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It took a lot to get my attention that day. The first time June Troyan came into my shop, I barely noticed her. Her subsequent visit was a little more dramatic. I noticed her the second she came hurtling through the plate glass window. My customers noticed her as well. Prior to that rather dramatic and fatal second entrance, June was just one of many nondescript shoppers on the busiest Tuesday on record.
The night before, Channel 9 had done a special on the thriving antique business in Charlotte, and in a rare stroke of luck, my shop was singled out. It didn't hurt that it was azalea season, and the weather was as perfect as it gets this side of heaven. People came out in droves. Then to add to my unbelievably good fortune, a sudden but brief down pour came out of nowhere, trapping everyone inside. The gods were finally smiling on me.
My name is Abigail Timberlake, and I am the overworked owner and sole employee of the Den of Antiquity. I'm not complaining, mind you. I didn't mind having to wait on five people at once. It's just that I couldn't give every customer my full attention, especially those who have obviously come into my shop just to sell something. A mere glance at June and the ugly gray vase she was holding was all I needed to know that she was a seller, not a buyer.
I do my buying at auctions and private estate sales. I never, ever, buy anything "off the street." By sticking to this little rule I have so far managed to avoid buying stolen and fenced goods, and wasting my time with the myriad of wishful souls who expect to make a fortune off their grandmother's trinketsnever mind that the old lady herself was as poor as achurch mouse on welfare.
Of course I miss out on some exceptional buys. My friend and fellow shop owner, Wynnell Craw ford, once bought an exquisite set of nineteenth century Meissen figures in mint condition from a little old lady wearing only a babushka and a bath robe. I would have taken one look at the vendor and concluded that her wares originally came from Kmart, having possibly made several detours through area garage sales.
"What did you notice about the victim when she came in the first time?" Investigator Greg Washburn asked when he arrived on the scene. Greg, incidentally, is my boyfriend. He is tall, dark, and handsome, with gleaming white teeth and eyes that are Wedgwood blue. Greg is just an ego away from being a cliche. Fortunately he has no idea just how handsome he is. I, on the other hand, am four foot nine, with no outstanding colors. Enough said.
"I didn't notice anything," I wailed.
I glanced down at the spot where the very battered and bloody body had come to a rest. Thank fully the body had been removed and a police blanket covered most of the gore. Still, it made me uneasy to speak of the dead so near her place of demise.
"She was mousy," I said.
"Well, brownish then. Brown hair, brown clothes. That's all I remember."
"Her shoes and purse were Gucci." The speaker was a tall, leggy blond woman, a customer and fellow eyewitness detained for questioning. Greg turned to her. "Anything else?"
"Her dress was definitely not off the rack. Christian Dior, maybe."
"Some mouse," Greg said, and gave me a pitying look.
"Oh, her watch was a Rolex, and her earrings were from Tiffany," the blonde said triumphantly.
Greg rewarded her with one of his blinding smiles.
"She was wearing Shalimar," another woman customer said, vying for Greg's attention. "The perfume, not the cologne."
"Which has nothing to do with anything," I said. "She's still wearing all those things. The lab can tell you that. Isn't her behavior more important than her appearance?"
"Exactly," Greg said, but he failed to reward me with a blinding smile.
A distinguished-looking man, a frequent customer, stepped forward gallantly. "I think maybe she was drunk."
Greg turned to him. "Oh?"
"She kept bobbing back and forth."
"She was trying to get my attention," I said.
Greg graciously bestowed a bemused smile on me. "So, you saw nothing, did you?"
I stood my ground. "I saw nothing but a mousy woman who was trying to sell me a hideous vase."
Greg turned to Officer Sullivan, the first of Charlotte's finest on the scene. "That wasn't in the report, was it?"
Officer Sullivan shook his head. "You can see where she landed, sir. Just a broken chair. No sign of a vase."
"That broken chair is a genuine Louis XIV," I said. "Original upholstery."
"And outside?" Greg asked.
Officer Sullivan shook his head again. "The car came right up onto the sidewalk and hit her. No vase there eitheror in the street."
"That's a shame," Greg said.
"One thousand six hundred and twenty-five dollars," I said, "but I would have taken off fifteen per cent just for the asking."
They both stared at me.
"The woman is dead," I reminded them. "There's nothing to be done about that. I, however, have a smashed window and a ruined chair."
Greg turned back to Officer Sullivan. "Any witnesses outside the shop?"
Officer Sullivan shook his head. "Everyone was inside because of the downpour, but there are three witnesses who claim to have seen it from the shop across the street."
"Any of them get a make on the car? See who was driving?"
Officer Sullivan grinned. "All three of these people are sure of what they saw. One saw a black Cadillac driven by a middle-aged black man. One saw a beige station wagon driven by a young red-haired woman. The third saw an old white man in a blue Ford van. A large one. Possibly commercial."
"Figures," Greg said. "Which direction was the driver coming from?"
Officer Sullivan glanced at his notes and chuckled. "One said from the north, one from the south, and the third was positive about everything except that."
"I saw the car," the leggy blonde said. Personally I thought she was lying shamelessly just to get Greg's attention.
The Wedgwood eyes focused on her expectantly.
"It was the black man in the black Cadillac. He was going south." The blonde pointed north.
"I don't think so," I said.
The blonde glared at me.
Greg's eyes twinkled in amusement. "Do tell, Ab I mean, Ms. Timberlake."
"It was the blue Ford van," I said.
"Oh? And how do you know that?"
"Look outside. All the parking places are full. That's the most common complaint we get. But there"I pointed to the right"is the loading zone. Only trucks and large vans are permitted to park there, and then for only five minutes.
"My guess is that the driver of the van had pulled into that spot and was waiting for Ms. Troyan to come out. He then accelerated and"I pointed to my smashed window"there you have it."
"Likely story," the blonde said, tilting her man made shnoz skyward.
"Could be true," Greg said.
I felt so proud of myself that I didn't even mind when the blonde slammed my front door behind her, precipitating a second shower of broken glass.
Copyright ) 1997 by Tamar Myers