Tag Archives: The Brace Affair

1.54 Sideways

Version 2

Little Ben: “We’ll make an example of them. I am tired of kids drinking in Nevermore. You go left. Ryan goes right. I’ll take the path. Keep your walkies on, Hank will radio when the police arrive.”

We hardly dared to breathe until the crunching of gravel faded off into the distance. Peeling ourselves off the back of the shed, I peered with one eye around the corner to make sure they were really gone. Convinced we were alone I sunk down into a crouch and closed my eyes – trying in vain to calm my breathing.

Wood (whispering): “Since when did he start doing night patrols?”

Laney (her great coat rustling next to me): “Probably sacked the security guards to save money.”

Beatrice (chuckling): “Maybe the aliens called him.”

Laney (a quiet tink of metal on metal came from next to me): “Ha-ha! What do we do now Phoebe?”

Still gathering my wits after an unanticipated sprint across farmland, woodland, and Nevermore I thanked whatever god was listening that Little Ben never got a good look at us. We owe a lot to the university’s theater department for creating the misconception he was currently laboring under. 

Me (my eyes still closed, my nose detecting cloves and cinnamon): “Come on guys, enough with the spiced rum, it does not increase your stealth stats.”

Not bothering to open my eyes I decided to assume the Tricornies looked my way guiltily and put the flask away (rather than finishing it off then putting it away – which sounded more like them). Though I suppose at this point it couldn’t hurt, they were already two flasks in when we made our escape. 

Laney (first to notice the bobbing spheres of lights swarming on the top of the hill): “Guy’s alien spaceships!”

Me (turning to look at her): “Did you finish an entire flask on your own?”

Laney (pointing): “No. Look, aliens! Heading this way!”

We all stopped for a moment and turned the direction indicated by her index finger – indeed about a half dozen orbs of light were rapidly approaching. Mesmerized by their undulating movement we stilled, my brain trying to process what my eyes told me, the baying is what finally broke the spell.

Me (dropping the post hole digger): “Run!”

Beatrice: “What?”

Me (grabbing the digger out of her hand and tossing it down): “We’ve been seen, RUN!”

Finally catching up with my conclusion the other three followed me in flight (to this day Beatrice remains thrilled she got to test her Grade A Beef Diversion – turns out farm dogs are indeed distracted when prime cuts are tossed their way). 

No, things didn’t go sideways when Wood decided this evening was the perfect opportunity for pirate shenanigans – it was forked up from inception. We’d counted on the late hour and darkness to cover our slightly criminal endeavor which. Turns out it didn’t cut the mustard – someone spotted us about forty-five minutes into the execution of The Brace Affair. I don’t think the MacGregor’s hold with Little Ben’s lax ideas of security. 

Thru sheer luck – for the MacGregor’s, not us – they’d cut us off from Beatrice’s car, so I lead us to familiar ground. Which is why the Tricornies were currently sharing a quiet flask behind a utility shed in Nevermore while I tried to figure a way out.

Pulling out my phone I texted my cousin. 

Me: “Ok guys, lets head to the Crossroads.”

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.”

1.38 The Dog House

Wood: “Seriously what were you thinking?” 

Me (breathing better now): “Trying to meet you…see the top.”

Right then my stomach, feeling an ally near, decided to let loose a loud protest of its own. The traitor. 

Wood: “Have you eaten?”

Me (trying not to look shifty): “Breakfast.”

Wood stalked over to my pack, flipped it open and retrieved my lunch which he then proceeded to thrust in my direction with a curt, “Eat.”

Feeling it better to follow orders than argue I started eating. While doing so, I tried to figure out how I could shake off Wood and the others and check out the last two sites on the mountain. Bookies would give better odds to Stockard Channing reprising her role of Rizzo than to me shaking Wood off and climbing the rest of Pumpkin Mountain alone.  

Beatrice, trying to break the mood (or divert focus, I shot her a grateful smile) started debating the merits of different spots with Sarah for her geocache. For one bright moment, I thought Beatrice decided on one of the camping sites I hadn’t reached, but they deemed even the unofficial spots entirely too dull. So they (plus Laney who’d they sucked into the debate) huddled around Beatrice’s camera reviewing pictures of potential hiding places (Wood still stood over me glowering). 

In the end, they ruled the perfect place was a pool of water just a hair off the trail, next to a brief but vigorous waterfall. With that decision made (and my lunch demolished) we set off down the mountain with Beatrice leading the way this time. Sarah and Laney following closely behind while still debating different cache spots Beatrice rejected. Wood followed a pace behind slowly warming up to their conversation. Once again I brought up the rear. Only this time I wasn’t alone, Bert and Ernie sensed my habitation of Wood’s doghouse, decided to keep me company. Both had more than a passing familiarity with the institution.

Feeling much better after being watered and fed (and no longer feeling a sharp stabby sensation in my side, lungs, and back) my mind turned back to the cairn conundrum. 

Me (interjecting in a lull): “Beatrice did you take pictures of the last two campsites?”

Sarah (laughing answered first): “Nope we didn’t. They practically shouted ‘here’s the cache’ to anyone passing by. They’d get muggled in a pair of seconds.”

Beatrice (rolling her eyes, pitching in): “She just enjoys using the word muggled instead of tampered. But really, they weren’t proper sites anyways. Strictly bivvies.” 

My utterly blank look expressed my ignorance to her. 

Beatrice: “Bivvie short for bivouac. An improv campsite directly under the stars. The last two spots were barely creases in the rock. They’d keep you from sleeping on the trail, but not much else.” 

Me (nodding): “How about the summit?”

Sarah (handing back Beatrice’s camera to me): “More than enough room for a tiny folk festival, if you don’t mind bruised shins.”

Me (scanning through the photos): “Doesn’t look practical for digging…out a fire pit, too many rocks.” 

Sarah: “You’d need to be careful. I don’t think you can dig more than an inch or two down. There’s enough dirt for wildflowers to grow, but not enough for trees.”

Somehow this started a new debate (I missed the transition) between the three ladies on the weight to comfort ratio one needed to assess when packing for a hike. I fell back processing their intelligence when Wood paused unexpectedly in front of me. I nearly plowed right into his back.

Me: “Hey!”

Wood (a wicked look in his eye): “Morticia, what happened to your pack?” 

Me (starting to shrug it off): “What? Did it tear?”

Wood (resuming his forward locomotion): “No, it weighed a ton this morning – now it doesn’t.”

Me (tap dancing): “I ditched the weight so I could catch up to you guys faster.”

Wood (eyes narrowing): “Really? Then we can pick up the ten pounds of salt when we pass by it again since the shovel’s still in your pack.”

Me (mentally wishing Wood was less observant): “I was pulling your leg this morning, I used water jugs for weight, I just poured it out. Voila! Instant featherweight.”

Wood (slowly nodding his head): “Sure, you poured the weight out. On what?”

Me (sweating): “What do you mean?”

Wood (grinning): “Never mind. Do you want to hear my idea about how to dissuade Little Ben from building the pet cemetery in the wrong spot? I Guarantee it will be Fun!”

Thrilled at the new conversational direction, I listened to The Plan. With elements of the absurd, possibility of arrest, precise timing and rubber ducks – The Brace Affair held up the high standard that the Promise of Fun required. It caused Laney to roll her eyes, Sarah pretended to plug her ears with her fingers and Beatrice to hint she looked great in black – Fun indeed.

The Plan (and its refinement) dominated the rest of the conversation down the mountain. Pausing only once when Beatrice hid her cache and noted the GPS coordinates in a small book, we still cut it a bit fine returning to the hotel. 

Fortunately, ‘Not Sam’ hadn’t loosened the hounds on our trail just yet.