Authors: Wyborn Senna
Down went impressions of the fresh, young face. Down went the splayed hair. Down went the crushed skull. Down went the ravaged chest. Down went the battered arms and legs. Down went the bloodied clothing. Down went the bare feet. Wayne exhaled and stepped along the baseboards, moving toward the top of Hailey’s bloodied head. He continued along the wall to the washing machine, which still had its lid up.
Bryce stood in the doorway, watching his colleague. “Anything in the machine?”
Wayne leaned forward.
There were ten pennies inside the empty washer.
P.J. damaged the screen lock before the sun came up on Monday and stayed parked, down the street from Time’s home, in a rented Toyota Avalon Touring Sedan. She was not far from the Candlelight Suites, where she had taken a spacious room complete with a kitchen and desk area, where she could work on her laptop.
The rain-soaked neighborhood was intersected by Northeast Oleary, and from there, it was just a short drive to Northeast Sixth. The evening before, she had driven out to the Oak Harbor shore and watched the water lap up on the grainy land. The sand was soft from recent storms and her heels dug into the wetness, leaving a deep set of tracks behind her. The wind whipped her lustrous hair, and she pulled her jacket tight. Farther down the rocky coast, a weathered man fed seagulls from a loaf of bread. With feeble hands, he broke off chunks and tossed them as high as he could into the air.
P.J. decided to walk the other way and eventually found a swing set and play area for children. She sat in a small swing and kicked off, pumping higher and higher as her momentum increased. Her handbag on the ground grew smaller with each arc. Finally, one loafer fell off and she had to stop and hop through wet sand to retrieve it.
Now, as she rested in the white four-door amidst pillows and blankets she had borrowed from the hotel room closet, she felt relaxed enough to nap. She set her cell alarm for two hours and allowed herself to doze.
Two hours later, the beeping alarm brought her out of a deep sleep. She’d dreamt she discovered a trunk buried along the Oak Harbor shoreline and had pried it open to discover prototype dolls and outfits. Her unconscious mind has invented a Barbie with rooted hair, a Skipper wearing a smaller version of Barbie’s Outdoor Life, and a three-doll wedding set including Barbie, Skipper, and Tutti, with Barbie as the bride and Skipper dressed in a larger version of her younger sister’s Flower Girl outfit.
“That was the best dream ever,” she said aloud, reaching for her now-cold drive-thru coffee in the holder in front of her. She re-tied her hair back and sat up straight, re-zipping her hooded sweatshirt.
A few minutes later, as she sipped the cold coffee, she saw Time Taylor. The woman emerged from her home and nudged two poodles back from the door’s threshold.
“Visual confirmation on the dogs,” P.J. said aloud. She felt around in the pockets of her hoodie until she uncovered the cold slices of bacon wrapped in Denny’s napkins.
Time’s stringy blond hair hung around her face as she tried to insert her key in the screen door keyhole without success. She stopped, wiped her chubby hands on her baggy pants, and tried again without success. Finally she straightened up and leaned in to lock the regular door, slamming the screen with a frustrated sigh before heading down the walkway to her car. She started her Ford Taurus and was off in a cloud of exhaust, careening around the corner as if she were in hot pursuit of the very next breakfast BK would serve that morning.
P.J. drank the rest of her cold coffee before she grabbed the canvas tote and empty duffel out of the back seat. Walking slowly up the street, she stopped once to look around before approaching Time’s front door. Then she carded it open and let herself in.
The first Monday in February, Caresse and her four-year-old son Chaz discovered a storefront a few doors down from the Salvation Army store on Islay that bore the sign “Monya’s Antiques.” Caresse said they had to go inside, suggesting there might be toys. She was hoping they might have some cheap old dolls to grab.
Quickly, she made herself at home amidst some of the heftier items in the collectibles paradise while Chaz wandered off. The shop owner, Monya, was a woman who spoke in absolutes whenever she felt expansive. She was half Ukrainian, half L’Oreal Intense Red hair dye. She had passed heavy forty pounds ago, and she wore a red and orange silk muumuu and too much perfume. Her lips were painted orange to match her tangerine fingernails.
Despite being off the beauty scale, she had a firm handshake and a beguiling smile. There was no question she could sell Cubic Zirconia to a fine gems expert. Caresse took an instant liking to her but nevertheless wanted to assess her knowledge. She waited patiently while a woman in gray sold Monya some cut glass her grandmother had left her. Monya gave the lady half the resale value in cash, and the woman left the shop, arms empty, smiling at Caresse as she passed by.
Chaz had discovered an open box of old wooden trains and track pieces in the corner of the shop, where a bit of space had been allotted for set-up and play, so he was fully occupied. Caresse approached the main counter while rearranging her bra strap so it was once again hidden by the loose neckline on her beige shirt.
She came right out with it. “Got any old Barbies?”
A skinny guy with jet-black hair and
shades skulked in from the back room and caught Monya’s eye. He pointed to the staircase. She nodded slightly and he slunk away, up the stairs and out of sight.
“Barbies,” Monya murmured as she walked over to a curio cabinet and took a doll down from a high glass shelf. She walked back over to Caresse and put the doll on the counter. “How can you not fall in love?” she asked.
The doll presented to her wore an elaborate red-sequined gown, a lavish cape, and a heart-shaped headpiece with a red feather sprouting from it.
Chaz approached the counter, holding one of the small wooden trains from the box.
“That’s a Barbie?” he asked.
“The Queen of Hearts by Bob Mackie,” Monya replied. “A very expensive, highly-collectible Barbie.”
Caresse studied the creation. She was impressive. The doll’s dress was sparkly, and the reflection from the sequins caught in the mirrored items throughout the shop and bounced off the overhead lighting.
Chaz beamed at Monya. “I like your hair.”
“Why, thank you!”
“It reminds me of fire.”
The kid in the dark glasses slipped back down the stairs, nodded to Monya once, and left.
Monya smiled benignly. “He always steps in to check my records.”
Caresse was surprised. “He’s an accountant?”
Monya frowned. “Records. LPs.”
Caresse hunkered on the edge of a chair dressed in dusty tapestry upholstery depicting hunters on horseback.
Chaz peered into one of Monya’s glass cases. “Hey, Mom, your magazines.”
He pointed at a vintage stack of
issues from the late eighties.
Monya looked where Chaz was pointing.
magazines?” Her curiosity was piqued.
“I write for
“Well, why didn’t you say so?” Like the Wizard of Oz emerging from behind the curtain, Monya came around the counter and took an upholstered chair near the one Caresse occupied. She immediately launched into a story.
“Once upon a time, back in the mid-’80s before Barbie turned thirty, a little-known woman who worked for the American Cancer Society decided a monthly Barbie magazine would sell to baby boomers who treasured Barbies. The woman put together a now-archaic desktop publishing system, found a printer, learned everything she could about distribution, and was soon clearing $20,000 profit each month from sales of
“At the time, Sierra Walsh, the future creator of
, was already known on the Barbie circuit as a real go-getter. She had majored in journalism and thought she should write about Barbie, combining two loves. She wrote to Sophie, the woman who launched the first Barbie magazine, and started contributing articles to her publication. But soon, Sierra had more plentiful and better ideas than Sophie. And she was in Southern California where Mattel was, while Sophie was stuck on the East coast.
“Everyone told Sierra she should give Sophie a run for her money. When Sierra got married and her husband wanted to finance her dream, it was all over for Sophie. About half of Sophie’s subscribers decided if they could only afford one Barbie magazine, they’d rather buy Sierra’s. Sierra was more creative and had better stories.
“Sophie was pissed, but what could she do? It’s a free country.” Monya threw up her hands and then let them flop onto her lap.
“How do you know all this?” Caresse asked.
“Sophie is my sister.”
“She’s still back east,” Monya said, anticipating Caresse’s next question. “Have you ever met Sierra?”
“No. We email, and we’ve talked on the phone once or twice. I send my features and photos to her, and that’s about it. I get checks when issues come out, and I have to file a freelance tax thingie each spring. She’s got a lot to do to publish every month.”
“Did you hear about the Gayle Grace murder?”
Caresse held her breath. Finally, someone might offer some tidbits that hadn’t been published.
“Sophie told me some woman in upstate New York was murdered, and her American Girl Barbie collection was raided. As far as they can tell, the dolls were taken the same day she was killed.”
Chills ran down Caresse’s spine. Instead of letting Monya know she had heard about the homicides, she decided to let her talk to determine whether or not the old woman had information she hadn’t run across.
“Both Gayle and her husband died in an explosion,” Monya continued. “Investigators talked to Gayle’s sister Megan, who originally helped Gayle inventory her dolls. They went through the Graces’ home, and guess what? Many of the dolls on the list were missing.”
Caresse wanted to hear Monya’s suppositions. “But why kill them? If you just want someone’s dolls, you take the dolls when they’re not home, right?”
“Clearly the killer had a grudge against Gayle and wanted her dead. Taking her dolls was important, but killing her was meaningful, too.”
Chaz approached slowly, dragging a box of trains and track pieces with him.
“Mom, I want this.”
Caresse stood up and smiled.
“How much for the whole box?” she asked Monya.
Monya placed her right, liver-spotted, many-ringed hand on Caresse’s shoulder. They had bonded. “The whole box, ten bucks.”
“Such a deal,” she said, returning the woman’s warm smile.
She turned to Chaz. “You’re gonna have to help me carry it back to the car.”
Chaz considered this, realizing they’d left their Honda clear over by Mitchell Park prior to their inner-city trek. “It’s worth it,” he said finally. “And Mom, I’m gonna leave this stuff at your place. Dad says we’ve got too much clutter.”
She raised an eyebrow. “He does, does he?”
“He should see
place,” Monya said, and the three of them laughed.
They left the shop each holding a side of the box with both hands. They walked semi-sideways in tandem for a while until Caresse almost tripped. She told her son to hang on to her belt loop while she balanced the box on her head all the way back to their car.
The poodles greeted P.J., their tiny black-nailed feet slipping and sliding on the smooth cerulean tile floor in the entryway.
P.J. took the napkined bacon out of her pocket and addressed them by name.
“Hi, Pooh. Hi, Schmoo.” Their ridiculous monikers made her smile. The treats were a hit. She had made friends.
Everything in the living room was pastel. Light peach, lemon yellow, and touches of sky blue gave the place a lighthearted feel. The poodle babies followed her into the room, watching her with curiosity in their eyes. She headed up the plush peach-carpeted staircase. The bathroom was at the top landing, a study was set up in the room to the left, and the master bedroom was to the right. She opted to go into the study and was rewarded by the sight of cardboard boxes stacked high beside a curio cabinet packed with Barbies. The curio was lit, but P.J. could barely tell because sunshine creeping in beneath the half-drawn blinds muted the extra light.
“What, does she leave the light on all the time?” P.J. asked.
Pooh—or perhaps Schmoo—yipped in response.
P.J. chuckled and opened the cabinet with her thin-gloved hands. Number One and Number Two Ponytails—the mother lode in Barbie collecting—were both there and in mint condition. A group of Number Threes was dressed in mint examples of some of Barbie’s earliest outfits including Commuter Set, Gay Parisienne, Plantation Belle, Roman Holiday, and Easter Parade. P.J. had never seen an Easter Parade coat that wasn’t a reproduction. The black faille was soft and spotless, and the matching hat, a simple bow of silk organza, seemed as fresh as it must have in 1959.
The dolls and outfits moved forward through Barbie’s history as one gazed down the length of the cabinet. At the bottom, Twist ’n Turn Barbies were dressed in outfits as diverse as Dreamy Blues, Bright ‘n Brocade, and Fab City. Each outfit was complete, from Trailblazer’s goggles to Dreamy Pink’s slippers.
A bevy of AG and bubble cut Barbies filled the middle shelves, and some of P.J.’s favorite 1600-series ensembles were here. Of course, she had them all, thanks to Gayle, but there was no harm in taking a few duplicates. In addition to a blond bubble wearing Here Comes The Bride and a dark brunette AG wearing London Tour, there was an exquisite, raspberry-lipped, longhaired silver brunette AG dressed in White Magic.
P.J. filled her duffel bag rapidly, squeezing in her last two picks—a low-color, coral-lipped, silver-ash blond, side-part AG dressed in Theatre Date and a choice 1966 high-color, long-haired, ash blond AG wearing Country Club Dance—before zipping the bag closed. After hoisting it, P.J. added the second tote to her load and went back downstairs.