Tag Archives: Missing

2.20.b Cheesy Strategies

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(Apparently my mac’n’cheese flavor, is a twist on Haitian Spaghetti! And it’s great!)

Me (trying to keep hope in check): “Help you…”

Leo: “…fix Nevermore?”

With a bemused expression, Ira explained.

Shortly after his unnecessary promotion and upon discovering his copy of the Conventions missing, Ira placed a call to Big Ben. Only to find both Big Ben’s landline and cell were no longer in service. Discussing his unease with his Missus, she asked him one particularly salient question; “Who in Nevermore do you and Big Ben both trust?” 

Her words were still rolling around in the back of Ira’s brain when he and Leo got to talking after the latter approached the former about trying to persuade Little Ben from ejecting the Naturalists from Nevermore. 

Their mutual troubles lead to their first “summit” in the Rare Records Room.

Over a few beers and bowls of mac’n’cheese, they rewound, reviewed, and rehashed every episode, major or minor, occurring in Nevermore over the past year. My unexpected termination quickly made their list of nebulously linked hinky feeling events. So did Big Ben’s radio silence and unprecedented extended absence from Nevermore. At about this point, Leo, in a fit of frustration, wondered where their guesswork was getting them – that’s when Ira repeated his Missus’s question. 

Needless to say, their answers matched.

And here we are.

Taking a measured sip of my second drink, I slowly rolled it across my tongue, feeling oddly relieved that I wasn’t the only one who’d felt an ill wind blowing through Nevermore.

Me (taking a deep breath): “I’m pretty sure I know what Little Ben and the Board of Managers have been working on.”

Leo (cut in utterly astonished): “How? Even I couldn’t finagle that….”

Me (drily): “How did you find out about the NDA’s?”

Leo (wiggling his eyebrows): “Touché.”

With timing, only servers can muster our bowls of bespoke mac’n’cheese arrived. Since the eighth wonder of the world required our complete concentration to properly appreciate, our conversation stuttered to a stop until Leo, and I licked our bowls clean (Ira restrained himself from following suit, but then he can eat here whenever he chooses). 

Once we recalled our place, which took a moment due to the sheer quantity of cheese hurtling through our arteries, I filled them in on Little Ben’s rebranding plans.

Leo (bleakly): “So there’s no hope of the Naturalists staying in Nevermore.”

Not wanting to mouth platitudes, I stayed silent.

Ira (slowly): “I agree, the financial questions need answering.”

Leo: “What do the missing Conventions and Ira’s promotion have to do with rebranding Nevermore?”

Me: “No clue. But the timing seems curious.”

We gnashed our teeth on our list nebulously linked hinky affairs over two more rounds of drinks, without a single bolt of lightning striking our table. Bereft of inspiration, we created a to-do list and ordered dessert.

First and foremost, since Big Ben hasn’t set foot in Nevermore for nearly a year and none of us know what he knows about current events inside Nevermore – we’re going to make sure he knows. 

(On reflection, the extra cocktails might have been a mistake.)

In other words, we’re going to track Big Ben down. 

Since I’m the only one who owns a real beef with Little Ben, even if it’s a bit late in the day to take umbrage at my pink slip, I’ll raise the least suspicion should Little Ben get wind of our attempts (plus he can’t fire me again). So Ira’s going to drop a list by Uncle and Aunt Pearl’s house of every phone number, address, hotel, motel, and haunt in New Mexico Big Ben’s ever included in a memo, email, or mentioned in passing.

Hopefully, I’ll hit the jackpot with one of them. 

The scheme makes me feel prickly inside, as it smacks of tattling, but I couldn’t (and still haven’t) come up with a superior alternative.

Speaking of prickly situations, since Leo’s perched at the heart of Nevermore’s grapevine and my Ms. Hettie theory fell through, I requested he ferret out the name of Little Ben’s anonymous source for me. 

Without admitting to playing any part in the farce, I gave Leo every scrap of data in my possession about the mysterious tipster who alerted Little Ben the night of The Brace Affair. (Aka the night Ira’s groundskeepers chased us all over Nevermore.) Explaining my request away as another nebulously linked hinky feeling event in need of an answer – I think Ira bought it.

I was thrilled when our slices apple pie, featuring a very melty piece of cheddar cheese on top, arrived tableside at that moment, completely derailing our conversation off the topic of trespassing pirates…After our initial bite of pie, we hammered out a few other details; don’t risk your job looking for answers; don’t talk to anyone attached to Nevermore about our suspicions, and no, I will not refer to you as 006-&-a-half. Even if you knit a suitable hat. 

But all too soon, the cheese, alcohol, and sugar caught up with us.

(Btw, leaving the Rare Records Room is nearly as complicated as entering –  I exited two doors down behind the florist’s shop.

While listening to the peppy hoot of an owl, I picked up my phone off the nightstand, found Big Ben’s number, and hit dial. My ears were immediately assaulted by three ascending tones and an automated message, “I’m sorry, the number you have entered has been temporarily disconnected, changed, or is no longer in service. If you feel you’ve reached this recording in error…” 

Giving up on my phone and sleep, I heaved myself out of bed, pulled on a pair of well-loved pants and an old t-shirt then padded down to the kitchen. I might not know what’s happening to Nevermore or how to fix it, but at least, I know what my next step is.

I need to bake a cake.

1.60 The News!

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“How can finding her after twenty years not be the most interesting part?” I queried, putting my fork down on my plate and picked up my coffee. The Daily Harvest and breakfast could wait my Aunt Pearl could not.

“They found a second skeleton!”

Leaning forward in my chair, coffee forgotten in my hand, Aunt Pearl knew she commanded my full attention.

“They found David Waller buried with her. Seems he went missing the same weekend Tiffany did. Police never had an inkling they were connected.” Aunt Pearl paused to take a pan of muffins from the oven, “They questioned Tiffany’s friends again, and they admitted they thought it possible that she was having an affair. But they weren’t sure.” Wearing an oven mitt, she started moving the muffins from the cooling rack onto a plate.

“Were her friends covering for her the weekend she went missing?”

“No, she really had canceled on their beach trip. They thought something was off but didn’t press.” Aunt Pearl placed the plate on the table and sat down across from me, speaking in a low voice. 

“Earl {family friend and detective} told your Uncle the search and rescue operation they’d mounted for her in the Cascades, where they found her car, was perfunctory at best. The wildfires in the area provided a convenient excuse to call it off so quickly. Detectives at the time agreed with her father’s explanation that Tiffany left town with her newest paramour and they’d abandoned her car in the lot. She’d walked out on her husband once before and had a string of affairs over their short marriage. The search was organized to placate the paper, not her family.”

I felt supremely glad Earl was on the job now, he’d never let such a pat explanation suffice. 

She shook her head and took a sip of her coffee, “I remember her from my class. Smart. Good grades. But always more interested in her male classmates than anything we were trying to teach her. Her father never approved of what he called ‘her running around’, we told him she’d grow out of it.” 

While Aunt Pearl’s mind’s eye looked backwards in time, I took another bite of breakfast and tried to pull her away from all the coulda/woulda/shoulda’s, “Do they have a suspect?”. 

Looking up from the depths of her coffee she admonished me, “Don’t speak with your mouth full dear.”

She never could resist the bait.

Her eyes gleaming again, “And yes they have a suspect. Her husband! Now, this is hush-hush, they found his wedding ring in the grave with the bodies. He confessed to their murders when he saw it and he also…”

The topic closed abruptly when we heard the groaning floorboards (and human) walking down the hall. Wood, unaware and uncaring of anything outside of the bacon/sausage smells emanating from the kitchen (I am only guessing here), planted himself next to Aunt Pearl and started munching on a slice of bacon snagged from my plate. “No one would guess you are a highly respected doctor by looking at you this morning.” commented my Aunt. He was indeed a sight to behold, having slept in his breeches and linen shirt – his cravat hung like a limp noddle from his neck. Blinking at her he tried to swipe another piece of bacon off my plate – I curled protectively around it fending off his advances. 

Laughing I added on, “He’s the cautionary tale old grizzled pirates point out to the young mateys – pace your pillaging or end up a walking wrinkle.” Ignoring both of us, he shuffled to the cupboard and grabbed a plate, saucer and cup then started putting together his breakfast.

“Speaking of pillaging…”, my aunt flipped the paper around so she could read it.

This bodes well.

Her enameled fuchsia fingernail followed the lines of newsprint in front of her, “The police blotter says that officers and security personnel pursued the Three Musketeers thru Nevermore and MacGregor farm last night. And this morning they discovered forty rubber ducks buried in a field. You two wouldn’t know anything about it? Would you?” Aunt Pearl asked dramatically. (I say dramatically because she was ‘reading’ the paper without her glasses, a feat which she hasn’t been able to accomplish for fifteen or so years).

Ignoring our silence on the matter she pressed onwards, “I know we picked you up outside Nevermore, but that was this morning! And you were definitely pirates, not seventeenth-century French soldiers made famous by Dumas!” Did I mention my Aunt still occasionally substituted for the literature teacher at Rye High?

“Look Wood! Uncle’s here!”

1.42 Ranger Lade’s Pet Peeve

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Ranger Lade did not appear to appreciate the interruption (which was a bit rich since I’d bet my eye teeth he’d been eavesdropping). With an eye roll, “Urban legend.”

Beatrice looked up from her maps, cocking her head to one side, “Pink Lady? Worried about some wild woman living in the mountains attacking you Wood? Don’t worry Phoebe and I will keep you safe.”

I laughed, “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

Wood, shaking his head and smiling, agreed that we were fierce indeed when riled. He then went on and gave Beatrice the shorthand version of the Pink Lady Legend. With Ranger Lade contributing his own opinions by huffing at every feature of interest.

Deciding to poke the bear I asked the grumpiest Ranger a question, “What about the two local kids who went over the cliff? They grew up here and knew the area. You don’t think they followed her?”

Ranger Lade’s lip curled up, “No I don’t. They’d been drinking, and the weather was bad. That’s all that happened.” After answering he immediately started typing again on his computer again. But the niggling feeling I’d had when Sam told us his tall tale begun bothering me.

Ignoring his hint, I pressed a bit harder, “Do you know how her legend started?”

Trying to put me off, he answered dismissively, “She’s just a story locals tell to scare tourists.”

He seriously thought a pat explanation like that would stop me? Especially when I was so close to catching hold of the idiot idea earworm? 

“But really, did a woman ever go missing up here?” 

He endeavored to ignore me for a moment, rubbing his leg, but I moved to stand directly across the counter from him (channeling my inner Morticia Addams – no one ignored her). Realizing I wouldn’t let him off the hook he opted for condescension when finally answered. Glancing between Wood and Beatrice, trying to enlist their support, he finally responded, “No female has ever been reported missing from the Pumpkin Mountain area. The Pink Lady is just an urban legend that refuses to die. Locals use it to scare the tourists. Tourists use it to look less stupid when they get lost, ‘ It’s not our fault. We were following the woman wearing the white dress.’ They don’t even recount the story correctly. That should tell you all you need to know about its validity.” Viewing my stunned silence as confirmation of his verbal victory, he aimed a celebratory sneer at me – in his crowing he forgot about his potential recruits.

“Well, isn’t it nice that you’re here to set us straight Ranger Lade,” Beatrice replied while gathering her carefully sorted stacks into a single pile in front of her, “I’ll take these off your hands.” With the entire set of old maps in hand, she turned and marched out the door leaving the Ranger gaping in her wake.

He started to say something when Wood cut him off, “Try sitting with a heating pad on your thigh, should help the aching left over from that break.” With that sensible bit of advice Wood and I headed towards the door when Ranger Lade’s suspicious voice stopped us, “How did you know, I’d broken my leg?” A small smile played over Wood’s face, “I made an educated guess.” (I’d already walked thru the door but turned back to watch)

Ranger Lade nodded, uncertainty written on his face (since Wood’s helpful tone diametrically opposed Beatrice’s), “Thanks for the advice. I’ll try it.”

Wood nodded, “No problem. But tell me exactly how far did you follow The Pink Lady last year before you broke your leg?” 

Ranger Lade turned beet red and got the word “How” out before he shut up and channeled his inner thundercloud. 

“Never mind. You followed her just far enough.” With Wood’s parting shot hanging in the air he closed the door, and we started retracing our earlier rambling route back towards the hotel.

I was grateful they’d lept into the conversational fray since Ranger Lade’s answer had sucked the breath from my lungs. Not due to the rudeness of it, though that was breathtaking (I wasn’t exactly blameless I know), it was his actual words which caused my brain to combust.

A woman in a white dress….a Woman In White….oh god.