Authors: Tamar Myers
A Den of Antiquity Mystery
To the highly esteemed and prestigious Charleston Authors
Society, of which I am proud to be a member.
When I looked the gift horse in the mouth, itâ¦
I couldn't get Greg on the phone, which probably meantâ¦
It was Big Bob againâor whoever the stranger was. Itâ¦
Rob Goldburg, who is the second most handsome man inâ¦
The burly guard didn't even ask to see my invitation.
It took us less than a minute to google theâ¦
Earth to Abby, come in, Abby.”
You're got to be mistaken, Mrs. Washburn,” Lloyd said, andâ¦
You're serious?” Rob said for the bazillionth time.
It always pays to be courteousâwell, most of the timeâ¦
It's a forgery,” I sobbed in a hoarse whisper intoâ¦
Pray tell, what might that be?” I asked. You canâ¦
For your information, Bob, they no longer like being referredâ¦
I cupped my hands and shouted directly into Big Larry'sâ¦
Abby, do you see what I see?”
I'm afraid there isn't such an offer,” Bob said. “Weâ¦
I was ashamed to get on the phone when Bobâ¦
At first the rug I got back looked identical toâ¦
Northwoods Mall began life as a flat, one-story affair thatâ¦
Of course I want to hear what you found inâ¦
No, don't look!”
I saw them for a split second. No more. Andâ¦
Cousin Imogene was delighted to “receive” us. She hadn't hadâ¦
I found Mama fast asleep, slumped low in the frontâ¦
Indeed, we did call it that. Oh Miranda Sue, Iâ¦
There were ten switches in all, and at least Iâ¦
Although I do realize that humanity is somehow connected, andâ¦
And what was in your pill case?” Rob's mother, Sandraâ¦
hen I looked the gift horse in the mouth, it was clear that she'd been drinking. I couldn't help but take a step back. She, alas, took two steps forward.
“Aren't you Abigail Timberlake?” she said.
“You own the Den of Antiquity down on King Street, right?”
“Right as rain in November.”
“I've been in your shop dozens of times.”
I smiled quickly over clenched teeth. I'm a tiny woman, just four-foot-nine. One good whiff of her breath could send my alcohol level over the moon.
“So you saw my ad on TV, huh?”
It was either give up on sobriety or appear to be rude. “Yes, ma'am,” I said, “I've seen your ads, and I couldn't believe my ears. And now I can't believe my eyes. How can y'all afford to price these Oriental rugs so low?”
Gwenâthat's what was printed on her badgeâglanced around the crowded room. “I believe it's something to do with high volume.”
“Yes, but y'all have got to be selling these
below cost. Even if y'all sold a million, y'all still won't turn a profit.”
She shrugged. “Yeah, well, go figure.”
“Take this one for example,” I said. “It's a Persian from Tabriz, right? The traditional
, or fish, design.”
Gwen had to flip three corners over before she found the tag, which was sewn on the back. “You're good. Mrs. Timberlake.”
“Actually it's Washburn.”
“The âMissus' part. I keep the Timberlake for business reasons.”
“You related to Justin?”
“Not that we know of. But you see, Timberlake is also a married nameâNever mind, it's a long story. Now about this price, there has got to be a zero missing, right?”
“No, it's correct.”
“But it says 695. Even wholesale, it's worth twice that.”
“Maybe.” She tossed her head to get some irksome hair out of her face. Her amber mane was thick and waist length, truly worthy of being envied. “But like they say,” she continued, “don't kiss a gift horse on the mouth.”
I stifled an impulse to snicker. “Still, this has to be a mistake. May I speak to the manager, please?”
“Uhâ¦I am the manager.”
“You are? I mean, of course you are.” Funny, but I was sure the manager of Pasha's Palace was a man. Gary something or other.
A mind as small as mine is easily read. “Gary quit last month. I'm Gwendolyn Spears, his replacement.”
“Oh, but then surely you must know that these rugs are underpriced.”
Gwen's eyes locked on mine. “Didn't I read in the paper about your brother getting married recently?”
“Yes.” Where could she possibly be going with this? Could she be hoping for a similar discount at my shop? Well, that just wasn't possible; I price my merchandise fairly, but I don't give it away.
“Then it's a wedding present for him and his lucky bride.”
“Here.” She expertly rolled the rug and slung it over her shoulder. “I'll walk you to your car.”
“But you can't.” My protest was sincere, although a part of me was excited about acquiring such a beautiful work of art.
“I can, and I will,” Gwendolyn Spears said.
My full name is Abigail Louise Timberlake Washburn. My first husband, Buford Timberlake, was more of a timber snake, and we divorced after he traded me in for a woman half my age. My second, and last, husband is Greg Washburn, a retired detective from Charlotte. Greg is now half owner of a shrimp boat in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.
We are S.O.B.'s, and proud of it. Our lovely home is
south of Broad
Street in historic Charleston, South Carolina. My widowed mother, Mozella Wiggins, lives with us, as does Dmitri, an orange tabby that tips the scale at sixteen pounds. I have two grown children, Susan
and Charlie: the former lives in New York, where she works as a legal secretary; the latter in Paris, where he supports himself by cleaning chimneys (Charlie's ambition is to be a painter).
Most of us are happyâat least some of the timeâso one might conclude that life at 7 Squiggle Lane proceeds on a fairly even keel. But if that is what one concludes, then one would be wrong. Murder and mayhem follow me around like sin chases after televangelists. On the plus side, I never have time to be bored. But then neither do I have much time in which to relax.
One of these rare moments of leisure found me sitting in my favorite chair whilst watching
All My Children
and eating lunch. I will confess right now that during the commercials, I cast admiring glances at that glorious Persian rug from Tabriz. I know, it was supposed to be a wedding present for my brother, Toy, and his wife, C.J. But they lived all the way up in Sewanee, Tennessee, and I wasn't scheduled to see them for a couple of weeks. Besides, the rug was already old and used. If I derived joy from it in the meantime, who could it possibly hurt?
Mama is also addicted to AMC, the finest soap opera on network television, and it is she who encourages me to leave my shop, on a daily basis, in the hands of my very capable assistant, and join her for lunch. Since Mama can cook up a storm (all the while looking like Donna Reed, replete with pearls and starchy crinolines), I'd say I have it pretty good. While normally Mama can chatter a magpie into submission, during AMC she insists on total silence. The occasional gasp
is permittedâas surprises in the story line unfoldâbut words are never allowed.
I was quite enjoying my chicken salad sandwich and fresh fruit plate when I heard the unimaginable.
“Gracious me, Abby, did you see that? We have to turn off the TV.”
I nearly choked on my chicken. “Excuse me?”
“Didn't you see that strip along the bottom of the screen?”
“No, I was looking at my plate. What was it? A tornado watch?” Houses in Charleston sit only a few feet above sea level, so there are no basements. We don't often get tornado watches, but when we do, Mama insists that we repair to her closet, where there is another television. Someday, perhaps, we'll be watching Erica Kane fool Jackson Montgomery into marrying her yet again, while we sail off to Oz.
“It's about some womanâ”
“Hillary?” Mama is a huge fan of Barack Obama and takes it as a personal affront when his rivals are in town.
“No, Abby. This womanâ”
“Don't tell me Cher's on yet another farewell tour.”
Mama patted her pearls indignantly. “I wouldn't interrupt my Holy Hour”âshe actually calls it thatâ“for Cher. The woman on the news bulletin was found in Charleston Harbor wrapped in a carpet.”
A gaggle of geese waddled over my grave. “Was she dead?”
“Of course, dear. It said some tourist found her floating next to the seawall near the Charleston Yacht Club.
“Mama, I think I know who it is!”
couldn't get Greg on the phone, which probably meant he was too far out at sea. Sometimes when the shrimping isn't good, he and his cousin, Booger Boy, head out do to some deepwater fishing. As long as I don't have to skin or scale what he catches, I'm fine with the way he spends his days. After all, it's not like we need the money.
Plan B was to make a beeline to the harbor before the police had a chance to seal off East Bay Streetâif they hadn't already. Unfortunately I was a few seconds too late, and even then I had to park my car in someone's driveway along Zigzag Alley. From there to the sidewalk that traces the harbor, I had to slip through (and even under) a tangle of tourist bodies. That's the downside of getting pulled from Charleston Harbor in April: your friends will have to work very hard to watch them drag your waterlogged body out of the drink.
I got trapped in a forest of polyester-clad legs belonging to a group of women trying to get back to their cruise ship. The forest was anything but enchanted.
“What the heck was that thing?” a woman from one of the square states said.
“I heard someone say it's a mermaid,” her companion said.
“Mermaids don't exist,” the first woman said.
“Then maybe it's a manatee.”
“It's a woman, for crying out loud,” I said.
“You know they're not going to let us back on the ship for another couple of hours. We may as well return to the market and kill time there. I saw a coral bracelet in one of the booths that was really nice. I'd like to get it for Cindy.”
“Cindy! After what she did to you?”
“Ladies, please,” I said, “I need to get through.”
“Don't be so pushy.” The speaker shoved me hard enough to knock me off my feet. Fortunately I landed on someone's feet, instead of the hard concrete walkway.
Strong arms jerked me to a standing position. “You children need to larn ya manners,” their owner said. “Hey, you ain't no child; you're a woman. Full growed and mighty purty too.”
“Where ya trying ta get to, little lady?”
“The woman they pulled out of the harborâI know her.”
“Ya wanna get up close? That it?”
“Then as we say where I come from, no prob, Bob.” Without further ado he gripped my waist with one massive hand, grabbed my ankles with the other, and hoisted me straight up into the air as if I was a flag and
he was a member of the color guard. My first thought was: thank goodness I'd worn jeans that day, and not the skirt I usually wore to work.
Big Bobâor whatever his name wasâwas truly a godsend. Despite some rather audible grumbling from the crowd, I was soon deposited gently on the seawall, just inside the yellow crime zone tape.
“Thanks,” I whispered.
“My pleasure, little lady.”
But before I'd taken one step in the recovered body's direction, someone else tapped me rudely on the shoulder. “Oh no you don't, Timberlake.”
I turned slowly, knowing I would find myself eye-to-bosom with the very unpleasant Detective Tweedledee of the Charleston Police Department. What can I say, except that the woman just plain doesn't like me? Okay, so perhaps there's a bit more to the story.
For some bizarre reason the universe insists on throwing the corpses of murder victims into my path. It's as if I'm walking in the shadow of Jessica Fletcherâalthough given my size, it would have to be her noon shadow. At any rate, almost invariably it's Detective Tweedledee who becomes involved in these cases, and not with the best results. Usually her poor performances stem from the fact that I solve the crimes first. It's not that I simply want to; I
to, in order to stay alive.
I'm sure it should be remembered that Detective Esmeralda Tweedledee is some mother's daughter. She might even mean wellâin her own sort of way. That said, she is so stupid, bless her heart, that she couldn't pour water out of her boots, even if the instructions
were written on the heels. She's also as ornery as a snake, possesses a memory like an elephant's, and jumps to conclusions faster than my friend Magdalena Yoder who lives up in Pennsylvania.
“I know this woman,” I said, infusing my voice with enough respect to soothe the savage breast of a third world dictator.
“How do you know it's a she?”
“Because her blouse is thin and I can see the outline of her braâbecause I recognize her, that's why.” I was, in fact, not ten yards from the body. Although Gwen's face was turned away from me, her long amber hair was a dead giveaway.
“What's her name?”
“Gwendolyn Spears. She isâwasâthe manager of Pasha's Palace.”
“That rug warehouse?”
“I know you're making this up, Timberlake, because Gary's the manager. âIt's not scary, when you buy from Gary. Au contraryâ¦' I've seen the ads on TV.” Although she didn't touch me, she still managed to push me back behind the yellow tape. I'm not sure how that happenedâperhaps she moved inside a bubble of anger that had its own force field.
“Gary quit last month.”
“Yeah? Says who?”
“The woman rolled in the rug. She told me herself last week.”
“We'll see.” She stomped off and made a couple of calls. Upon her return she looked even more cross. “How do you know so much about the deceased?”
“She sold me a carpet. We had a brief conversation.”
“Is that the only time you spoke to her?”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“So which is the right word? Rug, or carpet?”
“They're pretty much interchangeable, although more often the larger ones are referred to as carpets, and the small ones are called rugs.”
She must have found that not only immensely interesting, but worthy of extensive commentary. Knowing her as well as I did, I waited patiently while she filled several pages on a metal clipboard in the loopy handwriting reminiscent of a teenybopper. Finally, sighing from her efforts, she looked up.
“You still work at the Den of Iniquity on King Street?”
“Den of Antiquityâyes.”
“That's what I said.”
“May I pay my respects to Ms. Spears?”
“You mean get closer?”
“Now why would you want to do that? You didn't even know the woman; you only had one brief conversation with her. Said so yourself not a minute ago.”
“Okay, Detective Tweedle
,” I said, deliberating mispronouncing her name, “I confess. I have no interest in seeing the corpse of someone I've only just met. However, I am interestedâ”
“My name, you idiot. That's how it's pronounced.”
“Are you sure? I have a friend up in Charlotte who pronounces her name
. Jasmine Tweedledoo. Do you think the two of you could be related?”
“Timberlake, get to your dang point! Why do you want to get closer to the recovered body?”
“I want to see if the rug is the genuine thing, or a reproduction.”
“Hmm.” Her eyes rolled back slightly as she cogitated on the pros and cons of granting me my desire. Perhaps she'd gone to another time and place altogether. In fact, no telling where she may have wandered, lost in thought, had we not been interrupted by the forensic photographer.
“Ma'am,” he said, “I'm all done. Shall I tell the morgue they can haul her away now?”
“Haul?” I said. “She's not a load of cargo!”
Tweedledee snapped back to the here and now. “Wait a minute. This woman from the Den of Inequality wants to get a close look at the rug. Who knows, she might even have something useful to tell us.”
“Thank you, Detective Twaddledee,” I said, and strode in Gwen's direction as fast as my short legs could carry me.
“Well?” the detective demanded. “What'd you make out? Is it the real McCoy or not?”
“It's a genuine, handmade, Oriental rug.”
“How do you know?”
“There are inconsistencies in the pattern. These oftenâbut not necessarilyâshow up in the corners.”
“You mean mistakes?”
“More likely the weaver misjudged the amount of
yarn needed in a particular color, or was bored. A machine-made carpet would likely be symmetrical.”
“Look hereâat the back. This is the warp, and these are the wefts. They're the grid, if you will. In this case it's kind of wobbly.”
“Yeah, but these things make it less valuable, don't they?”
“Oh, not at all. If you want a machine-made carpet, then go to Home Depot or Lowe's. There you can buy a mass-produced one for as little as three hundred dollars. If you want a handmade one, you have to go to a carpet store. Some of the best will cost tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the materials and the craftsmanship. And, of course, size.”
I turned away from the sanctity of Gwen's body before raising my voice in frustration. “There you go again, Detective Tiddlywinks! I know what I'm talking about.”
“If this one had any value at all, why would someone wrap a dead woman in it?”
“Isn't that your job to find out?”
“I'm warning you, Timberlake. I've had all the attitude from you I can take. Do you hear me?”
I slipped under the crime scene tape.
me?” she shouted.
I tried slipping back into the crowd. One of the few advantages of being my height is that anonymity can usually be achieved in a matter of seconds. This time I was not so lucky.
“I'm coming with you,” a voice from on high said.