HER BROTHER IS NO BARGAIN
When Sarah Winston’s estranged brother Luke shows up on her doorstep, asking her not to tell anyone he’s in town—especially her ex, the chief of police—the timing is strange, to say the least. Hours earlier, Sarah’s latest garage sale was taped off as a crime scene following the discovery of a murdered Vietnam vet and his gravely injured wife—her clients, the Spencers.
BUT IS HE A KILLER?
All Luke will tell Sarah is that he’s undercover, investigating a story. Before she can learn more, he vanishes as suddenly as he appeared. Rummaging through his things for a clue to his whereabouts, Sarah comes upon a list of veterans and realizes that to find her brother, she’ll have to figure out who killed Mr. Spencer. And all without telling her ex . . .
Praise for the Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries
“There’s a lot going on in this charming mystery, and it all works . . . Well written and executed, this is a definite winner. Bargain-hunting has never been so much fun!” —RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars on All Murders Final!
“Full of garage-sale tips . . . amusing. A solid choice for fans of Jane K. Cleland’s Josie Prescott Antique Mystery series.” —Library Journal on Tagged for Death
About the Author
Sherry Harris is the author of Agatha Award-nominated Best First Novel Tagged for Death, The Longest Yard Sale, and All Murders Final! Sherry started bargain hunting in second grade at her best friend’s yard sale. She honed her bartering skills as she moved around the country while her husband served in the Air Force. Sherry combined her love of garage sales, her life as an Air Force spouse, and her time living in Massachusetts as inspiration for this series. Sherry is an independent editor for fiction and nonfiction writers, a member of Sisters in Crime, Sisters in Crime New England, and Sisters in Crime Chesapeake Chapter. She blogs with New England mystery writers at WickedCozyAuthors.com.
Read an Excerpt
A Good Day To Buy
By Sherry Harris
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Sherry Harris
All rights reserved.
Love fades. People change. It's happened to me. I'll fall in love and buy something, but in a few years, I'm ready to move on. Fortunately it happened to other people as well, which was what kept my garage sale business growing. But today my client was a story all her own.
"Sarah Winston, are you going to sell my Pyrex for so little? You might as well give it away." Not only did Mrs. Spencer's voice shake but her whole body did too — even her rigidly hair-sprayed, gray curls. She snatched the red Pyrex bowl out of my hand and thrust it at the startled woman standing in front of me.
"Go ahead, take it. Just take whatever you want."
The woman looked at me with raised eyebrows. I gave her a small nod before turning back to Mrs. Spencer. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the woman hurry to her car. Happily, we were having a lull in the Spencer garage sale so there weren't a lot of people to witness the outburst or decide to help themselves to items based on Mrs. Spencer's comment.
I'd tried to be patient with Mrs. Spencer over the last two weeks since the Spencers had hired me to run a garage sale for them this Saturday. Mostly because I loved her husband, a Vietnam vet. He'd decided it was time to downsize and head south to Florida to be near their son and grandchildren. Mrs. Spencer was on board with the move to Florida, but not with the downsizing. While I wouldn't call her a hoarder, she was definitely an avid collector and she didn't want to part with anything.
Her cupboards and closets bulged with everything from old aluminum foil pans to plastic Dunkin' Donuts cups to embroidered samplers her ancestors had made. Her biggest problem was not knowing which things had value, like the samplers, and which didn't. I sighed and shook my head. Actually that wasn't true. Her biggest problem was that she was just a piece of work. I didn't know how her husband, a gentle, patient man, put up with her. I'd have killed her long before now.
Not long after they'd hired me, I'd called Mrs. Spencer by her first name, Velma. She'd laid into me about respecting my elders and knowing my place. I was the hired help. Since that day, I'd called her Mrs. Spencer and her husband Mr. Spencer, even though he'd asked me to call him Verne. Better to be overly polite than to incite more of Mrs. Spencer's wrath.
I smiled as Mr. Spencer came outside just then, taking Mrs. Spencer's elbow. He was looking especially spiffy this morning in a bomber jacket, newsboy-style hat, pressed khakis, and a plaid shirt. He winked at me over her head. "How about a cup of coffee, dear? I brought you some of those Italian cookies you like from DiNapoli's." Her body relaxed and she allowed herself to be pulled away from the sale and into the Cape-style house.
A man approached me, carrying the last of the five wooden lobster traps the Spencers had for sale. "I'll give you ten bucks for this."
In your dreams. I had it priced at a hundred and twenty-five dollars, and that was a bargain. It was a real, wooden vintage trap. People loved to use them as bases for coffee tables. I could picture setting one on its end, adding some shelves, and using it as a nightstand. Or adding long legs and turning it into a small desk. Inwardly, I'd hoped they wouldn't all sell, but that was as much of a dream as this man's offer.
"I can do one-twenty," I countered. The other four had sold first thing for full price. Earlier, two people had argued over one and an interior designer had offered to pay fifty dollars over the asking price. Mr. Spencer had brought this one out when he'd seen how much they were going for. It made me wonder what else he had stashed that I hadn't seen.
"You aren't even taking ten percent off." He glared at me.
Better men than you have tried to intimidate me. Ten percent was standard in lots of cases. "It's the best I can do."
"I ain't paying that much for something at a garage sale."
It was a common problem. Just because it was a garage sale didn't necessarily mean it was cheap. I understood where he was coming from though. Everyone wanted to find something of value and pay next to nothing for it. "Sorry. It's my best offer."
A woman came over and stood next to him. "We'll take it." She opened her purse and pulled out the cash as the bargain hunter beside her stood with his mouth open. It took all my strength not to smile. This woman got pricing.
"Did you see the wooden lobster trap buoys?" I asked the woman. Now I was trying to upsell. "There are only a few of them left."
She whipped her head around when I pointed at a table. Mr. Spencer had an extensive collection, which he'd winnowed down to seven that he wanted to keep. Mrs. Spencer didn't like them so they'd been banished to the garage, where they hung by thick ropes on a pegboard.
"What the heck are you going to do with those?" her husband asked.
"I've seen them turned in to the base of a lamp," I said. "Or stuck in a trap like yours for decoration." If I had a bigger place, I would have bought some myself.
"Or hung on a wall — inside or out," the woman added as she snatched two off the table. She didn't even ask for a better price. As they walked off, I heard him say, "Some negotiator you turned out to be." His wife snapped something back, but I couldn't hear what.
The lull gave me time to straighten things up. I'd tried a new system today because I found pricing every single item tedious and time consuming. Today I'd color-coordinated plastic tablecloths to bright matching circle stickers. All the dollar items had yellow stickers and sat on tables with yellow cloths, five-dollar items had red stickers and cloths, etc. Anything over twenty-five was priced individually. I'd also posted signs showing the color of the item and the price.
The stickers on clothes had been a bit tricky because they tended to fall off. They worked best when stuck to a tag with the size or washing instructions. I'd priced some of the more valuable items in two places. One that was obvious and easy to see and one less obvious, like inside a vase or on the bottom of a chair. I hoped this would impede sneaky people who moved stickers from one item to another. It happened all too often at garage sales, but I couldn't control everything. Which is one of the reasons I'd hired Lindsay, a high school girl, to help keep an eye on things. She was a former neighbor when I'd lived on nearby Fitch Air Force Base. She was already straightening and reorganizing.
"Thanks, Lindsay," I called. "Help yourself to some coffee and donut holes." Lindsay nodded. Her long, golden-brown ponytail swayed as she worked. Hopefully, we would have a few minutes before more people descended. Mr. Spencer was getting rid of lots of tools, camping equipment, and hunting and fishing gear, which meant there had been more men at the sale than usual. Mentioning all of it at the beginning of the online ads I'd placed had worked out well.
I looked across the yard as rock music played from speakers I'd hooked my old iPod to. I'd bought colorful balloons to pass out to kids, plus some wash-off tattoos and a big box of Dunkin' Donuts coffee and donut holes. Mrs. Spencer had complained vehemently about me wasting money until I'd explained I'd done it all on my dime.
This was my first big sale of the season, and I wanted it to be fun, not only for the Spencers but for the people who came. And it was working. People bopped their heads to the beat of the songs and smiled. One group of women had even stopped shopping to sing part of Meat Loaf's "Paradise by the Dashboard Light." I would have joined in if I hadn't been so busy.
I hoped it would help my business too. So far, so good. Three people had asked me to organize sales for them and merchandise was moving fast. The warm early May weather lent to the overall party atmosphere. Forsythias blossomed with bright pops of yellow. The air was scented with lilac and warming earth. I was thankful because May in Massachusetts could be dicey. Although I'd learned since I'd moved here three years ago that any month in Massachusetts could be dicey. In my book that's just another reason to love living here.
By ten, the sunny skies had lured more people out, making the lull short-lived. Several groups of friends stopped by, but with the crowds, I only had time to say hi. Soon, I was negotiating the price of an oil painting of a harbor scene with a man who enjoyed bartering as much as I did.
A shrill shriek pierced the crowd. I jerked my head up and looked around. Oh no. What now? A little girl pointed up, emitting a sound that would have dogs cowering, as her lime-green balloon drifted away. Lindsay rushed another balloon to the girl, tied it securely around her wrist, and the shrieking mercifully stopped.
My heartbeat dropped back to the normal range as I countered the offer on the painting. The man and I went back and forth until we agreed on a price. Both of us left smiling — that was the fun part of the sale.
While I did all the bargaining and kept all the money, Lindsay continued to help people find things and did a great job of putting items back as they were moved from table to table. I was grateful Mr. Spencer had taken Mrs. Spencer inside to keep her out of my hair. It was hard to bargain with Mrs. Spencer watching my every move and giving people the evil eye when they bought something. I empathized with her difficulty in parting with her possessions. As a former Air Force wife, I had parted with many things over the years, as well as places I loved, dear friends, and even my husband.
While someone paid me for a captain's chair, a woman headed toward the part of the garage that was off limits to the public. I'd hung sheets with clothespins to divide the public and private space.
"You can't go back there," I called to the woman.
It didn't stop her, so I hurried after her. Mr. Spencer had a lot of expensive tools stored in a work space at the back of the garage. Mrs. Spencer resented he wasn't selling more of "his crap" as she called it. I'd heard numerous arguments on that topic over the past two weeks. The woman parted the curtain anyway.
She screamed and stumbled back, pulling one of the sheets down. I gasped, taking in the scene. The Spencers lay sprawled across the concrete floor. Mr. Spencer was on his stomach, head turned to one side, eyes open. Blood pooled under his head. Mrs. Spencer was curled into a fetal position near his feet.CHAPTER 2
I raced toward them, pulled my cell phone out of my pocket, and dialed 911. Lindsay ran over to me.
"Keep everyone back unless someone thinks they can help. No one else comes in the garage. And don't let anyone leave if you can stop them." It was a lot to ask a seventeen-year-old, but I knew Lindsay could handle it.
"Okay." Lindsay hustled to the front of the garage. "Is anyone here a doctor or nurse?"
I glanced back as a crowd of people stood at the garage door gawking. "Unless you can help, get back," I shouted. No one came forward. Lindsay put her arms out and started shooing them back.
As soon as the 911 dispatcher came on the line, I gave her the address. "This is Sarah Winston. I've got two badly injured people. One may be dead."
"I'll make sure Chief Hooker knows what's happened." Sadly, the 911 operators were all too familiar with me. I checked for pulses as I talked to the dispatcher, but couldn't find one for Mr. Spencer. I hoped it was because I wasn't trained to find it, but the way his eyes looked blankly at the wall didn't give me much hope. A faint beat pulsed from Mrs. Spencer's neck when I pressed my cold fingers to it. But she didn't move when I called her name.
"What's the extent of their injuries?" the dispatcher asked.
"I'm not sure. Mr. Spencer has blood near his head. I can't imagine what happened."
I looked around. The back door of the garage was open. The backyard stretched to one of the many wooded paths that wove around and through Ellington. I saw a brown blur of movement, the impression of a man running. There were popular trails through much of the conservancy land, but that wasn't a jogger. It was someone fleeing.
* * *
I started to rise to go after him. But I quickly sank back to the floor next to Mrs. Spencer. Chasing a possible murderer through the woods was a terrible idea. I told the dispatcher what I'd seen. Maybe the police could catch him at the end of the trail. I stroked Mrs. Spencer's arm as we waited. I told her everything would be all right, even though I knew I was lying. With her beloved husband dead, her world would never be the same.
I studied the garage, trying to note what, if anything, was different from how it had been early this morning. On the workbench, a few tools were askew, as was the pegboard hanging above it. Maybe there had been a struggle. It couldn't have been too prolonged or loud, or surely I would have heard something.
The song "Help" by The Beatles boomed from the speakers outside. It made me realize the music must have blocked any sounds of fighting. I'd never imagined the music would allow a bad person to do something horrible. It was supposed to be fun.
Both of the Spencers had multiple bruises. Mr. Spencer's plaid shirt was askew and his hand was out as if he was reaching for something. There were some tools scattered on the floor, along with a brightly painted wooden lobster trap buoy on a thick rope, Mr. Spencer's Purple Heart medal, and a white business-size envelope with cash spilling from it. I squinted and saw most of the bills were hundreds. That couldn't have been money for the sale because I always asked my clients to get an assortment of small bills. What could possibly have gone on back here? It must have been an attempted robbery, but somehow the word "payoff" popped into my head.
Why? I realized how little I knew about the Spencers other than that they wanted to move to Florida. I'd grown fond of Mr. Spencer over the past two weeks I'd been working at their house. What a contrast he was to his wife. But other than having a fairly intimate knowledge of their household goods, I knew almost nothing about them.
* * *
The EMTs and police converged at once. I hurried over to Lindsay after a police officer ordered me out of the garage. Someone re-hung the sheet for privacy.
"Are you okay?" I asked her. Quite a few people still stood on the front lawn. Some huddled in groups. Others talked on their cell phones. A few filmed everything like this was a sporting event. I hated to think this tragedy might go viral online.
Lindsay jabbed a finger at the street. "A few people left even though I told them not to."
"Don't worry about it," I said. "It's not like you could sit on them." I pulled off the light sweater I'd worn this morning for our eight-o'clock start.
"I couldn't believe it. What's wrong with people?" Lindsay said. "But I took pictures of them and their license plates." She held up her iPhone.
I smiled at her. "Good thinking." It was possible whoever attacked the Spencers might have blended back into the crowd. Could someone be that cold? I thought about the man I'd seen near the woods. Maybe he had a good reason to be there, but he certainly seemed suspicious to me. "Will you send the photos to me?"
Lindsay nodded, and in a few seconds, my phone vibrated in my pocket as each picture came in. "You'd better call your mom," I told her.
"I already did." Lindsay's father had deployed last fall, and she'd come to me for support when she and her mom were fighting. When I'd asked her to help out with the garage sale, I'd never imagined anything like this would happen. Her mom wouldn't be happy.
Two EMTs hustled by with Mrs. Spencer on a gurney, an oxygen mask covering part of her pale, frail face, and an IV stuck in her arm. This was the first time I ever wished I could hear her voice berating me for not valuing her things. I waited but couldn't see what was going on behind the sheets. Soon enough, another set of EMTs came out. They walked slowly and lugged their equipment. I knew it meant Mr. Spencer was dead. I dug my nails into the palms of my hand. Keep it together.
More police cars arrived, and officers Pellner and Awesome, whose real name was Nathan Bossum, climbed out of a car. Awesome had joined the Ellington police force last winter after leaving the New York City Police Department. He dated my friend and landlady, Stella Wild. Pellner had been with the force for years. We'd had a rocky start when we first met last spring, but had slowly eased into a friendly-ish relationship.
Pellner headed over to me, and Awesome hustled over to the garage and disappeared behind the sheets I'd hung so carefully earlier this morning. If only I hadn't, maybe none of this would have happened, at least not in the garage where they couldn't be seen. I should have cordoned the back off with a rope and a sign that said PRIVATE. But no, I had to hang the sheets. It was the one thing I'd done Mrs. Spencer had approved of. That in itself should have been a sign.
Excerpted from A Good Day To Buy by Sherry Harris. Copyright © 2017 Sherry Harris. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.