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Coopers Hawk - dpop protest postcard jpg

Wood brought this with him on our Moon Bathing adventure, another of the Naturalist’s Club protest postcards he got in the mail the other day. He wasn’t trying to insight anxiety in me but just make sure I knew what was going on…

2.30 Illations

(Yeah, the ‘Prepare 4 Battle!’ isn’t worrisome at all…)

Now it didn’t take the keen mind of Sherlock Holmes to deduce that neither Aarti or Talia had intended to give me a glimpse inside their new war room. So during the ensuing and extremely awkward conversation (resulting from Aarti’s panicky shout), she and Talia pretended the library was still populated by books. While I allowed them to believe I was deaf, dumb, and blind.

Plus, I didn’t need to inquire after the picket signs or the flyers – their meaning is obvious.

However, it was Aarti and Talia’s conspicuous concern with distracting me from the mismatched mass of outdoor equipment, rather than the profusion of protest paraphernalia, that raised a red flag.

Indeed Aarti was so focused on drawing my attention away from the left side of the space, she offered to lend me the Wynter file to peruse it at my leisure. As I’m not a card-carrying member of the Historical Society, this was odd. Non-members don’t enjoy check-out privileges. Even as Nevermore’s Caretaker, they’d never allowed me to wander off with so much as a monograph – let alone a coveted collection of ephemera regarding Rye’s most notorious unsolved murder.

So I took her up on her offer.

Not for any real desire to pursue the subject further, as I agreed with Aarti’s assessment of Wynter’s ongoing legacy. But because accepting it allowed me to escape her and Talia’s watchful gazes and figure out why my brief peek at couple dozed chemical toilets caused them so much distress.

All of which, I hope, explains how I came to be lurking in a dusty storeroom surveilling my neighbors, acquaintances, and a few strangers. While idly comparing the merits of murder by mortification to Wednesday Addams’ scheme to scare her suitors to death.

Either way, both modus operandi sounded like a lot of work.

Deciding I’d seen enough and taken my speculation far enough, I crept cautiously to the door. Pulling it ajar, I took a quick peek, then slipped out and thru the door across the hall. After flipping the lock and turning on the lights, I made sure both stalls were empty before dropping my pack and Wynter’s file on the floor.

Leaning against the cool tile wall, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and counted to twelve before releasing it.

Explaining away a trip to the bathroom is far simpler than defending your presence in a darkened room whilst standing on a stepladder with murderous intentions spying on people who are eager to avoid your notice. 

Taking another measured breath, I calmly considered what I’d seen. 

Tossing aside the absurd notion, they were following the CDC’s Zombie Apocalypse Preparedness Guidelines. I came up with three possible theories as to why a human chain, comprised of Historical Society and Naturalist Club members, are currently shifting a trailer-truck full of water bottles, propane canisters, and freeze-dried food into the building next door. 

Since I had ten minutes to spare until I needed to meet Mrs. Lebondowsky at the Princess, I called the only Naturalist I thought might answer my questions truthfully.

Me (whispering): “Leo!”

Leo (puzzlement clear): “Boss?”

Me: “Yes. Are you alone?”

Leo (lowering his voice): “Yes. Why are we whispering?”

Me (waving my hand despite him not being able to see me): “Not important. Leo is the Naturalist Club sponsoring an equipment or food drive anytime soon?”

Leo: “Nope, we hold those in November…”

Me: “Are you guys gearing up for a colossal sized hiking or camping event?” 

Leo (I could feel his frown across the line): “No, nothing big’s happening until late August…why?”

Me (rubbing my throbbing temples): “Can you think of any reason why the Club would be hauling a tractor-trailer’s worth of food, water, and propane into their building? Or why the Historical Society has enough camping equipment to outfit the entire graduating class of Rye High in their library, but not a single tent?”

Leo: “Wait, where are you?”

Me: “You don’t want to know.”

Leo: “I really think I do.”

Me (scrunching my eyes closed): “Leo, please! Can you think of any reason?”

Leo: “No, there’s nothing on the calendar that would account for the amount of hardware you’re describing. Though….”

Leo went so quiet, for so long, I checked my phone to make sure the call hadn’t dropped.

Me: “Leo?”

Leo (speaking slowly): “Last Friday, Talia called me out of the blue before breakfast. She requested that I recuse myself from the board temporarily and stop attending meetings for a while…She said she didn’t want to put me in the position of choosing between the Club and my job if things got ugly with Little Ben.”

Me: “I saw picket signs and flyers upstairs.”

Leo (sounding stunned): “You don’t think they’ll go that far, do you? Protests I get, but occupying both buildings?” 

Me (opening my eyes and staring at the ceiling): “I think they’re calling it a sit-in.”

Leo: “That’s not better.”

Me: “Sit tight. If anyone asks, tell them what you told me, Talia asked you to leave the Club, and you don’t know anything.”

Leo: “Crap.”

2.28 Curiosity Killed The Cat You Know

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(The flyer I found laying around in the foyer of the building…)

A sneeze tickling my nose and sent my mind down an odd tangent – I wonder how often Dear Frank is chagrined by something Mrs. Lebondowsky does because her relief on not being judged for indulging her curiosity was crystal clear. 

This unproductive line of thought helped distract me from the monstrous sneeze threatening to alert someone I was definitely someplace I oughtn’t…

…Dear Frank should consider himself a lucky man. 

Can you imagine if Mrs. Lebondowsky’s ‘Dear Frank’ was married to me? His current wife may occasionally cause him consternation with her busybody leanings, but ‘Dear Frank’ would drop dead of embarrassment within a week of marrying me.

Especially if he ever asked why I came home covered in dust!

Picture his scandalization during my explanation of how I found myself in the basement of the Historical Society building, peering over the tops of musty/dusty cardboard boxes – so I could sneak a peek out a cobwebbed rimmed window.

Dear Frank’s ticker couldn’t take the strain. As it is my own can barely tolerate it, due mainly to Mrs. Lebondowsky texting me, she’d needed another half hour, which caused my phone to chirp loudly during my attempt at stealth. 

After peeling myself off the ceiling, which took more than a few heartbeats to accomplish, I refocused my attention on my skulking.

(Even better? The fright scared away my sneeze: thus rendering my next bit of musing – on whether or not I could be charged with murder if I killed Dear Frank with mortification – moot.)

Rising slowly up on my tiptoes using the cardboard boxes in front of me for balance, as the last thing I needed to do was knock them over or break my neck while perched on the top step of this rickety step ladder. I finally caught a glimpse of the items the bucket brigade, just beyond the windowpane, was shifting from the brimming truck to inside the building. 

You’d think the human chain would be handing off items in the other direction since Little Ben failed to renew their lease… But in light of the club’s vote, the decorations adorning the buildings and the conversation in Aarti’s library – the cots, sleeping bags, propane stoves, propane, toilet paper, pots pans and so forth moving inside made sense.

Worrisome and alarming sense.

When Mrs. Lebondowsky and I got our first gander of the twin brick buildings housing the Historical Society and Naturalist Club, forty minutes ago, my foot lifted off the gas of its own volition, causing the Princess to roll quietly to a stop. (Which isn’t as dramatic as it sounds – Nevermore’s speed limit is only five miles per hour). 

Mrs. Lebondowsky awed tone encapsulated the sight perfectly, “Wow.”

“Seriously.” Gripping the steering wheel, I leaned forward. “Who knew snowmen could look that creepy.”

“Perhaps they’re only unsettling due to the cute pictures behind them?” Mrs. Lebondowsky’s answer didn’t contain a note of conviction. Her second held a fringe of hopeful doubt. “Maybe they’ll look less menacing when we get closer.”

Pulling the Princess into the only available curbside parking spot Mrs. Lebondowsky and I continued to take in the bedecked brick buildings at the end of the lane. “Would you mind if I headed over to the Historical Society while you take care of business next door? I need to drop off some notes with Aarti.” Since she’d paid for a block of time, I’d typically wait in the car until she finished…but I was more than a little curious about what was happening myself (and I actually owned a salient reason for stopping by).

Gathering up her things, “Go ahead, dear. I’ll probably be a half-hour or so. If I beat you back to the Princess, I’ll text you.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Walking down the lane framed by a multitude of cars, we drew closer to the ghosts of snowmen past that now dotted the grassy verge before both buildings (with a significant number congregating around the city planning boards). The wooden cutouts, which ordinarily graced the area during the holidays, usually wore friendly faces, top hats with poinsettias in their bands, corncob pipes, carrot noses, and the occasional scarf. 

Now each erstwhile snowman sported a matte black finish and lilac lettering listing a significant fact about the buildings or the Historical Society itself. The feature Mrs. Lebondowsky and I both found sinister, was the realistic crimson eyes painted on each of the upcycled snowmen (and much like the Mona Lisa, the eyes followed your every move). 

She and I both agreed that the snowmen did not become less unsettling upon closer acquaintance. Though the creepiness of silhouettes was brilliant. They both drew the eye towards the Society’s objections while simultaneously repelling them onto their and Naturalist’s grievances. 

(As the snowmen weren’t the only repurposed holiday decorations festooning the buildings.)

Strung across the structure’s crowns were a pair of banners proclaiming ‘Protecting Yesterday – From Today – For Tomorrow’ and ‘Don’t Pave Over Paradise’ who’s messages I’m sure would morph to ‘Merry Saturnalia’ and ‘Happy Winter Solstice’ should a fierce wind happen to invert them. 

Then there are the white, purple, and red strands of twinkle lights edging every corner of both edifices. Spotlighting not only the important architectural features; but the blown-up photos, placed in every window, of the most adorable fuzzy and feathered denizens that call Nevermore home.

(Mazy will be ecstatic when she sees that someone other than her and I are looking out for her squirrel buddies.)

After we rushed past the shadows of malevolent snowmen, our paths diverged. 

On my way up the stairs to the Historical Society, a multitude of sounds reached my ears; jabbering, laughing, scraping, and the groaning of humans and springs alike. Curious, my feet swerved over to the side window in the entryway – which only offered a narrow view over the fence – featuring a pallet of bottled water.

Weird, the Naturalist’s theme last year was ‘Dismiss Your Dependance on Single-Use Plastics’….

Recalling my mission, I turned away from the window, tucked away these peculiar details in the back of my brain, and moved towards the quiet of the Rye’s Historical Society’s main office. 

2.07 Bad News Everyone!

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Parting ways with Sarah at the stairwell, we set out to complete our separate missions – the only hitch in the giddy-up? 

Little Ben wasn’t in his office. 

To clarify, not only was his person missing – but so was his desk, dream boards, and Lottie (his secretary).

Which prompts the question, what the hell? 

Unwilling to waste my time cooling my heels in front of an obviously unoccupied office, I strolled down the corridor, peering thru doors hoping to catch someone between calls. But unfortunately, at three pm, on a stormy Friday afternoon, no one was around. 

Which suited me just fine. 

In Nevermore, there are two desks which remain occupied during business hours – Reception and Receiving – and one of those desks is manned by a veritable fount of office gossip, Leo Wasinski. Anyone could tell me where to find Little Ben. But Leo could tell me what prompted the office switch, details on the move and probably what Little Ben had eaten for breakfast. (Plus I was absolutely dying to see what enthusiastic but odd creation his knitting needles had festooned his frame with today.) 

Beelining it back downstairs, I found the gentleman right where I knew he would be, working diligently at his desk on the loading dock. And not for the first time, I wondered how exactly he managed to acquire his seemingly inexhaustible stream of insider information – while sitting in plain view of anyone walking by.

Receiving is many things, but private is not one of them.

A squeaky hinge alerted Leo to my entrance into his territory, “Hey boss!”

Beholding his hat, it took a moment to frame a proper reply – as it seemed I’d interrupted it in the midst of strangling and devouring him whole.

Me (laughing): “What is on your head!”

Leo (his grin hitting two hundred watts): “Pete!”

Me (rolling my eyes): “Hello, Pete!”

If you’re Leo; it’s perfectly normal for your winter headgear to unhinge its jaw and start swallowing the top of your skull, while its body coils around its “snack’s” neck in order to choke Leo into submission. (It did look really warm & fuzzy and surprisingly cute, Leo is very talented – but twisted.)

Leo (chuckling): “Pete’s an endangered striped whipsnake. The Naturalist Club is raising money and awareness by selling handmade hats and scarves featuring endangered animals to fund our move. This is my contribution to the cause…”

Me: “Wait. Rewind, the Naturalist Club is moving?”

Leo (dimming): “Hadn’t you heard? You’re not the only one Ben’s booted from Nevermore. He gave the Club three months to move and cut off access to the grounds for our programs.” 

Me (shocked): “Little Ben doesn’t have the authority to do that.”

Placing a boot against the metal stool next to his desk, he shoved it towards me.

Leo (no longer smiling): “Sit.” 

I took the hint.

Leo: “Little Ben’s the Provisional Proprietor.”

Holy mother forking shirt balls. 

Me: “What? How? When?”

Leo: “The day after you moved out of the Cottage, he switched offices and made the announcement. He’s been holed up there ever since, ‘planning Nevermore’s future’. Last week he started in earnest, offering early retirement to all the old-timers, axed the apprentice program, asked the Club to leave, and he’s scheduled a meeting with the head of the Historical Society for this coming Tuesday. Make of that what you will.”

Me (voice tight): “So he’s eliminating all the programs I pulled in.”

Leo (eyeing me): “Pretty much. He’s also nixed the plans to certify Nevermore as a Natural Habitat.”

Taking a deep breath, I shoved my fury and four-letter opinions down towards my toes. Leo may have been the first person I hired as Caretaker, who knits marginally inappropriate attire for work and whose gregarious nature makes him a riot to hang with – but at heart, he’s a gossip. 

The last thing I needed to do was blow my top like Vesuvius – in front of him. 

Me (evenly): “Has anyone brought this up with Big Ben?”

Leo: “Can’t, he hasn’t been home since he left for vacation. Little Ben’s promotion came via letter.”

Me (eyes wide): “Wait, Big Ben didn’t come back for the holidays?” 

Leo: “Nope.”

Well, that explains why he hadn’t called to wish me a Happy Christmas last year.

Me: “Is he okay?”

Leo (shrugging): “As far as I know.”

Me: “Well, crap. At least this answers my question.”

Leo raised an eyebrow.

Me (getting up): “Where Little Ben’s office is.”

Leo (smiling again stood with me): “Another interesting item? I have it on good authority Big Ben’s letter arrived well before Little Ben issued you your pink slip.”

Not sure what to make of that morsel of information, I decided to change the subject.

Me (trying to pull off cheerful): “I’ve never asked, but do you ever make custom hats for people?”

Leo (cocking his head): “Sometimes, why?”

Me (a wicked smile wreathed my face): “I believe I’m in need of a giant….”

Leo split a seam when I described exactly what I was hoping he could knit up for me, after some technical questions and measurements he assured me he could make my vision come to life. 

My cousins will never forget about me in the Black And Blue Becker Betting Pool again! Woot!