It happened at Serenity's swap meet, right after Brandy Borne and her ever-more-eccentric mother Vivian finished shooting the pilot for their very own TV show, Antiques Sleuths. Brandy just, well, lost her balance and fell . . . into the helpful arms of an old flame, local tycoon Wesley Sinclair III. But did Brandy's innocent slip lead to the murder of Wesley's wife, Vanessa?
Sure, Vanessa was furious that she caught Brandy in Wesley's embrace. And she did storm off threatening dire consequences for her humbled husband. So when Vanessa turns up very dead, the local tongue-wag is that Wesley may have permanently dethroned the queen of his castle. But Brandy--along with her notoriously nosy mother and their sleuthing shih tzu Sushi--is determined to dig for the whole truth.
Each new clue points in a different direction. What about this suspicious Club of Eight, a super-secret high-society bridge group that supposedly has very liberal rules about "partners"? When a key witness joins the dead list, Brandy and Vivian know they've got to crack this case before the remorseless killer puts an end to their antiquing days--forever!
Don't miss Brandy Borne's tips on swap meets!
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
A Trash 'n' Treasures Mystery
By Barbara Allan
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Max Allan Collins Barbara Collins
All rights reserved.
(In the game of bridge, first bid by defenders.)
You know that expression, "Be careful what you wish for"? Well, in my case, it's "Be careful what Mother wishes for."
Mother being Vivian Borne, seventy-threeish, Danish stock, widowed, bipolar, local thespian, part-time sleuth, full-time gossip, and sometime county jail resident.
And me being Brandy Borne, thirty-two, divorced, Prozacpopper, audience member, reluctant sleuth, subject of gossip, and onetime loser (breaking and entering) with a record in the process of being expunged, since I was helping solve a murder at the time.
The third member of our sleuthing team is my blind diabetic shih tzu, Sushi, who accompanied me to my little hometown of Serenity, Iowa, after my divorce two years ago.
Only ... wait for it, longtime readers ... Sushi is no longer blind! That's right, no more spooky white Exorcist orbs. No, we did not make a trek to Lourdes (meaning you did not miss a series entry entitled Antiques Pilgrimage).
We did trek to New York, however, to attend a comics convention several months ago (Antiques Con), where Mother and I auctioned off a valuable 1940s Superman drawing acquired in a storage unit auction (Antiques Disposal). With part of the proceeds, we funded an operation for Sushi to remove her cataracts (a result of her diabetes) and implant new lenses, and now I assume she can see perfectly. I say "assume" because a dog can't exactly read an eye chart. Do dogs really see in black-and-white? Well, I guess with an eye chart they do....
It's been fun watching the little fur ball explore a world she hasn't seen for years. Sushi is now a Super Dog, minus only the cape, her other senses honed to perfection. I don't mean to imply her sleuthing powers have increased, but it's true that the little mutt seems to know when I'll be going into the kitchen for a bag of potato chips even before I do!
But Sushi can sometimes be a little stinker, and her reprisals were numerous and varied, according to the degree of her ire: peeing on my pillow (ten on a scale of ten), chewing a new pair of shoes (eight), leaving a little brown carrot inside the house in plain view (six). One through five were various barks, growls, or dirty looks. Just where the little tyrant learned such vindictiveness, I have no clue.
As for Mother's aforementioned wish, it was for our TV pilot to be picked up, a reality show shot at our new shop, an expansion of our old antiques mall stall underwritten by the pilot's producers.
Perhaps the best way to bring you up to speed is to reprint a recent interview with Mother conducted by a young male reporter from the Serenity Sentinel. So hold on to your hats—especially the Red Hat Society kind.
Serenity Sentinel: Why you?
Vivian Borne: Dear, not meaning to be critical, you understand ... but it's always best to begin an interview with a complete sentence. Such as "Why were you and your daughter chosen from among the many 'wannabes' for a reality TV show?"
SS: Why were you?
VB: Phillip Dean—a veteran cameraman turned producer—thought that the antiques business run by myself, Vivian Borne, V-I-V-I-A-N B-O-R-N-E and Brandy Borne, B-R-A-N-D-Y, Borne Again ... no religious connotation intended ... would make a perfect series because—
SS: I heard the show was called Antique Sleuths.
VB: Dear, it's not polite to interrupt. If you want to be a responsible member of the Fourth Estate, you must—
SS: Fourth what?
VB:—pose your questions in the form of a question.
SS: That was a question.
VB: The name of the show is Antiques Sleuths, in the plural, not Antique Sleuths. You do perceive the difference?
SS: Now you're asking the questions.
VB: (sighs) Yes, because it has become clear that I need to commandeer this interview, if anything of substance is to be conveyed.
SS: Go for it.
VB: The concept of the show is that a mother and daughter, who have solved numerous mysteries in real life, as amateur sleuths ... that would be my daughter and myself ... also solve the mysteries behind various unusual antiques brought by clientele into their, which is to say our, Trash 'n' Treasures shop.
SS: But right now there's only a pilot. I mean, right now there is only a pilot, right?
VB: I congratulate you on that recovery. That is correct. Most of the pilot was filmed last week, with a little more footage—"B roll," they call it in the industry— to be shot this Saturday at a local swap meet. The finished product will be shown to several cable TV networks.
SS: So it's not a done deal?
VB: No ... but we're hopeful. We have an undeniable advantage, factoring in my considerable history in local theater, not to mention my experiences off-Broadway.
SS: I'm not to mention that?
VB: Well, certainly you may mention it. Why would you not? Next question.
SS: You've recently moved your antiques business to a house where two murders took place. Isn't that creepy?
VB: Dear, I don't think the demise of those poor victims—murders separated by many years, both of which we solved, by the way—need be referred to as "creepy." Let us just say it lends a certain resonance to the undertaking.
SS: So does "undertaking." Sounds like you're capitalizing on the infamous notoriety of the house. I mean, are you capitalizing on—
VB: Certainly not! It just happened to be vacant when we were looking for an appropriate venue for our expanded business, and the prospective television show. We would not think of tastelessly exploiting the tragic history of that structure.
SS: Then why does your website say, "Come and visit us at the Murder House"?
VB: Does it? Well, that's a minor lapse on the part of our web designer. I'll give him a real talking-to.
Had enough? I have! But I do think Mother came off better than the interviewer.
Where were we? Ah yes—Saturday morning, and Mother and I were getting ready to open for business at the Murder House—a designation that was not our doing, a local nickname dating back to the axing of the patriarchal owner some sixty years ago, and a copycat killing last year, about which I won't go into, for those among you who haven't (as yet) read Antiques Chop.
Maybe it was my mildly mind-altering Prozac, or possibly a numbness that's set in due to the number of murders Mother and I have solved since my homecoming two years ago, but I've come to like that historically homicidal house, perfect as it was for our expanded business.
The large two-story white clapboard with wide front porch and modest lawn was situated downtown just after commercial Main Street begins its rise into East Hill residential. Built around the turn of the last century, the place had a downstairs parlor, a music room, a formal dining room, and spacious kitchen; four bedrooms and a bath occupied the upstairs.
In setting up our shop, Mother and I decided to slant each room toward its original purpose—that is to say, all of our kitchen antiques were in the kitchen, bedroom sets in the bedrooms, linens in the linen closet, formal furniture in the parlor, and so forth—even the knickknacks were placed where you might expect them to be (only with price tags).
Our customers often had the vague sense that they were visiting an elderly relative—a grandmother or kindly old aunt—with so many lovely things on display. Only at Trash 'n' Treasures, you didn't have to wait to inherit something; for the listed price (or maybe a haggled-over lower one), you could walk right out with whatever caught your eye.
The spacious entry hallway was where we put our checkout counter, so that we could greet customers, and also keep an eye on the downstairs rooms. Mother and I believed a certain amount of pilfering was better business than security cameras hovering high in every corner announcing: "We don't trust you."
Besides, even a state-of-the-art system couldn't compare to our secret weapon: the all-knowing, now all-seeing shih tzu, who with her Sushi sense could detect a nervous shoplifter, following him or her from room to room with an accusatory glare. (Now if someone would only steal that darn smiley-face alarm clock!)
Before moving our business into the house, Mother asked Serenity's resident New Age guru, Tilda Tompkins, to meet us there and conduct a reading to make sure we weren't going to upset any spirits—especially murdered ones—thereby courting bad karma. A disgruntled ghost slamming a door was one thing ... knives hurtling through the air was quite another.
Mother, Tilda, and I had sat in a circle on the floor of the empty parlor holding hands, while the guru closed her eyes, chanting softly, summoning any willing visitor from the other side.
But, much to Mother's disappointment, no one answered. Oh, there was a sneeze. But it turned out to have come not from a departed one who'd died of pneumonia, rather from Sushi, thanks to some antique dust she'd breathed in.
The next day, still uncertain, Mother asked Father O'Leary to come bless the house, which he did, even though we belonged to New Hope Church. For flood relief, Mother had organized a charity bazaar at St. Mary's, which brought in a lot of money (Antiques Bizarre), so we'd racked up some good Catholic-style karma there.
Father O'Leary intoned a prayer in the entryway, then went from room to room, sprinkling the air with Epiphany water, and marking each door in chalk with the initials CMB—"Christ bless this house." If Linda Blair happened to drive through Serenity, and stopped to do some antiquing, she'd be just fine, though some of our collectibles were real head-turners.
And, so, with our bases covered from New Age spiritualism to old-time religion, we moved our antiques in, and Trash 'n' Treasures was ready to rock 'n' roll.
Anyway, Saturday morning.
Mother and I and Sushi were waiting in the shop for Joe Lange to arrive and "take the conn" (as the longtime Trekkie put it) so that we could attend the swap meet down on the riverfront.
Joe was tall and loose-limbed, with nice features that were somehow a wee bit off—one eye higher than the other, mouth a touch too wide, nose off-center. He was a committed bachelor (in the sense that he'd been occasionally institutionalized), and was an old pal of mine since our community college days, when we were assigned as lab partners in biology class. I'd been faced with a crucial decision: either strangle the irritating nerd, or befriend him. I chose the latter. After graduation, Joe joined the Marines and fought in the Middle East, while I married an older man in Chicago. On some level, we were both getting away from our mothers.
And now, veterans of our various wars, Joe and I were both back home, more or less where we started, including living with our mothers. To varying degrees, I suppose, we were both damaged goods. If you're wondering, we weren't an item. Joe showed no signs of interest in sex, either female or male.
Mother was saying, "Dear, I wonder if we're making a mistake, entrusting our shop to that poor troubled soul. One day it may come back to bite us in the you-know-what."
She was wearing a new Breckinridge summer outfit—pink slacks, and a pink-and-white checked blouse; the only out-of-date item in her ensemble were the huge-framed magnifying eyeglasses.
I shrugged. "Joe did all right at the shop while we were in New York."
I had on my fave DKNY jeans and a gauzy floral shirt by Joie, an Internet steal.
We had left Joe in charge for two weeks, and received nary a customer complaint. His sales had been respectable, too.
"Yes," Mother said, then qualified her nod. "But it's just about that time."
She was referring to Joe's summer "drug holiday," when his doctor took him off his antipsychotic meds for a few months, because of their potency. The problem was that my friend then reverted to Marine status, and went into full survival mode, often camping out in the caves at Wild Cat Den State Park.
Hiding out was more like it.
The front door opened and Joe stepped in, wearing his desert camouflage utilities. (Once—okay, maybe a couple of times—I have referred to his attire as "fatigues" and caught heck for it.) He wore no helmet or hat, and thankfully wasn't carrying any military weapons.
"Reporting for duty," he said crisply.
I exchanged wary looks with Mother.
"Joe, dear," Mother said in the kind of voice a negotiator uses to talk someone down off a ledge, "do you think you might be able to stand watch here at the shop for a few hours? Brandy and I need to attend the swap meet."
"Roger that," he said. "You'll return at ... ?" I checked my watch; it was ten now. "Oh-two hundred." Then added, "Give or take an 'Oh.' Would you like us to bring you lunch?"
"Negatory." He patted a tan bag slung over a shoulder.
"Packed my own rations."
Leaving Sushi behind, Mother and I made our uneasy exit. Outside, I asked, "You think Joe will be all right?"
"As in, is he up to handling a few customers without scaring them silly? Or, how likely is it he will take them hostage and wait for air support?"
"I was thinking more like ... will he court-marital anybody with slippery fingers?"
I blinked away the image of middle-aged Serenity ladies lined up for a firing squad.
Mother raised a finger of her own. "My last instruction to the boy was to uphold the Geneva Convention!"
"I'm sure that was helpful." I sighed. "No chemical or biological warfare, anyway. Does our liability insurance cover post-traumatic stress disorder?"
"In him or us, dear?"
Parked in front of the shop was Mother's vintage 1960s black Caddy convertible (more about that later), and I climbed in behind the wheel, Mother riding shotgun. She had lost her license due to numerous infractions, including but not limited to: taking a shortcut though a cornfield to make curtain time for a play she was starring in; running down a curbside mailbox shaped like an open-mouthed spotted bass; and driving with a suspended license (to get chocolate-mint ice cream in the middle of the night).
I drove the short distance to Riverfront Park, which was across the railroad tracks. The park had been recently beautified by a wrought-iron fence, in keeping with the restored Victorian redbrick train depot.
In past years, the city council, understanding that Serenity's biggest asset was the Mississippi River, lavished money into enhancing the half-mile riverfront by adding a stateof-the-art playground, restroom facilities, a new boathouse (along with improved slips), and an assortment of beautiful trees, flowerbeds, and general landscaping. Plus ample parking for residents and visitors alike.
Even so, one had to get up at the crack of dawn to snag a parking spot for the summer swap meet, which drew folks from a hundred miles around. But Mother had come up with an ingenious plan for when we were finished shopping: she had entered the Caddy in the antiques car show, which was piggy-backing the swap meet. When the time came to head back to the shop, laden with purchases, having walked the entire length of the park, corns aching (hers), feet swollen (mine), our ride would be right there, waiting for us.
We parked among the other classic cars and vintage relics, made a little small talk with event organizer Mr. Blackwood, and headed off toward the swap meet area. The day was glorious, the temperature in the mid-seventies, humidity low, sun shining brightly in a clear blue sky, with just enough breeze to dry any bead of sweat.
Summer in the Midwest brings all kinds of weather, which Mother and I like to describe as cities.
"Brandy, what kind of weather have we out there?" she would ask.
"Chicago," I might reply, meaning, windy. Or "Houston," hot and humid. Or "Seattle," rainy.
Today was "San Diego." Which, if you've ever been to that wonderful city, means perfect.
But this was Iowa, so blink and you might find yourself in another "city"....
We had a dual purpose today in attending the swap meet. In addition to finding interesting items for the shop, Phil Dean was going to shoot additional footage of us browsing the vendors, the last of his B-roll wish list.
I'm sure he hoped Mother, Serenity's favorite diva, would do something outrageous for the camera; and I felt confident she wouldn't disappoint.
You may be wondering what my role on the proposed TV show was. Well, basically, to be her straight man. The Crosby to her Hope. The Martin to her Lewis. Only I didn't sing as well as either. Maybe I was Abbott to her Costello.
Anyway, Mother was asking, "Where were we to meet Phil?"
"In front of the fried butter stand."
Okay, so sometimes we don't eat so healthy in the Midwest. Considering this delicacy was created at the Iowa State Fair—famous since 1911 for its annual life-size cow sculptures fashioned from 600 pounds of pure creamery butter—isn't fried butter the next logical step? And before you turn up your nose at the sweet concoction, you should try it. Maybe your mouth will turn up (as in a smile).
1 stick butter, chilled
funnel cake batter mix
1 tsp. cinnamon
Prepare cake batter as instructed, adding cinnamon.
Cover chilled butter with batter. Heat vegetable oil to 375–400 degrees. Fry battered-butter in hot oil 1 to 1 ½ minutes. Remove to paper plate to drain, then drizzle with honey.
Excerpted from Antiques Swap by Barbara Allan. Copyright © 2015 Max Allan Collins Barbara Collins. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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