Still in shock that T.V. dinners are Laney’s secret vice – Wood set over this photo as proof! Though the second photo makes me wonder if she’s alone in this vice…
Still in shock that T.V. dinners are Laney’s secret vice – Wood set over this photo as proof! Though the second photo makes me wonder if she’s alone in this vice…
Pulling into a parking spot in front of the Rye Regional Airport, I looked over at my first passenger in a little over a month and smiled. Beatrice, wearing nearly opaque sunglasses, leaned against the Princess’s window fast asleep, her neck twisted in an angle I’m sure will prove less than pleasant upon waking. Trying to inspire her into consciousness, I got out of the car, pulled her bags out of the trunk, and wheeled them to the passenger side door – without attempting to muffle, stifle or dampen the sounds my actions created in the slightest.
Her muscles didn’t quiver once – which frankly wasn’t surprising due to the smashing success of the Twinkle Toes Review.
Initially, even with an agreement to keep his complaints to himself in place, Wood balked at watching hours of himself on tape. Parading him past a table heaving under all his favorite foods, plus twelve tubs of Mac’n’cheese from the Rare Records Room, finally persuaded him to give the party a chance.
After he loaded his plate, we pressed play and less than fifteen minutes into the first home movie, an epic battle between cross-district peewee soccer rivals, he was laughing like a loon. Soon he was expanding on the stories his Gran spun and by the end of the evening had related a few originals of his own.
Apparently, listening to his Gran’s running and rambling commentary caught by her camcorder’s microphone with the ears of an older man burned away the lingering feelings of embarrassment leftover in his brain by his younger self.
I’m pretty sure the application of a few fingers of scotch over the coarse of the day may have eased him towards this newfound wisdom.
It’s certainly at the root of my roommate’s current comatose condition.
The other source of her inert state was due to our wildly miscalculated timetable. Between bathroom breaks, intermittent romps around the backyard (to help aid digestion and unclog our cheese-filled arteries), footwork demonstrations (which only Wood and Beatrice showed any aptitude at), and one walk/mosey to the corner store for gummy bears & worms (to settle the argument on which is better) the party effortlessly exceeded its allotted time.
Then Beatrice pulled out the good bottle.
Around ten pm, I extracted myself, to a chorus of boos, from our stroll down memory lane and stumbled my way to bed. (More than a little excited to start driving for FLYT again in the morning, I didn’t want to be hungover/exhausted/grumpy on my first day back.)
I haven’t a clue how long the others continued to natter. But six hours, two alarms and one shower later, I discovered Sarah curled up on our living room couch, Beatrice snuggled in the recliner in the office, and Wood doing his impression of a buzzsaw in Beatrice’s room. The two empty bottles of Oban next to the kitchen sink gave me a fair clue what prompted the impromptu sleepover. (When I’d said goodnight neither bottle had been cracked open or in fact out of the liquor closet.)
My inner trickster urged me to rouse them by playing Reveille at full volume on my phone while flipping on the overhead lights in my friend’s respective rooms.
Deciding against saddling my friends with the moniker of The Monday Morning Murderer Squad, I began brewing a veritable sea of coffee and recycling last night’s leftovers into this morning’s breakfast. The aroma of frying eggs, butter, bacon, biscuits, and gouda accompanied by the sounds of the coffee percolator plus the jaunty selections played by KARB’s morning DJ had the last of the fearsome foursome lurching into the kitchen (and collapsing into a heap on the floor as the table hadn’t been moved back yet) twenty minutes later.
After each downed a mug of the best bean-based drink known to man Beatrice found Wood’s shoe, Laney’s coat, and Sarah’s keys, I placed a quart-sized go-mug of coffee in each of their hands, a breakfast sandwich in their other and pushed them all out the Lavender Lady’s door to start their day. Beatrice and I followed them thirty minutes later in roughly the same state (only with more baggage and a shower under our belts), and here we are.
Standing on the curb, I gazed through the windshield at the still form of my roommate and hit speed dial on my phone. It took a beat for my ringtone to penetrate her brain, but when her hands finally twitched in response – she hung up on me. Fortunately (for me, not her) the second time I rang her, the crick in her neck announced itself – hurling her directly into consciousness and out of the Princess.
Handing her a handful of vitamins, two aspirins, and a bottle of water, I unsuccessfully attempted to suppress a grin.
Me: “Come on, let’s get you checked in.”
While I wheeled her luggage along, she silently worked her way through the pills.
The upside of catching the first flight out of Rye? You don’t have to wait in any lines, the gate agents are friendly, and your luggage always makes it on the plane. The downside? Nothing’s open. Hence our brown-bag breakfast that Beatrice was finally awake enough to enjoy. Since I wasn’t due at the Senior Center for an hour and Beatrice wasn’t scheduled to take-off for another two, we snagged a couple of seats on the landside of the airport and tucked into our homemade breakfast sandwiches & cups of coffee.
When only crumbs and dredges remained of our meal, Beatrice finally looked human again. Apparently, she felt the same because she removed her sunglasses (letting sunbeams from the nearby windows hit her retinas unfiltered) and leapt directly into conversation.
Beatrice: “An interesting fact came to light yesterday.”
Me: “Is it Laney’s secretly addiction to turkey and dressing tv dinners?”
Beatrice (clearly picking her words carefully): “No, though that is inexplicable, no, this has to do with the Brace Affair*.”
Me (perplexed): “Really? I’m all ears.”
Beatrice: “Seems Ms. Hettie isn’t the only one who had the opportunity to overhear our plans.”
Taking my thunderstruck silence correctly, Beatrice continued.
Beatrice: “While you were keeping Dourwood occupied, Laney joined Sarah and me in the kitchen. Laney went on to say it felt like an age since she’d seen Sarah – they started comparing notes, and turns out the last time they hung out was just after our trip to Pumpkin Mountain…”
Sensing I was about to interrupt, Beatrice put her index finger up, stalling my questions in my throat.
Beatrice (placing air quotes at the end of the sentence): “…However, the last time they saw each other was the evening Laney stopped by to drop off some reference books she borrowed from Sarah and to tell her we were ‘heading into Nevermore that night to plant the rubber ducks’.”
Me (sinking feeling): “Those were her exact words? Please don’t tell me she….”
Beatrice (finishing my sentence): “….uttered them in the lobby of the main building in Nevermore? Apparently, she did.”
(Laney is many amazing things – but quiet isn’t one of them.)
Me (disappointment lancing thru my lungs as I thought thru the ramifications of this shiny new fact): “So potentially anyone who was walking by or standing near the lobby could have heard them talking. So knowing who ratted us out won’t give me any real answers…”
Beatrice (nodding her head in sympathy): “Other than who was in the building that night? No, I don’t think so.”
Me (letting loose a sigh): “Crap!”
*(AKA, the night Laney, Wood, Beatrice and I ran around Nevermore as pirates trying to dissuade Little Ben from placing the new pet cemetery directly adjacent to a river bed.)
Little Ben: “We’ll make an example of them. I am tired of kids drinking in Nevermore. You go left. Ryan goes right. I’ll take the path. Keep your walkies on, Hank will radio when the police arrive.”
We hardly dared to breathe until the crunching of gravel faded off into the distance. Peeling ourselves off the back of the shed, I peered with one eye around the corner to make sure they were really gone. Convinced we were alone I sunk down into a crouch and closed my eyes – trying in vain to calm my breathing.
Wood (whispering): “Since when did he start doing night patrols?”
Laney (her great coat rustling next to me): “Probably sacked the security guards to save money.”
Beatrice (chuckling): “Maybe the aliens called him.”
Laney (a quiet tink of metal on metal came from next to me): “Ha-ha! What do we do now Phoebe?”
Still gathering my wits after an unanticipated sprint across farmland, woodland, and Nevermore I thanked whatever god was listening that Little Ben never got a good look at us. We owe a lot to the university’s theater department for creating the misconception he was currently laboring under.
Me (my eyes still closed, my nose detecting cloves and cinnamon): “Come on guys, enough with the spiced rum, it does not increase your stealth stats.”
Not bothering to open my eyes I decided to assume the Tricornies looked my way guiltily and put the flask away (rather than finishing it off then putting it away – which sounded more like them). Though I suppose at this point it couldn’t hurt, they were already two flasks in when we made our escape.
Laney (first to notice the bobbing spheres of lights swarming on the top of the hill): “Guy’s alien spaceships!”
Me (turning to look at her): “Did you finish an entire flask on your own?”
Laney (pointing): “No. Look, aliens! Heading this way!”
We all stopped for a moment and turned the direction indicated by her index finger – indeed about a half dozen orbs of light were rapidly approaching. Mesmerized by their undulating movement we stilled, my brain trying to process what my eyes told me, the baying is what finally broke the spell.
Me (dropping the post hole digger): “Run!”
Me (grabbing the digger out of her hand and tossing it down): “We’ve been seen, RUN!”
Finally catching up with my conclusion the other three followed me in flight (to this day Beatrice remains thrilled she got to test her Grade A Beef Diversion – turns out farm dogs are indeed distracted when prime cuts are tossed their way).
No, things didn’t go sideways when Wood decided this evening was the perfect opportunity for pirate shenanigans – it was forked up from inception. We’d counted on the late hour and darkness to cover our slightly criminal endeavor which. Turns out it didn’t cut the mustard – someone spotted us about forty-five minutes into the execution of The Brace Affair. I don’t think the MacGregor’s hold with Little Ben’s lax ideas of security.
Thru sheer luck – for the MacGregor’s, not us – they’d cut us off from Beatrice’s car, so I lead us to familiar ground. Which is why the Tricornies were currently sharing a quiet flask behind a utility shed in Nevermore while I tried to figure a way out.
Pulling out my phone I texted my cousin.
Me: “Ok guys, lets head to the Crossroads.”
Wood: “Seriously what were you thinking?”
Me (breathing better now): “Trying to meet you…see the top.”
Right then my stomach, feeling an ally near, decided to let loose a loud protest of its own. The traitor.
Wood: “Have you eaten?”
Me (trying not to look shifty): “Breakfast.”
Wood stalked over to my pack, flipped it open and retrieved my lunch which he then proceeded to thrust in my direction with a curt, “Eat.”
Feeling it better to follow orders than argue I started eating. While doing so, I tried to figure out how I could shake off Wood and the others and check out the last two sites on the mountain. Bookies would give better odds to Stockard Channing reprising her role of Rizzo than to me shaking Wood off and climbing the rest of Pumpkin Mountain alone.
Beatrice, trying to break the mood (or divert focus, I shot her a grateful smile) started debating the merits of different spots with Sarah for her geocache. For one bright moment, I thought Beatrice decided on one of the camping sites I hadn’t reached, but they deemed even the unofficial spots entirely too dull. So they (plus Laney who’d they sucked into the debate) huddled around Beatrice’s camera reviewing pictures of potential hiding places (Wood still stood over me glowering).
In the end, they ruled the perfect place was a pool of water just a hair off the trail, next to a brief but vigorous waterfall. With that decision made (and my lunch demolished) we set off down the mountain with Beatrice leading the way this time. Sarah and Laney following closely behind while still debating different cache spots Beatrice rejected. Wood followed a pace behind slowly warming up to their conversation. Once again I brought up the rear. Only this time I wasn’t alone, Bert and Ernie sensed my habitation of Wood’s doghouse, decided to keep me company. Both had more than a passing familiarity with the institution.
Feeling much better after being watered and fed (and no longer feeling a sharp stabby sensation in my side, lungs, and back) my mind turned back to the cairn conundrum.
Me (interjecting in a lull): “Beatrice did you take pictures of the last two campsites?”
Sarah (laughing answered first): “Nope we didn’t. They practically shouted ‘here’s the cache’ to anyone passing by. They’d get muggled in a pair of seconds.”
Beatrice (rolling her eyes, pitching in): “She just enjoys using the word muggled instead of tampered. But really, they weren’t proper sites anyways. Strictly bivvies.”
My utterly blank look expressed my ignorance to her.
Beatrice: “Bivvie short for bivouac. An improv campsite directly under the stars. The last two spots were barely creases in the rock. They’d keep you from sleeping on the trail, but not much else.”
Me (nodding): “How about the summit?”
Sarah (handing back Beatrice’s camera to me): “More than enough room for a tiny folk festival, if you don’t mind bruised shins.”
Me (scanning through the photos): “Doesn’t look practical for digging…out a fire pit, too many rocks.”
Sarah: “You’d need to be careful. I don’t think you can dig more than an inch or two down. There’s enough dirt for wildflowers to grow, but not enough for trees.”
Somehow this started a new debate (I missed the transition) between the three ladies on the weight to comfort ratio one needed to assess when packing for a hike. I fell back processing their intelligence when Wood paused unexpectedly in front of me. I nearly plowed right into his back.
Wood (a wicked look in his eye): “Morticia, what happened to your pack?”
Me (starting to shrug it off): “What? Did it tear?”
Wood (resuming his forward locomotion): “No, it weighed a ton this morning – now it doesn’t.”
Me (tap dancing): “I ditched the weight so I could catch up to you guys faster.”
Wood (eyes narrowing): “Really? Then we can pick up the ten pounds of salt when we pass by it again since the shovel’s still in your pack.”
Me (mentally wishing Wood was less observant): “I was pulling your leg this morning, I used water jugs for weight, I just poured it out. Voila! Instant featherweight.”
Wood (slowly nodding his head): “Sure, you poured the weight out. On what?”
Me (sweating): “What do you mean?”
Wood (grinning): “Never mind. Do you want to hear my idea about how to dissuade Little Ben from building the pet cemetery in the wrong spot? I Guarantee it will be Fun!”
Thrilled at the new conversational direction, I listened to The Plan. With elements of the absurd, possibility of arrest, precise timing and rubber ducks – The Brace Affair held up the high standard that the Promise of Fun required. It caused Laney to roll her eyes, Sarah pretended to plug her ears with her fingers and Beatrice to hint she looked great in black – Fun indeed.
The Plan (and its refinement) dominated the rest of the conversation down the mountain. Pausing only once when Beatrice hid her cache and noted the GPS coordinates in a small book, we still cut it a bit fine returning to the hotel.
Fortunately, ‘Not Sam’ hadn’t loosened the hounds on our trail just yet.
(My view while I ran up the trail.)
The steady thrumming in my toes settled back into the familiar pins and needles sensation the farther from the glen I walked. No longer distracted by my digits and not hearing anyone calling my name (calling is such a tame word – hollering, bellowing or cursing it might be more accurate if they couldn’t find me) allowed my mind to mull over today’s work.
Time coupled with several good soakings would leech the salt into the soil, rendering the contents of the cairn inert (or at least transforming a tiger into a tabby). One canteen of water, while a start, would not suffice to produce instant results, so the continued pricking along my toes didn’t worry me.
The overall level of energy (or vita as it was technically known) still emanating – did.
Reentering the picnic area, I sat in the spot Wood vacated earlier, trying to reason my way through this riddle. I’d started to pull out my brown bag lunch when a thought struck me with such force it launched me out of the clearing and onto the main trail, my lunch uneaten. The rise in elevation (and my fitness level) wouldn’t allow a flat out run, but I pushed myself hard, ignoring the protests my legs and lungs lodged against me.
What if I salted the wrong bones?
The Pumpkin Mountain Trail didn’t connect with any other trail systems in the park, which meant mountaineers rarely trafficked it, enthusiasts found the trail too easy and novices avoided it due to the inconvenient trailhead (if you didn’t talk to the locals). Taken together these conditions created an underutilized remote location, which fit the select set of criteria needed for the unsuspecting to vanish in. The odds of two illicit graves along one trail – astronomical – but not outside the realm of possibility.
Four more unofficial spots lay beyond the one I’d found the cairn by and I needed to appraise them. So onward and upward I pushed myself, pitting myself against my companions in a contest they didn’t know they raced, waiting for a whisper of vita to prick me. Ignoring my whistling lungs and the lead settling into my legs, my eyes only saw the dirt of the trail while I strained to feel the faintest ripple of energy. I needed to reach the top.
I’d past two camps without so much as a twinge with just two to go – when Bert and Ernie ran into me (literally, they just about knocked me on my ass).
Wood (breathless called): “Phoebe?”
Me (unable to do more than pant): ….
Wood bounded over, removed my pack and tossed it aside, then pushed me to sit down on the trail. Bert and Ernie thrilled to have someone at tongue level started converging when Wood ordered them to “Sit and stay.” Without changing his tone, he started ordering me around, “Slow down. Take a deep breath, now another. Keep taking them.” He kneeled down in the dirt next to me felt for my pulse while pantomiming in and out trying to help me regain control of my breath. It took five minutes for the rest of the crew to catch up with us. When they did, concern filled their faces.
Wood (looked me dead in the eye): “Phoebe what were you thinking, running up a mountain?”
Laney: “Wood, give her minute.”
He’d spied my dubious attack of the switchbacks, which caused him to mount his own swift descent to meet me – seems a beet red face while whistling like a tea kettle worries a physician. Who knew? Since he used my actual first name (which is the equivalent of a parent middle naming you), I knew I was in trouble. History told me he would require an explanation for what he deemed reckless behavior and he could sniff out BS better than the boys.
All I could think of? I’d fallen short.
(Maple Ginger Bacon Carrots with Sesame Seeds! This was one of the great side dish from this evening! And the only one which featured a sauce!)
When I finally made the lobby, after a thrilling twilight boat ride, the front desk clerk informed me that the rest of my party had assembled in the dining room.
They saw me first.
All together they called: “Phoebe!”
I made my way over to the large round table under a rustic chandelier, made from antlers, where everyone sat.
Me (feeling corny): “Cheers everyone!”
This met with a round of laughter, clinking of plates, silverware, and glasses. With a slight sense of deja vu, I sat down to my second family-style meal in under a week. Which featured at least one entree covered in bacon sprinkles, one platter held jamón wrapped root vegetables, and we weren’t eating off paper plates.
The bacon almost made up for the shocking lack of sauce.
Wood (in-between bites): “According to the Rangers the best hiking weather is tomorrow. So I rented a boat. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have enough time to see Pumpkin Mountain. It’s a two and a half day hike if you’re focused.”
Beatrice (helping herself to a bowl of roasted vegetables): “Boat? My map didn’t show a landing anywhere on the trail.”
Laney (taking over for Wood, who’d just took an enormous bite of steak): “Not on the official maps, but the locals made their own version, augmented with all the tricks and trivia outsiders are unaware of. Sam told me there’s a natural landing just under the trailhead we can use.”
Beatrice (looking very interested): “Do they sell copies of these expanded maps?”
Laney: “I don’t know. They’re lending us one for tomorrow. You can take a picture of it if nothing else.”
Beatrice excused herself from the table for a moment.
Sarah (ever efficient): “How will we know what to look for?”
Wood: “They’ve spray-painted the landing bright orange or something. They’ll show me some pictures of what I’m looking for tomorrow, we’ll be fine.”
Talk shifted away from the trip onto more mundane matters, Laney wondered what I thought of FLYT, and Sarah asked Wood about the boys. It wasn’t until we’d practically licked the platters clean that we noticed Beatrice hadn’t returned to the table. Just about the time, we were going to mount an expedition to find her she reappeared in the dining room doorway, waving several folded sheets of paper above her head in victory.
Beatrice (her smile wide): “I got a copy of the map!”
We all started at her blankly.
Beatrice: “The augmented map! I got a copy!”
Me (speaking for the group – hesitantly): “M’kay…and this cause for celebration?”
Beatrice: “Yes! It means I can win!”
Wood: “Win at hiking?”
Beatrice (finally realizing we were confused): “No. Geocaching. My archenemy, Horus….”
Wood: “Wait, archenemy? Seriously?”
Beatrice: “Yes. An annoying player who says my caches are pedantic and pedestrian.”
Wood (trying and failing not to laugh): “He’s just needling you, Bee.”
Beatrice (haughtily): “I am not boring.”
Turns out Beatrice had bamboozled Sam into loaning her an augmented map, then fetched her unaugmented copy from her room. While we stacked the empty serving dished upon one end of the table, she snapped opened the two maps at the other. Then, using a wide array of colored pencils, she started transferring information from the former to the latter. We all watched her with varying amounts of humor.
Beatrice (concentrating on her task): “This isn’t funny, it’s serious.”
Laney: “Of course it is, but you can’t say you have an archenemy named Horus without us at least asking if you are driving on three wheels these days.”
Beatrice’s eyes didn’t waver from her task, but she did smile, Laney has that knack. When the waiter cleared the table, we ordered a round of drinks and continued watching Beatrice (from a distance she growled when we got too close, I mean she politely asked us to refrain from standing in her light). When she finished with a triumphant flourish, I warily approached her and studied her handiwork.
Me (tracing tomorrows trail with my finger): “That blue triangle is the authorized camping spot, but what are the blue circles just past it?”
Beatrice: “They’re the unofficial camping spots. Sam says the locals avoid them now, but they’re still on the map, I thought one might make an excellent place to hide a cache.”
Me: “I agree.”
Those unofficial dots would indeed make excellent hiding spots – for all kinds of things.