The Wrong Stuff:
The third in the Jane Wheel mystery series
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Excerpt from the Wrong Stuff:
Okay, so these are silver plate, and I really don’t collect silver plate or silver or anything shiny like that, except maybe hotel silver when I can find it, when it slips through the fingers of the damn Basswood twins who pick for that trendy hotel and restaurant ware shop. What’s the name? Oh yeah, “ Check Please”. Jeez, since that opened up, you can’t even find those Buffalo china cups anymore with the brown ring around the top that even Nellie got sick of at the E Z Way Inn. And please, even if I don’t collect silverplate, these are candlesticks and you can always find people who want these, especially around the holidays, especially the way Tim will glitz them up, display them surrounded by green boughs and gold ribbons and lit up like Martha Stewart’s stock portfolio.
Jane Wheel kept up her frantic inner monologue as she stuffed the last small candelabra into her blue plaid shopping bag. Talking to herself somehow calmed her, made her act rather than react. If she gave herself too much time to think, she’d debate every item, every vintage stapler and Bakelite pencil sharpener that rattled in the bottom of one of her overstuffed bags. This candlestick made six. They were badly tarnished and she didn’t have time to check for a mark with Big Elvis breathing down the back of her neck. What was he doing out of the book room, anyway? Had he finally succeeded in steamrollering every other shopper and taping off the room for himself with a big sold sign?
He had about a dozen record albums tucked under his arm and was peering over her shoulder, poised on the balls of his feet, ready to pounce on anything she didn’t stuff into her bag. His six-foot, four-inch frame—six-feet, six and a half-inch if you counted his pompadour—gave him an advantage at these sales. He could see over and reach past almost any shopper who had carved out space closer to the jam-packed tables. Jane smelled him even before he cast his shadow over her. She suspected he didn’t brush his teeth or bathe as an offensive weapon in the battle for killer stuff. If he couldn’t get there first, he could drive you away faster, overwhelming you with his bulk, his bravado and his body odor.
What were all these dealers and pickers like Big Elvis doing at St. Perpetua’s Rummage Sale anyway? Jane handicapped garage sales the way a racetrack tout eyeballed the ponies. She studied the classifieds and looked for all the clues that meant a good sale, but not one so good that it promised to be overcrowded—the kind where dealers slept in their cars the night before and collected all the early numbers so a loner like Jane wouldn’t even get through the door until the third hour of the sale. Sure, she could doze in her car with the best of them, waiting for the sun to rise and the front door of the sale house to open, but most weekends, Jane preferred finding the sleeper, the underdog, the darkhorse sale and laying her money down there.
Besides, Jane had a husband and a son who expected her to sleep at home most nights and keep some kind of cereal box in the cupboard and to occasionally check the expiration date on the milk carton. For Charley and Nick’s sakes, she had to maintain the vestiges of normal life so she picked her sales not only by the most tempting description of items, but also by proximity and size. A smaller rummage sale at an out of the way church like St. Perpetua’s on Chicago’s Northwest side might yield more for her than one of the big Northshore estate sales where dealers had already made deals and pickers like Big Elvis had already homesteaded on the lawn for two days.
So why, she asked herself again, fingering a gaudy pink ashtray from the forties that had Souvenir of Coral Gables written across a flamingo’s back, slowly turning it in her hand savoring the fact that another picker was salivating behind her, were Big E and some of the other regulars poking around the tables here? She nestled the ashtray into the bubblewrap she had in one of her bags and backed away.
It was a gorgeous October Friday, all full of sun and crisp air that sliced through your window at four a.m.–three a.m. if you had any real driving to do–when a picker’s alarm went off. And this was a day where there were at least four conducted estate sales that sounded choice. Two of these were run by professionals who actually seemed to like their work, priced fairly and didn’t stare you down when you were in line to pay, gambling on how much they could demand for the unmarked item you so clearly lusted after. There was even another rummage sale, a much larger one at a church in Glenview that boasted a furniture tent and a treasure room. It was the kind of Friday morning when Jane should have had St. Perpetua’s to herself.
Since Jane had agreed to pick for her friend Tim Lowry in addition to her mentor, Miriam, whose shop in Ohio she had been supplying with vintage linens, pottery, old tools, school primers, Alice and Jerry readers, Pyrex mixing bowls, bird prints, group photographs, maps, old frames, and anything else that could be spotted, grabbed, stuffed, inventoried, priced, repacked and shipped, she found herself playing the smart little pig to Big Elvis’ big bad wolf more and more. No matter how early the big bad wolf said to meet him at the apple tree, little piggy Jane would get up earlier and beat him there. Or she would try to find a sweeter orchard.
Copyright © 2003 by Sharon Fiffer