Read an Excerpt
White Ivory from the MuseumA Novel
By Roy Carl Weiler Sr.
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Roy Carl Weiler Sr.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe snake moved slowly, silently across the floor. The girl watched its slow progress toward where she stood. She wanted to scream, but the duct tape over her mouth made that impossible. She had to stand very quiet, very still.
The man in the rocking chair outside the concrete wall that kept the snakes confined continued talking to her as he read the newspaper. "Says here they are still looking for you. It's been a week, and they haven't got a clue." He smirked. "Some people think you ran away. This reporter interviewed your mom; she says you had no reason to run off. You were happy at home and looking forward to going away to college next year. Is that true? Were you happy at home?"
The girl turned her head slightly so that she was looking directly at the man. Her eyes widened as she saw the biggest rattler moving toward the wooden block on which she stood. The man had tied her hands behind her and taped her mouth and then made her stand on the block in the center of the pit. He had told her the block was eighteen inches high and eight inches square. He'd had to help her step up or she wouldn't have been able to. As it was, she needed to stand very straight and very still because the tiny tips of her four-inch heels were right at the back edge of the block, and their pointed toes were just past the front edge. Her feet hurt. She had always worn flats or tennis shoes, except for the senior prom last spring, when she had worn little two-inch pumps.
Now she wore the clothes he had given her: a tight, short black skirt with a wide belt, a white silk blouse, and of course, the four-inch black velvet pumps. The toes were so pointy, the heels so very high, and they hurt her feet so badly she could hardly stand or walk in them. He had told her to practice, as she would soon need to be able to stand straight and still in them for a long time. Today he had brought her to the snake pit. She didn't know what it was, but after he had her standing on the block at its center and he was safely outside the concrete ring, he let the snakes free, telling her they were diamondback rattlers, very poisonous, and the only thing that would keep her safe was staying up on the block and standing very still. Movement would disturb them, and the biggest ones could strike up high enough to reach her, bite her.
She didn't know how long she had been standing up there, but it seemed like hours. She was terrified. She knew that if she fell, at least one of them would surely bite her. As she watched him, the man smiled and pointed at her feet. Looking down carefully, she saw the first snake had reached the block and was moving up to where its head was just below the tips of her shoes, with its tongue flicking in and out, sensing, tasting ...
Chapter TwoMarion was sitting at the kitchen table in the Roundhouse Museum, reading an article in the newspaper about the girl who had disappeared from a nearby town, when the sleigh bells on the front door of the museum chimed as someone came in. Her heels made a tap-tapping sound as she crossed the kitchen tile but were silent when she stepped onto the carpeted floor of the museum proper.
A very handsome man was standing just inside the front door. "Hi, I'm Marion. Welcome to the Egg Harbor City Historical Society's Roundhouse Museum. Please sign our visitor's book."
The man had dark hair and bright blue eyes. He smiled when he saw her and said, "Hi yourself. I'm Robert James, and I've been doing some research about some things to do with Egg Harbor City. Linda—the lady at the library—told me about your museum. So here I am." He turned to sign the book.
Standing next to him, waiting for him to finish, Marion couldn't keep herself from smiling. She felt almost a little giddy, like a schoolgirl. Stop it, she thought, but her face kept right on smiling. She said, "So, Mr. James, what can I do for you?"
He turned, smiling right back at her. "I read an article about an old doctor from the early 1900s and his secret cures and the gold coins he supposedly had hidden hereabout. Do you have any information about any of that?"
"You must mean Dr. Smith. He was real. This museum is in one of the buildings from his Cedar Water Health Resort. But the secret cures and gold coins are only a myth. If you'll look in this display case, we have lots of old photos and things from him and the sanitarium he built. It used to stand across the street and was the main building of the health resort."
Pointing to a photo in the case, he asked. "Is that the old doctor? He sure looks like he was a feisty old guy. Look at that beard, it's down to his waist. Did he really cure people with the waters from around this area?"
"That's him. He was quite a character. It's said that people came from around the world to be treated by him. So I guess he must have cured some of them. We have lots of other things in the museum about Egg Harbor City and stuff that happened here. Are you from the area?"
"Actually, I'm from Cape May. But I've been to Egg Harbor a number of times over the years. I used to come stay with my aunt and her husband when I was a kid. I always loved to go swimming in the lake when I was here on my summer visits."
"They lived in Egg Harbor City? I don't remember hearing of a James family living here."
"She was my dad's sister. She married David Maxwell."
"Oh. Now Maxwell, that's a name I know. We had a mayor who was a Maxwell, and as a matter of fact, we had a president of the historical society who was a Maxwell. Are you any relation, do you know?"
"I do, and I'm sure I'm not related to them. I remember my uncle Dave always said he was the stray dog in this town because he was from a different Maxwell family than all the ones in Egg Harbor City ."
"That's a shame, because we have a lot of family history information about the Maxwells here at the museum, in the genealogy files upstairs. For such a small town, Egg Harbor is lucky to have a strong historical society and this museum. So you're just here for the day?"
"No. As a matter of fact I'm staying at the Tuscany House. My aunt died at my home in Cape May just last month. She had congestive heart failure, and I took care of her the last few years. She left me her house here in Egg Harbor City. It's been boarded up ever since she moved in with me. It was in bad shape when I moved her to my place, so I just let it sit. Now it's mine, and I hope to get it open and in a livable condition. Maybe sell it—I don't know yet. Besides, it has given me a chance to be here and look into the mysteries about Dr. Smith's gold coins and his cedar water cures. I've wanted to do this ever since I read that article, but taking care of Audrey prevented me from getting here until now."
"I told you that's just a myth, an old wives' tale."
"Maybe. But look, it has already let me meet a most charming and helpful lady," he said with a big smile.
Marion felt her cheeks grow a bit warm with the beginning of a blush at the compliment he had given her. And oh my, her heart started to flutter a little, seeing the sparkle in his blue eyes. She thought, He is so handsome. If nothing else, I sure will have a story to tell the girls about what happened today at the museum. They always say it's so boring, how do I stand it? Ha!
Gathering her composure, she gave him a radiant smile and stated, "Mr. James, we close at four, but if you like, I can stay on for a bit ... so you can look around."
"Oh, I didn't realize the afternoon has slipped away. I don't want to keep you if you need to close, and please call me Robert." "I don't have anything pressing to do except go home, eat dinner, and feed my cats."
"You have cats? How many? What kinds? I have always been a cat person. I've had dogs too, but there's just something about a cat ..."
"I know what you mean. They can be so loving, or they will walk away from you as if you don't exist. I have two, a Persian mix and a gray tabby. Do you have a cat now?"
"I did. He was old and his name was Mr. Davis. When Aunt Audrey moved in with me, they hit it off right away. He became her cat and slept in bed with her every day right up till she died."
"I'm sorry about your aunt. You said you did have a cat. Did something happen to him?"
"Well, to tell you the truth, he was very old and was having a lot of health problems. Since he and Audrey were so close ... Well, when she died I had Mr. Davis put to sleep and cremated with her. I still have their ashes in an urn. I'm going to spread them over a lake or the ocean sometime. But I haven't been able to do it just yet. I ..."
Marion could see he was feeling some pain talking about this. His smile was gone, and she thought his eyes were getting moist. Putting her hand on his arm, she said, "It's all right. You don't have to say it. I know how hard it is to lose people and things you love. Would you like a cup of coffee? I had just made a small pot when you came in."
He said he would and followed her through the museum into the kitchen area. "You have a really nice setup here. I saw lots of displays I want to take a closer look at when I get a chance. How long can you let me stay? And when can I come back?"
"The museum is open from one to four in the afternoon on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but if you're that interested"—she smiled shyly—"I suppose I could meet you here at other times and let you look around for a while. Cream and sugar?"
"Just black is fine." Noticing the coffee can on the counter, he said, "I see you use the 'good to the last drop' kind. Just like I do."
"Oh yah. My family has used it since I was a little girl. I'm an only child. Do you have brothers and sisters?"
He smiled with real humor in his eyes. "You say 'yah' with a real hard 'ah,' like all the folks from around here, instead of 'yeah' like the rest of the country. And no, I'm an only one too. I think Mom and Dad saw me and decided one was enough." He laughed, helped with her chair, and sat next to her at the table. "So tell me about the great Dr. Smith."
She smiled right back at him. "Do you know you say it like that too? Now let's see. Dr. Smith came here in the late 1800s, and one afternoon, he fell into Union Creek. After that, he claimed he was feeling so good that it must be the Fountain of Youth. He said all his aches and pains were gone, and he was rejuvenated. He founded his health resort on the idea that cedar water was great stuff, and he could cure almost any ill with it."
"But what evidence is there to prove his claims?"
"Let me think. He told the 1920 census taker he was 143 years old, born in 1776. Like the country. We have a copy of the 1920 census, and that's what it says. He was very successful at the beginning of his business. From 1895 until about 1920, the sanitarium and health resort grew steadily, with more buildings and baths being built every year. My God, I sound like a tour guide." She chuckled.
He was enjoying her animation and liveliness. "No, please don't stop. This is just the kind of information I'm looking for. But what about his gold coins? If he was so successful, then surely he made a lot of money?"
"No one knows. He died in a snowstorm in March of 1923. He's buried in Illinois. I'm not sure why. I guess maybe he had family there. I really don't know."
"The mystery deepens," he said in a deep voice.
She saw the smile on his face and had to smile herself. Spooky, like watching a rerun of that old TV show the Inner Sanctum, she thought. "No mystery. Just some lost facts. The information might be here in the museum, but nobody has put the bits together yet. We have lots and lots of papers that no one has had time to go through. Adele was working in the archives and bringing some organization to the upstairs papers and files. She was kind of our librarian until she passed away. We haven't had anyone volunteer to work on it since. It's a big job, and each time somebody works up there researching or looking for things, it gets more disorganized."
"Do you suppose I could look around upstairs sometime?"
"Sure. It's a mess anyway. Maybe next time you're here. If we could get an afternoon together, you could see the displays in the museum and then spend some time in the archives. Speaking of time, it's really getting late. Almost six."
"I guess I've kept you long enough. Tell me, is there a good place to eat here? Besides Joseph's at my hotel, that is. It's great, but I've eaten there every night since I arrived."
"Well if you are up for some good Italian, there's Mario's Uptown Grill."
"Sounds good. Now the only question is will you join me?"
"I ... well. I do live right around the corner from there. Sure. I guess so. We can continue our conversation over pasta, and they have the best chicken parmigiana. It's to die for. I'll tell you what. You go get a table, I'll lock up here, stop home, feed my cats, and meet you there in about twenty minutes or so. How's that sound?"
"Like a plan. Just one thing. How do I get there?"
Chapter ThreeGail was working her second shift. All she wanted to do was go home. Her feet hurt, and she was very tired, but she needed the money. So continue to work she would. Not that Mario's was a bad place to work. It was good, as restaurant work goes. Mario was a great cook and a very nice, happy kind of guy. Besides, the tips were about as good as it gets for a small town.
She was just writing up a customer's check when a really cute guy walked in the front door. Gail didn't know who he was, but she meant to find out. As he got closer, she said, "Welcome to Mario's! Table for one?"
He gave her a smile. "Two, and could I have a table by the windows? I'm waiting for someone."
She led him to a table, thinking, He's probably waiting for a girl. Damn, figures. She said, "Can I get you something to drink while you're waiting?"
"Yes. An iced tea please. I'm Robert, and you are?"
She realized she hadn't given her name when he came in. Just looking at his big blue eyes flustered her a little. She thought they were the deepest blue eyes she had ever seen on a man. With a grin and the beginning of a slight blush, she said, "Oh ... I'm Gail. I'll be your waitress, and I'll be right back with your iced tea."
Robert watched her walk away, admiring her legs and the nice little wiggle in her rear. Smiling to himself, he picked up one of the menus she had placed on the table. "What was it Marion had said was so good here? Oh yeah, the chicken parmigiana ..."
"So I see you found the place okay."
He looked up. Marion was standing in front of him. He noticed she had changed into a skirt and a different blouse. Getting up, he said, "Someone gave me excellent directions." He helped her take her coat off and held her chair. Sitting down himself, he said, "Here comes Gail with my iced tea. Do you want something to drink?"
As Gail set down his glass, Marion said, "Hi Gail. I'll have a coffee, black. Do you two know each other?"
"No, Robert just came in and introduced himself. Said he was waiting for someone. I didn't know it was you. How've you been? I haven't seen you in here in—I don't know how long."
"It's been awhile, and I'm okay. Just busy, busy. You know how it is. How are you and Bill doing? Somebody told me he was working in Atlantic City. One of the casinos or something?"
"Yes ... we're good. I'll get your coffee."
Feeling a bit uncomfortable with the apparent tension between the women, Robert said, "How were your cats? And that's a very pretty blouse."
"Thank you. They were hungry. They're always hungry for food and petting. If I only pet one, the other one gets jealous. It took more time petting and feeding them than anything else. You were looking at the menu when I came in. Did you see anything that looked good?"
"Besides you?" He chuckled. "I had just started to look, and you did say the chicken parm was good. If you still recommend it then that's what I'll have."
"I do, and I will have that also. Their antipasto salad is good but quite big. Would you split one with me?" She said it with a shy smile that made him think of a little girl asking for candy.
"You're so cute. How could I refuse?"
"Why do you say I'm cute? I just asked you to split a salad with me."
"Not what you asked. The smile that went with the question." Now he was smiling so hard he thought his face would crack.
Excerpted from White Ivory from the Museum by Roy Carl Weiler Sr. Copyright © 2011 by Roy Carl Weiler Sr.. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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