Tag Archives: penny dreadful

2.30 Illations

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

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

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

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

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

So I took her up on her offer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me (whispering): “Leo!”

Leo (puzzlement clear): “Boss?”

Me: “Yes. Are you alone?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leo: “Wait, where are you?”

Me: “You don’t want to know.”

Leo: “I really think I do.”

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

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

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

Me: “Leo?”

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

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

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

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

Leo: “That’s not better.”

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

Leo: “Crap.”

2.29.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. 

2.25.b Today Only! A Three For One Special!

IMG_5519(The corner doesn’t allow photography….)

Why am I standing on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet? 

Again.

Today was supposed to be nothing but fun, food, and home movies – not no-win scenarios. Though I guess most people who find themselves standing under this streetlamp often wonder how things went sideways so fast. (Jake Gittes, Hamlet, and Captain Kirk habitually find themselves here – in case you’re wondering).

The impossible choice facing me today? Either I place Wood at risk, or I risk damaging our friendship.  

For one hot second, I thought about putting pen to paper without harboring any intention of abiding by the agreement. However, the same little voice in my head, which caused me to confess in the first place, wondered what kind of friend perpetuated that kind of fraud on another. 

It also pointed out that that level of deceit guaranteed a visit to the Corner of Bitter and Sweet every time I spoke to, hung out with, or thought of Wood. Until I either I confessed to my sins (and hoped he didn’t unfriend me) or we stopped hanging out all together, drifted apart and stopped being friends.

Both my conscience and I agreed all those eventualities sucked. 

Walking over to where Wood was sitting by the window, I dropped bonelessly into the chair opposite his.

Me: “Can I think about it overnight?”

Wood: “Nope. Either sign it and let me into the weird frontier or don’t.”

Me (speaking slowly due to a brainwave): “Then, there are a few stipulations I’d like to include.”

Wood (leaning forward, eyes gleaming): “Let’s hear them.”

We haggled, finagled, dickered, bickered, bartered, and bargained, but eventually, we hammered out an agreement we both found acceptable. 

Wood’s original terms remained unaltered, though he did manage to wrangle an addendum out of me. Should he be out of town or sick when I needed help, either I enlist a stand-in or wait until he could participate. (Thus closing a loophole that hadn’t occurred to me.)

In return, I managed to pry two significant concessions from Wood. 

First, while accompanying me on an outing, he needs to follow my instructions, even if they sound mad, to the letter. Second, I could decline to answer any question he poses without any followups or pouting. 

Violating my terms will require the forfeiture of his vintage volume of Sherlock Holmes published in 1892. 

Fair’s, fair after all.

It wasn’t until the hopping herd of hares (Laney, Beatrice, and Sarah) started setting out the spread that Wood and I noticed ninety minutes ticked off the clock during our wheedling and dealing. However, rather than trying to talk his way out of the Office, Wood leaned back in his chair and gave me an impish grin.

Wood: “Do you think they’ve finished prepping for the party?”

Me (pausing mid pen stroke): “Wait, is that why you were early? Did you know about our party before you arrived?”

Wood’s grin turned wicked. 

Me (placing a note of warning in my voice): “Dourwood Utley, did you know?”

Wood (plucking the signed document out of my hand): “Just thought I’d allow you to clear your conscience.”

Me (aghast): “You tricked me into coming clean?”

Wood (inking his name below mine): “Morticia, I know you did your best to keep your promise. I also know you’d beat yourself up until you ended up confessing, apologizing, and forking over the book anyway. I don’t ever want to make you unhappy. So I figured out a way to fast-forward your process by a couple of months and give you a do-over.”

Taking a deep breath, I held it until the count of twelve, then steadily released it. (Trying to tamp down the heartburn and indignation his statement filled my chest with. It didn’t help he made a valid point. Drat him.) 

Wood: “Forgive me?”

Me (sighing): “Maybe…But how did you figure out I broke our original agreement?”

Wood: “I saw the Princess parked in front of The Alter.” 

Me (rolling my eyes): “Of course you did. And the party?”

Wood (now grinning): “The Smurf Spectacular part Two? I’m not telling.”

Me (wicked smile of my own spreading across my face): “Oh, our party doesn’t feature Smurfs.”

Wood (looking dubious): “But Laney said….”

Me (holding out my hand): “Gentleman’s agreement, I’ll forgive you and tell you about our theme. If you promise not to complain about today’s feature presentation and tell me how you found out.”

Wood (suspicion plain upon his face): “Deal.”

Ignoring the groans my explanation of today’s entertainment produced, as Wood’s not particularly keen on watching his Gran’s home movies, I moved on. (For him they are akin to Aunt Pearl’s appallingly stylized holiday family photos. The difference being in his Gran’s videos she coos over Wood’s performance the entire time and interjects random stories, which may or may not be relevant to what’s happening.

Me: “Your turn spill, how did you find out?”

Wood (looking at his feet ruefully): “Laney talks in her sleep.”

Me (laughing): “Well, that explains a few things.”

2.25.a Kobayashi Maru

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(Our first agreement…seems a bit tattered…)

Me (ignoring his glee): “I pulled my bookshelves apart looking for something yesterday, but if we work together, it shouldn’t take too long to locate Chamber of Secrets.”

On the upside, at least I found a sliver of a silver lining to the mystifying vanishing act pulled by my copy of Nevermore’s Conventions. It will take well over an hour to excavate the aforementioned book from the jumbled up piles currently cluttering up most of my bedroom floor (especially if I’m only helpful adjacent). 

Hip, Hip, Hooray for my hapless housekeeping!

Wood (leaning against the desk): “Do you really want to break your set?”

Me (shrugging): “Not particularly. But a deal’s a deal.”

Wood (looking frighteningly thoughtful): “Well, you did do pretty well following doctor’s orders….”

Me (tilting my head): “Except when I didn’t.”

Wood (ignoring me): “…and I don’t want an incomplete set either…”

Me (squinting): “Does one book really count as a set?”

Wood (still ignoring me): “…perhaps our first deal wasn’t entirely equitable since you were under the influence of painkillers and hurt at the time…”

Me (eyes goggling): “First deal? That implies there’s a second…..wait, are you saying you want to make another deal?”

Wood (snapping his fingers at me): “That sounds like a great idea!”

Letting me stew, Wood pulled a documents folder from beneath his Gladstone, unzipped it, and handed me a crisp sheet of paper.

Me: “Ummm…..”

Wood (giving me a tight grin): “Here it is, either we stick our original bargain, and you can grab me Dobby’s first adventure with Harry Potter while I head to the kitchen to see what smells so good. Or we sign this new deal, and I’ll stay in here until the cabal decides they’re ready for me to join the party.”

Me (mind working at warp speed): “You came prepared with a new deal? You couldn’t know I was going to confess. I didn’t know. I might have tied you to a chair.”

Wood: “Do you own any rope?”

Me (narrowing my eyes): “Not the point…Wait…You knew I broke our deal before you got here today, didn’t you.” 

Wood (giving me a smile that nearly reached his eyes): “Sure did.”

Me: “How?”

Wood (chuckling): “Later. Now read my proposal.”

Me (wrinkling my nose): “Fine, Mephistopheles.”

Wood settled into the window seat to wait with his feet up while I paced the length of the room, evaluating the particulars and subtext layered into the few short sentences.

At first glance, his deal sounds chillingly reasonable. Should I ever find myself entering a situation where I know – ahead of time – I might come to harm. I am required to bring Wood along as backup. No questions asked. If I break said deal, I forfeit my entire run of signed first print Harry Potters to him.

Putting a pin in the fact, Wood’s incapable of restraining himself from asking questions and my lack of discretionary income (blowing twenty to thirty grand rebuilding the set if I lose it isn’t in the cards).

Accepting the proposal means potentially; placing him in harm’s way if I misjudge a situation and/or causing irreparable damage to his professional reputation should we get caught performing marginally illegal, supremely weird, or inexplicable acts. (Which, if you haven’t already figured it out yet, occur more often than not when Nevermore requires my aid.)

Neither of my points adjusted his attitude a whit. He simply stated he understood the risks, has complete faith in me and then reminded me his reputation isn’t mine to manage. (To a man who went Trick-or-Treating for the hell of it last July, I wasn’t surprised he brushed aside my appeal to his professionalism.)

Then there’s the delightful chance my extracurricular activities will convince him I’m a lunatic. (Because I don’t think telling him I’m ‘rehearsing for my improv group’ is going cut it now – especially if we’re standing in the middle of Nevermore at midnight and I look like I’m talking to myself.)

On the other hand, if I decide keeping my secrets is more important -there’s a distinct possibility my refusal will plop a permanent blot on our friendship. 

His earlier waggishness belied tension I could see radiating from his frame. Coupled with the fact a salmon would find it tough to swim against the undercurrents in the room, tells me he’d take an opt-out as a sign that I don’t trust him. (I don’t think he’ll find a shred of comfort in the fact he’s the only one I’ve ever come close to telling about my Knack, Nevermore and the Residents.)

Never mind the fact if I don’t sign, he’ll walk straight into the kitchen and ruin our surprise…

Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath…and dug my nails into my palms – finally figuring out exactly where this document places me.

Crap.

2.24.b Falling on my Sword

(Turns out Yarn is the closest to rope we had in our apartment…)

Wood: “You going to give me a hint about what’s happening here?”

Me (plastering on a serene smile): “Nope.”

Wood (walking into the Office while giving me the stink eye): “You know the drill.”

Thank the gods above and below for Beatrice’s contribution to today’s soiree was airpots of strong black coffee and jam-filled pastries from The Alter. I’m going to need every iota of sugar and caffeine present in my bloodstream to fast-talk Wood into staying put. 

Especially since I knew that he knew, we’d actively conspired against him (in the nicest possible way). 

Wood immediately started the familiar routine of unpacking his instruments on the side table, loudly not asking any more questions about why the apartment not only smelled of chicken but of bacon, barbecue and brisket as well. He also visibly restrained himself from questioning our decision to relocate our kitchen table to the living room and dress it in its Sunday best. Even the ringing doorbell and the words ’special delivery’ which carried clearly through the Office door a minute later (heralding the arrival of the twelve tubs of mac’n’cheese from the Rare Records Room) failed to elicit any comment. 

While we followed the familiar checkup routine I wracked my brain for a bright idea on how to stall Wood for forty-five minutes: he already knew how to solve the Chinese finger trap in the pen/pencil mug; locking him in the office set a poor precedent (plus he could always just climb out the window); slipping him a mickey won’t work because neither Beatrice nor I own a bottle of knock drops, and bonking him on the head is just plain rude. 

After entertaining and rejecting each ludicrous notion in turn, positive if Wood placed the cool disc of his stethoscope against my temple, all he’d hear was static, my conscience finally proffered the perfect solution.

Wood (patting me on the shoulder): “I pronounce you fit for FLYT.”

Hopping off the desk, I pulled my blouse on over my tank, closed my eye, took a deep breath…and fell on my sword.

Me (blurting to his back): “I broke our agreement. I left the house, drove to Nevermore, and ran around before you okayed it.”

The night I showed up bruised and battered on Uncle and Aunt Pearl’s doorstep, I scared the ever-loving crap out of them, and they (unsurprisingly) required an explanation for said injuries. Whilst the incomplete (but truthful) account I gave Wood, was enough for him, we both knew it wouldn’t cut the mustard with either Uncle or Aunt Pearl. 

Which meant I needed to secure the silver-tongued services of Wood…and they didn’t come cheap.

In exchange for persuading Uncle & Aunt Pearl not to call Earl (family friend and Rye police detective), I promised to follow every order, suggestion, and hint made by him until he pronounced me sound in wind and limb. Well acquainted with my inability to layabout idly (even when sick as a dog), he requested I put up my signed copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets as collateral (the second book in my complete run of signed first British prints).

And here we are.

Wood (turning towards me, a sly smile lighting his face): “Man, you really don’t want me going out there yet, do you.”

2.24.a Surprises and Smurfs

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(The Smurf represents Wood and the Dinosaur is the rest of us…)

Have you ever tried throwing a surprise party? 

More to the point have you ever tried throwing a surprise party for a man who, upon discovering said party is occurring (he never did tell us how), sneaks into the venue and changes it from black-tie affair to a Smurf motif in order to hoodwink his own friends & family? 

To accomplish this feat, he let loose a rowdy of corgis (who thought it was an absolute gas to play chase) to get us out of the room. 

After we ‘sorted things out’ (i.e., two dozen formally clad guests, hunched over, sprinting after and corralling thirteen maniacally perky pooches), we discovered we were ‘accidentally’ locked out of the banquet room. After forty minutes of fuming and fretting in the lobby, thanking the gods above and below Wood was running late, the manager ‘finally found’ the door key.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the locked door…

The man himself, the caterers, and hotel staff worked at a fevered pitch to shift the decor from cream-colored tapers, blushing roses, and dry champagne to evergreen boughs, Smurf figurines, and an enormous red-and-white spotted toadstool cake. 

Upon re-entry into the room, Wood yelled ‘Surprise’ – pleased as punch he’d hornswoggled all of us.

Admittedly, it was a hilariously well-played prank, but Laney and I had yet to even the score – and we’d been wracking our brains for TEN YEARS trying to figure out how to outflank and confound him – without an iota of success. 

Until today. 

How did our payback come to pass? It all started two weeks ago over oxtail soup. 

During my recovery Laney (lovely, lovely Laney) decided to take me on a culinary world tour. How? She went hither, thither, and yon grabbing takeout from every different country and/or culinary tradition she could find within a twenty-mile radius of Rye. However, one Saturday, Wood got called into work ridiculously early and unable to fall back asleep after he left – Laney got a wild hair and decided to make her mother’s oxtail soup, fresh bread, and lemon pie. 

Not wanting to cook or eat by herself, Laney landed on the Lavender Lady’s doorstep (without warning) at six am pots, pans, and groceries in hand and proceeded to take over our kitchen. Once capable of rational conversation/thought, thanks to copious cups of coffee, she drafted a bleary-eyed Beatrice and I as her sous-chefs. 

During the subsequent chopping, kneading, rolling, and stirring, we started chatting about this and that. Eventually, our meandering gabfest wandered onto the topic of high school, crepe paper dances, and Wood’s flirtation with ballet. 

Laney, aware of her husband’s history in dance, astoundingly occupied the same boat Beatrice and I did. She, like us, had never seen him do a single pirouette. 

At this point, we started comparing notes about other significant events in Wood’s life we’d witnessed or missed. Turns out neither Laney nor Beatrice knew much about the epic game leading to Wood securing a college soccer scholarship (where he met them). I missed his only appearance in the College Cup Final due to an ill-timed bout of pneumonia. 

So we decided to kill two birds with one stone. 

Ostensibly, Wood was coming by today to pronounce me fit as the proverbial fiddle, allowing me to return work. In reality, we were going to watch the greatest hits of his life as caught on tape by his loving Gran. Tickled pink to hoodwink her grandson, she’d lent us nine hours of home videos, including the two aforementioned soccer matches, a favorite pee-wee soccer game and seven of his best ballet performances/recitals.

Due to the veritable treasure trove of film on loan to us, we did need to tell one little white lie to get Wood to the Lavender Lady early enough to view each and every frame.

Unfortunately, this fib created two unforeseen consequences. 

Deciding we needed to ‘sell our subterfuge’ – Beatrice littered our entryway with her brimming baggage, hefty carry-on, and bulky purse. (She was leaving for a book convention in New York on Monday morning, not Sunday as we told Wood.) 

And what do you get when you combine an epic inability to walk over a stable flat surface in a straight line with erratically placed obstacles?

Instant karma. 

Swallowing the string of curses on the tip of my tongue, after nailing my big toe against a suitcase wheel, I limped the last few feet to the front door. Yanking it open, I found the second unintended consequence standing on my doormat, in the form of an apologetic Laney – fifty-seven minutes earlier than planned.

Me (stating the obvious): “You’re early!”

Laney (giving me a quick hug): “Wood wanted to make sure you had enough time to get Bee to the airport and for a full checkup. I delayed as long as I could…but you know…can you try stalling him?”

All I could do was nod before the man himself strode up the walk and cut our conversation short (of course, he came early – he just wanted to help). 

Wood (Gladstone bag & folder in hand): “Morticia, I knew you’d be up! You ready to settle your tab?”

Before I could respond, my phone started warbling Time Warp from the kitchen.

Sarah (calling out): “Phoebe, you want me to pull the pans out of the oven?”

Laney (brushing past her husband): “I’ll head back and help.”

Wood: “Sarah’s here?”

Me (ignoring Wood): “Go ahead and pull the pans out if the outsides look crisp, otherwise give them two or three more minutes.”

Laney (shooting me a thumbs up): “No problem!”

Wood (his gaze bouncing between Laney and I): “Morticia, why does your house smell of chicken at seven-fifteen in the morning?”

Me (hollering at the swinging door): “If you could give the pots on the stove a stir, I’d appreciate it.”

After a muffled okey-dokey from the other side, securing the safety of my sauces, I turned back to my highly suspicious best friend. 

Wood (eyes narrowing): “Morticia, what’s happening in your kitchen?”

Me (walking up the hallway to the door with the word ‘Office’ etched on the glass): “Come on, let’s do the whole doctor thing so you can find out.”

2.21.b How Robin Hood Ruined My Day

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Me (thru clenched teeth): “What about that Brownie Stealing Bench?” 

Aunt Pearl (lips twitching upwards in response): “Do you remember how she earned that nickname, dear?”

Pondering her hint, I took a bite of a crinkle cookie and nearly choked to death on it when the memory Aunt Pearl was referring to flooded my mind in full technicolor splendor (having a crumb go down the wrong pipe might also have played a part). 

The summer I turned thirteen, my Uncle got a wild hair one night and took Aunt Pearl, my cousins, Wood, and I to a drive-in movie. We were initially bummed that we’d missed The Creature From The Black Lagoon by a week and were stuck watching Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood. 

We’d seen the Disney version with all its singing and dancing, how different could it be? Turns out very. Watching the silver screen archery tricks and swashbuckling, we were soon spellbound, our disappointment of missing Gill-Man entirely forgotten.

(We were so enthralled in fact we forgot to bicker, squabble or pummel each other – bring peace & quiet into our midsts for the first time in a week, which was probably the point of the entire endeavor.)

The very next morning, we transformed the woods behind our house into Sherwood Forest. We into its Merry Me. Then we spent the rest of the summer questing and perfecting our swordplay. (BTW – both Uncle and Aunt Pearl steadfastly refused to arm a pack of six teens with bows and arrows – no matter how much we pleaded our case – pointing out our homemade wooden swords caused more than enough mayhem.) 

When September rolled around, we retired our sabers and replaced them with pencils. While my cousins and Wood moved on to other extracurricular activities (ballet in Wood’s case apparently), I remained stubbornly fixed on Robin Hood. Devoting all my free time to the devouring of every book, the Librarian Extraordinaire Mrs. Schmit dug out of the stacks for me. Somewhere around the twelfth book into my self-imposed reading regimen, it happened…

I watched Josie Reville steal Summer Yates’ brownie.

Seizing my chance to foil a real dastardly deed, I reported the crime to King Richard the Lionhearted, aka my homeroom teacher Mrs. Sable. 

(Snitches might get stitches, but if I’d attempted to thwart the Great Brownie Heist on my own? Josie would have sicced her sycophants – Agata Canetti, Larissa Cardenes, Thomi Margazoitis & Kiyomi Kimura – on me. So I opted for the possibility of stitches later to the guarantee of stitches now.)

Turns out, I’d misjudged Mrs. Sable – she wasn’t King Richard – but his devious brother Prince John in disguise. Instead of righting this very obvious wrong, she cut me off mid-story and scolded me (in front of the entire cafeteria) for tattling. When I asked what I was supposed to have done, instead, she expanded her dressing-down to include whining.

Then sentenced me to detention for the rest of the week.

Heaping insult onto injury? Summer’s brownie was never recovered, and Josie got off scot-free. (She snickered at me from behind Mrs. Sable’s back the entire time I was being told off.)

Yeah. 

So my dumb-ass-adult-self quietly accepted my termination after eighteen plus years of employment (plus another seven years of volunteering) from Little Ben because I was afraid Big Ben might think me a tattle-tale if I called to ask, “What the hell man?” When his son let me go.

After Aunt Pearl finished pounding my back, she pushed her mug of coffee my way – to help wash away the offending crumb from my craw. 

Me (rasping): “Well crap, of all the stupid reasons…”

Aunt Pearl: “Glad I could help you find an answer, dear.”

Me (saluting her with her mug): “Thanks.”

Perhaps now, if I ever get a hold of Big Ben, I’ll feel less tetchy while talking to him.

Pushing up from the table, I check the timer – two minutes left. Hoping to distract my Aunt away from her usual refrain pertaining to Nevermore and now FLYT (i.e., I was too smart to be a Caretaker or a Chauffeur), I placed a bowl under the stand mixer.

Aunt Pearl (falling for it hook, line and sinker): “You’re welcome…do you need help making the frosting dear?”*

Me (keeping my smile on the inside): “No, but I could use a ride to the library when I’m done. I don’t want to dump the cake on the ground walking there.”

Aunt Pearl (visibly disappointed): “Oh, the cake’s not for dessert tonight?”**

Me (controlling my lips): “No, Aunt Pearl, I made you guys cookies.”

Aunt Pearl (rising from her chair): “Let me know when you’re ready, and I’ll drive you.”

Hiding her “heartbreak” over losing the prospect of cake rather poorly, Aunt Pearl drug herself (and several krumkakes) out the door to get ready. 

Her exit cued the buzz of my timer. 

Pulling on the oven mitts, I let loose the broad grin that had threatened during our last exchange, and carefully removed the Orange Blossom Honey cupcakes from the oven. 

*(Aunt Pearl Subtext: Can I “sample” a spoonful or five for you, dear?)

**(Subtext of her disappointment: You’re not leaving the cake here unattended, so I can nibble on it until your Uncle gets home. Then blame a family of mice, who’s conveniently scampered away into the aether, for the missing portion?)

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