Garage Sale Stalker (Garage Sale Mysteries) (7 page)

BOOK: Garage Sale Stalker (Garage Sale Mysteries)
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Back in her car, she pulled the pocket calendar from her purse, flipped it a month ahead and marked the date when she would warmly remember this day’s improbable connection with a most unusual withered old man, by then 3,000 miles away in a California vineyard. You just never knew what might happen at one of these sales, Jennifer marveled yet again!

While waiting for the detective and Hannah to reappear, she opened the professor’s book. On the blank opening page she read his handsome handwriting:

“To Jennifer Shannon,

Rudyard Kipling wrote, ‘Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.’ But then, he had not experienced your hug.

With gratitude, Gilbert Snowden”

CHAPTER 11

H
annah’s tap on the
car window jerked Jennifer as she said, “Mom, how about just one more sale so Adam can run the license numbers at his office? Then shouldn’t we get back to see what’s happening in our own driveway?”

“Sounds reasonable,” said Hannah.

Iverson asked, “Which of these addresses left on your list do you suggest for the last one today?”

“We want to find Regulars,” she considered. “Where might they be? Let’s try this one.” She tapped Number 7 on her itinerary. “Hannah, would you like to ride with me this time?”

Iverson interrupted, “Um, actually she’s teaching me important things I need to understand about these sales. Why doesn’t she continue with me to this last one?”

Looking for and gettin
g positive confirmation from
her
daughter, Jennifer nodded and sped off.

So, it’s “Adam,” is it?

Jennifer arrived first at their next stop. “Moving sale” could mean one household member moving out or
everyone
leaving or even a moving-in sale. “Everything must go” usually translated to, “Everything-we’re-not-taking-with-us must go.” With a closed garage and empty yard, she wouldn’t know until inside. This upscale address in the Evermay development drew a big turnout today, judging from the number of cars parked around the house.

As Jennifer climbed out of her van, an idea popped into her head. She grabbed the cell phone from her car charger and stuffed it into her pocket.

The detective’s vehicle nosed into a nearby parking spot just as she opened her van door. Assuming they’d be right on her heels, she paused to hold the front door of the house open for them until she realized they still sat in the car, talking.

Once inside, Jennifer learned the home’s entire contents were indeed for sale. The first bedroom contained linens, many with
original price tags
attached. Recognizing a
long-time Regular,
Jennifer watched the Duchess examining
the table cloths and
impulsively implemented her plan. Raising her cell phone Jennifer said loudly, “Excuse me.” When the Duchess looked up to see who spoke, Jennifer took her picture.

“Oh, sorry.” She invented a quick alibi. “I was trying to get a shot of the... er, lamp behind you.”

Duchess frowned annoyance but resumed her quest.

The
similarly crammed second bedroo
m held elaborate
Christmas décor and more furniture. Fur jackets, coats and clothes hung in the open closet.

Then Jennifer visited the maste
r bedroom, roomy and
beautifully decorated with a gorgeous comforter set on the bed, lamps, statuary and elaborate furniture. The walk-in closet housed pricey ladies clothes, hats and shoes, most in their original boxes.

Some lucky little lady occupied the next room, straight from
Better Homes
& Gardens:
pink and white striped curtains and complementary bed linens, a white canopy bed and matching dresser, mirror and chest, a Victorian doll house, white book shelves displaying toys, games, books, dolls and a white plastic bin overflowing with stuffed animals. Finding a big plastic bag, Jennifer filled it with small horses and riders plus fences, corral, barn and other equestrian accessories to become an under-the-pillow-gift for a granddaughter.

Moving to the kitchen, she almost recognized someone but not his straight blond hair. Although nearly disguised with cover-up, the barely visible cheek scar looked like Swordsman’s. But wearing a wig? Why would a guy with curly black hair change to a blond wig and lightened eyebrows except for a costume party? Or was the curly one the wig? She watched him stare at the back yard through the sliding doors, his hand upon the locked handle.

When Hannah and Iverson walked in, she gestured with sign language their need to talk. In the hall, she alerted them to the two Regulars at the sale and described her photo of Duchess. “Do you want one of Swordsman, too?”

Iverson nodded.

“Snapping Duchess was easy but Swordsman could be trickier, so I may need your help.”

Looking again for Swordsman, they checked the dining and living rooms before descending to a thickly carpeted family room with stocked wet bar, fancy pool table in a separate alcove and a home theater arrangement with comfortable reclining chairs and a movie-room television. Everything was priced. On one of the couches sat an oversized, stuffed orange orangutan, and a middle-aged man lounged in an adjacent chair, but no sign of Swordsman. Had he slipped past them to his car?

“What a beautiful home!” Jennifer said to the man in the chair. “Is this entire level finished?”

“No, just the family room, theater area and the exercise and billiard rooms. The utilities and workshop are in the unfinished section through that door. If anything you want isn’t priced, let me know.”

“This place is huge,” Iverson observed, entering the unfinished area where tangles of electrical wires and cables crisscrossed the ceiling. Swordsman stood beneath them, looking up.

They’d found him, but could they get his picture? As Iverson
stepped back into the family room, c
autiously followed by
Swordsman, Jennifer tossed the stuffed orange monkey to the detective, calling, “Here, catch!” Hearing this, everyone in the lower level watched the airborne orangutan sail across the room, deftly caught by Iverson as Jennifer snapped his photo with Swordsman right behind him, looking directly into the camera.

The middle-aged man stood. “I won that handsome beast at the county fair five years ago. At first, he was a glorious memento of my triumph and after that, a very large dust-catcher cluttering the garage. Would you like to buy a prize orangutan?” he asked Jennifer.

“Actually, I would,” she replied, “for one of my Grands who collects monkeys.” Jennifer fingered the price tag as Hannah and Iverson nonchalantly followed Swordsman up the stairs.

Adam whispered, “Hannah, would you follow Duchess to her car and get her license number while I do the same with this guy? Can you do it without her noticing?” Hannah nodded.

Still downstairs, Jennifer read the price tag. “You’re asking $10 for this orange animal? How about $5 if it goes to a really good home where a little girl will give it lots of love?”

“How about a compromise at $7.50?” the man countered.

“Sold,” Jennifer agreed, pulling the cash from her fanny pack. “By the way, I’m just curious and if you don’t mind my asking,
clearly
you’re moving, but why
would anyone leave such a
wo
nderful house in a great neighborhood like this
and sell virtually
the entire contents?”

The man smiled. “Remember the fairy tales that end with ‘they lived happily ever after’? My wife and I married ten years ago and had a little girl, but we didn’t do the fairy tale bit. In fact, we separated, for four years. She stayed here while I started a new job and a new life up in New York.
“Then about a year ago
, my wife and I talked about mending fences
and we did and now we’
re back together again.
Our little girl is thrilled
about our reconciliation and we’
re pretty amazed and exc
ited ourselves. So w
e’re moving to my upstate New
York house and going to
do just what the fairy tale pr
omised!” He grinned as if ownin
g the best secret in the w
orld.

“What a wonderful story,” Jennifer
said. “I love happy ending
s.
Now, Handsome Prince
, make sure that fairy tale ending co
mes true.”

“Why, you sound a lot like our fairy godmother,” he joked back and waved warmly as she walked up the steps.

Outside, Hannah held the enormous orangutan as Jennifer unlocked her car. Finally seated inside the vehicle, Jennifer started the motor and pulled into the street, “Will Detective Iverson let us know what he learns when he runs those plates?”

“It’s an active case but he’ll tell us what he can. I’ll e-mail them to him when we get home.”

Jennifer nodded and they drove along in silence a few minutes, before Hannah spoke again, “Mom, don’t you... don’t you think he’s kind of... interesting?”

Keeping her hands tight on the wheel, Jennifer gave her daughter a sidelong look, noticing Hannah’s relaxed expression and wide-eyed stare.

Well, well!

CHAPTER 12

R
eturning home, Jenni
fer parked
a block from her house to free up plenty of closer parking places for shoppers visiting the sale in her driveway.

“Mom, look how many people are there!” Hannah marveled.

“Mornings are usually busiest. Since we’re parked on the street, let’s lock our own purchases in the car for now,” Jennifer suggested.

“Mom, here’s Adam’s e-mail address.” Hannah handed it to her. “Would you mind sending him the photos while I take my turn as cashier?”

Jennifer nodded her agreement.

Walking up the drivew
ay together, Jennifer as
ked Kaela.
“How’s the sale going, Honey?”

“Amazingly well, so far, Mom! Haven’t added up the other girls’ sales yet but I made nearly $200 and it ’s not even noon! Big crowds of shoppers, and why not: perfect weather, good address, catchy newspaper and Craigs List ads, fifteen signs at nearby intersections, balloons on the mail box and eye-catching furniture near the curb to lure customers.” Kaela turned to answer a customer’s question and then back to her sister. “Ready to cashier awhile, Hannah?”

“Sure, but remind me again how we’re keeping track today. We all wrote our prices on colored sticky labels. Looks like this legend at the top of the page shows blue for Becca, red for you, orange for Bethany, yellow for Mom and the green ones are mine.”

Kaela added, “The little kids take their own money at their own tables. When you make a sale put the peeled-off sticker on this page or just write the amount in that person’s column. We divvy up at the end. Here’s a yard stick for them to measure and that fat orange wire snaking out from under the garage door is an extension cord for testing electrical stuff. Grocery bags and old newspapers to wrap dishes are under the card table. Here’s the cashier apron with a calculator, pad and pencils in the left pocket, paper money in the center and change in the right pocket.” She removed it from her own waist and tied it around Hannah’s.

“I like the apron lots better than worrying about someone lifting a cash box when you’re distracted,” Hannah said, sitting down at the “check-out ” card table near the driveway entrance. The fenced yard with one closed driveway gate created a convenient funnel for customers entering and leaving. Shoppers necessarily moved past scrutiny from the card table before departing, which discouraged “walk-aways.”

“Good news for you, Mom,” Becca announced. “All your wicker pieces sold: the headboard, lamp, chair, mirror, elephant table, chest, hamper and wastebasket. One person took them all!”

“That’ll please Dad since my car will fit in the garage again.”

Becca carried a customer’s hat tree to the check-out table because his hands were full of other buys. “Mom,” she turned to Jennifer, “what do you think about pizza for lunch today? If it’s a go, would you mind ordering since we’re all so busy? Just in case, we wrote down our choices.”

Nodding, Jennifer looked at the neat displays as she meandered up the driveway, through their garage’s “people door” and into the house, relieved that the girls remembered to lock that entrance so no buyers could enter the house uninvited.

Once indoors, she spun her Rolodex for the pizza parlor phone number and finished placing the order just as the outside door burst open and Bethany rushed inside!

“Oh, Mom!” she
moaned. “You won’t bel
ieve what just happened!”

Jumping to her feet, Jennifer reached anxiously for Bethany’s hand. “Honey, what’s wrong?”

“Someone stole Mike’s camera! And it’s all my fault”

“Your fault?”

“He switched to digital and didn’t need his old set-up any more. The camera, the case and all the attachments—he priced it at $300! He wanted to advertise it on Craigs List or E-bay, but I urged him to try our sale first. Now I can’t face him! It’s gone and I’m responsible! If only I’d watched more closely!” Bethany began to cry.

Jennifer put her arms around her daughter-in-law. “Sometimes shoppers pick up an item and carry it around so nobody else grabs it while they decide whether to buy it. If they don’t want it after all, they might put it down anywhere, not necessarily on the table where they found it. Have you checked the other tables?”

“I’ve looked, the other girls searched, even the children helped. It’s just not there! Mike will be so disappointed and so mad at me.”

“Another pair of eyes can’t hurt. Here, I’ll come out to help. And Mike may be more understanding than you think.”

They hurried outside, but despite feverish searching, located no camera. None who manned the check-out table recalled seeing anyone carry the camera away.

“I guess a woman with a big purse could smuggle it out,” Becca speculated, “or someone pushing a stroller might tuck it under a baby blanket.”

“With three hours to go, let’s watch everything
very closely
from now on,” Hannah said and, grim-faced, they all agreed. But the damage was done.

Besides the many customers drawn by their ads and easy-to-read street signs, the pizza deliveryman browsed their sale, as did the mailman and several construction workers remodeling a house a block away. A van with six women wearing house-cleaning uniforms explained they had a job today in the area, saw the signs and dropped by. All left triumphantly clutching purchases.

When the sale ended at 3 p.m., a few buyers still straggled in but the big crowd peaked about 2:00. At the end, the girls and their children dragged unsold items to their respective cars before gathering in the kitchen to count money and swap “sales tales.” All but Bethany felt successful and even she seemed somewhat resigned about the camera theft.

“It’s hard to imagine anyone stealing at a garage sale where everything is already so reasonable.” Hannah shook her head.

Kaela raised a hand. “Is stealing just about economics? Don’t some do it for the thrill?”

“And we thought we were too alert for this to happen to us! Hah!” said Becca.

“It’s obvious we’re no match for a skilled thief.”

“So, we had an actual criminal right in our yard today,” Hannah said. “Too bad Adam wasn’t here then.”

“Who?”

“The policeman, Detective Iverson. He told me to call him Adam.” All eyes turned toward Hannah but no one spoke.
“What?”
Hannah blurted defensively, blushing at their combined stares before a self-conscious, almost guilty, smile lighted her face.

Becca changed the subject. “Now that I think about it, we had some odd characters. Remember the foreign women wearing long dresses and head scarves even on this hot day? They insisted on bargaining over
everything
they picked up, big or small. Even those little hotel soaps and shampoos at five cents each. They were adamant, almost belligerent, about buying five for a nickel.”

“Bargaining is an accepted way of life in some cultures,” Kaela pointed out.

“Don’t forget that we sometimes bargain at garage sales, too,” Jennifer reminded.

“Yes, but Mom, we back off immediately if our offer isn’t accepted. These women persisted and persisted over small stuff until it was downright irritating,” said Becca.

“A really scraggly man saw how busy we were and asked to use our bathroom. Knowing Mom’s rule, of course I said no,” Kaela said.

“One woman asked if her little girl could use our bathroom,” Becca admitted. “At first I said no but the kid danced around and whimpered until I felt sorry for her, so I took her inside and stood right by the bathroom door until she reappeared and then escorted her back outside and locked the house door again. Was that okay, Mom, since she was supervised?”

“Supervised is the word.”

“By the way, did you notice that strange man, the one who bought Mom’s lamp?” asked Becca.

“You mean the big blond muscle man who never smiled?” Kaela volunteered.

“He was weird, Mom,” Becca continued. “He also bought your rowing machine and didn’t blink at the $75 price, but he wanted the instruction book. When I explained we didn’t have it any more, he got mad. While he shopped, he kept looking at me in a way that made me uncomfortable. I mean, not a flirty way but a
sca
ry
way.”

“You know how heavy that rowing machine is? Remember how we struggled getting it out to the driveway? He just picked it right up, like a toy, and carried it out to his truck,” Bethany said.

“ Was… was it a black pickup truck?” Jennifer asked, keeping her voice calm.

“As a matter of fact, it was! He was so strange that I watched him when he left and remember his truck because of the furniture piled up in it. Do you know him, Mom?”

“No,” Jennifer said, apprehension mounting at the memory of Wrestler’s unflinching determination and unapologetic vice-like grip on her arm when they vied for the painting. Having that
frightening
man this close to her daughters and
grandchildren
chilled her, despite the warm afternoon. She shivered.

“Mom, are you okay?” Kaela touched her mother’s arm and the others looked over with concern.

“Just lots happening—a busy day!” she covered, not wanting to upset them with her own scare any more than she wished to unsettle Jason with the Wrestler tale the week before. And after all, she did
not
know that awful man and, mercifully, never would!

On the other hand, her daughters
did
listen to her occasional
“li
fe-lessons.” To imply they
shouldn’t recognize and
avoid
threatening people didn’t serve her girls well, so instead she said, “Even if your instincts aren’t always perfect, listen to them anyway. When something or someone doesn’t seem quite right, your mind has made a quick study of the situation and compared it to your other experiences. That very strong uncomfortable feeling is there to protect you!”

Would any of them have occasion to use that advice? She earnestly hoped not.

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