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Billy Ray Teschel became a buzzard buffet along 1-77 on a Monday afternoon atprecisely 4:01 Eastern Standard Time. Eyewitnesses say his car careered down thatsteep incline between Elkin, North Carolina and Hillsville, Virginia, ricochetingfirst off the guardrail and then the opposite embankment. When it hit theguardrail the second time, the Honda Accord opened up like a pull-top can andparts of Billy Ray were strewn along the highway like a trail of Vienna sausages.
Since I had yet to even hear of the man, and had no idea how he would affect mylife, I had no compunction about hosting a party at that exact moment in my shop,the Den of Antiquity, in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was a victory celebration.1, Abigail Timberlake, had just that morning come into possession of an exquisiteantique English tea service. It had been a fast and furious auction at PurnellPurvis's Auction Barn in nearby Pineville, but I had been uncharacteristicallyreckless with my resources. Everyone gasped at my final bid, but it was thewinner. At the party a few diehards were still gasping.
"You paid twenty thousand for that?" Wynnell Crawford asked for nearly the twentythousandth time.
"You were at the auction, dear," I said, my patience wearing thin.
Wynnell is a fellow antiques dealer and my dearest friend, but she is stuck in atime warp when it comes to money. She is genuinely shocked each time we go outfor coffee and the bill tops a dollar. The woman makes her own clothes frightful creations all-because she refuses to pay even Goodwill prices. Buttrust me, Wynnell is well heeled, and in no need of your pity. Her otherwisetight fist opensup considerably when it comes to marking up her merchandise.
"Twenty thousand is more than I paid for my first house," Wynnell said, shakingher head in disbelief.
"That was in 1956, dear. Besides, I already have a customer lined up who will paythirty."
"Thousand?" Wynnell's hedgerow eyebrows were arched in mock surprise. Itwas all an act. She would gladly sell it for forty grand if it were hers.
A sudden whiff of deodorant working overtime reminded me of the fact dud we werenot alone. Half the antique dealers on Selwyn Avenue had shown up for theimpromptu bash we are a close-knit community, after all. But that is not tosay that we all like each other equally. Frankly, if it wasn't for his charmingEnglish accent, I wouldn't be able to stand Major Calloway, our local antiquearms expert.
"Don't tell me it's that couple up in Belmont again," the major said. "That manwho calls himself a captain?"
I smiled pleasantly. "That's confidential, dear. And anyway, who are you toquestion Captain Keffert's rank?"
The major claims to have served in the British army in Punjab, back in the daysof the raj, and even dresses in uniforms of that period. Nobody in Charlottebelieves him. Unless the man has had a total makeover by Cher's plastic surgeon,be isn't a day older than sixty, and even that would mean he was only an infantwhen he was assigned to his first posting on the Indian subcontinent.
"I'll have you know I was commissioned by the viceroy himself," he snapped
"Captain Keffert was commissioned by Captain Crunch," I snapped back.
"Very funny," he growled.
"Our Abby's a hoot," Wynnell said kindly, although I really didn't need her tocome to my defense.
"Yeah? Well, she doesn't let anyone else get a crack at the good stuff when itshows up at Purvis's Auction Barn. Just because she has big bucks, she thin she'shot stuff."
I couldn't believe my ears. The man was actually bitter at having lost his bidfor the silver. It didnt make a lick of sense because the major doesn't stockmerchandise even remotely resembling English tea sets
"I don't think I'm hot stuff," I hissed, "and my bucks are none of yourbusiness!"
The major turned sourly away and I glared dutifully at his back. Meanwhile moreof my true friends circled round me like a string of prairie schooners.
"Congratulations, Abby!" Peggy Redfern squealed and wrapped me in her arms.
I gently pushed her away. Peggy attended the Tammy Faye school of makeup, and Iwas wearing a white linen jacket.
"Thanks," I said. "You were bidding pretty fast and furious against me there fora while. What happened?"
Bright blue eyelids fluttered as she shrugged. "I guess it's that 'cash andcarry' rule mean old Purnell Purvis insists on. With those renovations I did tomy shop last month, that much cash is a little hard to come by."
I nodded. The truth is, that woman is always hard up for cash thanks to herpenchant for buying expensive presents for handsome young men. Rumor has it thatPeggy has more notches in her bedpost than cable has channels.
A faint cough behind me was the signal that Gretchen Miller was gearing up tospeak. I turned and smiled at her. She is the current president of the SelwynAvenue Antique Dealers Association and a woman of few words.
Precisely because she is such a taciturn woman, I treasure each of her words asif they were pearls.
"You did well, Abby."
"Thank you, dear," I said. "I know you wanted the tea set. Better luck nexttime."
Gretchen raised and lowered her oversized tortoiserimmed glasses inacknowledgment. Apparently four pearls were all she was willing to dispense thatday.
"Hey, doll," a tall handsome man said, "I want you to know I covet your set."
I arched my back and poked Rob Goldman in the stomach. With my finger.
Precisely because she is such a taciturn woman,...