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by Billie A. Williams
Description: Is it murder, or suicide? Is it a curse on the Antique Armor or something else? Was Aunt Rosa, part of a criminal plot or an unwilling cohort?
eBook Publisher: Wings ePress, Inc., 2010 2010
eBookwise Release Date: September 2010
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [371 KB]
Reading time: 235-329 min.
The antique store was a new beginning for June. She was determined to start over after leaving behind all the broken pieces of her life and relationships. Being close to family again had its perks and its problems. Derek's death spun the family off its axis, but they would recover. It seemed they always did.
The hum of conversation in Daily's Diner was like the om of a sitting Zen master. She allowed it to sooth her as the soup warmed her insides. The door burst open. "Fire!" A man jolted the collective patrons of the cafe. His face was contorted and deep red as if he had exhausted himself running to tell everyone.
He motioned down the street. "Jeske's. Lightening strike." Breathless, he spun around and headed out the door again. Several of the men dropped bills on their respective tables, grabbed their coats and rushed out. The volunteer fire department drew men and woman from across the community. The rest of the people in the small cafe watched as the men rushed out. Then, they began their own rush to follow the proceedings, not participants, but as voyeurs.
June watched in dismay from her antique store's front window.
Jeske's Market was a land mark. It had been the local market for nearly every kind of goods a person could want. It was an essential part of the community. Pickle barrel and pot bellied stove included described the cluttered and diversified old general store. The people here needed the Market as much as the market needed their business. It would be devastating to Ma & Pa Jeske if they lost the store. Sirens spilled into the milieu as people rushed to do what they could to save bits and pieces of Jeske's life and dreams. Since they lived in the apartment above the store, the loss would double for them, both home and business up in smoke.
Rain continued to pour in torrential sheets hampering would be helpers trying to pull things from the building before the fire consumed them. How could a fire burn in a rainstorm? She never understood that concept. Their faces as bleak as the weather the Jeske's huddled together under an oil cloth blanket. Fate. You never know what life will throw at you.
Belinda worked her way around onlookers, being careful not to sully her shoes in the puddles. June grinned at the little clear plastic boots that covered Belinda's high heels. Fashion first, rainstorm, blizzard, what have you, Belinda wouldn't sacrifice style for practicality. The see-through raincoat and boots wouldn't hide the brilliant red coat, or shoes she wore today.
June backed away from the door as Belinda burst in stamping and shaking the rain from her shoes, coat and umbrella. "Looks like another eye sore will be no more. What started it all?"
"Lightening strike, they say." June moved toward the interior of the showroom away from the windows. "Too bad, too. The Jeske's won't be able to rebuild. I'm sure of it."
"Well the place was past its time anyway. Everyone shops the new malls now, not downtown."
June didn't like Belinda's attitude. Out with the old-in with the new was her mantra. She never liked to review anything history may have taught them. That was not something that would concern Belinda.
"I just came by to tell you about Derek's funeral arrangements." Belinda removed her long leather gloves as she paced the aisles of the store.
June half-expected her to put on a white glove to check the antiques for dust.
"How do you bear to spend your days dealing with all this old junk?" She emphasized the 'old' and scrunched her face into a disgusted mask.
"Antiques, I love them. They have so much rich history...so much to teach us."
"Whatever." Belinda waved her hand as if dissipating gnats that were hovering over her. "The PD won't release Derek's remains. They insist on an autopsy. What part of death-suicide-by hanging don't they get?"
Her harshness stabbed at June's insides. "They don't believe it was suicide." She watched Belinda's face for a reaction.
Belinda's face drained of all color. For a minute June thought she was about to faint. She regained her composure in a flash and spun around. "Ridiculous. He has his head in a noose. He is hanging from a rafter. He wasn't trussed up like some mob hit."
"I'm only repeating what I heard. Besides, Aimee said he'd just asked her to marry him."
"That's bull. He told me last week he was ready to dump her. She was too, what was the word he used--smothering--that's it. He wanted out."
There was no point in arguing with Belinda. June knew from experience Belinda knew it all and she was always right, at least in her own mind. June didn't say any more. She went back to watching the tragedy down the street. "I wonder what they'll do now?" She spoke more to herself than Belinda.
"I imagine we'll seek a court order to have his body released. This is nonsense. We need to get this finished and move on."
That was her answer for everything. Bury it and move on. "Wouldn't you be the least curious if it was murder instead of suicide?"
"First off, I can't see how, considering the way he died. How it could be anything but suicide boggles my mind."
June was sure she had seen more than one movie where a faked suicide turned out to be a cleverly disguised murder. There was something in Belinda's voice that bothered, but she couldn't form it into a reason. "They're the experts. I guess we need to leave that determination to them."
Belinda harrumphed and pulled on her long gloves. "Whatever, I'm not sitting still for it."
June shrugged. She learned long ago when Belinda got a bee in her bonnet there was no arguing her out of it.
"We all do what we think we must. By the way..." June suddenly decided to see if Belinda knew anything about the suit of armor.
Belinda raised her eyebrows in anticipation.
"Come with me. I had a crate delivered this morning." She walked toward the back room as she spoke. Belinda followed her. "This, it appears, is an antique suit of armor
Amusement, then fear, crossed Belinda's face in a flash before she turned away.
"Where'd you get that? With a note of disgust she fanned her hand at the crate as though it were a corpse in a casket.
"I have no clue. The delivery driver said they only deliver and do not question anything other than where and when. There's no note about who, where, or why?"
"Obviously someone was cleaning house." Ignoring the crate, Belinda adjusted her hat in a reflection from the window. "I really must be going. Good luck with your little..." She fluttered her fingers again over her shoulder. "Guest. It's probably a mistake."
June felt a chill wrap around her. It seemed to brush past her toward Belinda. She stumbled, but caught herself on the door frame. She glared at June as though she had pushed her.
"You better be careful when you handle old junk. You never know where it's been. These floors are horribly uneven." She brushed a glove against glove as though the door frame that prevented her from toppling had been dirty. The door of June's office jiggled as if someone tried to close it after Belinda.
June stood transfixed watching Belinda make a hasty exit from the store.
Lights flickered as the thunder rumbled once again. It appeared the storm was prepared to linger over them the whole day. June picked up the worn bill of lading and dialed the number again. Someone was sure to be at the warehouse or storage facility sooner or later. There was no point in uncrating the armor until she made absolutely sure it was meant for her. Why her and not a museum?
A gravelly woman's voice answered the phone on the third ring. "Store it, Sell it." She said without elaborating further.
Caught off guard June nearly dropped the phone. The place had a bad reputation, from drugs to contraband between countries. They had even been connected to truck loads of migrant's that had turned up cooked in over-loaded, unsanitary oven-hot trucks abandoned in the desert as they tried, illegally, to enter the country. No proof yet, they skirted the law somehow. She wasn't sure she wanted to pursue the who and why of the armor. She should turn it over to Jessica and let her try to sort it out. If the crate and armor had anything to do with that place, it was more than likely bad news.
"Could I speak to someone about a delivery I received this morning?" Cautiously, June formed her sentences, not sure exactly how far, or if, she dared pursue this.
"What kind of order we talking about, honey?" The woman questioned, her voice grating on June's composure.
June paused. Why would they have a suit of armor; why would it be delivered to her? She glanced through the crate at the black-gray metallic suit. She noticed a small white rose painted on the shoulder plate of the armor. Maybe, she should talk to Jessica first...it bothered her, this piece of history and the chill that seemed to accompany it. Without answering the woman, she slowly replaced the phone in the cradle, and paced around the crate scrutinizing the armor for the first time as if it was more than a mistake. What if it is exactly as intended? Was it connected to her brother's murd...death--somehow? Why had murder crossed her mind just then instead of suicide? It was more than the gut reaction she had that his death was not a suicide--but murder sounded too farfetched.