Casey had long suspected something was amiss at Bob's studio. The thin windows with their smoky, opaque glass, the awning hanging over the door like some moldy Brezhnevian unibrow, the eternally empty parking lot, now needlessly plowed--it all rang untrue to her. But what was it exactly?
Sometimes she stood at the iron fence, leaning her forehead onto the cold metal and peering between the parallel bars which made her think of her days as an elite gymnast at Kanssouri High School. There was too much parallelism at this place, and she wasn't talking syntax. All those lines, straight up and down, on the fence, those windows, the grey garage-doorish wall that she'd never seen open. Casey thought of a prison, and felt a message being shouted to her in a language she hadn't yet bought the Rosetta Stone CDs for.
At the cafe across the street, she called the Ben Bortnick Company (913-383-2170) for the information they claimed in print to have. Liars. Ben Bortnick himself told her a ridiculous story about Bob possibly retiring, would she be interested in the space or even buying the business? Bob wasn't going anywhere; that much she knew. She knew it in her bones and in her belly and in the moons of her fingernails.
Give me a sign! Casey mumbled and ranted and grrrrrred. A sign! A sign! And then it hit her, like a kickball in the face, except she wasn't knocked flat on her back and her nose wasn't bleeding. The SIGN was a sign! It had to be! That's what had been yelling at her all this time, not her ex-husband. This truly was a Great Leap Forward. Rummaging through her purse, Casey yanked out a pen and notepad. Bob's Ornamental Iron Studio spelled backwards was "oiduts nori latnemanro sbob." May as well have been Chinese. She frowned, wrinkling the Scotch tape she had stuck on the space between her eyebrows to flatten the parallel worry lines grown deep there with the years.
Maybe Ben Bortnick had a hand in this mystery. Maybe Ben Bortnick was in cahoots with Bob. Who was Bob anyway? For all Casey knew the two could be related. Something bubbled up in her memory, something about. . .Ben and Bob, the Bortnick boys, back from battle in the Balkans. Could it B? Naaahhhh, she thought.
But Ben too had a sign, was a sign. Quickly, she reversed the letters of his name and wrote "kcintrob neb." kcintrob neb? she said aloud. This had possibilities. kcintrob neb. kcintrob neb. kc, kc, Casey--CASEY! she shouted in her mind. Casey in trob,IN TROUBLE! Omygod, omygod, omygod, she shrieked, but quietly, knocking over her chair and sprinting across the street to stand panting in front of The Message.
Casey in trouble neb. What could it mean? Her mother used to say a catty, gossipy person was nebbish, but that didn't make sense now. She wasn't gossipy, and, hooray, she wasn't crazy; she'd long had the creeps about this place and here was proof. Here was solid evidence--her NAME, for heaven's sake, practically a sentence!
God bless my ex, Casey thought as she dug through her purse for the I-phone that had been his last Valentine's Day gift to her. She pulled up Dictionary.com and typed in "neb." Neb: 1. a) the bill, or beak, of a bird. More B's! b) the snout of an animal; hence, 2. the nose or mouth of a person. Hmmmm. She couldn't see how that definition related. 3. the projecting end or point of anything; nib; tip. The projecting end or point of something? Of what? Casey looked around. She again was drawn to the parallel lines of the building echoed in the fence. Straight lines from the ground to the top of the building, metal lines to the scrolled top of the fence, iron lines of the columnar fence-post reaching higher and higher to its projecting end.
And there, next to the post's neb, sat an iron baby, a tiny iron baby with her face, frozen in a look of both understanding and surprise. Casey felt a hand cover her neb, and all went black.