Tag Archives: Robbie

2.52 King Arthur, Antonio Stradivari & KARB

Did you know author Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote a book around 1136 called the Historia Regum Britanniae (The History of the Kings of Britain)? 

Yes? No?

Never fear if you’ve never heard of this title before – unless you’re keen on exploring the profusion of stories surrounding the legend of King Arthur – you’re unlikely to have run across it. Especially since Thomas Malory’s later work (around 349 years later), Le Morte d’Arthur eclipsed Geoffrey’s tome by several orders of magnitude. In any case, the Historia Regum Britanniae’s biggest claim to literary fame is the fact most scholars consider it to be the first narrative and (on the whole) fictional account of King Arthur’s life. 

Beatrice and I unsurprisingly, are both aware of this kernel of information. (Thus illustrating why the Fates smiled the day we met. She studied the metamorphosis of the Arthurian legend as an undergrad in college. While Librarian Extraordinaire Mrs. Schmidt introduced me to the Round Table and it’s King – after I’d polished off every Robin Hood related story the stacks of the Rye Public Library had to offer. But I digress…)

Due to Beatrice’s familiarity with said tome, her ears perked up when she heard the name Monmouth uttered on the radio. Regrettably, she tuned right back out when KARB’s newsreader failed to mention either King Arthur or Geoffrey in the story. Last night this scrap of information turned more maddening than a musical ear-worm, as Beatrice tried to recall it after catching sight of a mind-map I was constructing on her computer. (I’d created the aforementioned mind-map to tease out a coherent pattern from all of our assembled notes, deductions, and facts.)

The branch which caught Beatrice’s eye dealt with the Board of Managers, more specifically Nevermore’s Head of Legal, Nathaniel Monmouth. 

I can ascribe this brilliant bit of deduction to the six minutes and twenty-seven seconds Beatrice spent pacing the length of her office while softly repeating Nathaniel’s surname over and over again to herself. Her spot-on imitation of a broken record stopped as suddenly as it started – whereupon I found myself, and the chair I was sitting on, shoved/rolled away from the computer’s keyboard.

Tapping quickly, Beatrice soon brought up a bite-sized blurb archived on KARB’s website. 

She then did a small fist pump in triumph.

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I couldn’t believe it – of all the news for Nathaniel to keep mum about. 

For weeks, Nathaniel crowed about Klara’s successful promotion/challenge from eleventh to tenth chair in the second violin section, yet he stays silent about this prestigious grant? According to the article’s date, we worked together for roughly two months prior to my pink slip, and not once did he breathe the word Stradivarius around me.

Nudging Beatrice aside, I pulled up Klara Monmouth’s bio on the Rye Symphony homepage. Said bio included both a new photo of Klara sitting in full concert dress with Stradivarius resting on her knee and a link to the Goodfellow Music Conservatory. 

Clicking the helpfully provided link, I scrolled down Goodfellow’s main page until a familiar face stopped me cold. Turns out Goodfellow’s Chief Librarian is one of the sniggering sycophants who help Josie steal Summer’s brownie back in middle school – Thomi Margaziotis.

(Now back to Friday night.)

“So you think Josie bribed Nathaniel to look the other way about Little Ben’s presence on the Board, by arranging a once in a lifetime opportunity for his wife?” Stopping midway through the stack of rebranding propaganda I’d liberated from Little Ben’s office, my cousin tilted his head and goggled at me.

“Cultivating quid pro quo arrangements is something Josie learned at her father’s knee.”

Beatrice, seeing I’d just taken a healthy slug of coffee, expanded on our theory. “It’s brilliant because tracing favors between friends is troublesome at best.”

The situation doesn’t start smelling fishy until you start digging into Library’s endowment history.

The majority of instruments, unsurprisingly, go to current students studying at the Conservatory. The few instruments straying outside those hallowed halls, nine times out of ten, find themselves in the hands of alumni. The rare non-alum loans typically go to musicians completing specific projects – like the group creating a soundbank of every known Stradivari violin, viola, cello, mandolin, and harp in the world.

“I’m guessing Klara doesn’t fall within any of those groups?” 

“Nope.” 

Sensing Robbie had a few follow-up questions to Beatrice’s one-word reply – I cut in. “Between her Linked-in profile, symphony bio, and wealth of social media posts – we couldn’t find anything approaching the Conservatory’s customary lending profile.” 

Ira, having finished his third colorful tiny cake, rested his forearms on the table and laced his fingers together. “Phoebe, I agree there’s a lot of coincidence at play here, but do you really believe Sarah and Nathaniel are working to the detriment of Nevermore with Josie Reville? I just can’t see Sarah being that calculating.”

Resisting the urge to close my eyes and take a deep breath, to try and dissipate the lead encrusting my stomach, I met Ira’s gaze instead. “If you’re willing, we might even be able to confirm my theory.”

That got everyone’s attention.

“What did you have in mind?”

2.51.b Revelatory Reading

“…that’s why Little Ben gave Ira a paper promotion.” Smoke practically poured out of Leo’s ears as he careened towards the same conclusion Beatrice and I reached last night. “He wants control of Nevermore’s coffers.”

Robbie, “How would flipping one vote help him? He’d still need to sway Ira’s replacement, plus everyone else.”

Ira, leaning back against his chair, a shrewd light in his eyes. “The move makes Gavin the most junior member of the Board. Everyone else has at least a decade of service on him, undoubtedly he will follow their lead. And I’m guessing my promotion wasn’t Little Ben’s first or last step at influencing the Board, was it?”

Unearthing, from the pile of promotional material I’d absconded with months ago, I found one of Little Ben’s new business cards and tossed it into the center of the table with a flick of my wrist. Ira remained still, but Leo and Robbie leaned forward to read fine print embossed beneath the heavy script of ‘Ben Abernathy, Provisional Proprietor…’

‘…Caretaker.’ 

Picking the card slowly and deliberately off the table, Leo stared into space, gears whirring away in his head, while his hand used the edge of the card to tattooed a staccato beat against the tabletop. “He didn’t just take-over your Cottage. Damn, how did I miss that?”

From the off, my dismissal from Nevermore felt funny.

Little Ben’s wafer-thin cover story hinged on his intent to funnel my salary back into Nevermore. More specifically, into his new Sunny Valley Farm & Pet Cemetery scheme. On the face of it made a modicum sense – until he literally spent all of this ‘savings’ on updating The Cottage. At the time I was so topsy-turvy from being issued a pink slip and eviction notice within the same breath, I chalked up the frittering away of funds to his general lack of good sense and judgment.

It never once crossed my mind something more laid beneath, until Beatrice read our scribe’s account of their first few months as Provisional Proprietor. Then Little Ben’s cock-and-bull story shattered like a hammer striking glass. 

My layoff was never about saving money. It was about co-opting my job title to gain a seat and vote on the Board of Managers. 

Leo’s gaze remained unfocused as he absorbed the implications, the only outward sign of what was going on between his ears was the continued tapping of Little Ben’s card. Ira merely leaned back in his chair and nodded periodically to himself. Beatrice, having already canvassed this ground with me last night, got up from the table and started making coffee. I followed her lead, only my trajectory aimed me towards the paper line tin sitting further down the counter from the coffeepot.

Robbie, after rereading the short passage about the composition of the Board, found his voice first. “Surely, the Head of Legal wouldn’t allow this to happen. There’s an obvious conflict in having Little Ben, as Provisional Proprietor, sit on the Board.” 

Setting the now open tin of birthday cake madeleines in the center of the table, minus one, I returned to my seat. “Let’s put a pin in that question for a second and try to think of another reasonable explanation as to why Little Ben would want to co-opt my job title.”

Ira, unfolding his arms, leaned forward and chose one of the delightfully speckled madeleines from the tin. “Your theory explains a great many things, not the least of which is why all the unabridged copies of the Conventions went missing. But I’ve known that boy for his entire life and worked with him for well over twenty years. He doesn’t have the cunning in him to pull off this kind of chicanery.”

“I agree. But now ask yourself, why was it so important for Josie to figure out if I’d seen Sarah leaving her house.” Popping the last half of my madeleine in my mouth, I chewed up the deliciously sweet cake waiting for one of them to respond. 

Tipping his head Ira regarded me thoughtfully. “You think the three of them are working together?”

“Not quite, due to the bad blood between Lucas Reville and Big Ben, I can’t really see Little Ben would work with Josie.” Gnawing on my lip, my eyes drawn to Leo’s uneven drumming of Little Ben’s card, I continued. “I believe Sarah and Josie are working together to influence Little Ben. To what ending I’m not sure, but I doubt it’s for the good of Nevermore.”

“Cuz, I know the Brownie Stealing Bench is the root of all evil, but this is closing in on conspiracy theory territory…” Robbie’s uncertain tone was belied by his hand/arm as it stretched across the table to grab the top six inches of Nevermore rebranding materials.

After a sip of coffee, waiting to see if any of the others wanted to chime in, I turned the laptop screen so they could see it. “I agree, it sounds cockeyed. However, let me show you something…”

2.51.a TGIF

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Leo (standing stock-still in the middle of the kitchen and thus in nearly everyone’s way): “Forget the worksheets, you found a copy of the unabridged Conventions?”

Me (fetching the stack of materials from next to the radio): “Nope, still a big goose egg on that front. The copy Beatrice and I’ve been working with is the great-great-grandparent of the Conventions’ current iteration.”

Leo, who finally moved out of the center of the kitchen, joined me at the table ostensibly to wipe it down with a sponge. Waiting until the worst of the sticky soy glaze had been cleaned away, I set down my armful of information. Leo, executing a first-class jump shot, pitched the sponge over Ira and Beatrice’s heads and into the kitchen sink – then turned back towards the table.

Leo (taking the chair across from me): “So where did you find it, Boss?”

Me (slipping the handouts out from between the salient pages): “Beatrice transcribed a couple of crucial passages for you guys.” 

Robbie (tossing the napkins and placemats into the laundry hamper): “Transcribed?”

Wordlessly I open the atypical copy of the Conventions to a random page and swiveled it around so the Leo, Robbie, and Ira (both of whom had joined Leo and I at the table after finishing their self-appointed chores) could get a clear gander at the pages.

Ira (emitted a low whistle): “All this needs is a couple of illustrations, and you’d have a classier version of the Voynich manuscript.”

Beatrice (pouring the detergent into the dishwasher): “Fortunately, it isn’t quite as unintelligible as that document.”

Me (pushing the laptop’s power button): “Though undoubtedly, this is the author that prompted the powers-that-be’s switch to a movable typeface.”

And created, thank the gods above and below, a table of contents and an index. 

Because it’s all well and good to explicitly and formally elucidate the best practices and policies concerning a whole host of likely, plausible but unlikely and utterly improbable events that could occur within the borders of Nevermore. But without a clear and concise method of finding and extracting said information from its’ 2,236 pages. You’re stuck in the role of gawking onlooker when a graveside brawl erupts amongst mourning family members when one faction takes umbrage with another, at the lack of classic punk music during the beloved family member’s service (the Ramones in particular).

Unfortunately, my reliance on the aforementioned feature directly contributed to my failure to read the Conventions’ current iteration in its totality. Well, I suppose if I’m totally truthful, my reliance on the index really sprang from two sources: A) the now obviously erroneous assumption I’d always have access to its pages and B) the fact I found the gargantuan size of the binder a smidge intimidating. Which considering the number of pages in the Harry Potter, Nancy Drew, and Amelia Peabody series, which I devoured as fast as I could turn the page, you’d think 2,236 pages easy-peezie. 

However, 2,236 pages quickly multiply to 4,472 when you realize you’re reading prose drier than a breeze blowing across the sands of the Gobi desert.

The heirloom edition of the Conventions, on the other hand, doesn’t suffer from this arid affliction (or find itself cursed with even a cursory index). As it doesn’t so much layout guidelines for things like hiring, firing, or corrective action as it chronicles said events. My favorite admonishment was issued to one Dolores Sullivan, who apparently our author caught cheating at the Egg & Spoon race during the Summer Company Picnic. 

Which begs the question – how? 

Did Dolores glue her egg to the spoon? Use a soup spoon rather than a teaspoon? Tamper with the egg itself, weighing it down from the inside? All three methods, it seems to me, would be easily detectable. So how did she plan on getting away with it? 

Despite the rigorous care taken in recording the daily minutia of Nevermore – the enumeration of which allowed Beatrice (once she deciphered the madness behind our author’s method) to hurtle her way from cover to cover – our author failed to fill in the blanks on how Dolores endeavored to perpetrate her fraud. 

This lapse in detail vexed both Beatrice and me.

Not only because the tone of the passage made it seem as if our author was the only one who saw thru the deception. But on account of the fact, we’re relying on our scribe to reliably archive the finer points of their experience as Provisional Proprietor.

Robbie (running an eye over the first of the several stapled pages I handed to him): “This is the condensed version?”

Me: “More or less. I wanted to give you guys all the info, in case I missed a nuance somewhere.”

Ira (setting his packet down on the table in front of him): “Give us the broad strokes.”

Me (taking a deep breath): “Alright, this is what Beatrice and I worked out…”

Similarly to Little Ben, our scribe unexpectedly became the Provisional Proprietor of Nevermore. (Though in their case, the promotion came about on account of a heart attack suffered by their predecessor rather than an inexplicable vanishing act.) To help our newly minted Provisional Proprietor, as Nevermorian tradition dictates, the Board of Managers was convened. 

The Board of Managers is composed of the Head of Legal, Chief Groundskeeper, Longest Tenured Employee (outside the other four), Chief Funeral Director, and Caretaker. Together they not only advise the Provisional Proprietor – a majority vote of the Board is required to access Nevermore’s coffers… 

Leo (shaking his head): “You think Little Ben’s manipulating the Board somehow, don’t you…”

2.49.a Taco Tuesday

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Tuesday night, after my second shift for FLYT, I was starving. 

Due to a series of unfortunate events (my last Senior Center fare running late, hitting every single red light in Rye and a peewee soccer team taking over the preponderance of tables at The Diner On The Corner), I failed to secure myself some supper in-between shifts.

(BTW – A leftover handful of plantain chips and pumpkin seeds does not a dinner make.)

Exacerbating the hollowness of my midsection, I ferried about a gentleman who would not stop waxing poetic about either his takeout or the new food truck at THE HUB. (Which apparently serves the ‘world’s best biscuits and gravy’ – according to their propaganda and the guy’s ravings. Which of course, I took silent umbrage with – because no food truck in the history of ever can beat a woman who’s been making them from scratch once a week for well over seventy-five years. But I digress.) 

Rather than committing petty theft and sampling the second-best biscuits in Rye – I knocked off a half-hour early instead. 

Fortunately for everyone on the road, my tummy waited until after I pulled the Princess into the alley before hijacking every iota of processing power my brain possessed in order to recall the proper way to make a roux. Once I was completely free from worrying about silly things like crashing into a tree or creaming Ms. Hettie’s guard gnome (the Lavender Lady may be too stately to sport cute lawn ornaments, but it seems her garage is not). My tummy commandeered the remainder of my cognitive abilities to conduct a mental inventory of the contents of the fridge, freezer, and pantry. 

Indeed, so enthralled was I in recalling Wood’s Gran’s instruction on the proper way of making a roux…I not only missed the actual aromas emanating from the kitchen, but the raised voices reverberating through its door. Until both the chagrin of walking into the middle of the personal conversation and the heady bouquet of chicken, cumin, cilantro, tomatoes, spicy peppers, and rice – hit me simultaneously. 

Successfully jarring my mind and tummy from their culinary fixation. 

Ms. Hettie (sitting at the table sipping some amber liquid out of a mason jar):”…regrets disowning you.”

Beatrice (using a paring knife to emphasize her point): “She only regrets it because she wants my help…evening Phoebe, dinner’s nearly done.”

Ms. Hettie (turning towards me rasped out): “If you would kindly give us a moment, we are discussing a family matter.”

Me (stammering and backing out the door): “I’ll just…”

Beatrice (stabbing an avocado): “Ms. Hettie and I are done with our discussion if you could grab some plates that would be great.”

Ms. Hettie (smacking the bottom of the jam jar against the tabletop): “We most certainly are not.” 

Without a word, I dumped my pack, cap, and coat onto the nearest chair and scurried over to Beatrice’s side. Sighing with relief as I managed to save her fingers and the avocado from the colossal sized cleaver she’d swapped the paring knife for in a fit of frustration over her trouble deseeding the large berry.

Me (surveying the bevy of brightly colored veggies lined up next to the cutting board): “I’ll finish up?”

Beatrice (shaking her head while surrendering the massive knife): “The garnish.”

Nodding, I switched from her knife of choice to one slightly less Brobdingnagian, then went to work opening up the Avocado while trying to fade into the foreground.

Beatrice (pulling some placemats out of a drawer): “How can you ask me to go back there?”

Ms. Hettie (wheezing after a large sip of scotch): “You find things for strangers all the time.”

Beatrice (utensils tinking together as she yanked open another drawer): “Treat them as clients? They’d never abide by the contract or pay me.”

Ms. Hettie (refilling her drink): “So make them, I’ll lend a hand if needed. I doubt either of us can fall any further in their opinion.”

Beatrice (closing the cupboard): “Unless I happen to prove she did it.”

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.”

2.45 An Obvious Fact…

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(What was waiting for the three of us at the end of our deductions…)

Standing behind Robbie, watching the security video over his shoulder for the umpteenth time, the lump ice dwelling in the pit of my stomach started making the bologna sandwich feel like a bad idea. Uncle, who’d declined an additional screening, sat at his desk hands steepled together deep in thought. Pressing the touchpad on Beatrice’s laptop Robbie skipped backwards in the footage and watched the entire episode again.

Then again. 

When he rewound it for a third consecutive viewing, he climbed aboard the same train of thought Uncle, and I’d already taken a whirl on. Restless, I got up and started to pace around the perimeter of the room. 

Robbie (eyes glued to the screen): “You’re sure there was no one else in the building?”

Me (tracing my finger over the spines of the books): “I cross-referenced the video feeds with time punches, everyone had left for the day.”

Robbie (his leg bouncing like mad): “Someone not scheduled could have stopped by? Or a salaried employee could’ve stayed late…”

Me (looking across the room at the back of his head, I shook mine): “All accounted for, and the alarm report and entrance logs both agree that no one else was in the building by this point.”

Robbie (turning in his seat to look at me): “Would you mind if I double-checked?”

Uncle (rising from his chair): “Another set of eyes never hurt.”

Passing the laptop over to me, as I’d finished my revolution of the room, Robbie got to his feet and joined Uncle behind the desk. Listening with half an ear to Uncle’s summation of each report Ira included in his envelope, I sat down and cued up the video. 

Pressing play, I watched the empty lobby for a few seconds until the Judas, the Brutus, the veritable Peter Pettigrew of Nevermore, strode into view. 

Walking over to the alarm panel, Sarah punched in her code (according to the alarm activity report – disarming it), then unlocked the adjacent door and let Laney inside. They spoke for a few minutes before Laney handed over the books she’d borrowed after which they exchanged hugs, Laney left (to join Beatrice, Wood and I for dinner, ducks and pirate-themed fun) and Sarah relocked the door.

It’s at this point in the footage where I wish the video contained audio because after she stops waving at Laney – Sarah pulls out her cell and makes two calls.

The first, significantly longer than the second, prompted Sarah to pace in tight figure eights in front of the main entrance while jerkily gesturing to the person on the other end of the line. Following her conversation with whomsoever, Sarah stood stock still, head hanging for a few minutes before dialing the next number.

Four minutes after the second conversation ended, Sarah unlocked the doors again. Only this time, Little Ben walked in. Six minutes later, according to the night watchmen’s log, Little Ben called to request extra security for Nevermore.

Me (stopping the video and looking over at Uncle who’d swapped seats with his son): “Didn’t Sherlock Holmes warn us that there’s nothing worse than an obvious fact?”

Uncle (holding the mouth of the potato chip bag towards me): “Actually, he said there’s nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”

Me (declining his offer of delectable fat-soaked starch): “I like mine better.”

Uncle (nodding sagely): “I know.” 

And let me tell you how I’d kicked myself for not seeing this sooner….

Sarah had known most of the details of The Brace Affair because she was there when we’d hatched the plan. Between Sarah’s foreknowledge and her friendship, I bet that’s why Laney didn’t count her as ‘anyone’ when I asked if she’d told anyone about our plans that night. 

Robbie (massaging his temples): “Okay, I agree it looks like Sarah ratted you out. But I still don’t get why? She’s your friend.”

Me (shaking my head): “Technically, she didn’t rat us out. She only told Little Ben someone was coming. I spoke to him afterward, he had no clue who he was chasing.”

Robbie (looking relieved): “So it’s possible she was skating the line between being a good friend and a good employee.” 

Me (shrugging): “Maybe.”

Robbie (waving his hand over the papers): “Have you tried talking to her about this?” 

Me (smiling sadly): “Nope.”

Robbie (disbelief evident): “Why not?”

Uncle (heaving himself up from the chair, taking Beatrice’s laptop off my lap): “Probably for the same reason I wouldn’t.”

Robbie (looking towards Uncle, confused): “But this whole thing could be just a huge misunderstanding.”

Uncle (waving for Robbie to stay put, he set down the electronic device on the desk): “Your right it could. However, neither your cousin or I believe Little Ben was the first person Sarah told about the impeding pirate landing. That’s what was bothering you about the video, isn’t it Phoebe?”

Me: “That’s part of it.”

Robbie: “Wait, how did you guys get there?”

Uncle (tapping the trackpad): “Watch the video again……..See how Sarah stares out the glass doors after the second call, and she unlocks the doors a good minute before Little Ben walks thru them.”

Robbie (squinting at the screen): “She was waiting for him.”

Uncle (using his teacher tone): “Correct. Now, watch the first phone call again.”

Robbie (leaning forward): “She’s arguing with someone?”

Uncle (pointing at the screen): “She loses an argument with someone, watch her deflate, she’s staring at the floor, not out the door.”

Robbie (glancing between us): “Okay, I admit it looks bad. But, playing devil’s advocate here, all you really have is evidence she made a call.”

Unfortunately, due to Aunt Pearl deciding she could no longer countenance our absence from the kitchen burst in to retrieve us. I didn’t get a chance to tell Robbie my suspicions were based on more than just one call.

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