Silent Auction (Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery Series #5)by Jane K. Cleland
Agatha finalist Jane K. Cleland brings us an irresistible new blend of coziness, crime, and collectibles...
The autumn foliage is in full fiery glory on a beautiful day in the little coastal town of Rocky Point, New Hampshire. Josie Prescott arrives at the town's renovated lighthouse to conduct an antiques appraisal and is horrified to discover the bludgeoned/p>
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Agatha finalist Jane K. Cleland brings us an irresistible new blend of coziness, crime, and collectibles...
The autumn foliage is in full fiery glory on a beautiful day in the little coastal town of Rocky Point, New Hampshire. Josie Prescott arrives at the town's renovated lighthouse to conduct an antiques appraisal and is horrified to discover the bludgeoned body of her neighbor Zoë's beloved nephew, Frankie. The owners of the lighthouse are avid antiques collectors, and Josie soon begins to suspect that a scrimshaw tooth from their collection may be the key to solving the crime that has shaken Rocky Point, and broken her dear friend's heart.
"This smartly plotted mystery is chock full of antique information that will delight and educate readers."
RT Book Reviews
"The small-town setting and the details about maritime antiques, framed by the running of an antiques appraisal and auction business, add to the story."
Read an Excerpt
By Jane K. Cleland
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2010 Jane K. Cleland
All rights reserved.
I growled into the mirror. Sadly, I didn't look the least bit ferocious.
Glancing back and forth from my face to a photo of a Bengal tiger I'd printed out, I saw the problem — my coloration was off. I needed to darken the stripes, make the base more orange, and add a starker line of white around my eyes. I nodded, pleased that, if nothing else, I knew what needed to be done.
I'd volunteered to include a face-painting activity in my company's booth at next month's Rocky Point Harvest Festival, and I was practicing. When persuading me to agree, the festival's organizers had assured me that enthusiasm mattered more than skill, but looking at my jaundiced face, I wasn't so sure they were right.
Before I could begin the repair job, Cara, my company's receptionist, IM'd that Guy Whitestone's assistant was on the phone, wanting to schedule a time for her boss to talk to me about appraising his maritime art and artifacts collection.
"Great!" I typed, grinning at the thought. "Soon?"
Seconds later, her reply appeared: "10:15."
According to the display on my computer, it was just before ten. I shook my head. I'd been fussing with my face for twenty minutes, too long if we had a queue of kids waiting their turn. I needed to get the time down — by a lot. I sighed and picked up a paintbrush.
Seconds later, a rat-a-tat sounded. Eric, my back room supervisor, stood on the threshold, frowning and waiting for an invitation to enter my office.
Eric was tall and twig-thin, with sandy-colored hair that straggled over his collar. He was only twenty-three, but he held an important managerial position at my company, Prescott's Antiques and Auctions. He'd been one of my first hires — he'd started as a part-time general helper back when he was in high school. Now he was charged with everything from merchandising to facilities management. He took his responsibilities seriously, sometimes too seriously, allowing his insecurity and inexperience to undermine his confidence.
"Come on in," I said.
"We have a problem," he said, walking toward me. "The gutters are pretty full, and the weatherman says it's going to rain on Thursday. I budgeted having the gutters cleaned in October, but I don't think we should wait. Is it okay if I call Frankie and ask him to come over today or tomorrow, before the rain?"
I was thrilled to see him showing initiative, and said so. "Absolutely. This is really smart thinking, Eric — and a good example of what I was talking about when I said a budget was a guide, not a straitjacket."
He thanked me, his discomfort and pleasure at receiving a compliment evident as his cheeks turned bright red and he looked down, shoulders hunched forward.
"What do you think of my face?" I asked, showing teeth and pawing the air.
"Good," he replied, obviously glad for the change of subject. "You look really funny."
"Funny? I'm supposed to look fierce."
I snarled at him, then did it again into the mirror. I didn't look fierce; I looked silly.
"You're supposed to be a tiger, right?"
"I guess it's good news that at least you got the animal right."
He grinned, nodded, and left, and I got busy with the orange paint. When I was done, I growled again. Much better, I thought, realizing how much I'd needed the photo as a reference. I decided that we'd bring a laptop and printer to the festival so we could print out images to refer to as we painted. I was adding a final dab of dark brown to a stripe when Cara buzzed up to tell me that Guy was on line one.
Half an hour later, I hurried down the spiral stairs that led from my private office on the mezzanine level to the main office on the ground floor to share the good news — we'd been hired for a plum appraisal job.
I crossed the cavernous warehouse and entered the front office, leaping in as if I were pouncing from behind a rock or bush. "Grrrr!" I roared.
Sasha, my chief appraiser, laughed, then stopped and looked away, tucking her fine brown hair behind her ear, embarrassed. Sasha was shy and self-effacing except when talking about art or antiques — then she became an assertive intellectual power house.
"Oh, Josie, you look great!" Gretchen said. Gretchen, my newly promoted administrative manager, had just turned thirty. She was radiant, with titian hair that fell in soft waves to below her shoulders and eyes that sparkled like emeralds.
My other appraiser, Fred, leaned back with his hallmark ultracool suavity. He pushed up his small, square-framed glasses, then made a V-for-Victory sign with his fingers. "Go, Tigers!" he said.
I laughed and flashed a return V.
Cara, grandmotherly in appearance and demeanor, with silvery hair cut short and a complexion my mother would have called peaches and cream, smiled. "The children are going to love it!"
"Thanks," I said. "I hope you're right. All I can say is that it's way harder painting on a three-dimensional surface like a face than I thought it would be. Anyway, I have good news. We've been hired to do a really interesting appraisal."
I filled them in, explaining that because Guy wanted us to begin right away, I needed an update on everyone's schedule during the next several days. Sasha reported she was deep in analyzing whether a collection of Chinese dinnerware that had once been owned by a Revolutionary War hero, General James McCubbin Lingan, would benefit from that association. Fred said he was looking at some nice, but unsigned, botanical prints. Gretchen was scheduled to meet with our database management company about a possible upgrade, and Cara was helping Eric create inventory reports. A busy day, a typical day, at Prescott's.
* * *
Frankie Winterelli, the Whitestones' live-in caretaker and our part-time helper, stepped into the front office, setting the wind chimes Gretchen had hung there years earlier jangling. Frankie was short, maybe five-six or so, and wiry, with curly black hair and an olive complexion. His eyes were almost black, and he sported a diamond stud in his left ear.
"Don't come near me," he said to me, feigning fear, raising his hands, palms out, as if he were warding off an attack. "I'm afraid."
"I take that as a compliment," I said, smiling, "to my face-painting skills."
"You should. I've never seen a better leopard."
"I'm not a leopard!" I protested.
His eyes crinkled, and he smiled like he'd just won the jackpot at bingo. "Gotcha good that time! I know you're a lion!"
"You're right, Frankie," Fred said, his tone earnest. "I didn't see it at first, but it's definitely lionlike. Good call."
"I think she looks more like an ocelot," Gretchen said, giggling.
"An ocelot?" I replied, faux-shocked. "I'm only five-one — don't you mean an oce-little?"
Everyone started laughing, me included.
"I'm surprised you don't know the correct term, Josie," Cara said, joining in. "It's oce-petite!"
"Are you sure it's not just oce-short?" Fred asked.
"Or oce-small?" Sasha suggested, still laughing.
"At least you're not calling me an oce-runt," I said, sending everyone off into fresh gales of hilarity.
As our laughter quieted, Frankie said, "Good-looking tiger, Josie."
"Thanks. I was just getting set to call you," I said.
"About the appraisal? I just heard. Mr. Whitestone wants me to show you the alarm system and give you a key. I was on my way over here anyway — Eric called about the gutters — so I thought I'd stop in the office and coordinate directly with you. I don't have a spare key with me, but I can meet you there later, whenever you want."
"Great." I paused, thinking about my schedule. Today, the Tuesday after Labor Day, was, for me, a light day — I didn't have any appointments scheduled. "How's three o'clock?"
He nodded. "Works for me. Meet me at my place, okay? I've got some gardening things to do out back." He waved a general goodbye and headed out, striding toward the rear of the building to hook up with Eric.
When I'd first met Frankie two years ago, he'd acted like a real punk, filled with anger and resentment. Now he was cheerful and confident, a testimony to the truth of the old adage that success breeds success. Once Frankie got himself started on the right track, there'd been no stopping him.
Frankie's aunt Zoë — my friend, neighbor, and landlady — had never, not for a minute, doubted his inner goodness, and she'd been right. I'd been the skeptic, and I was thrilled to have been proven wrong. From his epic work ethic to his whispered inquiry at Zoë's barbecue this past weekend about whether he could bring the cake to the birthday dinner I was planning for her later in the month, Frankie was a poster boy for second chances, and it made me proud to know him.
Something was wrong. I could smell it. I dug my phone out of my tote bag to check the time. It was ten past three — Frankie was ten minutes late, which sounds like nothing, but not with Frankie. He was 100 percent reliable. Last spring, he'd been scheduled to help Eric with some plantings when his tire blew out on the interstate and he'd ended up in a ditch. He'd called us before he'd called for a tow. If he'd known he was going to be late, I would have heard by now.
I circled his cottage, looking for signs that he'd been working outside. Rhododendron, forsythia, and mountain laurel marked the property's edge. Near the back door, a charcoal grill and two white plastic lawn chairs sat on a small flagstone patio. Everything was still. I saw nothing that indicated that Frankie had been working in the area — no freshly laid mulch, no bags of leaves waiting for disposal, no debris from pruning or trimming plants.
I wondered if our wires had crossed. Maybe he thought we were supposed to meet at the lighthouse. No. I shook my head. We'd been clear — I was to come to his cottage at three. I frowned. This wasn't a casual meeting. This was his job.
"Frankie," I said softly, speaking to the cottage, "where are you? Are you okay?"
Back at the front, I pushed the doorbell again, and again chimes sounded. After a few seconds, I used the ship-shaped brass knocker, clapping it several times, waited fifteen seconds, then pressed the doorbell one more time. The chimes echoed, then faded away.
Frankie lived in one of two identical fieldstone cottages on the Whitestones' property. Their housekeeper, Ashley Morse, lived in the other unit. One cottage was original to the property, but the Whitestones had built a duplicate when they'd decided they needed both a live-in housekeeper and a live-in caretaker. Both had Colonial blue trim on the doors, window frames, and shutters. Each had a chimney to the right of the center entrance and an attached garage to the left. Even though one dated from the early nineteenth century and the other was new, they were, to me, indistinguishable; both appeared equally well-tended and charming.
As a crow flies, the two cottages were only a few hundred yards from Rocky Point Light — the decommissioned 1817 lighthouse the Whitestones had purchased as a weekend retreat a year earlier — but thick stands of evergreens, maples, oaks, pine, and birch made them seem a world apart. In the time they'd owned it, they'd refurbished it inside and out, maintaining its historically accurate appearance down to the unusual widow's walk at the top — except for the walls of windows that replaced the wood — while adding every imaginable modern convenience and luxury. From where I stood, I couldn't see the lighthouse at all. Looking in the other direction, I caught a glimpse of the heliport the Whitestones had added during their two-million-dollar renovation.
I knocked and rang again. Still no answer.
All around me, towering hardwoods grew in uncultivated abandon. Deep in the woods I saw dots of neon-bright yellow and coral pink that shone as if they were backlit. In two weeks, maybe three, the canopy of leaves would resemble a quilt of fire.
I approached the window to the right of Frankie's front door and cupped my hands to see in. Nothing. I looked inside through three other windows as I walked around the cottage again. I could see into the kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom. Frankie wasn't home. His car wasn't in the garage. My amorphous uneasiness grew stronger. I checked the time again. Ten more minutes had passed.
I drove up the paved road that led to the lighthouse. Frankie's Jeep was parked at one end of the circular drive. I walked around it, peeking in windows. Nothing inside offered any hint to his whereabouts.
The lighthouse was situated at the far end of the island, and from its position on a rocky jut-out a hundred feet above the water, it offered an unobstructed 180-degree view of blue-black ocean that stretched endlessly to the horizon. I walked across the groomed lawn, past the pool, and stepped over a row of flower-filled ancient Chinese troughs that I'd sold to the Whitestones last June. They stretched across the lawn, dividing it into two sections, the close-in patio area and the outer grassy area. As I stood at the water's edge, a soft breeze teased me. I bet it was close to seventy, a halcyon day. Looking south, I could see most of New Hampshire's eighteen-mile shoreline. From somewhere close by, I heard a bird calling, whoop, whoop, whoop.
"Frankie!" I shouted toward the manicured property. "Frankie!" I called again, facing the lighthouse this time. "Frankie!"
Walking along the side, I passed the tall grasses, lavender, and rambling roses that had been artfully planted along the brick pathway to create a naturalized border, then a line of red maples, their leaves crimson, the color of blood.
The front door was painted glossy red. The doorbell was fitted with old ship's bells, and when I pushed the button, they clanged and reverberated for several seconds. No one answered the door. I looked through the tall windows that flanked the door. Nothing appeared disturbed, but the place felt empty. I checked the time again. It was three thirty-five.
I called Frankie's cell phone. Voice mail picked up after six rings. "Hi, Frankie," I said. "It's Josie. I went to your place, and now I'm at the lighthouse. I see your Jeep is here — I'm a little concerned. Are you all right? Call me, okay?"
I walked to the back again. Standing close to the precipice, I looked down and watched as thunderous waves crashed into the boulders a hundred feet below. There was no stairway to the shore because there was no beach or dock. I turned around. To my right was a swimming pool and spa under a latticework pergola laced with ancient wisteria vines. In May, clusters of purplish blue flowers would hang heavily over the water. A small cabana sat near the tree line. To the left was a fire pit. Great blue lobelias and wild bergamots sat in huge terra-cotta pots by the rear entrance. All the shades were up. A window was open on the ground floor to the left of the back door. Ashley must be airing the place out, I thought, now that the Whitestones have returned to New York City. There was no sign of Frankie.
I approached the back door and knocked. The latch hadn't quite caught, and the door swung wide. I stepped into the mudroom. In front of me, the inner door was ajar. Little hairs on the back of my neck rose as disquiet grew into fear.
"Frankie?" I called, expecting no reply and getting none. My voice cracked as alarm closed my throat. I stood for a moment taking deep breaths. "Frankie?" I repeated, and I was pleased to hear that despite the sharp barbs of anxiety that stabbed at me, I sounded calm and in control.
I took a small step forward and entered the kitchen. I was standing on ceramic tiles the Whitestones had imported from Italy. It was cold, too cold, much colder than outside. It was quiet, too, the thick solitary sound of emptiness. I took another step, then stopped short.
There, sprawled on the floor, partially hidden by the central island, lay a body.
My heart stopped, then began beating too fast. My mouth went dry. One blue-jean-clad leg was bent, the other straight. Whoever it was wore dirty and scuffed work boots. Streaks of sunlight crisscrossed pools of blood that had streamed like rivulets toward the cabinets. A wooden rolling pin streaked with mahogany-colored stains and a white dish towel smeared with dark red lay near the body's thighs.
I wanted to run away, but I couldn't. I needed to see if the person was alive, to see if I could do something to help, CPR maybe, or by applying pressure to a wound to stop the bleeding. I stepped forward and saw a hand, its fingers curled like talons, clutching something pale and wispy. The skin was flour white. I squatted and touched a finger — it was cold. I stood, took another deep breath, and forced myself to walk around the island and view the face, knowing before I looked what I would see.
"Oh, God," I whispered.
His eyes were open and staring at the ceiling.
I couldn't move. I could barely breathe. My first thought was that just this morning Frankie had stood in my office, joking, and now he was dead, and from the ghastly dent in his skull, I could tell that he'd been murdered. My second thought was for Zoë. She'd be shattered, just crushed. As far as I knew, besides her kids, Frankie was her only family.
The soft hum of a car engine broke the silence. A vehicle was approaching. The sound grew louder, then stopped. The killer, I thought. My eyes lit on the rolling pin and towel. He's come back to clean up. I'd read that killers were often drawn to the scenes of their crimes. I heard a car door slam; then, seconds later, the ship's bells sounded. Still I couldn't move. Someone jiggled the front doorknob, and as if the sound released me from a trance, I flew across the room and fled.
Excerpted from Silent Auction by Jane K. Cleland. Copyright © 2010 Jane K. Cleland. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
Publishers Weekly "This smartly plotted mystery is chock full of antique information that will delight and educate readers."
RT Book Reviews "The small-town setting and the details about maritime antiques, framed by the running of an antiques appraisal and auction business, add to the story."
Meet the Author
JANE K. CLELAND once owned a rare book and antiques store in New Hampshire and now lives in New York City. An Anthony Award and two-time Agatha Award finalist, she is a past president of the New York chapter of Mystery Writers of America and chair of the Wolfe Pack literary awards.
JANE K. CLELAND once owned a New Hampshire-based antiques and rare books business. She is the author of several previous Josie Prescott Antiques mysteries, has been a finalist for the Macavity, Anthony, and Agatha awards and has twice won the David Award for Best Novel. Jane is the former president of the New York chapter of the Mystery Writers of America and chairs the Wolfe Pack’s Black Orchid Novella Award. She is part of the English faculty at Lehman College and lives in New York City.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Selling sex Res 1
He jammed his whole fist into her vag<_>ina mercilessly
Finn......you still there
A sleek young girl who looks about the age of 16 walks in. Her flaming red hair is covering her brown-green eyes. She nervously fiddles with her finger nails. Her usually prosperous mood is yet to be turned on.
The tall, slim yet curvy, girl walked in. Her blonde hair falling loosely down her back. She had emerald eyes, and fair skin.
Ima buy u
She looked around at her new facility and nodded.
Jup result one
A boy rushes in and picks her up, taking her to &9999 first result
Walks in. I heard there was an auction.
Sure. This has proven unsuccessful. Oh and you are officially a member of PTTGCTP!
*smiles and sucks her t.its*
Dances then gets a beer then gets drunk and falls down then black out oh hi
Raced in snarling. She ran to jaypetal. "Come on! Lets go!"
Cloud city result one.
She humms 'if today was your last day' boredly
Looked confused. "Why would you sell people?!" (She's oblivious.... gonna have to catch her. ;) )
I will fuq u!!
She walks in.