Tag Archives: speakeasy

2.20.b Cheesy Strategies

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(Apparently my mac’n’cheese flavor, is a twist on Haitian Spaghetti! And it’s great!)

Me (trying to keep hope in check): “Help you…”

Leo: “…fix Nevermore?”

With a bemused expression, Ira explained.

Shortly after his unnecessary promotion and upon discovering his copy of the Conventions missing, Ira placed a call to Big Ben. Only to find both Big Ben’s landline and cell were no longer in service. Discussing his unease with his Missus, she asked him one particularly salient question; “Who in Nevermore do you and Big Ben both trust?” 

Her words were still rolling around in the back of Ira’s brain when he and Leo got to talking after the latter approached the former about trying to persuade Little Ben from ejecting the Naturalists from Nevermore. 

Their mutual troubles lead to their first “summit” in the Rare Records Room.

Over a few beers and bowls of mac’n’cheese, they rewound, reviewed, and rehashed every episode, major or minor, occurring in Nevermore over the past year. My unexpected termination quickly made their list of nebulously linked hinky feeling events. So did Big Ben’s radio silence and unprecedented extended absence from Nevermore. At about this point, Leo, in a fit of frustration, wondered where their guesswork was getting them – that’s when Ira repeated his Missus’s question. 

Needless to say, their answers matched.

And here we are.

Taking a measured sip of my second drink, I slowly rolled it across my tongue, feeling oddly relieved that I wasn’t the only one who’d felt an ill wind blowing through Nevermore.

Me (taking a deep breath): “I’m pretty sure I know what Little Ben and the Board of Managers have been working on.”

Leo (cut in utterly astonished): “How? Even I couldn’t finagle that….”

Me (drily): “How did you find out about the NDA’s?”

Leo (wiggling his eyebrows): “Touché.”

With timing, only servers can muster our bowls of bespoke mac’n’cheese arrived. Since the eighth wonder of the world required our complete concentration to properly appreciate, our conversation stuttered to a stop until Leo, and I licked our bowls clean (Ira restrained himself from following suit, but then he can eat here whenever he chooses). 

Once we recalled our place, which took a moment due to the sheer quantity of cheese hurtling through our arteries, I filled them in on Little Ben’s rebranding plans.

Leo (bleakly): “So there’s no hope of the Naturalists staying in Nevermore.”

Not wanting to mouth platitudes, I stayed silent.

Ira (slowly): “I agree, the financial questions need answering.”

Leo: “What do the missing Conventions and Ira’s promotion have to do with rebranding Nevermore?”

Me: “No clue. But the timing seems curious.”

We gnashed our teeth on our list nebulously linked hinky affairs over two more rounds of drinks, without a single bolt of lightning striking our table. Bereft of inspiration, we created a to-do list and ordered dessert.

First and foremost, since Big Ben hasn’t set foot in Nevermore for nearly a year and none of us know what he knows about current events inside Nevermore – we’re going to make sure he knows. 

(On reflection, the extra cocktails might have been a mistake.)

In other words, we’re going to track Big Ben down. 

Since I’m the only one who owns a real beef with Little Ben, even if it’s a bit late in the day to take umbrage at my pink slip, I’ll raise the least suspicion should Little Ben get wind of our attempts (plus he can’t fire me again). So Ira’s going to drop a list by Uncle and Aunt Pearl’s house of every phone number, address, hotel, motel, and haunt in New Mexico Big Ben’s ever included in a memo, email, or mentioned in passing.

Hopefully, I’ll hit the jackpot with one of them. 

The scheme makes me feel prickly inside, as it smacks of tattling, but I couldn’t (and still haven’t) come up with a superior alternative.

Speaking of prickly situations, since Leo’s perched at the heart of Nevermore’s grapevine and my Ms. Hettie theory fell through, I requested he ferret out the name of Little Ben’s anonymous source for me. 

Without admitting to playing any part in the farce, I gave Leo every scrap of data in my possession about the mysterious tipster who alerted Little Ben the night of The Brace Affair. (Aka the night Ira’s groundskeepers chased us all over Nevermore.) Explaining my request away as another nebulously linked hinky feeling event in need of an answer – I think Ira bought it.

I was thrilled when our slices apple pie, featuring a very melty piece of cheddar cheese on top, arrived tableside at that moment, completely derailing our conversation off the topic of trespassing pirates…After our initial bite of pie, we hammered out a few other details; don’t risk your job looking for answers; don’t talk to anyone attached to Nevermore about our suspicions, and no, I will not refer to you as 006-&-a-half. Even if you knit a suitable hat. 

But all too soon, the cheese, alcohol, and sugar caught up with us.

(Btw, leaving the Rare Records Room is nearly as complicated as entering –  I exited two doors down behind the florist’s shop.

While listening to the peppy hoot of an owl, I picked up my phone off the nightstand, found Big Ben’s number, and hit dial. My ears were immediately assaulted by three ascending tones and an automated message, “I’m sorry, the number you have entered has been temporarily disconnected, changed, or is no longer in service. If you feel you’ve reached this recording in error…” 

Giving up on my phone and sleep, I heaved myself out of bed, pulled on a pair of well-loved pants and an old t-shirt then padded down to the kitchen. I might not know what’s happening to Nevermore or how to fix it, but at least, I know what my next step is.

I need to bake a cake.

2.19.a Easily Found Speakeasies Are Called Bars

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

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

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

However, it’s never felt like it. 

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

Until today! 

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

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

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

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

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

“Who told you this?” 

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

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

It didn’t take long.

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

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

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

You gotta be kidding me. 

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

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

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

Wait a second.

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

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

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

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