When it comes to running a successful garage sale, Sarah Winston believes in doing her homework. She also believes in giving back. But when she agrees to manage an athletic equipment swap, she doesn't bargain on an uncharitable killer. The day of the event, the school superintendent is found dead in the gymnasium.
HAS SARAH PLAYING DEFENSE
Suddenly the murder suspects are the school board members—including the husband of a very difficult client who's hired Sarah to run a high-end sale and demands she do her bidding. In between tagging and haggling, Sarah studies the clues to see who wanted to teach the superintendent a lesson. But as she closes in on the truth, the killer intends to give her a crash course on minding her own business . . .
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.”—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
“A slam dunk for those who love antiques and garage sales . . . surprising twists and turns.” —Kirkus Reviews on A Good Day to Buy
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"I need your help, Sarah," Angelo said to me.
I'd rushed over from the Ellington High School gym, where I was in the throes of setting up an athletic equipment swap meet for the school board. The swap was in the morning, and I'd been up to my ears in ski poles when Angelo sent me a text asking me to stop by. Angelo never sent texts, so I had literally dropped everything and would have a mess of ski poles to clean up when I got back.
We sat in his restaurant, DiNapoli's Roast Beef and Pizza, at one of the wooden tables lining the far right side of the room. It was just after nine- thirty, and Angelo had closed for the night. His deep brown eyes crinkled with concern.
"Anything. What can I do?" Angelo and his wife, Rosalie, who sat next to him, had done so much for me that I'd gladly do anything this side of legal to help them. And maybe the other side of legal, if it was really important. They'd supported me when I'd moved to Ellington, Massachusetts, from nearby Fitch Air Force Base during a personal crisis over a year ago. The DiNapolis encouraged me if I was down and celebrated my successes, like starting my Sarah Winston garage sale business. I leaned forward, shoving my glass of Chianti to the side.
Angelo looked at Rosalie. I thought I detected a slight roll of the eyes on Rosalie's part.
"You don't have to help," Rosalie said.
"Of course I will." In the past I'd found replacement tables and chairs for them if something wore out. This sounded more serious, and I was getting anxious. I wished they'd just spit it out. I looked back and forth between them.
Angelo cleared his throat. "Did you hear about the lasagna bake-off in Bedford next week?"
Bedford was the town next to Ellington. I nodded, mystified. While I was a whiz at setting up garage sales, my cooking skills were renowned for how awful they were. I hoped he didn't want me to enter. I thought the contest was open only to chefs at area restaurants.
"I signed up," Angelo said.
"That's great. You'll win," I said. "Do you need a sous-chef?" I could try, but it seemed like Rosalie or someone who worked here with him would be a better choice.
"I want to make sure I win," Angelo said. "I have to win." His hand fisted, but he refrained from pounding the table.
This time Rosalie definitely rolled her eyes. "You don't have to win. You want to win," she said with a shake of her head.
"So what do you want me to do?" My imagination was going wild. Poison, sabotage, kidnapping? What would making sure Angelo won entail? There were rumors his family was connected, that his uncle had more than just ties to the Mob. And I knew his cousin Vincenzo, an attorney, had gotten a few mobsters off racketeering charges. It seemed like Angelo had better options than me to make sure he would win. I grabbed my Chianti and took a big swig. Why did they call that Dutch courage — or in this case Italian?
"I need you to go to the top five competitors' restaurants and sample their lasagna and report back." Angelo leaned back in his chair.
That was it? He wanted me to eat pasta? Relief made my body feel like an overcooked piece of lasagna, saggy and limp. "I can do that."
"And bring me back a sample, without telling anyone what you are up to."
"Of course." Jeez, how hard could that be?
* * *
An hour and a half later I roamed up and down the long rows of tables in the Ellington High School gymnasium, using a hockey stick as a baton, making sure everything was ready. I pictured myself as a drum majorette being cheered on by a crowd in a huge football stadium. I could do with someone cheering for me. I probably looked more suited to leading the band from The Music Man, with my hockey stick and crazy march. Slaphappy. Giddy. Punch drunk. I was all those things. Maybe it was the combination of the Chianti from earlier with the DiNapolis and the caffeine I'd consumed after in the form of coffee, lots of it, from Dunkin's.
My stomach rumbled, and I thought about the lasagna Angelo had mentioned. I hadn't had much of an appetite since my ex-husband, CJ, left me six weeks ago, despite the rekindling of our relationship last February. I still couldn't believe he had chosen a job in Florida over me. But I couldn't think about that now.
The lasagna project was something to look forward to, something to keep me busy. Busy had been my mantra since CJ left. I'd overbooked myself in the hopes that I'd be dead tired. But sleep, like my appetite, had all but disappeared. The lasagna would have to wait, though, because in nine hours the doors to the swap would open.
For the past week, people had been dropping off their gently used athletic equipment. Items they were tired of or that had been outgrown. Tomorrow other people would come and pick up what they needed. It was something that made everyone happy. The last of my helpers had left right after I returned from DiNapoli's around ten. Who could blame them? Some people had things to do on Friday nights. All the hard work getting ready for the swap was better than hardly working.
I twirled the hockey stick in my hand as I checked one last time to make sure all the equipment for the sports swap was at least somewhat organized. It hadn't taken long to learn that sports equipment didn't like to be arranged. It liked to roll or topple over. Baseball bats, lacrosse sticks, balls, pretty much all sports equipment. They were unruly and didn't lend themselves to neat arrangements. Except for the helmets. At least they cooperated by sitting proudly in rows.
I'd get zippo for doing this, so maybe it wasn't a smart business move. The last Saturday in June was primo garage sale season. I had turned down a lot of jobs, hoping that organizing this would up my profile in the town of Ellington and the surrounding suburban areas outside of Boston. It hadn't taken long to learn that sports equipment swaps were very popular in this area. Old and outgrown equipment was a big draw.
Most of the school board members had liked my idea of adding a silent auction to raise more funds for the school district. With all the sports teams in Boston, it had been easy to get items owned or signed by famous athletes and to prove their provenance. I'd even had a fan girl moment when I ran into Tom Brady the day I picked things up at Gillette Stadium, home of the Patriots. He was bigger in person and better looking. His smile almost melted my shoes.
I tossed the hockey stick up into the air as I twirled around, planning to catch it before it hit the floor. The lights went out, and I skittered to a stop mid-twirl. The hockey stick glanced off my shoulder and clattered to the floor by my feet.
"Ow," I said to the empty, silent gym. I felt around for the hockey stick so I didn't trip myself. After I picked it up, I shook my head, hoping the power outage wouldn't prevent the swap from taking place tomorrow. I shuffled in the general direction of my purse and cell phone, not wanting to knock over one of the tables full of equipment. If I could find my phone, I could use the flashlight app. Footsteps echoed on the gymnasium floor and they weren't mine.
"Hello," I called. At least I wasn't alone. Slow, deliberate footsteps headed toward me. "Who's here?" I couldn't make out anything in the dark.
There wasn't a response except for the echo of steps. I whirled, still clutching the hockey stick, and hurried blindly toward my cell phone. I knocked my hip into a table. Balls of all sorts, from basketballs to golf balls, spilled, bounced, and rolled around me. I stutter-stepped around them, slipping, hoping that they would slow whoever else was in here, too.
Footsteps pounded across the gym floor, growing closer. I veered away from my purse. Sprinted toward the only light in the gym, one of the glowing exit signs. Something hooked around my foot. Another freaking hockey stick. I sprawled as I slid across the gymnasium floor and landed in a display of skis. They thundered down, battering and bruising me. I started to shake off the skis, to get back up, to get away.
Something whacked my lower back, my kidneys. Another blow hit the back of my thighs. I collapsed and curled into a ball, making myself as small as possible. I flung my left arm over my head, protecting it. My right hand clutched the hockey stick. My eyes were adjusting to the dark, and I could see the outline of a shadowy person bending toward me. The person grasped my arm, wrenching my left shoulder, and dragged me. I tried to trip him with the hockey stick. He stomped on my hand. I let go of the hockey stick as I cried out.
I heard a door open. Hinges creak. The only doors that weren't exits in the gym were to the equipment room or the locker rooms. The door to the equipment room was the one with the creaky hinges. He shoved me. The door banged shut. Something was dragged across the floor, and it hit the door.
I huddled on the floor, trembling. I knew I should move, but couldn't. Too scared. Too hurt. Noises sounded from the gym, bangs and bumps, and I wondered what the hell was going on out there. I pushed myself up to a sitting position and listened. After a while I didn't hear anything. I got to my feet and stumbled forward blindly. I bumped into some kind of shelving unit. It rocked madly, but nothing fell on my head. I fumbled around for the light switch, running my hand up the rough walls, where it seemed like it should be.
I finally found it and flicked it on, blinking as the fluorescent light came to life. One of the long tubes blinked sporadically, crackling and sputtering. It created the perfect setting for a horror movie. The equipment room was full of creepy shadows. The doorknob turned easily in my hand, but when I tried to push the door open, it wouldn't budge. And every part of my aching body seemed to protest the action. Whoever was out there had blocked me in. I cursed when I realized I was stuck for the night, because no one would miss me until the morning. But what if he came back?
I couldn't just sit in here, waiting. I looked around the equipment room for something to protect myself with. Athletic equipment was locked in wire cages. A stack of dingy towels, lightbulbs, and a mop with no head were scattered around the room. Throw the towels, break a bulb for something sharp, and whack the man with the mop handle? I spotted a spray bottle filled with bleach. That was more like it. I gave it a couple of trial squirts. It had a strong, steady stream.
It would keep him at a distance. That should do as a weapon. I hooked it through a loop on my shorts so my hands would be free. I flipped off the light in the equipment room, hoping my eyes would adjust to the dark before I went back into the dark gym. Maybe it didn't make sense to worry about the light showing either, with all the noise I was probably about to make. Whoever was out there knew I was here. I pushed on the door. Was that a tiny bit of movement? I shoved again and again. Whatever was blocking me in was making a lot of noise as it scraped slowly, painfully, away from the door.
I stopped once and listened at the tiny crack I'd created. Tried to look out. The gym was still blacker than the inside of a cave. Something banged, and I held my breath. Was it a door shutting? Was someone coming? Or going? The adrenaline that had gotten me this far seemed to flow out of my body like a hundred-year flood. It left me weak and a bit dizzy. I felt every painful blow that I'd been dealt. My hand throbbed. My back ached. I wanted to curl up in a corner and cry.
Instead, I threw my body at the door, widening the crack to a couple of inches. I went through my listening and peering routine again. Nothing. I took a deep, shaky breath, braced my legs against the floor, and shoved. This time whatever was blocking the door moved enough that I could slip from the equipment room back into the gym. But did I want to?
I squeezed out and raced toward the glowing exit sign nearest to me. It was my holy grail, my path to freedom. It seemed like it was a hundred miles away, even though it was only yards. My eyes had adjusted to the dark enough that I managed to leap over a pile of ski poles without slowing. Out the door and into the hallway.
I focused on the doors to the outside as I ran by lockers and trophy cases. I hoped the pounding in my ears was only my heartbeat and not someone chasing me. I was too scared to look behind me. The bleach bottle slapped my hip. I slipped it off the loop and put my finger on the trigger. It wasn't much, but it was something.
The high school sat next to the library, which was perpendicular to the police station across the road. I kept that foremost in my mind as I banged through the doors and sucked in the warm, humid air. Focused on the police station, I didn't see the man right in front of me until I smacked into him. I stumbled back a couple of steps and aimed the bleach bottle. The man closed the gap and smacked the bottle out of my injured hand. I screamed. Maybe by some miracle, someone at the station would hear me. The man grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me.
"What the hell, Sarah?"
I blinked my eyes. "Pellner?" It was Scott Pellner, a police officer with the Ellington PD. After a tiny second of hesitation, my knees went liquid. I threw my arms around Pellner to keep myself upright or just to have some human contact. The most I'd had with anyone since CJ left. Pellner was solid, a few inches taller than me, and a happily married man with five kids. I dropped my arms, embarrassed. He led me over to a bench and sat next to me.
I stuttered out my story. Pellner talked into his shoulder mike and asked for an ambulance. Why? Then I realized he wanted the ambulance for me, and protested.
"I'm fine. I just want to go home," I said. Wailed. It was more of a wail than a statement. I tried to steady my voice, because if I went all hysterical female, he'd never let me go home.
"Stay here. I'm going to check out the gym."
I watched his back as he slipped through the door. No moon shone down, but the stars twinkled in the heat. No way I was going to sit out here alone, even though I knew other officers would arrive in minutes. So I followed Pellner and stopped just inside the gym doorway, the lights now on, looking at the carnage. Most of the sports equipment I'd worked so hard to organize lay haphazardly across the floor.
I gasped, and Pellner turned.
"I should have known you wouldn't stay put. What do you think went on in here?"
"Someone couldn't wait until eight-thirty for the start of the swap?"
Pellner's dimples deepened. On another man, they might have softened the hard angles of his face, but on Pellner, they only made him look menacing.
"Not funny?" I asked him.
"You being attacked isn't funny." He paused and looked around. "Can you tell if anything's been taken?"
I shrugged. Ouch. No shrugging. No moving at all would be even better. "It's not like I inventoried everything. It's a swap. People drop their old stuff off. Other people will come pick it up." I glanced up at the clock by the electronic scoreboard. Midnight. "I have eight and a half hours to get this place back in order."
Pellner was already shaking his head. "Someone maybe. Not you. You're going to the hospital."
Two more officers ran in. I recognized them but didn't really know them. They were followed by two EMTs.
"I'm fine." Every part of me seemed to ache, but I had work to do. I took a better look at the tables against the wall where the silent auction was set up. Pellner caught my frown.
"What?" he asked.
I walked over to the other side of the gym. The cops and EMTs trailing behind. "Someone took a lot of the silent auction items."
"Must be what went on here tonight. No one expected you to be here and came to steal this stuff. Who knows about the swap?"
"Almost everyone in the three surrounding counties. We've been advertising the heck out of this event." I turned to Pellner. "How did you happen to be here?"
"I saw your Suburban parked in the lot and thought I'd check on you."
There had been a time when I didn't trust Pellner, but I did now. He didn't look away under my scrutiny. "My car is in the side lot. You can't see it from the station."
Pellner pursed his lips. "I always drive through the parking lots on my way back to the station to make sure no one's lurking around the school. Do you have a problem with that?"
I shook my head.
"Okay, then. You are going with the EMTs to the hospital. You can do it the easy way and walk with them, or I can cuff you and chain you inside the ambulance."
I frowned at Pellner. "Since you put it that way, I'll go with them. But what about the stuff that was stolen?"
"You can give me a list of what was stolen later. Let's make sure you're okay first."
Excerpted from "I Know What You Bid Last Summer"
Copyright © 2018 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.
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