A wealthy widow has asked Sarah Winston to sell her massive collection of mysteries through her garage sale business. While sorting through piles of books stashed in the woman's attic, Sarah is amazed to discover a case of lost Hemingway stories, stolen from a train in Paris back in 1922. How did they end up in Belle Winthrop Granville's attic in Ellington, Massachusetts, almost one hundred years later?
WILL SARAH HAVE TO PAY WITH HER LIFE?
Before Sarah can get any answers, Belle is assaulted, the case is stolen, a maid is killed, and Sarah herself is dodging bullets. And when rumors spread that Belle has a limited edition of The Sun Also Rises in her house, Sarah is soon mixed up with a mobster, the fanatical League of Literary Treasure Hunters, and a hard-to-read rare book dealer. With someone willing to kill for the Hemingway, Sarah has to race to catch the culprit—or the bell may toll for her . . .
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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A drop of sweat rolled down my back as I rang the doorbell of the mansion. I wanted to blame it on the hot sun pummeling my shoulders, but it was nerves. As I listened to the deep gong echoing inside the house, I thought, for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. I didn't know the rest of the poem, only that Hemingway used it for a title, or why the lines swirled through my head. They sure sounded ominous.
I'd been summoned here via a thick cream envelope delivered by a messenger yesterday at noon. The card inside read:
Mrs. Belle Winthrop Granville, III Requests the presence of Miss Sarah Winston at 10:00 a.m., July 25
It was impossible to refuse such an invitation. Okay, so I could have, but curiosity would have killed me if I did. I'd been running a garage sale business for over a year and a half, here in Ellington, Massachusetts. But I'd never worked for someone as wealthy as Belle Winthrop Granville, III. Miss Belle, as she was called around town, which was a very Southern thing to do for a bunch of Yankees, was a legend in Ellington. I couldn't imagine how she'd even heard about me. Or that she needed me to do a garage sale for her.
But I knew about Miss Belle. In fact, everyone in Ellington knew her story because who didn't love a good love story? She was from an elite Alabama family. She'd met Sebastian Winthrop Granville, III at spring break in Key West in the early sixties. Sebastian was from a wealthy Boston Brahmin family. Both families were dead set against the union, but the two snuck off and married. They were like Romeo and Juliet without the entire star- crossed business.
The story went that Miss Belle had brought her Southern hospitality up north as a young bride, but never won over Sebastian's family. To escape the cold disapproval, Miss Belle and Sebastian moved to Ellington, where Sebastian opened a bank and made his own fortune. This all happened in the sixties, long before I'd landed in Massachusetts three years ago when I was thirty-six.
I stared at the door, willing it to open. I was beginning to feel twitchy, which wasn't a good way to make a first impression. When it finally swung open, a twenty-something woman in a black knee-length dress with a crisp white apron stood there. For a moment, I wondered if I'd been invited to a costume party and that I should have worn something other than my blue and white sundress. "Hi, I'm Sarah Winston. Mrs. Winthrop Granville is expecting me."
"Yes, ma'am, follow me."
I detected a bit of a Boston accent in her voice. We trekked across what seemed like miles of marble flooring, under chandeliers, and past a staircase that would suit Tara from Gone With the Wind. She led me to a room with a massive desk near tall windows lined with dark green velvet curtains. For a moment, I wondered if I was on the set of a remake of Gone With the Wind.
"I'll go get Mrs. Winthrop Granville," the maid said.
"Thank you." I turned slowly around after she left. The room was two stories high and filled floor to ceiling with shelves of books. There were two library ladders and a small balcony. It was a reader's dream room. Except for a lack of comfy chairs.
"How do you like my library?"
I turned at the sound of the soft voice with a Southern accent, where the word my sounded like mah and the word library was drawled out from three syllables to about five. A petite woman with silver hair twisted into a neat bun stood behind me. "Mrs. Winthrop Granville," I said. I recognized her from photographs in the newspaper. "It's an amazing room."
"If you are going to work with me, please call me Belle," she said. She wore a twinset that looked like Chanel and tan slacks. A scarf draped gracefully around her neck.
I was going to work with her? She really wanted to have a garage sale?
Miss Belle laughed. "You look flabbergasted."
"Trying to keep my emotions from showing isn't my strongest suit. It's why I rarely play poker. Apparently, I don't have just one tell, I have a multitude of them. What did you have in mind?"
"Let's sit," Miss Belle said. "Would you like me to have Kay get you something to drink? Tea or a Coke?" She gestured to the maid, who stood in the doorway of the room.
"No, I'm fine, thank you." The idea of having someone wait on me had always made me slightly uncomfortable.
Miss Belle sat in a leather chair behind a desk that almost dwarfed her and gestured for me to sit across from her in an equally massive chair. She ran a hand across the smooth mahogany of the desk. "This was my Sebastian's desk. He loved this silly thing. It's ridiculously big, don't you think?"
"It's lovely." What else could I say?
"It was his grandfather's. One of the few things he wanted from his family when we moved to Ellington in the sixties." She sighed. "But I'm guessing you are wondering why I've asked you here."
Boy, was I. I nodded. I realized I'd crossed my legs at my ankles, had my hands folded neatly in my lap, and sat more erect than usual, like I was in the presence of a VIP.
"It's time to do some downsizing."
I didn't realize rich people worried about downsizing too.
"We never had children, so there's no one to leave all of our things to. Although a few pieces will be returned to Sebastian's nieces and nephews." She wrinkled her nose on the last bit.
"I'm not sure I'm the person to do a sale for you." I hated turning away business, but "I think you need Sotheby's, not me."
"Oh, dear. I'm not being clear at all. It's my massive book collection. I want to put together a sale to raise money for the Ellington Free Library."
I craned my head around the room. The books were all bound in leather, some looked old, most looked valuable. I had no expertise with old or rare books. I didn't even know anyone who did. "I don't think I'm qualified to do that."
Miss Belle looked surprised. "Oh, not these books." She waved her hand around. "I have an expert coming in to deal with them."
"What books, then?" I asked.
Miss Belle's cheeks reddened. "I'm addicted to mysteries. Come with me."CHAPTER 2
"Nothing wrong with that. I love them myself."
Miss Belle smiled. I followed her down the hall and into an office. This one was a smaller-scale version of the first. Tall windows, a smaller desk with graceful curved legs, and paperback books everywhere, on shelves, on end tables, even some stacked on the floor. A bunch of hardbacks were on the shelves too. I spotted a complete set of Sue Grafton books, all the Louise Penny's Armand Gamache novels, and books by Sara Paretesky. This room had several comfy chairs to sit in with a good book.
"I don't bring everyone in here," she said, "but you don't seem like the judgmental type." She took a quick glance at me, and I gave her my best nonjudgmental smile. "Some people look down on mysteries, you know."
I may be a lot of things, but snooty wasn't one of them. Besides, who wouldn't love mysteries?
"There's everything from Agatha Christie to Trixie Beldon to Donna Andrews in here," she said.
"I think I could handle this," I said.
"This isn't all of it," Miss Belle said. "Follow me, please."
We climbed the curving staircase to the second floor. Halls led off on either side with the plushest, longest Oriental rugs I'd ever seen. Their reds glowed against the dark paneling.
"There's another staircase at the end of this hall" — she gestured to her left — "but we'll go up here."
She opened one of the multiple closed doors and we climbed another set of stairs. The rug on this floor wasn't as plush but looked much loved. In the center of the hall, Miss Belle opened a door to a steep set of stairs to an attic. The big house was very quiet. I could hear Kay vacuuming somewhere on another floor.
The attic was as clean or cleaner than my apartment. Not a cobweb or mouse to be seen. To the left was a room with large windows spaced evenly around the room and plenty of lighting from fixtures in the ceiling. It certainly wasn't like most attics I'd been in, with low-sloped ceilings, a light bulb on a string, and rickety stairs leading up to it.
Miss Belle showed me around the room. We passed what looked to me like a treasure trove of antiques: an old radio, a gramophone, and an ice chest. I would have loved to linger and explore. For a small woman, Miss Belle could move quickly, and I hurried to keep up with her.
We arrived at a small hall with three closed doors. "Kay, my maid and housekeeper, lives up here. It's her choice. There are plenty of rooms on the second and third floor."
She opened the door that was straight ahead of us. The hinges squeaked just a little, and Miss Belle frowned. It made me realize again how very quiet this house was. This room had dress dummies, suitcases, trunks, shelves of books, and boxes with books spilling out of them. I spotted a box of Nancy Drew books and another of Bobbsey Twins.
Miss Belle shook her head. "I should have parted with some of these long ago. It's silly keeping them up here, where only I can read them. And it's a bit of a mess. I'm not sure what's in the trunks and suitcases. Probably more books." Miss Belle looked me over. "Are you up to the task?"
"Can I just poke about for a bit before I answer?" I asked.
"Very sensible. Of course. There's a bathroom just outside to the left. Kay's room is on the right. Stop by the study before you leave."
"Okay." I watched as Miss Belle left. When she was out of sight, I turned back to the scene before me. Books, glorious books.
* * *
I found a box full of Agatha Christie's books, including my favorite, And Then There Were None, and a trunk filled with Mary Stewart, Phyllis A. Whitney, and Victoria Holt books, which my mom loved. I flipped through a few of them but had to stop myself, more than once, from sitting down to read. None of them were first editions, but this might be the best project I'd ever had.
I spent about fifteen minutes poking around in Miss Belle's attic before I headed back downstairs. I heard voices coming from the library, so I knocked lightly on the open door before going in. Miss Belle stood next to an older man in a black suit who wasn't much taller than her and at least an inch shorter than my five-six.
"Sarah, let me introduce you to Roger Mervine. He's an old friend and a rare book dealer from Boston."
Roger strode over to me and took my hand. For a minute, I thought he was going to kiss it with his waxed, mustachioed mouth. But he shook it instead. Vigorously. "Belle tells me you'll be handling the lesser books."
Lesser books? Yeesh.
"And of course I'll be here to answer any of your questions should you find something rare or valuable."
I managed to maintain a pleasant expression. "That hasn't been decided yet." If I had to work with this guy around, I wasn't sure I wanted to. Although I'd come down here with every intention of saying yes.
"Oh, Roger, don't be such a snob," Miss Belle said. "He's harmless, really. Roger has a fabulous bookstore on Beacon Hill in Boston."
Beacon Hill was a neighborhood full of beautiful brick row houses, exclusive shops, and restaurants north of Boston Common, America's first public park, and the Public Garden, the first public botanical garden in America. It was a world for John Kerry and the Kennedys and Seth Anderson's family, but this was no time to think about Seth. Good grief, now I was starting to sound like Scarlett O'Hara. He had caused me a lot of heartache and I'd done the same to him. I shook it off. "I've been in your shop. Mervine's Rare and Unusual Books?"
He did a slight bow instead of saying yes. His thick white hair swept forward, momentarily covering his face. It was hard to peg his age, but I'd guess somewhere north of sixty-five. Geez, it was like he was playing the role of lord of the manor. Roger probably had a smoking jacket and crystal decanters full of port at home. He'd probably never tasted a fluffernutter, my favorite sandwich, in his life. Although if he was connected to Belle, he might really be a lord of a manor somewhere, or at least the American equivalent of one. When he raised his head, his light brown eyes had a bit of a twinkle in them.
"So delighted you've been in. Did you purchase anything?" he asked.
I almost said no to be ornery. "Several things. My father was thrilled with a history of coastal California I gave him for Christmas one year. Also a book with early California maps. They were beautiful." I'd grown up in Pacific Grove, California, which was sandwiched between the more famous Monterey and Carmel. My parents still lived there.
"Wonderful. It's the best part of having the store, knowing that the books end up in the hands of someone who loves them. I must be off. Sarah, I hope we'll meet again, and Belle, enchanté as usual." He swept out of the room as if he was exiting stage left.
"Sorry about that," Belle said. "I was hoping to have you on board before you met Roger. He's always overly assertive when you first meet him, but then he's just a big old teddy bear."
"I don't scare that easily," I said. That might not be true, but if I said it out loud often enough, maybe it would be.
"Good. That's what I heard, and that you're clever."
Oh, dear. People had been getting the craziest ideas about me since I'd helped solve a few murders. "Don't believe everything you've heard."
"I did a lot of checking before reaching out to you. After all, you will be in my home all day for some length of time going through my treasured things. I had to find someone trustworthy."
"How did you hear about me?"
"Other than the newspapers? I asked around. I know your friends the DiNapolis, among others."
Angelo and Rosalie DiNapoli owned DiNapoli's Roast Beef and Pizza, my favorite place to eat in Ellington. They had become my extended family since I'd moved to the area.
Belle clasped her hands together. "Back to my books. What do you think?"
"I'd like to do it. If I find things I can't easily price, I can look them up."
"Or you can ask Roger."
"Yes, of course." Over my dead body. I explained to Belle that I'd have to work on an hourly fee basis. I hated charging someone when they were doing something for charity, but I'd recently done an event for the school board for free. I was still trying to recoup the money I'd lost by turning away other paying jobs during that project. I also had another charity function in the works.
"No problem," Belle said. "When can you start?"
I pulled out my phone and checked out my calendar. "I could come by for a couple of hours in the morning, if that works for you."
"Of course it does. Thank you so much. This is going to be wonderful."
* * *
At noon, I sat across a table from Stella, my landlady and friend, at DiNapoli's. We were sharing my favorite bianco pizza, a white pizza with four cheeses, Angelo's secret garlic sauce, and basil, and sipping a nice cabernet sauvignon. I kind of missed the days when DiNapoli's didn't have a liquor license and would sneak me wine in a plastic kiddie cup with a lid and a straw.
"How is practice going?" I asked Stella. She taught voice classes at Berklee College of Music, private lessons at home, and had a minor role in a fall production of The Phantom of the Opera.
"Good. The cast is fantastic. The director has a clear vision. So far, it's been amazing."
"I hope it stays that way," I said.
"They asked me to be the understudy for the lead role, Christine." Stella's dark green eyes were wide with excitement. And her olive skin was a bit flushed.
"That's wonderful news. Now we just have to figure out how to get rid of the lead actress. I could wish her good luck instead of saying break a leg." It was a theater superstition not to tell an actor good luck.
"No. I'm content with my role. It's been so long since I've been in anything professionally. I'm fine with this." Stella had toured Europe with an opera ten years ago, when she was in her twenties. "What about you?"
I picked up a second slice of pizza. The piece was about the size of my head. Angelo didn't believe in small slices. He thought it threw off the toppings-to-crust ratio. The cheese dripped over the edges as I slid it onto my plate.
"I have a new job I'm excited about."
"For who?" Stella asked.
"Belle Winthrop Granville. She has an enormous collection of mystery books she wants to sell and then donate the money to the Ellington Library."
"Miss Belle? Wow. How did you manage that?"
"She found me," I said. "Her house is amazing. Right out of a magazine. And her attic. It's a treasure trove. I wish I had time to explore it all."
"Let me know if you need any help. I'd love to see her house."
"That would be fun. I may just need an assistant for a day or two."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Gun Also Rises"
Copyright © 2019 Sherry Harris.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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