Buried Stuff:
The fourth in the Jane Wheel mystery series

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Buried Stuff

Excerpt from Buried Stuff:

Chapter 1

        If Jane Wheel could do it all again, go right back to the first step, square one of the major decision-making junctures of her life, if she could Michael Jackson moonwalk right back to where the metaphysical tines in the figurative fork in the proverbial road were first joined, then divided, would she choose the same path?

        Flattened against the side of her garage, doors and windows locked against the outside world, Jane looked over at her husband Charley—a  geology professor who was one part Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones, one part James Stewart’s Mr. Smith and one part Jerry Lewis’ Nutty Professor.  Any woman in the world would feel lucky, grateful and desirous watching him now, kneeling over a box and sifting though jagged hunks of rose quartz that the family had collected one summer vacation.   If it weren’t for the voices outside the garage door, the footsteps Jane could hear on the deck, the approach of strangers coming to reckon with her, she would feel all of those emotions herself—lucky, grateful, desirous.  But she was scared, panicked and paralyzed, knowing full well what was about to happen to all of them.

She needed to speak, to cry out, to warn her son.  Nick was looking through a bag of books, blowing the dust off the top of the binding, clapping the pages together hard, sending a shower of fine particles into the air.  She might deserve what was about to happen, but Nick did not.  He was only thirteen, a good student, a fine athlete, his whole life before him.  Jane’s heart cracked watching him, innocently smiling up at his father, showing him one of the books he had fished out of the bag.

Jane watched their mouths move, saw their hands gesture, their eyes crinkle in laughter, but it was as if she saw it all from underwater or through a vaseline smeared lens.   It was all slower motion, silent, a matrix-influenced scene, where time had slowed. Yes, time was slowed to a crawl, but instead of it allowing her to vanquish the enemy, it forced her to see what was happening in excruciating detail, powerless to stop the encroaching evil.

On the other side of the garage, also moving in painfully slow and silent motion, was Tim Lowry.  He held up a small rug.  Jane remembered where she had found it, at a small brick bungalow on Chicago’s Northwest side.  It was hand-hooked, a dog with a crooked tail and a smile.   Jane remembered calling Tim and describing it as a dog with a human smile.  She also remembered Tim, telephone smirking—he could smirk across the wires—telling Jane she must be a true connoisseur if she could tell the difference between a human smile and a canine smile.  Then they had argued whether or not dogs smiled—or whether it was an attribute assigned to them from their human owners who wanted to see and believe in doggy smiles—for more than thirty minutes.  Jane wanted to shout at Tim to look at Rita, panting and whimpering in the corner.  Rita was not smiling, but she was grimacing and shaking her doggy head at what was about to happen.  And a dog has to be able to smile in order to grimace, Jane wanted to tell Tim.

Tim was still silently chuckling, looking at the rug.  Jane knew it wasn’t well made and the colors were hopelessly faded.  The finishing was not done properly and it was beginning to come apart near the dog’s left ear.  But Jane loved it for the tiny signature barely decipherable on the backing.  Sarah’s first project, made with Grandma Jessie, 1938.   Tim, Jane’s best friend since they were both five years old, was shaking his head at the rug, a disdainful smirk on his face.  Look at the signature, Jane wanted to cry had she still had the power.  Look on the back.  It was Sarah’s first project, for god’s sake. Who will care for it?  Who will protect it?

Claire Oh smiled back at Tim, taking the rug from him, giving it a shake that was efficient and dismissive at the same time, draped it over the rungs of a ladder, a prize Jane had found at an auction in Wisconsin.  A U-Pick orchard was selling out to developers and Jane had snagged five great “picking” ladders, wide at the bottom for stability, narrowing at the top to reach into the branches of the apple trees.  Claire Oh, dressed all wrong for the massacre that was about to take place, in a tailored navy blue suit, with matching navy and white heels, narrowed her eyes while looking at the rug.  She shook her head sadly, as if to signal to the dog that he had nothing to smile about.

Jane had to find her voice, choke out a warning.  She had to stop this.
Bruce Oh stood next to her, only two feet away.  He looked straight ahead, as if he were steeling himself for something.  Maybe he knew, too.  Maybe he sensed what she had been unable to say.  If she could raise an arm, she might be able to tap his shoulder.  He would then read her eyes and know everything she knew.  He would know the extent, the depth of what was about to happen.  He would stop it.  He would help her. 

Jane desperately wanted this to be a dream.  If she could wake up, next to Charley, Nick snoring softly across the hall…what would she give for that?  All of her hotel silver, the heavy forks and spoons and butter knives that she had found piece by piece?  Her Chase cocktail shaker with the butterscotch Bakelite handle?  The carton of old writing workbooks dated 1932 that she had found in a moldy box at the convent school?  Her sewing boxes?  Her giant tins off vintage buttons?  No, no, no and no.  What bargain was she willing to make to have this reality be a dream?
How odd this was!  All of the people she cared about were in this garage, Charley, Nick, Tim, Bruce and Claire Oh, and even Rita, talking to each other, laughing, totally oblivious to Jane’s fear.  She could not choke out a syllable that they could hear nor could she understand what they were saying to each other and yet she could pick up the smallest movement from outside.  Of course, she was expecting those sounds, those heavy footsteps, those thug like voices, speculating on what they would do once they got inside.  Who could she blame for this except herself?  Jane had been warned. Just last night, there had been the phone calls. 

We’re coming, the voices said.  We know how to get there.  One particularly belligerent man had insisted that he wanted to come immediately.  I want  to come tonight, he said.  I want to get to you first.
Jane had hung up on him.  She had locked the house and stationed Rita in the garage to bark at any intruders, but now Jane saw that the crowd gathering was too much for her dog.  Rita looked at Jane with all the pain and suffering a dog could muster, as if to say, what have you gotten us all into now? 

Tim was walking over to where Jane stood.  She saw his lips moving and noticed that he was pointing to his wrist.  Was he hurt?  Already?  No one had gotten through the door yet, what could have happened?  Now Tim motioned her away from where she was standing.  What was happening?  They were all looking at Jane now.  Charley was smiling and Nick talking.  Claire Oh had pulled herself up to her entire six feet and was looking ready and able to fend off the hordes, and Bruce Oh was breathing deeply and standing perfectly still.  Jane tried desperately to focus on what Tim was saying to her.

“Ready, we’re ready,”  he said.

“No, we’re not,” Jane whispered back.

Jane felt something near her hand.  Nick was patting it awkwardly, as if he wanted to comfort her and take it in his own, but knew that he had reached a an age where it simply could not be done.

“It’ll be all right, Mom,”  he said.  “We’re ready.”

“No,” Jane whispered again, wanting desperately to hold her son and shield his eyes from what was about to happen to her, to them.

“Can we please stop this nonsense?” said Claire Oh, cutting through Jane’s anxiety like a knife.  She reached her hand behind Jane to push the button that would open the electric garage door.

“It’s eight a.m.  My ad said eight a.m.  If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a garage sale that doesn’t start on time.

Copyright © 2004 by Sharon Fiffer



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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