Tag Archives: Naturalists

2.61 …Going Nowhere…

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Resting an elbow against the driver side door, I absently twisted a lock of hair around my finger, pointedly ignoring the phone that accidentally on purpose now rested underneath my pack on the passenger’s seat. The five missed calls from Little Ben, failed video chat with Leo, and the single text from Beatrice lurking next to me could go unacknowledged for a few minutes more. 

We knew approaching him was a long shot, but not a single one of us ever imagined a scenario where Mr. Ikeda refused to hear me out. For fork’s sake, Leo and I managed not only to get inside the sit-in last night (which was no mean feat in and of itself), we negotiated an end to it. Both the Naturalists and the Historical Society signed new leases, promised to get the picketers from their sister organizations to go home this afternoon, and issued a favorable press release. 

I mean…it took the six of us over fourteen hours to accomplish this coup, but we did, and Mr. Ikeda didn’t want to hear it? I…I…I managed to stammer out a ‘thank-you for your time’ thru a plastered on plastic smile before fleeing the scene for the comforting confines of the Princess sitting on the curb outside his house…

…I just couldn’t bring myself to start her up. Because there isn’t enough time to fashion a door number four before tomorrow morning’s deadline…

Going to the bank branch is a non-starter. If their CFO won’t listen there’s little chance they will……We are not selling to the Rye City Council, even if our refusal means cutting off our noses despite our faces. Watching the workmen wrench all the headstones from the ground and build a ballpark over the old bones…I can’t even….The Residents…….Maybe we can get an extension to keep Nevermore off the butcher’s block? 

It would give Little Ben, and I time to get a better handle on the contents of his father’s safe. I’m sure not every piece of property we discovered last night is rented out at the moment. Perhaps we could make enough money from selling one or two of those lots to make up the shortfall? Or, for that matter, we could satisfy the bank with Sunny Valley Farm – then we wouldn’t need to negotiate uncharted waters of these heretofore unknown Nevermorian assets. The majority of Little Ben’s plans got sent to the scrap heap yesterday, without even a whimper from him, what’s one more? 

Leaning my head against the rest, feeling rotten at the thought, I cast about for another option…. Unfortunately, the baying of the rowdy three cut my brown study short. 

Unable to bear the thought of being invited on a walk with Mr. Ikeda and his horde of hounds (or alternatively being ignored by all of them), I finally slotted the key into the Princess’s ignition. Pulling away from the curb, I drove down the street without any definite destination in mind. 

I continued driving to Nowhere (man what a great name for a bookshop) until the winter sun started sinking in the sky. In the murkiness of twilight, sitting at a stoplight, I finally realized the Princess’s tires had, in a meandering serpentine kind of way, been steadily aiming me at Nevermore rather than Nowhere. Understanding that putting off bad news wasn’t actually helping anyone – I took the shortest route to the main gates.

Creeping past Little Ben’s cottage, annoyance at the man begun to balloon when the dark windowpanes failed to show the barest flicker of an incandescent lightbulb. He’d promised, on a stack of bibles (though only figuratively), last night/this morning to stay put until I swung by to tell him how the meeting went. 

(The fact that said meeting occurred several hours in the past and I’d willfully ignored my phone since – didn’t hinder my growing ire a whit.) 

Hitting the brakes, I leaned sideways and hunted for my cell. Finally freeing it, one glance at the glowing screen lanced the bubble of irritation inside me. I’d missed no less than twenty-two texts and thirteen calls from Little Ben over the last couple of hours. Mentally kicking myself for my thoughtlessness, I opened my messages. Scrolling past the first few variants on ‘how did it go,’ I glommed onto the next relevant note; ‘Guessing it didn’t go great Heading to Pop’s to look at more papers.’ 

Figuring I’d see him soon enough, I left the rest of his communiques unread/unplayed.

Wending my way thru Nevermore to Big Ben’s house, I practiced my apology to Little Ben for going AWOL. Then tried to find the words to tell him we’ll probably need to forfeit Sunny Valley Farm.

Rounding the last bend, it didn’t take the deductive powers of Nancy Drew to figure out Little Ben was still inside the house. Even if his orange hybrid hadn’t been in the drive, and it was, every window from the attic to the cellar was streaked with light. Pulling the Princess in behind Little Ben’s car, I grabbed my pack off the passenger seat and jogged to the front door where, unlike earlier today, my knocks went entirely unheeded. 

Unwilling to cool my heels on the front porch, I tried the knob – which turned in my hand. Letting myself in, I stood at the base of the stairs in the foyer and did my best impression of Aunt Pearl calling my cousins and I (as kids) to supper from the front porch of our house.

“Ben?! It’s Morticia, where are you?”

“…Back. Here!…” 

The muffled voice, coming from somewhere in the rear of the house, set my feet in motion. It also, and unsurprisingly, grew louder as I drew closer to its source…it also grew deeper? Pausing, I listened to a familiar cadence creep down the hall…a distinctive baritone I hadn’t heard in nearly two years was clearly telling someone off…..Using the ticked-off bellowing as a beacon, I took off in a headlong run down the hall. Ignoring the pricking of my toes, my heart’s not so subtle attempt to beat itself free of its cage and the fact my breath sounded akin to a malfunctioning whistle on a boiling tea kettle – I galloped forward like Hades himself was on my heels. Hurtling into the room seconds later, arms akimbo with helter-skelter hair, I could only blink at its occupants.

The ironed haired gentleman, standing with his back to the flaming fireplace, broke off from bawling out his son. Chuckling at my wild-eyed entrance, he held his arms wide and gave me a wonderfully warm smile.

“Hey, Kiddo, I’m glad to see you….”

Bent at the waist, my lungs rapidly re-oxygenating my blood thru swift, shallow gulps of air, Big Ben’s words buzzed like so many bees in my ears……head…….chest……until their buzzing finally shook loose a few choice ones of my own….

“WHERE THE FORK HAVE YOU BEEN YOU INCONSIDERATE ASH-HOLE!”

2.31 Ebenezer’s Teriyaki

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Helpful Hint: One of the easiest ways of raising suspicion is by acting suspiciously. 

Now I know this seems self-evident. But how do you think so many kids get caught with their hand in the cookie jar? So rather than furtively tiptoeing out the basement of the Historical Society building. I marched bold as brass back up the maintenance stairs thru the low gate and out the front doors. (After availing myself of some soap and water to wash the  grime off my hands and face.) 

No one looked askance at me once.

(Okay, so no one actually witnessed my exit – but my theory’s still sound.)

On the upside, I beat Mrs. Lebondowsky back to the Princess, so I had a few minutes of peace to piece together what I saw inside with what I knew of Little Ben’s ultimate rebranding plans…My quiet time lasted precisely thirty-seconds after I settled into the driver’s seat as my phone, once again, startled me out of my revere by ringing.

Me: “Leo? Has something happened in the last seven minutes I should know about?”

Leo: “No, I just forgot to tell you I finished your order last night.”

Me (doing a happy dance in the seat): “Woot!”

Leo (chuckling): “Meet you at the Rusty Hinge for wings and a beer?”

Me: “Great! Eight?”

Leo: “Sounds like a plan.”

Me (recalling Beatrice’s earlier intelligence): “Oh! Remind me to tell you about the new info about who might have ratted the pirates out to Little Ben…”

On that note, plans firmly fixed, Leo and I hung up. Which proved fortuitous as Mrs. Lebondowsky was puffing her way up the incline towards the Princess. Turning over the engine in anticipation of her arrival, I idled in place. Then waited until she’d sorted herself out in the passenger’s seat before using the roundabout at the end of the drive and headed towards Nevermore’s exit.

Uncharacteristically quiet (after our hellos), Mrs. Lebondowsky continued to fuss in her seat, tweaking the charm bracelet on her wrist, rearranging her handbag and conducting micro-adjustments on her seat belt.

Me (casting her a sideways look): “Everything alright, Mrs. Lebondowsky? Did you get the low down on last Friday’s meeting?”

Mrs. Lebondowsky (sighing): “I did dear thank you for asking. But I think my Dear Frank might be right, finding things out isn’t always for the best…”

Me (steering the Princess onto Ash Street): “Do these things you speak of connect with the stockpiled camping gear and supplies I saw inside?”

Mrs. Lebondowsky (letting out a short gasp): “Milt asked me not to discuss it…”

Me (glancing her way as the traffic slowed for the stoplight): “It’s okay, Mrs. Lebondowsky, I’m not asking you to.”

Mrs. Lebondowsky (floundering): “Oh, okay. It’s just..Milt thought…”

Me (aiming a shot in the dark): “That because I used to be Nevermore’s Caretaker, I might rat the Club out to Little Ben?”

Mrs. Lebondowsky (shifting in her seat): “Well, I tried telling him you’re better than that, but he didn’t want to listen…”

Me: “It’s okay, Mrs. Lebondowsky, I get it.” 

(Milt Fielding is Talia’s second in command, and I’m not surprised he cast aspersions on my character – he’s still bent out of shape because I rejected his ten-point plan to make Nevermore greener. Though how he believed I would retire Nevermore’s fleet of hearses en masse in favor of custom-built motorcycle sidecars, I will never know – and that was the tamest of his ideas.) 

Mrs. Lebondowsky (settling in her seat): “Thank you, dear.”

Me: “But I have to ask, are you happy with all their plans?”

Mrs. Lebondowsky (giving me a long look before answering): “I imagine they believe they are…a necessary evil.” 

Me (whipping a u-turn): “How do you feel about Teriyaki?”

Mrs. Lebondowsky (startled at my conversational and actual u-turn): “It’s tastes good?”

Me: “Fantastic.”

Pulling the Princess between the faded white lines of a parking slot four minutes later, I motioned Mrs. Lebondowsky to follow me inside my absolute favorite mom & pop teriyaki joint in Rye. 

They’d helped me keep body and soul together when I first moved out of Uncle and Aunt Pearl’s house and discovered my cooking skills were subpar at best. (Yes, I realize Aunt Pearl’s a Home Ec. teacher – but I didn’t pay much attention to the culinary sciences until I needed to feed myself regularly.) 

The owners of the incongruously named Ebenezer’s Teriyaki (who knew me on sight – as I’ve been darkening their door for the past twenty years) gave me a wide grin when I walked in and gestured us to take any table we liked. As we were a bit early for the lunch rush, we were spoiled for choice, so I selected my favorite seat by the window. Akiko called my usual order back to her husband (I don’t vary it very often) and bustled over to our table with a pot of tea, two cups, one menu, and a smile. A slightly breathless Mrs. Lebondowsky ordered the lunch special and then gave me a quizzical look after Akiko went back to help her husband with our meals.

Mrs. Lebondowsky (pouring us both tea): “Something on your mind, dear?” 

Me (unwrapping my chopsticks): “Earlier today, I had a bright idea, and after what we just saw back there, I think we might both benefit from it. However, it will require a little discretion on your part.”

Mrs. Lebondowsky (leaning forward): “Yes?”

Me (sipping my tea): “Do you happen to know anyone in Silver City, New Mexico?”

2.29.b …Toil & Trouble

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(Aunt Pearl got this postcard a week or so after I saw it with Aartie.)

Standing on the threshold of Aarti’s office, I took in the confusion of forms, files, and folders littering every surface. Then I surveyed the half-empty bookshelves lining her office and the corresponding jumbled of half-filled cartons stacked every which way, taking up every bit of space.

Save the back left corner. 

Weirdly Aarti had chosen to fill it with a folded up outdoor chair, full-sized cooler, sleeping bag, lantern, and an uninflated air mattress. Items I never expect to see in Aarti’s office again.

Recalling Ina Von Haeville, I ignored the conundrum in the corner and eased my way into the office. Since I didn’t want to create any more turtles, by turning over another carton, I choose to stand in a small pocket of space behind her visitor’s chair. Carefully setting the Wynter box on top of another, I started fishing around for my notes on the Von Haeville plot in my pack.

Me (without looking up): “Dare I ask how things are going around here?”

Aarti (with a sigh): “Wishing you were still here. I don’t suppose you could talk Little Ben out of this nonsense? These buildings are some of the oldest in Rye, and he’s planning on pulling them down…”

Me (glancing up, my lips wearing a rueful smile): “As he’s the one who gave me my pink-slip, I doubt it.” 

Aarti (with half a laugh): “A girl can hope.”

Finally, locating all the materials, I hazarded a few steps forward to hand them off.

Me: “I don’t mean to add to your workload right now, but the Von Haeville sisters don’t strike me as the sentimental types, and I’m not sure they’ll do right by their subterranean relations.”

Aarti (tapping her keyboard): “Let’s take a look and see what we know.”

Unwilling to tootle about the office looking at her books as I usually did, due to the aforementioned turtle effect, I settled on leafing thru the Wynter box while I waited.

Me (idly recalling Mr. Nelson’s story): “Do you think Wynter’s specter still roams Rye?”

Aarti (squinting at the computer screen): “It’s his unsolved murder that troubles Rye, not the man. His blackmail victims were haunted by their poor decisions and Wynter’s missing files. The rest of Rye joined the club after the Daily Harvest ran a letter to the editor penned by Wynter’s widow accusing the police of negligence and his colleagues of sipping champagne and celebrating his death. She shamed the entire town for thinking he got his just desserts.”

Me (following her logic): “So no specter, just a load guilty consciences.”

Aarti (dimpling): “That’s my theory….I’m not seeing anything about the Von Haeville’s having a cemetery on their property in the computer….If you’ve got a minute, there’s a local history text in our library that might mention it.”

Glancing at my watch, I judged I had about twenty minutes before Mrs. Lebondowsky finished up next-door.

Me: “Lead on.”

Leaving my pack and chauffeur’s cap on top of the Wynter box, I fell in step with Aarti and finally addressed the other less pressing, but no less curious, question stacked in the back corner of her office.

Me (curious): “Did Sam finally persuade you into abolishing your moratorium on camping?”

After a nasty encounter with a rattlesnake who’d nestled beneath her tent Aarti swore off the out-of-doors and, despite her wife’s reassurances, that their meeting was one in a million, Aarti’s stance hasn’t swayed an inch in years. 

Aarti (stride hitching then quickening): “What?”

Me (giving the back of her head a puzzled look): “The sleeping bag and stuff in your office, are you going camping or planning a stay in a no-star motel?”

Aarti (giving a quick head toss and sharp laugh): “A no-star motel, that’s funny. No, I’m…”

Aarti’s answer stopped a half a beat before her feet. Only a quick sidestep on my part allowed me to narrowly avoid plowing right into her inert frame. It also afforded me the view of a bleak vista – a library bereft of books.

Though I doubt the barren shelves are the root cause of Aarti’s sudden stop. I believe that honor belonged to the veritable forest of upside-down picket signs sporting the same slogans as the banners outside on our right and enough camping equipment outfit a pint-sized jamboree on our left.

However, as I’m not the Amazing Kreskin, I might be wrong.

But I doubt it.

(BTW – the outdoor equipment made about as much sense in here as it did in Aarti’s office. The Historical Society’s never gone on so much as a nature walk with the Naturalists. So why would an academically inclined institution and indoor inclined individuals need sleeping bags, camp stoves, cots, and water jugs – but no tents or tarps?)

But I believe what really rooted Aarti’s feet to the floor and caused her mouth to form a flat line stood in the center of the room slitting open one of the plethora of cartons emblazoned with Paper & String’s logo sitting on the massive reading room table. 

Aarti (finally coming to life): “It seems my volunteers moved the library early…”

(Library? It feels more akin to a command post now.)

Talia (calling out and interrupting Aarti): “Aarti, come here and take a look at these flyers! They’re absolutely perfect!” 

Aarti: “Talia….”

Without turning around, the Naturalist’s Club President tilted her head to talk over her shoulder while keeping her eyes fixed on the box she was rifling through.

Talia: “The entire crew showed up before the provisions, so we knocked out the library while we were waiting, hope you don’t mind.”

Aarti (her voice taunt): “Talia, we aren’t….”

Whisking a colorful piece of paper from the parcel, Talia held it behind her back for Aarti to see. Edging to Aarti’s right, I caught sight of a postcard featuring ducklings sporting the Naturalist’s tagline ‘Don’t Pave Over Paradise’ inscribed below them. 

Talia (not sensing the room): “Bob at P.S. put a free rush on our order. They look great, don’t they? I figured our more mature members could start licking stamps and addressing them while the kids finish moving the provisions for the sit-i…”

Aarti (not quite shouting cut Talia off mid-word): “Talia, come say hello to Phoebe!”

2.29.a Boil, Boil…

(The problems the Woodlands faced prior to the Naturalists and Historical Society taking up residence.)

Fifteen years ago, Big Ben and I were at our wit’s end. 

Despite both of us living on-site and increased security – vandals, underage drinkers, illegal trash dumpers, and the like had started treating The Woodlands (an underutilized corner of Nevermore) as their own. Unfortunately, their destructive shenanigans started attracting all kinds of unwanted attention, like the Rye City Council’s. Whose members took it upon themselves to begin grumbling into KARB’s microphones about Nevermore’s ‘burgeoning reputation as host to Rye’s unsavory elements.’  

Around the same time, the Daily Harvest ran an article detailing the plight of the Rye Historical Society. Apparently, the group had drifted for over a decade thru a series of dreary office parks, abysmal basements, and one memorable stint above a bakery. Due to their itinerant state, they’d found it challenging to attract new members and keep their ledger from sporting more red ink than black. Both of these unfortunate realities caused their Director to admit she was close to dissolving the group.

Struck by a bolt of inspiration over my morning bowl of cereal, it took less than twenty minutes to arrange a meeting with the Director of the Historical Society, Big Ben and I for Noon. 

Though in fairness, my bolt of inspiration might also have doubled as a sugar rush. As I’d run out of coffee beans and eggs the day before, so I decided to start my day with a bowl of Fruit Loops and a bottle of cola (don’t tell Aunt Pearl). Either way, six hours after my meal fit for a fifth grader or undergrad, the Historical Society began moving into Nevermore’s original records building, and I went marketing.

My solution was a win-win for both of us. The Society found a permanent home, and Nevermore gained an effective deterrent against those of a more nefarious or destructive disposition.

The other byproduct of my bright idea? The deal cut Chief Councilman Lucas Reville off before he bandied about the phrase, he’d love to link with Nevermore’s name, ‘eminent domain.’

(The Naturalists moved into the neighboring building a year later, and with their traipsing about the grounds, added to the Historical Society’s constant watchful presence, the rest of Nevermore’s troublemakers moved on to greener pastures.)

However, the vital bit of the story here is the Historical Society’s legacy of relocation.

Now given the fact the Historical Society curated, cultivated, and housed an archive dedicated to preserving and recording Rye’s history the entire time they struggled to find a fixed address – you’d think they’d be pro’s at packing. 

Apparently, if I’m reading the controlled confusion before my eyes correctly, not so much. 

Layers of bubble-wrapped framed art leaned against the walls. Packing peanuts crunched intermittently underfoot. Box knives, scissors, plain newsprint, cardboard sheets, and cartons crowded the usually meticulously arranged room. Creating – with the help of oddly arranged extra pieces of furniture, haphazard piles of the aforementioned supplies, plus stray books, binders, and accordion files – a perilous and convoluted maze.

Standing in its center, looking absolutely nothing Jack Torrance or a minotaur, was Aarti Singh. 

The Director of the Rye Historical Society was in the midst of educating a group of volunteers on the best practice for packing books in a box. Which, as I’ve discovered from Beatrice’s work at PULP and my own recent-ish foray in house moving, is trickier than it sounds.

“Place packing materials in the corners and on the bottom, stack the books spine to spine. Separated them with more paper so they don’t rub together until you reach the top two inches of the box. Then place more paper on the top to keep them in place. This method keeps the pages crisp, corners unbumped, and the covers dent-free.”

Aarti spotted me a split second later after a precariously perched archival box landed at my feet with a resounding thump when I inadvertently nudged it onto the floor – by looking at it sideways. Exchanging grins across the chaos, I gave Aarti a quick nod when she held up an index finger asking for a moment. Plopping my pack next to the door, I knelt down and started gathering up the items the archive box had disgorged at the end of its short but rapid descent.

Listening to the rest of Aarti’s instructions with half an ear, my awareness of the room dwindled away when my eyes caught sight of a sun-darkened snippet. 

‘Edmund Wynter Found Murdered’ 

The Daily Harvest headline was accompanied by several grainy black-and-white pictures of Wynter during happier times and the lurid description of the circumstances surrounding the discovery of his body. My cleanup slowed to a snail’s pace as I started examining each photo, snippet, map, and memo individually before restoring them to their cardboard repository. 

So mesmerized by the materials shuffling through my hands, I’d failed to notice Aarti had both stopped issuing instructions and now stood grinning over me.

“Ah, you’ve found our file on Rye’s most notorious unsolved murder. Can’t blame you for ignoring me.”

Startled by the proximity of her voice, I nearly but not quite, tipped over the box again. Shooting her a sheepish grin, I hastily gathered up the last bits and bobs and stood up, slinging my pack over my shoulder.

“Funny thing, until a couple weeks ago, I’d never heard of Edmund Wynter or his notorious demise.” Picking up the box, I endeavored to seal the ephemera inside, only to have the odd-shaped flaps, a length of string, and an oddly placed segment of double-stick tape thwart my attempts. 

“Didn’t your Uncle ever discuss the case during dinner? The Harvest still runs articles about Wynter from time to time.”

Still being bested by an inanimate object, I stopped bobbling the box and consider her question. “No, Uncle never brought his work home with him. Probably worried about what we kids might accidentally repeat.”

Shooting an amused smirk at me, she nodded her head in understanding and moved on, “So what brings you by today?”

“I think I found another undocumented family cemetery. I suspect it might be in imminent jeopardy of being paved over.” (Which will undoubtedly cause Ina Von Haeville to rapidly sink into insanity and Fade.)

Snorting, then turning on her heel, Aarti motioned for me to follow, “Not unlike us. Follow me.” 

While my hands continued to fiddle with the Wynter box, my feet followed in Aarti’s footsteps, which safely navigated us through the maze of dusty steamer trunks, folding chairs, and disassembled tables towards the back of the building.

“Just a warning my office isn’t any better than the rest of this place at the moment….”

Boy, she wasn’t kidding.