This is Part 7 of a Serial Story. The Story began here.
The fountain resembled a miniature grotto, and it was attached to the wall behind the hostess stand. The highest rock on the wall was below my shoulder level, and the pool at the fountain’s base was even with my knees. When the fountain was in use it must have been a magnet for little kids eager to slap the water – it was at the perfect height.
Dust covered the silk plants around the pool, and cobwebs laid thick on the rocks. The pool had a coating of dried and cracked chemical sludge. Add to all of that a lack of good lighting and the possibility of a clammy hand…yech.
No hostess in sight, so I had an opportunity to search unhindered. I began separating the dusty plant leaves and peering around.
Dang ring could be anywhere. It might have gone in the water and been sucked into a drain or a pump or something. I didn’t want to disassemble the whole set-up to find the ring.
But just when I was starting to think the ring really was in a pipe I felt it under a plant. It was almost out of reach…I could just feel it under my fingertips. If I pushed down gently, very gently on the top edge, the ring might flip towards me…easy…
Something skittered across my hand. I jerked backwards, choking back a scream.
A brown spider crawled out from under the plant. It paused for a moment, almost like it was listening. Then it crawled under another plant, disappearing from sight.
I whirled around and had to choke back another scream. “Oh, it’s you, Mr. Drake. You startled me,” I said.
Mr. Drake stared at me with piercing eyes. “What were you doing, Maryanne?”
Trying not to scream, I thought. “Anagrams,” I blurted out.
“Anagrams?” Mr. Drake repeated.
“Yes. I…like anagrams. And I saw this ‘fountain’ and I thought ‘tuna info’ which is sort of ironic, because this restaurant doesn’t serve tuna so why would you come here for tuna info? But really it looks like a ‘grotto’, and an anagram of that is ‘got rot’ which makes a lot of sense if you look at this thing,” I babbled. Oh, did I babble. “And then I thought the plants looked dusty and I was touching one to check and see if it was dusty and this spider ran across the back of hand which I should have seen coming because an anagram of ‘these dusty plants’ is ‘deathly pests stun.’ So, anyway, that’s what I was doing,” I concluded weakly.
“Near many,” I said quickly.
“What?” asked Mr. Drake.
“It’s an anagram of my first name.”
And then the really startling thing happened. Mr. Drake almost smiled. “Clever girl,” he said. “I have often said to the other partners that you are the sharpest associate in the firm. I am so glad that you decided to join us after all.”
Huh? Us? What?
“Where is...everyone?” I said pleasantly, desperately trying to cover my confusion.
Mr. Drake gestured to the second private room, the one across from the room rented out to Charlotte and her theatre friends. “In here,” he said. “Luckily for you I happened to step out for some air, or you might not have found us. The hostess must be occupied elsewhere. Most unfortunate.”
And then I figured it out…the firm dinner. Of all the restaurants in the city the attorneys had to end up at the same place as Charlotte’s cast party and the missing wedding ring.
“Just happy to be here,” I said with I smile I hoped looked sincere.
Mr. Drake ushered me into the dark dining room. The remaining two partners and five associate attorneys were seated around a large, round table. They all looked up as we walked in.
“Maryanne decided to join us,” Mr. Drake intoned.
Mr. Egbert smiled. “Excellent. Welcome, Maryanne,” he said. He waved me to an empty chair next to him.
You know how some old people have really crinkly or saggy skin on some parts of their faces, but on other parts the skin looks kind of soft or smooth? The only place on Mr. Egbert’s face where the skin was smooth was on his forehead. And his forehead was huge. I’ve heard people say it’s because the man has a giant brain, and needs lots of space to store his brilliant schemes. It’s the most flattering view to take. But it’s a compliment that people only voice when Mr. Egbert isn’t around. When he’s in front of you, confronting you with that head, complimentary thoughts desert you.
“Thank you, sir,” I said politely as I sat in the chair.
Mr. Egbert turned to face me head on. “I’m afraid that you missed the most interesting part of the conversation, Maryanne,” he said.
Don’t stare at his forehead. It’s rude to stare. Find something else to look at. Wow, the man had sparse eyebrows. It was like someone pulled the wires out of handful of twist ties and stuck them over his eyes.
“I think we can catch her up quickly. Don’t you think so, Mr. Deitrick?” asked Mr. Drake.
“Indeed I do, Mr. Drake,” said Mr. Deitrick.
An associate attorney, Belinda, shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “I don’t think I need a repeat. I’m ready to go home,” she said.
“You will leave when we tell you that you can,” said Mr. Egbert.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
Mr. Egbert leaned towards me. I felt someone grip the back of my chair and looked up to find Mr. Drake staring down at me. “I’m glad you asked,” said Mr. Drake.
The door flew open and Charlotte burst into the room. “Here you are!” she said joyfully. “Maryanne, you have to see this. They brought out a sheet cake with my picture on it!”
An anagram of ‘sheetcake’ is ‘ate cheeks.’ I find that very unappetizing.
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