Tag Archives: penny dreadful

2.19.a Easily Found Speakeasies Are Called Bars

NICKJPG

Up until about an hour ago, I’d no idea Ira, Nevermore’s Chief Groundskeeper, was a Member of the Black Eyed Dog’s Rare Records Room. Or at least I’m pretty sure he is. My suspicion is based on one tenuous fact; not once in any of the accounts, I could recall of the secret, and elaborate entrances into the speakeasy did anyone ever mention walking thru the record shop’s front doors. 

Seriously, you don’t understand how huge this is. 

Ferreting out a Rare Records Room Member is akin to Harry Potter finding a Horcrux. Though there are ten members of the Rare Records Room verses, seven Horcruxes and Rye is smaller than the UK. So I suppose that mathematically speaking, the odds of finding a Member are better than locating a Horcrux. 

However, it’s never felt like it. 

Wood and I, together and independently, have been endeavoring to sidle over the threshold to sample their legendary bespoke mac’n’cheeses & cocktails since our twenty-first birthdays without success. 

Until today! 

(I’ll bring Wood a doggy bag of the aforementioned mac’n’cheese, you gotta have your buddy’s back). 

Unless I blow the entire operation by forgetting Ira’s instructions. My lines. The refrain. Or possibly pass out due to holding my breath waiting for the winking “Now Serving” sign above the buyback counter to blink my number! 

Thankfully my ticket and their ticker matched up before my nose met my toes – but it was a close shave.

Approaching the counter with all the swagger I could muster, that of a nine-week-old kitten.  I slid my driver’s license out of my back pocket and handed it, along with my crinkled number slip, to the gentleman of a certain age, sorting a substantial stack of vinyl behind the counter.  

Listening to his robotic delivery of “How can I help you?” I parroted the phrase from Ira’s cryptic text told me too. “I was told you could show me a rare b-side from the single Nightswimming? I’m told it’s an acoustic version of…” My voice faltered at the end of my request when the Counterman’s sharp scrutiny pinned me like a bug to the floor (it didn’t help that he was gazing over the tops of his glasses, channeling his stern inner schoolmarm).

“Who told you this?” 

Only twenty-five years of accumulated trust in Ira kept me from fleeing the Counterman’s unblinking stare (seriously this guy could give an owl lessons). Leaning across the counter, feeling ridiculous, I sang the refrain from I Heard It Through The Grapevine. Without a word, the Counterman stepped out of sight, taking my license with him (in the middle of my serenade, I might add. I know I’m no Marvin Gaye, but I’m not all-hands-abandon-ship bad). 

Unable to maintain my indignation (the butterflies fluttering in my tummy demanding my full attention), I started bopping along with the shop’s current musical selection. While absently flicking the loose edge of a sticker stuck to the countertop waiting for the Counterman to deliver his verdict. 

It didn’t take long.

Wearing half a smile, he reappeared, sliding my ID and a ring of keys over the counter, “Step to the left, and I’ll buzz you in.” Daydreaming of ooey-gooey cheesy goodness waiting for me, I nearly missed the small nod the Counterman gave me to step on through to the other side.

When the single forty watt light bulb flickered to life above my head a beat after shutting the door, I discovered myself in…a utility closet. 

Said closet contained black wire shelves crammed with cleaning solutions & toilet paper, a mop sink & bucket, a rack of dust mops & brooms, a dumb waiter, an employee of the month plaque, two ratty Cure album covers hung on the wall, two folding chairs and a battered card table dressed up with a wilting red carnation in a chipped bud vase.

You gotta be kidding me. 

I know Ira wanted to talk in private, but eating in an actual closet to keep our conversation closeted? Absurd doesn’t come close to covering that circumstance. During my languorous and lengthy eye-roll, my orbs were arrested at their apex when they caught sight of the small dark plastic dome set in the ceiling. 

A slow smile of comprehension crept across my lips. Guests are neither Members nor Joe Q. Public, so perhaps the Rare Records Room split the difference – bypassing one of the notorious two tests for ingress.

Nicknaming the test, The Case of the Hidden Door, I started searching for any mysterious cracks in the plaster, loose tiles, unexplained half-moon scuff marks marring the linoleum or racks not wholly resting on the floor. No joy. After inspecting the mop sink for any abnormalities – there weren’t any – I stood absently rubbing my neck, my eyes idly read the plaque hanging betwixt the two Cure album covers.

Wait a second.

Never mind the fact that February came and went in a fury of snowflakes and candied hearts, the plaque listed Nick Drake as the Black Eyed Dog’s Employee of the Month for 1974. Nick Drake was a tragic, talented, and influential late sixties folk singer who’s musical catalogue includes a song called Black Eyed Dog.

Serendipity, flukes, strokes of luck, or twists of fate should never be trusted when found in D&D Dungeons, magic acts, or speakeasies.

Lifting the plaque from the wall, I punched the air in victory when I discovered a keyhole hidden underneath. Working my way round the ring of keys given to me by the Doorman, I finally found the lock’s mate and gave it a twist. 

“Good evening Ms. Arden. Welcome to the Rare Records Room.”

2.18.c What To Do…

Tossing and turning for over an hour after climbing into bed, Beatrice’s questions still troubling my mind, I continued to resist the urge to pick up my phone. Calling people about my suspicions at this hour would not yield any concrete answers (other than what people thought of me), but I needed to do something. 

Turning on the lamp on my nightstand, pulling over the ever present notepad and pencil I started jotting down a to-do list…

IMG_9814

Looking it over, satisfied with its completeness, I switched off the light and laid back down. Nothing left to do except wait for a decent hour to start pestering people with questions. 

Feeling the thinking trap starting to snap, trying to rob me of the scant hours left before my alarm, I switched my churning brain to counting, nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine…nine-hundred-and ninety-eight….nine-hundred-and-ninety-seven…….nine-hundred-and-ninety-six………..nine-hundred-and-ninety-five……………………………………..nine-hundred-and-ninety-four………………………………………………………….

2.18.b The Sun Will Come Out, Tomorrow…

IMG_9325

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.b The Next Miss Marple I’m Not

IMG_5180

Choking on my pull of pumpkin milkshake, I wrestled with the Princess’s steering wheel trying to keep her from swerving into the oncoming lane (there wasn’t anyone else in sight, but keeping up good habits is always recommended). Not once, in our months of sharing rooms in the Lavender Lady, did I suspect Ms. Hettie and Beatrice were related.

My Miss Marple skills need some work. Perhaps I should ask Leo for some knitting lessons….

“Your Great Aunt? That piece of sour candy is your Great Aunt?” 

Holy mother forking shirt balls, I should probably not refer to Ms. Hettie like that to her niece. 

“You should hear what she calls you.” Beatrice said in her mildest voice. “What made you think she snitched on us to Little Ben?”

Distracted from panicking over my gaffe (which also successfully lowered my volume dial from a nine to a five), “She was the only one I could think of, outside of the four of us, who might have known where we were going.”

“How? Oh, right, the sea shanty…”

Glad she glommed onto my train of reasoning so quickly, “She keeps pretty close tabs on us, and Little Ben was tipped off…So I thought she might have made the call.”

Silently nodding her head in time with Moonlight Serenade (KARB was paying tribute to Glenn Miller today), she took a moment to respond, “It makes sense I grant you, but no, she would never do something like that. She can’t stand tattling. Plus, I’m her favorite niece.”

Back to square one. 

Bummed at the conviction Beatrice spoke with, I moved on. “Why didn’t you tell me you two were related?” 

Clearly laughing at me without actually uttering a sound, Beatrice made an effort to smooth my jangled nerves. “Because you two clearly enjoy your skirmishes, and I didn’t want to ruin it.”

“I don’t know if I’d use the word enjoy…”

My statement generated a stare; I could physically feel boring into the right side of my skull. “Really? So you didn’t bake several batches of Earl Grey cookies, filling the entire house with their aroma last week, in order to lure Ms. Hettie into the back garden? Where I found you both enjoying them, drinking London fogs and bickering about quail when I got home?”

Hunching over the steering wheel, “Those were extenuating circumstances, I was going stir crazy, and she brought the tea…” The words sounded petulant, even to my ears. “Fine, I did. But when you say I lured her with cookies, it sounds unsavory.”

Actually laughing now, Beatrice grabbed her lemonade at took a long draw.

“So why don’t you call her Great Aunt Hettie or just Aunt Hettie?”

Fidgeting with the straw, “During a visit, when I was younger, I overheard her telling my mother that being called great by us kids made her feel old, so I started calling Ms. Hettie instead. It stuck.”

Curiosity creeping into my voice, “I’ve never asked, but how did you end up living downstairs from Ms. Hettie?”

Putting down her drink, she ran her thumb up and down the seatbelt a couple of times before answering, “Ms. Hettie took me in and told my family off after we had a falling out. We respect each other’s space, so the arrangement worked well for both of us, now I keep them from pestering her about moving to someplace smaller.

Sensing her reluctance to canvas the topic further, I moved on to something much funner. “Do you think Wood suspects?”

Out of the corner of my eye, I watched a smile slowly chase away her frown, “No. I spoke to Laney yesterday, and he thinks he’s coming over to give you one last check-up and a celebratory dinner. He’s clueless about the evening’s entertainment.”

Grinning, “You’ve tested the VCR?”

“Of course.”

2.16 Hello, It’s Me Again!

IMG_4873

Miss Limburger: “How did you get back in?”

What am I, a stray cat?

Turning away from the sink’s sorely disappointing taps (not that I’d held out much hope they’d work, but nothing ventured) towards the door, I witnessed the rest of the group’s faces when they walked into the kitchen and beheld my muddy splendor. (Mr. John Dupree’s chin hit the ground so hard I practically heard it.)

Beatrice (with a suspiciously straight face): “What on earth happened to you?” 

Mrs. Von Haeville The Elder (covering her nose with a hankie): “What are you doing in here? I thought we agreed that you were to wait outside.”

Mr. John Dupree (jaw still on the floor): “Are you missing a shoe?”

Apparently, I’d lost all the ground I’d made up with the bespoke man – by wearing said ground.

The Quiet Von Haeville Sister (stepping forward and handed me a packet of towelettes from her purse): “These should help.”

Ina Von Haeville (the corners of her mouth turned down): “At least one of them learned some manners, not that it matters. Will you be able to guard IT on your own?”

Me (sliding a glance to Ina Von Haeville and nodding while accepting the wipes): “Thank you.”

Ina Von Haeville (scowling at her nieces): “Then I’m leaving, I will not stay in the same room with those girls.”

Good to her word, and with one last milk curdling glare at her step-nieces (causing them to shiver in unison), she left the building.

Beatrice (studying the mud trail, closed closet, and me): “Seriously, what happened?”

Time to keep my word to Ina Von Haeville – which means I need to swivel the spotlight off of myself – and I knew right where to shine it.

Me (throwing Miss Limburger to the wolves): “I tore my coat escaping from the garden Miss Von Haeville locked me in. I probably have at least one spider wandering about my person after walking thru its web. And I lost my shoe, in the morass optimistically called an ornamental garden, getting back to the house.”

(BTW, this doesn’t even make my top ten most mortifying moments – but I must admit – explaining one lost a shoe is a new one.)

Beatrice & Mr. John Dupree (in unison to Miss Limburger): “You locked her outside?”

Miss Limburger (on the back foot): “I..umm…”

Mrs. Von Haeville The Elder (a small smug smile on her lips): “If Mary locked you out, how did you get back in?”

She’s Mary? 

I think Miss Limburger suits her better. I wonder if her mother ever repeated the old pearl – if you keep pulling that face, it will freeze that way. Because she perpetually looks like a wedge of Limburger is under her nose. If she hadn’t been wearing the identical expression when we first met, I might think her current countenance had something to do with the odoriferousness of the sludge currently coating me. 

Did I mention that Muck Duck Pond supported a respectable population of ducks? (Who were not pleased to meet me.)

Either way, her elder sister isn’t saving her bacon today…

Me (brandishing the token of brass triumphantly): “Got lucky and found a spare key hidden the eave.”

Mrs. Von Haeville The Elder (looking between her sisters): “Did you know….?”

Just as Ina predicted, both women shook their heads no.

Mrs. Von Haeville The Elder: How did you find it, if we didn’t even know it was there?

Me (handing the key to Mr. Ottoman): “Born under a lucky star, I guess.”

Mr. John Dupree (in full lawyer mode smoothly cutting Beatrice off): “You will be replacing her damaged items. Correct?”

Instantly the three women burst into indignant protests aimed at avoiding all accountability.

Me (visualizing a shark’s smile): “Why don’t we call it even, my shoe for the padlock I broke getting out of the garden?”

Mr. Ottoman (in soothing tones to Beatrice & Mr. John Dupree, while trying to shush his clients): “That sounds fair. Ms. Beatrice, why don’t we finish up while your…your Girl Friday cleans up?”

Spotlight successfully swiveled. 

2.15.a An Inadvertent Introduction

IMG_4967

(Rough map of the Von Haeville family plot.)

Ina Von Haeville: “Cat got your tongue girl? What do you think you’re doing?”

Letting my hand fall to my side, I opened my eyes and noticed that Ina’s nails were painted the same rosy shade as her suit.

Ina Von Haeville (leaning over the headstone towards me her brow set in a scowl): “Well? Answer Me!”

Moving my gaze up from her painted nails to her narrowing eyes, my brain understood she was suffering, however, countering her curdled tone with honey in mine proved difficult.  

Me (my breath fuming the frigid air): “Good afternoon! My name’s Phoebe Arden. I’m completing a survey for the Rye Historical Society. As I’m sure you’re aware, they hold a geological interest in the county’s most venerated families. I’m here gathering information for their records.”

Levering myself upright, my eyes never wavering from hers, I flipped open my notebook and showed her my work. 

Ina Von Haeville (studying my rough sketch): “This is what’s left of my family.”

Me: “What about the three sisters?”

Ina Von Haeville: “Their Von Haeville’s in name only! David adopted those girls the day he married their mother. She never bothered learning our family traditions, so neither did they!”

For not being genetically related, they sure seem to share a similar sour center.

Ina Von Haeville (the ambient temperature around her plunging): “You’re not related to Elizabeth, Mary or Catherine – are you?”

Those are the weird sister’s names? I’d imagined at least would be a derivative of Hecate.

Me (swallowing my tart retorts with a smile while trying not to shiver): “Not as far as I know. My mother was a Becker before she married my father. He’s originally from Bangor, Maine. So I doubt there’s any cross over there.”

Ina Von Haeville (eyes glazing over): “Thought not. Those three have no sense of family loyalty! They sold the house, my great grandfather built. Oh Maud….”

Turning away, Ina started back towards her mottled green bench. 

Crap.

Me (putting some punch in my voice): “I saw the Von Haeville sisters in the house this morning. They brought in an expert and tools…”

Well, that was the exact wrong/right thing to say (and mostly true).

Ina Von Haeville (jerking to a stop): “Tools? They’re going to find it! What are we going to do? What are we going to do!?….”

Fuming and fretting Ina paced in tighter and tighter circles around the central stone slab while repeating the question over and over again. While she boiled and bubbled, I slipped my notes back into my pack and slung it over my shoulder. When my breath started forming a fume, I knew her attention was squarely back on me…

Ina Von Haeville (with a curled lip): “You look like you enjoy eating.”

Seriously? Swiping at my weight? I’m no bean pole, but my hips aren’t that wide…

Me (grinding my teeth): “Yes, I’ve been known to enjoy a meal.”

Ina Von Haeville (smirking at my admission): “I thought so.”

A tepid breeze blew past me momentarily when indecision crept across her face. 

Ina Von Haeville (softly): “There’s no other way, Maud…If you promise never to let those girls lay a hand on it, I will give it to you.”

Me: “It?”

Ina Von Haeville (voice wavering): “The only Von Haeville tradition they’ve left intact. “

Blind promises are always risky…Plus, how horrible can it be? Wait, don’t answer that.

Me: “I promise.”

Please don’t let it be what Beatrice was hired to find…..

Ina Von Haeville (turning on her heel): “Follow me.”

2.13.b Shut The Front Door

IMG_4810

(Thank the gods above and below I didn’t need to break this lock…)

You know a wonderful way to work thru negative feelings? Visualization. 

Visualize a balloon (I prefer a red one). Next, fill it with all the pessimistic, unhelpful, and unproductive thoughts, tie it off with string and release it into a limitless blue sky. Finally, watch it grow smaller and smaller until it floats entirely out of sight (and thus out of mind).

What isn’t encourage? 

Smashing a very large rock against a very small lock while visualizing said stone as your fist and corroded metal as someone’s smug smile. 

It’s a little too touchy beat-y. 

Flipping my bangs off my sweaty forehead, I ignored the immature impulse to use my nose print on the grungy glass door as a bullseye and expedite my reunion with the charming Von Haeville sisters. I’m pretty sure they’d bill me for parts & labor to replace the inlay, despite the number of panes already missing from their frames across the derelict manor. (Plus breaking a window is impolite unless blood, fire or a zombie horde is involved.)

But a padlock is a horse of a different color altogether. 

Just enough destruction to sate my ire and minor enough damage for them to pardon (and hopefully choke on). 

All I needed to do, to effectively neutralize any outrage over my bargain basement bit of vandalism, is, “What was I supposed to do, trapped outside on a thirty-degree day? I couldn’t call because I forgot my phone in the car and you didn’t know the gate was locked. Did you?” So unless Miss Limburger owns to knowingly locking me out, which Beatrice and/or Mr. John Dupree would take her apart over, I don’t foresee an issue. 

A wide grin/grimace stole over my lips (my aim is not flawless) while I imagined the look on their faces when I pose my “innocent” question. (Petty, I know, but she slammed a door on my nose!)

About the time I was certain getting to the center of a tootsie pop would require less licks than this lock, it gave way. 

Tossing the metal bones aside, I tested the gate – as everything around here is either rusted or overgrown or both – it, of course, required more than a simple touch to open. Placing my palms against the silvered wooden boards, I pushed with all my might. The hinges hesitated for a moment, then elicited a screech worthy of a bad b-movie special effect……and opened approximately fourteen inches.

Visualizing myself as a Twiggy didn’t help a whit. 

But taking off my bulky pumpkin-colored coat, fourteen-foot wool scarf, and camera backpack, I tossed them thru the opening first. Followed by some scrabbling, much shivering, and a few curses…I was finally free! 

Taking a deep breath (after donning my cold weather kit again), I savored the silence for a moment. The spell broke a few moments later when a flock of kinglets fluttered past where I stood. Looking up and down the unused lane, trying to divine which way would lead me to the front door faster, left or right, I took a step forward for a better view.

My smile melted away when option number three trampled over my toes.

Gazing into the formal garden gone to seed, my eyes were unable to immediately discern the Errant’s location. Putting off the dubious but entertaining pleasure of reuniting with the group, I followed the pricking in my toes forward into the neglected formal garden. 

2.12 Don’t Make Me Turn This Car Around

IMG_5261

(Yeah a case and less documents would’ve made today so much easier…)

“Beatrice, seriously, you need to either roll that up or move it onto your lap, otherwise I am stopping the Princess, and you’re going to sit in the backseat!”

Thank the gods Mr. John Dupree had taken one look at the Princess and decided to meet us there! As amusing as it would have been to watch him try to fit his frame in my tiny VW Rabbit (and listen to his overly starch suit crinkle) – I was glad I had the option of shoving Beatrice back there!

Why? I quickly discovered, without ever having once wondered, that I cannot drive with architectural plans strewn over the dash, the stick shift, and propped up against my person! I need to see thru my whole windshield, not just a narrow field – call me silly, but being able to see a granny crossing the road is a real concern at the moment (the members of the Senior Center would not be amused if I hit a fellow octiginarian….).

A variant of this conversation had been going on for the last twenty-five miles.

But in all seriousness, I now understand why Mr. John Dupree made sure I signed a legally binding contract before chauffeuring Beatrice. (Come to think of it I don’t think I’d ever ridden with her before, we usually met up someplace…..well the things you learn on micro-sized road trips.)

It also explains why he hadn’t volunteered for the duty himself and why my salary for a single day’s work was so generous.

“Beatrice, seriously, study another, smaller piece of paper I am begging you, or I am pulling over your choice.” Carefully I started steering the Princess towards the shoulder, devoutly hoping my tires weren’t heading directly at a ditch.

Somewhere from behind the castle of paper, I heard a muttered, “Fine!” This was followed immediately by copious amounts of rustling, which reminded me of squirrels running through the fallen leaves in our backyard. Eventually, Beatrice emerged from behind a plethora of documentation.

“Why don’t you load all this onto your tablet so you can study it easier?”

Capping the highlighter, “Because clients like this count on discretion. They don’t want to risk someone finding out that their dear old great grandad might have left a stash of racy love letters lying around. So they want analog – which means lots of paper.” 

“This doesn’t appear more secure…” Thankfully she finally shifted the blueprints obscuring the windscreen onto her lap.

“It isn’t, but Dupree couldn’t convince them that no one was actually interested enough in their dirty laundry to hack into his servers.” Her voice dry as dust on the subject of today’s clients. Shaking her head, “If they’d drop the original plans off the first time I asked for them, we might have enjoyed the drive.”

Which, now that I could finally witness it in wide angles was rather lovely, all evergreens, frost tipped grass, farm animals and rustic houses. We’d left the outskirts of Rye about fifty minutes ago, and according to my phone, we had another ten to go before we reached our destination. 

Still nosing through the documents, which in concession to my not so muffled grumblings she kept below the dash (but were still resting against my shoulder/thigh/elbow), “I thought you’d be more curious about my other job.”

“I was, right up until you smacked me in the head with a ten-pound roll of paper and then used me as an easel for over an hour.” 

“Yes, that could kill one’s curiosity…” Contrition colored her words (but only a small portion of the papers changed positions).

Noticing (in my delightfully unimpeded peripheral vision) her cheeks turning pink, I threw her a bone, “So why do you need so many architectural drawings?”

Slightly bemused, Beatrice answered, “They tell me where the bones of the house are, which in turn gives me a solid starting point.”

Waiting for a beat, “Starting point? For what?”

“To find what they’ve lost.” 

« Older Entries