Tag Archives: Princess

2.48.c Friends & Foes

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(I tried to get pics of the rest of the food – but it went so fast I only managed to get pics of the tuna noodle casserole!)

Opening the front door, I found Ira and Leo standing on the welcome mat, holding sweet-smelling bundles.

Ira (chagrined smile decorating his face): “Sorry we’re late, but the Missus wanted to send along a casserole, and it took longer to finish baking than she’d anticipated….”

Me (relieving him of the cloth-covered dish): “Ira, anything your wife cooks is more than worth the wait. Come on in.”

Leo: “Hey boss, I brought cupcakes…”

Me (my stomach fluttered in response to his words – Leo’s knitting needles are talented, but his kitchen skills are infamous): “Did you make them yourself?”

Leo (lips twitching): “A dozen of the Alter’s finest.”

Me (quietly releasing the breath I was holding): “If you’d like to hang up your coats on a hook, we’re back in the kitchen.”

Leo (eyebrows rising in surprise): “We?”

Me: “I needed help. Don’t worry, I kept it in the family.”

The next few minutes were taken up with hellos and how-do-you-do’s as everyone introduced and/or reacquainted themselves with each other over wings, dumplings, and a scoop or two of casserole. (Which if eaten individually – was wonderful, but taken together? Tuna-and-noodle casserole, garlic-soy-sauce wings, and maraschino cherry & pumpkin seed cupcakes did not exactly meld well on one’s pallet. Despite that small hiccup, we still managed to do the dishes justice.)

Robbie (hand suspended over my phone): “You want to start the tape from the beginning?”

Ira (tilting his head at me): “Tape?”

Me (leaning back in my chair): “This last Monday, Josie Reville ordered a ride thru FLYT, from me specifically, and I sort of recorded our entire trip on my phone.”

Leo (laughing): “Sort of?”

Me (lips twitching): “Not the critical take away here, what is, is our conversation.”

Since we weren’t too far into the recording, we agreed to start over. When we reached the audio gap, where Robbie, Beatrice, and I left off earlier, I filled them in on the action occurring outside the range of my phone’s microphone. Until the recording resumed spitting out something more interesting than me shifting in my seat or the occasional blare of a car horn. 

(I did think about sticking my phone out the window, but I judged that a bit overly keen.)

Drycleaning in one hand and phone in the other, Josie’s forward progress towards the Princess abruptly ended a yard from her front bumper. At which point, Josie attempted to fuse her cellphone to her skull, by simultaneously pivoting and tilting so her entire bodyweight appeared to rest against her right ear – and the phone firmly pressed against it.

My spidey senses (augmented by the naked vexation adorning her face and underscored by a light amount of finger-pointing) told me Josie’s trenchant heart-to-heart wasn’t going well. 

Losing interest in Josie’s unusual but not unprecedented outburst of temper, my attention wandered onto her handful of long shimmering frocks. Frocks that rapidly bewitched the eye with their twinkling dance. Ignoring the fact the glittering display owed its origins to passing headlights and Josie’s intermittent finger jabbing, I continued to enjoy their sparkle and shine. So much so it took a minute for me to realize Josie had shifted her gaze off the ground, thru the windscreen and onto me.

Figuring this was my cue, I cracked open my door to relieve Josie of the hangers cramping her efforts at a more emphatic style of gesticulation. No sooner had I set foot on the pavement, Josie made me aware of my misread cue.

“I’ll let you know when you’re needed.” 

Allowing Josie’s autocratic tone to roll off my back, I stiffly dipped my chin and retook my seat. Deciding to adjust my focus off Josie and her enthralling dry cleaning, I pulled a narrow notebook out from under my seat. 

Pointedly keeping my eyes off of the glimmering gowns, I flipped to the correct to-do list and sent my pencil whooshing across the page. Crossing off the names of the novelties I’d placed on layaway at the Toy Shop this afternoon felt satisfying and unexpectedly nostalgic. The first time I ever took my life into my own hands was participating in a holiday toy craze. Not only did I drive two states over and nearly ended up engaging in fisticuffs with a desperate mum – the Princess received her first dent! 

All so I could secure a Tickle-Me-Elmo for a four-year-old Robbie. (Worth it.)

Scarcely had the memory of that giggling scrap of red fur finished pulling a genuine smile from me, Josie’s tight voice moving past the Princess’s front wheel-well dimmed it considerably. “What’s so hard? We made sure there were only two options…Get him on board!” 

In the midst of secreting away my notepad, Josie reached my door and hung up her phone. Apparently concerned I’d missed her arrival, she started tapping her acrylic nail against my half-opened window – thus extinguishing the remnants of my cheery reverie.

“Are you going to help me with this? Or do I need to do this myself as well?”

Plastering on a smile that probably looked as sincere as it felt, I once again exited the Princess and found myself immediately in possession of Josie’s fancy-pants laundry. Due to her shoving it into my arms. Taking a deep breath of the crisp air, I closed my eyes and counted the clicks Josie’s sky-high heels made against the asphalt. I’d reached the count of twelve when the squeal of the Princess’s passenger side door opening obscured her footfalls and most everything else, except her voice.

“Whenever you’re ready.” 

The only upside to Josie slamming the door was it cut off the condescension of her words.

Leaning into the Princess, I slipped my seat forward and gingerly hung/laid the gleaming evening dresses across the backseat. After climbing behind the wheel, I engaged the engine and shifted into reverse. “Where would you like me to drop you off tonight? Back at the garage? Work? Home?”

“What?” Transferring her frown from the black screen of her phone to me.

“What’s our final destination? I need it to plan the most efficient route for your chores.” 

Neither the faint squeak my seat made as I swiveled in place to see out the rear window or the increase in engine noise as I depressed the gas pedal detracted from the unadulterated derision Josie embroidered into her answer. 

“O’Phoebe, always going the extra mile when no one asks you too.” 

2.48.b Rolling Snake-Eyes with the Universe

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(There’s gotta be a winning roll in there some where….right?)

Thank the lords above and below the recorder only picks up audio. If they ever invent a device that transcribes our thoughts…..well, let’s just say I wouldn’t be playing that recording for Beatrice and Robbie.

Not on account of the initial stabby feelings, the sight of the Brownie Stealing Bench inspired – those are thoroughly documented. (As I reassured the bevy of school counselors, Uncle and Aunt Pearl; I’d much rather my first time in police custody come from my role in The Great Hamster Heist, where I liberate a horde of high functioning furballs in order to save the world. Or on account of The Case of the Missing Corpse Flower, which presumably entails me ‘borrowing’ the noxious bloom to complete a corsage for a member of the Addams family. I’m definitely NOT going to squander my very first time clapped in irons on her.)

No, the reason why I’m thankful some smart-brained engineer hasn’t perfected a thought recorder was; no one, other than me, needed to know about the Tickle-Me-Elmo induced epiphany I had.

“Oh my, you’ve decorated for the holidays! How festive!” The subtle rustle of fabric accompanied Josie’s words as she reached up to touch the dewdrop lights I’d twisted with some silver garland and tacked up along the perimeter of the Princess’s ceiling. “Normally, I find this silver tinsel kitschy, but in here it really works.”

Robbie: “Wow, she didn’t waste any time.”

Me: “Didn’t need too. We were alone.”

“Thanks. Everyone deserves a little holiday cheer, even the Princess.” To cover my eye roll, I slotted home the ignition key and turned the engine over. “Now, where are we heading?”

“Happy Planet Dry Cleaners.” While I programmed the destination into FLYT, Josie (I can’t call her the Brownie Stealing Bench at the moment – otherwise, I’m going to slip and say it to her face) continued to swivel her head taking in her surroundings. My phone picked up the soft clink of the buckles on her handbag, tapping the buttons on her coat. “Normally I wouldn’t use FLYT, as father and I are trying to encourage the public to use mass transit, but then I remembered you worked for a ride-share. So I figured, in the spirit of the season, I’d help a former classmate earn some extra money.”

“If anyone asks, I’ll tell them the tale of your magnanimity.”

Robbie (astonished): “How on earth did you say that without laughing?”

Me: “Practice.”

What the audio didn’t convey was the narrow-eyed look Josie shot me when she thought I was concentrating on the road. 

“I just can’t get over how adorable the inside of the Piggybank is!”

Making an affirmative sounding noise in the back of my throat, I hit the turn indicator. An action that turned unwelcomely gripping as Josie emitted a sharp squeal of delight, which nearly caused the Princess’s front bumper to kiss the fire hydrant at the end of the turn. 

“You’ve collected coins in the ashtray, just like a real piggybank! Are you saving for a rainy day?”

“Nope, a pony.” I’d aimed for a bland tone, but owing to the near-miss, my answer needed to navigate thru clenched teeth. Uninterested in hearing her follow-up snark, I moved our conversation onto safer ground. “Do you need to stop anywhere else after the cleaners?”

Josie’s tittering laughter, tinged with a hint of mockery, lost most of its bite in the playback. As the sustained jingling, rattling, and rifling during her deep dive into the depths of her massive purse muffled the worst of it. The search also kept her entertained until I pulled the Princess between the white lines before the doors of the Happy Planet Cleaners. Whereupon, she removed a wade of small crinkly slips, extracted a yellow call tag from amongst them, and thrust the remaining stack my way. “Can you be a doll and plug these addresses into FLYT for me? I’ll only be a minute.” Without waiting for an affirmative, she got out of the Princess.

Deciding this battle wasn’t worth the fight, I started adding stops in for cobbler, seamstress, pharmacist, post office, bookshop, and department store. “Oh goody, we going to spend the entire evening together…” 

Robbie: “So this is when you figured out your phone was still recording?”

Me: “Yup. This was also when the Brownie Stealing Bench walked out of the cleaners looking ready to spit nails at whoever was on the other end of her phone. So I let the recording go.”

Beatrice: “Why?”

Me: “The sixteen-year-old still living inside me wanted to prove I wasn’t ‘thin-skinned.’”

Robbie: “Prove to who?”

Me (shrugging): “The memories of school councilors, my teachers, her sycophants, her.”

Beatrice (carefully): “I get that. But how did you know her composure would crack? From how you’ve described Josie and what I’ve heard, she’s pretty controlled.”

Me: “Oh, she is. Right up until something doesn’t go her way, and that phone call definitely wasn’t.”

Beatrice’s next and no doubt germane query was put on the back burner due to the radda-tap-tap of a knuckle striking our apartment’s front door.

2.48.a Monday, Monday Can’t Trust That Day…

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(Technically this is the Diner on the Corner’s biscuit and gravy spread – I forgot to take a pic of the chipped beef before I ate it!)

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

Beatrice (arching an eyebrow): “Was it, though?”

Robbie (brow furrowed): “Where? It’s been clear as a bell at the house for over a week. Not that I’ve been outside much…”

Me: “I’m trying to set a mood.”

Watching them roll their eyes in unison, I hastily moved on.

Me: “Okay, it wasn’t stormy per se, but it was dark.”

“My last arranged fare of the day, Mrs. Kim, called it quits on her Christmas shopping thirty minutes early…”

Robbie: “Shirt. Have you started making your presents for the gift exchange yet?”

Me: “Yes. I’m assuming you haven’t?”

Robbie (shifting in his seat): “Do you think sticking googly-eyes on condiments counts as homemade?”

Me (suppressing a grin): “If you have to ask….”

Robbie: “Shirt.”

Beatrice (tipping her cup of earl grey my way): “Anyways…”

“Mrs. Kim’s early night meant I could eat a warm meal before my second shift started. I’d just polished off my plate of chipped beef on toast with the works when the lights flickered crazily as my FLYT ap popped.”

Beatrice (her tone dry as dust): “Warning our heroine, she should’ve stayed at home…”

Robbie: “Who has S.O.S. on their menu anymore?”

Me (responding in reverse order): “The Diner on the Corner had it as their Throwback Monday Special-of-the-Day and I take it you’re looking for less extravagant descriptions?”

Beatrice: “They do drape your story in a certain amount of distortion.”

Me: “Actually, they won’t.”

Robbie: “Really? How?”

Pulling my phone out of my back pocket, I placed it between the serving plates on the kitchen table.

Me (sheepishly): “I recorded the entire ride.”

Robbie (incredulously): “Isn’t that against FLYT regulations?”

Me: “Yes. However, in my defense, it was an accident…though when I did remember, I didn’t bother shutting it off….”

Beatrice (eyes sparkling with suppressed laughter): “You know, Ms. Hettie will have a fit if you get fired. She likes her tenants gainfully employed…”

Me (shrugging helplessly at the end): “Seriously, it was an accident. I was recording a voice memo while I was driving. When I hit the parking lot, the FLYT prompt superseded the phone screen. When I figured out who ordered the ride, the phone was the least of my worries.”

Robbie: “Don’t keep us in suspense, who was it?”

Pulling the Princess into the ill-lit lot of Hudson Brother’s Garage, I scanned for a man befitting of the name J.R. It took a moment for a silhouette to detach itself from the inky shadows and saunter towards the passenger side door. Passing through a pool of light issuing from the office window, the shade’s profile resolved itself into a dame. 

A dame who I knew was nothing but trouble.

Me (holding up my hands under their twin glares): “Okay, okay, I’ll stop.”

Without meeting either Robbie or Beatrice’s level (and unamused) looks, I wiped the soy-garlic-glaze off my fingers, picked up my phone, plugged in my password, pressed play, and set it back amongst our dinner plates.

The strains of the Greensleeves Tango played for a second before KARB’s musical selection muted, allowing both the ambient car noises and my voice to shine through. (Entertainingly, describing the dinner we were currently eating days before we actually sat down at the kitchen table in the Lavender Lady.)

“Frozen peas, yellow pepper, water chestnuts and corn sautéed in garlic and onions for the dumpling filling. Need to get a red pepper, some bean sprouts, snow peas, julienned carrots, cilantro, and rice noodles for salad. Plus, a couple of limes, ginger, Serrano chilis and chili oil for the sauces. Need to marinate the chicken wings for at least a day….”

The soft tick of the turn indicator and an increase in rustle cloth accompanied my preoccupied voice. “Okay J.R., I’m here where are you?” Silence descended in the Princess as her wheels roll to a stop, thus allowing the phone to pick up my sharp gasp.

“Oh, holy forking hell. You’ve got to be kidding me…”

Beatrice (putting her chopsticks down): “What’s that thrumming noise? I forgot to ask before.”

Me: “My fist bouncing rapidly off the bottom of the steering wheel, I was debating whether or not to set the Princess’s tires on fire peeling out.”

Robbie: “Sssshhhhh…”

The vibrating stopped a moment before the squeaky passenger side door opened. “Phoebe! I’m so glad you’re finally here! Oh, and look, you’re wearing another charming hat. It’s not as eye-catching as the octopus, but the plastic holly does lend it a certain je ne sais quoi.” 

“I’m well within the pickup window, you…Josie.” I finished lamely, ignoring both her dig at Squiddy and my festoon chauffeur’s cap. (I’d found a small vintage fairy-cake topper and tucked it in the band of my hat – I rather liked the effect it created.)

Robbie (grinning): “You almost called her a Brownie Stealing Bench, didn’t you.”

Me (mouth twitching): “Maybe….”

Beatrice (her eyebrows puckered together): “Why did she use just her initials instead of her full name?”

Me (shrugging): “I’m guessing she knew I wouldn’t have accepted the fare otherwise.”

2.41 A Wind From the North

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Wood and I watched, from the Princess’s cozy confines, a patrol car cruise slowly past us. Fighting the instinct to hunker down, I sucked on my slightly scorched index finger while fastening my seatbelt with the other. Much to our mutual relief, the cruiser turned the corner, crawl by the park, then thankfully roll out sight. 

The appearance of the police at the site of our Moon Bathing soiree, after the Beagle and his Human, tootled past us on one last jaunt around the block, is probably pure coincidence. Undoubtedly the one-man watch missed the eerie flickering blue flames of the Snapdragon dish…

…that could possibly be seen from space due to an inadvertently heavy-handed pour from the bottle of apple brandy. (The fact we were laughing like an asylum of loons while popping bits of fire into our mouths – I’m sure escaped his notice as well.)

Pondering the question, should we count this as a close shave with the boys in blue, I turned towards the Princess’s passenger seat for a second opinion. Only to find an unsmiling Wood staring at the space up the street Sarah’s car had occupied up until a few minutes ago. 

Me (using a hankie to wipe the drool off my sore finger): “You think Sarah’s doing okay?”

Wood: “Can you drive past the park for me? Slowly?”

Me (incredulous and yet still turning the engine over): “You want me to follow the cop car?”

Wood: “I’ll explain in a minute.”

Shrugging, I depressed the handbrake, pulled the Princess into non-existent traffic, and followed the police car’s line around the corner. Instead of taking one last gander at the scene of our misdemeanor, Wood stared intently at the opposite side of the street then lapsed into a pensive silence. 

Concentrating on the distant tail lights, trying to divine which way the officer would turn, I let Wood follow his train of thought in peace. I even refrained from letting out a whoop of delight when the police cruiser decided to turn the opposite direction of Nevermore. 

Wood (breaking his own silence): “This isn’t the way home.”

Me: “We’ve one more stop to make.”

Wood (falling back into his thoughts): “Okay.”

Me (glancing over): “You going to tell me what’s going on, or do I need to start pulling teeth?”

Wood (frowning): “I think I’ve got a pretty good idea why Sarah was acting so weird.”

Me: “Shoot.”

Wood (slowly): “A couple of minutes after you stopped shouting in the gazebo and I said goodnight to Laney, the front door of that big brick house across the way opened. All I could see were silhouettes, so I started playing ‘What Are They Saying?’ in my head.” 

Me (looking for a parking spot): “Always fun.”

Wood (nodding): “Eventually, without any hugs, kisses, or handshakes, one outline went back inside, and the other walked towards the street.”

Me (carefully pulling the Princess between two huge SUVs): “An inevitable outcome at a front door.”

Wood (flicking my leg for interrupting again): “I lost interest in the scene until I heard a woman’s voice call out, ‘Sarah! Wait!’. That’s when I saw our Sarah standing under a street lamp across the way, a second later another woman jogged up and handed her something.”

Me (shutting down the Princess’s engine): “Okay…”

Wood: “Morticia, I’m seventy-five percent certain the other woman was Josie Reville.”

Me (jaw involuntarily dropping): “You’re kidding. The Brownie Stealing Bench? Did you know they knew each other?”

Wood (half laughing at the end of his sentence): “No, I didn’t, but if Sarah were hanging out with Josie tonight, it would explain why she was so weird at first. The bad blood between you two is NOT a secret.”

Silently my mind whirred, churning out rational reasons why Sarah might intentionally spend time in The Brownie Stealing Bench’s company. Unfortunately, since I couldn’t fathom spending more than two minutes together with her, my imagination quickly went into overdrive. Spinning out one improbable possibility after another. 

Wood (nudging me): “I might be wrong. That’s why I asked you to drive by the house, I was trying to see if her name was on the letterbox, which of course it wasn’t.”

Me (drumming my fingers against the steering wheel): “The obvious way to prove you right or wrong is to knock on the front door. But that’s not going to happen. The Beagle’s Human is far too nosey for a successful stakeout, even if we used your car….”

Wood (splitting a spare cookie in two and holding half out to me): “Are you really that worried about it?”

Me (around my bite of cookie): “Maybe.” 

Wood pursed his lips at me.

Me (rolling my eyes): “Alright, I’ll be an adult and let it lie. There’s no accounting for taste. In any case, I don’t suppose you’d be willing to hang out here while I pop into Nevermore for a second?”

Wood (unbuckling his seatbelt): “Not a chance.”

Me: “It was worth a try.”

2.12 Don’t Make Me Turn This Car Around

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(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.” 

2.10 Pink? Pink? What’s Wrong With Pink?

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(The Princess is not the color of medicine!)

The Alter, no matter the time of day, always features fresh-baked baked-goods, so when I barreled thru the doors looking for something sweet, they didn’t let me down. Even better? The barista behind the counter didn’t bat an eyelash at my slightly grubby outfit, which earned her a generous tip after I paid for my chalice of coffee and a raspberry bear claw the size of my face. 

While I waited for the shout proclaiming my order fulfilled, I moseyed over to the altar in the corner. After all the events at Nevermore today, lighting a candle for luck and offering up a handful of Kona coffee beans up to the Fates couldn’t hurt. Some well-timed serendipity might come in handy shortly if today’s events were any indication.

Looking at my watch, I decided against eating my treat on the spot, as I still had an outside chance of beating Beatrice (Wood’s not-so-secret-secret-informant) home, thereby avoiding Wood’s wrath when she spilled the beans about my adventuring.

My plan, such as it was, worked for about one-hundred and twenty seconds after I turned into the Lavender Lady’s alley. Just long enough for me to let out a victorious whoop when I discovered Beatrice’s spot holding nothing but dead leaves, pull the Princess into her slot, shut off the engine and start casting about for my stuff.

Fortunately, the approaching bright twin beams of a silver Audi illuminated the Princess’s interior nicely, allowing me to figure out where I’d set my phone.

Fan-forking-tastic.

Abandoning my half-eaten bear claw and coffee dredges, Beatrice and I alighted from our respective rides at the same time, her face split by a grin (knowing she’d busted me). Pulling some chutzpah up from somewhere around my left knee, I attempted to hoodwink my her anyways. 

“Would you believe I came out here to think?”

With a sideways glance at the Princess, then at me, she let loose a laugh, “That explanation might hold water if; your backseat wasn’t filled with boxes, your coat not covered in crumbs and one shoe wasn’t crusted with what is hopefully mud.” 

Still in stitches, she leaned back into her car and grabbed some tied off plastic bags, all which sported the logo of my favorite comfort food joint, off the passenger seat.

“It was an exciting day in the alley?” 

Chuckling, Beatrice landed the final blow, “I gathered. Ms. Hettie called this afternoon to warn me about some mentally unbalanced car thieves who stole the back alley eyesore, the Pepto-mobile, but left her Impala untouched.”

Sputtering for a split second, “Eyesore? Pepto-mobile? The Princess is a cotton candy classic!” Stroking her pink hood soothingly, “Don’t let that delusional old bag of bones get you down. She thinks sweatshirts with embroidered geese are stylish.”

Highly amused over our indirect verbal skirmish, Beatrice moved on, “Come on, let’s get out of the dark and damp. I bought dinner from The Diner On The Corner.”

Honing in once again in on the takeout bags, my mouth started watering, “Pie?” 

(You can never have too many sweets on a day filled with disconcerting information.)

Throwing her own PULP tote over her shoulder, “Only if you can honestly tell me those boxes aren’t heavy.”

Hand over heart, “Sarah did all the hefting. The most substantial thing I heaved was this tote, and it’s mostly scarf now.”

“Sarah?”

“Yeah…” Giving Beatrice an abbreviated version of today’s events, we walked up the path towards the back of the Lavender Lady. She laughed at my description of Leo’s hat in all its snaky glory and my plan to shock my cousins.

When the curtain above our door twitched, I shot a toothy grin at it, Pepto-mobile my ass.

Once inside, Beatrice headed straight back to the kitchen while I removed my grimy shoes, sodden socks and sticky coat in the hallway (the raspberry jam of my bear claw nailed it). When I finally finished (and tossed the PULP tote with its pilfered promotional folders into my room), I joined her in the kitchen.

Beatrice, having shed her own outerwear, stood at the counter, dishing up our dinner. After she declined my help, I walked over to the old radio. Turning it on, I fiddled with the dials until the static resolved itself into the classic strains of Sinatra’s Glad To Be Unhappy. Apparently, KARB’s DJ agrees with my theory, that sorrowful Sinatra songs sound best on rainy days.

The clink of porcelain on Formica pulled me from my reverie, turning from the tuner, I joined Beatrice at the table.

After leaning over to smell the bowl of goodness in front of me, I made my opening gambit, “So, is PULP sending you any place interesting soon?”

Beatrice gave me a wry smile and put her spoon down, “Nope. So why did you split hairs with the doctor’s orders?”

Waffling for a moment, I finally cast my (metaphorical) cards onto the table, “I’ve been going stir-crazy, and Little Ben emailed about some boxes, and it seemed like the perfect reason to leave the house. Plus, I got to take off my slippers. It was just an errand, not a FLYT fare so…”

A shrug finished my sentence, and a bite of my stew filled the conversational void while I waited for Wood’s not-so-secret-secret-informant to declare my fate.

Nodding thoughtfully in time with the radio (Diana Krall’s version of In The Wee Small Hours of The Morning), Beatrice sipped her red wine (btw I got a glass of two-percent milk, per Wood’s instructions) then spoke, “I have a proposition for you.”

With a mouth full of stew soaked biscuit, I could only nod.

Summing up my conundrum, “Our friendly doctor wants to make sure you don’t overdo it. But your well enough to chafe over sitting at home, correct?” At the end of her question, she started playing with her wine glass.

Unwilling to spit my food at her, I nodded again.

Watching the swirling liquid, she continued, “Did you know I have a second job?” Not waiting for an answer, she went on, “And it requires a driver. Since you’re the pro, what do you say? I can make sure you don’t over-do it, you can wear shoes again, and we’ll both stay in Wood’s good graces.”

Gulping down my mouthful, “How do you feel about pink?”

2.05 What Wood Doesn’t Know Won’t Kill Me

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The rain beat mercilessly against the Princess’s windscreen, leaning forward, I struggled to see anything thru the deluge. The wipers were doing their level best, but visibility still sucked. As omens go, I’m pretty sure someone is telling me to go back home.

But after nineteen days of hiding out in the Lavender Lady, waiting for my face (among other portions of my anatomy) to resume something akin to a natural hue, I needed a new set of walls to look at, hence my current unsanctioned expedition in the Princess.

The only real positive to come out of the aftermath of my confrontation with the Woman In White (beyond the demonstration of my friends and family’s affections, and you know, stopping her), was winning the Black And Blue Becker Betting Pool. 

In an unexpected, unprecedented, and insulting twist, Uncle revealed that no one placed a wager on me ruining the next family portrait! Which sent the pot into immediate adjudication, i.e., Aunt Pearl, who awarded it to me because I’d flown so far under everyone’s radar. Happily, the rude windfall sorted out my rent & bills while keeping me in chicken wings during my “seclusion”.

(I mean seriously not one of my cousins bet on me? I’ve sported my fair share of lumps, bumps, and bruises over the years! Gggrrr…)

But back to me driving thru a monsoon in the Princess.

The night Wood patched me up in my Aunt & Uncle’s kitchen, he extracted two promises as payment for services rendered. The first? My solemn word that I would follow doctor’s orders (i.e., his) to the letter until he pronounced me fit as a fiddle. Which, other than embarrassing bouts of shirtless poking and prodding (which found me unearthing, from the bottom of the undies-drawer, my only full-coverage-granny-style brassiere), were easily followed. 

Until this morning, when the Stir-Crazies came to visit, accompanied their annoying cousins Ants-In-The-Pants and Cabin-Fever. 

Exacerbating the brouhaha, these unwanted visitors were causing in my psyche. My darling friends, in their zeal to help me heal – furnished me with anything and everything they thought I might require (Beatrice brought books from PULP, Laney supplied takeout and Uncle brought over his chessboard). Which inadvertently, but successfully, stripped me of any reason/excuse to leave the Lavender Lady. 

Until an hour ago. 

The Golden Ticket to the magical world of adventure outside the Non-Judgmental-Elastic-Waistband-Pants-Land? A sour email from Little Ben complaining about my “boxes of old junk” cluttering up Sarah’s Domain & Depository. 

Normally, I’d let his grumbling roll off my back, like water off a duck, but the way things stand right now? It wouldn’t be politic to intentionally irritate him. What if he started paying attention to my skulking around Nevermore? Things could get unnecessarily sticky.

Thus with my justifications firmly in place, confident in my ability to talk my way out of trouble if Wood found out about my expedition (he’d only prohibited driving FLYT fares). The Princess and I motored towards the main gates of Nevermore at a perfectly respectable hour……under a National Weather Service Winter Storm Warning. (Which adds a certain zing to the adventure! Don’t you agree?)

Pulling in next to a maintenance truck, I took a moment to study (as best I could) the vintage neon sign of The Three Roses (Nevermore’s onsite flower shop). The high winds made me ridiculously glad Little Ben had finally been persuaded to refurbish it two summers ago (it could probably withstand a tornado now).

Unable to stall any longer, I scampered from the Princess thru the automatic doors of the main building. Which inadvertently placed me on a collision course with Nevermore’s Chief Grounds Keeper. Luckily, Ira possesses excellent reflexes because I didn’t see him in my mad dash.

Ira (a smile creasing his face): “Phoebe? You’re a sight for sore eyes.”

Not counting Big Ben, Ira’s Nevermore’s longest-tenured employee (he has me beat by twenty-five years).

Me (pushing my hood away from my face, returning his smile): “Right back at you! How are things?”

Ira (glancing over his shoulder and lowering his voice a notch): “Fair to middling, but I can’t talk now. Call me soon, and I’ll buy you a beer after work.”

Me (spidey senses tingling): “I’ll hold you to that.”

Tipping his cap, he walked out the doors, while I pondered his troubling words for a moment. 

Recalling my original objective, and hoping to pull off the secondary goal of avoiding detection by Little Ben and his secretary/spy Lottie, I hustled towards the setting of my recent spat of bad dreams. All the while silently cursing my less than stealthy sneakers. As predicted, the notorious stretch of linoleum bordered by plain beige walls looked just as dull as I knew it would. This Proof of Blandness satisfied the small reservations my mind insisted on toying around with about coming down to the scene of The Confrontation. 

It didn’t hurt that my sneakers squeaked so much with every step I felt like an awkward participant in a dance party attended solely by boisterous but invisible mice.

1.47 Deadlines

The First Annual Fall Foliage Tour (even with its stressful bits) turned out rather grand. 

Sam got a fat tip from me (for obvious reasons), from Wood (for providing surreptitious Bundesliga scores) and from Beatrice (for carrying her luggage up the trail to the Princess). 

Beatrice earned eternal appreciation by finding Wood’s lost keys (again), the danish filching kid’s glasses, his dad’s book and the staff’s unofficial mascot Beans the beagle (which netted a ten percent discount on our rooms). 

Sarah loved ditching her extended family for the weekend (she’s number seven of eight kids and still lives with her folks).

Wood finally taught Laney bridge, and he’s now entertaining high hopes of hosting his own bridge night (Laney’s not sold on the idea). 

Laney merely enjoyed a weekend sans soccer.

We all decided the Second Fall Foliage Tour needed to happen next October. 

Even better? I found an absurd little spot to mail my missive on the way home, a general store/diner/butcher/post office. An establishment where locals congregate and tourists invariably stop at (since it houses the only “public” bathroom on a thirty mile stretch of road). What sealed the deal for me was the fact there I didn’t see a single camera anywhere. The envelope might smell of bacon (from the diner) when the Prickliest Ranger receives it, but I didn’t think anyone could trace it beyond these walls.

Unbeknownst to the Unfriendliest Ranger, he had exactly three weeks to work up the nerve to investigate the tip I’d sent him. If he let me down, Rye authorities and reporters would find themselves in the midst of an informational deluge until someone finally decided to take a hike. Not a flawless plan, but the best one I got. 

Which gave me a bit lead time before news broke about the contents of the cairn.

When we returned to the Lavender Lady, I ignored my impending date with the washing machine (my luggage was filled with the stuff) and headed back outside to take care of the Princess. 

When we’d stopped at the idiosyncratic general store, Beatrice and Sarah fell in love with its candy counter. Where they indulged their sweet tooth (or teeth in this case) by purchasing homemade snow caps, skittles, lemon drops, licorice, taffy, sweet tarts, gummy bears, peanut brittle, toffee, candied flowers, caramel apples, and marshmallows. I think the store made their daily numbers just off their sugar rush. The upshot of having two friends indulge their inner nine-year-olds? Besides witnessing them inflict giant tummy aches on themselves? They ended up filling my car with a wealth of candy-related detritus.

Tomorrow being Monday and all, I needed to get The Pink Princess ready for work, especially since my FLYT passengers absolutely love her. They’d be shocked and dismayed if they saw her in this state. So spending the rest of the afternoon cleaning my car seemed wise.

On the plus side, it allowed me to avoid listening to my roommate’s groans. She’s currently curled up on the couch cradling a bottle of bismuth. 

The downside? It summoned a giant pain in my…… 

Ms. Hettie: “People in this neighborhood don’t need to know about your appalling eating habits.” 

Me (barely missing the door jamb with my head when I stood up too quickly): “Well, they’ll just think I’m colorful.”

A fist full of skittles wrappers disappeared into the garbage bag I was filling up while I inwardly cursed the stealth of soft soled shoes.

Ms. Hettie (sniffing loudly): “Isn’t there someplace else you can do this?”

Me (trying not to give her an opening): “Nope.”

Several fast food containers followed the candy wrappers into the bag, continuing on with my task while trying to ignore my landlady. I wonder if I needed to monitor Beatrice to make sure she didn’t fall into a diabetic coma. Or at the very least I could supply her with a bucket…

Ms. Hettie (sensing my inattention croaked louder): “That cousin of yours was hardly here this weekend.”

Me (standing up again to peer over the Princess’s ragtop): “Really? I’ll keep your observations in mind.”

Ms. Hettie’s enviable rosy cheeks almost hid the blush which crept across her nose. At least she hadn’t called the cops on Robbie thinking he was a prowler (I’d had visions).

Ms. Hettie (undeterred): “If you both go out of town again, make sure to tell me when you’ll be back.”

Making a noncommittal sound I hunkered down, trying to fish the last crumpled candy wrapper from under the driver’s seat. She’d want a full itinerary next. Funny thing is I don’t think she’s anxious about being alone in the Lavender Lady.

Ms. Hettie (working back to her original complaint and walking around to address her comments to my rump): “Well if you insist on cleaning this car out here, be quick about it.”

Me (failing in my efforts not to rise to her bait, I sat back on my heels): “If I you hadn’t stopped by, I’d be much farther along.”

This earned a hairy eyeball from Ms. Hettie, who finally left me in peace, I assume to reacquaint herself with the contents of an oubliette. Who on earth did she think could see me back here? Besides herself and Beatrice?

When the car no longer crinkled (it did smell like a cross between candy floss and windex) I decided to remove the fine film of dirt and bugs encrusting the pink paint. Choosing to save a few pennies and irritate my landlady further (an added bonus) I  washed her myself. Being a completionist, I decided to make her shine so out came the wax. When I finished The Pink Princess positively sparkled (though the battery operated dewdrop lights I strung up inside helped). 

Even better than a clean car? 

I finally figured out where the external light switches were located – no more stumbling up a dim walk for me!