Tag Archives: serial

1.66 Why Am I Helping Him Again?

Aware my fish was about to bite I kept my tone even, “If Iron Creek floods the water will work the caskets to the surface and carry them downstream then into town. The City Council will hammer you over it.”

The Rye City Council is a constant source of headaches for Big Ben and his family. Over the last ninety years, they’ve attempted no less than eighteen times to carve up Nevermore for the ‘betterment’ of the city. 

They will not be pleased to discover Little Ben expanded Nevermore boundaries further – even if his plan includes helping the city’s hungry. They’d be actively looking for any way to strip Little Ben of the land. Poorly placed graves would give them the ammunition they needed to accomplish the deed.

Circling my bait Little Ben stalled, “That’s just an urban legend.”

Tugging the line enticingly, “It’s not. Research the recent flooding in the south or call one of the others in the association – they’ll confirm the problem. I promise.”

Finally biting, he strove to appear uninterested in his own question, “Where would you place ‘the feature’ in Sunny Valley Farm?” A group of kids wandered close to us, so he used a euphemism. Didn’t matter, they were too busy talking amongst themselves to notice our conversation.

Taking a beat before answering to still myself, “I’m not very familiar with the farm. You should really ask the MacGregors, they’d know the best spot to place it. But from the narrow slice I’ve seen of the property, the field across the road from the Seven Roses might work. ” (Seven Roses is the name of Big Ben’s house in Nevermore) Shrugging I let my attention momentarily wavered off of Little Ben and onto Ruth who currently carried two plates filled with food matching our orders from the kitchen.

Wreathed in smiles, Little Ben bellowed his goodbyes and nearly knocked Beatrice’s burger out of Ruth’s hand with a particularly sizable sweeping gesture in my direction, “I nearly forgot why I originally came over here!” 

My heart lurched in my chest.

“You left some stuff in the cottage when you left. I packed it up and moved the boxes to the main offices. Sarah said she’d call you about them, but I guess I saw you before she did. You should pick them up soon, I’m sure they’re in her way.” On that last note, he left us to clean our plates in peace.

It took a moment for my stomach to settle down enough so I could sate my Reuben colored craving. When he’d turned back around I’d half expected him to hand me paperwork banning me from Nevermore. Which would have been awkward. 

Beatrice shifted her focus from her phone to me the moment Little Ben exited our sphere, “You handled him beautifully.”

Unable to speak, having taken a rather ambitious bite of my sandwich, I shrugged. When I was finally able to comment my voice sounded tired even to my ears, “My approval of his scheme means he won’t worry himself about how he was able to afford it.” It’s also why I was confident that my words worked. Whatever small portion of his conscious still bothering him about laying me off would quiet once he acted on my suggestions. 

I did find it interesting that he did try to place a small wedge between Sarah and me.

We worked our way thru our dinners with yummy noises replacing actual conversation. When only a few stray fries remained on our plates talking resume.

“It is rather anti-climatic though, using my words to convince Little Ben he should reconsider where to put the pet cemetery. My backup plan featured breaking & entering, a switcharoo, and arts & crafts. Nail-biting stuff! But I suppose this produced more reliable results.”

Beatrice laughed at the rueful note in my voice, “Well after last night’s near-miss this solution is probably better. Speaking of last night… will your Aunt really send a copy of our piratey portrait to my parents?” Her smile fading at the end of her question, while her fingers started shredding the lettuce garnish on her plate.

“If they live within a hundred miles of Rye she’ll find them.” Sensing the tension at the table, “I can ask her not too.”

With a smile that didn’t entirely span her face, “I’d appreciate. We aren’t on speaking terms presently.” 

“No problem.”

(Sandwich Photo courtesy of Unsplash)

1.65 Much Ado About Nothing

“Oh, you’re Phoebe’s former manager. I owe you a big thank you!” After this rather stunning declaration, she accidentally dropped her phone under the table. When she leaned over to retrieve it, she cut herself off mid-sentence.

Little Ben eyed me. I just shrugged.

Popping back up she continued on without missing a beat, “When you laid her off, you gave me the best roommate ever!” Focusing on her phone, which had started doing a fair impression of an angry bee, she addressed both of us, “Go ahead and ignore me, I need to respond to a bunch of emails from work. Apparently, someone shook an author’s hand, and now his publisher is freaking out. So I need to calm the waters.” Waving us on, she dove into her phone.

Trying not to split a seam at Beatrice’s comment and Little Ben’s befuddlement I wrestled my focus back onto what he’d been saying, “So Nevermore?”

Something which looked suspiciously like guilt flitted across his face but was quickly chased away by disdain. Shrugging it off he unglued his gaze from Beatrice and transferred it to me, “Er, yes, Nevermore. I was wondering if you did anything special to ward off trespassers. Specifically students from the high school.”

His question placed me squarely on boggy ground. Helping him meant the possibility of compromising my own avenues of ingress. But on the other hand, left to his own devices…. 

Too tired to be a jerk I answered, “Replace all the broken lights with bright new bulbs, make sure security varies their routes and up their numbers on holidays and when school is out.”

His answer made me glad I’d gone the route I did, “I was thinking of pulling the groundskeepers in for double duty. They always want extra hours, and they’re cheaper than the guards.”

Trying to head off all the avenues of objection, “Ben, they’ll like the hours right up until they run into a group of genuine vandals. People seriously bent on desecrating burials can turn very nasty very quick. The groundskeepers don’t have the skills to deal with them. And what if they got hurt? It would cost more money in the long run. Stick with our regular firm, they know the hotspots to watch and who they’re dealing with.”

Complaining, “They didn’t do any good last night! And we were featured in the Harvest’s Blotter!”

A ghost of a smile hovered over my lips, “They’ll work harder now. They don’t like losing. And helpful hint, don’t call the cops until after security has detained someone.” On that note, Ruth, our waitress placed a condiment carrier on the table (which the Rusty Hinge takes seriously – filling an old six-pack box with sriracha, horseradish, curry, brown sauce, relish, and ranch dressing. Ketchup and mustard never leave their tables). 

Knowing the condiments signaled our impending meal he rushed on, “Have you seen the plans for Sunny Valley Farm?”

“Bait the hook well; this fish will bite.” Claudio advised Don Pedro and Leonardo when they were trying to trick Benedick into loving Beatrice (or trying to temper his pride enough to declare his love for her – but we can debate their motivations later). 

Either way, Claudio’s line floated through my head when Little Ben asked his question. If I played my cards right Little Ben would choose the correct course of action on his own. Without me needing to employ any convoluted high-risk schemes to get him to see reason. 

Delicately grasping the opportunity, “I saw the advertisement in The Daily Harvest.”.

Okay, so it still requires some guile on my part. 

With a keen look in his eye, “So what did you think?”.

Infusing my words with a slightly upbeat tone, “Tapping into a new market is smart. Donating entire harvests to local food banks is genius. It will garner goodwill in the community, and I assume it’s tax deductible.”

Puffing up like a proud peacock, “I thought it was a good idea.”

Hesitating a beat before agreeing with him, I placed a note of doubt in my voice, “So long as the pet cemetery portion of the farm isn’t placed near Iron Creek – I don’t see why your new venture won’t be a success.”. 

Confusion lined his face, “Why would that be a problem?”

1.56 Yo-ho-ho and A Shot of Rum

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(The ingredients for spiced rum according to Wood’s Gran’s recipe.)

Practically dancing in place waiting for Orin’s return I couldn’t work out which of the three fates would be worse if we were caught – becoming fodder for the police blotter. Explaining to the police (and Little Ben) what possessed us to bury rubber ducks in an empty field in the first place. Or the horror of calling Aunt Pearl to bail four pirates out of jail at one a.m.

The tree of humiliation bore rich fruit tonight.

Apparently, the Inebriated Three didn’t share my anxiety of capture (while they all still wore their tricorn hats, they currently embodied the philosophy of Yo-ho-ho And A Bottle Of Rum, thus their new nickname). The flasks of spiced rum they insisted on passing around each time we slowed down or stopped bore a portion of the responsibility for their lax attitudes (yet another one, or possibly two, made an appearance in my Orin inspired absence). 

The joys of being the designated getaway driver.

Me (trying for calm): “Time to put that away, guys. We need to get ready to run.”

A scene from a Three Stooges movie ensued while they endeavored to comply with my request. Helpless I stood back and tried not to split a seam at their earnest efforts to simply stand. 

Laney, the first to get up, stood on the tails of Beatrice’s greatcoat. This caused Beatrice to fall over when her ascent to an upright position was unexpectedly arrested. Wood was fine until Laney careened into him when Beatrice yanked her coat out from under Laney’s foot. All the while, trying to maintain radio silence, they pantomimed their displeasure to each other.

When they were upright and moderately stable (and trying to figure out exactly where they’d misplaced their dignity), I turned around to see if Orin had returned. I nearly jumped out of my skin when I discovered him standing inches away from the end of my nose.

Me (aggrieved): “Seriously, are doing that on purpose?”

The peanut gallery gathered behind Orin broke into a chorus of chortles at my demand. And judging by the number of Residents gathered on such short notice the Inebriated Three and I had managed to cause quite a brouhaha this evening. Their questions/comments solidified this idea; Wow you really are dressed as pirates./Did you miss us?/Did you know the police are here?/I’ve never seen Little Ben move so fast./I haven’t had this much fun in forever…. Their comments went on for a while. 

The fact I was at the root of this uproar added to the Resident’s delight – the pirate costumes were just icing on the cake.

Wood: “Morticia are you talking to someone?”

Me (using the spirts they’d drunk in my favor): “Nope.”

Me (speaking to the Residents: keeping my voice low so hopefully the Inebriated Three wouldn’t hear): “Thanks…” 

Orin (cutting in, turning to the Residents): “Here’s the plan. John, Peter, and Stu follow us to the west. Ruby, Sandra, and Iris the same to the east. Alice, you run ahead to the gate and call the all clear – if it is. I’ll lead them on. Everyone else fan out and keep a weather eye for incoming trouble. Ready?”

While Orin relayed orders to the Residents I eyed my friends – Wood looked to be holding his liquor well, Beatrice wove just slightly in place, and Laney was dancing to music only she could hear. Fantastic. The perfect illustration of the influence body mass played in drinking. With a sudden flare of inspiration (or perspiration or both) I knew how to navigate them through the marble maze which stood between us and the gates.

Me: “Laney take my hand, Beatrice you take Laneys, Wood you take Beatrice’s.” 

Laney (in a slurring reworking of a Beatles’ song): “I want to hold Wood’s han-an-and.”

Me (trying to keep it together): “Ok, Wood switch with Beatrice.”

Beatrice: “Why?”

Me: “This way I can lead you through the headstones, and you won’t trip and break your necks.”

Orin (thoughtfully): “Well it has been a while since we’ve had a newcomer….”

Beatrice: “But I want to hold your hand.”

Ignoring both Orin and Beatrice, I lead our chain out from the safety of our hiding spot. With a few initial herks and jerks, we settled into a nice rhythm.

Laney (singing softly): “Following the leader. The leader. The leader. Following the leader where ever she may go. Tee dum. Tee dee…..”

Laney’s love of aliens is only eclipsed by Disney – figures she’d find a fitting song – from Peter Pan no less. 

Why couldn’t our pursuers helpfully tick like the Crocodile? I ejected the analogy from my brain quickly. My heart didn’t care for it one bit since the Crocodile got Captain Hook in the end. Maybe we were one of the Lost Boys? In disguise? Stifling a giggle, I banished the picture of Orin zipping around us like Tinker Bell. 

The Inebriated Three picked up the chorus (softly): “Following the Leader. The Leader…..”

We were a quarter mile away when I heard Alice’s faint all clear call – perhaps sensing my relief – the Fates threw a spanner in the works.

1.52 Be Careful What You Tell Children

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Why did Wood unleash his wickedest smile upon unzipping a zipper?

Because he knew I wouldn’t welch on a bet.

Even though I really wanted to.

Back in the day (when we were both ten) I lived next to a gentleman named Sal. Sal towered above everyone in the neighborhood, being around 6’8”, it was pretty easy. One afternoon Wood asked him how he grew so tall. Looking over the fence, down into our wondering eyes, he explained.

He told us the Captain of the pirate ship he sailed on, when he was just a lad, needed a very tall matey. Since he was still growing, they decided to induce a growth spurt. So they hung him up by his ankles and the entire crew pulled and pulled on the rope tied to his hands until – just like a piece of taffy – he stretched out. 

Of course, we had to know everything about the pirate life, and he taught us everything he knew – from fancy knots to sea shanties right down to the secret handshake. 

To complete our education, Sal regaled us with stories about his time at sea, why he had to walk the plank, the time he crossed swords with Black Beard and how he escaped from Davy Jones’s Locker with the largest treasure chest any pirate had ever seen. When he opened said chest, he discovered precious gems, pearls, doubloons and a rather fine tiara. 

With his newfound fortune, Sal decided to retire from the pirate life, settle down and buy a house. He then confided to us, since we were now fellow pirates, that he’d buried the leftover treasure in his backyard – for safe keeping.

At about this point I started getting suspicious, Sal had the same look my Uncle got when he was pulling my leg. When I voiced my concern to Wood, he wouldn’t entertain a single suggestion of doubt. Things got heated – words were said – a bet was made – we shook hands – and digging commenced. 

Because unearthing Sal’s treasure was the only way to settle our argument. 

When Sal disclosed his secret to us, he’d definitely pointed to the left corner of his lawn right next to the birdbath. So we started digging there with wild abandon, we might have been a bit thin on muscle, but we made up for it with enthusiasm. We also decided that archeological methods weren’t necessary since Sal had already disturbed the stratigraphy when he’d initially buried the chest. Which meant things went pretty quick.

Two hours, sixteen inches and one blister later Sal loomed over us.

He was not amused.

Instead of using the back gate between the houses, he marched us all the way around to the front so the entire neighborhood could witness our walk of shame. When we reached my front door, he loudly recounted our shenanigans to Aunt Pearl. During Sal’s booming damnation we stood silently, staring at our shoes, wishing the earth would swallow us whole. 

Then my Aunt asked (as Sal had not) why we dug up his lawn. We haltingly told her about Sal’s stories, the preceding kerfuffle, and the bet. Then we waited for the other shoe to drop.

To our surprise, Aunt Pearl laughed and asked (I’ll never forget this), “Well what did you expect would happen when you told them where to find buried treasure?”. She offered to send us back to fill in the hole, but Sal firmly rebuffed the offer in the face of his own folly. Instead of grounding us (as expected), Aunt Pearl ushered us into the kitchen, gave us a cookie, then sat us down and explained what trespassing and vandalism meant.

I’m starting to think we paid more attention to the cookie.

Fast forward twenty-six years to a recent Sunday Dinner (Wood and I adopted each other at a young age, Aunt Pearl rolls with it).

Aunt Pearl (placing a slice of roast beef on my Uncle’s plate and addressing the table): “Remember when you two were convinced Sal was a pirate and did a number to his lawn?”

Me (rolling my eyes): “I’m not sure we’ll ever live it down.”

Aunt Pearl (ignoring my snark): “Turns out Dourwood was right, he was a pirate, of sorts.”

Dourwood (eyeing me): “OOOHHH RRReeeeaaallllllllllyyyyyy…..”

Aunt Pearl (trying to keep a straight face while stirring the pot): “Yes. He was grousing to your Uncle earlier in the week about how expensive cable is now…”

Dourwood practically bounced out of his seat waiting for Aunt Pearl to say the magic words….

Aunt Pearl (trying hard to ignore his glee): “…since everything went digital he can’t just pirate the signal like he used to…”

Dourwood (pointing at me across the table narrowly avoiding knocking over his glass): “HE WAS A PIRATE!” 

Me (laughing with everyone): “Technicality.” 

Dourwood (shaking his fists in the air in vindication): “If he pirated something that means he’s…..”

Me: “A cheapskate?”

Wood: “No.”

Me: “Handy with tools?”

Wood: “This is so easy it is binary, either you are or are not a pirate. Since he engaged in pirating activities…..”

Me (turning to Aunt Pearl): “Are you so tired of reminding us about our disastrous dig that you needed to outsource it? Wood will never let this go now.”

Aunt Pearl (when she finally got enough breath back from laughing): “No dear, it just struck me funny.”

Dourwood: “You just don’t want to admit Sal’s a pirate and you lost the bet!”

Me: “I did not! Pirating cable is just an expression, not a vocation!”

It went back and forth like this all through dinner, dessert, and bridge until with very little grace I capitulated to Wood’s argument. 

Should have know that wouldn’t be the end of it.

1.51 Rubber Ducky You’re The One…

Unknown Number: “Tonight’s the night!”

Me: “Wood?”

He must be calling from an exam room phone again.

Wood (excitement oozing across the line): “Meet you in The Map Room in a half hour.”

Me: “But….”

Wood: “The Brace Affair is a go!”

He. Hung. Up. On. Me. 

Well, this bodes…something.

On the plus side executing The Brace Affair might help to relieve the pins and needles I’ve been sitting on while waiting for the Lone Ranger to face his fears. He had four days left on the unspoken timetable. 

On the downside, I’d answered Wood’s call on speakerphone and Mrs. Lebondowsky heard the entire exchange. She will delight in disseminating this piece of news amongst the rest of my regulars at the Center.

Mrs. Lebondowsky (trying for casual): “Hot date dear?”

Me (rolling with it): “Something like that.”

Mrs. Lebondowsky (smiling): “Well don’t give the barn away. Leave him wanting more – you’ll get a second date that way.”

Fortunately, she was my last fare today, and I only had three blocks left before I could drop her off. So I goosed the gas and hoped her advise stopped with that particular tidbit. 

Seems Lady Luck rode with me tonight because Mrs. Lebondowsky went on to regale me about the last real date her Dear Frank took her on in 1965 (it sounded way nicer than any I’d enjoyed recently).

Only fifteen minutes late for Wood’s deadline (and ten bucks richer – Mrs. Lebondowsky tips well), I pulled the Princess up to the back gate of the Lavender Lady’s grounds. This maneuver meant a much shorter walk to the Map Room which significantly reduced my chances of inadvertently running into Ms. Hettie. 

Pushing the gate open, I navigated the six steps and three stairs to the door and entered the redesignated shed. The lovely scent of curry greeted me before my friends got the chance or in fact noticed my arrival.

Me (surprised): “Laney? What are you doing here?”

Laney (turning my way, a wry smile on her face): “Hey. Wood convinced me this would be great Fun.” 

The way she eyed the line of manual post-hole-diggers leaning against the bookshelves made clear her skepticism of her husband’s claim. Wood, entirely oblivious to his wife’s doubts, was currently helping Beatrice divvy up a mountain of rubber ducks into four separate piles. Not wanting to break their focus I decided to help the proceedings along by dishing up the boxes of take-out (which would keep Wood from hoarding the panang and Laney from skimping on her vegetables). When the two duck sorters finished their complicated and esoteric rubber ducky allotment algorithm, they swept each stack into separate sacks. Which allowed me to swoop in and place dinner on the table before they could fill it up with something else.

Wood (surprised when food appeared before him): “Morticia! When did you get here?”

Me (shaking my head and laughing a little): “When the ducks were still in mound position.”

Wood, who’d elected himself Capitan of The Brace Affair, started going over the refined strategy – between mouthfuls. 

Wood (finishing his first bite): “Each of us will have a bag of about thirty-ish rubber ducks. We’ll use the post-hole-diggers to dig up a cylinder of dirt, then we’ll plant a duck and then dump the dirt back on top.” 

Me (taking advantage of Wood’s now full mouth): “Where did the rubber ducks come from? I’ll pay you back for them. (Looking between Wood and Laney)”

Beatrice (waving at Wood to keep chewing, snagged my attention): “Don’t worry about it. I’m donating the ducks I’ve collected from geocaching to the cause.  I needed more space in here anyways.”

Glancing up at the shelves above her head I noticed several large empty vases.

Me (a food coma starting to creep up on me): “Why tonight?”

Laney (faster on the draw than Wood): “The first storm of the season is predicted to hit this weekend. If you want those ducks to rise to the occasion, this is your best shot.”

Wood (now able to chime in): “And the moon is full tonight so we won’t need to use our flashlights as much.”

Beatrice: “I even bought a couple of steaks in case we need to distract some dogs.”

Me: “Really?”

Beatrice: “Works in books. So someone must have tried it out at some point, otherwise, why would it keep appearing in print?”

Laney (laughing): “One minor detail, this is a silly plan, but you promised me a ridiculous amount of Fun…”

A wicked smile lit up Wood’s face. Without a word, he stood up and walked a few paces to where my extra boxes were stacked and pulled several garment bags off the top. Shoving his dinner plate aside he laid them down in front of him.

Wood (unzipping the zipper with a flourish): “Like this.”

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! 

1.46 ‘X’ Marks The Spot

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Clearing the cobwebs and remnants of subterfuge from my mind I studied the materials I’d brought with me – tablet, official map, an unaugmented map, camera, and a manilla envelope (filched from the front desk). I set to work.

I decided that specificity was crucial to my Misdirection Scheme.

Specificity would kill multiple birds with one stone. Creedence and curiosity find fertile ground when easily established facts are systematically laid out. All Ranger Lade had to do was take a walk to determine their accuracy, and I bet he’s sick of staying inside on desk duty working on paperwork. Plus it would help prove he isn’t afraid of some mountain. 

I held high hopes for Ranger Lade. 

If he didn’t investigate, I would send packets off to cold case detectives, missing persons, reporters at the Daily Harvest or KARB – until someone finally took a look. 

Specificity would benefit me as well – it would misdirect most scrutiny from my direction. Who would suspect a person so wholly unconnected to the case having insider information? I’d given Mr. Grindle precisely one roundtrip thru FLYT and vacationed in the vicinity of his wife’s cairn – an ephemeral bond at best. 

Closing my eyes, I took three deep breaths to settle myself down then started to assemble the necessary documents. I took a picture of the new unaugmented map with my tablet, then used an app typed an ‘x’ and the GPS coordinates onto the image and printed it. Using my camera’s wireless feature for the first time ever, I printed the pictures I taken of the cairn, the glade, and the unofficial campsite – so the Ranger knew for certain where and what to look for. Adding to the pile, the printer spit out a scan of the newspaper article which mentioned the location of Tiffany Grindle’s abandoned car (highlighting the sentence in green for emphasis) and her missing person’s poster. 

I decided not to include her initial accusation, that Mr. Grindle murdered her, I’d found no definitive facts corroborating her statement. If any linking evidence existed, it would be found underground, and the police would unearth it themselves. 

In any case, the simple fact of finding his wife inhumed will cause uncomfortable questions. They won’t need my help in casting Mr. Grindle as the chief suspect.

With that last momentous decision made, I arranged the documents into a sensible order – then peeled the adhesive stripe off the flap and sealed up the envelope. Turning it over I was oddly proud of figuring out how to use the printer to print the address on the front of the envelope – neatly avoiding the handwriting dilemma. Slipping the entire packet into a cheap paper bag I’d procured from the gift shop, I placed the whole thing into my backpack. 

With this step finished I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. I felt immensely grateful to Sam not only for the printer but for the privacy he’d inadvertently given me. Why?

Because I couldn’t work out a single plausible story (or removing the candy coating – the lie), to explain why I was handling my correspondence while wearing latex gloves. Kinda screams suspicious, even to those who aren’t in possession of a devious mind.

With my report complete, I stuffed my materials back into my pack – making very sure I left nothing behind. Retrieving any forgotten item from Sam’s room seemed even less likely than climbing Pumpkin Mountain a second time. Unless I wanted to besmirch his reputation with management and get him fired. 

I really didn’t want to cause a Dirty Dancing moment, I’m not coordinated enough to pull off a charismatic dance number, and Sam cannot pass for Patrick Swayze.

With a few minutes to spare I debated whether or not I should delete the information from my tablet and in the end, I decided not. If Ranger Lade didn’t follow up, it was better to have subsequent communiques match precisely.

With twenty minutes left in my four-hour allotment, I parked myself in the desk chair to wait on Sam’s return and my clandestine exit – feeling as happy as a silverfish on a shelf of old books.

1.44 All Roads Lead To Rome

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Sarah and Laney (and the boys) were sitting outside on the veranda sipping coffee when we returned. The three of us (and an amused plus two) headed straight into the dining room to snag our favorite flavor of danish before the breakfast bar closed. 

On the walk back to the hotel our conversation devolved from the apologetic maple bacon scones to our general favorites among the pantheon of baked goods – cakes, cookies, pies – we covered them all. So when reached the hotel we were more than ready for second breakfast (which completely undid all the health benefits of our morning walk). 

The fog continued to cling to the treetops, and from the small specks of sky we could occasionally glimpse, rain looked likely. So instead of heading back outside for another hike, we trooped to the game room with plates of danishes in our hands. 

Unfortunately, we weren’t the first ones with this diversion in mind, the room was filled to the brim with people putting together puzzles and playing games (with a very few were reading books). Claiming a table nearest the window Wood went in search of an unclaimed board game which still possessed all its pieces. 

Which, at this point, was as likely as finding the Marx Brothers’ missing first film next to the Yahtzee box (containing four of its’ five dice) on the top shelf.

Never one to give up, Wood won the day when he ferreted out a full deck of cards wedged in the back of the games closet and decided to teach the others (plus one kid who was hanging around our table hoping to score a danish) how to play bridge. (Wood and I acquired a taste for bridge from my Aunt Pearl and her cronies – our love of pastries rose from his Gran’s kitchen). 

Since only four can play at a time, I sat the first rubber out – which as much as I love playing – worked for me. Pulling the armchair closer to to the fireplace I propped my feet up on the hearth and took stock of all the good things surrounding me – a raspberry danish & coffee at my elbow, a warm fire toasting my toes and my friend’s laughter ringing in my ears. 

My Stalker is The Pink Lady who is a Woman In White. 

Despite the denting my calm took under this progression, I forced myself aboard this uncomfortable train of thought. 

After a few moments of watching the flames dance, I closed my eyes and threw my head back, rhythmically bouncing it against the top cushion of the chair. All the while making a concerted effort not to let loose a string of profanities (there were kids around after all) when I figured out exactly where I stood.

My quandary placed me directly on the corner of Bitter & Sweet. 

Again. 

They say all roads lead to Rome. Perhaps that’s true. But I am starting to suspect some masochistic engineer figured out a way to steer travelers repeatedly thru this junction on the way to the heart of the empire. Or maybe these crossroads are scattered at alternating intervals along the road, so you don’t realize where you stand until you look up and read the sign. Either way, I find myself here with disturbing regularity, a corner I do not want to frequent. 

This damned corner with its’ loathsome words is where Romeo and Juliet find love but are forever separated by a name. Where dreamers can follow their dreams but are required to make money. This is where my opposition to the Woman In White has placed me.

No one would ever know if I just left her on the mountain. 

Even with her increased vita, chances are she didn’t possess enough energy to actually kill Mr. Grindle (and didn’t he deserve a broken leg every now and again?). Clearly, the locals know about the Woman In White and have taken measures against her. So the odds of her coaxing anyone else off the path are pretty low. And the salt will render the cairn inert eventually. Probably. 

Walking away would allow me to avoid all risk of discovery.

So much easier to let sleeping dogs lie.

But it’s not the right thing to do.

Damn it.

Fortunately, I still had my raspberry danish and a lukewarm cup of coffee to remove the bitter taste from my tongue.

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