Read an Excerpt
Death of a Rug Lord
When I looked the gift horse in the mouth, it was clear that she'd been drinking. I couldn't help but take a step back. She, alas, took two steps forward.
"Aren't you Abigail Timberlake?" she said.
"You own the Den of Antiquity down on King Street, right?"
"Right as rain in November."
"I've been in your shop dozens of times."
I smiled quickly over clenched teeth. I'm a tiny woman, just four-foot-nine. One good whiff of her breath could send my alcohol level over the moon.
"So you saw my ad on TV, huh?"
It was either give up on sobriety or appear to be rude. "Yes, ma'am," I said, "I've seen your ads, and I couldn't believe my ears. And now I can't believe my eyes. How can y'all afford to price these Oriental rugs so low?"
Gwen—that's what was printed on her badge—glanced around the crowded room. "I believe it's something to do with high volume."
"Yes, but y'all have got to be selling these way below cost. Even if y'all sold a million, y'all still won't turn a profit."
She shrugged. "Yeah, well, go figure."
"Take this one for example," I said. "It's a Persian from Tabriz, right? The traditional mahi, or fish, design."
Gwen had to flip three corners over before she found the tag, which was sewn on the back. "You're good. Mrs. Timberlake."
"Actually it's Washburn."
"The 'Missus' part. I keep the Timberlake for business reasons."
"You related to Justin?"
"Not that we know of. But you see, Timberlake is also amarried name— Never mind, it's a long story. Now about this price, there has got to be a zero missing, right?"
"No, it's correct."
"But it says 695. Even wholesale, it's worth twice that."
"Maybe." She tossed her head to get some irksome hair out of her face. Her amber mane was thick and waist length, truly worthy of being envied. "But like they say," she continued, "don't kiss a gift horse on the mouth."
I stifled an impulse to snicker. "Still, this has to be a mistake. May I speak to the manager, please?"
"Uh . . . I am the manager."
"You are? I mean, of course you are." Funny, but I was sure the manager of Pasha's Palace was a man. Gary something or other.
A mind as small as mine is easily read. "Gary quit last month. I'm Gwendolyn Spears, his replacement."
"Oh, but then surely you must know that these rugs are underpriced."
Gwen's eyes locked on mine. "Didn't I read in the paper about your brother getting married recently?"
"Yes." Where could she possibly be going with this? Could she be hoping for a similar discount at my shop? Well, that just wasn't possible; I price my merchandise fairly, but I don't give it away.
"Then it's a wedding present for him and his lucky bride."
"Here." She expertly rolled the rug and slung it over her shoulder. "I'll walk you to your car."
"But you can't." My protest was sincere, although a part of me was excited about acquiring such a beautiful work of art.
"I can, and I will," Gwendolyn Spears said.
My full name is Abigail Louise Timberlake Washburn. My first husband, Buford Timberlake, was more of a timber snake, and we divorced after he traded me in for a woman half my age. My second, and last, husband is Greg Washburn, a retired detective from Charlotte. Greg is now half owner of a shrimp boat in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.
We are S.O.B.'s, and proud of it. Our lovely home is south of Broad Street in historic Charleston, South Carolina. My widowed mother, Mozella Wiggins, lives with us, as does Dmitri, an orange tabby that tips the scale at sixteen pounds. I have two grown children, Susan and Charlie: the former lives in New York, where she works as a legal secretary; the latter in Paris, where he supports himself by cleaning chimneys (Charlie's ambition is to be a painter).
Most of us are happy—at least some of the time—so one might conclude that life at 7 Squiggle Lane proceeds on a fairly even keel. But if that is what one concludes, then one would be wrong. Murder and mayhem follow me around like sin chases after televangelists. On the plus side, I never have time to be bored. But then neither do I have much time in which to relax.
One of these rare moments of leisure found me sitting in my favorite chair whilst watching All My Children and eating lunch. I will confess right now that during the commercials, I cast admiring glances at that glorious Persian rug from Tabriz. I know, it was supposed to be a wedding present for my brother, Toy, and his wife, C.J. But they lived all the way up in Sewanee, Tennessee, and I wasn't scheduled to see them for a couple of weeks. Besides, the rug was already old and used. If I derived joy from it in the meantime, who could it possibly hurt?
Mama is also addicted to AMC, the finest soap opera on network television, and it is she who encourages me to leave my shop, on a daily basis, in the hands of my very capable assistant, and join her for lunch. Since Mama can cook up a storm (all the while looking like Donna Reed, replete with pearls and starchy crinolines), I'd say I have it pretty good. While normally Mama can chatter a magpie into submission, during AMC she insists on total silence. The occasional gasp is permitted—as surprises in the story line unfold—but words are never allowed. Ever.
I was quite enjoying my chicken salad sandwich and fresh fruit plate when I heard the unimaginable.
"Gracious me, Abby, did you see that? We have to turn off the TV."
I nearly choked on my chicken. "Excuse me?"
"Didn't you see that strip along the bottom of the screen?"Death of a Rug Lord. Copyright © by Tamar Myers. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.