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The Longest Yard Sale
By Sherry Harris
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Sherry Harris
All rights reserved.
My personal D-day had arrived. While I wasn't going to storm the beaches of Normandy, hopefully by day's end the invasion I'd planned would also be a huge success. I tucked a map, marked with strategic locations and weak points, under my arm. I grabbed the ridiculous earpiece and lapel mike the town manager deemed essential for our communications. In a few hours, I'd launch New England's Largest Yard Sale.
In April when my landlady, Stella Wild, mentioned that her Aunt Nancy wanted to attract more tourists to Ellington, Massachusetts, my adopted hometown, I'd casually suggested throwing New England's Largest Yard Sale. I didn't realize that offhanded comment would result in me being hired, at a hefty fee, to run the event. But here I was, up early on a Saturday morning, energy thrumming through my body like the beat of a rap song.
For the past five months, I'd planned, promoted, and argued with the enemy. Okay, enemy might be a bit strong; naysayers would be more appropriate. The main naysayer was my ex-husband, CJ Hooker, police chief of Ellington, and therefore along with him the entire police department. They'd voiced concerns about traffic, crowd control, and riffraff coming to town. But Nancy Elder envisioned publicity, money in the town coffers, and maybe a political career beyond town manager. She'd beaten the police department into submission. That was before we unleashed the full glory of our plan.
Not only would there be the main event on the town common across from my apartment; we'd cajoled and coerced over 50 percent of the population into having their own yard sales at their homes on the same day. Churches and community organizations jumped on the bandwagon, adding their own events, car washes, book fairs, and bake sales. I'd been writing a column about organizing yard sales in the local paper. It had been picked up by a few other papers around New England. Nancy had been interviewed by the Boston Globe, the Boston television stations, and the Nashua, New Hampshire, and Lowell, Massachusetts, newspapers. She was very pleased. This would be the biggest event in Ellington since the start of the Revolutionary War, and would hopefully go off without any bloodshed.
After scooping up a jacket and my purse, I closed the door to my apartment, one of four in an old colonial home, with a quiet click. The apartment next to mine sat empty.
I crossed the foyer to the steps, trying not to wake Stella or the Callahans, who lived below me, as I left. I crept down the staircase but stopped halfway. A man stood with his hand on the knob of Stella's door. He was thin and tall, with one of those two-days growth of beard that under other circumstances might look sexy.
Scenarios zipped through my mind as I scrambled to figure out what I should do. Scream? Run? Attack? Between fight and flight was the rarely talked-about freeze, those few seconds of hesitation in which I was currently trapped. The man turned just as I opened my mouth to scream. I quickly swallowed the scream.
"Bubbles?" I asked in astonishment as I trotted down the last few stairs. Thoughts of being quiet evaporated with the shock of seeing David "Bubbles" Jackson standing outside Stella's door. CJ and I had been stationed with Bubbles years ago. I hadn't seen him in a long time.
Stella's door jerked open. Stella looked from Bubbles to me and didn't look surprised to see either of us. Which surprised me. Stella wore a slinky, silk robe of the palest green. It set off her olive, Mediterranean skin and deep green eyes. Her hair was messy and her skin a bit flushed.
It took me only a couple of seconds longer to put two and two together, or in this case one and one. "You know Bubbles?" I asked Stella.
"Bubbles?" Stella widened her eyes.
I gestured up and down at Bubbles as much as I could despite having the map tucked under my arm and carrying my purse and jacket.
"It's my call sign," Bubbles said. He had deep brown eyes that always showed his emotions and dark lashes that framed them. Right now they sparkled with fun and satisfaction.
Stella looked mystified.
"It's a nickname," Bubbles said. "From the air force."
I snorted. "That's a bit of an understatement." I looked at Stella. "It has something to do with an incident in a swimming pool and a bit of gas."
Stella glanced between us as if trying to decide if this was a joke.
"I know. It's a bit gross," I said. "CJ's call sign is Hooker; his last name sufficed as a joke." Until CJ had retired last year, he'd served for twenty years in the air force with the security forces.
Bubbles grinned. "Sarah, why are you lurking around on the steps?"
"I live upstairs. Stella's my landlady."
"When Stella told me she had a pain-in-the-neck tenant upstairs, I never dreamed it would be you. Small world, huh?"
Stella opened her mouth to protest. Bubbles winked at her as he hugged me, enveloping me in his arms for a brief second. Then he held me away from him. "You look great."
I had to agree. I looked pretty darn cute this morning in my favorite jeans tucked into boots I'd probably later regret wearing and a long-sleeved, sky-blue V-necked T-shirt. Even my blondish hair cooperated, swinging sleekly just below my shoulders. I'd managed not to stick the mascara wand in my eye, quite an accomplishment at six AM, or really, any time of day for me.
"You're looking good yourself," I said. "But what are you doing here?"
"Leaving," he said.
"I don't mean here in the foyer. That seems pretty obvious. I mean in Ellington," I said.
"I got stationed at Fitch a few months ago." Fitch was the air force base bordered by Ellington, Bedford, Concord, Lexington, and Lincoln. CJ and I had lived there for two years. Last December he'd been getting ready to retire and take over as Ellington's chief of police when a young enlisted troop member falsely accused him of having an affair with her. The accusation led to CJ retiring quickly—and to our divorce.
"We met at karaoke. At Gillganins," Stella said before I could ask, not that I would have in front of Bubbles.
Gillganins was an Irish pub close to the base. Not only was Stella my landlady, but we were both in our late thirties and about five-six, and we were becoming friends.
"I've got to run." I held up my map, purse, and jacket. The earpiece and mike dangled from my fingers. At least we didn't wake up the Callahans, who lived across the hall from Stella. They must have taken their hearing aids out.
Bubbles brushed a kiss across my cheek, laid one on Stella, and walked out with me.
* * *
Bubbles and I parted ways on the wide porch. He climbed in a dirty, old beater of a pickup truck and left with a wave. I took a moment to look over the town common's wide expanse of lawn. It was broken by a long sidewalk that meandered the city block from the Congregational church on one end of the common to Great Road on the other. The town common was a hub of activity for Ellington—the apple festival in September, an ice rink in the winter, and my favorite event in the spring, Prom Stroll, when most of the townspeople lined the sidewalk as each couple attending prom was announced and paraded their sparkling dresses and sleek tuxes as photos were snapped and people applauded.
For the moment all was still as the sky lightened. The sun would rise in about fifteen minutes. I breathed in the crisp fall air, tinged with the scent of fallen leaves. As I trotted down the porch stairs and crossed the narrow street, Nancy's shrill voice called out.
"Sarah Winston, where have you been?"
I glanced at my watch. It was six thirty-one. Yeesh, we'd agreed to meet at six-thirty, but that was Nancy for you. She had the precision of a drill sergeant, only she was more demanding. She marched across the town common toward me as I picked up my pace to match hers. The Congregational church, four stories of white wood plus a steeple, loomed behind her. It always spooked me a little at night, with its wavy, glass windows staring blankly out, but in the early-morning light it glowed. Nancy's brown hair bobbed around her ears as she came toward me.
"Why isn't your earpiece on?" she asked when we met near the church steps.
I sucked in a sigh and smiled. None of the vendors had shown up yet. The event started at nine. I put everything down on a table Nancy had set up near the entrance to the towering church. I slipped on my jacket and slung the long strap of my purse across my body so I wouldn't have to hold it. Nancy clipped the lapel mike to my jacket. I dutifully adjusted the earpiece as I wondered again where she'd procured equipment that seemed worthy of the Secret Service.
"Nice equipment," I said.
Nancy nodded. "Let's do a sound test." She walked a few feet away. "Testing, testing," blasted into my ear. I hoped this thing had a volume control. I answered with a "testing" of my own.
"It works," she said. "Testing done." Once she returned to my side, she handed me a cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee from the table. The broad entrance of the church would serve as a stage for various musical and dance groups that were scheduled to perform during the day. We spread out the town map and the diagram I'd drawn showing each vendor's space on the common.
"Thanks for the coffee," I said.
"Walk me through the events again," Nancy demanded.
I winced at her tone and reminded myself that Nancy—well, the town—paid me a lot of money to run this event. I'd just have to bite my tongue for another twelve hours. At this rate, I'd have one very sore and swollen tongue by the end of the day.
Even though Nancy must surely know all this by heart, I led her around the common, pointing out where different booths would sit. I pointed out the kiddie area, where there'd be apple bobbing, face painting, and storytelling, among other things. I walked her through the schedule.
"Do you think we can pull this off?" she asked.
I almost dropped my cup of coffee. Nancy rarely showed a vulnerable side. She was one of those women whose look was always polished. None of her clothes were ever wrinkled, torn, or stained. Even at an event like this, she had on a red power suit and pumps. At least she'd be easy to spot in the crowd, even though she was half a head shorter than me.
It was a little late to be questioning our plans now. "It's going to be a huge success," I said. I hoped I was right.
"And the weather?"
It wasn't like I had any control over that. "A postcard-worthy autumn day in New England." Good thing I'd checked before I left the house.
"What about the noon flyby of the F-15s from Barnes?"
My jaw dropped. Flyby? Barnes was the air national guard unit in Westfield. Had I dropped the ball on something? My heart pounded harder than the feet of the Irish step-dancing troupe I'd watched practice for this event. I started flipping through notes on my phone, my hand shaking. "I'm sorry, Nancy, but I—"
"Gotcha. No flybys," she said with a smile before going over to refill her coffee.
"Ha," I called after her. "Very funny." I patted my chest, and my heart finally settled back into a more normal rhythm.
By seven, most of the vendors were jockeying for parking spots close to their booths. White canopy tents dotted the lawn. Early birds arrived and plucked items out of the backs of the vendors' trucks, trying to make a deal before the stuff hit the stands. I flew from vendor to vendor, helping where needed, exhilarated by the energy in the air. I texted Stella when I spotted a vendor with beautiful old sheet music, some with hand-colored covers that would be fabulous framed. I fired off a few more texts as I spotted things my friends collected—vintage tablecloths, cobalt glass, and silver spoons.
At nine o'clock, the town common was packed, and the surrounding streets were at a standstill. Nancy stood on the steps of the church, mike in hand, trying to get everyone's attention. No one stopped what they were doing, though a few did glance over when the mike squawked. Two seconds later, Nancy screeched through my earpiece.
"No one is paying attention to me," she said.
Big shock. This was a yard sale, and an enormous one at that. "I tried to explain to you that this isn't the kind of event where people will want to stop and listen to someone speak. They're afraid someone else will find a hidden treasure or make a better deal if they stop to listen." At least I'd convinced her not to do a ribbon cutting. What an argument that had been. "The newspaper and local-access TV people are here. Go ahead and give your speech. They'll record it, and no one will ever know you don't have a huge audience."
She gasped into my ear. "You're right."
The mike squawked again, and Nancy plunged into her speech. A few people applauded politely when she finished. Nancy beamed her megawatt, mega-white smile for the photographer. A rock band took over as soon as she'd finished speaking.
I roamed around, wishing I had time to barter for things for myself—a red purse, an antique chair, a chenille bedspread. Nothing pumped me up like making a deal. I consoled myself by remembering my apartment was small enough that I didn't have room for much else, anyway. I spotted a vendor with beautiful old prints and boxes of empty, antique frames.
"I hand-color the prints," the vendor told me.
"I'm going to let a friend of mine know about all these frames." I sent a text to my artist friend Carol Carson, who owned a store, Paint and Wine. It was located on Great Road at the end of the town common in a line of storefronts. A few months ago I'd introduced her to the joys of garage and tag sales, and now she was always on the hunt.
I spent the next few hours monitoring the vendors, helping lost tourists, reuniting kids with parents, and settling the occasional argument that broke out when two people wanted the same item. I saw lots of people I knew but never had time to stop and talk to them.
"You have to do something about the traffic." Nancy's voice boomed through my earpiece.
I don't know what she thought I could do. I turned and looked over my shoulder at Great Road. I'd done my best to ignore it up to this point. If I'd thought it was jammed at 7:30, what it looked like now would have done New York City proud. The good news was that lots of people milled about, visiting the shops and restaurants along Great Road.
Carol's shop looked packed with people, and my favorite restaurant, DiNapoli's Roast Beef and Pizza, had a line out the door. A faint whiff of roast beef drifted over to me, and my stomach growled in response. My earpiece crackled.
"Chief Hooker just called, and he's not happy. Great Road is slow on either end of Ellington, all the way from Bedford to Carlisle."
"We both knew there was a possibility this could happen." This probably wasn't the right time to remind her I'd suggested having people park at the high school and run buses back and forth between there and the town common. "It means the event is a big success. Didn't you authorize some overtime for traffic control?" I asked. I could hear horns honking as people became impatient with the wait on Great Road. I hoped I could avoid CJ for the next few days until he got over this.
"Yes, of course I did," she said. "With all this traffic, it really will be New England's Largest Yard Sale. I wasn't sure you could pull it off."
I couldn't believe Nancy had thought I'd fail. She'd hired me, after all. But it was her political career that was on the line if something went terribly wrong.
"I'll tell CJ to get his officers out there and keep the traffic moving," Nancy said.
She could tell CJ that until she was blue in the face, but the truth was Great Road was a main cut-through from the 95, which connected Maine to Miami, and to the 495, which circumvented Boston. (The locals always made fun of my California speak, which had me using the word the before 95 or any other road number I referenced.) It was going to take more than a few police officers to get the road going again. I turned my back to Great Road and looked up at the church steeple reaching toward the bright blue sky. The weather was perfect. The trees were changing, the meteorologists had gotten it right, and I couldn't ask for a better New England autumn day. I focused on all the positives.
Excerpted from The Longest Yard Sale by Sherry Harris. Copyright © 2015 Sherry Harris. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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