Killer Stuff:
The first in the Jane Wheel mystery series

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Killer Stuff

Excerpt from killer Stuff:

Chapter 1

If she hadn't spent an hour sorting through the postcards and theater programs under the workbench, if she hadn't held each slope-shouldered pale blue jar up to the window searching for chips and cracks, if she hadn't pretended to be Nancy Drew, sniffing out an early copy of The Hidden Staircase, complete with book jacket, page-by-weathered-page checking for mildew, Jane might have been the scout, the picker, the shopper, the collector who found the small dull-green vase -- maybe it was even Grueby, just maybe it was the real thing -- in a box of oh-so-desirable vintage flowerpots, each of which were marked one dollar.

Instead, it was some neighbor who dragged the box right out from under Jane's nose and chatted incessantly in the check-out line to anyone who would listen about her African violets and how poor Hettie's sweet little pots would brighten them up. This woman, this violet farmer, paid seven dollars and walked outside, not even aware of what she was carrying. Jane, tapping her foot in line, watched the woman from the large picture window and saw a man approach her. He kept his back to the house, but Jane saw him hold out his hand and the woman nod. He apparently made an acceptable offer, since Jane watched him walk away with the entire box, leaving the silly woman shaking her head and holding a twenty-dollar bill. Jane had only glimpsed the matte green glaze of the vase nestled in with the flowerpots, and could have talked herself out of believing it was a valuable find if she hadn't seen that picker sniff it out and disappear.

"I don't even collect ephemera!" she screamed at the four hand-tinted postcards spread out on the driver's seat. Greetings from Carlsbad Caverns. Mount Baldy. Painted Canyon at Sunrise. Badlands Sunset. "I don't even travel!"

Jane, driving her neighbor's Suburban, a bus of a car that might accommodate the Hoosier cabinet she had hoped to find that morning, tried to merge into unusually heavy traffic on Interstate 94. "It's Saturday morning. Go home and sleep."

She thought the approaching blue pickup was slowing down for her, so she gunned the engine and gritted her teeth. The vehicle had the power, but she didn't have the feel for its size; she lost control and nearly went across two lanes as she slid into the traffic. She saw the driver of the pickup snarl and twist his mouth. Through her rolled-down windows, she heard the swearing that was required when a driver made a dumb mistake. She thought she even heard dogs barking and growling. There was another flurry of horns, two swerves, one squeal, as she straightened out the car and stayed in the middle lane. No real damage. She thought she saw a few fingers raised in her direction. "Yeah, peace to you, too."

Nine A.M. Already 82 degrees. Humidity rising. Jane felt herself melting down at the core. It wasn't even August yet. She cranked the temperature up to frigid, then rubbed her bare arms as the arctic air blasted her elbows.

It was too hot to go to another sale, especially an architectural sale where she would have to haul out her crowbar, hammer, and screwdriver and help dismantle a graceful old beauty so that new money yups could build a six-thousand-square-foot mausoleum with a family room and attached three car garage. But she was after doorknobs. Not just the crystal prisms that she was scouting for Miriam in Ohio, but small closet knobs, solid brass ovals that could be mounted either vertically or horizontally. They felt like cool metal eggs in your hand. Just below the knob, another plate was mounted, the keyhole, waiting for its skeleton, cleverly concealed by another brass oval that hung vertically. Cunning little doorknobs. When you looked at them dead on, they looked like the punctuation mark of a new language.

Jane glanced down at the map. She exited the expressway, beginning to like the feel of a truck. She was tall behind the wheel, powerful. Maybe this will be my career change, she thought. Maybe I can go to the famous trucker's school. Or maybe I'll let Charley have the house back and move into a van with Nicky.

Two more turns, down a quarter-mile private lane, and she was there. A large circle drive was already filled with pickups, vans, and a fleet of Range Rovers and their relatives like the Suburban she drove. More cars were parked on the lawn. A man in a bright orange vest waved her into a spot between the rose garden and a rusted fountain. There were three people on their knees in the garden carefully digging up the roses as well as the hostas and dwarf lilacs. There was no line at the door, which was good and bad. Good because the heat wouldn't kill her as she waited to get her crack at the inch-by-inch destruction of this arts and crafts masterpiece. Bad because she was late, maybe too late to locate and claim her doorknobs and any other pane of leaded glass, unusual door hinge, or drawer pull she had to have. Jane didn't always know what she wanted, what she needed, what she craved until she saw it.

Copyright © 2001 by Sharon Fiffer

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Books by Sharon Fiffer

Essays: What I Learned at the EZ Way Inn

Jane Wheel Series:
Lucky Stuff – 2012
Backstage Stuff – 2011
Scary Stuff – 2009
Hollywood Stuff – 2006
Buried Stuff – 2004
The Wrong Stuff – 2003
Dead Guy's Stuff – 2002
Killer Stuff – 2001

Sharon's Essays


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