Brandy Borne and her dramatically ditzy mother, Vivian, are stars of the new reality show, Antiques Sleuths. The season opens in a perfect locationa quaint old house echoing with the unsolved whispers of a 60-year-old axe murder. But when the show's producer meets a similarly grisly end, Brandy and Mother must chop around for clues, axe the right questions, and get the edge on a murderer's mysterious motives. Otherwise our sharp-witted sleuths may face cancellationon the cutting room floor!
Don't miss Brandy Borne's tips on antiques!
Praise for Barbara Allan and the Trash 'n' Treasures Mystery Series. . .
"Thrills, laugh-out-loud moments and amazingly real relationships." Romantic Times Book Reviews
"The characters shine with brassy humor." Publishers Weekly
"You'll laugh out loud." Mystery Scene
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
A Trash 'n' Treasures Mystery
By Barbara Allan
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2013 Max Allan Collins and Barbara Collins
All rights reserved.
Previously, in Antiques Knock-off ...
I don't remember walking from the backyard, where I'd been working, to the front porch, to sit in the old rocker ... but I must have, because half an hour later I was still there, rocking listlessly, letting the cool fall breeze rustle my shoulder-length bleached-blond hair, when a huge silver Hummer pulled into the drive.
I wondered what kind of moron would own such a gas-guzzling monster these days, when my question was answered by the driver who jumped out.
My ex-husband, Roger.
What was he doing here, showing up unannounced, coming all the way from Chicago?
Wearing a navy jacket over a pale yellow shirt, and tan slacks, he hurried toward me, locks of his brown hair flying out of place, his normally placid features looking grim.
Immediately my adrenaline began to rush, and I flew down the porch steps to meet him, worried that something might have happened to our son.
"What is it?" I asked. "Jake?"
Out of breath, Roger asked, "Why haven't you answered your cell? I've called and called!"
Taken aback, I sputtered, "I ... I've been in the yard all morning and didn't have it with me—what's going on?"
"Is Jake here?"
His words came in a quavering burst. "I was afraid of that."
"Roger! Stop scaring me."
A deep sigh rose from his toes. "I think he's run away."
As confused as I was concerned, I asked, "Why would he do that? He seemed fine yesterday when I talked to him." Then I frowned, recalling what our conversation had been about. "Only, uh ..."
Roger gripped my arm. "Brandy, if you know something that might have motivated Jake taking off like this, you need to tell me now."
Removing his hand gently, I said, "Roger, you better come sit down. Of course, I'll tell you what I know...."
And turning, I led him toward the porch.
As we sat in matching rockers—like the married couple we'd be if I hadn't ruined everything—I told Roger of my recent discovery of my true parentage: that thirty-one years ago, my older sister Peggy Sue had conceived me with then-state representative Edward Clark, while she had been a summer intern on his campaign. And that the grandmother I still called "Mother" had raised me as her own.
Roger's shock morphed into irritation, his eyebrows trying to climb to his hairline. "And you thought this information should be shared in a phone call with an im pressionable thirteen-year-old boy?"
I spread my hands. "There was no other way—with the senator's reelection campaign all over the news, my soap-opera parentage was going to be everywhere. I'm surprised you didn't hear about it."
He frowned, but his irritation had faded. "I've been away on business, pretty much constantly in meetings. When I got back, Jake was gone."
"Have you notified the police?"
Roger shook his head. "Hasn't been twenty-four hours yet. What a damn dumb rule! Don't they say that the more time that goes by, the colder the trail gets?"
I stiffened. "You don't think Jake has been kidnapped? Is that what you're saying?"
Roger certainly had the kind of money to warrant our son being that kind of target.
My ex leaned forward, rubbing his forehead. "No ... no ... I don't think there's much chance it's anything like that. There's been no phone call or note or any such thing."
"Then ... what do you think this is about?"
Roger took another deep breath. "Jake's been, well, a lot more of a handful than usual. Acting out at school and at home. All because lately he's been unhappy. He doesn't say so, but it's clear that's the problem. That's why I thought he might have come here. He's always been able to talk to you."
"What's he unhappy about, Roger?"
He shook his head. "Who knows what a boy of his age is thinking? School, friends, girls, he keeps it all inside. His grades are okay but his teachers complain about his attitude."
Suddenly I thought of someone who might know.
"I'm going to ask Mother when she last heard from Jake," I said, already on my feet. "You think he talks to me? He and his grandmother are thick as thieves, texting each other fast and furious."
Which she'd just mastered, after having a cell for five years.
He nodded his okay and I left my dejected ex on the porch while I headed inside.
Just under one minute later, I returned. "You should come in," I said, crooking a finger.
Roger followed me back in the house, and I led him into the dining room where Mother sat drinking a cup of coffee at the Duncan Phyfe table. She was wearing her favorite emerald-green pantsuit, her silver-gray hair neatly pinned in a bun, her magnified eyes behind the large glasses turned our way.
Next to her sat Jake.
He had on jeans and a gray sweatshirt with the Chicago Bears logo, and held a can of Coke in one hand, while the other draped down, scratching the head of Rocky, the mixed-breed mutt (complete with black circle around one eye) that we had recently taken in.
Sushi—my blind, diabetic, brown-and-white shih tzu, the "child" I'd retained custody of after the divorce—sat a few feet away, her little mouth in a pout, apparently due to the attention Jake was giving the new-dog-on-the-block.
"Oh, hi, Dad," Jake said, layering on a matter-of-fact attitude that didn't fully mask his sheepishness.
For a moment Roger's anger trumped his relief, but only for a moment. Father ran to son, throwing his arms around the boy's shoulders, hugging him.
Roger quite naturally scolded Jake for disappearing; Jake just as naturally apologized to his father for scaring him; Mother came to the defense of her grandson; Rocky—a former police dog—growled at my ex for his threatening tone of voice; and Sushi started yapping, not to be left out. For a while, I was glad just to be an interested spectator.
But finally, to stop the commotion, I raised my voice. "Jake, how did you get here, anyway? And if you hitchhiked, please lie to me and say you took a bus."
The boy looked my way. "I really did take the bus. Then walked from downtown."
Mother said to me, "You were out back, dear, when he arrived, about forty minutes ago. You seemed to have a lot on your mind, and I didn't want to disturb you."
Before I could decide whether to shake her till her bridgework rattled or just kick her in the keister, Roger exploded, "Forty minutes!"
"Well, of course, that's an approximation...."
"And it didn't occur to you, Viv, to call me? You didn't think I'd be worried half to death?"
Mother lifted her eyebrows above the big glasses. "I would have gotten around to it, Roger dearest, but my immediate concern was that Jake was all right. Besides, talking to the boy, he indicates you've been away on business for several days, and called him only once."
"That isn't fair."
"Leaving him alone in that big house. Why, he might have had one of those wild rock 'n' roll parties you see in the movies! Dancing in his underpants and with nubile young things doing the boogaloo in bikinis around the backyard pool!"
"I wish," Jake said.
Roger's mouth was open, but words weren't coming out.
Leaning against the doorjamb, arms folded, I said quietly, "Let's not make a federal case out of it, Roger. Mother was dealing with things in her own inimitable fashion. Our son has been found, and he's fine."
Or was he?
Suddenly impatient, Roger tapped Jake's shoulder. "Get your things, buddy boy."
Uh-oh—"buddy boy" was never a good sign....
Roger was saying, "We're going home right now."
But Jake stuck his chin out. "I just got here," he said stubbornly. "Why can't I stay a few days?"
And before Roger could protest, Mother said, "I understand that the boy has all of this week off. A rare benefit of being in one of those year-round schools."
Roger trained hard eyes on her. "And you want me to reward him for what he did?"
"No, dear," Mother said patiently. "Jake staying here for a few days wouldn't be a reward exactly ... more an opportunity for him to see that ... despite this distressing news about our, well, family tree ... nothing has really changed in our lives. Same-o same-o!"
"Even I can see that," Roger muttered, rolling his eyes. "Doesn't seem to really matter which branch of the family tree you swung in on, Vivian."
Did I mention that my ex never had gotten along with Mother?
Suddenly Jake's eyes became moist. "Does this mean I have t'call Aunt Peg 'Grandma'?"
"Certainly not, sweetheart," I interjected. "We're not at this late date changing the lineup on the team. Peggy Sue is still 'Sis' to me.... Just because she screwed up as a kid, that doesn't mean anything has changed."
Roger gave me an arched-eyebrow look that said: Screwed up? Really?
And I gave him a pained look that said: Double entendre not intended.
Mother leaned closer to Jake, peering into his face. "And so what if I'm technically your great-grandmother? Can you imagine a greater grandmother than moi?"
That made Jake smile. "You are great, Grand ma." He met his father's eyes. "Can't I stay, Dad? Please. I realize I was out of line, just taking off like that. Cut me a break, and I'll clean up my act back home. I promise."
Roger thought about it.
"Just for the week, Dad—I promise I'll behave."
Roger, with a half smirk, glancing Mother's way (and mine), said, "It's not your behavior that worries me, son."
"Oh, we'll behave," Mother responded, smiling a little too broadly. Sort of like the Cheshire Cat in Disney's Alice in Wonderland (cartoon version), right before he disappeared. "Won't we, Brandy, dear?"
"Sure. You're in luck, Roger. We're not involved in a murder investigation at the moment."
Roger shot me a reproachful glance. "I don't really find that funny, Brandy."
Wasn't meant to be. It was Mother's propensity for getting involved in such investigations that got us into trouble—not mine!
Jake jumped to his feet, threw his arms around his dad, gazed up with angelic innocence—it was over-the-top acting worthy of his grandmother. "Can I please stay?"
I already knew what my ex was going to say; I'd fallen prey to my offspring's baby blues many times.
"All right," Roger said, then waggled a finger. His next move on the parental/child chessboard was predictable and even kind of pitiful. "But when you get back, I want that room of yours cleaned."
Oh, so very little has changed in the negotiations between kid and parent. Well, some things have changed—you used to get sent to your room for punishment. Now every kid's room is a technological Briar Patch.
And before Mother could say something that would give Roger a change of heart, I offered to walk with him out to his Hummer, so we could finalize plans. Roger and I did get along, and we made a point of not using Jake to get back at each other.
As we descended the porch steps, I asked, "You'll be back on Sunday, then?"
Roger, digging in a pants pocket for keys, responded, "Late afternoon. That way we can be home in time for Jake to clean his room."
Did he really think that was going to happen?
"I could meet you halfway on the interstate," I offered.
Roger nodded toward the beast parked in front of his Hummer. "Not if you're still driving that broken-down Buick."
He had a point; last week a windshield wiper flew off while I was driving in pouring rain—luckily, on the passenger side.
We were by his Hummer now.
"Why don't you get a newer car?" he asked. "I'll buy it for you, if that's the problem...."
I looked at him sideways. Yes, we were on increasingly better terms, as the divorce faded into history; but things hadn't gotten that much better.
Then my astonished ears heard myself saying, "No, thanks. The Buick keeps me from having to take Mother very far on her escapades."
Wait, what? I could use a new car!
He grunted. "Speaking of escapades—do you think you can manage to keep that woman out of trouble for an entire week?"
"Nothing homicidal in the works?"
"Really, Roger. Get serious. It's incredibly unlikely that Mother manages to get herself involved in these, well, mysteries as often as she has. This is a small town. If there's one more homicide, the police will start looking at us as the real perpetrators behind all this carnage."
He laughed. "You're right. Statistically speaking, you're safe. Another murder in sleepy little Serenity? Not going to happen."
His eyes narrowed at me. "And there's no other trouble she could get herself into?"
"I'm sure not."
Pretty sure. Almost sure. Not sure at all.
He read my expression and asked, "She is current on her meds, isn't she?"
I nodded; Mother was bipolar, which was why I was also current on my meds. Prozac.
"And you'll keep a really close eye on Jake?" Roger was saying. "And call me if anything seems wrong?"
"Roger ... what aren't you sharing with me?" Adding, without contention, "I am his mother."
He looked down at his feet for a moment. "I said earlier that Jake's been unhappy. But I wasn't, uh, as frank as I should have been."
"Then you do know why he's unhappy."
He nodded. "It's that private school. He hates it."
"Is he being bullied?" I couldn't imagine anyone picking on him, or him letting them do it. But bullying was so common these days....
Roger shook his head. "Claims the other kids are snobs, and into drugs."
I didn't like the sound of either of those.
Shielding my eyes against the sun, I asked, "Why don't you just move him to a public school?"
Roger laughed once, humorlessly. "A public school might be fine in Serenity, but not in Chicago."
I touched his arm. "Look, Roger ... don't worry about our son. Jake is one tough kid. We'll figure this out."
My ex cocked his head. "He misses you, you know."
"And I miss him."
"I ... I shouldn't have punished you by taking sole custody of our son. I was angry after ..."
"After what I did?" Went to my ten-year class reunion without him, and slept with an old boyfriend?
Oh, did I mention? I'm not perfect, but I am trying. Some of you have probably already found me "trying," at that.
Roger winced. "Yeah. After what you did, I was ... you know how bent out of shape I was."
Actually, I didn't. He'd taken it stoically. I would have preferred screaming and kicking and crying and ... and anything that would have indicated there was still something emotional going on between us.
"If it's any consolation," I said, "I hear my 'mistake' is on his third wife, totally broke, gained fifty pounds, and has a terrible case of adult acne."
"That's supposed to make me feel better?"
He smiled. "A little."
I smiled back.
Roger said, "Look, uh ... getting back to Jake? I think maybe it would be better for us to have joint custody." He put both hands on my shoulders. "Better for us. Better for Jake. A boy needs his mother, too."
My Prozac-protective emotional wall was crumbling. I felt tears trying to make a break for it from my eyes.
Roger, suddenly a tad uncomfortable, said rigidly, "We'll talk about it when I come back on Sunday."
"Okay," I sniffed, dabbing away tears with my fingers.
I stepped back as he climbed into the Hummer with a sad little smile and a sad little wave. Then I watched until the vehicle disappeared down the street.
Returning to the house, I found Mother and Jake still at the table, having what looked disturbingly like a conspiratorial confab, and suspiciously like shenanigans.
How was I going to keep my promise to Roger with those two in cahoots? And what kind of mind in the twenty-first century comes up with words like confab, shenanigans, and cahoots, anyway?
Jake said, "Hey, Mom, Grandma wants to take us to lunch at a nice new restaurant." He looked at her. "What's it called again?"
"The Cottage Inn, dear. Everything is made from scratch, and is simply delicious."
Well, nothing disturbing or suspicious about that stilted, overrehearsed exchange, right? On the other hand, I'd been wanting to try the new eatery, which also specialized in desserts to die for, so if they had a hidden agenda, I did too.
Excerpted from Antiques Chop by Barbara Allan. Copyright © 2013 Max Allan Collins and Barbara Collins. 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.
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