Garage Sale Stalker (Garage Sale Mysteries)

Table of Contents

No part of this publication may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. For information regarding permission, please write to: Bluewaterpress LLC.

Text and Illustrations copyright ©2010 by Suzi Weinert

All rights reserved.

International Standard Book Number 13: 978-1-60452-091-0

International Standard Book Number 10: 1-60452-091-4

BluewaterPress LLC

52 Tuscan Way Ste 202-309

Saint Augustine, Florida 32092

http://www.bluewaterpress.com

Editing by Carole Greene

To Don,

For his unfailing encouragement, clever suggestions,

computer rescues, patience and love.

T
O MY READERS

J
ennifer’s passi
on for garage
sales is sha
red by millions
around the globe. For centuries, people have bartered or sold possessions by laying items on a blanket or table top in front of their home or at a local market. Today, garage sales—also known as yard sales, rummage sales, tag sales, attic sales, moving sales, barn sales and estate sales—thrive in the United States. Add flea markets, swap meets, consignment shops, thrift shops and recent internet venues such as Amazon, Craig’s List and E-Bay and the result is
“big bu
siness.”
Besides bargains, a bonus by-product of the second-hand market is that goods are recycled, not trashed. If you haven’t tried these sales yet yourself, don’t miss the adventure!

We like to sweep unsavory issues like child abuse, neglect and exploitation under the rug, but these serious problems exist and are on the increase. Almost daily, the media feature stories about such offenses. Several ideas for this book sprang from just such news coverage. While it’s unpleasant reading, much of the public does so with shocked disbelief, doubting an individual concerned citizen can make a positive difference. Any situation producing traumatized, dysfunctional or dangerous people impacts society adversely. Consider contacting your local, county or state child protective service or a national group like Childhelp to learn how you might participate in constructive ways.

Thank you for reading my book. You may wish to e-mail me at: [email protected]

—Suzi Weinert

PROLOGUE

H
is hands gloved
against
t
he cold, the dead woman’s lawyer pulled his overcoat tighter against the winter chill, trying to dispel his growing uneasiness about the impending meeting. Gray-haired and well-dressed, he stared at the farm’s weathered buildings as he stood in the upper driveway between the dilapidated barn and the old house. Flanking the back door, daffodil shoots emerged just above the cold February ground; perhaps a metaphor for the young man arriving today to bring new life to his deceased mother’s home.

Beyond the tangle of overgrown brush and trees, tires crunched in the pebbles far below, where the property’s gravel driveway touched the county road. He watched a black pickup truck appear at the top of the long incline and park beside his car. A tall, thirtyish man, built-like-a-tank with erect posture, beefy arms, a bull neck and blond crew-cut hair, stepped out of the truck.

“You must be Ruger Yates.” The gray-haired man forced a convincing smile and extended his hand. “Welcome to Virginia. I’m Greg Bromley, your mother’s attorney and old friend. After our letters and phone calls about her estate, you’re here at last.”

Ruger Yates shook his hand. Something about that contact made Bromley shiver. Was it this man’s uncanny resemblance to his cruel father or just a reaction to the frosty wind?

A scuffing commotion in the truck bed drew Bromley’s attention to a dog’s muzzle poking over the edge.

“Hey,” Bromley said, “looks like you brought a friend with you.”

As he moved closer to see the animal, the large dog growled a warning, leaped out of the vehicle and squared off to confront him. Used to pleasant encounters with friends’ pets, Bromley stepped back in surprise, observing this aggressive dog’s battered condition. “Whoa, fella! I mean you no harm,” he soothed, again trying to befriend the animal by slowly extending his hand to pat its head. But the dog growled louder, lips drawing back to expose menacing teeth and warning the stranger to come no closer.

“Is this dog a rescue?” he asked Ruger. “I mean… the scars and all?”

Ruger stiffened. “The pup found me. I just trained him.”

What kind of training produced a dog looking like that? Bromley wondered, but instead he asked, “How long did it take you to get here from Texas?”

“About a week – I camped along the way. Lots of lonesome country between there and here.”

“Right,” Bromley nodded, wondering if this told as much about the traveler as the land he traversed. “Does the old homestead here seem at all familiar?”

Ruger looked around solemn-faced, almost trance-like, Bromley thought. Did this young man project negative vibes or was it his own over-active imagination? When at last the silence became awkward, Bromley spoke again.

“Your mother and I were classmates and friends for many years. We graduated in the same college class and then both worked in McLean. She taught school here. I always admired your mother. She was such a lovely person then, friendly and bright and very beautiful.”

Seeing the blond man register no interest in his mother, Bromley changed the subject. “Hard to believe from what you see here now, Ruger, but this part of Fairfax County was all countryside forty or fifty years ago with lots of farms like your family’s big spread.” Bromley shivered again as the brisk winter breeze swirled around them. “Here, let’s sit in my car while I tell you more about why you’re here.”

“Stay!” Ruger ordered the dog, with a simultaneous hand gesture. The animal obeyed instantly.

When the two men sat comfortably in Bromley’s car, he started the engine and adjusted the heater knob for warmth. “Now where was I? Oh yes, so when she married your father, I was, well, surprised and maybe even a little jealous.” His hope to create a friendly relationship with this young man faded further as the expressionless face stared back at him.

Bromley returned to facts. “I didn’t see Wendey - that was your mother’s name - for many years after she married until she needed legal help when your father was, ah, arrested and charged.” He proceeded carefully; for despite his own revulsion, the man
was
Ruger’s father. “Do you know the story?”

Raised an orphan, Ruger knew nothing of his family or early childhood except occasional wisps of frightening recall. Seared somewhere in the childhood recesses of his mind, their terror
demanded
repression.

“No,” he answered.

“Well, it ’s like this. Your three-year-old sister died under… ah…unusual circumstances. Your father said it was accidental, but the prosecutor looked at the case differently and charged him with… um, a very serious crime. I convinced the jury that your father was mentally incompetent to stand trial, so rather than convicting him of mur… of the greater crime, the state sent him to a nearby mental institution where, as you may know, he died two years later.”

Listening raptly, Ruger reacted with surprise. He did
not
know. “My father was insane?”

“That’s the verdict I fought hard to get—instead of the alternative of life in prison or, ah, worse.” Bromley changed the subject again. “Now that was a bad time for your mother. Her physical and mental health declined markedly during that period, what with mourning her daughter’s…
untim
ely
death and her husband’s, ah…” Bromley chose his words tactfully, “predicament. She tried to run the farm by herself and, as it turned out, was also raising two young boys alone. I offered many times afterward to get her professional psychological help, but she adamantly refused.”

Ruger stared blankly at the older man. “Raising two young boys?”

“Yes, you and your older brother. Mathis was his name. Apparently she hid you boys somewhere here at the farm during the police investigations pursuant to your father’s case, so at that time no outsiders knew you even existed. She had no phone, never left the farm and wrote me to come to the house to talk with her when she needed help or legal advice. Maybe you thought only doctors made house calls in those days.” Bromley smiled at Ruger before deciding that humor, which sometimes lightened awkward situations like this, brought no response from this man. “Because I knew her from earlier days and saw how emotionally fragile she’d become, I dropped by often to make sure she was okay.”

“Is that when you found my brother and me?”

“Ah, not exactly. On one visit, after my first distant glimpse of the two of you out by the barn, your mother said you were her sons and told me your names. On every visit after that I asked to meet you boys, but she always said you were busy elsewhere. Then one day when I inquired as usual, your mother said Mathis had ‘gone.’ I pressed her about where, but she looked frightened and wouldn’t discuss it. He was six or seven, so this seemed odd but I dropped it, in order not to further upset her. She gave the same explanation about him on my future visits. To this day I don’t know what happened to him.

“Mathis…“Ruger said, reaching for an elusive memory.

“What?”

“That name… I’ve heard that name,” Ruger said aloud, but to himself.

Even if Ruger was only five or six then, Bromley thought it odd not to immediately recognize his brother’s name. But he put that aside and continued. “She could live on food from her garden, meat and eggs from the chickens and water from the well, but she still needed money for electric bills, roof repair and so on. So we discussed selling a few acres of her farm. To help her, I networked in town to find a buyer, who paid her an excellent price.” He chose not to mention that he didn’t profit from these transactions, despite spending considerable time brokering deals to bring Wendey top dollar for her land.

Bromley returned to his story, “When I finally saw you up close for the first time, you didn’t look so good.” His voice faltered as he remembered the emaciated, unkempt, wild-eyed boy with a welt on his face, a bruise on his arm and a festering burn scar on the back of one hand. “In fact,” Bromley feigned cheer, “I thought it might be a good idea for a bright boy like you to attend a military school I knew about, so I made a quick phone call. It took all my persuasive powers to get the school to accept a six-year-old.”

After a pause, Ruger asked, “How did I get to the school?”

“Well, I took you with me that very day, bought you new clothes and shoes and then we had haircuts together at the barber shop. We ate lunch and I drove you to the school.” Bromley frowned as he recalled the clothing store clerk’s offer to discard the tattered outfit Ruger wore into his shop… and how oddly the barber eyed Bromley upon seeing the condition of the boy’s arms and legs, never mind his matted hair. Nor did he describe the restaurant experience, where Ruger wolfed down his food, his thin arms curled protectively around his plate lest it be snatched away and his eyes wary of danger as he ate. “Do you remember any of that? The shopping, getting your hair cut, eating lunch together?”

“No,” Ruger answered, although each of Bromley’s descriptions lasered a pinpoint of light on forgotten pockets deep in Ruger’s subconscious.

“Your mother paid for that schooling by periodically selling off more farm acreage, and the school sent your progress reports to me.”

“To you?”

Bromley nodded. How could he explain to this young man that his mother, her neglect of her son already apparent, told him she hated the boy and wanted nothing more to do with him? In the ensuing years, her distaste for the child didn’t waiver, despite Bromley’s urgings to the contrary.

“Yes, the school sent me your papers, saved for you in this file.” He handed Ruger a folder. “She wasn’t well,” Bromley said and, reshaping the ugly truth into something kinder, he added, “so she asked me to make sure you were provided for financially and pay your school bills.” Should he tell the young man that he paid those bills from his own pocket when his mother’s payments lagged? Would it help this man to know at least one person in the world had cared what happened to him? Probably not…

“How did she die?” Ruger asked.

“She wrote me that she was very sick and couldn’t remember if she’d executed a Will. She had, but since I couldn’t phone to tell her so, I went by. I knocked and knocked but she didn’t answer the door. Over the years she’d become a hermit and didn’t believe in medicine or doctors. Before driving away, I opened her mailbox and found some bills collected there so I went to the McLean post office. Her letter carrier told me she picked up her mail every day during the twenty-odd years he’d delivered it. Then I drove to the police station and brought a patrolman back here with me to force our way inside. We found she’d passed away in her bed. The autopsy determined she died of pneumonia the day before.”

“And you found me through the Army?”

“That ’s right, Ruger. The military school said you enlisted after graduation. ‘Yates’ is not a common name, which helped. Years earlier, we’d drafted her Will on one of your mother’s good days. Since your parents had no other relatives and your brother had disappeared, you were the obvious beneficiary for the estate. The Will also provided guidelines for her burial, which I oversaw in your absence. The ashes from her cremation are in this box.” He reached into the back seat and handed a package to Ruger.

With tightly compressed lips, Ruger took the box, holding it as if scorpions might cascade from beneath the lid and swarm across his body.

Ruger’s reaction to his mother’s remains increased Bromley’s unease, but he cleared his throat and pressed on. “The Yates family has owned this house at least a hundred years, although someone added electricity and plumbing along the way. You don’t know the McLean or Great Falls areas yet, so I’ll just tell you that your farm’s fifteen acres lie between two very desirable residential locations. This property is worth a small fortune. The buildings show little attention for at least the last thirty years. The land is far more valuable than the structures, so if you sell in the future, a builder will demolish everything here for new construction. Knowing this may help you decide how long to keep it and whether major repairs make sense.”

Making ready to leave, Bromley added, “Here’s a northern Virginia book map which might help initially as you find your way around town. I’ve marked my office location on this page. We need to sign some papers there tomorrow if that’s convenient. Two o’clock good?”

“Yes.”

“Oh…I hired a cleaning woman to tidy up, empty the refrigerator and wastebaskets and dispose of the linens in your mother’s bedroom. Otherwise, it’s as she left it. Here are the keys. Good luck to you.”

Bromley waited as Ruger climbed out of his car, anticipating a civil good-bye or thank-you, but none came. Was Ruger Yates always a boorish cold fish or did this return to his childhood home distract him from otherwise conventional good manners?

To avoid the need for facing this man again, Bromley would instruct his secretary to handle the estate document signing at his office tomorrow. Driving away from the farm, he shivered again, this time with relief.

***

Ruger watched the attorney’s car disappear down the driveway before depositing the noxious box of ashes in the farthest recess of the barn, nowhere close to the house. Putting the file of school reports in the cab of his pickup, he again instructed his dog to “stay” and, with a trembling hand, unlocked the back door of his mother’s house.

The door creaked eerily as Ruger pushed it open. Cautious, he stood at the threshold several minutes before stepping inside. Silence filled the space around him as dust motes spun in the weak sunlight filtering through filthy windows. The rear entryway, a mud-and-laundry room, led into the kitchen. Ruger waited expectantly for some familiarity to kick in, but none did.

Wary, he advanced into the kitchen and glanced around the room. As he focused on the shabby table and four rickety chairs, an unwanted snapshot of memory flashed into his mind. He and Mathis did school lessons there, the success of which determined whether or not they ate. But failure at lessons meant more than hunger; it meant beatings with any tool accidentally convenient to their irate mother’s grasp—a coat hanger, an extension cord, a wooden spoon, a hot pan.

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