When Lee Barrett spots the same style oak bureau she once had as a child on the WICH-TV show, Shopping Salem, she rushes to the antiques shop and buys the piece. Just like the beloved bureau she lost in a fire, this one has secret compartments. It also comes with an intriguing history--it was purchased in an estate sale from a home where a famous local murder took place.
The day after the bureau is delivered, Lee returns to the antiques shop and finds the owner dead. The police suspect the shop owner's unscrupulous business partner, but Lee wonders if the murder is connected to her new furniture. At least part of the answer may be revealed through a mirror in the bureau, tarnished and blackened, allowing Lee to tap into her psychic visions. Using this bureau of investigation, Lee may be able to furnish her policeman beau with the evidence needed to catch the killer--before the next one to be shut up is her. . .
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Look Both Ways
By Carol J. Perry
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Carol J. Perry
All rights reserved.
"Maralee, come here. You won't believe this!"
I hurried from my sparsely furnished bedroom to the kitchen, where Aunt Ibby sat on an unpainted and slightly wobbly wooden stool. She pointed to the new TV, which was propped against a carton of books on the granite countertop.
"Look," she said. "It's exactly the same, isn't it?"
I pulled up a faded folding beach chair and peered at the screen. "You're right," I said, watching as a tall, gray-haired woman opened and closed the top drawer of an oak bureau. "It looks just like mine. What show is this?"
"Shopping Salem," she said. "It's new. The WICH-TV reporter goes around the city, interviewing shop owners. You should go right over there and buy that bureau before somebody else grabs it. Lord knows, you need furniture. Sitting out there on the new fire escape would be more comfortable than this thing." She rocked back and forth on the wobbly stool.
I sighed. "I know."
My sixty-something, ball-of-fire aunt had recently turned the third floor of the old family home on Salem's historic Winter Street into an apartment for me. I was delighted to have the private space, but selecting furnishings had become an unexpected challenge. Who knew that deciding between red and blue, modern and traditional, oak and walnut could be so bewildering?
So far all I'd bought for my spacious new digs was a king-size bed, the television set, a coffeemaker, and a scratching post for our resident cat, O'Ryan — supplemented with assorted temporary seating brought up from the cellar.
I'm Lee Barrett, née Maralee Kowalski, aged thirty-one, red-haired, and Salem born. I was orphaned early, married once, and widowed young. I was raised by my librarian aunt, Isobel Russell, in this house, and I returned home, to my roots, nearly a year ago.
"You'd better get going," Aunt Ibby said. "A handsome bureau like that will get snapped up in no time. The shop's called Tolliver's Antiques and Uniques. It's on Bridge Street. Won't take you but a minute to drive over there." She tossed her paper coffee cup into the recycling bag next to the sink. "And you might pick up some proper coffee cups while you're there."
I had a special reason — besides my obvious dearth of furnishings — to want this particular piece. An identical one had long ago adorned my childhood bedroom and had later been relegated to the attic. Sadly, it had been destroyed by a fire that pretty much ruined the top two floors of our house. The damage to the structure had been nicely repaired, but the contents of the rooms, including my bureau, had proven pretty much irreplaceable.
"Do you suppose hers has little secret compartments like mine did?" I wondered aloud.
"It does," she said. "The shop owner said that it has six and that she'll give whoever buys it directions on how to open them."
"It's been a while, but I think I can remember all of them," I said. "But maybe that one is different."
"Only one way to find out," she said, and within minutes I was driving along Bridge Street, convertible top down, enjoying the bright June morning and looking forward to adding one more piece of furniture to my apartment, and reclaiming a happy childhood memory at the same time.
Tolliver's Antiques and Uniques wasn't hard to find. The shop's weathered silvery-gray exterior featured a purple door. Bright pink petunias in purple window boxes added more color, and the lavender shield-shaped sign suspended over the doorway spelled out the name of the place in black Olde English lettering. I parked on a hot-top driveway next to the building and hurried inside. A bell over the door jingled a welcome, and the gray-haired woman I'd seen on television stepped from behind beaded curtains, right hand extended.
"Hello. I'm Shea Tolliver," she said, "Welcome to my shop." Her handshake was firm, her smile genuine, and the gray hair clearly of the premature variety.
"Hello," I said. "I'm Lee Barrett. I saw you on television this morning. I'm interested in that five-drawer bureau."
"Yes, a lovely piece. It was made by a little known Salem cabinetmaker back in ..." She stopped mid-sentence and looked at me intently. "I've seen you on television, too. You were the psychic medium on that Nightshades show before it got canceled."
She was right. I'd worked in television, one way or another, ever since I graduated from Emerson College. I smiled and held up both hands in protest. "That was me," I admitted. "But I promise I'm not a psychic — just played one on TV. These days I'm teaching TV Production 101 at the Tabitha Trumbull Academy of the Arts — better known around here as the Tabby."
She laughed. "Quite a switch. From soothsayer to schoolmarm."
"You're right," I agreed. "But teachers get the summer off, and I'm planning to spend some of this one furnishing a new apartment."
"Well, you couldn't go wrong with that bureau," she said. "Good looking, useful, and secret compartments to boot."
"I know. I had one exactly like it when I was a kid. Mine burned up in a fire."
"No kidding. What a shame. The cabinetmaker made only three ... that we know of. If yours is gone, there may be only two left — mine and one I saw in a New York shop, where the dealer showed me how it worked. I'd never have figured it out by myself." She parted the beaded curtains. "I found this one at an estate sale, and I don't think the owner even knew about the secret spaces. Come on back here and take a look."
I followed her into a back room. What a nostalgia rush! It was as though my own bureau had been magically restored, every curlicue and drawer pull exactly as I remembered. I reached out and stroked the polished top.
"This is it," I said. "How much?"
The price she quoted was steep, but not unreasonable.
"If you'll throw in those white ironstone coffee mugs over there," I said, remembering Aunt Ibby's plea, "you've got a deal. Is a credit card okay?"
"It's a deal, and a credit card is fine."
"Will you hold on to the bureau for a day or so, while I round up a truck and some extra muscle to help me get it home?"
I wasn't sure where the truck was going to come from, but I knew police detective Pete Mondello would be ready and willing to lend the muscle. Pete and I had become kind of a steady item since I'd come home, and I was pretty sure he was looking forward to me having a place of my own as much as I was!
"No worries about that," she said. "My delivery guy is due here any minute. You'll have your bureau by this afternoon, no extra charge. You're sure you remember where all the compartments are?"
"I think so." I touched each spot that I thought might hide a tiny compartment. "That's where mine were. Is it the same?"
"Sure is." She handed me a blank index card. "Just write down your address. And in case you forget, I'll put the directions for opening all of them in the top drawer."
"Perfect," I said. I did as she asked and handed back the index card. She tucked it into the cash register drawer.
I swiped my credit card while she wrapped four mugs in lavender tissue, put them in a purple bag, and handed it to me. "Come back again soon, Lee."
"You can count on it, Shea."
"I will." She smiled. "By the way, there is one thing I guess I should tell you."
"What's that?" I asked.
"The estate your bureau came from ... A kind of famous murder happened there. That doesn't bother you, does it?"
Shea dropped her voice. "The Helena Trent murder."
I shrugged. "Sorry," I said. "Doesn't ring a bell."
Her eyes widened. "Really? It was all over the news. In the papers for months."
"I've been away from Salem for quite a long time," I said. "Like about ten years."
"Oh. That would explain it. Anyway, they caught the guy. It was her husband, Tommy Trent. I just thought you should know your bureau came from a house where somebody got killed. That's all."
"I'll ask my aunt to fill me in about that murder," I said. "She's a reference librarian, and she knows something about darned near everything. But it won't affect my love for the bureau," I promised. "Was there anything interesting in the secret compartments?"
She grinned. "Naturally, I opened them all as soon as I got it into the shop."
"Nothing valuable, but sort of interesting. You'll see. I left everything just the way it was so the new owner — I guess that's you — can enjoy the discovery." Shea walked with me to the purple door. "I just wanted to be sure you don't mind about ... you know ... the murder, what with all the psychic stuff you did on TV."
"It was just a job," I said. "No big deal." I took another look around the store, noticing a Tiffany-style lamp, a pair of Victorian brass candlesticks, and a really pretty cut-glass punch bowl. "I'll definitely be back soon to shop some more."
"Good," she said. "I can use the business."
"Slow, is it?"
"Not too bad." She shrugged. "Tourist season hasn't really started yet. It'll get better. It's just that I had a partner who kind of took off with a chunk of our joint bank account."
"Sorry," I said, stepping out into the sunshine and pausing on the top step. "Someone you really trusted, I suppose."
"Yep. That's the worst of it. But I'll land on my feet. Always have."
"Just like a cat," I said, thinking of O'Ryan, our big, yellow-striped boy. "Well, good luck. I'll head for home and wait for my bureau."
I parked the convertible in the garage behind the house, picked up the purple bag, and headed through the garden to the back door. Low bushes of "almost ready for picking" blueberries lined the path, and the thought of Aunt Ibby's famous blueberry pies and muffins reminded me that I'd skipped breakfast. I let myself into the back hall and was welcomed by a big, soft cat doing figure eights around my ankles.
"Is that you, Maralee?" My aunt's voice came from the kitchen. "Did you get it?"
I bent to pat O'Ryan and pushed the kitchen door open. "Sure did. It'll be delivered today. You were right. It's exactly like mine, and in even better condition."
"I can hardly wait to see it," she said. "You know, I've always been surprised by how clean and modern the lines are, and how cleverly the compartments are disguised."
"Shea Tolliver — that's the owner's name — says there may be only two of them left in the world. This one, and one in New York. The cabinetmaker made only three that she knows of. Of course, we know what happened to the third one."
"The fire. What a shame." A momentary look of sadness crossed her face, and then she smiled. "But what luck that you are blessed to own two of the three."
"Lucky for sure," I agreed. "Guess I'll call Pete and invite him over to see it. He doesn't know about the secret compartments. I'm going to wait until he's here to open them."
"Any idea what's in them?"
"Not really. Shea says it's nothing valuable, but she left them as they were when she bought it. It'll be fun, anyway. Besides, Pete will be glad I've finally bought a piece of furniture. He thought I'd never get started."
"Can't blame him for thinking that," she said. "Have you had anything to eat, Maralee? You ran off without breakfast. Want an English muffin?"
"Love one," I said as I punched in Pete's number. "And look." I put the purple bag on the counter. "I got some coffee mugs."
She smiled her approval and popped an English muffin into the toaster.
Pete answered on the first ring. "Hi, Lee. I was just thinking about you."
"Good," I said. "What were you thinking?"
"Just wondering how the furniture shopping is going."
"You'll be proud of me. I bought a bureau this morning."
"Good for you." I could hear the smile in his voice. "I have tonight off. Can I come over and see it?"
"Absolutely. I was calling to invite you to dinner."
"Great. I'll be there. Around six?"
"Yep. I'll cook dinner on my new stove."
"Got dishes yet?"
"Nope! I'll figure something out." O'Ryan streaked past me toward the front door. "Oh, oh, there goes O'Ryan. The deliveryman must be here already." The cat always knows when someone is coming — and which door they're coming to. I heard the chime. "Gotta go. See you tonight."
There are two entrances to our house. The front door opens onto Winter Street, and there's a back door facing Oliver Street. The latter one opens onto a narrow hall, with one door leading to Aunt Ibby's kitchen and another leading to a stairway that goes up two flights to my apartment.
I headed for the front hall, while Aunt Ibby ladled homemade strawberry jam onto the hot English muffin. I opened the door and signed a slip, then dashed back into the kitchen and took a couple of bites of my belated breakfast while two very large men hefted the quilt-covered bureau from a truck marked BOB'S MOVING AND DELIVERY. They lifted it onto a dolly, placed a wooden ramp over the front steps, then wheeled it into the foyer.
"That was fast," I said. "Thanks."
"No problem. Ms. Tolliver said to make this my first stop," said the taller of the two. "Where do you want it?"
"I hate to tell you this, but it's going to the third floor."
If the news of the two flights of stairs bothered them, neither one showed it.
"Want to lead the way, miss?" The tall mover had "Bob" embroidered on his shirt pocket.
I hurried upstairs, with O'Ryan racing ahead of me, opened the door to my apartment, and waited for the men to catch up. After carefully removing and folding the quilt, one man taped the drawers shut, while the other ran a piece of tape across the top, securing a center panel that, if I remembered correctly, lifted to reveal a small mirror. Then, without the slightest grunt or groan, they started up the stairs, one man at the base of the bureau and the other at the upper end.
It took the men only a few minutes to wrestle my bureau up the stairs, through the almost empty kitchen, and into my bedroom, where they placed it carefully in the spot I'd reserved. Tape removed, it looked even better than I'd expected. The movers and I stood there for a brief moment, admiring it.
"Nice," commented the one named Bob.
"Sturdy," said the other man. "They don't make 'em like that one anymore."
"It's a beauty," I agreed, watching as O'Ryan judged the bureau's height, then leaped and made a perfect soft landing on top of it.
"Big cat," said Bob.
"Nice," said the other mover. They turned and headed down the stairs, O'Ryan and I tagging along behind. I slipped Bob a generous tip, while O'Ryan sniffed at the folded quilt, then watched as the men headed back to the truck.
Aunt Ibby appeared in the bedroom doorway. "It's even more beautiful than I remembered. The lines are so classic, and the raised panels between the drawers are so delicately carved. They look like tiny flowers, don't they?"
"They do," I agreed. "It looks perfect up there, and nobody would ever guess there are hiding places all over it. Shea Tolliver said she thought the person she bought it from didn't even know they were there."
"They're well hidden," she said. "If Grandmother Forbes hadn't shown them to you when you were a little girl, you might never have found them, either."
"Shea put the directions in the top drawer, in case I forget."
"That was thoughtful," she said. "Pete will get a kick out of the secret spaces."
"I know. And I promised to cook him dinner, too."
"You don't have dishes yet," she said. "Maybe you should have looked for some when you bought the nice mugs."
"You're right." I looked at my watch. "It's not too late. I think I'll go do a little china shopping."
"Oh, Aunt Ibby, remind me when I get back to ask you about a murder that happened while I was in Florida."
"A murder? What murder?"
"Somebody named Trent. Shea mentioned it. I'll tell you what she said later."
It occurred to me as I backed out of the driveway that I'd much rather have vintage dishes than new ones. Maybe Shea Tolliver would have some nice old Fiestaware. Within minutes I was once again headed for Bridge Street. I parked the Corvette in the same space I'd used earlier, and headed for the purple door. I stepped aside quickly when the door burst open and a tall blond man rushed past, jostling my arm.
"Watch where you're going!" I exclaimed, my redhead's temper flaring for a moment.
"Sorry," he said and broke into a run.
The bell over the door tinkled a welcome as I stepped inside.
"Shea? You here?" I called.
No reply, but I saw her.
At least, I saw her feet. Sensibly shod toes pointing up, they stuck out from behind the counter. I had a very bad feeling as I slowly rounded the corner. Sightless eyes stared upward, and a trickle of blood issued from her mouth.
It was Shea Tolliver, all right, and I didn't need to touch her to know that she was dead.
Excerpted from Look Both Ways by Carol J. Perry. Copyright © 2015 Carol J. Perry. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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