Tag Archives: story

2.53 What’s the Worst That Can Happen?

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(Now, I’ve never been to California and seen the Redwood Forest – but this is what my imagination pulls up when I think of them…)

Spotting a flash of light off in the distance, I shrunk into the deepest shadow shrouding the corner between the South and West gates of The Crossroads. Straining my ears, I heard the tell-tale sound of tires striking a speed bump as the automobile rolled closer. Channeling my inner redwood, endeavoring to match the stillness of those massive trunks, I watched the car carrying Nevermorian security cruise unhurriedly past my hiding spot. Admittedly there’s a substantial expanse of grass between myself and the cruiser – but even a locked door – draws the critical eye of a good guard. 

It wasn’t until the red glow of the taillights finally faded to small specks that I let my mind drift off of its tremendously tall loci and exhaled gustily. Detaching myself from the gloom, I jogged in place for a minute to warm up. (By way of payment, the walls responsible for casting the concealing shadows, sucked the warmth from the marrow of my bones.) No longer as stiff or chilly, I pulled up my sleeve and stared at two glowing green hands. 

Fork.

Thirty-four minutes had already slipped by since I scampered out my front door. 

Dear gods above and below, please let Leo, Robbie, and Beatrice have found something in their research that immediately arrested their attention. Thus allowing my pretext, of heading down to the Map Room to fetch my old school yearbooks, to stay intact. Because I really don’t want to own my overriding reason for following Ira to Nevermore.

On the upside, I’ve landed on a plausible and truthful rationale for keeping tabs on Ira – should anyone realize I’ve scarpered. I’ll cite my genuine anxiety about Ira’s safety. Since he needs to waltz past the majority of people cahooting together to retrieve the potential evidence of Sarah’s duplicity. (Thus, my tail makes sense.)

At no point, if an explanation is required, will I concede my genuine motivation. Which essentially boils down to Ira’s parting shot – “I’m going to Nevermore, what could possibly happen?” 

Seriously? Would you care for the answer in alphabetical or chronological order.

In an attempt to make him appear less tempting to the Fates, I enlisted the aid of someone who’s aces at tiptoeing around Nevermore undetected. As I couldn’t just let Ira stroll thru automatic doors of Nevermore’s main building (mosey his way back to the security hub, copy several days worth of security video & logs, then retrace his steps) all by himself.

Hence my pell-mell run down the back garden path, over several neighboring lawns, and along the sidewalks to the closest corner of Nevermore. Pleading to the universe during the entire – heart-rending, lung-busting, sneaker-slapping – run for Joseph to be hanging about The Crossroads tonight. 

Someone must’ve heard me because no sooner had I tripped onto the grounds – Joseph was at my side. Doubled over and panting, I managed to vocalize Ira, main building, and keep safe. 

He needed no other information.

Raising my cuff, I glanced at the luminous hands on my watch again and found only two minutes had ticked by. 

Waiting is the worst.

“He’s safely out of Nevermore.”

Leaping six inches in the air at the wildly unexpected sound of Joseph’s voice next to my ear, I narrowly suppressed the surprised scream my throat yearned to expel. “Jiminy Christmas, you should wear a bell….Thank you for looking after him.”

A smile I couldn’t see, due to the lack of light, colored his voice. “You are welcome. Though he needed very little help from me.”

“Thank the gods.” Shoulders sagging, my mind spontaneously called up the image of the redwood again. Only this time, my feet were its roots, and I watched my anxiety flow thru them and saturate the ground beneath my sneakers. 

(It didn’t seem to matter much to my mind that this wasn’t how roots worked.)

Head tilted, I saw concern in Joseph’s eyes as a match flared to life, lighting the cigarette stationed between his lips. “Why the panic? Ira didn’t go anyplace he didn’t rightfully have access too.”

Transfixed for a moment by the red coal, which glowed a hair brighter as he inhaled, it took a moment to recall my reasonable and honest excuse. “He might’ve been caught in the midst of downloading some compromising information…” 

“Indeed.” The amused tinge of his voice spoken volumes.

Scuffing the toe of my sneaker on the ground, I gave in. “Alright, Ira tempted the Weird Sisters right before he left the apartment, and I couldn’t take a chance of something or someone happening to him.”

Tilting his head, he took another drag of the cigarette. “You worried he might come to harm?”

Snorting without humor, I tipped my head back and stared at the twinkling stars for a second, forming my reply. “Maybe? Worst case scenario…”

“Why take the risk?”

“Proof, he and the others needed a hair more to fully believe Sarah’s guilt.” Straightening my shoulders, I dove straight into the niggling set of doubts that’d been pestering me. “You remember the incorrect dates Sarah gave me for the arrival and burial of Tiffany Grindle’s remains? She was the only one who knew there was a chance I was going to break into the building and/or creep about Nevermore…”

“…and if she set a trap, you’d know for certain where her loyalties lie.” 

Holding the half-finished smoke towards me, I shook my head at the unspoken offer (Joseph has far superior night vision) and answered his other question. “Let’s just say her explanation for the mix-up no longer satisfies.”

He paused, holding in the lungful of cigarette for a moment before expelling it. “These fabricated dates of Sarah’s started the night after you subdued the Woman In White, correct?”

“And the three following…” My voice trailing off as the implications of his answer hit me – extinguishing the small sliver of hope I’d unconsciously held onto in a dark secret part of my heart.

I watched his still smoldering smoke drop to the ground and disappear beneath the heel of his shoe. “Security guards were stationed all over Nevermore and inside Sarah’s Domain & Depository for the seven nights following our…adventure.” 

Rocking back, I blinked quickly up at the moon, trying to breathe around the lump in my throat. Should’ve taken a puff of his cigarette, could’ve blamed the salty liquid leaking from my eyes on smoke irritation. 

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…”

2.50 Thursday’s child has far to go…

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(New Mexico red chili sauce went so well with these!)

It wasn’t just my desire to avoid a hangover on Wednesday morning that inspired me to pass the atypical copy of Nevermore’s Conventions over to Beatrice for her perusal – but also a little known fact about my roommate.

It’s no secret that Beatrice has dedicated the bulk of her adult life to the written word. Working at PULP, the West coast’s largest independent purveyor of glue, paper & string, she’s perpetually got her nose buried in one book or another. On top of her voracious reading, she pens blurbs, reviews, and reports for PULP’s patrons and bosses. Then there’s the small detail of her earning a doctorate in Medieval Literature at university. Owing to this continuous and long-standing immersion in printed material, Beatrice’s grammar, punctuation, and vocabulary are all top-shelf.

All of which makes her abominable penmanship kinda ironic.

Seriously.

Even Wood’s notorious chicken scratch, which he claims is the result of acing the elective ‘Calligraphy for Clinicians’ in medical school, doesn’t hold a candle to Beatrice’s scrawling hand.

I only stumbled across this quirk a few months back. Whereupon returning home one afternoon, I discovered a series of sinister symbols dashed across the cloudy glass of my bedroom door. Unsure if these unknown characters, scribbled in easy to clean red dry-erase marker, signaled the casting of a spell or a curse on my person, I sent a picture to Beatrice asking for a second opinion. She texted back a translation of the script, which to my eye, resembled the jumbled glyphs in no way, shape, or form. 

(I returned her text with a picture of a great-horned owl dramatically swiveling their head with a caption – “Are U Sure?” and received an eye-roll emoji in return.)

Now unlike my handwriting-challenged roommate, the author of the unorthodox version of the Conventions probably won penmanship awards in primary school. The loops, flourishes, and slant of the script lends such an air of splendor and grace to its’ pages, your eye gets lost in the whirls, swirls, and flow of the midnight-blue ink. 

And that’s the problem.

Our scribe favored form over function to such a degree it renders the unique copy of the Convention’s pages as unintelligible as Beatrice’s phone message to me. Indeed, our author was so committed to creating a gorgeous work of art they even deviate from the standardized spelling of words whenever a letter clashed with the overall flow of the page – thus making the book’s decoding that much more difficult…

…Unless you happen to have an expert on Penmanship Pandemonium on tap who possesses a competitive streak a mile wide. 

Beatrice, the aforementioned expert, seemed to relish the battle of wits she was waging with a past Nevermorian penman. So much so she finished wading thru the entire tome by the time I got home from work on Thursday evening.

Stepping thru the front door, I called out, “Beatrice you home?”

“Office!”

Shedding my outer layers, I pattered on about my day before tracing the absentminded answer to its source.

“I hope you had a good day because mine was crap. Not only did Mr. Nowak manage to break a jar of sauerkraut in the Princess’s front seat this morning. Later a pregnant lady took a half dozen sniffs of the leftover fermented cabbage fumes and booted out the window – all over the passenger side panels of the Princess. The only upside is I’ve nearly finished my punchcard at Squeaky Clean Car Wash.”

Standing in the doorway of Beatrice’s office, I found her hunched over her desk, one hand manning a wooden ruler underscoring a line in the Conventions while her other pecked at the computer keyboard rhythmically.

“Nearly done here…”

“No worries, I’ll start dinner.”

Stepping into the kitchen, my mind on repurposing Tuesday night’s leftover arroz con pollo into scrummy hand-pies, I robotically clicked the radio on. Just in time to hear the headline leading KARB’s top-of-the-hour news segment, “Earlier today, community groups barricaded themselves inside two buildings in Nevermore to protest the Cemetary’s expansion plans. Said plans include the demolition of both clubhouses and the destruction of several acres of forested land…..”

Since the station’s news desk hadn’t reported anything new on the situation since seven this morning, I flipped off the mellow voice of the newsreader mid-sentence. Staring into space and tapping my fingernail against the plastic housing of the radio, I tried to figure out how this development fits in with the outline of events I’d started the other night. 

Before I got very far in either my brooding or dinner prep, my cell started ringing – the name on its display sending my heart into instant palpitations. 

Ben.

Hands shaking, I managed to answer the call on my fourth swipe of the screen.

Me: “Hello?”

Little Ben (hesitantly): “Hey, Morticia.”

Squeezing my eyes shut, I struggled to keep the disappointment out of my voice. Finally, an Abernathy calls me, and it’s the wrong one.

Me (walking over to twist a knob on the oven): “What’s up?”

Pithy equals politic at the moment.

Little Ben (babbling): “I was hoping I could swing by on Saturday and talk with you.”

Me (yanking the necessary ingredients for dinner out of the fridge): “About?”

Little Ben: “I’d rather not get into it on the phone. Are you free around one?”

Me (slamming the microwave door on the leftover arroz con pollo): “Yes.”

Little Ben: “Can we meet at your place? There’s too much going on in Nevermore right now….”

I let his understatement roll right by.

Me (unrolling the premade pie dough on the counter): “Sure, do you need directions to the apartment?”

Little Ben: “No, I know the way.”

Me (cutting the dough into perfect circles with a rim of a bowl): “Cool?”

Little Ben: “Okay, see you then.”

Staring at my phone, I hit the red disconnect symbol, striving to fathom Little Ben’s sudden enthusiasm for my company – and I mean enthusiasm – he sounded downright giddy at the prospect of coming over. Beatrice, who apparently came in at the tail end of the call, fetched the container from the microwave and joined me at the counter.

Whilst mixing a prodigious amount of queso fresco into the warmed leftovers, Beatrice addressed the frown on my face. 

“Bad news? 

“No? Frankly, I’m not really sure. Little Ben called to ask if he could stop by the day after tomorrow.”

“Well, at least you’ll have something to talk about besides the protests.”

Beatrice’s offhanded comment made me reel back slightly and inadvertently drop a dollop of cheesy filling onto the linoleum.

“You found something?”

Walking over to the now enthusiastically annotated copy of the Conventions Beatrice, after wiping her hands on a tea-towel, slid several sheets of paper out from under the front cover and held them out to me.

“Oh, yeah, I found something.” 

2.49.b It’s not Biscuits & Gravy…But It’ll Do

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Between the intensity of the conversation and my zeroed in concentration on the cutting board, I nearly lopped off my own fingertip when the buzzer above the oven sounded off. Beatrice, leaving the place settings on the counter, strode over to the stove and picked up the red hot orange pot. Setting aside the bloodthirsty blade, I scooted around Beatrice trivet in hand, placing it on the table where she wanted to set our sweet-smelling supper. 

No longer able to maintain my feeble facade of non-existence, I wordlessly started shepherding the arroz con pollo trimmings (I’d already sampled for quality assurance purposes) to the table. 

Beatrice began setting it – for two.

Ms. Hettie, who’d fallen silent after Beatrice’s cryptic observation, swirled her scotch and eyed me for a moment before shifting her gaze onto her great-niece.

Ms. Hettie (scour-pad voice scraping across the eardrum): “I know my bible-thumping sister and the rest of her brood are a bunch of nogoodniks Beatrice, but Grace is facing prison.”

Beatrice (thumping a plate onto the table): “A predicament that didn’t interest them the least when it was mine.”

Ms. Hettie: “Just think about it.”

Draining her glass in a single swallow, Ms. Hettie (who was wearing a sky blue sweatshirt with kittens chasing silver snowflakes across her bosoms today) levered herself out of the chair, casting significant looks at each of us before ambling out of the kitchen. The sound of the front door opening and closing followed a few seconds later.

Beatrice (dropping bonelessly into a chair): “Sorry, I didn’t think she’d keep hounding me if you were here.”

Me (placing spoons in the sides): “No worries, I’ve been on the receiving end of my fair share of familial guilt trips.”

Beatrice (rubbing her temples): “If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not talk about it.”

Watching Beatrice, I realized her gaze was fixed sightlessly on the glass of Oban Ms. Hettie had been sipping during their ‘discussion’. Unsure my liver had fully recovered from the last time we hit a bottle I caste about for a distraction.

Me (sitting down across from her): “Don’t worry about it. I’d rather not give Ms. Hettie the satisfaction.”

Beatrice (her hand pausing halfway to the bottle): “Satisfaction?”

Me (smiling): “She named the puppy. So I’d ask questions we’d talk and hopefully, in the end, convince you to do whatever it is she wants you to do. As I’m not interested in doing her dirty work, you needn’t explain a thing to me.”

Beatrice (flicking a glance at the three-quarter full bottle): “Damned, I always forget how good she is.”

Me (catching sight of the dull gold strip peaking out my pack next to me): “Funnily enough, Ms. Hettie’s not the only one hoping for your help tonight.”

Quirking an eyebrow at me, Beatrice waited a moment for me to elaborate. However, due to the proximity of the fragrant arroz con pollo – plus the knot of containers filled with lettuce, queso fresco, tomatoes, black beans, avocado, and steaming tortillas – my stomach chose that moment to issue a long and LOUD complaint.

Beatrice (corners of her mouth twitching): “Why don’t you explain after you’ve sated the beast.”

Feeling the tips of my ears grow hot, I simply nodded and started dishing up. After my first helping made a cameo appearance on my plate, my hands stopped shaking, and the hangries receded enough to resume polite conversation. 

Leaning to the left slightly, I pulled the brown paper wrapped book from my pack and handed it to her. Pushing aside her plate and the nearest containers, she wiped the table with her napkin before carefully opening the cover and gently leafing thru the first few pages.

Me (speaking around a bite of beans and cheese): “I was hoping you’d have better luck deciphering it than I am currently. The handwriting gives me a splitting headache after ten minutes.”

Beatrice (eyebrows drew together in concentration): “Why not just stop reading it?”

Me (holding my breath for a second): “Because that’s the only copy of the Nevermore Conventions I can lay my hands on at the moment. As all the others, including mine, have disappeared. I’m hoping the reason why is somewhere inside.”

Beatrice (tilting her head and looking up at me): “And a bit more besides?”

Me (smiling wryly): “Yes.”

Beatrice (wrinkling her nose): “And the sooner I finish it, the better?”

Me (deflating slightly): “I know it’s a lot to ask…”

Beatrice (nodding once): “No problem.”

Me: “Really?”

Beatrice (an edge of her mouth tipping upwards a little): “Consider it a thank-you for not falling into Ms. Hettie’s trap.”

Me (grinning): “Can I push my luck and borrow your laptop again?”

Beatrice (shrugging): “Sure. Why?”

Me: “I need to organize my thoughts and that mind-mapping program you’ve got looked like an excellent way to do it.”

Beatrice (looking very much like her Great-Aunt for a moment): “These events wouldn’t include Sarah ratting us out to Little Ben the night of the Brace Affair, would it?”

Well crap, so much for me not being an awful friend.

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