Authors: Kathleen Bridge
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Women Sleuths
A priceless find . . .
“Can I help you with something?” Her plastered-on smile faded.
“Hi. It’s Tara, right?” I said. “Barb Moss introduced us last summer.”
“Hmm, did she?”
“I think we both frequent the same garage sales.”
“I don’t make a habit of frequenting
sales. I do my collecting at fine estate sales or through my exclusive connections in Manhattan.”
“Thought you sold online.” I rifled through my purse until I found her business card.
Tara handed me back the card. It was the same card she’d given me back when we were fighting over the curtains.
“Were you interested in something or just browsing?”
“That’s a fantastic clock.” I pointed. “What are you asking for it?”
“I think it might be a little above your means.” She put a firm hand on my shoulder and nudged me toward the door.
“I think I can decide that for myself.”
“Hundred-and-twenty thousand. It’s a Dominy. Still interested?”
“I’ll think about it.”
“Sure you will. I was about to close up and head home.”
a fifteen-foot closet.
I searched for a displeasing feature on her face but couldn’t find one.
I sat in the Jeep and watched as Tara put the
sign in the window. The lights in the shop dimmed. A figure emerged from the side of the building. Bright orange hair glowed fluorescent under the streetlamp. Adam’s mother, Frances Prescott Hughes, put a key in the shop door and walked in. I decided to wait.
A few minutes later Tara wheeled out a hand truck carrying the $120,000 tall clock. Frances and Tara loaded it into the back end of the Mercedes SUV that I’d seen parked at the Spenser estate. I crouched down and waited until Tara went back into the shop and Frances drove away. What were Adam’s mother and Cole’s old girlfriend doing sneaking around in the dark with a possibly rare piece of furniture? A mystery was a-brewin’.
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BETTER HOMES AND CORPSES
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright © 2015 by Kathleen Bridge.
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eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-17103-9
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / August 2015
Cover illustration by Marjorie Muns.
Cover design by Diana Kolsky.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
PUBLISHER’S NOTE: The recipes contained in this book are to be followed exactly as written. The publisher is not responsible for your specific health or allergy needs that may require medical supervision. The publisher is not responsible for any adverse reactions to the recipes contained in this book.
This book is dedicated to my beautiful daughter Lindsey Taylor, who never let her hearing loss keep her from fulfilling her wildest dreams. I love you, my sweet tartlette.
Many thanks to my fabulous literary agent, Dawn Dowdle, at Blue Ridge Literary Agency, for believing in me and being my companion on this wonderful journey; and to my editor, Robin Barletta, for her continuous help and support. Author Elaine Wolf, my sister from another mother, was my mentor and cheerleader from day one. Ellen Broder, my friend and connoisseur of all things vintage, supplied endless inspiration. Gourmet chef Lon Otremba unlocked his secret vault of recipes and cooking tips and allowed me to share them with the world.
It takes a cozy village to write a cozy mystery and I want to thank my reading posse for their insights: Ruth Thaler, Florence Kopit, Ruth Greenstein, Bea Nasaw, Shelley Fyman, Michelle Mason Otremba, Lee Goldstein, Ann Costigan, Eleanor Rosenberg, Lisa Manhart, and my uncle Jim Anderson.
Thank you Ann, Nancy, and everyone at Backstreet Antiques for all the décor and refurbishing tips.
My mom and best friend, Judy Anderson Drawe, passed down the collecting gene and taught me everything she knows about antiques and unconditional love. My dad and hero, John Drawe, continues to be my role model for a life well lived. My loving son, Josh, sent me positive vibes and never let me doubt this book would make it into print.
I especially want to thank my husband, Marc, for believing in me. Your undying faith, encouragement, and love never went unnoticed.
And lastly, Montauk—this one’s for you!
It seems I’m always at the wrong end of the stick. The pointy end. The one you can’t see until you trip over it and it pokes your eye out, or worse yet, your heart. I got the flat tire at the intersection of Old Montauk Highway and Route 27. Earlier, my spirits had scaled the upper limits of antique-picker heaven. Now I’d be late, and Caroline Spenser would never tolerate lateness.
My rescuer came in the form of a PSEG power grid worker in a cable truck. When I offered him my last ten-dollar bill for a job well done, he refused and said, “But I’ll take that woody golf club in the back of your Jeep.”
I’d scavenged the club the day before from the front of the demolished Tiki Motel, along with a set of what I prayed were ivory mah-jongg tiles hidden in a moldy suitcase.
“Well, if you’re ever on the lookout for any more clubs, give me a call.” I handed him my business card.
“‘Meg Barrett, Cottages by the Sea,’” he said, reading the card. “What are you, some kind of home builder?”
“No, more like a nest builder. Sorry, I have to run. I’m sooo late.” I glanced at his ring finger. Darn. It would be nice to meet someone with the same collecting bug I had, instead of the cheating jerk I’d been engaged to who hated all things old. The only thing Michael and I had in common was
and an obsession with home décor magazines—he loved minimalist modern and I was more of a vintage upcyled-trash gal.
At the sight of the East Hampton windmill, my pulse quickened. Only a few rain-drenched souls trudged along Main Street. It was March, but come June, the beautiful people would descend and the east end of Long Island would morph into the American Riviera, double-cheeked air kisses on every corner and celebrities in every café.
voted East Hampton “America’s Most Beautiful Village,” and it was easy to see why, with its clean, tree-shaded streets and quaint storefronts.
When I veered left onto a narrow blacktop lane, I got occasional peeks at mammoth estates hidden behind tall privet hedges. My palms itched, forecasting good things around the corner—or disaster. I hoped the flat tire wasn’t an omen for my upcoming appointment. After all, it was just a casual meeting with one of the most important antique and art collectors in the Hamptons, scratch that, Long Island, scratch that, the entire East Coast. Now I was really nervous.
The road dead-ended at Seacliff, the Spensers’ estate. I passed through open iron gates and followed a long, curving driveway. Poplars, even without their foliage, guided me toward a jaw-dropping Greek Revival manor house set on a bluff overlooking a tremulous Atlantic. Once upon a time, Seacliff had been the nineteenth-century summer
“cottage” of industrialist and robber baron Thaddeus Spenser. Designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt, Seacliff was rumored to be the prototype for the Vanderbilts’ castle, Marble House, in Newport. Even against the dark-shrouded sky, its largeness and whiteness took my breath away.
Caroline Spenser was Seacliff’s twenty-first-century occupant, a former London socialite and fine art connoisseur with bloodlines to the Queen of England, hence her nickname, “Queen Mother of the Hamptons.” Caroline, now widowed, had married Charles Spenser, our very own American royalty. She lived alone with her daughter, Jillian, whom I hadn’t seen in fifteen years. Jillian and I ran into each other on Thursday, at the library in East Hampton. We’d only been roomies at NYU for a semester. My schedule left us little time to bond. I was a teaching assistant for the head of the journalism school during the day, and a waitress at a dive bar in Greenwich Village at night. When I had hung out with Jillian, she’d seemed introverted, always seeking others’ approval. Never had an opinion of her own. An odd duck. I chalked it up to her privileged upbringing. But it was thanks to her that I was allowed a short viewing this morning with her mother, the Queen, to discuss a business proposition that might give my fledgling interior design firm a much-needed shot in the arm.
I parked next to a boxwood maze and went up the wide marble steps. Under the sweeping portico, I pressed the button for the intercom. No response. Had I gotten it wrong? Was my appointment for
Saturday? Maybe I was too small a fish to fry, a minnow, a tadpole—oops, that’s an amphibian. Time to get a grip. This wasn’t my first trip to the rodeo. Actually, I’d never been to a rodeo, but I’d dealt with the
snobby upper crust before. They weren’t any better than me. Then I thought about yesterday’s cocktail party. And the underwear.
I rang the buzzer again. With one last effort, I raised the brass knocker and let it thud against the door. To my surprise, the door groaned slowly inward.
“Hellooo, anyone home?” I stepped inside. The cathedral-ceilinged foyer had pale marble floors, dark early American furniture, and artwork even a first grader would recognize. I was admiring an enameled vase the size of my Jeep Wrangler when a sound came from behind the staircase.
I tiptoed toward it. Prickles of sweat formed on my upper lip.
Then I found them.
Jillian Spenser sat on the floor, rocking her mother’s limp body. Caroline’s mouth gaped open, oozing a pinkish froth. Her nightgown was a study in crimson—a macabre Jackson Pollock painting.
I skated across the blood-slicked marble and got down on my knees, gagging on the stench. “Jillian! What happened?” My father liked to recount tales of grisly homicides from his days in the Detroit PD, but he’d never warned me blood had such a sweet, sick odor.
Jillian pulled away when I tried to embrace her, cradling her mother closer. I felt Caroline’s wrist for a pulse but couldn’t find one. I crawled to the next room so Jillian wouldn’t hear my call, dialed 911 on my cell phone, then vomited into a Ming Dynasty vase.
When I returned to the hallway, I said, “Let’s go outside and wait.” I was worried Caroline’s killer might still be inside. “Everything’s going to be fine, I promise.”
Who am I kidding?
Jillian wasn’t about to let go of her mother’s body. She mumbled, “Col . . .”
I draped my jacket on her quaking shoulders and noticed a lump on the back of her head. Jillian stuttered, “Col . . .” one last time then transferred her glassy stare to a nearby closet door.
Taking my best
stance, I twisted the knob to the closet and pulled. My feet gave way and my tailbone hit marble just as the front door opened and a sea of law enforcement rushed in.