Tag Archives: weekly serial

1.71 The Woman In White

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It didn’t seem she was anywhere close to finished. 

Each time her fist rebounded ineffectively off Joseph’s chest, the next strike followed quickly on its heels. It took mere moments for the siren to morph into a frenzied harpy.

Joseph stood stone still watching her attempts to seize his heart. Then the monolith I’d known for three-quarters of my life shifted his gaze from her to me and shook his head slightly.

My hand fell away from the door. The open sack of salt slid quietly to the floor.

Refocusing on the woman currently colliding with him, he grasped her wrists and said, “Enough.” Struggling against his grip, she continued to thrash until he caught her with his gaze and whatever it held did the job.

“Now that you’ve finished trying to kill me, we can talk.” Releasing her, Joseph walked over and placed his hand on the other identical (but inert) wooden box on the table opposite hers.

When she turned to follow his progress, it allowed me to finally observe her features, which were quickly shifting from shock to suspicion, “Why didn’t that work?”.

I might ask the same question.

“Does it matter?” Leaning back against the counter, his stance open, he watched her pace the floor.

“Of course it matters! I didn’t deserve to die for having an affair. I need to punish him!” Her focus shifting back to her husband drove her towards Joseph again.

His words stopped her dead, “Is that how you justified what happened afterward?” 

“Afterward?”

“Your lover, David Waller, your husband killed him. But you, you drained the rest of him away.”

The Woman In White ran her hands through her hair then gripped it tightly in both fists, “No. That’s not right. He killed me. He killed me!”

Ignoring her distress (and words) Joseph continued on, his tone brutal, “Perhaps it was an accident. In your anger and confusion, you lashed out and discovered what your rage could do.”

Attempting to grasp the lifeline he was offering, she opened her mouth to say something. What I will never know because he wasn’t finished.

“But what about Stan Burgess, Alan Pike, Bryce Franks, Jordan Wallace, Alex Johnson, Fred Johnson and Liam Johnson? You lured them onwards until they were hurt, broken, hungry, lost and scared. All the while you lingered watching them grow weaker and weaker until you struck. Stripping their energy away until nothing was left. Did they deserve to die?”

With each name she stepped away from Joseph, clutching her head – slowly shaking it back and forth, “No! No! That wasn’t what happened. I didn’t lure them. They got lost…”.

Joseph was unyielding, “No.”

In a small voice, unable to look away from the floor, “I was just trying to show them where he hid me….”.

“No.”

Tearing at her hair, she flung her hands up, “Fine. Fine! I parroted the words everyone whispered about me. The lies he spread about me. Not everyone who heard my voice followed. Only the ones attracted to his lies, persuaded by their rumors, their insinuations, their innuendos. Those men followed me like lambs. Fueled me. But they were found. They were found.” 

“They were indeed. Which is the only reason why you are still standing here.”

This quiet statement startled us both. 

Joseph’s cool calm was a balm to her scorching heat, “You are the reason why your killer will never walk free again. Why his secrets are no longer his own to hold. The job is done.”. 

“Done? He killed me, but so many others threw handfuls of dirt on my name. They buried me long before he put me in the ground.” Derision embroidered her chilling statement of intent. 

She wasn’t going to stop, oh gods, how much havoc could she wreak in Nevermore until her rage finally burned her out? How many Residents would she consume before burning day? Who would she torment? Her father? He’d believed the rumors and her husband’s stories. Her friends? They never mounted a substantial search for her. Aunt Pearl?

“No. Lex talionis will not be observed here. Your culpability in the harm of bystanders exceeds the crimes committed against you.” The calm delivery was belied by the intensity of his eyes, which hadn’t strayed from hers since he’d looked at me. “You cannot continue on in this fashion.”

Her eyes narrowed, her unwavering focus on retaliation rearing its ugly head once again, “Who are you to judge me?”. 

Joseph said he could handle her…

His smile never reached his eyes, “Absolution is not mine to give. What I am offering is a chance…”

…The tension radiating from the room coated my every nerve until the rigidity of my stress seared skin finally recalled me from the scene playing out on the other side of the door. The need to break the pressure amplified along my frame was overwhelming. I absently rubbed my sweaty palms on my pants and bent my knees slightly while shifting my weight onto my right leg. 

How I forgot about the open twenty-five-pound bag leaning on my left, I will never know.

1.70 Nevermore

 

(Before and after pictures of my state of mind after KARB’s news report.)

Mr. Nelson sat quietly next to me, clutching his seat, while I channeled my inner Lewis Hamilton (world champion F1 driver). The Princess was more vocal in her protests against my rather cavalier attitude towards her right now. She is many things but a Formula One car? Not even in her wildest dreams. 

I willed the lights ahead of me to turn green since stopping for reds wasn’t going to happen. 

When I finally passed thru Nevermore’s side gates, I rued the day I’d persuaded Little Ben to install these forking speed bumps. Their existence was currently hindering me from taking the lanes at speed. However Lady Luck was with me when we finally came within sight of the main building, everything looked buttoned up and empty. 

Perfect.

Even better? The assortment of marshmallows presently in the Princess, coupled with an effervescent historical mystery, read by book light in such a unique setting provided more than enough entertainment for Mr. Nelson’s Monday night. Or so he assured me. 

The Princess was parked between a retaining wall and the recycler.

Seems he really didn’t want to owe my Uncle a favor anymore.

Didn’t matter.

What did? The fact I told Joseph we had five days before the Woman In White was supposed to arrive.

Slipping from my parking spot around to the back entrance I used my keys to let myself in (it took four tries to get the key in the lock). After carefully punching in Big Ben’s security code into the alarm panel with a shaky hand (the last thing I needed to do was get that wrong) I headed straight to the maintenance closet.

Opening the door, I breathed a sigh of relief. It seems Sam (our admin) had placed the winter supply order I’d put together before Little Ben laid me off. Which meant I could head straight over and heft a twenty-five-pound bag of rock salt off the shelf. Not the highest quality of salt but the sheer quantity should suffice. Exiting the supply closet, I headed further into the building towards Sarah’s Domain & Depository. Where I knew I would find the Woman In White’s bones. 

My one fervent hope? That she’d elected to maintain her vigil over her husband rather than her remains.

When the electric current arched over my toes my heart sunk to their level – she was in Nevermore. The only upside was the fact she wasn’t running around the grounds yet. Bouncing quietly on the balls of my feet down the rest of the hallway, my heart nearly stopped when I spied the seam of light leaking from under Sarah’s door. My ears detected muffled voices emanating from the other side. I set the bag of rock salt down softly against the wall. Then very slowly pulled down on the lever handle opening it just a sliver.

“He needs punishing!” she screeched at Joseph.

Well, that explains why she wasn’t pursuing the Residents yet.

“He will be. You followed him to the police station, watched his interrogation, and witnessed his confession.” Joseph answered in a flat voice, stepping forward he inadvertently gave me a better angle to watch him from. It also revealed the plain cedar box to his right. I didn’t need to read the small brass plate to know what resided inside, the susurration gave its contents away.

A wind whipped thru the room scattering forms, print-outs and general papers left out in its wake. 

Won’t that be fun to straighten up later.

With her frustration vented and Joseph unmoved by it, she changed tactics. Her voice melted into a mellifluous timber, and her movements turned languid while she slowly closed the gap between them. “He murdered me. I want to punish him. Me, not someone else, you understand…” On her last words, she reached up to his collar and traced the parallel lines of his lapels down his chest.

Trying to play the siren to lure him into complying with her wishes? 

I couldn’t see her face, but Joseph’s looked unimpressed.

When her hands reached the middle of his chest they disappeared from my view – but her arms gave her away – the split second prior to the punch she tensed.

Hurry, hurry, hurry! I knew her aim. If she grasped his heart, she could use it to find his bones and siphon away the energy held within. Lurching sideways I fished for the knife in my pocket. Finally grasping it, I quickly slit the sack sitting next to me halfway open. 

The simple latch on the brass-bound box would take a single moment to open. Then I could finish what I started on Pumpkin Mountain. Picking up the sack of salt with one hand and reaching for the door with the other I prepared to confront the Woman In White myself.

However, Joseph’s bored tone stayed my hand on the handle, “Are you finished now?”

1.67 Coffee Doesn’t Cause Insomnia

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What’s a girl to do at three-thirty-six am when finally sick of counting sheep, backwards and her own breath? (Which btw gets really creepy when you start imagining the monster under your bed doing the same thing – counting your breath.) Well, thanks to three separate demographics in Rye – insomniacs, college students, and the night shift there is only one (reputable) place to go at this hour. The HUB. 

The HUB is a gathering of food trucks situated between Rye University’s dorms and the industrial core (insomniacs motor in) which are open from dusk till dawn. There’s a fair amount of turnover in cuisine choices, but there are a few perennial favorites which haven’t shifted an inch in twenty years (honestly, I am not sure they can – where the rubber meets the road looks permanently fused). 

The oldest among them was my current four-thirty in the morning destination, Fried.

It’s my firm belief Fried makes the most delectable donuts known to man. My favorites are their powdered sugar coated mini donuts – five for five bucks. If I’m feeling truly exotic, I might go for the chocolate covered ones with multicolored sprinkles. But generally, the powdered sugar minis command my full attention (one doesn’t look for exotic in comfort food, or at least I don’t when driven out of bed at this hour).  Today I made an extra purchase, two bags of plain minis in addition to my perennial faves.

Turns out that while my body was tired enough to sleep for a week, my mind wasn’t. Six hours of drifting off and waking up again only to find ten minutes ticked off the clock – does not for a restful sleep make (and the more math you do – figuring out many hours you have left before you need to get up – the more awake you are).

What fun. 

So when I heard the early bird’s first chirp, I bolted from my bed. 

When Little Ben booted me from Nevermore, I never realized how much I enjoyed walking around the grounds in the morning. With all the recent events I’d only managed to arrive at sunset or just after nightfall in Nevermore (the morning I woke up in my car doesn’t count – the rain made it so dark it was basically twilight). Deciding I was fed up with the current state of affairs I decided to eat donuts and watch Nevermore’s four-legged and winged residents wake up. 

The ten bucks of plain doughnuts were for them. Everyone can use a treat every now and again.

Which explains why I am currently sitting on the Princess’s hood, wrapped up in my coat with an afghan under my butt in the back-forty of Nevermore watching the first rays of the sun peek over the treetops. I’d crumbled the plain doughnuts under several trees/snags I’d seen flocks of birds and squirrels perched in previously. Then I settled in to wait and watch.

Despite the quiet peace and the thrill of watching the critters scurry out to collect their breakfast, my mind returned like an owl to gnaw on old bones.

None of the Inebriated Three had a clue who tipped Little Ben off the other night, they hadn’t told a soul what we’d planned (I’d asked). And if the informant knew where we were going why didn’t they tell him who we were? 

The delicious yeasty, sugary smell triggered the correlation. The questions my Uncle asked over his powdered sugared pancakes about the anonymous letter in the Tiffany Grindle case – were similar to my own. When I tipped off the Surliest Ranger, I’d only included the information I knew for proof positive. 

What if Little Ben’s mystery caller did the same thing? 

When we’d gone to and fro from the Lavender Lady the backyard lights were off, making the walkway extremely dark. Both my chauffer’s uniform and pirate costume covered me from head to toe in black (shirt shoes, pants, and hat). Which allowed me to easily blend into the night. 

Unlike myself, the others were decked out in much lighter colors. Their work clothes ranged from a taupe to light grey. Their pirate ensembles all featured white shirts and large white plumes in their tricorn hats. The rest of their pirate regalia while dark did catch the eye when hit by light, Wood’s was sapphire colored, Beatrice’s ruby and Laney’s emerald.  

When the Inebriated Three past thru the narrow patch of the back path illuminated by a streetlamp – the quick flash of three-sevenths of the rainbow could have caught the eye. Dressed in an obsidian colored costume someone might have easily missed my entrance and exit. Especially since I’d lagged behind the others both times locking up. 

More details from the other night flew thru my brain once it started manipulating this twisty piece of logic. I’d parked down the street from the Lavender Lady’s back gate, and the Map Room’s door faces the road. No one looking out the rear windows of the big house could have seen me arrive.

What if the tipster, like the anonymous letter writer, hit closer to home than we suspected?

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)

1.64 A Conundrum

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(Take-Out from the Spare Rib from a previous visit…)

My half-day flipped into a full-day when a couple of the Senior Center members asked me for a favor. They had a hankering for barbeque and wanted to go to the best joint around, The Spare Rib. Familiar with the unyielding grip of a food craving we came up with a compromise. I would drive them there (it was an hour one way) if they got their food to go and didn’t eat in the Princess (good bbq is Messy with a capital ‘M’). The fact I just flat like Betty and Joan didn’t hurt either.

Moreover, the flu-induced set schedule ended in a couple of days and with it the regular hours. So earning a few extra brownie points amongst the Center’s members seemed wise. 

When I finally dropped them off, bbq in hand, at their apartment building I was starving and had zero interest in cooking. While the bbq whetted my appetite, it wasn’t what my tastebuds hankered after this evening.

My heart’s desire could only be found at the Rusty Hinge – a nice thick Rueben sandwich (they make their own Rye bread, Russian dressing and sauerkraut – it is to die for) and hand-cut fries. When I slid into my preferred booth, the one in the back next to my favorite pinball machine, my bones fused to the vinyl. 

My poor body was unused to the amount of running we did last night and needed a moment to regroup before attempting to retake my Addams Family crown (aka the high score that Benedict stole from me). Leaning my head against the scalloped cushion, I took a deep breath and let my mind float along the waves of ambient stimulus – the aroma of sautéing onions filtering from the kitchen, errant strands of dialogue emanating from the pinball machines and groans from the football fans watching their team commit yet another penalty. Slowly my mind spun until it landed on the conundrum Sarah placed in my lap earlier today (she’d texted me after our marshmallow bargain).

Sarah: Just thought I’d let you know – Little Ben was tipped off that you guys were coming last night.

Me: ?????

Sarah: He let it slip to Seth last night. Someone called him. That’s how he had security, the MacGregors and the groundskeepers on site so fast.

Me: Crap. Are you sure he doesn’t know it was us?

Sarah: Yes. I don’t think he could keep it to himself if he did. He’d have called a meeting to inform all us you were banned from the property. Like he did with Sue.

Me: Any clue who called him?

Sarah: None. This is all second hand, I didn’t want to grill Seth – might send up a red flag.

Me: Thanks for the heads up!

Sarah: NPAT

(Or No Problem Any Time)

Ruth broke into my train of thought to take my order (and Beatrice’s she was meeting me here), which was fortuitous since I might have drifted off in another second.

If correct Sarah’s data spun the previous night’s events in a whole new direction. But who on earth knew we were bound for Nevermore last night? On top of that, other than Little Ben, who would care?

Speak of the devil, and he shall appear.

My mulling moved to the back burner when a familiar bulky form barreled across the floor towards my booth. 

Little Ben boomed halfway across the floor, “Phoebe! I’m glad I’ve run into you!”

I’ve never ceased regretting telling Little Ben about my favorite greasy spoon.

“Hey, Ben.”

Reaching my table Little Ben’s voice sunk into conspiratorial tone, ”Did you hear about what happened in Nevermore last night?”

“I read about it in the Blotter this morning.” His question told me Sarah’s assessment was correct. If Little Ben had figured out I was among those he’d chased around Nevermore last night, he’d have let everyone hither, thither and yon know it.

Little Ben’s face set into a grimace, “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” Without so much as a by your leave, he started moving towards the empty side of the booth to take a seat. Unfortunately (for him, not me) he found the booth’s entrance unexpectedly cutoff – Beatrice had arrived. 

Taking off her long purple coat, she laid it down on the seat between us and slipped into the booth, “Sorry I’m late. Things are crazy at Pulp right now. Hello! I’m Beatrice.” 

Biting my lip, I watched Little Ben’s frustration at being thwarted cross his face, “Hi. I’m Ben. I was just discussing something with Phoebe.”

Beatrice, draping herself with an air of innocence, “Oh, you’re Phoebe’s former manager. I owe you a big thank you!” 

1.63 Crazy Like A Fox

Sitting in front of the Senior Center I had a fifteen-minute window before my next fare. Still full from my Aunt’s excellent spread I left my turkey and Havarti on rye in my lunch box. Deciding instead to act on her intelligence. Sarah answered her phone on the third ring.

Sarah (trying hard to keep her amusement in check and failing): “Sooooo how was your night?”

Me (laughing with her): “Oh shut it.” 

Sarah: “Why were you guys dressed like the Three Musketeers last night?”

Me (exasperated): “Pirates, we were pirates. And Wood thought it the perfect moment for payment on a delinquent bet.”

Sarah’s only response – laughter. I sincerely hope she’s somewhere where Little Ben can’t overhear her. Speaking of that pain in the….

Me: “So how’s Little Ben doing this morning?”

Sarah (imitating Little Ben at the end): “His Highness is pitching a fit and falling in it, ‘I stayed up all night, and they still got away.’.”

Me: “Does he have a clue?”

Sarah: “Nope.”

Me: “Well that’s a relief. But I had a different reason for the call.”

Sarah: “Oh yeah? What’s up?”

Me: “I need to know when Tiffany Grindle is scheduled to arrive at Nevermore.”

Sarah (whistling): “You don’t ask for small favors. I suppose you don’t want to tell me why you want to know.”

Me (trying hard not to sound too desperate): “I know, I know. I promise it’s nothing compromising and it is important…”

Sarah: “On one condition.”

Me (very wary): “….Okay.”

Why do all my friends have to be smart? Or in this case crafty. Sarah, being one of eight siblings (plus an endless network of cousins), knows precisely when she holds a trump card. It’s one of the reasons why I love and fear her. 

Sarah: “Well it’s more provisional in flavor.”

Me: “Still not resting easy over here.”

Sarah: “When Big Ben gives you your job back…”

Me: “Sarah, he approved my lay-off.”

Sarah (going on despite my interruption): “When Big Ben sobers up from whatever Little Ben has laced his whiskey with, I would like you to open Tiderington vault. I’ve always wanted to know if the rumor that Helena was buried wearing all her diamonds is true.”

Me (startled): “What?”

Sarah: “To gruesome? Okay…. How about opening the Lenfest mausoleum to see if old man Gus laid his books to rest after he read them to pieces.”

Me: “Seriously? Substantiating rumors?” 

*Sigh* So Sarah may know when she holds a trump card, but her ultimate use of them may need some work. Perhaps its the difference between being a twenty-something and a thirty-something.

Sarah: “I’ve been working here for eight years, and I’ve heard all kinds of things about the place. Just once I’d like to see with my own eyes if any of the stories are true! Tell me, is there really a giant crypt underneath the main house? Or a cellar full of bottles of cognac? Is the Gray Man real? Why are there no burials under the old willow in the middle of Nevermore? Is the Masonic cenotaph really the doorway to their meeting hall?”

Me (rolling my eyes on the other end of the line): “Where on earth did you hear that? And do you think this is the best use of a favor?”

Sarah: “Yes! These questions have been burning in my mind since I heard them on the playground! I gots to know!”

Me: “Since grade school? And here I thought you’d ask me for something sensible, like renting you the apartment over the maintenance center, so you could move out of your folk’s house.”

Sarah (jubilant): “Yes that! Could you do that? Then I could explore…I mean, be on call whenever you need me!”

Me: “Of course this is all dependent on Big Ben hiring me back, which again I must state, he approved.”

Sarah: “Pish posh, you’ll get your job back. Simon’s started a pool on when it’ll happen, and all the dates are taken! And if you feel bad about the slim possibility that you won’t be able to hold up your end of the bargain….Well, then you can…..get me fifty bucks worth of those homemade marshmallows from the candy store we stopped at up on the way home from the Fall Foliage Tour!”

Me: “Marshmallows.”

Sarah: “Yup, marshmallows. Do we have a deal?”

What’s the old saying? Crazy like a fox? Yes, Sarah’s crazy like a fox. 

My car was going to smell like candy floss again.

(Crayons and coloring worksheet are my photos. The Hallway Photo is courtesy of Unsplash and the Throng of Kids Photo is Courtesy of NYPL)

1.62 Connections

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(Aunt Pearl’s breakfast spread!)

Looking far more alert than he had a few minutes previously (I blame the bacon, coffee would never do this to me) Wood went on, “Yeah, Morticia and I met Ranger…Ranger…Ranger Lade when we stayed at the Hilltop Hotel, on Ross Lake.” Eating a slice of bacon thoughtfully, “Morticia did you ever send him those scones you were talking about?”

My Aunt glanced between Wood and I, “Why would she send him scones?”

Please let the toaster catch on fire. 

Before I could answer Wood lept in, “Morticia and the Ranger lobbed some pointed words at each other, which she regretted afterward. She thought sending scones might make up for her part in the episode. So did you?”

Tap dancing around my actual actions, “Nope, no bacon maple scones for the ranger. I thought it set a poor precedent to send pastries to anyone I crossed swords with, plus it felt a wee-bit stalkery.”

Please let my Aunt take the bait.

Okay, I know this conversation doesn’t sound dangerous. However, I saw the trap that Wood’s words inadvertently placed before me. 

While strangers might not be able to figure out the part I played in leading the police to Mr. Grindle – these three could. Wood’s curiosity and intelligence could knit together Aunt and Uncle’s facts with what happened on our trip – thus leading him to me. My Uncle’s intuition coupled with a few peculiar incidents from my childhood (and Wood’s commentary) would allow him to make the same leap. Then there’s my Aunt, whose lie detector is finely wrought after four decades worth of students filtering through her home economics classroom. She can sniff out a lie at fifty paces. Which would cause her to ask more and more awkward questions until Wood and/or Uncle figured out I sent the anonymous letter.

(Just for the record, I don’t generally try to lie my way out of awkward conversations that my…..knack……occasionally places me in. I might hedge, nudge or massage the truth sometimes – see above – but outright lying I work hard on avoiding. The consequences, when you get caught, are never good. Especially when Wood discovers one. But that’s another story entirely.)

Fortunately, Aunt Pearl was unable to resist the softball I pitched her way, “What have I always said Phoebe? You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” These advise adjacent words caused Wood to smirk into his coffee cup and my Uncle to pat me on the back. My Aunt simply waited for my agreement.

Interjecting before the required response could leave my lips, “In Morticia’s defense he did call her stupid….” Wood’s words sent my Aunt and Uncle into fits. In the hubbub he’d created I cleared away my dishes and grabbed a slice of bacon for the road.

Knocking the conversation off on a new tangent (and further away from flimsy ground), “Uncle can I bum a ride back to the Lavender Lady? My shift starts in an hour, and I need to shower and change.” 

Pushing himself away from the table. Uncle cleared his plate and headed towards the door, “No problem.” He paused for a moment while I gathered up the bits and pieces from my pirate ensemble. Eventually, I followed him to the door. 

Both he and my Aunt ignored the rubber ducks which spilled out of my bag and onto the floor while I fumbled with my jacket.

1.61 Distraction!

Praying to any god who’d listen that we could divert my Aunt’s warped sense of humor, “Good Morning Uncle!” On the other side of the screen door, my Uncle set his golf clubs down on the porch.

Wood chimed in with a mouth full of eggs and bacon, “Morning! How was golf?” Wood winced as the screen door banged loudly against the frame when my Uncle walked into the kitchen.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full Dourwood.” My Aunt reminded him for the millionth time since we were children, “Dear I was just reading to them from this morning’s police blotter.” 

A smile crept to the corners of his mouth, “Ah! I see.” 

Walking across the kitchen he put his hand on my Aunt’s shoulder (she was starting to get up) and kissed her cheek while cuffing the back of Wood’s head, he then circled the table to plant a kiss on my crown. Completing the revolution around the table, he snagged the coffee pot off the stove – filling up a cup for himself and refilling ours. With the essential tasks taken care of, he sat down across from my Aunt. 

She continued to pursue her twisted strain of conversation, “Seems the police think last night’s troubles could be a prelude to this year’s senior prank. Other than students, who else would dress up to trespass?” With this shot, my Aunt got up to fix my Uncle a plate. The instant she turned her back Wood sent my Uncle a hang-dog look while I laid my head on his shoulder and made doe eyes at him.

Happily, he helped us out, “Thank you for asking about my golf game Wood.” 

My Aunt let loose a snort then tried to pretend she was containing a sneeze.

My Uncle’s side quivered but his voice stayed even, “I kept my score relatively low today, but Earl’s game was all over the map. Seems he was on the job until the wee hours of the morning investigating a case.”

Wood and I both froze our cute appeals for help melting into sick smiles. They were serious enough about rubber ducks that they assigned a detective to investigate? 

Aunt Pearl placed a full plate in front of my Uncle, “Really? A case from last night you say?” She managed to pack in both glee and worry into her tone. 

My Uncle took a large bite of eggs, then toast and chewed them slowly while the three of us held our breath waiting for him to finish.

Peppering his eggs, he started to take another bite when my Aunt (with a touch of impatience) attempted to tease a response out of my taciturn Uncle, “Dear, what new case is Earl working on?” 

My Uncle’s sides quivered harder, “The Tiffany Grindle case took an unexpected turn.”

Distraction achieved!

Wood cocked his head, my Aunt gave him the shorthand version of Tiffany’s disappearance and subsequent reappearance. Listening to her ‘news’ all over again I tried to merge my facts with her newly unearthed information – it painted quite the picture. When she finished my Uncle picked up the conversational thread.

Putting his fork down for the moment, “Seems Grindle confessed not only to Tiffany and David Waller’s murders but to two more, a woman he dated a few years ago who strayed and a coworker who got a promotion he coveted. Seems Grindle is a very jealous man.”

“Really?” I asked. The information sent my mind reeling back to my dilemma the corner of Bitter and Sweet. Nothing warms the heart like the knowledge that you’d chosen the correct course of action.

My Uncle nodded, “Really. He seemed ready to get it off his chest. Earl reckons the anonymous tip came from him.” 

My Aunt did her best impression of an Irish Setter, “Anonymous tip?”

Smiling now my Uncle continued, “Yes, the only real loose end left. The ranger who found the remains went into the woods following information from an anonymous letter sent to him specifically. It contained GPS coordinates, pictures, a map and a statement of what he would find there. Grindle swears he never sent the letter. I tend to believe him. The letter was specific, but no prints were found on any of the papers, and it didn’t mention anything about Waller.” Shrugging off his consternation, my Uncle picked up his knife and fork and finished off the tail end of his breakfast.

Wood who looked much less bleary-eyed now asked, “This ranger, did he have a limp and an attitude?”

My Uncle’s turn to look curious, “As a matter of fact he did.”

Well, hell. Wood would make that connection.

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