Tag Archives: finder of lost things

2.15.b A Tale of Two Paths

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(Okay, I didn’t have time to take a pic of Muck Duck Pond. But the wary distrust of this duck gives you an idea of how the mallards felt today when I disturbed them…)

Have you ever read The Family Circus? 

Growing up, it was one of my must-read comic strips in the Daily Harvest’s funny pages (FoxTrot, Far Side, Garfield, and Blondie, were the others I read religiously – in case you’re wondering). 

One of my favorite reoccurring bits? When Billy takes five-thousand steps to complete a five-hundred step chore.

Meaning? When asked by an adult to complete a simple task, like gather firewood. He would wander hither, thither, and yon before finally finishing. (He didn’t lollygag per se, but felt following a straight line the least exciting accomplish anything). To demonstrate Billy’s meanderings, the illustrator, Bill Keane, would draw a dotted line highlighting the roundabout route, Billy took to complete his errand. 

My original path from the house to the family plot would’ve made Billy proud, full of zigzags, backtracking, and detours. It was delightfully circuitous. The way Ina Von Haeville chose for my return trip was its’ complete antithesis. With a single-minded determination (to thwart the three sisters from finding IT, whatever IT is), she strode in an unswerving straight line thru the garden without heeding a single one of my pleas or curses. 

Which explains how three-ish hours after breaking free of the walled garden, I stood staring at that forking fourteen-inch gap between the gate and its post again – decorated with muck well past to my knees and missing a shoe – angry as an adder whose naps been disturbed.

Tossing my tattered coat, sweaty scarf, and mud smudged backpack thru the gate first, I slithered thru the slender gap after them.

Ina Von Haeville (pacing at the door): “Took you long enough.”

Ignoring her waspish stare, I concentrated on reassembling my ensemble.

Ina Von Haeville (shepherding me towards the door): “IT’s just on the other side…”

Me (taking a deep breath): “Fantastic, the door’s locked.”

Emitting a derisive laugh, she pointed to a gap in the eave just above my head.

Ina Von Haeville (tapping the woodwork to emphasize her point): “There’s a spare key right here. My grandmother Lily hid one here because she kept locking herself out, those girls never listened to my stories, I’m sure it’s still there.”

Me (staring at decades worth of spider webs clogging the opening): “No. Absolutely not. I’m not reaching blindly into a dirty, spider filled hidey-hole for a key which may or may not be there.”

Ina Von Haeville (wrinkling her nose): “I don’t think anyone will notice the extra dirt.”

Me (exhaling very slowly): “I got filthy following you.”

Ina Von Haeville (eyeing me): “Really? I just thought this was your normal state.”

Seriously? Who did she know that sported this much mud spread about their person? Did she miss my swearing a blue streak while leading me thru Muck Duck Pond? (Yes, with real-life ducks, Mallards if I’m not mistaken.) 

Me (taking a deep breath): “I’m going to try a window.”

I studied the back of the house while putting some space between us striving to reign in my annoyance. Why didn’t I think of this plan previously? With the number of panes missing from the windows, there must be a gap near a latch. 

Ina Von Haeville (chillily): “We don’t have time for this.”

Me (flipping open my pocket knife while approaching the most likely candidate): “Black Widow bites may not bother you, but they do me.”

Ina Von Haeville: “Fine.”

A second later, goosebumps swept across my skin, followed by the sound of metal tinkling against stone.

Ina Von Haeville (pointing to walk): “The key was right where I said it was.”

Me (out of the corner of my eye, I spied it lying on the pavement): “So it was.”

Pulling a hankie from my pocket, I poured half of the tin of hand-cut sea salt into the center. Then, I placed the grungy key into the mound and started rubbing the grime away. Unhappy with the pause in our progress, Ina Von Haeville pushed past me into the kitchen, where she resumed her pacing.

Eventually, I followed her inside. Keeping my ears peeled for any telltale sounds of the search party’s presence, I met her in the middle of the floor.

Ina Von Haeville: “Do you promise never to allow any of those girls to lay a finger on what I’m going to give you?”

Me (shivering in the cold despite myself): “I promise.”

Ina Von Haeville (weighing my words): “Over there is the broom closet, open the door. On the left-hand side of the top shelf, there’s small knothole missing its center, hook your little finger through it, and pull down.”

Standing on my tiptoes, I groped around until I discovered the aforementioned knot and yanked – fighting the unoiled hinge – it finally gave way with one protracted squeak (which I’m ninety percent certain didn’t come from catching a mouse’s tail in the mechanism). 

Revealing…a secret nook? 

I suppose every old house has at least one – a removable baseboard, hollow stair, a hidden closet shelf – why not a secret compartment in a broom closet? 

Question is what’s inside? Coins, stamps, needles, buttons, or a tarot card collection – the possibilities abound…

Ina Von Haeville: “IT’s three inches to your left.”

The answer? A dense film of dust (which only enhanced my current spot-on impression of Pigpen from Peanuts – another of my funny pages faves) and one small wooden box.

Huh.

Not what I was expecting, but it makes sense. Aunt Pearl gave me something similar the day I moved into Nevermore’s Caretaker’s Cottage – only mine is made of tin.

Ina Von Haeville (trumpeting): “The last Von Haeville tradition left.”

After using my slightly soiled hankie to wipe away as much of the grime as it would hold, I opened it up, much to my companion’s delight.

Ina Von Haeville: “The Von Haeville secret family recipes! Lily’s blue ribbon winning quince jelly, Herman’s famous mornay sauce, all of them. Even the apple pie recipe that won me first place at the state fair! Every Von Haeville is given a box on their sixteenth birthday, this is the last copy, and I’m giving it to you.”

Me (quietly): “Thank you, but why me?”

Ina Von Haeville (wreathed in her first genuine smile): There isn’t any other way of keeping our recipes out of the dustheap; either the girls would toss them like they did David’s or the wreckers will destroy them when they pull down the house. I’d rather they get used by someone who obviously enjoys eating…

The last part of her sentence was lost under what sounded like a herd of turtles heading our way.

Ina Von Haeville: “They must have taken the back stairs! Quick, hide It!”

Without a word, I slipped her secret family recipe box into my pack and zipped it closed. Then did a quick scan of the kitchen – an unmistakable muddy line lead the eye to the closet.

Well, that won’t due….

Ina Von Haeville (flabbergasted): “What on earth are you doing?”

Ignoring her, I continued to channel my inner Billy and ran around the kitchen like a chicken with its’ head cut off – leaving a dotted line in my wake – as my shoe and sock were still sopping from my trek thru Muck Duck Pond.

Obfuscation complete, I waited for Beatrice and her search party to join us.

2.14.b Jade Colored Glasses

2.14 Jade colored glasses

If the Emerald City ever possessed an abandoned cemetery, this is precisely what it would look like. 

The only difference? Rather than the gleam of emeralds arresting the eye, lichens and mosses mimicked the jeweled tones made famous by that legendary city (and entirely engulfed every headstone). The lack of those brilliant precious stones, as we don’t actually live in the land of Oz, is probably for the best. Since it significantly reduces the chances of grave robbers raiding the place. On the flip side, if a frieze of emeralds rimmed the central burial or statue’s plinth, might have kept the tenants of this family plot on someone’s radar.

Seriously, if the entrance is any indication, no one’s visited this place in forty years. 

“They’re pulling our legacy apart for money, it’s a disgrace, I know. But I can’t stop them, Maud.”

Catching me in the midst of a spider shimmy, I turned towards the sour voice and spied a woman in a rose-colored silk suit sitting primly on a variegated green bench. 

Fantastic. Another woman wearing pink.

Our Lady of the Rose Suit (hands clenched into fists): “How can I save it, Maud?”

Her vinegary tone didn’t impart any warm fuzzies. 

Thankful for the thick layer of evergreen fir needles underfoot, I took a couple silent steps to my left, following her gaze trying to gain a glimpse of the elusive Maud and….nothing. So on the upside, she hadn’t pounced on (or in fact acknowledge) me after my unceremonious eruption into the verdant family plot. 

On the downside, she appeared to be talking to herself – which never bodes well.

Our Lady of the Rose Suit (lips puckered): “Yes, they’ve emptied the library.”

Taking advantage of her disregard, I scrutinized Our Lady of the Rose Suit carefully. Her accessories (a matching rose-colored pillbox hat & rhinestone-studded cat-eye glasses and white gloves) plus the cut of her clothes reminded me of the illustrations on early 1950s Simplicity Patterns. 

(I’m familiar with them due to spending time in Aunt Pearl’s sewing room. Being a Home Ec. Teacher and packrat – she’s kept all of her, and my Great Aunt’s sewing patterns – under the premise of everything old is new again, eventually.)

Coupling this sartorial impression with her rigid posture and general air, Our Lady of the Rose Suit struck me as a woman who required an introduction before saying more than a hello or commenting on the weather. (Not unlike Ms. Hettie – the sourest lemon on any tree.) 

Which means, at minimum, I need her name.

Gazing at the dozen and a half moss encrusted gravestones, I wiggled my toes in my shoes, hoping they’d give me my usual shortcut. But instead, and despite the fact, my sneakers had finally stopped squelching wetly with each step, they persisted in their impression of icicles. Fantastic.

Our Lady of the Rose Suit: “They’ve ordered the molding, panels and cabinets stripped out next.”

Okay, fine, I don’t need them to figure this out. I possess other skills.

Pulling out a small notebook, pencil and pocket knife from my pack (while palming a small tin of high-quality hand-cut sea salt, just in case), I used the first two items to sketch out the layout of the Von Haeville family plot, then numbered the stones on my rough map.

Stepping over the fallen fir bough to my left, whilst keeping a weather eye and half an ear on Our Lady of the Rose Suit, I knelt down in front of the second stone on my list. Using my pocket knife, I skimmed the emerald green coating from the marker’s face revealing, “David Von Haeville, Loving Brother, Husband, and Father 1890 – 1977”. 

Crap. 

She didn’t shift an inch in response to my actions – not that I want her to pounce mind you – but ninety-nine percent of Residents take an interest in any activity near their genesis points, especially if no one’s popped by in a while. 

Our Lady of the Rose Suit: “No, I never moved it.”

Recording the epithet on David’s stone into my notebook, I crab-walked to stone number three. Using the same process as before, I scraped away the grave moss and recorded what lay beneath. Then repeated the same process until a bright current flickered across my fingers on lucky number fourteen (lucky because that meant she started off as a Resident). 

Peeling away the thin green rind, I discovered Our Lady of the Rose Suit’s name – Ina Von Haeville. Weirdly, only Ina’s name was etched into the stone, nothing else.

Ina Von Haeville (fists bouncing slightly off her lap): “Yes, it’s the last one left unsullied by their influence.”

Now the rubber meets the road – let’s see how aware she really is…

Sitting back on my heels, I closed my eyes, took several measured breaths, leaned forward, and placed my hand back on Ina’s marker. Ignoring the electricity sparking over my fingers, I concentrated directly on Ina’s Vita. No stinging or biting, unlike the last pink-clad woman who’s Vita caused my arm to go numb. But it did contain a few discordant notes, less than I expected, characteristic of an Errant or Resident suffering from loneliness and/or isolation. 

Ina Von Haeville (voice disconcertingly close): “What do you think you’re doing.”

2.14.a Another Reason To Loath This Day?

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SPIDER! 

Spider! Spider! Spider!

Spider in my hair!

Crap! Crap! Crap! 

Scrubbing the dewy web I’d walked thru energetically from my face, I started inwardly cursing the lack of essential maintenance to the manor. A second later, when my nerve ending perceived eight legs scuttling over my scalp, my curses turned audible (and rather blue), while I attempted to dissuade the arachnid from remaining on my person. Which sounds way classier than reality – which featured more face scrubbing, hair fluffing, hasty outwear removal, and thrashing about trying to fling Aragog off me. (Aragog, Hagrid’s spider friend from Harry Potter and the approximate size of the bloodthirsty predator I’d spied lying in wait in its’ web a nanosecond before my forward momentum carried me thru it.)

Shaking my coat out vigorously and venting, “Forking spiders! Why are there always spiders? And why can’t Errants ever be easy? And those stupid forking Von Haeville sisters! Locking me out!…”

“Loathsome children, no better than their mother, really. No appreciation for family traditions…” The woman’s voice trailed off into a low murmur.

The unexpected agreement from a reedy voice the other side of the wildly untrimmed hedgerow cut my own spleen short. Standing on my tiptoes and craning my neck, I managed to catch a glimpse of a rusty row of wrought iron spear tops peaking thru the foliage. The sight of the barrier lifted an invisible weight off my shoulder (or perhaps my fanged foe leapt off, either way, they felt better), Beatrice mentioned in passing something about a family plot on the property didn’t she? 

Taking a deep breath, I pulled my coat on and gave my backpack and scarf a good shake – just in case. (I do not want that brown behemoth moving in and making my ear canal its new abode.) 

Standing back, I scrutinized the tall feral hedge. There two yards ahead, an inch of burnt orange poking out – a gate latch. Keeping my eyes firmly fixed on the oxidized iron, I took a careful step forward, unwilling to tangle with more artfully strung gossamer spun at exactly face height…

….Again…..Today. 

In point of fact, I’d walked thru three other (hopefully) unoccupied webs while dodging mossy statues, thorny bushes, and standing water. The water, a well-camouflaged puddle, I’d actually encountered first and avoided as successfully as that last bit of spider silk. The resulting moist pant cuffs, socks, and shoes (if you’re going to do something, do it well) lead to me stumbled around this unintended labyrinth for the better part of an hour trying to hone in on my first impression. 

Numb toes aren’t frustrating at all.

Also not frustrating? The hedge. Left to its own devices for so long, its’ swallowed up the open gate and the entrance once cut into it. 

Fantastic, now I get to go where spiders live (webs are just where they hunt). Stupid. Forking. Day.

Psyching myself up, I plunged headlong into and thru the green garden border. (Probably not the wisest thing to do, diving in headlong, but the thought of hidden spiders threatened to dissolve my nerve.)

2.13.a She’s A Full-On Monet

2.14 Mouldy Manor

(This was way back in the house, straight ahead is the kitchen.)

Ever catch sight of a vintage car off in the distance motoring in your direction? Like a 1955 PV544 Volvo, all rounded curves and chrome accents (substitute any vintage vehicle here – I happen to appreciate old Volvos and pink VW Rabbits). Your mind fills in the details the distance renders indistinct, thus allowing your eyes to perceive a thing of beauty rolling closer.

But…

(There’s always a but….)

The nearer the throwback to bygone days comes, the more knackered it appears – the grill’s held in place by a length of wire, the entire body is pockmarked with shallow rust flecked dents and several visibly distinct stratum of grime augment the chipped/scratched paint.

Cinderella turns into an Ugly Stepsister in a matter of moments.

Apparently, this phenomenon can also afflict substantially sized manors – because not even the chirping bluebird of spring could put the bloom back on this sprawling heap of lichen smothered stone and peeling paint I pulled the Princess in front of. 

Me (ogling): “This house looks like the Lavender Lady’s destitute cousin!”

Beatrice (looking up): “It does rather.”

Me (resisting the urge to count every missing pane of glass): “Who are the people standing with Mr. John Dupree?” 

Beatrice (following my gaze): “For curiosity’s sake, are you going to keep referring to Dupree so formally?”

Me (chuckling): “Yes. Unless you happen to know his middle name?”

Beatrice (lips twitching): Unfortunately, I’m unaware of his middle name and those of today’s clients, the Von Haeville sisters, and their lawyer Mr. Ottoman.

Sighing in disappointment at Beatrice’s lack of information, I concentrated on wedging the Princess into a tight spot at the end of the turnaround without grazing the bumper of the stately black four-door in front of me while leaving enough room for my roommate to open her door. 

Me (engaging the handbrake and shutting off the ignition): “I’ll wait here until you’re finished….”

Thinking I’d use the time to peruse the images of Little Ben’s plans on my tablet, I started to dip my hand between the console and my seat when Beatrice redirected my plans by refilling my lap with blueprints. Which she then requested my help in rerolling – the entire twenty-five pounds worth. 

The steering wheel didn’t prove a hindrance at all.

Ten minutes and one paper cut later, Beatrice then “invited” me to meet her clients (in other words: double as her pack mule). While working up a sweat, hauling reams of assorted paper products, and an extensive tool kit up the weedy drive, I contemplated Beatrice and Wood’s divergent definitions of light-duty (btw my chest felt fine).

On the upside, the greeting I received from the statuesque blonde Von Haeville sister cooled me right off…

Miss Von Haeville (regarding me with the same expression I reserve for a wedge of Limburger cheese): “And you are?”

Beatrice (smoothly cutting in): “This is my girl Friday.”

Mrs. Von Haeville, the Elder (and designated spokeswoman of the three sisters apparently): “Miss…Miss…I don’t think I caught your last name.”

Beatrice (with a smile that showed all her teeth): “Just call me Ms. Beatrice.”

Mrs. Von Haeville, the Elder (face flushing): “Fine. Ms. Beatrice, the presence of an assistant here today, is entirely unacceptable…”

Huh. I’ve never heard anyone emphasize a word like that outside a costume drama because it didn’t take a linguistic anthropologist to decipher that ‘assistant’ really meant ‘The Help’. 

Mr. Ottoman (placing a hand on the mature woman’s mink cuff): “Ms. Beatrice, what Mrs. Von Haeville means to say is the family is not comfortable with an additional individual outside you and Mr. Dupree aware of the details of today’s activities.”

Wordier, but not much better.

Beatrice (in a tone which wouldn’t melt butter): “If you want me to find what you’ve lost, she stays.”

When Mrs. Von Haeville, the Elder, started sputtering (and the other two murmured darkly behind her), I seized my chance to spend the day studying Little Ben’s plans. (Snuggling under matching afghans in the Princess sounded more enjoyable than succumbing to hypothermia under the sister’s frigid stares inside.)

Me (bobbling my burdens): “If you don’t want me in the house while Beatrice works, no problem. Just show me a surface I can set these down on, and I’ll wait in my car until she finishes up.”

Six sets of eyes swiveled my way.

Mrs. Von Haeville the Elder (issuing a curt nod): “That’s acceptable.” 

Beatrice (saccharine smile aimed at the Elder): “Why don’t you take a stroll around the back garden instead? Get some fresh air? There’s even a fenced family plot if you’re interested. I cleared the area two weeks ago. Interestingly, the same day I requested these blueprints – that were couriered over this morning.”

Mr. Ottoman (glancing between his indignant client, my unblinking roommate, and me): “That’s a fair request. Who wants to sit in a car all day? Why don’t we head inside and get started…”

The next half-hour featured much toe-tapping and harumphing while the three of us set down and up Beatrice’s plans in the musty, cavernous foyer. When we finally finished, Miss Limburger escorted me past an assortment of empty, moldering rooms to the backdoor.

Me (pausing on the threshold): “Any idea how long this will take?”

Miss Limburger (holding the door open): “No.”

Turning back to ask where to find a ladies’ room in this rabbit warren, my nose left a print on the dusty pane of glass set into the closed door (which possibly possesses the only hinges in the entire manor that don’t protest when used). Miss. Limburger, without meeting my wide-eyed gaze (but wearing an infuriating half-smile), threw the deadbolt, turned on her heel, and walked briskly out of sight, leaving my flabbergasted self standing in the midsts of an overgrown kitchen garden, mouth hanging open.

Way to keep it classy lady.

2.12 Don’t Make Me Turn This Car Around

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(Yeah a case and less documents would’ve made today so much easier…)

“Beatrice, seriously, you need to either roll that up or move it onto your lap, otherwise I am stopping the Princess, and you’re going to sit in the backseat!”

Thank the gods Mr. John Dupree had taken one look at the Princess and decided to meet us there! As amusing as it would have been to watch him try to fit his frame in my tiny VW Rabbit (and listen to his overly starch suit crinkle) – I was glad I had the option of shoving Beatrice back there!

Why? I quickly discovered, without ever having once wondered, that I cannot drive with architectural plans strewn over the dash, the stick shift, and propped up against my person! I need to see thru my whole windshield, not just a narrow field – call me silly, but being able to see a granny crossing the road is a real concern at the moment (the members of the Senior Center would not be amused if I hit a fellow octiginarian….).

A variant of this conversation had been going on for the last twenty-five miles.

But in all seriousness, I now understand why Mr. John Dupree made sure I signed a legally binding contract before chauffeuring Beatrice. (Come to think of it I don’t think I’d ever ridden with her before, we usually met up someplace…..well the things you learn on micro-sized road trips.)

It also explains why he hadn’t volunteered for the duty himself and why my salary for a single day’s work was so generous.

“Beatrice, seriously, study another, smaller piece of paper I am begging you, or I am pulling over your choice.” Carefully I started steering the Princess towards the shoulder, devoutly hoping my tires weren’t heading directly at a ditch.

Somewhere from behind the castle of paper, I heard a muttered, “Fine!” This was followed immediately by copious amounts of rustling, which reminded me of squirrels running through the fallen leaves in our backyard. Eventually, Beatrice emerged from behind a plethora of documentation.

“Why don’t you load all this onto your tablet so you can study it easier?”

Capping the highlighter, “Because clients like this count on discretion. They don’t want to risk someone finding out that their dear old great grandad might have left a stash of racy love letters lying around. So they want analog – which means lots of paper.” 

“This doesn’t appear more secure…” Thankfully she finally shifted the blueprints obscuring the windscreen onto her lap.

“It isn’t, but Dupree couldn’t convince them that no one was actually interested enough in their dirty laundry to hack into his servers.” Her voice dry as dust on the subject of today’s clients. Shaking her head, “If they’d drop the original plans off the first time I asked for them, we might have enjoyed the drive.”

Which, now that I could finally witness it in wide angles was rather lovely, all evergreens, frost tipped grass, farm animals and rustic houses. We’d left the outskirts of Rye about fifty minutes ago, and according to my phone, we had another ten to go before we reached our destination. 

Still nosing through the documents, which in concession to my not so muffled grumblings she kept below the dash (but were still resting against my shoulder/thigh/elbow), “I thought you’d be more curious about my other job.”

“I was, right up until you smacked me in the head with a ten-pound roll of paper and then used me as an easel for over an hour.” 

“Yes, that could kill one’s curiosity…” Contrition colored her words (but only a small portion of the papers changed positions).

Noticing (in my delightfully unimpeded peripheral vision) her cheeks turning pink, I threw her a bone, “So why do you need so many architectural drawings?”

Slightly bemused, Beatrice answered, “They tell me where the bones of the house are, which in turn gives me a solid starting point.”

Waiting for a beat, “Starting point? For what?”

“To find what they’ve lost.” 

2.09.a Where Does The Devil Live?

Using subterfuge learned from my seventh grade English teacher Mrs. Krimple (who, when her back was turned, kept tabs on us in the reflection of the window next to the blackboard), I watched Little Ben stop dead in his tracks when he caught sight of me behind the desk. His surprise quickly morphed into suspicion, casting a swift glance over the contents of the conference table, his face filled with relief when he found the papers undisturbed.

Focused on controlling my breathing (no reason to make him wonder why I was huffing and puffing), I continued to feign ignorance at his entrance, then watched his relief fade and irritation grow under my continued silence (taking a page out of chapter seventeen of Wood’s textbook) 

Little Ben (stomping toward me): “What are you doing behind my desk?”

Me (turning to look him in the eye): “Enjoying the view.”

Unwilling to relinquish my place behind the Proprietor’s desk, I leaned a shoulder against the chilly window, ignoring Little Ben’s shooing motions.

Me: “Ben, why did you ask The Naturalist Club and the Historical Society to leave Nevermore?”

Little Ben (stopping at the edge of the desk): “I didn’t ask you up here to discuss my plans.”

Me (the sting of an electrical current sparking over my toes sucking the civility from my voice): “Oh, I’m sure you didn’t, but that’s where we’re starting.”

Gaining a slightly distracting ally, Orin strolled past Little Ben to stand next to me.

Orin (surveying Little Ben): “Do you need help, Caretaker?”

Little Ben (attempting to override my question): “I want to talk about a blip in security.”

Without taking my eyes off Little Ben, I shook my head no once, Orin tapped my shoulder in acknowledgment. 

Orin: “Well, let me know if you do. When you finish up here, can you meet some of us under the Big Cedar?” 

With an acknowledging dip of my chin, Orin departed, and I got down to brass tacks.

Me (glomming onto the title of Little Ben’s pipe-dream-dream-boards): “Does Big Ben know your plans to rebrand Nevermore?”

(Not that I knew what they were, but fifteen feet of poster board denotes some significant changes in the works.)

Little Ben (grinding his teeth): “Dad made me Provisional Proprietor.” 

Me (flatly): That doesn’t answer my question.

Little Ben (defensiveness lacing his voice): “I don’t need to. I’m the Provisional Proprietor. Dad’s letter is there on the desk if you don’t believe me.”

Following his outstretched finger, I spied an envelope sitting in plain sight on the side of the desk (which probably reassured Little Ben that I hadn’t pawed thru his papers), pushing off the window I stepped over and picked it up. Coffee stains covered the entire front, the address reminded me of an inkblot from the Rorschach test, as the liquid had rendered the writing nearly illegible.

Flipping it over, I slid several (shockingly pristine) pages out and started to skim Big Ben’s neat writing. When Little Ben answered his cell, I took advantage of his distraction and took a pic of the letter’s first page (I’d taken pictures of everything else).

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It confirmed Little Ben’s appointment as the Provisional Proprietor, which was hardly surprising, he was Big Ben’s son.

Me: “I don’t doubt he put you in charge, Ben.” 

(I am still surprised that Big Ben rubber-stamped my lay-off, however.)

Little Ben (still distracted by his phone): “So glad we cleared that up. Now, about this security blip. A few weeks back, Dad’s alarm code was used to disarm this building. Obviously, it couldn’t have been him and I’m not sure what happened. The cameras malfunction the same night as well, so they’re no help.”

Ignoring his question for a moment (since I knew what was behind his “security blip”), my mind spun in another direction, on to another explanation for Big Ben’s prolonged absence. 

Big Ben always said he’d only retire when he went toes up. 

Taking advantage of my stupefied silence, Little Ben used his personal space (i.e., bulk) to edge me out from behind the Proprietor’s desk. Taking a seat, he fiddled with his papers for a moment, then waved me towards the guest chair already occupied by my stuff. 

Me (blindly following his invitation): “Ben is your Dad okay? Did he have a heart attack? Stroke? Broke a hip? Cancer?”

Little Ben (on the back foot): “No. No. No. No.”

Me: “Was he in a car accident? Diagnoses with dementia? Blood clots?” 

Little Ben (flummoxed): “No. No. No! Nothing’s happened! You know Pop, he’s healthy as a horse.”

Me (continuing my rapid-fire): “Then where is he?”

Little Ben (defensiveness lacing his voice): “He’s still in New Mexico, working on a project with a buddy, said he needed some extra time to get it up and running, so he made me Provisional Proprietor.”

Me (still fishing): “Does he still call for weekly updates?”

Little Ben (throwing up his hands): “Not weekly. Look, about the security blip, none of the locks were tampered with, nothing was taken or disturbed. I don’t want this happening again, do you have any ideas?”

Deciding he could do more harm if he tried to solve this problem on his own, I outlined some steps to ward off future ‘malfunctions’. Including carrying out long-overdue system maintenance and issuing new alarm codes to all employees. Which, unfortunately, will seriously curb any future surreptitious after-hours undertakings by yours truly. 

Me (closing my eyes and taking a deep breath, I debated my options for a moment): “If you can’t find any evidence of tampering, this is what I would do…”

This day just keeps getting better and better.

2.08 Needs Must When The Devil Drives

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Leaving a still laughing Leo to his work, I entered the stairwell for the fourth time today when the muffled click of kitten heels on hardwood hit my ears, pausing my ascent on the second stair. Only one person wears heels around here…

Lottie (hitting the push bar of the door above): “I’m heading to Sarah’s office now….Yes…Yes, I’ll walk Phoebe up to the lobby to meet you…back in a minute.”

Making a split-second decision, I ducked into the shadowy corner under the stairwell to wait for Lottie to walk past.

When playing hide-and-seek with an unknowing seeker, you can take advantage of more blatant hiding spots. But the fundaments still need following; hold your breath, do your best impression of a statue, attempt to reduce your mass to that of a mouse and chant ‘don’t-see-me-don’t-see-me-don’t-see-me’ in your head. Blending in with your surroundings is a plus, but not always an available option, today all I could do was offer up a silent thanks to past me for choosing to wear a dark woolen coat instead of my bright orange gore-tex.

Not even Lottie could miss my imitation of a pumpkin.

Why am I hiding from Little Ben’s secretary? Leo’s scuttlebutt raised a number of questions, none of which would get answered if we spoke in front of an audience. But in private? Perhaps I could pry out a few. 

(And only a little to do with the fact that Lottie’s the pineapple to my pizza.)

Listening to Lottie descend the stairs, I enacted the principles of a champion hider and was only a little light-headed from the lack of oxygen when she finally past by me and out the door. Counting to five after it swung shut, I scampered swiftly up the stairs (thanking every lucky star in the sky my sneakers had dried enough to stop squeaking). 

In two slightly wheezy (don’t tell Wood) minutes flat, I breezed past Lottie’s empty desk and into Little Ben’s new digs. When my entrance failed to elicit any expletives about barging in unannounced, I leaned back against the door, flipped the lock, and caught my breath.

Usually, the Proprietor’s Office brings a smile to my face. 

With three out of four walls featuring floor-to-ceiling built-in bookcases filled with midnight blue bound books who’s bindings combine to create a mosaic – an unkindness of ravens taking flight from gnarled leafless trees under a full moon in silver filagree. How could you not smile at such a sight? (Big Ben never lends out these books ever – I’ve asked).

But today, this awe-inspiring biblio vista filled me with fury. 

Skirting around a heaping conference table, I confronted the fifteen feet of display boards obscuring my favorite sight in all of Nevermore. 

Well, I found Little Ben’s dream boards…….taped to the shelves. Big Ben will mount his son’s hide to the wall if he damages any of the books.

Intending to find a footstool to determine the damage, my eyes fell away from the offending adhesive and locked onto the papers pasted on the poster boards themselves.  

Panic quickly supplanted ire as the series of adverts, slogans, sketches, maps, and action items, Little Ben had plastered across his unusually professional dream boards, penetrated my brain. If accurate, the bisecting timeline placed Sunny Valley Farm & Pet Cemetery as the first significant step in rebranding Nevermore. 

(Even more curious? How spot-on Leo’s intelligence proved. My termination appeared as an action item dated two months prior to the date Little Ben handed me my pink slip – between other ticked off items of ‘secure financing for MacGregor Farm purchase’ and ‘shut off the boiler in Club House’. Seriously, how does Leo do it?)

Taking a deep breath and steeling my nerves, I focused on the problem at hand – time. Little Ben and/or Lottie could return at anytime since I’d yet to steal my very own TARDIS, I needed a way to examine this in detail later… Whipping out my phone, I started snapping pictures of every slip of paper featured on his Pipe-Dream-Dream-Board. Concentrating on the context and not the content – kept me from getting distracted – because even skimming them caused my insides to wobble about uncomfortably. Rapidly finishing my photo documentation, I turned my camera onto the conference table behind me. 

Avoiding the two obvious workstations (no need to call attention to my unsanctioned scrutiny), I focused on the binders. Trying to keep my hands steady, I photographed the title pages, table of contents, and anything labeled ‘budget’. About the time I started perusing the boxes stacked next to the conference table, the sound of kitten heels accompanied by a heavier tread reached me thru the door. 

With one ear, I listened to Little Ben giving Lottie further instructions, while frantically pulling the tops off the five boxes of promotional materials and stuffing one folder from each in my PULP tote. After replacing the box tops, I pulled the fourteen-foot scarf off my neck and crammed it around the folders in my bag. Then I flew across the room, tossing the tote, my coat, and purse into one of the guest chairs. 

The locked door bought me just enough time to slip behind the Proprietor’s desk and watch (in the reflection of the floor to ceiling windows) Little Ben’s reaction when it dawned on him who’d spent an indefinite amount of unchaperoned time in his office.

Because Leo’s information dovetailed disturbingly with Little Ben’s Pipe-Dream-Dream-Boards to raise one singularly critical question…

Where in the world is Big Ben?

2.01 What The Cat Dragged In

2.01 no promis of fun tonight pic

Mr. Nelson (excitedly babbling): “…your niece and I were passing Nevermore when we saw him…”

Opening the front door, I heard Mr. Nelson’s enthusiastically recounting his sighting of The Grey Man to my Uncle. When he referenced my part in the story, Aunt Pearl stuck her head around the corner. She took one look at me, stepped into the hall, and picked up the phone.

Aunt Pearl (calling into the living room): “Dear, can you take Phoebe into the kitchen? She looks like a mouse the cat played with too long.”

Me (hoping to stop her dialing): “I’m fine…”

Aunt Pearl (into the phone, completely ignoring me): “Can you come over right away? Phoebe looks like she fell down a well….”

The grim set of my Uncle’s mouth when he crossed the threshold distracted me from the unflattering comparisons my Aunt continued to reel off into the phone. Without a word, he tipped his head towards the kitchen. The weight of his gaze was palatable as I shuffled past. 

Uncle (calling over his shoulder): “Help yourself to a bottle in the living room Jordie, I’ll be right back.” 

Mr. Nelson, sensing he no longer commanded anyone’s attention, attempted to follow us into the kitchen.

Uncle (rebuffing him at the door): “We’ll talk after I speak with Phoebe.”

Well, there goes all hope that they’ll let this go.

Uncle (swinging the door shut – I think on Mr. Nelson’s nose – he turned towards me): “Do I need to call Earl?”

I know the bandages on my hands made me look like the walking wounded, but why would he think I needed to talk to Earl? (Earl being a family friend and a detective for the Rye police department.) Please don’t let him be who Aunt Pearl jumped on the phone too…

Me (wearily): “What’s the fuss? I fell down and skinned my hands, like a little old lady, but other than that, I’m fine.”

Uncle (leaning against the kitchen counter and crossing his arms): “That’s the story you’re sticking with?”

Squirming like a twelve-year-old caught stealing apples from the neighbor’s tree (not that I know what that feels like), I nodded.

Uncle: “Go, look at yourself in the mirror.”

Walking over to the pantry door, I opened and stared out my reflection (the day Aunt Pearl went shopping, while wearing her blouse inside-out, saw the installation of mirrors near every exit). How on earth I was going to explain what happened without Uncle calling Earl himself?

The entire left side of my neck, above my collar, was a nasty dark purple color, and I had a feeling I knew exactly how far the bruise extended. To round out my rather colorful look, I had a goose egg on right my temple (where my face smacked into the door?) and the beginnings of quite a shiner just below it. With the white gauze currently obscuring the ends of my arms – I was quite a sight. 

Crap.

Uncle (colorlessly): “Did someone do this to you?”

Me: “I fell. I know it sounds lame, but I promise I’m fine.”

Uncle considered my words. If he didn’t believe me, I knew Aunt Pearl and Earl would feature prominently in my near future. Of course, my Aunt may have jumped the gun if the commotion coming from the front door was any indication. When Wood burst into the room, Gladstone bag in hand, relief, and trepidation (in equal parts) sang thru me.

Uncle (pushing off the counter): “Convince him, I’ll go take care of your Aunt.”

He walked out of the room and left me alone with a very angry Wood.

Wood (quickly surveying the situation): “Take off your shirt.”

Me (flabbergasted): “Excuse me?”

Wood (tightly): “You heard me. Take. Off. Your. Shirt.” 

Me (incredulous): “You are not my doctor.”

That earned me a withering look. 

Wood: “It’s either the hospital or me. Your Aunt will be thrilled to drive you there.”

Me (sulking): “I’m not taking off my bra.”

Knowing that he’d won the battle, he ignored me and started taking medical stuff out of the bag he’d placed on the kitchen table. Stepping slightly behind him, pretending I had some dignity, I grappled with my black vest and button-up. When he turned around, his doctor face was on, but I knew he was absolutely livid. Looking down at my own chest, I understood why. The vivid purple bruise on my neck morphed to an ugly blackish color. It covered almost my entire left side – from shoulder to just below my ribs and halfway across my chest. The delicate pink lacy bra I was wearing (everyone deserves to feel pretty) made the color look even more malignant.

There wouldn’t be any Guaranteed Fun tonight.

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