Tag Archives: Nevermore

2.37.a Moon Bathing

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Tooting the Princess horn, I waited for Wood to meet me in his drive. Restless, I pulled my phone out of its holder on the dash and dialed Big Ben’s number. Listening to the first note of the overly familiar out-of-service message start to play, I hung up, wishing I didn’t feel a little disappointed every time he didn’t answer. 

Tossing the phone in the cupholder, I closed my eyes, leaned back, and rested my palms against the steering wheel.

Visualizing Ira’s enigmatic envelope, I counted my breaths and tried to calm the fork down. Unfortunately, my brain took this as a cue to replayed the memory of the Woman In White’s hand plunging into my chest, trying to strip my Vita. Then, and more disturbingly, my mind morphed the memory into a nightmare – by showing me the Woman In White killing Wood instead. 

My brain wasn’t being remotely helpful presently – in case you’re wondering.

Tossing aside the advice of gently noting the negative thought, then letting it go, since my little grey cells decided to play the vision of Wood dying on a loop (quickly converting my insides into a mass of quivering jelly). I dove directly into the heart of the maelstrom instead. Reminding my troubled brain that an encounter with an Errant did not automatically lead to them trying to strip one’s Vita. A Woman In White of the caliber I encountered earlier this year is extraordinarily rare. And the majority of Errants aren’t mad as hatters. 

Even more promising, the Errant in Remembrance Park warned Orin off. 

Plus, I packed fifteen pounds of the purest salt in my pack….and stashed another fifteen pounds in the Princess’s trunk….

The rationalizing helped, the sheer quantity of salt on hand helped more – but neither completely dispel my wibble wobbles or made the memory of the Woman In White retreat entirely. 

Drat my brain.

Taking one last lung-busting breath, I held it until the count of six then slowly exhaled to the count of twelve. Whilst not precisely calm, I did manage to unlock my elbows, stop pressing my back against the seat, and unclenched my death grip on the steering wheel. 

Reopening my eyes, I caught a bit of movement in my peripheral vision, cracking my neck as I turned it, I found Wood waving at me. Leaning over, I unlocked the Princess’s door and let him in.

Me: “Why didn’t you knock?”

Wood: “You looked like you were having a moment.”

Nodding, because it was true, I started backing the Princess out of Wood’s drive. Wood scenting the air like a bloodhound, pivoting in place, then stared at the provisions I’d packed in the backseat. 

Wood: “We’re going on a picnic?”

Me: “Sort of, I thought I’d take you Moon Bathing.”

Wood (flatly): “Moon Bathing.”

Me (stepping on the gas): “It’s like sunbathing but safer?”

Feeling his eyes on me, I continued to concentrate on my driving. This morning on Uncle and Aunt Pearl’s back porch, we’d managed to nail down the time and place I’d pick him up from for our nocturnal adventure. But before I told him the whys, my bleary-eyed cousins meandered into the kitchen and started bellowing for their children. The Niblings wisely evaporated into the wilderness I’d successfully hidden in the evening before. Leaving Wood and I to explain that yes, indeed, we made three kinds of pancakes, bacon, eggs, fruit, and coffee for breakfast. Bequeathing them, as is our family tradition, an unholy mess to mop up in exchange for our early morning culinary efforts. 

(They’d needed a stepladder to wipe up all the spatter.)

They were in a more forgiving state of mind after they’d sampled The Stack. Hopefully, so would Wood after he saw what I’d packed.

Wood (staring at me steadily): “Morticia, why are we Moon Bathing?”

Taking a deep breath, I gave Wood the exact level of truth I thought we’d both be comfortable with. (It’s also one of the reasons why I’d stuff the picnic basket with his most portable favorite foods).

Me (turning onto a side street): “I need to talk to a guy at Remembrance Park. The thing is I don’t know when he’ll turn up, and I didn’t want to wait alone. So I thought we could give Moon Bathing a try.”

Wood digested my explanation. He finally broke the thoughtful silence when I pulled the Princess next to the curb a half a block down from the park.

Wood (releasing his seatbelt): “This guy, does he have anything to do with our Agreement?”

Me (busying my hands): “Tangentially.”

Wood: “So, Moon Bathing is a smokescreen?”

Me (sighing): “Yes.”

Wood (bouncing out of the Princess): “Fantastic!” 

2.33.b …The Brownie Stealing Bench

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I’m not sure who my words shocked more Leo, Josie, or I. I’m thinking Leo, only because he nearly spat out his mouthful of beer.

Regarding me cooly for a split second, she shifted her focus back onto a red-faced Leo, who’d swiftly stopped choking and/or coughing, without any further acknowledgement.

Josie (smile a little tight at the edges): “I’ve been struggling to find a perfect gift for KARB’s Programming Director. You probably haven’t heard, as David’s only told a select few, but he’s handing over the reins to my inamorato Julien Dewinter and retiring at the end of next month. I think he’d love your work.”

Is she using selective hearing on me? Seriously? And how ostentatious, inamorato, why not just call Julien her boyfriend?

Leo (returning her smile with a polite one of his own): “Thank-you, but…”

Me (thoughtfully interrupting Leo): “Perhaps a viper is to on the nose. How about a spider? You could go as Arachne, from that story by Ovid, I’m sure Leo could whip up a cobweb mini dress and an appropriate eight-legged hat…”

Easing her left hip against the edge of the table, giving me an excellent view of her backside, Josie continued to pretend I was existentially challenged. 

Well, who’d have thunk it – I do believe I’ve found a fourth solution for dealing with Josie and her ilk – and I owe it all to Ms. Hettie.

Josie (ratcheting up her charm-o-meter): “If you have a moment right now, we could discuss designs and your fee. I’m sure Phoebe won’t mind moving to the bar while we talk business. I believe she’s on excellent terms with the bartender.”

Woot! She just intimated I was a drunk! I wonder which Ms. Hettie would appreciate more; butter cookies or a bottle of bourbon? I feel I ought to repay her for the year of verbal sparring and zinger training I’ve received.

Me (snapping my fingers): “I’ve got it! You should go as a magpie! They’re handsome and thieving, just like you!”

Leo utterly failed to suppress a guffaw. 

Man, how did I miss this? I never once considered needling-her-back as a viable defense! Probably because we were in school and she’d have made my life a misery.

Josie (turning back to me, her tone tetchy): “Are you still bent out of shape over that brownie thing back in junior high? It was over twenty years ago, we’re different people now, let it go. You’ll feel better for it.”

Is she trying to out adult me?

Me (Cheshire smile splitting my face – I let her): “Naw, don’t wanna.”

Ready to take the lumps Josie’s sub-zero stare promised were in the offing, Ruth quadrupled her tip by arriving at our table with our wing order a split second before the icy blast.

Leo (delighted): “Dinner!”

Digging into the baskets, Leo started distributing the sides and dividing the wings equally between our plates – as is our tradition – and successfully diffused the impending sleety squall.

Me: “Sorry, Josie. I’d ask you to join, but we only ordered enough for the two of us tonight.”

Josie (stiffly): “No problem, I’m a vegan anyway.”

Me (quizzically): “Really?” 

Josie: “Yes, really, eating animals is beastly.”

Me (shrugging): “How very ethical of you.”

Josie (addressing Leo): “Can I contact you about the commission early next week?” 

Leo (setting down his barbecue-gochujang coated drumette): “Unfortunately, I’m not taking on any new projects at the moment.”

Josie: “Are you sure? A vintage microphone hat would be perfect, and I’d pay triple since I know its short notice.”

Leo: “Sorry, Josie, Phoebe’s hat is the last custom order I’m doing for a while.”

Josie (letting loose a healthy sigh, then smiling): “I suppose it’s for the best. I’m not sure Julien would be comfortable giving his former boss something cute. Well, it was nice running into you, Phoebe, and a pleasure to meet you, Leo. I’ll see you both around.”

Dear lords above and below, I hope not.

After delivering her parting shot, using a tone that would make even Jack Frost shiver, she turned on her heel to leave – without waiting for our response. Unable to resist needling her one last time, I decided to impart a helpful laundry tip Aunt Pearl gave me soon after I discovered this place.

Me: “Hey Josie, you’ll want to run the front of your blouse and the bottom edge of your cuff under cold water, then soak it in liquid detergent for a couple of days before you wash it.”

Without sparing a glance at the tell-tale reddish specks splattered across her shirt, she turned towards my voice, her mouth compressed in a flat rigid line.

Josie (icicles hanging off the word): “Why?”

Me: “It’s the only way to keep that buffalo sauce stain from setting.”

Wow, I do believe Josie Reville just flipped me off.

Ms. Hettie’s definitely deserves both a bottle of bourbon and several dozen butter cookies.

Leo (regarding me with amusement): “Does the Hinge serve buffalo sauce on anything other than their chicken wings?”

Me (grinning): “No, no, they do not.”

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. 

2.28 Curiosity Killed The Cat You Know

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

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

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

…Dear Frank should consider himself a lucky man. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worrisome and alarming sense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sounds like a plan.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.20.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.”

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