Dead Guy's Stuff:
The second in the Jane Wheel mystery series
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Excerpt from dead guy's Stuff:
How do you know, Jane Wheel wondered, not for the first time, whether or not your rituals, your own little signature gestures, are celebrations of your individuality and part of your own quirky charm or if they are neurotic tics, proof positive that you suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder?
For example, at estate sales, as Jane warmed up once inside the house, immersed in the possessions of another, she began humming, sometimes quite loudly, as she thumbed through books, rifled drawers, ran her fingers around the edges of bowls and rims of glassware. Humming seemed innocent enough.
What about the constant checking for car keys in one pocket, checkbook and identification in another, and cold cash in a third? Her fourth pocket, upper left, held a small notebook and tiny mechanical pencil that advertised: GOOSEY UPHOLSTERY -- TAKE A GANDER AT OUR FABRICS. Under the slogan was the telephone number WELLS 2-5206. Natural enough to check your pockets in a crowd. She did pat them in a special order, but that was probably something to do with muscle memory or neurological instinct. Right, left on the bottom; right, left on the top. Perhaps left-handed people who checked their pockets moved left to right, top to bottom. She would keep an eye on her friend Tim. He was a lefty.
It was 9:00 A.M. and Jane had just received her number for the sale. Doors would open at nine-thirty, so she had some time for her presale voodoo in the car. She patted her pockets, swallowed a sip of her now lukewarm coffee -- after all, it had been sitting there as long as she had, two and a half hours, waiting for the numbers.
Pulling out her little notebook, she checked her list. She had a small sketch of a Depression glass pattern that a friend had asked her to look for and several children's book titles that Miriam, her dealer friend in Ohio, was currently searching for. God, she didn't want to have to fight the book people, but Miriam had said condition didn't matter on these. Miriam had a customer who was after illustrations and would remove them from damaged books that the real book hunters would cast aside. Both Jane and Miriam had shuddered at that. They were both strongly against the adulteration of almost any object, unless of course it was already in tatters and one could feel noble about the salvage. A thoroughly moth-eaten coat from the thirties could have its Bakelite buttons removed. Bakelite buckles and clips that had already been damaged and jewelry already broken or deeply cracked could be refashioned, but by god, Martha Stewart, keep your glue gun away from intact buttons and beads.
Jane's list had the other usual suspects. Flowerpots, vintage sewing notions, crocheted potholders, bark cloth, all her favorites. She was also hunting old Western objects -- linens, blankets, lampshades with cowboys and Indians, horse-head coat hooks. Tim's sister had just had a baby boy, and Tim was already planning the upgrade from nursery to toddler's room and had settled on turning this small corner of a suburban colonial into a set from Spin and Marty, the dude ranch serial from the original -- the one that mattered -- Mickey Mouse Club.
"Not so politically correct, sweetie, but we'll morph into an Adirondack fishing camp if the whole cowboy-Indie thing gets too Village People for the bro-in-law," Tim had said when she'd talked to him earlier in the week.
Jane had only five minutes to write down her Lucky Five. At every house sale, to pass the interminable waiting time, Jane tried to guess by looking at the outside of the house what the inside would hold. She wrote down five objects, and if they were all in the house, she allowed herself an extra fifty dollars to spend for the day. The game didn't exactly make sense, she knew, since if she won, she lost: fifty dollars. But playing the Lucky Five was so satisfying.
She studied the compact Chicago brick bungalow, located a few blocks from Saint Ita's Church. The front sidewalk had cracked, and the brick work on the front steps was in disrepair. The classified ad had said "a lifetime of possessions," "a clean sale, a full basement," and the most delightful tease of all, "we haven't even unpacked all the boxes."
Jane listed the Lucky Five: Ice-O-Matic ice crusher (with red handle); a volume of Reader's Digest Condensed Books, including a title by Pearl S. Buck; a Bakelite rosary; pink Coates and Clarke seam binding wrapped around a 1931 "spool pet" card.
Jane looked at her watch. She needed another item fast, and she was blank. She punched at her cellular phone.
"Yeah? Talk loud."
Jane could hear a lot of people in the background. Tim must already be inside some sale or at least scrambling for a place in line.
"I need one last thing for my list!" Jane screamed.
"An advertising key ring with a five-digit telephone number!" Tim screamed back.
"Green," he added.
"What?" Jane asked.
"Got to be green. When are you coming down here?"
The phone cut out and Jane unplugged it from the lighter and locked it in the glove compartment. It was almost time. She patted her pockets and drained her coffee. Parked just ahead of her was that nasty woman who had once sent her on a wild goose chase, told her about a great sale, and when Jane got to the address it was a vacant lot. Donna, Jane had named her, for no particular reason other than the fact that she liked her enemies to have names.
Did Donna have a lower number? Would she beat Jane through the front door? So what if she does, Jane told herself. She would race through the house with blinders on, allow no distractions, and beat Donna and everyone else to the treasures.
She would make a beeline down the stairs of this sweet brick bungalow on Chicago's northwest side and be drawn magnetically to the current object of her desire -- whatever it was. She would know it when she saw it. Maybe a '40s brown leather Hartmann vanity case with intact mirror and clean, sky blue, watered silk lining. Jane would snap the sharp locks that would fly open with a clear pop and find the case filled to the brim with ...
Copyright © 2002 by Sharon Fiffer