Tag Archives: Nevermore Cemetery

2.32 Brevity Is The Soul Of Wit…

2.32 Berevity is the Soul of whit

For the second time today, I managed to snag my favorite seat in an eatery. Only this time, my backside rested against the vinyl seat of the best booth in my favorite dive in all of Rye. 

Taking in a lung full of the wonderful smells emanating from the kitchen of the Rusty Hinge, my stomach reminded my mind the early lunch with Mrs. Lebondowsky was now a distant memory — gastronomically speaking. As today was Pie Day, or what the unenlightened call Monday, the sweet scent of apple and pumpkin spice swirled through the entire joint and proved impossible to resist. 

Ordering a cup of coffee and a slice of pumpkin, I basked in the warm glow of the neon beer signs and the musical lures of the surrounding pinball machines for a few minutes (in point of fact, I was borderline giddy at being anywhere but inside the Lavender Lady this evening). 

Tossing my chauffeur’s cap on the red vinyl stretching out next to me, I stopped reveling and took advantage of the forty minutes I’d stitched into my day. (Rather than heading home to change out of my uniform after my shift, I motored straight to the Rusty Hinge.)

Extracting my phone from my pack, I entered my code, tapped my recently dialed icon, chose the third number from the top, and dialed. Whilst listening to the ringing on the line, I pulled a pack of index cards and a pen out of my bag, then hung up a split second after the anticipated and ear grating first note of the out-of-service recording started playing.

Setting my phone aside, I slit open the pack of cards with my thumbnail, removed one, and started writing the message Mrs. Lebondowsky and I had crafted together over teriyaki.

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Just enough information to hopefully pique his interest and pithy enough to catch the eye. 

I’d managed to work my way thru a third of the pack, two cups of coffee, and my generous piece of pie before Leo joined me.

Leo (taking off his coat): “Hey boss, studying for an exam?”

Me: “Nope. Just part of my highly strategic plan to find Big Ben.”

Leo (flipping over and reading the top card of the completed stack): “Highly strategic? Wait, is this your real number?”

Me (finishing off the card I was working on): “No, I bought a burner phone…”

My explanation trailed off when Ruth, who’d apparently been keeping an eye out, popped by to take our order. Two local beers, three baskets of wings coated in tongue scorching sauces to split between us (maple-chipotle, sour-cherry habanero & lime, and gochujang-barbecue). 

We’d shared wings once or twice before. 

After Ruth moseyed out of earshot, Leo and I started speaking at the same time – I let him go first. So while I stowed my project away in my pack, he gingerly extracted a puffy plastic sack from his knitting bag.

Leo: “So what’s the grand plan?”

Me: “I know someone who knows someone who knows someone else, who put me in touch with a citizen of Silver City, and they’ve agreed to help us find Big Ben.” 

No need to out Mrs. Lebondowsky as my source and Tavi Blume as my Silver City Operative. 

(BTW – Tavi is an absolute stitch. As an avid reader of vintage gumshoe detective novels, Dashiell Hammett, in particular. Tavi admitted to yearning for an excuse to abscond with her husband’s fedora. Combine this craving with week four (of nine) of her vacation? Tavi was absolutely thrilled to help us track Big Ben down – after we explained the who, the what and the why behind our inquiry.

The fact our favor also allowed her to evade cleaning her classroom’s beakers, test tubes and graduated cylinders for another week might also have enlivened her enthusiasm for the endeavor. 

Her one condition? I refer to her as my Silver City Operative.)

Leo: “Sounds, Byzantine.”

Me (leaning back against the seat): “Not really, it essentially boils down to my Operative papering Silver City with this message. Plus, the personal ads, I’m placing in the two local papers and the University’s.”

Leo (arching an eyebrow): “Your Operative?”

Me (grinning): “My Silver City Operative to be specific, we decided code names made it more fun, I’m Ms. Pinkerton…Is that my hat?”

Leo (his eyes twinkling and holding it up): “What do you think?” 

Me (reaching for it): “It’s perfect!”

Remember when my five cousins and their significant others all failed to place a bet on me in the Black-And-Blue-Becker-Betting-Pool?

Well, I decided to commemorate their insulting lack of faith in my ability to ruin one of Aunt Pearl’s mortifying family photos with an exceptional hat. A chapeau so extraordinary unforgettable none of my cousins will neglect to consider placing a wager on me again!

So what one-of-a-kind confection did I commission Leo to crochet for me? 

Squiddy! 

The giant land squid concocted on the Island of Dr. Cousteau that I claimed dyed me purple the night I showed up on Uncle and Aunt Pearl’s doorstep covered in a bruise of epic proportions. 

Me (pulling it on, I laughed as Squiddy’s arms tickled my ears): “It fits perfectly! I love it! Thank you!”

A genteel voice called out: Phoebe? Phoebe Arden, is that you? 

Well crap, where’d she come from?

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!”

2.27 Back In The Saddle Again

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Triumphant returns take many forms, sometimes the hero is heralded with ticker tape and trumpets. Other times it is a restrained nod of a coworker at the office water cooler. If you’re Bilbo Baggins, you’re met by an empty house cleared out by your lamentable relations. Mine? The Senior Center crew (aka my FLYT regulars) met the Princess and I in the Center’s parking lot with a bag of mini doughnuts from Fryed and friendly smiles. (Or in the case of the other Senior Center FLYT driver desperate relief – apparently, they worked him but good while I was gone).

Their warm reception, featuring powdered sugared sustenance, helped dispel a fraction of the blue funk I felt over losing significant ground in my rat hunt.

While happy to see me, The Crew apparently had bigger fish to fry, so after one last demonstration of genial affability, a pat on the hood for the Princess and the arm for me, they returned to their ruminations. The air around them was so pensive I don’t think I could lighten the mood if I tried. Though I’d like to imagine making a ludicrous announcement – such as an intent to swap my stock chauffeur’s uniform with a pink-polka-dot bikini and sparkly silver Ugg boots – might at least have drawn a chuckle. 

So instead of making a funny, I kept my mouth full and ears open to the grist they were milling.

Mr. Fernandez (confirming something Mr. Eccles said that I didn’t hear): “My daughter told me the same thing.”

Happily, before I pinged their radars by asking a followup question, Mrs. Lebondowsky, who’d huffed and puffed her way from the bus stop to the same cluster of The Crew I’d just joined, asked it for me.

Mrs. Lebondowsky: “Told you what Albert? Hello Phoebe, sorry I’m late, dear. My Frank couldn’t find his glasses. Turns out, he’d tucked them in my carryon and forgot to take them out when we got home yesterday.”

Mr. Fernandez: “Elena told me the Naturalists Club and the Rye Historical Society voted to band together last Friday.”

(Band together? On one side, you have detail-oriented individuals with an in-depth knowledge of Rye highly. On the other, you have a leadership group with literally decades of experience in civil disobedience and a pack of fearless kids backing them up. I have a feeling neither side will go gently into that good night. Bad news for Little Ben.)

Mrs. Lebondowsky (eyes wide): “My Frank and I missed a meeting! What happened?”

Mr. Nelson (jumping in): “The City put up construction and inspection boards in front of their buildings.”

Mrs. Lebondowsky: “What does that mean?” 

Mr. Nelson: According to the review boards? It looks like Little Ben wants to redevelop the Nevermore by tearing down both buildings and chopping down a good chunk of The Woodlands.

(So, Little Ben’s rebranding scheme is starting in earnest. Crap! I need to find Big Ben faster.)

Mrs. Lebondowsky (turning to me): “Can you stop this?”

Mr. Fernandez answered for me as I’d just stuffed my face with a mini doughnut.

Mr. Fernandez: “That’s not fair Vi, you know that Junior laid her off for no good reason.”

(This is why I stay on their good side: I never mentioned why I started driving for FLYT. But given their brains, silver-haired camouflage, and spare time I’m not surprised they ferreted out why I started my career as a chauffeur. They can dig up pretty much anything they want about anyone in Rye…….wait that gives me an idea…)

Mrs. Lebondowsky (wringing her hands): “Your right, I know your right…I apologize, Phoebe.”

Me (thickly): “Don’t worry about it. I’d ask the same question if I were in your shoes.”

Putting a pin in my bolt of inspiration, I nudged the conversation onto more material matters after Mrs. Chen was nearly run over by a car pulling into the Center’s lot. 

Me (raising my voice): “Okay guys flip open your phones, I’m going to switch my ap to on duty so you can book rides with the Princess and I again!”

After The Crew located their readers and phones, they counted me down (just like New Year’s Eve) from five until I swiped my FLYT meter to ‘on’. Twenty-five minutes of furious activity (and a bit of swearing) ensued as they filled the bulk of my regular FLYT hours for the next few weeks – which warmed the cockles of my heart even better than the doughnuts (as rent is due with depressing regularity.)

Mrs. Lebondowsky scored my first block of time for the day. 

Me (buckling my seatbelt): “So what’s our first stop? Pins & Needles?”

(Rye’s finest fiber gallery & fabric store and her home away from home.)

Mrs. Lebondowsky (her ears turning pink): “Well, I think I need to stop by the Naturalist Society first. I’ve drafted a few crochet patterns for the fundraiser, and I should drop them off so they can add them to the shopping site immediately.”

Me (turning the engine over): “No problem, Mrs. Lebondowsky.”

Turning out of the Senior Center’s parking lot, Mrs. Lebondowsky switched the radio on and hummed happily along with KARB’s current musical selection – Ravel’s Bolero – for a moment before she let lose a quiet chuckle.

Mrs. Lebondowsky: “Thank you, dear, for not turning a hair at my request, Dear Frank really hates it when I’m a nosey parker.”

Me (grinning with her): “No problem, Mrs. Lebondowsky.”

2.23 Roadblocks

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(I have no recollection of ever purchasing a box of hands…)

The ransacking of my bedroom, after Aunt Pearl dropped me at the Lavender Lady library books in hand, yielded several exciting finds. Apparently, I own five copies of Melville’s Moby Dick (and haven’t cracked the cover of a single one), an entire box of mannequin hands I don’t recall purchasing, and my favorite purple sweater misplaced during the move.

Unfortunately, my copy of Nevermore’s Conventions (the massive three-ring binder dedicated to its history, bylaws, policies, and general guidance) was nowhere to be found.

Quelle surprise.

Of course, this revelation only came after two-hundred-and-forty-nine minutes of rifling, piling, and sifting through the contents of my closet and bookcases. My scouring ceased the moment I unearthed a wad of documents stuffed in the middle of a geology text. Apparently, my Caretaker employment contract, Cottage lease agreement, and other Nevermore related paperwork decided, after eighteen years of residing inside the front cover of the Conventions, to go on holiday.

Right.

One more mystifying incident to add to the list.

Sitting on the sun-warmed stone bench, I took a deep breath of the vapor rising from the surface of my coffee. Closing my eyes, I cast my mind back, endeavoring to recollect the last time I held it…I’d taken a gulp of coffee and…pulled it from a stout moving crate in order to reference my lease! I’d needed to know the hour Little Ben could/would come by for the Cottage’s keys. Then something pulled me away…and the rest of the memory is swallowed up by the chaos of coordinating the convoy of vehicles carrying my possessions to the Lavender Lady. 

Drat. 

Sighing in vexation, I opened my eyes. The view reaching my retinas mellowed my mood slightly. 

Dawn and dusk are my two favorite times to sit outside in Nevermore. Tonight, the sparrows sang to each other, sun colored the clouds orange and the fragrance of freshly mown grass filled the air – reminding me exactly why I’m still trying to take care of this place. However, my other unique and oblique responsibility quickly supplanted this initial reminder by sending ripples of electricity across my toes, pulling me from my reverie. 

Me (tracing of the stylized letter ‘A’ etched in the stone bench): “I was hoping you’d find me.”

Taking a seat next to me, “You’re the only one I know who eats bacon & eggs at this hour. I simply followed the scent.”

Fishing around inside the paper sack, I pulled out one of the egg, bacon & maple rolls I’d been too trepidatious to partake of before Joseph’s arrival. 

Me: “Guilty”

Joseph (concern coloring his voice): “How are you feeling?”

Speaking of foibles, Joseph may find my love of breakfast dishes for dinner unconventional; however, he owns one or two idiosyncrasies himself. Case in point, he was asking after my health because we haven’t seen each other since the night we confronted the Woman In White. Why? Because, for reasons known only to him, he never leaves Nevermore’s grounds. 

For any reason. 

Ever.

(He’s repeatedly rebuffed my questions about this quirk – btw.)

So I filled him on what happened after I left Nevermore that night, segueing rather nicely into the quandaries currently plaguing me. By the time I finished, the Golden Hour had transitioned smoothly into the Blue Hour, and my stomach let out a fierce grumble, letting me know of an egg, bacon & maple roll-shaped hole I needed to fill posthaste.

Me (summing up after a swig of coffee): “So, you wouldn’t happen to know where to find Big Ben or a copy of Conventions, would you?”

Taking a bite of my savory, I let him digest everything I’d just laid on him. About the time I was debating between licking the leftover bacony goodness off my left thumb or using my handkerchief as a napkin, Joseph broke the silence. 

Joseph: “Yes, and no.”

Me (drily): “Well, that clears things right up.”

Joseph (chuckling): “Yes, I know the location of a copy. Yes, I can loan it to you.”

Bouncing off the seat and onto my feet, I waited for him to follow suit.  

Joseph (an air of regret surrounding him): “No, I cannot retrieve tonight.” 

The rollercoaster of emotions accompanying his words prompted me to rake my fingers thru my hair. (It wasn’t until Beatrice delicately sniffed the air later wondering why I smelled of bacon that I recalled I’d neither wiped or licked the leftover bacon grease off my fingers.)

Joseph (unintentionally deflating me further): “You know there are elements of Nevermore which must remain unpublished. Regrettably, the whereabouts of this particular copy is one of those elements.”

Turning away from him, I aim my aggravation at the moon. The main food for my frustration, above and beyond needing to wait for possible answers, was the understanding of his position. (Though the underlying current of his words, i.e., the sands of the Sahara would reclaim the Great Pyramid of Giza before he’d budged, grated.)

Me (still zeroed in on the moon): “Any clue how soon?”

Joseph (pausing for several beats): “Tomorrow, a week, ten days? I cannot retrieve it until the immediate vicinity is clear of both Residents and staff. “

Me (pivoting on my heal): “Do you know Nevermore’s bylaws?”

Joseph (who’d risen at some point, touched my arm): “I wish I could give you some easy answers.”

Me (sighing): “I know. I’d just hoped things would move quicker. I can pull on other threads until you can collect it.”

Joseph: “One of them being Orin’s Errant?” 

Me (throwing up my hands): “Crap!”

(Obviously, Joseph correctly guessed I’d forgotten about that small task.)

2.20.a Hey Mr. Sandman, Why Has Thou Forsaken me?

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Turning over onto my side, snuggling further under the covers, I gazed past Aunt Pearl’s second-best lace curtains at the moon. I wonder who first posited it was made of Swiss cheese. A clever cheesemonger? It’s a wonder some adman along the way didn’t rename it moon cheese, to sell a few more slices…Thank heavens, the lovely chef at the Rare Records Room didn’t sprinkle any moon cheese into my divine dish of ooey-gooey golden goodness. Because whichever name that white waxy cheese goes by, it’s not for me…I still can’t believe Ira’s a member of the Rare Records Room. How he convinced them to cater part of Wood’s party for me, I’ll never know. 

Speaking of unexpected surprises, how can a man his age pull off puppy dog eyes? 

Well crap. 

Flopping onto my back, staring at the shadows dancing across the ceiling, my thoughts flung me from the precipice of sleep. Finishing the job off properly, I unpacked tonight’s dinner conversation from memory for reexamination. (Though technically it’s three am so it’s yesterday’s dinner conversation.)

Thanks only to Ira’s foresight in choosing a discrete dining table, Leo’s blurted statement of doom wasn’t broadcasted across the entire speakeasy. 

Ira (quietly clearing his throat): “Not rotten so much as peculiar. Which is why I chose the Rare Record’s Room for dinner and why Leo’s here. We’ve been comparing notes about Nevermore, and we’re concerned…So we called you.”

Tracing patterns in the condensation on my glass, I waited for either man to continue.

Ira: “Did you hear about my promotion?”

Me (startled): “Promotion? That’s not possible.”

Ira (looking me in the eye): “Be that as it may, I’m now the Head of Facilities and Maintenance. Little Ben gave Gavin my old job title.”

Me: “Did your duties change? Or Gavin’s?”

Ira (shaking his head): “Mine no. Gavin’s, yes. He’s now required to attend meetings I’ve been politely rebuffed from, despite being his supervisor.”

Leo (interjecting): “Which is weird, because they’re listed as Board of Managers meetings on the calendar.”

Me (wracking my brain): “Nevermore’s never had a board of anything since I’ve been there….Did you ask Gavin about them?”

Leo (chiming in while Ira nodded): “From what I’ve gathered, every member signed a non-disclosure agreement, with some steep penalties if violated.”

Me: “So he’s afraid of losing his job.”

Leo: “Among other things, and with the baby on the way, he can’t risk it.”

Ira & I (in unison): “Larissa’s pregnant?”

Leo (grinning): “Yup, just announced it this morning.” 

In unconscious synchronicity, we toasted the happy couple – they’d been trying for a while now. (It also allowed me to polish off my first custom marionberry infused cocktail, which packed quite a wallop and is the reason why I’m currently enjoying the comforts of Uncle and Aunt Pearl’s guest room. Uncle came and fetched me after I’d called to say I was a bit too buzzed to bus home).

Me (shaking my head): “So, besides Gavin, who else is on this Board of Managers?”

Leo: “Little Ben, of course, and the other department heads? I’m not one-hundred percent sure. They always meet before anyone’s scheduled to come in.”

Ira (gripping his drink): “I’ve never sat on a board for Nevermore either. However, back when I first started, I believe my predecessor took part in one right after Big Ben’s mother past away. But I’d just met my future Missus, and it was above my pay grade, so I didn’t pay it much attention…”

Me (exhaling slowly): “I wonder if the Nevermore Conventions could provide some clarification…What?”

Ira (exchanging glances with Leo): “That leads us to our other oddity, neither Leo or I can find a copy of the Conventions. Mine’s vanished into thin air. And I’ve turned both my office and the maintenance building upside down looking for it.”

Leo: “Sarah, Lottie, Nathaniel, and Little Ben’s copies are all missing from their bookshelves as well.”

Ira: “We were hoping you still had the Caretaker’s copy.”

Me (trying to visualize my bookcases): “Huh. Now that you mention it, I don’t recall running across recently…”

Both men looked crestfallen at my negative.

Me (slowly): “But I might know someone who could find me a copy.”

Leo (eyes shining): “So does that mean you’ll help us?”

2.19.b We Are Programmed To Receive…

2.19 1:2 pic my surreptiscious snap of the Rare Records RoomDressed in a well-loved Eagles t-shirt, jeans just this side of threadbare, purple kicks, and a Cheshire Cat grin the (new) Doorman held it open and stepped aside, “Please come in. If I can steal those keys from you?” Handing him the ring, I moved to the left (heels against the edge of the fabled postage-stamp-sized stage – squee!) and watched him close & relock the door – which incidentally is obfuscated on both sides. 

Tumblers pivoted, and keys pocketed. His mischievous smile returned, “If you could follow me, Ms. Arden.” 

Falling in step, I attempted to casually scan the room, which proved difficult due to the towering blind spot created by my guide’s broad shoulders and the narrowness of the room. Unwilling to hyperextend my neck trying to gain a comprehensive look around him, I settled for a few sideways sneak peeks at the other patrons, who returned my looks with curious glances of their own. 

In a flash, my escort was gesturing towards the right half-moon booth in the back of the speakeasy. Pausing for a moment before taking a seat, I caught my first panoramic view at the Rare Records Room and… 

…Holy Cats Batman!

Gold records arranged like dragon scales decorated every square inch of the walls not occupied by long back leather bench seats or the bar. Oh man, and the bar. The bar is a thing of beauty. A counterpoint to the modern feel of the rest of the room, the swirls and whorls of the art deco design, when combined by the eye, created a dragon curled possessively around his horde. Unlike Smaug’s golden trove, this dragon guards sixty feet of glowing liquor bottles – twelve rows deep (without a single repeat, I’m assured). Golden light, emitted from three dusty brass and crystal chandeliers, dappled the entire establishment (the dust would drive Aunt Pearl crazy, but it adds to the overall atmosphere of the joint).

Ira’s delighted voice recalled me to reality before my gaping mouth caught any flies. “Good evening Phoebe. I take it you’ve never eaten here before?” 

Me (snapping my jaw shut): “What gave it away?”

Ira (eyes crinkling): “First-timers are always struck with the same look.”

Me: “Do the rumors do justice to the mac’n’cheese?”

Ira (slow smile spreading across his face): “No.”

Me (returning his smile): “Then prepare yourself to see that expression again…”

Ira (chuckling): “Looking forward to it.”

Diverting our conversation, my guide reappeared at the periphery of our table.

My Guide: “Would you like your drinks now or wait for the last member of your party to arrive?”

Ira: “We’ll wait, he won’t be long.”

Heart sinking into the leather cushions I fussed with my cutlery, an audience of any kind would curtail me from asking virtually every question on my list (and yes, I’d written them down – so I wouldn’t forget one under the influence of cheese). 

Sidetracking me from my wilty feelings My Guide, after ascertaining this was my first visit, started quizzing me. First up? My favorite & least favorite flavors, cheeses, pastas, flowers, colors, and allergies. Then he inquired after my fondest & saddest memory, best friend and three things I couldn’t live without. Finally, to round out the twenty-questions session, he asked me to name something, anything, I hated. 

After he departed, I wasn’t sure if I’d just finished a creepy stalker quiz, psychological evaluation, or both. 

Taking a sip of water, I was saved from trying to recollect my place in the conversation by the arrival of the last member of our party (and apparently I wasn’t the only one with Hogwarts on my mind).

Leo (wearing a red and gold Weasley inspired sweater & grin): “Evening Ira, Boss….Did you just get The Grilling?”

Well, that’s all the confirmation I’ll ever need to prove I’ll never make it on the professional poker circuit.

Scooching over so Leo could take a seat, we were saved from an awkward pause by both the rituals of polite conversation and then by My Guide’s timely arrival with a tray of one-of-a-kind cocktails tailored to our tastes. He also reassured us our dinners were bubbling away in the oven as we spoke.

(If it’s half as good as this marionberry vodka drink, I will be spoiled for any other mac’n’cheese for all eternity.)

Realizing my companion’s concoctions remained untouched, I lowered my glass, bouncing my gaze between the two men, both of whom appeared unexpectedly uncomfortable. Unsure of the root cause, I rode the pause, waiting for one of them to speak (with the barest flutter of butterfly wings starting in my stomach).

Leo (blurting): “Something’s rotten in Nevermore, and we don’t know what to do.”

2.09.a Where Does The Devil Live?

Using subterfuge learned from my seventh grade English teacher Mrs. Krimple (who, when her back was turned, kept tabs on us in the reflection of the window next to the blackboard), I watched Little Ben stop dead in his tracks when he caught sight of me behind the desk. His surprise quickly morphed into suspicion, casting a swift glance over the contents of the conference table, his face filled with relief when he found the papers undisturbed.

Focused on controlling my breathing (no reason to make him wonder why I was huffing and puffing), I continued to feign ignorance at his entrance, then watched his relief fade and irritation grow under my continued silence (taking a page out of chapter seventeen of Wood’s textbook) 

Little Ben (stomping toward me): “What are you doing behind my desk?”

Me (turning to look him in the eye): “Enjoying the view.”

Unwilling to relinquish my place behind the Proprietor’s desk, I leaned a shoulder against the chilly window, ignoring Little Ben’s shooing motions.

Me: “Ben, why did you ask The Naturalist Club and the Historical Society to leave Nevermore?”

Little Ben (stopping at the edge of the desk): “I didn’t ask you up here to discuss my plans.”

Me (the sting of an electrical current sparking over my toes sucking the civility from my voice): “Oh, I’m sure you didn’t, but that’s where we’re starting.”

Gaining a slightly distracting ally, Orin strolled past Little Ben to stand next to me.

Orin (surveying Little Ben): “Do you need help, Caretaker?”

Little Ben (attempting to override my question): “I want to talk about a blip in security.”

Without taking my eyes off Little Ben, I shook my head no once, Orin tapped my shoulder in acknowledgment. 

Orin: “Well, let me know if you do. When you finish up here, can you meet some of us under the Big Cedar?” 

With an acknowledging dip of my chin, Orin departed, and I got down to brass tacks.

Me (glomming onto the title of Little Ben’s pipe-dream-dream-boards): “Does Big Ben know your plans to rebrand Nevermore?”

(Not that I knew what they were, but fifteen feet of poster board denotes some significant changes in the works.)

Little Ben (grinding his teeth): “Dad made me Provisional Proprietor.” 

Me (flatly): That doesn’t answer my question.

Little Ben (defensiveness lacing his voice): “I don’t need to. I’m the Provisional Proprietor. Dad’s letter is there on the desk if you don’t believe me.”

Following his outstretched finger, I spied an envelope sitting in plain sight on the side of the desk (which probably reassured Little Ben that I hadn’t pawed thru his papers), pushing off the window I stepped over and picked it up. Coffee stains covered the entire front, the address reminded me of an inkblot from the Rorschach test, as the liquid had rendered the writing nearly illegible.

Flipping it over, I slid several (shockingly pristine) pages out and started to skim Big Ben’s neat writing. When Little Ben answered his cell, I took advantage of his distraction and took a pic of the letter’s first page (I’d taken pictures of everything else).

IMG_0504

It confirmed Little Ben’s appointment as the Provisional Proprietor, which was hardly surprising, he was Big Ben’s son.

Me: “I don’t doubt he put you in charge, Ben.” 

(I am still surprised that Big Ben rubber-stamped my lay-off, however.)

Little Ben (still distracted by his phone): “So glad we cleared that up. Now, about this security blip. A few weeks back, Dad’s alarm code was used to disarm this building. Obviously, it couldn’t have been him and I’m not sure what happened. The cameras malfunction the same night as well, so they’re no help.”

Ignoring his question for a moment (since I knew what was behind his “security blip”), my mind spun in another direction, on to another explanation for Big Ben’s prolonged absence. 

Big Ben always said he’d only retire when he went toes up. 

Taking advantage of my stupefied silence, Little Ben used his personal space (i.e., bulk) to edge me out from behind the Proprietor’s desk. Taking a seat, he fiddled with his papers for a moment, then waved me towards the guest chair already occupied by my stuff. 

Me (blindly following his invitation): “Ben is your Dad okay? Did he have a heart attack? Stroke? Broke a hip? Cancer?”

Little Ben (on the back foot): “No. No. No. No.”

Me: “Was he in a car accident? Diagnoses with dementia? Blood clots?” 

Little Ben (flummoxed): “No. No. No! Nothing’s happened! You know Pop, he’s healthy as a horse.”

Me (continuing my rapid-fire): “Then where is he?”

Little Ben (defensiveness lacing his voice): “He’s still in New Mexico, working on a project with a buddy, said he needed some extra time to get it up and running, so he made me Provisional Proprietor.”

Me (still fishing): “Does he still call for weekly updates?”

Little Ben (throwing up his hands): “Not weekly. Look, about the security blip, none of the locks were tampered with, nothing was taken or disturbed. I don’t want this happening again, do you have any ideas?”

Deciding he could do more harm if he tried to solve this problem on his own, I outlined some steps to ward off future ‘malfunctions’. Including carrying out long-overdue system maintenance and issuing new alarm codes to all employees. Which, unfortunately, will seriously curb any future surreptitious after-hours undertakings by yours truly. 

Me (closing my eyes and taking a deep breath, I debated my options for a moment): “If you can’t find any evidence of tampering, this is what I would do…”

This day just keeps getting better and better.

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