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A Trash 'n' Treasures Mystery
By Barbara Allan
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Max Allan Collins and Barbara Collins
All rights reserved.
Lights, Camera, Auction!
Dearest ones! It is I, Vivian Borne (aka Mother), who — for the second time in our enduring, endearing series — has found herself in the position of having to begin a book, or risk missing our publishing deadline.
Let us be clear! It is not without a pang of guilt — or, at least, a ping — that I must usurp Brandy's usual opening chapter. But the poor girl is in the doldrums, in spite of — or is that despite? (the difference eludes me) — her daily dose of Prozac.
The reason for Brandy's melancholia — and since she won't tell you, I fear I must — is the sudden and unexpected arrival in town of Camilla Cassato, the estranged wife of Serenity's chief of police, Anthony Cassato, who happens to be Brandy's significant other.
(For newbies or those needing a refresher course, read on. All others may feel free to skip to the paragraph that begins "But now, with the return of Mrs. Cassato ...")
Tony arrived several years ago from the East (not the Orient, but rather the eastern USA) to take the top cop position in our sleepy little Mississippi River town ... and for a time was a man of mystery, until things got lively. By lively, I mean when an assassin came after our chief at a secluded cabin where he and Brandy were enjoying each other's company.
Seemed a New Jersey godfather had taken a contract out on the chief (a murder contract, not home improvement), who had testified against a certain crime family in those environs (Antiques Knockoff). Tony and Brandy managed to duck the hitman's bullets and flee, but the chief was forced to disappear into WITSEC (the United States Federal Witness Protection Program), his situation heating up just as he and Brandy were really warming to each other.
A subsequent mother-and-daughter trip to New York to sell an original vintage Superman drawing at a comics convention (Antiques Con) afforded me, sans Brandy, the opportunity to drop in on this New Jersey godfather (name withheld) and reason with him. My warmth and charm (and some take-out ziti) convinced him to void the contract, which allowed for Tony to return to Serenity ... and to Brandy's arms. A happy ending! Or happy middle, at least.
But now, with the return of Mrs. Cassato, the couple's happiness has once again been derailed.
Seems Tony had assumed that divorce papers sent to him by Camilla's lawyer, and signed and returned by him, had been properly filed; but recently Camilla informed Tony she had had a change of heart and had never followed through with the filing ... or the divorce.
Though Tony had rebuffed Camilla's efforts to resume cohabitation, the idea of a married boyfriend has not been sitting well with my sensitive child.
And, to complicate things further, Camilla has set up a rival antiques shop just a block from ours, popping up at various auctions around town, outbidding us in a meanspirited attempt (I can only assume) to get back at Brandy.
So Brandy has had to put her relationship with Tony on hold until his marital status with Camilla is resolved. This is sensible but takes an emotional toll.
Now that all of you are up to date, I wish to address several criticisms that having been coming my way via e-mails, tweets, and blogs. Some of you accuse me of (as we say in the writing game) telling, not showing. Had I shown the above, we'd be on page fifty. Do you really think that's efficient?
Also, those of you who do not like my digressions, I refer you to thousands, nay, tens of thousands, of satisfied readers who find my little side trips every bit as rewarding as the journey itself. Besides, those who accuse me of such digressions are exaggerating my tendency toward such.
By the way, do you know what really irks me? People who end every sentence as if it were a question! Here is an example: "The other day? When I went to the grocery store?" Uptalking, I call it. Some strange remnant of Valley Girl that has infiltrated the mother tongue (but not this mother's tongue!).
This distortion of our language seems to be spreading everywhere. Even television newscasters do it, and not only women, but men, as well. Might I suggest forming an organization against this abomination? We could call it People Against Uptalking, or PAUT. Well, admittedly, that's not very catchy. Citizens Against Uptalking, or CAUT. No better? How about Down with Uptalking, or DWUT? I like the wordplay of "down" and "up," although as an acronym, DWUT comes out perhaps too close to "duh." The Anti-Uptalking League has a certain ring, although AUTL sounds a bit like "ought'll." As in, "We ought'll stop uptalking?" Please send your suggestions, care of our publisher, to Vivian Borne.
Oh, one more thing. If you need to use a stick to snap a "selfie," for pity's sake, just have someone else take the darn picture!
* * *
All right. Enough's enough.
Brandy stepping in, taking over for Mother after her well-intended effort to get this narrative aloft. I only hope we didn't lose too many readers in Mother's opening pages. On the other hand, Vivian Borne does have her fans, not to mention if she hadn't stirred me to action, this book may never have gotten started.
Because I have been, for the reasons Mother shared, down in the dumps of late. Not to worry! Fun will ensue. So will a mystery.
A rather unseasonably mild November settled in during the filming of season one of our reality series. Even though we were mostly shooting inside our Trash 'n' Treasures antiques shop — which took up an entire small house at the end of Main Street downtown — we did produce the occasional segment outdoors. Locations included flea markets, estate sales, storage-locker auctions, and the like, as Mother and I gathered stock for the shop. Not having to stand out in inclement weather was appreciated, the Indian summer occasionally giving way to some crisp fall temps that weren't bad at all.
My role in our show was a snap — playing second banana to Mother, and sometimes third banana, since Sushi, my shih tzu, quickly caught on to the filming process ("Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my incredibly cute closeup") and began upstaging Mother to the point where Phil had to limit the little fur ball's screen time. (For those who don't know, Sushi, once blind, after an operation can now see, although she still has diabetes.)
I have to admit that our producer/director, Phillip Dean, who was also running the camera, and his pared-down crew — camera assistant Jamal Jeffers, soundman Steve Ballard, and assistant director Jena Hernandez — were doing a bang-up job not only at handling Mother, but also at finding unusual objects for us to identify, brought into our shop by "colorful" locals, customers we personally selected from a weekly cattle call. Many of those we selected, naturally, were locals Mother and I knew and often owed favors to.
While our dialogue was strictly ad-libbed, ours was like any other reality show — carefully scripted, shaped, and staged.
This Sunday morning (we usually filmed on Sundays and Mondays, when our shop was normally closed), the "customers" who just "happened" to stop in were Heather Conway, a former police dispatcher now with the forensics department, who, in exchange for a promised shot on our show, gave us sensitive information that proved vital in Antiques Swap; Matilda "Tilda" Tompkins, Serenity's New Age guru, who also helped us in previous cases, giving Mother gratis regression sessions (did you know Mother was first handmaiden to Cleopatra, and Cleo's head asp wrangler?); and Joe Lange (an old pal), a former marine, a confirmed bachelor, and a local institution (in the sense that he'd been institutionalized several times). Joe worked part-time at the shop, but Phil wasn't using him as a regular, and I thought it would give Joe's morale a boost.
Heather — midthirties, with auburn hair and red glasses — brought in an object with four cylinder-shaped wire holders attached to a six-inch-by-two-inch piece of wood. This Mother correctly identified as a tool once used by teachers to draw straight lines on a blackboard.
Tilda — late forties, long golden-reddish hair, freckles, and dressed in hippieish attire — came into the shop bearing a set of eight T-shaped tools, which I identified as being used for fixing a horse-drawn wagon wheel. (After the first take, soundman Steve told Tilda to remove her armful of clanking bangles.)
Finally came Joe, tall, loose limbed, with short hair and pleasant if slightly off-center features, slim in desert camouflage utilities. I might mention that I was taking a chance using him on the show, since he'd only recently gotten back on his meds after a drug holiday, but Joe did all right, even though he spoke mostly in military jargon.
Joe brought in a mechanical contraption that itself had a vaguely military look to it (it was used to put gunpowder in bullets), but according to our script, neither Mother nor I could identify it, and the gizmo was relegated to a section of each show where home viewers could call in their guesses (informed or otherwise) to an 800 number, with the correct answer being revealed in the next episode.
That was this morning. This afternoon Phil wanted to shoot Mother and me (minus Sushi) at yet another storage-locker auction, but Mother had other plans.
"Been there, done that, dear," she told our muscular producer, a handsome forty-something with thick dark hair and a salt-and-pepper beard.
We were standing in the living-room area of the shop/ house as Jamal, Steve, and Jena were packing up for the move. The show did not provide our wardrobe, and Mother was wearing her favorite emerald-green velour pantsuit. I was in black leggings and a gray silk tunic, with a David Yurman necklace I'd snagged on eBay.
Mother was saying, "I have a far more interesting segment — something to entice the male audience."
Phil — in his traditional plaid shirt, jeans, and Nikes — frowned. "We could use more male viewers. What do you have in mind, Vivian?"
"A farm-tool auction."
Phil's frown deepened. "Good idea, Vivian, but we'd need a full crew for that, including another camera."
"Pish-posh," she retorted. "It's a small event at the O'Grady farm, exclusive only to a local antique tool club, fifty people, tops. It's not been advertised, and I only found out about it yesterday through the grapevine."
The vines of Mother's grapes twined everywhere.
Phil was stroking his beard. "I don't know...."
His eyes went to soundman Steve Ballard, a good guy of maybe thirty-five, with an oval, lightly pockmarked face.
Shrugging, Steve, in a voice ravaged by cigarettes, said, "No problem on my end."
Phil looked at first AD Jena Hernandez — in her early twenties, attractive, clad in a black leather jacket over a white T-shirt, and tight jeans — who nodded. "I like the idea. Shouldn't be any problem handling a small crowd."
Still, Phil hesitated.
Jamal said, "We can cover it, boss. Nobody's better at handheld than you."
To that, Phil smiled and nodded.
I spoke up. "I know the farm, and it's a really picturesque place. Should make for good coverage."
Actually, I'd never been to the O'Grady farm, but I just didn't want to go to yet another storage-locker facility.
"All right," Phil granted. "Who should I contact to say we're coming?"
Mother, eyes gleaming behind her large-framed glasses (themselves collectible, if not quite antique), said, "I've already called Mrs. O'Grady, in anticipation that you would see the wisdom of this change of venue. She's thrilled to her toes, of course, and pledges cooperation in any way possible."
Phil didn't bother being irked with Mother; he'd long since learned not to waste the energy. "Well, all right, then. Where's this farm?"
While Mother gave him directions, I had a little talk with Sushi, whom we'd be leaving behind at the shop.
"Now, be good," I said, placing her in the leopard-print bed behind the checkout counter. "We'll be back in a few hours."
She looked up at me with her lower teeth jutting out in a pout, which said she was not pleased. And, despite my warning — or is that in spite of? (I don't know the difference, either) — I knew I'd have to search the store later for any cigar-shaped symbol of her displeasure she might have bestowed.
While Phil, Jamal, Steve, and Jena finished packing up their gear — they would follow in the equipment van after locking up the house — Mother and I got our coats and bags, then headed out into a cool yet sunny day, where our Ford C-Max hybrid waited at the curb.
With me behind the wheel, and Mother riding shotgun — she had lost her driver's license for various infractions too numerous to mention — we were soon tooling out of town, heading west on a two-lane highway, harvested fields gliding by on either side.
I knew darn well that Mother had a secondary reason for wanting this afternoon's shooting schedule changed — though a better venue than a storage-locker auction was plenty — and I said, "Smart ploy."
Mother turned her head. "Whatever do you mean, dear?"
"You know what I mean. Good move."
A wicked little smile appeared on her still pretty Nordic face. "I'm glad you agree. This should throw her well off the scent."
Mother was referring to Camilla Cassato. The Serenity Sentinel had been publishing a daily schedule of where Antiques Sleuths was shooting, and the nasty woman had been using that information of late to disrupt our location segments. It gave me great pleasure knowing she'd be showing up at that storage-locker facility this afternoon, and we wouldn't be there.
Mother was asking, "Are you in touch with Tony?"
"We talk on our cells about once a week."
"And he knows what Mrs. Cassato's been doing?"
Mother made "Mrs." sound like a swearword.
"Yes," I said. "And he's asked her to stop bothering us, hounding us ... but she's told him it was none of his business, and she wasn't breaking any law."
Mother's chin went up. "It's blatant harassment, dear. Stalking!"
I shook my head. "I'm afraid it isn't, Mother. Camilla's merely showing up at auctions and outbidding us. And she does have her own antiques shop to run."
Mother harrumphed. "It sounds like you're defending the vile creature."
"Just stating the facts."
I turned off the two-lane onto a gravel road, the Ford's tires kicking up dust. I was glad I'd procrastinated about washing our ride.
Mother ventured, "Do we know anything about the current status of the Cassato divorce?"
"Not really." That came out harsher than intended, so I added, "Just that Tony says Camilla refuses to even discuss it."
"Well, she was certainly ready to divorce him before."
"Before I came along, you mean."
We fell silent for a few moments.
Then Mother said, "Tony could take matters into his own hands — although such an action might not sit well with the good people of Serenity and could hurt his career."
Mother reached over and patted my knee. "Where there's a will, there's a way, dear."
The great Vivian Borne, reduced to dispensing homilies.
I said, "The only way I can think is ... nothing."
"You mean, if the woman should ... pass away?"
"Well, you must admit she'd relinquish her hold on your beau, in that case. And there'd be a will. The reading of?"
"Don't uptalk, Mother. Doesn't become you." To get off this subject, I asked her about Mrs. O'Grady, one of countless friends of hers whom I knew nothing about.
"Well, dear, Alma has been a widow for several years and has decided to put the farm up for sale — along with its contents — and move to Arizona to live closer to her daughter and grandchildren. The daughter lives in Phoenix. Or is it Scottsdale? Anyway —"
That's all I can report of that, since I stopped listening, just glad to have her off the subject of Tony and his wife.
Alma O'Grady's farm was down a long dirt lane, a neat white clapboard two-story with latticework and a wide front porch, with an adjacent red barn complete with rooster weather vane. Turned out I hadn't been lying: this was a picturesque location, worthy of a heartwarming Thomas Kinkade print over your hearth.
The private auction would not begin for another hour, but already a dozen or so cars were parked on the still-green lawn, among a few bare fruit trees and beds of hardy fall mums that had somehow survived the frosty nights.
I found a spot for the car, and we got out. Suddenly a diminutive woman came rushing toward us, her apple-cheeked face flushed. She wore an autumn-theme dress festooned with plump pumpkins and fallen leaves that might have made a nice Thanksgiving tablecloth.
Mother turned to me and said softly, "Our hostess."
The small figure grabbed Mother's hand and began shaking it up and down like it was an old-fashioned water pump. "Vivian, I can't tell you how exciting this is! To be on your show, I mean. Just imagine!"
"Think nothing of it," Mother granted regally.
Mrs. O'Grady, releasing Mother's hand, turned to me. "You must be Brandy. We haven't met."
Excerpted from Antiques Frame by Barbara Allan. Copyright © 2017 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsAlso by Barbara Allan,
Chapter One - Lights, Camera, Auction!,
Chapter Two - It Takes Two to Tangle,
Chapter Three - Arrested Development,
Chapter Four - Suitable for Framing,
Chapter Five - Unlucky Streak,
Chapter Six - Alma Matters,
Chapter Seven - Blackboard Bungle,
Chapter Eight - Darkest Before the Don,
Chapter Nine - Staff Infection,
Chapter Ten - The Match Game,
Chapter Eleven - Cuckoo Ha-chew!,
Chapter Twelve - On the Fence,
About the Authors,