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Antiques Disposal : Trash 'n' Treasures Mysteries
Autumn has descended on Serenity, that quiet, cozy town nestled in the crook of the mighty Mississippi River--or, one might say, with crooks. For the rain and fog have also brought an undercurrent of chaos--and it's not just because the fall colors clash alarmingly with Vivian Borne's pantsuits. The only remedy is a trash 'n' treasures shopping spree. But the Bornes are about to get more than they bargained for...
Brandy Borne and her suspiciously well-informed mother, Vivian, have the winning bid on an abandoned storage unit's "mystery" contents, which they discover includes a vintage cornet. But when they arrive to claim the rest of their loot, the space is empty--except for the recently stowed body of Big Jim Bob, Vivian's tipster--a.k.a. former flame. Only one thing is certain: someone has definitely put the "rage" in storage!
Murder turns to mayhem when an intruder steals into the Borne home, tries to mete out some ruff justice to Brandy's ferociously fluffy shih tzu, Sushi, and makes off with the cornet. But why is the horn worth killing for? Clues soon lead the sleuthing Borne duo to the next stashed victim--and some of Serenity's juiciest secrets. Now Brandy and Mother will have to play a perilous game of cat-and-mouse droppings to catch the corpse-hoarding killer before it's time to blow "Taps" for all concerned...
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April 24, 2012
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Excerpt from Antiques Disposal by Barbara Allan
Mother Takes Auction!
My dearest ones! You are in luck, because I, Vivian Borne (aka Mother), am scripting this opening chapter. Normally this honor goes to my darling daughter Brandy, but due to the poor girl being down in the doldrums, I am taking necessary measures.
We simply must get this book off the ground to meet our publisher's deadline!
And I must thank those of you who have written in to say that you consider me the better writer. That, of course, is not mine to say, but I would admit--if pressed--that Brandy displays certain literary shortcomings. For one thing, she uses far too few exclamation points for emphasis! For another, she takes off on one pointless discursion after another.
And talk about malapropisms and foul paws--Andy Griffin, indeed! Despite the best efforts of our indefatigable editor and my humble self, we cannot seem to catch all her boo-boos and blunders. When I pointed out this embarrassing error in Antiques Flee Market, Brandy said, "So I confused Sheriff Taylor with a talk show host. No biggie."
No biggie my patootie! That gaff insulted both Andy Griffith and Merv Griffin aficionados.
(Didn't you just love it when Merv would show off the lovely lining of his sport coat? But I digress.)
Of late Brandy had taken to her bed, heartbroken over the departure of the (most recent) love of her life, Chief of Police Tony Cassato, whose current location remains (as of this writing) unknown.
My contact at the PD, Mona the Mole (my code name for the female dispatcher, whose name isn't Mona, though she does have a mole) has hinted that Anthony C. may have disappeared into the Witness Protection Program. Prior to moving to Serenity, the chief had given testimony against the New Jersey mob, resulting in a recent attempt upon his life.
But our M.I.A. chief is not all that is bothering Brandy. I believe some of her trouble is postpartum depression; even though she was a surrogate mother, her body doesn't know that. (And I certainly couldn't be the cause of any melancholia!) And so, dear reader, I do hope you will cut her some slack if she seems a trifle short-tempered.
In our previous nonfiction accounts, Brandy has taken great care to bring you, our fan base, up to date with each subsequent missive, and this has become quite the tedious chore, for author and reader alike. Besides, recapping an ever-growing plot might discourage new readers by bogging them down in data not needed to understand the new narrative, even while burdening them with "spoilers" that might damage their enjoyment of earlier episodes.
After all, who really cares how we got from A to F? Anyone can jump on board the F train without first having taken the A train (a little jest for the over-sixty crowd). I have faith that our readers can absorb and retain past and present information provided along the way--they are mystery aficionados, after all!
As I have told Brandy time and again, these narratives would be well served by getting right into the story. Enough of this shilly-shallying! Of course, some small background is, I suppose necessary....
Sixteen months have passed since Brandy (divorced; age thirtyish) came home to live with me (widowed; age available on a need-to-know-basis) (you don't need to) with scant more than the designer clothes on her back and her little shih tzu, Sushi (blind; age sevenish).
Since then, an abundance of murder and mayhem has delivered itself upon the small Mississippi River town we call Serenity, which has resulted in much sorrow, misery, and tragedy. It's been simply exhilarating!
This particular autumn morning, however, was rainy and dreary, and I knew such gloomy weather would only encourage Brandy to remain under the covers unless I sprang into action (with as much spring as two hip replacements will allow, at any rate). Wearing my favorite pantsuit (emerald-green velour), I sailed into her bedroom.
"Rise and shine!" I said, clapping my hands, marching around the bed in full parade mode, wishing I had cymbals or perhaps a bass drum. "We have places to go, things to do, and people to see!"
Brandy, a tangle of blond hair protruding from beneath the leopard-print coverlet, muttered something. I couldn't be positive of what she said precisely, though it just might have been unkind. Since my ears were suffering a terrible wax build-up presently, I gave her the benefit of the doubt.
When Brandy failed to stir further, I grasped the edge of the cover and yanked it back, unveiling a snoozing Sushi, who lazily lifted her little head and aimed her white- clouded Exorcist orbs my way.
"You," I scolded, "are aiding and abetting," waggling a finger at the small brown and white fur ball.
Sushi pouted, but at least she didn't relower her head.
To Brandy, I announced, "Dear, are you aware that we have not sold a single item in our booth at the antiques mall this month?"
She said nothing.
"I will take that as a 'no,' " I said. "Well, dear, we need to find more merchandise ...otherwise, I don't know why we bother renting space."
She said nothing.
I said, "You know I rely on the extra money the booth brings, and now with your sister living with us, well, I'm starting to feel the pinch."
And I was. A financial pinch nearly as painful as my too-tight girdle. (No SPANX for me--I'm an old-fashioned lass, like my stomach.)
As our longtime readers know, Peggy Sue (attention, you readers taking the F train!) is my older daughter, now in her very attractive early fifties, recently widowed and forced to move in with us, after discovering that her husband had bequeathed her a mountain of unexpected debt.
With a deep sigh, I delivered the clincher: "But I suppose we could take in a boarder, just to make ends meet. Naturally, of course, that will necessitate your sharing the bathroom--"
"I'm up! I'm up...."
"Very good, dear ...breakfast in half an hour. Plenty of time for a nice, long hot shower." At the door, I glanced back. "And slap on a little lipstick--you'll feel better!"
I'd seen that little homily on a placard in a gift shop, and its truth reverberates within me still. Why, I wouldn't consider going anywhere without first putting on Est�e Lauder's lipstick ("Pink Passion"). Did you know that Est�e built her whole cosmetic empire on a single shade of red? Just goes to show what a smart gal can accomplish! With a tube of lipstick, that is.
Down in the kitchen, I began to prepare our breakfast-- cinnamon coffee cake, crisp bacon, scrambled eggs. This may sound fattening, but I had an eventful morning planned, and neither Brandy nor I could afford to run out of gas. (NOTE TO EDITOR: Perhaps you would prefer "steam"-- "gas" in reference to a meal has an unfortunate resonance.)
Anyway, Brandy had become too thin as of late. As a Dane myself, I feel she should look like a Dane--a Danish strudel, that is!
With coffee cake baking in the oven, and bacon sizzling on the stove, I whisked together eggs, cream, and butter. Now, Nero Wolfe may insist that scrambled eggs are only worth eating if cooked slowly for forty-five minutes, but Vivian Borne didn't have that much time on her hands. Besides, I'm surprised that stout know-it-all could wait forty- five minutes for any meal. . . .
Sushi, drawn by the aroma of bacon, slumber forgotten, was dancing at my feet.
"Oh, now you're friendly?" I chided. Forgiving the little doggie her earlier bad manners, I snapped off the end of a cooled bacon strip and handed it down to her. She might have been blind, but she had no trouble "seeing" food.
Outside, the dark sky growled, as if it, too, were a hungry dog, albeit a trifle bigger than Sushi. (NOTE TO BRANDY: Darling, notice the mood and wit provided by the occasional writerly metaphor.) (Or is that simile?)
While waiting for Brandy to appear--and to hasten our departure--I fed Sushi, making sure she had plenty of water (diabetic dogs drink a lot), then gave her a shot of the insulin needed to counteract her disease.
Finally Brandy materialized and sat herself down in the dining room at the Duncan Phyfe table that had been in my family since I'd been in diapers (and I don't mean Depends). Cheerful as Christmas, I served up our sumptuous breakfast on Royal Victoria china plates I'd snagged at a garage sale. (I'd gone extra early and had to rouse the residents out of bed; but I forgave them, first-time sellers who needed to learn that an 8 A.M. listing means 7 A.M. (Or 6 A.M., in my case.)
Brandy, freshly showered, her shoulder-length blonde hair sleek and squeaky-clean, was wearing a forest-green cardigan over a crisp white blouse, and tan slacks. (I couldn't see what was on her feet, as they were under the table, but most likely some designer shoes bought at a fraction of the retail price--that girl has a nose for a bargain . . . also, longer arms than the next gal.)
Brandy has such a lovely, heart-shaped face--big brown eyes, small nose, high cheekbones, wide mouth--typical features courtesy of my Danish side of the family. But I suspect her nature must harken back to the Vikings--impetuous, head-strong, obstinate, and sometimes reckless. She certainly didn't get those characteristics from moi.
In addition, Brandy can often be defiant, as evidenced by the red lipstick she had clown-smeared on her mouth.
"You look so much better, dear . . . almost human," I commented, ignoring her crimson lips.
"Thanks . . . almost."
I cocked my head. "Have you had your Prozac this morning?"
Oddly, Brandy had felt the need for the depression-easing pills ever since coming back to live with me.
"Yes, Mother--have you had your Prolixin?"
"Why, of course, dear."
Unlike Brandy, I didn't really need my medication, but I took the bipolar drug, just to keep the peace.
Once upon a time, in the early seventies, I admit I might have been better off taking Prolixin . . . such as when I mailed all our doorknobs to then-president Nixon. In my defense, Tricky Dick had expressed a fondness for Victorian hardware, and I was merely trying to support our leader in troubled times.
Then, after the Watergate fiasco, when I found out what a stinker Nixon had been, I wrote and asked for the doorknobs back; but the FBI insisted they'd never gotten to the president. So I asked, Where were they? And they said--
Oh, well, I suppose what they said isn't terribly pertinent to the tale at hand, which could go on for quite some time, and as I've told Brandy again and again, we need to get right into the narrative.
(Something wonderful, though, did come about from all of that tit-for-tat with the federal boys--they created an FBI file on me. Can you say as much?)
(I'll save the story about sending roller skates to Neil Armstrong for another time.) (I thought it might add zest to his next moon walk.)
I told Brandy, "You'll be glad to know that I have already fed Sushi and given the little darling her insulin."
Her eyes flared. "The correct dosage, I hope!"
"Yes, yes. I checked it twice."
Would the child ever let me live down the time the little doggie had that teensy-weensy seizure because I hadn't been wearing my glasses?
"So," I said cheerfully, "we are all of us, women and canine, well and truly medicated . . . and ready for the new day."
Brandy looked pointedly at the empty chair opposite. "I notice you didn't blow your bugle and get Peggy Sue up."
"No, dear. She's utterly depressed . . . whereas you're only mildly in the dumps. Besides, I don't need her this morning." I gave her the Uncle Sam pointing finger. "I need you."
"That sounds ominous. . . ."
"Not at all, dear. We're just going off to--"
"See the wizard?" Brandy raised a palm like a traffic cop. "Please. I don't want to hear your plans for me--not on an empty stomach."
"Perhaps that's wise."
She took a big bite of scrambled eggs, chewed, then muttered, "These sure weren't cooked for forty-five minutes."
The child was clearly testing my patience.
And I was just about to launch into a lecture about feeling sorry for oneself--using the story about the man with no shoes who met a man with no feet (or was it a man with no gloves who met a man with no fingers?)--when I noticed (despite the smeary lipstick) Brandy's tiny upturned smile.
This signaled the end of her funk.
Brandy stabbed a hunk of coffee cake with her fork. "Okay--I'm ready for action. What's our mission? Where do we attack?"
"An auction, dear, at a storage facility. We'll be bidding for the contents of units in arrears of rental payment."
Brandy put down her fork and gave me a long unblinking stare, waiting for me to explain myself further.
So I said nothing. I know well, from my years of the theater, of the power of silence. That less is more. That running things into the ground gets you nowhere. At all.
Finally, Brandy said, "I don't want to go."
"Why ever not, dear?"
"Because that's despicable--taking advantage of people who couldn't pay their rent! The last thing people like us should be doing, with the kind of financial hassles we've had--that Peggy Sue has right now--is going out preying upon . . ."
But she ran out of steam. Or maybe gas.
So I said, "I don't think it's at all despicable, dear. Why, we'll be giving someone's possessions a new lease on life! Possessions that would otherwise languish forgotten, left to rot and mold and face the fate of an evitable landfill. Think of Planet Earth! Besides, who's to say these folks couldn't pay the rent? Maybe they wished to abandon the contents."
"Why would they?"
I shrugged. "Some people simply don't want the items anymore, or they can't bring themselves to throw them away. Or perhaps moving to another locale, the expense of a rental truck or trailer is beyond their means. In any case, we are doing them a favor."
"A favor? I don't think so. This doesn't feel . . . right."
Wherever did the child suddenly get such a conscience? Not from me. And certainly not the Vikings.
"My darling girl," I said, "most of the contents of these units are junk."
"Then--why bid on one?"
"Because," I said patiently, as if talking to a small child, "sometimes in all that trash? There's treasure to be found!"
A pause, and then a clap of thunder punctuated my point. If I'd known that thunderclap was coming, I might have added a nice Long John Silver "Matey!"
Brandy, looking at the rain beating against the window panes, whined, "But it's lousy outside."
"All the better! You know what they say--inclement weather today keeps bidders away!"
"Yeah, the smart ones."
Tiring of the child's negative attitude, I pushed back from the table. "You know, you need to consider, as you grow older, that those frown lines will become permanent."
She grinned broadly with her clowny lipstick emphasizing her sarcasm. "Better?"
"Ugggh! You look like Cesar Romero playing the Joker."
"I was going for Heath Ledger," Brandy sighed, then used her napkin to wipe the crimson color off her lips. "Okay. You win . . . like that's a surprise. Let's go hunt for treasure in the trash."
Thunder cracked again. Matey.
"Now there's a good girl!" I enthused, standing, pushing farther away from the table. I ticked off on my fingers: "We'll need raincoats, umbrellas, and Wellies."
"And a rowboat."
But she was smiling. Looking not at all like Cesar Romero.
Okay, Brandy taking over.
In previous books I usually have allowed Mother to write only one chapter, appearing around halfway through, when it's a little late for readers to bail. So I apologize for subjecting you to her so early. On the other hand, some people get a kick out of her. Trust me--it's more fun to read about than to live through.
Also, I do apologize for confusing Andy Griffin and Merv Griffith. Mother is right to give me a hard time on that account. But she was herself incorrect about Est�e Lauder--the woman built her empire on face cream, before expanding into cosmetics.
Anyway, I still wasn't convinced that what we were about to do--bid on past-due storage units--was morally right, or at least that we weren't at real risk of earning some seriously bad karma.