Tag Archives: weekly mystery
Initially, when we’d talked today over, over rum last night, I’d meant to fire Sarah at this point in the conversation.
The meeting with Nathaniel this morning went off without a hitch. Once he spotted Big Ben tapping the cover of the Conventions – Little Ben and Leo retrieved from the topmost shelf of his closet while packing up his office – Nathaniel signed his termination paperwork without a word. Big Ben and security escorted him promptly from the premises.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t even broach the subject of dismissal with Sarah yet.
Although Big Ben and I ferreted out her copy of the Conventions (stowed away in a locked drawer of her desk), there were still four more unaccounted for, and only she knew their location. (I’d played with the notion of engaging Beatrice’s services, for finding lost things, to locate the missing binders – but she’d already dedicated enough time to Nevermore. Plus, pulling Beatrice in so I could fire Sarah faster would place me squarely on Santa’s naughty list for being a lousy friend.)
So rather than saying something like, ‘Hey, you worked with my schoolyard archenemy to overextend and undermined Nevermore for fun and profit, pack up your tools and go.’ I engaged the intercom on Big Ben’s phone.
“Lottie, could you please bring me some water?”
“Still or sparkling?” Crackled out of the vintage speaker.
Lifting my finger off the red button, I wondered whether I should’ve asked for a paper bag instead – Sarah’s lungs were working so rapidly, and so hard I worried she was going to pass out.
(I was concerned about her well-being – only because I was keen on keeping some of the, well, quirkier sounding guidelines, policies, and traditions from being broadcast across Rye and/or studied in detail by outside parties. Not for any lingering feelings of friendship, mind you.)
Watching the vivid red blotches gracing her cheeks swiftly dull to a light rose – I skipped around the desk to where Sarah was sitting and (nicely) shoved her head between her knees. Continuing to rest my hand on her shoulder, I managed to keep her from springing up in surprise when Lottie sashayed in (on leopard print kitten heels) carrying a bottle of water and a glass. Because of her, well indelicate attitude, Sarah missed the hairy eyeball Lottie aimed her way before retreating to her desk again.
(Big Ben only gave Lottie the bare essentials, but apparently, she’d been uncomfortable with the trajectory of the Board for months and immediately pinned the blame on Sarah without either of us giving her a hint.)
It took a couple of minutes for Sarah to get a grip, but after she did and finished off half the water – she looked human again. Or at least less likely to pitch forward, knock herself out on the edge of the desk and require immediate medical assistance due to a self-inflicted concussion.
Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, Sarah scooted back from her treacherous perch on the edge of the chair. “How did you find out?”
“Does it matter?”
“I just…No, I suppose not. So what happens now?”
“You’re going to tell me where the other copies of the Conventions are.”
Blinking, she looked slightly startled. “At my house.”
Pushing off the desk, I walked back around it and grabbed my pack. “Super, let’s go get them. I’ll drive.”
“That’s it? You don’t have any other questions for me?”
Unable to stop myself, I gave voice to the kernel of hurt throbbing near the middle of my spine. “You used Laney for information. Nearly got her, Wood, & Beatrice arrested. Tried not once but twice to have me taken into custody and managed to sweet-talk Little Ben into laying me off from the job I love – all so you could help Josie Reville break part Nevermore. Is there anything left to ask?”
The atmosphere in the Princess on the ride over to Sarah’s house was thick and entirely silent. Thank the gods above and below it was late enough in the morning all her siblings were at school or work, Sarah’s family is great, but today the last thing I’m interested in is making small talk. Pulling into the empty drive, I shut off the engine, and we exited the car.
Trailing behind Sarah to the back gate, I nearly let loose a string of four-letter words when a faint ripple of electricity started arching across my toes. Knowing said words would be misconstrued, I bit my tongue, then bit it again when the tingling in my toes grew more acute as I crossed over the threshold.
Unless something seriously dramatic or highly violent occurred within these four walls, since I’d last been over (and now that I think about it, it’s been a while since Sarah’s invited me by – go figure), there’s zero reason for the pricking sensation. Her house, like ninety-four-percent of Rye, has never been a hotbed of activity for either Errants or Residents.
Torn, my forward momentum stalled in response to my gaze bouncing between Sarah’s back (as she plodded towards the stairs) and the archway leading to the front of the house.
Sensing I was no longer in step with her, Sarah slowly revolved back to face me. “The binders are up in my room. Do you want to come up or stay down here?”
I really wanted to follow her.
Taking off my jacket, I slipped it and my pack onto a kitchen stool next to the island. “I’ll stay down here.”
Silently cursing myself out, I waited until Sarah moved out of sight before scurrying over and slipping out the kitchen doorway and following the increasingly intense current arching across my toes. Treading quickly and carefully down the hallway, thankful for the thick pile of the carpet which deadened my footfalls, I approached the open arch leading to the living room – halting a hairsbreadth from the entrance.
Hugging the wall, I craned my neck just enough so I could see around the corner and inside the room.
My wanderings after speaking with Mr. Ikeda did take me rather far afield…
The very creature I imagined was flapping about inside me…
(Okay, so it was decorated within an inch go its’ life – but I did put powdered sugar & edible glitter on my cake! Mr. Ikeda was impressed by the cake pan.)
Gazing at the Frosty the Snowman themed winter wreath hanging in the center of the battered door, a small smile crept across my face. My cousins and I still get together every year, usually in July (so we can pretend it’s cooler outside than whatever thermometer’s reading) and watch animated flakes of snow spring to life under the influence of a festive and magical chapeau. The only difference between our viewings now, versus when we were kids, is that our eggnog is spiked with more than just holiday cheer.
Standing on the top step, taking in the other trimmings bedecking the warm red brick of the unfamiliar home, I took a moment to bask in the warm glow of nostalgia. Turns out, recalling our unseasonal tomfoolery helped to settle the kaleidoscope of butterflies who’d been residing in my mid-section since last evening.
Deciding I couldn’t continue to stand on the stoop basking in recollections, I shifted the plastic cake carrier to my off-hand, mindful of the delicately piped icing inside. Raising my now free dominant hand, I gave the door an energetic knock – which resulted in a cacophony of barking to erupt on the otherside.
The winged insects infecting my middle lurched back to life at the unexpected sound.
They wobbled further still when incessant yapping produced a hollering human. “Knock it off, you three!” Thankfully, the dogs and my fluttering butterflies quieted as the voice grew louder. “You’ve only got four good teeth between you what are you going to do, gum them to death?”
Hearing the telltale sound of a chain being slid aside, I attempted to school my features into something that didn’t give away the fact the dog owner’s obvious exasperation made me want to laugh.
“Come on, move back, or you’ll never get a chance to defend the castle…” By the end of the sentence, five eyes were scrutinizing my ankles, knees, and calves with clear suspicion. Another two, six inches above my own, regarded me with a glint of good humor.
“Mr. Ikeda? I’m Phoebe Arden, Caretaker of Nevermore, we spoke on the phone last night…”
“How do you do! Come on in.” Giving me a friendly smile, he stepped back and beckoned me inside. However, the pint-sized trio of tail-wagging pooches had other ideas. Clustering tightly around my shoes, they made movement impossible. At their intense circling, sniffing, and nosing of my pant’s cuffs, Mr. Ikeda’s easy smile faltered.
“O’ dear, I forgot…. Are you wearing socks that rise above the ankles?”
Unsure of the source of Mr. Ikeda’s worry or the right answer, I opted for honesty.
“Yes? Though, I must admit they don’t match.”
“That’s a relief. ” Rallying visibly at my affirmative, Mr. Ikeda wrangled his pack of indeterminate breed pooches back and ushered me inside. “I’ve no idea why they do it, but Korben, Rhod, and Vito will spend hours licking your ankles if they aren’t covered. Drove my wife nuts in the summertime.”
The chuckle, resulting from the vision of these three elderly hounds hunting down sandal-clad feet in the summertime, soothed the polychromatic bugs.
I did my best to return the favor. “Well, most good four-legged companions have at least one quirk. My Aunt’s old cat continually tried to groom her. Libby ruined a number of my Aunt’s hair-dos back in the day.” Hoping to move away from animal anecdotes and closer to the matters at hand, I held up the plastic cake carrier for Mr. Ikeda’s inspection. “Since you invited me over for a cup of tea, I baked something sweet for us to eat.”
After attempting to divine its contents, by peering thru smudged glasses at the translucent lid, he gave up. “My ex-ray vision seems to be on the fritz, what did you make?”
“A gingerbread cake.”
Clapping his hands, which made the puppers start yipping again, he beamed at me. “Fresh homemade gingerbread, how exciting! Follow me.”
Despite wanting to stay off of pet-related topics, I succumbed to temptation. Due in part to the silence, but mostly to the madcap exuberance, the canine triumvirate exhibited as we ambled down the hallway. “Mr. Ikeda, did you name your dogs after Korben Dallas, Ruby Rhod, and Vito Cornelius?”
“A fellow fan of the Fifth Element?” Pushing open a door near the back of the house.
“I’ve watched it once or twice.” Or a half a million times.
Grinning down at the dogs, who seemed more interested in the cake than me at this point, I nearly plowed right into Mr. Ikeda, who’d paused to open a door and flip on a switch. Expecting to step into a kitchen, I was more than a little surprised to find myself in a room dedicated to hobby trains. And when I say hobby trains, I mean an HO scale replica of the whole of Rye (and the surrounding area) from June 1938. Spliced seamlessly into the scene was Iron Horse Railway – a rail system of Mr. Ikeda’s own devising.
It easily took up three-quarters of the room.
Feeling my mind blue screen at the sheer scope of the build, it was hard to focus on a single question long enough to ask it. “Why…How many…How did you get into trains?”
Mr. Ikeda, standing near the middle of the wall to wall workbench opposite his mammoth miniature, contemplated my question for a moment. “My wife didn’t like how the bank occupied my thoughts on my days off, so she found me a hobby. What do you think?”
Traversing down the edge of the table carefully, not wanting to accidentally dislodge a building or topple over a tree, I stared down at the detailed model that put every diorama I ever made to shame. “This. Is. Awesome.”
(I’m not kidding. It is one of the most impressive things I’ve seen….ever.)
Eyes twinkling, he came to stand next to me. “It’s not bad. I’m thinking of knocking out the living room wall so I can add a mountain range, a desert, and a river gorge…But you didn’t come over to discuss my hobby. May I?” Relieving me of the cake carrier, he crossed back to his workbench and gently placed it in the open space he’d created while I goggled over his ‘hobby’. Pulling out two mismatched mugs from under his bench, he flicked the switch of the electric tea kettle then turned back to me. “I hope you don’t mind talking in here, Sundays are my dedicated train day…”
Recalling my actual reason for stopping by, I stepped back from the scale model (I could feel myself starting to obsess over) and joined him at the workbench. “No, this is great, really great, and I’d love to talk about this….” Gesticulating my arm in several wide and wild motions in the direction of perfection in miniature. “…at length. But you’re right, it’s not why I’m here, and I apologize for intruding on your day off. But what I need to discuss with you is time-sensitive.”
“So you said on the phone.” Taking a seat on a wooden stool, he motioned for me to take the one opposite him. “Now, what can’t wait until Monday morning?”
Setting my pack on the indicated stool, I pulled out a folder thick with paper, before parking my backside on the seat. Taking a deep breath, reminding myself not to fidget, I followed the Aunt Pearl and the Red King’s advice. “I’m not sure if you’re aware, as CFO of Western Regional, but Ben Abernathy Junior took out a loan with your institution about a year and a half ago or so.”
Tilting his head, Mr. Ikeda’s expression became unreadable. “I am.”
Lacing my fingers together, I continued to plow forward, trying hard to meet his eyes. “Well, due to that loan and our inability to pay it back in full by ten am tomorrow morning as requested, we are forced to relinquish our collateral. Which means I need to terminate the lease for Western Mutual’s headquarters.”
This was the pic the Naturalist’s Club & The Historical Society chose to place in the Daily Harvest – right above their list of demands in order to bring their sit-in to a conclusion…Damned I wish I could find Big Ben…
Despite the relatively short walk back to the Lavender Lady, Joseph insisted on providing an escort. His confirmation of my hunch, unfortunately, lead to a pair of slightly soggy eyes, which shocked and appalled us both in equal measure. Hence, Orin’s presence on my left.
(Finding out Sarah hadn’t been a friend of mine for some time, stung a surprising amount.)
“Would you like me to keep on tabs on her?”
Giving him a wane smile, I shook my head at Orin’s offer. “That’s not necessary.”
“I don’t mind.” Ambling easily next to me, his casual tone didn’t fool me.
Embedding himself in Sarah’s life, on the off chance he might discover a new nugget of information, isn’t going to happen. Not only is it sleazy to spy on someone in such a manner, but it’s also incredibly cruel to Orin. Isolation and loneliness are highly corrosive elements to Errants and Residents alike. As Sarah’s life is filled with a plethora of people should Orin insert himself in her life, it could quickly drive him around the bend.
“Really, don’t worry about it. I’ve got her number now.” Nearing the Lavander Lady’s back gate, another thought occurred to me. “Though, if you’re bored, it would be a huge help if you could track down Abraham and pass on a message for me.”
“If you could let him know; I’ve check-in with about half the Errants in Rye without finding anything unusual. I’m planning on visiting everyone else over the next week or two.”
Nodding briskly, we paused under the orange glow of the streetlamp by the garden gate. “Anything else?”
Leaning a hip against the slats of the fence for a moment, I shook my head. “Not that I can think of unless you’ve spotted an Errant sporting a green suit wandering about?” Watching Orin’s head duplicate the previous motion of my own, I moved on. “You’ll probably find Abraham hanging-out with Eliza.”
“Then, that’s where I’ll start. Take care, Caretaker.”
“Night, Orin, and thanks.”
Touching his cap, Orin turned on his heel in the direction of the park. Pushing open the gate, ignoring the single butterfly in my stomach that steadfastly refuses to acknowledge the rechristening of Beatrice’s shed, I quickly mounted The Map Room’s shallow steps.
Thankfully, the Lepidoptera I’d dubbed Mrs. Futtersworth, winged it after I flipped on the lights.
Standing before the waist-high wall of boxes, I silently patted my past self on the back for her meticulous labeling skills. Quickly locating the correct cardboard cube containing seven years’ worth of yearbooks, it took mere moments to extract them from their repository, shut off the lights, lock the door, and retrace my earlier route up the garden path. (Only at a far more sedate pace.)
Thankfully my belated arrival back at the Lavender Lady didn’t spawn a single one of my worst-case scenarios. Instead, I found myself nose to nose with one very pushy cousin (and when I say pushy, I mean that in the literal sense of the word).
“Does the name Kiyomi Kimura mean anything to you?”
“Kiyomi Kimura, do you know her?”
“She was one of Josie’s sycophants, why?”
“Her name came up, she’s the Garden Club’s secretary, by the way, and it’s been killing me because I know, I know her…”
“You’re probably recalling the time Wood literally stood on Aunt and Uncle’s rooftop shouting about Rye High winning both the girl’s and boy’s state soccer titles. He and Kiyomi captained their respective sides.”
Dancing out of the way, and thus allowing me to actually enter the apartment, Robbie successfully blocked my attempt to set down my armload of yearbooks. Pressing his advantage further, he deftly shepherded me towards Beatrice’s office by nudging, bumping and jostling me along.
It took less than a second for our guffaws to fill the hall as his herding technique devolved into him, bodily shoving me along while I did my best to emulate a boulder. (Which didn’t work, neither did visualizing redwood roots binding my sneakers to the floor or picturing my bones turning into lead. In case your wondering.)
Robbie, who didn’t view his additional seven inches and fifty plus pounds as an unsportsmanlike advantage, crowed in triumph as he manhandled me across the threshold. Panting slightly and still wearing an impish grin, Robbie promptly flopped onto a pile of forest green cushions customarily found on the living room couch and picked up his tablet. The others, all of whom wore varying expressions of amusement at our antics, resumed their work. Ira, who’d handily beat me back here, sat at Beatrice’s computer zipping thru the security video Joseph already summed up for me. Beatrice and Leo sat opposite each other in the chairs by the window, typing on their respective laptops.
“The Brownie Stealing Bench and Kiyomi were friends in high school.” Robbie, after tapping in his password, aimed my answer at Leo.
Leo transferred his gaze from his screen onto me. “Are you sure?”
Stifling the memories of their mocking laugher, I answered. “Yes.”
“How about Larissa Cardenes and Agata Canetti?”
Crossing the room, I set the yearbooks on the edge of the desk where Ira was working and divested myself of my jacket. “Part of the core group as well.”
“Ummm…..he was in our class…I think one of them went to prom with him, maybe? I’ll check.”
Luckily, stealing a cushion from the edge of Robbie’s nest only elicited a few minor grumbles from its creator. Satisfied the theft wasn’t going to result in getting winged in the head by a retaliatory flying frosted cookie, I set my purloined bit of padding betwixt Leo and Beatrice.
Before I started skimming through my senior year yearbook, for the Prom Court photo-montage, I glanced up at Leo. “So, I gather the hunch panned out?”
Catching my glance, Leo gave me a wide wolfish smile.
This is the notice I’m hoping my presence (and Joseph’s help) will avoid attracting!