Tag Archives: Mr. John Dupree

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.” 

2.11 The Man At The Door

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Do I look shifty? Really, I’d like to know. 

I might occasionally harbor the odd larcenous thought about a book – but I never follow up on them – I just enjoy entertaining the fancy. 

It’s mental calisthenics. Right?

Okay, okay, I am starting in the middle, so let’s go back to the beginning.

Last night Beatrice offered me a sterling opportunity to make a couple of coins while chauffeuring her around for her other job. I didn’t tell her I would have driven her for free if it meant getting out of the house and putting on real pants, but I kept that information to myself. 

Which explains why at a quarter of eight, I’m in the Map Room (waiting for Beatrice) contemplating a shelf full of previously empty vases. (The ones which formerly housed her rubber ducky collection that she’d acquired while geocaching – before we lost the bulk of them during our pirate shenanigans). Those empty vases had nagged at me ever since Beatrice had donated her yellow friends to the cause. She wouldn’t accept money or sincere thanks, so instead – to show my appreciation – I filled them to the brim with homemade hard candy. The crinkly cellophane and rainbow of translucent colors really tied the rest of the kitsch of the room together! 

With a happy smile decorating my face, I scrabbled under the table to retrieve a few of the free spirits which had decided that living in a vase wasn’t for them.

While on all fours amongst the dining set’s legs, a quick radda-tap-tap sounded at the door – followed by the entrance of a pair of black wingtips and charcoal grey cuffed pants. “Hello?” I called out while trying to negotiate my way out from under the furniture while gripping two handfuls of candy – who were determined to stay where I found them.

“Beatrice? Why are you under the table?” 

A loud thunk punctuated the question, but before I could dispel Mr. Wingtip’s misapprehension, his lovely baritone pattered on, “When you rejoin the land of the standing, I have three possible contracts for you. Two in town, one cross country. RAM cut the check for the return of the Renoir, I have it here for you. Are you still firm on your no pets policy? You could make a mint. I had six inquiries just last week. I drew up the paperwork you requested last night….” 

Finally, solving the maze of table legs, I stood up and discovered Mr. Wingtips was a lean whip of a man who, when wearing his hat, must brush the Map Room’s ceiling. 

He finally looked up when I set the crinkling handfuls of candy down on the table, “You are not Beatrice.” 

Trying to put him at ease, I held out my empty hand and smiled, “Nope, but she should be here any minute. My name is Phoebe, Phoebe Arden. I’m Beatrice’s roommate and driver for the day!” 

Whisking the papers he’d fanned out over the table back into his briefcase, he snapped it resolutely closed, all the while ignoring my outstretched hand.

Using a tone that wasn’t precisely ill-mannered, but edging in that direction, “You should have told me you weren’t Beatrice.” He crossed his arms and watched me thru narrow eyes.

(See?! I did not do anything suspicious! He’s just bent out of shape because he made a gaffe!) 

“You didn’t give me a chance to tell you. Nor did you wait for me to answer the door after you knocked.” Mirroring his stance (though he loomed much more effectively than I) but not his tone, I leaned more towards genial reasonability.

My words cut no ice with the bespoke man.

“Well, I see you two’ve met…” Beatrice’s dry comment cut thru the tension. Things turned technical at this point with the snappy man reopening his briefcase (and resumed his nattering) while Beatrice smoothed things over and provided introductions. 

Turns out the natty man of the black wingtips was, in fact, John Dupree of Treuawley, Trenaman, and Dupree. 

Whose demeanor visibly thawed while watching me sign a stack of papers he’d prepared. Which, when boiled down to their essence – stated that I needed to keep my trap shut about anything I see, hear or smell (?) while accompanying Beatrice on a job. (Why it took ten pages, three signatures and twelve separate initials to say, I don’t know – but he stated he wanted to “keep things formal”). 

(I aim to please.)

He then handed over pounds of assorted document and blueprints for Beatrice to review (which is why she needed a driver), and we headed out to execute today’s contract (their words, not mine).