefully pique his interest and pithy enough to catch the eye. 

I’d managed to work my way thru a third of the pack, two cups of coffee, and my generous piece of pie before Leo joined me.

Leo (taking off his coat): “Hey boss, studying for an exam?”

Me: “Nope. Just part of my highly strategic plan to find Big Ben.”

Leo (flipping over and reading the top card of the completed stack): “Highly strategic? Wait, is this your real number?”

Me (finishing off the card I was working on): “No, I bought a burner phone…”

My explanation trailed off when Ruth, who’d apparently been keeping an eye out, popped by to take our order. Two local beers, three baskets of wings coated in tongue scorching sauces to split between us (maple-chipotle, sour-cherry habanero & lime, and gochujang-barbecue). 

We’d shared wings once or twice before. 

After Ruth moseyed out of earshot, Leo and I started speaking at the same time – I let him go first. So while I stowed my project away in my pack, he gingerly extracted a puffy plastic sack from his knitting bag.

Leo: “So what’s the grand plan?”

Me: “I know someone who knows someone who knows someone else, who put me in touch with a citizen of Silver City, and they’ve agreed to help us find Big Ben.” 

No need to out Mrs. Lebondowsky as my source and Tavi Blume as my Silver City Operative. 

(BTW – Tavi is an absolute stitch. As an avid reader of vintage gumshoe detective novels, Dashiell Hammett, in particular. Tavi admitted to yearning for an excuse to abscond with her husband’s fedora. Combine this craving with week four (of nine) of her vacation? Tavi was absolutely thrilled to help us track Big Ben down – after we explained the who, the what and the why behind our inquiry.

The fact our favor also allowed her to evade cleaning her classroom’s beakers, test tubes and graduated cylinders for another week might also have enlivened her enthusiasm for the endeavor. 

Her one condition? I refer to her as my Silver City Operative.)

Leo: “Sounds, Byzantine.”

Me (leaning back against the seat): “Not really, it essentially boils down to my Operative papering Silver City with this message. Plus, the personal ads, I’m placing in the two local papers and the University’s.”

Leo (arching an eyebrow): “Your Operative?”

Me (grinning): “My Silver City Operative to be specific, we decided code names made it more fun, I’m Ms. Pinkerton…Is that my hat?”

Leo (his eyes twinkling and holding it up): “What do you think?” 

Me (reaching for it): “It’s perfect!”

Remember when my five cousins and their significant others all failed to place a bet on me in the Black-And-Blue-Becker-Betting-Pool?

Well, I decided to commemorate their insulting lack of faith in my ability to ruin one of Aunt Pearl’s mortifying family photos with an exceptional hat. A chapeau so extraordinary unforgettable none of my cousins will neglect to consider placing a wager on me again!

So what one-of-a-kind confection did I commission Leo to crochet for me? 

Squiddy! 

The giant land squid concocted on the Island of Dr. Cousteau that I claimed dyed me purple the night I showed up on Uncle and Aunt Pearl’s doorstep covered in a bruise of epic proportions. 

Me (pulling it on, I laughed as Squiddy’s arms tickled my ears): “It fits perfectly! I love it! Thank you!”

A genteel voice called out: Phoebe? Phoebe Arden, is that you? 

Well crap, where’d she come from?

2.31 Ebenezer’s Teriyaki

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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?”

Me: “Fantastic.”

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?”

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. 

2.28 Curiosity Killed The Cat You Know

HISTORICAL SOCIETYpdf

(The flyer I found laying around in the foyer of the building…)

A sneeze tickling my nose and sent my mind down an odd tangent – I wonder how often Dear Frank is chagrined by something Mrs. Lebondowsky does because her relief on not being judged for indulging her curiosity was crystal clear. 

This unproductive line of thought helped distract me from the monstrous sneeze threatening to alert someone I was definitely someplace I oughtn’t…

…Dear Frank should consider himself a lucky man. 

Can you imagine if Mrs. Lebondowsky’s ‘Dear Frank’ was married to me? His current wife may occasionally cause him consternation with her busybody leanings, but ‘Dear Frank’ would drop dead of embarrassment within a week of marrying me.

Especially if he ever asked why I came home covered in dust!

Picture his scandalization during my explanation of how I found myself in the basement of the Historical Society building, peering over the tops of musty/dusty cardboard boxes – so I could sneak a peek out a cobwebbed rimmed window.

Dear Frank’s ticker couldn’t take the strain. As it is my own can barely tolerate it, due mainly to Mrs. Lebondowsky texting me, she’d needed another half hour, which caused my phone to chirp loudly during my attempt at stealth. 

After peeling myself off the ceiling, which took more than a few heartbeats to accomplish, I refocused my attention on my skulking.

(Even better? The fright scared away my sneeze: thus rendering my next bit of musing – on whether or not I could be charged with murder if I killed Dear Frank with mortification – moot.)

Rising slowly up on my tiptoes using the cardboard boxes in front of me for balance, as the last thing I needed to do was knock them over or break my neck while perched on the top step of this rickety step ladder. I finally caught a glimpse of the items the bucket brigade, just beyond the windowpane, was shifting from the brimming truck to inside the building. 

You’d think the human chain would be handing off items in the other direction since Little Ben failed to renew their lease… But in light of the club’s vote, the decorations adorning the buildings and the conversation in Aarti’s library – the cots, sleeping bags, propane stoves, propane, toilet paper, pots pans and so forth moving inside made sense.

Worrisome and alarming sense.

When Mrs. Lebondowsky and I got our first gander of the twin brick buildings housing the Historical Society and Naturalist Club, forty minutes ago, my foot lifted off the gas of its own volition, causing the Princess to roll quietly to a stop. (Which isn’t as dramatic as it sounds – Nevermore’s speed limit is only five miles per hour). 

Mrs. Lebondowsky awed tone encapsulated the sight perfectly, “Wow.”

“Seriously.” Gripping the steering wheel, I leaned forward. “Who knew snowmen could look that creepy.”

“Perhaps they’re only unsettling due to the cute pictures behind them?” Mrs. Lebondowsky’s answer didn’t contain a note of conviction. Her second held a fringe of hopeful doubt. “Maybe they’ll look less menacing when we get closer.”

Pulling the Princess into the only available curbside parking spot Mrs. Lebondowsky and I continued to take in the bedecked brick buildings at the end of the lane. “Would you mind if I headed over to the Historical Society while you take care of business next door? I need to drop off some notes with Aarti.” Since she’d paid for a block of time, I’d typically wait in the car until she finished…but I was more than a little curious about what was happening myself (and I actually owned a salient reason for stopping by).

Gathering up her things, “Go ahead, dear. I’ll probably be a half-hour or so. If I beat you back to the Princess, I’ll text you.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Walking down the lane framed by a multitude of cars, we drew closer to the ghosts of snowmen past that now dotted the grassy verge before both buildings (with a significant number congregating around the city planning boards). The wooden cutouts, which ordinarily graced the area during the holidays, usually wore friendly faces, top hats with poinsettias in their bands, corncob pipes, carrot noses, and the occasional scarf. 

Now each erstwhile snowman sported a matte black finish and lilac lettering listing a significant fact about the buildings or the Historical Society itself. The feature Mrs. Lebondowsky and I both found sinister, was the realistic crimson eyes painted on each of the upcycled snowmen (and much like the Mona Lisa, the eyes followed your every move). 

She and I both agreed that the snowmen did not become less unsettling upon closer acquaintance. Though the creepiness of silhouettes was brilliant. They both drew the eye towards the Society’s objections while simultaneously repelling them onto their and Naturalist’s grievances. 

(As the snowmen weren’t the only repurposed holiday decorations festooning the buildings.)

Strung across the structure’s crowns were a pair of banners proclaiming ‘Protecting Yesterday – From Today – For Tomorrow’ and ‘Don’t Pave Over Paradise’ who’s messages I’m sure would morph to ‘Merry Saturnalia’ and ‘Happy Winter Solstice’ should a fierce wind happen to invert them. 

Then there are the white, purple, and red strands of twinkle lights edging every corner of both edifices. Spotlighting not only the important architectural features; but the blown-up photos, placed in every window, of the most adorable fuzzy and feathered denizens that call Nevermore home.

(Mazy will be ecstatic when she sees that someone other than her and I are looking out for her squirrel buddies.)

After we rushed past the shadows of malevolent snowmen, our paths diverged. 

On my way up the stairs to the Historical Society, a multitude of sounds reached my ears; jabbering, laughing, scraping, and the groaning of humans and springs alike. Curious, my feet swerved over to the side window in the entryway – which only offered a narrow view over the fence – featuring a pallet of bottled water.

Weird, the Naturalist’s theme last year was ‘Dismiss Your Dependance on Single-Use Plastics’….

Recalling my mission, I turned away from the window, tucked away these peculiar details in the back of my brain, and moved towards the quiet of the Rye’s Historical Society’s main office. 

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