(I unfortunately lost the credit for this photo – but I did get it from Unsplash but the words are mine.)
(I unfortunately lost the credit for this photo – but I did get it from Unsplash but the words are mine.)
Triumphant returns take many forms, sometimes the hero is heralded with ticker tape and trumpets. Other times it is a restrained nod of a coworker at the office water cooler. If you’re Bilbo Baggins, you’re met by an empty house cleared out by your lamentable relations. Mine? The Senior Center crew (aka my FLYT regulars) met the Princess and I in the Center’s parking lot with a bag of mini doughnuts from Fryed and friendly smiles. (Or in the case of the other Senior Center FLYT driver desperate relief – apparently, they worked him but good while I was gone).
Their warm reception, featuring powdered sugared sustenance, helped dispel a fraction of the blue funk I felt over losing significant ground in my rat hunt.
While happy to see me, The Crew apparently had bigger fish to fry, so after one last demonstration of genial affability, a pat on the hood for the Princess and the arm for me, they returned to their ruminations. The air around them was so pensive I don’t think I could lighten the mood if I tried. Though I’d like to imagine making a ludicrous announcement – such as an intent to swap my stock chauffeur’s uniform with a pink-polka-dot bikini and sparkly silver Ugg boots – might at least have drawn a chuckle.
So instead of making a funny, I kept my mouth full and ears open to the grist they were milling.
Mr. Fernandez (confirming something Mr. Eccles said that I didn’t hear): “My daughter told me the same thing.”
Happily, before I pinged their radars by asking a followup question, Mrs. Lebondowsky, who’d huffed and puffed her way from the bus stop to the same cluster of The Crew I’d just joined, asked it for me.
Mrs. Lebondowsky: “Told you what Albert? Hello Phoebe, sorry I’m late, dear. My Frank couldn’t find his glasses. Turns out, he’d tucked them in my carryon and forgot to take them out when we got home yesterday.”
Mr. Fernandez: “Elena told me the Naturalists Club and the Rye Historical Society voted to band together last Friday.”
(Band together? On one side, you have detail-oriented individuals with an in-depth knowledge of Rye highly. On the other, you have a leadership group with literally decades of experience in civil disobedience and a pack of fearless kids backing them up. I have a feeling neither side will go gently into that good night. Bad news for Little Ben.)
Mrs. Lebondowsky (eyes wide): “My Frank and I missed a meeting! What happened?”
Mr. Nelson (jumping in): “The City put up construction and inspection boards in front of their buildings.”
Mrs. Lebondowsky: “What does that mean?”
Mr. Nelson: According to the review boards? It looks like Little Ben wants to redevelop the Nevermore by tearing down both buildings and chopping down a good chunk of The Woodlands.
(So, Little Ben’s rebranding scheme is starting in earnest. Crap! I need to find Big Ben faster.)
Mrs. Lebondowsky (turning to me): “Can you stop this?”
Mr. Fernandez answered for me as I’d just stuffed my face with a mini doughnut.
Mr. Fernandez: “That’s not fair Vi, you know that Junior laid her off for no good reason.”
(This is why I stay on their good side: I never mentioned why I started driving for FLYT. But given their brains, silver-haired camouflage, and spare time I’m not surprised they ferreted out why I started my career as a chauffeur. They can dig up pretty much anything they want about anyone in Rye…….wait that gives me an idea…)
Mrs. Lebondowsky (wringing her hands): “Your right, I know your right…I apologize, Phoebe.”
Me (thickly): “Don’t worry about it. I’d ask the same question if I were in your shoes.”
Putting a pin in my bolt of inspiration, I nudged the conversation onto more material matters after Mrs. Chen was nearly run over by a car pulling into the Center’s lot.
Me (raising my voice): “Okay guys flip open your phones, I’m going to switch my ap to on duty so you can book rides with the Princess and I again!”
After The Crew located their readers and phones, they counted me down (just like New Year’s Eve) from five until I swiped my FLYT meter to ‘on’. Twenty-five minutes of furious activity (and a bit of swearing) ensued as they filled the bulk of my regular FLYT hours for the next few weeks – which warmed the cockles of my heart even better than the doughnuts (as rent is due with depressing regularity.)
Mrs. Lebondowsky scored my first block of time for the day.
Me (buckling my seatbelt): “So what’s our first stop? Pins & Needles?”
(Rye’s finest fiber gallery & fabric store and her home away from home.)
Mrs. Lebondowsky (her ears turning pink): “Well, I think I need to stop by the Naturalist Society first. I’ve drafted a few crochet patterns for the fundraiser, and I should drop them off so they can add them to the shopping site immediately.”
Me (turning the engine over): “No problem, Mrs. Lebondowsky.”
Turning out of the Senior Center’s parking lot, Mrs. Lebondowsky switched the radio on and hummed happily along with KARB’s current musical selection – Ravel’s Bolero – for a moment before she let lose a quiet chuckle.
Mrs. Lebondowsky: “Thank you, dear, for not turning a hair at my request, Dear Frank really hates it when I’m a nosey parker.”
Me (grinning with her): “No problem, Mrs. Lebondowsky.”
As much as I love the Princess, the car in the new FLYT ad is drool worthy!
You should have seen the general store/diner/butcher/post office owner’s face when I asked for fifty bucks worth of their homemade marshmallows at seven a.m.
Sarah’s order filled an entire box.
Their marshmallows are sold by the pound and it turns out fluff & stuff doesn’t weigh much. It took full pans of raspberry, chocolate, ginger, cherry lime, poppyseed, vanilla, pineapple, pumpkin spice and apple cinnamon to fill the fifty dollar favor. Adding to their legendary start to a random Monday morning, I also purchased another fifty bucks worth of assorted brightly colored homemade hard candy.
The Princess smelled like the weirdest fruit basket ever.
A half-hour, one hundred dollars, two bemused clerks and many empty trays later the Princess and I were bopping along and listening to the tunes Mrs. Schmit (librarian extraordinaire) had recommended I check out. While they didn’t fall within my usual musical preferences, I found myself enjoying them none the less. In any event, the cd’s were preferable to the white noise my radio currently wanted to pump out.
The tunes, the road, and the scenery accomplished what my pillows were unable too.
Quiet my mind.
Opening my window the chilly air smacked me in my face and made me feel refreshed, despite last night’s fitful sleep (and when I say chilly I mean single digits – I was lucky not to have snow swirling thru the window). So with a song in my heart and candy in my mouth, I wound my way to work.
The problem with putting your worries on the back burner? Small things can slip past you.
Just past seven pm Mr. Nelson, my last scheduled fare of the day, brought the errant detail to my attention, “Would you mind if I flipped the radio over to the news?”
Huh. I’d been enjoying Mrs. Schmit’s musical selections so much that I’d never switched over to the radio when I’d descended from my marshmallow mountain expedition (and since it was only slightly warmer in the lowlands, in the teens, I’d left the candy in my car all day. I’d cut my timing a bit fine this morning. The aroma elicited some entertaining commentary from my passengers).
Pondering which of Mrs. Schmit’s selections was my favorite, I listened with half an ear to the deep timber of KARB’s news reader starting on today’s headlines: “The Rye city council approve the University’s expansion project. The Rye Art Museum rediscovered a Renoir painting lost since 1928. But first, Rye police released the remains of Tiffany Grindle today. No word yet if her memorial service will be open to the public. Her body was discovered…..”
The buzzing in my ears drowned out the rest of the story. Gripping the wheel with sweaty palms, my seat belt tightening against my chest as I barely stopped in time for the red light in front of me.
She was in Nevermore.
The Woman In White was in Nevermore.
And I had a fare.
Crapity, crap, crap, crap!
“Are you okay? You are very pale and breathing hard…” Mr. Nelson’s question broke thru the sheer panic enveloping me in a way the blaring horns behind me hadn’t. It seems the light had turned green again.
I have to get to Nevermore.
“Do you have any plans tonight?” Spinning the Princess’s wheel, I made a u-turn in the intersection and put my foot down hard on the accelerator.
Mr. Nelson hesitated a moment before answering, “Nothing special….”
Aiming for cheery, “Fantastic! How would you like to eat some marshmallows and read a book while I take care of an emerg…urgent matter? And your next six trips are free.”
Violating Rye speeding laws, I cut a corner to shave a few seconds off my travel time to Nevermore, “Yup marshmallows and the new Deanna Raybourn mystery.”
Not sure how a seventy-two-year-old army veteran would enjoy a historical mystery featuring a lepidopterist – but it’s what I got.
“Your Becker’s niece aren’t you?” His voice filled with speculation.
Wrenching the steering wheel, taking a hard right, “That’s me.”
The Princess is many things, but high performance she isn’t. Maybe if I invest in some good cornering tires….
“You tell him we’re even and I’ll wait in the car for you.”
“Fantastic! You don’t spook easily, do you?”
Day six of my fourteen hour fortnight.
FLYT held a general meeting last Friday which I missed due to the Fall Foliage Tour. It turns out one of the drivers came in sick with – swine, C, Spanish, bird, #10 – some variety of nasty flu which knocked out almost the entire fleet of FLYT drivers. Not wanting another rideshare program to “muscle into their territory” they asked the last standing healthy drivers to extend their service hours for a rather nice bonus, plus base pay, and tips.
When FLYT emailed me about Flu-Gate, I immediately contacted the Senior Center. I wasn’t the only driver the members used, but I didn’t want someone going without services because they couldn’t get a ride. It turns out one of the Center’s members did scheduling for Rye Memorial Hospital for forty years and hasn’t lost her touch. With sacred promises made by all not to fork up her work, she set a two-week schedule (for me, another driver who works the Center and the members). I think she may have issued a veiled threat somewhere to ensure compliance – hard to remember now – it feels like a hundred years ago.
At this point, I am not sure if the Princess’s driver’s seat is taking on my butt shape or my butt is taking on seat shape. These are the things I wonder about now. Either way, it’s been firmly planted since Tuesday morning.
Last night I dreamt scientist created a bottomless cup of coffee.
Even with all this driving, I’ve managed to wedge a tiny bit of multitasking into my day – monitoring the radio waves. Without a single fib I’ve managed to keep the Princess’s radio dial planted on KARB 98.1, Rye’s jazz/classical station – ‘Giving you energy thru the day!’. My fares grumbled a bit at first (they love their rock music) but gave in when they figured out I was working from 6 am to 8 pm helping them out.
Why am I on tenterhooks at the top of each hour? Because KARB’s news desk delights in scooping The Daily Harvest every chance they get (a feud which according to my Aunt Pearl dates back to an incident in high school between the Newspaper’s Managing Editor and Radio Station’s Manager). In the last year they’d been the first to report Stripper Gate (former mayor taking out visiting officials to said establishments), the apprehension of the Cascadia Con-man and the reacquisition of six lost Dutch Masters by RAM (Rye Art Museum and it turns out the paintings weren’t lost so much as stolen).
KARB is the only non-news station, west of the Mississippi, which employs four full-time investigative reporters – I’m pretty sure. So I figured if/when the sourest member of the Thin Green Line follows up on my materials – they will broadcast it first (it’s harder to monitor the Daily Harvest, traffic cops frown on reading & driving).
Are drive-thru egg rolls are a thing?
If they aren’t, they really should be because my shift’s finally over and I can’t go home yet and I’d really like some egg rolls or Mongolian beef with fried rice or pad thai or pho or banh mi or sushi.
Visions of wontons dance through my head…
Wouldn’t be the first time I ate dinner whilst wandering through Nevermore. According to my phone Rye doesn’t have a drive-thru Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese or Japanese restaurants, drat.
At the time I didn’t realize how serendipitous running into Joseph at The Crossroads was. When I’d taken care of Nevermore, we spoke daily, no big deal. Now that I’m out in the cold it’s not so easy, which fills me with an uncontrollable urge to kick Little Ben in the shins.
Why you ask is my chest crammed with a thousand angry bees who’d like a word with my former manager? Since returning from the Fall Foliage Tour seven and a half days ago, I’ve been unable to locate Joseph and let him know about the looming problem getting ready to land in Nevermore. Not wanting to alarm the Residents I’ve kept the news to myself but he needs to know, and we need to fix on a solution.
Why not ask them where Joseph is? Or pass a message onto him? Since my exile, this might lead to panic amongst the Residents, which could mean some uncomfortable nights for Little Ben in the cottage.
So I’d worked out a cunning plan which cut the Residents out of the equation entirely. Regrettably, it requires my butt to remain planted in the driver’s seat for a few more hours (hopefully only minutes, but I’m not holding my breath). My bright idea? I will sit in the Princess, in Nevermore until Joseph finds me – listening to the radio – drinking coffee.
Without egg rolls.
The First Annual Fall Foliage Tour (even with its stressful bits) turned out rather grand.
Sam got a fat tip from me (for obvious reasons), from Wood (for providing surreptitious Bundesliga scores) and from Beatrice (for carrying her luggage up the trail to the Princess).
Beatrice earned eternal appreciation by finding Wood’s lost keys (again), the danish filching kid’s glasses, his dad’s book and the staff’s unofficial mascot Beans the beagle (which netted a ten percent discount on our rooms).
Sarah loved ditching her extended family for the weekend (she’s number seven of eight kids and still lives with her folks).
Wood finally taught Laney bridge, and he’s now entertaining high hopes of hosting his own bridge night (Laney’s not sold on the idea).
Laney merely enjoyed a weekend sans soccer.
We all decided the Second Fall Foliage Tour needed to happen next October.
Even better? I found an absurd little spot to mail my missive on the way home, a general store/diner/butcher/post office. An establishment where locals congregate and tourists invariably stop at (since it houses the only “public” bathroom on a thirty mile stretch of road). What sealed the deal for me was the fact there I didn’t see a single camera anywhere. The envelope might smell of bacon (from the diner) when the Prickliest Ranger receives it, but I didn’t think anyone could trace it beyond these walls.
Unbeknownst to the Unfriendliest Ranger, he had exactly three weeks to work up the nerve to investigate the tip I’d sent him. If he let me down, Rye authorities and reporters would find themselves in the midst of an informational deluge until someone finally decided to take a hike. Not a flawless plan, but the best one I got.
Which gave me a bit lead time before news broke about the contents of the cairn.
When we returned to the Lavender Lady, I ignored my impending date with the washing machine (my luggage was filled with the stuff) and headed back outside to take care of the Princess.
When we’d stopped at the idiosyncratic general store, Beatrice and Sarah fell in love with its candy counter. Where they indulged their sweet tooth (or teeth in this case) by purchasing homemade snow caps, skittles, lemon drops, licorice, taffy, sweet tarts, gummy bears, peanut brittle, toffee, candied flowers, caramel apples, and marshmallows. I think the store made their daily numbers just off their sugar rush. The upshot of having two friends indulge their inner nine-year-olds? Besides witnessing them inflict giant tummy aches on themselves? They ended up filling my car with a wealth of candy-related detritus.
Tomorrow being Monday and all, I needed to get The Pink Princess ready for work, especially since my FLYT passengers absolutely love her. They’d be shocked and dismayed if they saw her in this state. So spending the rest of the afternoon cleaning my car seemed wise.
On the plus side, it allowed me to avoid listening to my roommate’s groans. She’s currently curled up on the couch cradling a bottle of bismuth.
The downside? It summoned a giant pain in my……
Ms. Hettie: “People in this neighborhood don’t need to know about your appalling eating habits.”
Me (barely missing the door jamb with my head when I stood up too quickly): “Well, they’ll just think I’m colorful.”
A fist full of skittles wrappers disappeared into the garbage bag I was filling up while I inwardly cursed the stealth of soft soled shoes.
Ms. Hettie (sniffing loudly): “Isn’t there someplace else you can do this?”
Me (trying not to give her an opening): “Nope.”
Several fast food containers followed the candy wrappers into the bag, continuing on with my task while trying to ignore my landlady. I wonder if I needed to monitor Beatrice to make sure she didn’t fall into a diabetic coma. Or at the very least I could supply her with a bucket…
Ms. Hettie (sensing my inattention croaked louder): “That cousin of yours was hardly here this weekend.”
Me (standing up again to peer over the Princess’s ragtop): “Really? I’ll keep your observations in mind.”
Ms. Hettie’s enviable rosy cheeks almost hid the blush which crept across her nose. At least she hadn’t called the cops on Robbie thinking he was a prowler (I’d had visions).
Ms. Hettie (undeterred): “If you both go out of town again, make sure to tell me when you’ll be back.”
Making a noncommittal sound I hunkered down, trying to fish the last crumpled candy wrapper from under the driver’s seat. She’d want a full itinerary next. Funny thing is I don’t think she’s anxious about being alone in the Lavender Lady.
Ms. Hettie (working back to her original complaint and walking around to address her comments to my rump): “Well if you insist on cleaning this car out here, be quick about it.”
Me (failing in my efforts not to rise to her bait, I sat back on my heels): “If I you hadn’t stopped by, I’d be much farther along.”
This earned a hairy eyeball from Ms. Hettie, who finally left me in peace, I assume to reacquaint herself with the contents of an oubliette. Who on earth did she think could see me back here? Besides herself and Beatrice?
When the car no longer crinkled (it did smell like a cross between candy floss and windex) I decided to remove the fine film of dirt and bugs encrusting the pink paint. Choosing to save a few pennies and irritate my landlady further (an added bonus) I washed her myself. Being a completionist, I decided to make her shine so out came the wax. When I finished The Pink Princess positively sparkled (though the battery operated dewdrop lights I strung up inside helped).
Even better than a clean car?
I finally figured out where the external light switches were located – no more stumbling up a dim walk for me!
Mr. Grindle lived on the opposite edge of the Old Town and his destination (according to my FLYT driver app) just over a mile away. When I pulled up to the curb, I spied a silver-haired man in his fifties. When he turned to lock the door I knew why he’d called a car – his left leg was completely encased in a plaster cast. His breath bellowed in front of him while he huffed and puffed down the walk to the car (the cold air made him look like a dragon). I felt the previous week’s masterclass of levering people into and out of the Princess would come in handy here (a VW Rabbit, no matter how cute – is not the car of choice for those with old or broken bones).
Mr. Grindle (chuckling): “Nice hat.”
Me (touching me head, I’d forgotten about my chauffeur’s cap – I smiled): “My regulars like it.”
Mr. Grindle (smiling and skating over his hat snark): “Thanks for the ride. I can’t drive until this cast comes off and I have to attend this dinner.”
Me (opening the passenger side door): “No problem. I am glad to drive you, though I won’t be available later.”
Talking became technical for a moment while I helped Mr. Grindle translate the laws of physics into practical application which allowed him to fit comfortably to the Princess’s passenger seat. I hustled to the driver’s side (after stowing his crutches in the back) while he settled in for the short ride.
Me (puffing a bit): “So how’d you hurt your leg?”
Mr. Grindle (shaking his head and laughing at himself): “A rake jumped under my feet. I got tangled up and fell hard on my leg. Wish it was from something more interesting than that. Makes me sound like an old man.”
Me (quietly laughing with him while tapping my phone for directions): “Accidents are invariably silly or mundane. Remember when the President choked on a pretzel? With the Secret Service all around? No one ever comes off sounding like Fred Astaire.”
Mr. Grindle: “I suppose. Maybe I can make something better up?”
Not needing my encouragement, Mr. Grindle started entertaining various less plausible, but far more amusing scenarios to explain his current state. My attention diverted from the funny fabrications when an electric current arced across my toes. Startled I looked up and caught a reflection in my review mirror – a woman in her early twenties sat amongst the kitsch in my backseat staring at Mr. Grindle.
The Woman: “He murdered me you know.”
Mr. Grindle: “I do need to get to the dinner by seven thirty, so if we could get going….”
His words broke through her rather stunning declaration (and my stinging toes).
Me (turning the car over): “No problem, sir.”
Keeping my eyes fixed on the road, my hands in the ten and two position.
Me: “So how long will you be there?”
The Woman: “Forever. He buried me deep.”
Mr. Grindle: “The dinner is only suppose to last until nine.”
Me (changing plans): “Would you like me to wait for you?”
The Woman: “I waited but no one ever found me.”
Mr. Grindle (surprised): “I thought you said you would be unavailable later.”
Me (thinking on the fly): “A couple of hours isn’t very long. Plus you can make a quick escape if you need to.”
The Woman: “I tried to escape, but he shot me in the back.”
Mr. Grindle: “If it isn’t any trouble, it would be nice not to have to wait.”
Me: “No trouble at all, I can read in the car as easily as at home.”
The Woman: “I didn’t know he meant trouble when I found him in camp.”
Mr. Grindle (shifting in his seat, trying to get into his coat pocket – I think): “Do I need to do anything in FLYT…”
Me: “No, I will take care of it.”
The Woman: “He took care of everything, no one ever suspected.”
The ride ended almost as soon as the conversation did – I thanked whatever god who heeded my prayer (I didn’t care which). The Woman fell silent when we did, her focus on Mr. Grindle – much like when a cat catches you in a staring contest – never wavered. To my profound relief she never notice my furtive glances in her direction. I pulled into the driveway Mr. Grindle pointed out and helped him unfold from a sitting to an upright position – while assuring him all he had to do was call when he was ready to leave.
When I got back into the car The Woman was gone.
One of my first FLYT fares – a nice lady of a certain age wearing (you guessed it) diamonds, pearls and the cutest pillbox hat – wanted me to drop her off at this door. Not a clue what lays beyond the threshold, but she confidently strode (in sensible heels) thru the door.
I think my career with FLYT might prove more interesting than I first supposed…