Tag Archives: Nevermore

2.20.b Cheesy Strategies

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

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

Leo: “…fix Nevermore?”

With a bemused expression, Ira explained.

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

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

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

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

Needless to say, their answers matched.

And here we are.

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

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

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

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

Leo (wiggling his eyebrows): “Touché.”

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

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

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

Not wanting to mouth platitudes, I stayed silent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I need to bake a cake.

2.18.b The Sun Will Come Out, Tomorrow…

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Beatrice (mumbling around the chunk of apple she finally shoved into her mouth): “Not really.”

Unsurprised by her response, I shrugged, she would tell me about it or not. I can’t force her to spill her troubles. The slightly uncomfortable bubble created by her negative answer popped when her hand changed course from the snack plate to the brochure lying next to it.

Beatrice (opening the glossy trifold paper): “I didn’t know Nevermore hosted weddings.”

Me: “It doesn’t.”

Beatrice (tilting her head and rotating the pamphlet): “Then what am I looking at?”

Me (popping a bit of smoked cheddar in my mouth): “Can we keep this between us?”

Beatrice (leaning forward, drawing more promotional materials to her): “Yes.”

Me (snagging her glass before she could object): “Remember a few days back, when I went to Nevermore to pick up the boxes Sarah saved for me?…”

Beatrice, who apparently was only partially absorbed in reading every scrap of paper I’d put on the table, waved me forward in my story. Quietly pleased she’d found something other than her phone to focus on, I continued – after finishing my impression of a fish out of water. Apparently, only one of us can drink Pappy Van Winkle bourbon like it’s water. 

Hint: It’s not me.

Me (still wheezing a bit): “I heard some rumors about Little Ben and Nevermore. When I went looking for answers, I found all this.”

Beatrice (arching an eyebrow): “Found?”

Me (squirming): “Not the point of the story.”

Beatrice, once again laughing at me without uttering a sound, motioned for me to continue.

Me (cheeks still hot): “As I was saying, what I found doesn’t make sense.”

Beatrice (glancing up): “Why?”

Me: “Because Little Ben’s only the Provisional Proprietor of Nevermore.” 

Beatrice: “Meaning….”

Me (sliding the enlarged pictures of Little Ben’s Pipe-dream-dream-boards and Big Ben’s letter to the top of the pile): “Basically, it’s a fancy name for an acting manager/heir. It allows the Proprietor to take a step back from day-to-day operations while giving his replacement a safety net to work over. Which doesn’t work if Big Ben is gone for two years! Provided Little Ben’s timeline is accurate.”

Beatrice (interrupting my rant, squinting at the pictures): “Are all the buildings and services outlined here new?”

Me (throwing my hands up in the air): “Yes! That’s what I don’t get. If Big Ben is going to be gone for two years and give his son the latitude to rebrand Nevermore – why name him Provisional Proprietor?”

Beatrice (setting aside the photos for another brochure): “Perhaps Senior’s keeping a veto in his back pocket in case Junior goes off the rails.”

Me: “Maybe, but once again, that only works if Big Ben’s here keeping an eye on things.”

Beatrice: “What do you think of these new amenities?”

Me (picking up Beatrice’s glass again, only to find it empty): “The ideas are mostly solid, but the details undoubtedly need tweaking. They always do.”

Beatrice (starting to sort the papers into neat piles, tossing Little Ben’s new business card to the side): “So Junior dreams big but stumbles over the nitty-gritty, correct? So what happens if the Sunny Valley Farm and Cemetery’s renovations and business plan go off without a huge hitch. Thanks in no small part to your efforts?”

Me (trying to figure out my roommate’s method of sorting): “He’ll gain confidence.”

Beatrice (still shuffling): “Is two years enough time for his grand plan to come to fruition?”

Me: “Yes.”

Beatrice: “Do you think Junior wants his rebranding complete before Senior comes back?”

Leaning my head back, I squeezed my eyes closed, ignoring the squelchy feeling in my stomach. Recalling Wood’s ambitious plans for Doctor Hansen’s practice, after the elder statesman retires.

Me (opening my eyes): “I think he wants to put his own stamp on Nevermore, make it his own. So yes, I think he does.”

Pushing away from the table, her sorting finished, Beatrice, fetched a new glass and the remnants of the good bottle of bourbon from the cupboard. Setting the second glass in front of me, she splashed a reasonable amount of the amber-colored liquid into each before speaking.

Beatrice (Mona Lisa smile in place): “Drink this, it’ll help.”

Me: “Why?”

Beatrice: “You’re missing the bigger picture.”

Me: “Bigger picture?”

Beatrice (tapping the nearest of the thirteen uneven piles of paper): “How is Junior going to get all of these improvements, three of which are pretty significant, built? Given that it’s unlikely Senior’s absence will extend the full two years?”

Looking, really looking at the thirteen unequal piles, the acid in my stomach started churning – the gulp of Kentucky’s finest didn’t help a whit.

Beatrice (taking my swig as confirmation of her summation): “Simultaneously construction. It’s the only way I can see Junior finishing his “rebranding” before Senior returns.”

Lowering my head onto the cool tabletop (after downing a less reasonable amount of bluegrass hooch), I let the ideas wash over me; How on earth am I going to explain this to the Residents? Or Joseph? And keep everyone calm, cool, and collected? Even worse, what if he moves some graves? Dear Gods above and below, what if Mazy’s squirrel buddy gets hurt…

Beatrice (grimly turning a photo of a budget page towards me): “That’s only a small part of the bigger picture…”

Me (raising my head): “That’s the small part?”

Beatrice: “How is he going to pay for it?”

Me (staggering out of my chair): “I have to make some calls….”

Beatrice: “It’s after midnight, no one in the know will be happy to take your call.”

Me (dropping back into my chair): “Well crap.”

Beatrice (picking up our glasses and putting them into the sink): “Sleep on it. You’ll ask better ones tomorrow.”

Me (rubbing my eyes): “You’re right. You’re right.”

Unaccustomed to ingesting that much bourbon in one sitting (and feeling weary/fuzzy for it), I left Little Ben’s rebranding plans on the table and shuffled out of the kitchen after Beatrice, shutting off the radio and lights as I went. 

2.17.a Burgers & Revelations

2.18 Lunch

I think I’m in love. 

After one-hundred-and-fifteen years of tinkering, fiddling, and experimentation has culminated in this plate of grass-fed goodness sitting between Beatrice and me (we’re sharing). Containing the ideal ratio of sauce to bun to beef with a wonderful fringe of fresh groceries (lettuce, tomato & onion), this burger is perfect in every particular.

Taking another bite, I closed my eyes, recalling a fun little factoid Wood and I discovered in fifth grade – which blew our minds. 

Did you know the hamburger didn’t gain widespread popularity in the U.S. until the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair? On its own, this doesn’t sound startling. But combined with our family history unit? We couldn’t believe our eyes. 

Born between 1888 and 1902, our great-grandparent’s childhood plates might possibly, have been bereft of our favorite dinnertime staple.

Staring stupidly at the numbers written in our own hand, we turned tail and ran to Wood’s Gran, who didn’t laugh at our horror (though looking back she was probably tempted). Unable to verify our deductions, as she’d never gotten into an in-depth discussion of burgers with her mother, she did disclose an even more shocking piece of information.

She hadn’t tasted her first McDonald’s cheeseburger until her thirty-fifth birthday. His Gran then went on to admit she grew up in a world without  Ronald McDonald, Grimace, The Hamburglar, and Mayor McCheese. Minds blown his Gran gave us both a cookie and told us not to worry – she’d eaten enough cheeseburgers since to make up for her McDonald’s-less childhood.

Smiling at the shadow of my past flabbergast, I reopened my eyes just in time to keep our mound of napkins from sailing across the lawn on the brisk breeze snatching at my hair. Beatrice, in her own burger induced thrall, chewed on obliviously. 

Perhaps a bit brisk for alfresco dining, I’d still chosen a picnic table outside, due to the subtle funk still clinging tenaciously to me. Despite using an entire tube of wet wipes and changing into my spare uniform (extras of I stashed in the Princess after the Tomato Soup Incident), I couldn’t entirely shake the unique scent of Muck Duck Pond. 

On the upside, my new swampy perfume put the Von Haeville sisters and Mr. Ottoman off from joining us for lunch, they’d gotten their orders to go. (Mr. John Dupree took a different road home and missed out on this piece of ambrosia.) 

Me (finally feeling human again, we continued our discussion from the Princess): “Did you find what they were looking for?”

Beatrice (dipping a fry in ketchup): “Yes, tucked under a loose floorboard in the master bedroom. Pretty standard hiding place really, not sure why they didn’t find it themselves…Did she really lock you out?”

Having just taken a bite of my burger, all I could do was nod.

Beatrice (licking salt off her fingers and moving on): “Did you find the family plot?”

Me (swallowing): “Yes, and completed an informal study for the Rye Historical Society. If it’s not already in the national registry, they’ll list it and request permission to complete a formal survey.”

(BTW – finishing my infernal ‘informal study’ led directly to my besmirching. After Ina Von Haeville set off to find IT, I lagged behind recording the last three markers on my map. When I finally scrambled through the hedge after her, she was so far ahead that I had to follow her line to keep her in sight – right through Much Duck Pond.) 

Beatrice (grinning): “That will put a bee in the sister’s bonnets.”

Me: “Why?”

Beatrice: “From what Dupree gleaned, they haven’t disclosed the cemetery’s existence to their buyers…”

Me (wry smile curving my lips): “That’ll even the score for making me clean up outside. The Historical Society will make sure the buyers know about it.”

(Yes, they made me walk around the house and clean up in the Princess. The Elder Von Haeville sister staunchly refused to allow me to walk thru the house. When Beatrice wondered aloud why it mattered, as the maid hadn’t mopped up in years, the two really started taking verbal swings at each other. They only stopped when I stepped in and relented to the Elder’s request. Figuring that giving an eyeful to the local fauna, while changing, a small price to pay for keeping my secret, secret.)

Finishing up our shared lunch (and dropping a few loose fries on the ground for the house sparrows hopping about our feet), we headed to the Princess. Where I finally mustered up the courage to broach my million dollar question with Beatrice.

Me (occupying my hands with starting the Princess): “How well do you know Ms. Crab-Apple Hettie?”

Beatrice (wearing a Mona Lisa smile): “Why?”

Me (hedging): “The night we dressed as pirates and planted rubber ducks in Nevermore, do you think she’s the one who warned Little Ben we were coming?”

Beatrice (without hesitating): “No.”

Me (grabbing my milkshake for a sip): “Are you sure?” 

Beatrice (eyes twinkling sporting a wide Cheshire grin): “Pretty sure, she’s my Great Aunt.”

Wait?! What?!!? Crap!!!!! Crapity, Crap, Crap Crap!!!!

2.14.b Jade Colored Glasses

2.14 Jade colored glasses

If the Emerald City ever possessed an abandoned cemetery, this is precisely what it would look like. 

The only difference? Rather than the gleam of emeralds arresting the eye, lichens and mosses mimicked the jeweled tones made famous by that legendary city (and entirely engulfed every headstone). The lack of those brilliant precious stones, as we don’t actually live in the land of Oz, is probably for the best. Since it significantly reduces the chances of grave robbers raiding the place. On the flip side, if a frieze of emeralds rimmed the central burial or statue’s plinth, might have kept the tenants of this family plot on someone’s radar.

Seriously, if the entrance is any indication, no one’s visited this place in forty years. 

“They’re pulling our legacy apart for money, it’s a disgrace, I know. But I can’t stop them, Maud.”

Catching me in the midst of a spider shimmy, I turned towards the sour voice and spied a woman in a rose-colored silk suit sitting primly on a variegated green bench. 

Fantastic. Another woman wearing pink.

Our Lady of the Rose Suit (hands clenched into fists): “How can I save it, Maud?”

Her vinegary tone didn’t impart any warm fuzzies. 

Thankful for the thick layer of evergreen fir needles underfoot, I took a couple silent steps to my left, following her gaze trying to gain a glimpse of the elusive Maud and….nothing. So on the upside, she hadn’t pounced on (or in fact acknowledge) me after my unceremonious eruption into the verdant family plot. 

On the downside, she appeared to be talking to herself – which never bodes well.

Our Lady of the Rose Suit (lips puckered): “Yes, they’ve emptied the library.”

Taking advantage of her disregard, I scrutinized Our Lady of the Rose Suit carefully. Her accessories (a matching rose-colored pillbox hat & rhinestone-studded cat-eye glasses and white gloves) plus the cut of her clothes reminded me of the illustrations on early 1950s Simplicity Patterns. 

(I’m familiar with them due to spending time in Aunt Pearl’s sewing room. Being a Home Ec. Teacher and packrat – she’s kept all of her, and my Great Aunt’s sewing patterns – under the premise of everything old is new again, eventually.)

Coupling this sartorial impression with her rigid posture and general air, Our Lady of the Rose Suit struck me as a woman who required an introduction before saying more than a hello or commenting on the weather. (Not unlike Ms. Hettie – the sourest lemon on any tree.) 

Which means, at minimum, I need her name.

Gazing at the dozen and a half moss encrusted gravestones, I wiggled my toes in my shoes, hoping they’d give me my usual shortcut. But instead, and despite the fact, my sneakers had finally stopped squelching wetly with each step, they persisted in their impression of icicles. Fantastic.

Our Lady of the Rose Suit: “They’ve ordered the molding, panels and cabinets stripped out next.”

Okay, fine, I don’t need them to figure this out. I possess other skills.

Pulling out a small notebook, pencil and pocket knife from my pack (while palming a small tin of high-quality hand-cut sea salt, just in case), I used the first two items to sketch out the layout of the Von Haeville family plot, then numbered the stones on my rough map.

Stepping over the fallen fir bough to my left, whilst keeping a weather eye and half an ear on Our Lady of the Rose Suit, I knelt down in front of the second stone on my list. Using my pocket knife, I skimmed the emerald green coating from the marker’s face revealing, “David Von Haeville, Loving Brother, Husband, and Father 1890 – 1977”. 

Crap. 

She didn’t shift an inch in response to my actions – not that I want her to pounce mind you – but ninety-nine percent of Residents take an interest in any activity near their genesis points, especially if no one’s popped by in a while. 

Our Lady of the Rose Suit: “No, I never moved it.”

Recording the epithet on David’s stone into my notebook, I crab-walked to stone number three. Using the same process as before, I scraped away the grave moss and recorded what lay beneath. Then repeated the same process until a bright current flickered across my fingers on lucky number fourteen (lucky because that meant she started off as a Resident). 

Peeling away the thin green rind, I discovered Our Lady of the Rose Suit’s name – Ina Von Haeville. Weirdly, only Ina’s name was etched into the stone, nothing else.

Ina Von Haeville (fists bouncing slightly off her lap): “Yes, it’s the last one left unsullied by their influence.”

Now the rubber meets the road – let’s see how aware she really is…

Sitting back on my heels, I closed my eyes, took several measured breaths, leaned forward, and placed my hand back on Ina’s marker. Ignoring the electricity sparking over my fingers, I concentrated directly on Ina’s Vita. No stinging or biting, unlike the last pink-clad woman who’s Vita caused my arm to go numb. But it did contain a few discordant notes, less than I expected, characteristic of an Errant or Resident suffering from loneliness and/or isolation. 

Ina Von Haeville (voice disconcertingly close): “What do you think you’re doing.”

2.14.a Another Reason To Loath This Day?

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SPIDER! 

Spider! Spider! Spider!

Spider in my hair!

Crap! Crap! Crap! 

Scrubbing the dewy web I’d walked thru energetically from my face, I started inwardly cursing the lack of essential maintenance to the manor. A second later, when my nerve ending perceived eight legs scuttling over my scalp, my curses turned audible (and rather blue), while I attempted to dissuade the arachnid from remaining on my person. Which sounds way classier than reality – which featured more face scrubbing, hair fluffing, hasty outwear removal, and thrashing about trying to fling Aragog off me. (Aragog, Hagrid’s spider friend from Harry Potter and the approximate size of the bloodthirsty predator I’d spied lying in wait in its’ web a nanosecond before my forward momentum carried me thru it.)

Shaking my coat out vigorously and venting, “Forking spiders! Why are there always spiders? And why can’t Errants ever be easy? And those stupid forking Von Haeville sisters! Locking me out!…”

“Loathsome children, no better than their mother, really. No appreciation for family traditions…” The woman’s voice trailed off into a low murmur.

The unexpected agreement from a reedy voice the other side of the wildly untrimmed hedgerow cut my own spleen short. Standing on my tiptoes and craning my neck, I managed to catch a glimpse of a rusty row of wrought iron spear tops peaking thru the foliage. The sight of the barrier lifted an invisible weight off my shoulder (or perhaps my fanged foe leapt off, either way, they felt better), Beatrice mentioned in passing something about a family plot on the property didn’t she? 

Taking a deep breath, I pulled my coat on and gave my backpack and scarf a good shake – just in case. (I do not want that brown behemoth moving in and making my ear canal its new abode.) 

Standing back, I scrutinized the tall feral hedge. There two yards ahead, an inch of burnt orange poking out – a gate latch. Keeping my eyes firmly fixed on the oxidized iron, I took a careful step forward, unwilling to tangle with more artfully strung gossamer spun at exactly face height…

….Again…..Today. 

In point of fact, I’d walked thru three other (hopefully) unoccupied webs while dodging mossy statues, thorny bushes, and standing water. The water, a well-camouflaged puddle, I’d actually encountered first and avoided as successfully as that last bit of spider silk. The resulting moist pant cuffs, socks, and shoes (if you’re going to do something, do it well) lead to me stumbled around this unintended labyrinth for the better part of an hour trying to hone in on my first impression. 

Numb toes aren’t frustrating at all.

Also not frustrating? The hedge. Left to its own devices for so long, its’ swallowed up the open gate and the entrance once cut into it. 

Fantastic, now I get to go where spiders live (webs are just where they hunt). Stupid. Forking. Day.

Psyching myself up, I plunged headlong into and thru the green garden border. (Probably not the wisest thing to do, diving in headlong, but the thought of hidden spiders threatened to dissolve my nerve.)

2.08 Needs Must When The Devil Drives

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Leaving a still laughing Leo to his work, I entered the stairwell for the fourth time today when the muffled click of kitten heels on hardwood hit my ears, pausing my ascent on the second stair. Only one person wears heels around here…

Lottie (hitting the push bar of the door above): “I’m heading to Sarah’s office now….Yes…Yes, I’ll walk Phoebe up to the lobby to meet you…back in a minute.”

Making a split-second decision, I ducked into the shadowy corner under the stairwell to wait for Lottie to walk past.

When playing hide-and-seek with an unknowing seeker, you can take advantage of more blatant hiding spots. But the fundaments still need following; hold your breath, do your best impression of a statue, attempt to reduce your mass to that of a mouse and chant ‘don’t-see-me-don’t-see-me-don’t-see-me’ in your head. Blending in with your surroundings is a plus, but not always an available option, today all I could do was offer up a silent thanks to past me for choosing to wear a dark woolen coat instead of my bright orange gore-tex.

Not even Lottie could miss my imitation of a pumpkin.

Why am I hiding from Little Ben’s secretary? Leo’s scuttlebutt raised a number of questions, none of which would get answered if we spoke in front of an audience. But in private? Perhaps I could pry out a few. 

(And only a little to do with the fact that Lottie’s the pineapple to my pizza.)

Listening to Lottie descend the stairs, I enacted the principles of a champion hider and was only a little light-headed from the lack of oxygen when she finally past by me and out the door. Counting to five after it swung shut, I scampered swiftly up the stairs (thanking every lucky star in the sky my sneakers had dried enough to stop squeaking). 

In two slightly wheezy (don’t tell Wood) minutes flat, I breezed past Lottie’s empty desk and into Little Ben’s new digs. When my entrance failed to elicit any expletives about barging in unannounced, I leaned back against the door, flipped the lock, and caught my breath.

Usually, the Proprietor’s Office brings a smile to my face. 

With three out of four walls featuring floor-to-ceiling built-in bookcases filled with midnight blue bound books who’s bindings combine to create a mosaic – an unkindness of ravens taking flight from gnarled leafless trees under a full moon in silver filagree. How could you not smile at such a sight? (Big Ben never lends out these books ever – I’ve asked).

But today, this awe-inspiring biblio vista filled me with fury. 

Skirting around a heaping conference table, I confronted the fifteen feet of display boards obscuring my favorite sight in all of Nevermore. 

Well, I found Little Ben’s dream boards…….taped to the shelves. Big Ben will mount his son’s hide to the wall if he damages any of the books.

Intending to find a footstool to determine the damage, my eyes fell away from the offending adhesive and locked onto the papers pasted on the poster boards themselves.  

Panic quickly supplanted ire as the series of adverts, slogans, sketches, maps, and action items, Little Ben had plastered across his unusually professional dream boards, penetrated my brain. If accurate, the bisecting timeline placed Sunny Valley Farm & Pet Cemetery as the first significant step in rebranding Nevermore. 

(Even more curious? How spot-on Leo’s intelligence proved. My termination appeared as an action item dated two months prior to the date Little Ben handed me my pink slip – between other ticked off items of ‘secure financing for MacGregor Farm purchase’ and ‘shut off the boiler in Club House’. Seriously, how does Leo do it?)

Taking a deep breath and steeling my nerves, I focused on the problem at hand – time. Little Ben and/or Lottie could return at anytime since I’d yet to steal my very own TARDIS, I needed a way to examine this in detail later… Whipping out my phone, I started snapping pictures of every slip of paper featured on his Pipe-Dream-Dream-Board. Concentrating on the context and not the content – kept me from getting distracted – because even skimming them caused my insides to wobble about uncomfortably. Rapidly finishing my photo documentation, I turned my camera onto the conference table behind me. 

Avoiding the two obvious workstations (no need to call attention to my unsanctioned scrutiny), I focused on the binders. Trying to keep my hands steady, I photographed the title pages, table of contents, and anything labeled ‘budget’. About the time I started perusing the boxes stacked next to the conference table, the sound of kitten heels accompanied by a heavier tread reached me thru the door. 

With one ear, I listened to Little Ben giving Lottie further instructions, while frantically pulling the tops off the five boxes of promotional materials and stuffing one folder from each in my PULP tote. After replacing the box tops, I pulled the fourteen-foot scarf off my neck and crammed it around the folders in my bag. Then I flew across the room, tossing the tote, my coat, and purse into one of the guest chairs. 

The locked door bought me just enough time to slip behind the Proprietor’s desk and watch (in the reflection of the floor to ceiling windows) Little Ben’s reaction when it dawned on him who’d spent an indefinite amount of unchaperoned time in his office.

Because Leo’s information dovetailed disturbingly with Little Ben’s Pipe-Dream-Dream-Boards to raise one singularly critical question…

Where in the world is Big Ben?

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!

2.03 The Whole Truth and Nothing But The Truth

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So Wood took ballet. 

I wonder if his Gran taped his recitals…I bet she did. 

The glimmerings of a party started percolating. We could watch all of Wood’s performances in sequence while eating potato salad, pasta, and wings. The wings would, of course, require a plethora of sauces, Thai sweet chili, Kansas City bbq, Hawaiian, Korean bbq, teriyaki, maple-chipotle, ginger-scallion, mole, tandoori, honey-mustard…

Pulling myself physically from the visions of plum sauce dancing in my head, my mind slid back to the man winding cotton around my wounds. 

Do they teach conversational wizardry in medical school? Sounds like a class Wood would ace, it’s probably an elective. Because trading truth for truth feels like a tactic discovered by Hippocrates (Father of Western Medicine). Which he then handed down to his students, who handed it down to their students, and on thru generations until it landed in a modern medical text as Chapter Seventeen – Securing The Truth: Ten Ways to Sway Your Patient.

What’s worse? It’s working.

The thought of paying Wood’s twenty-year-old Twinkle-Toes Revelation with a bunch of lame excuses made me feel rotten to the core. Especially since I’ve kept my knack a secret from him since the day we met…

Me (sighing): “How did you know I’d gotten hurt at Nevermore tonight?”

Wood: “Logic. It’s the only place where you wouldn’t call anyone for help. Sit still for a minute.”

With a snick of his scissors, he finished up my new wrappings. 

Me: “You’re right, I did happen at Nevermore.”

While I cast about for a way, to tell the truth, without telling the whole truth. Wood continued to ride the silence stretching between us (another tip from chapter seventeen, I’m sure). 

Me (watching him clean up): “So here’s the thing, I can’t tell you what happened.”

Yanking (and thankfully cracking) a can of cola from the fridge, he thumped it down in front of me, then dropped some impressively large pills next to it.

Wood (curtly): “Take these.”

Me: “But I can tell you why.”

Wood, after handing me my button-up, sat down and started balancing his chair on its back legs (a habit which Aunt Pearl’s been trying to break for years) while watching me thru narrow eyes. 

Me (fumbling with my sleeve): “Ever wonder why I’m still trying to save Nevermore from Little Ben? And Little Ben From himself?”

Wood: “Loyalty to his father?”

Me (now floundering with my buttons): “That’s part of it…”

Wood (softly): “Because you’re related to some of the residents there?”

He knew about the Residents? Panic lanced thru my stomach until it struck me who Wood was tactfully alluding too. Blinking rapidly, I focused on our different definitions of the word, which permitted the knots in my middle to slacken.

Me (deciding I’d buttoned enough buttons to pass muster, I chuckled without any humor): “That’s where it started, a newly minted nine-year-old’s melodramatic promise, to always take care of them, the best I could.”

Wood (lowering his chair onto all fours): “Those were extenuating circumstances…”

Me (wondering if a bruise turns colors when you blush): “Yes. Well. I never forgot about it. So when Big Ben put me in charge of Nevermore’s internal operations, basically everyone above and below ground, my promise expanded with my promotion. Which includes, no matter how annoying he is, Little Ben.”

Wood started to say something – but I cut him off – if I stopped now, I’d never have the courage to sail this close to the whole truth again.

Me (rushing): “I know what you’re thinking, but I can’t just abandon my promise just because Little Ben handed me walking papers. That’s not how it works. Tonight, these {waving hands} happened seeing those promise thru, and before you ask, I can’t promise you it won’t happen again.”

Leaning back, Wood stared at the ceiling processing. I tried and failed to rest my head on my crossed arms (seems bending at the waist isn’t for me at the moment, this should make picking up groceries/luggage/cat carriers for my FLYT fares exciting).

Wood (leaning towards me): “These promises, they’re what really prompted your sudden need to hike up Pumpkin Mountain?” 

Crap. Crap. Crap. Did he make the connection between the Fall Foliage Tour and Tiffany Grindle’s anonymous tipster? It didn’t matter, he’d know if I lied. 

Me (sighing): “Yes.”

Wood (nodding): “Okay.”

Me (wary): “Okay?”

Wood (meeting my gaze): “I’ll smooth thing over with Uncle and Aunt” Pearl.

Relief swept thru me (or perhaps the painkillers kicked in – it could go either way) and put a smile onto my face.

Wood (returning mine with a small sly one of his own): “Oh, don’t thank me yet, we still need to settle your tab.”

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