April at the Antique Alley (12 page)

 

Inside the store I gave the time and location of the funeral services to Fredrick Smith and he once again asked if I knew anything about when Lola’s space and inventory might become available. We did talk business for a moment or two about that and he ended up giving me a card of an auctioneer he would like to have conduct the sale. Reluctantly I accepted the auctioneer’s card. I wanted to tell him that if I did not find a next of kin soon the sale of Lola’s stuff would be run by the sheriff’s department and I would have no control of it. As it were he was mistaken about my power in deciding things about Lola’s estate, but, as long as he thought I could help him he would continue to treat me with respect. Once he realized that I could not do little favors like picking out his auctioneer, he would no longer be interested in helping me.

Back at Parnell’s Prize Antiques I found myself waiting once again while the shop owner haggled with a customer. It was one of those fun little moments one gets in life from time to time. I immediately recognized the customer as a well known and well loved but just recently retired morning radio host from the Dallas market. For sure I would have interrupted to ask for his autograph but Parnell was just about to wrap up an eighty-thousand dollar sale of several nice antique pieces and I am pretty sure he would be mad if I blew the sale for him, so like a good little citizen I just minded my own business until the DJ had signed the papers and the delivery was scheduled.

As soon as the celebrity left the store Parnell Erickson thanked me for not interfering and then went into celebration mode. It was the biggest sale he had made in a month and he really was quite happy about it. He had no new information for me but dutifully wrote down the time and location of Lola’s final act.

 

I found Jill waiting at my car. As soon as I had left his store Fredrick Smith had called Donald in to watch the store while Fredrick went off to do some unnamed chore that had come up an emergency. Donald had picked her up earlier so she was now stranded while he worked and wanted to catch a ride back with me.

She was quite irritated about it but on the car ride home we shared a little girl talk about our new love interests. Her new boy seemed just as interested in her flesh as my new girl seemed in mine. We took turns warning each other not to go to far to fast and we each lied promising that we would not.

I was hungry so I suggested we stop for a bite to eat. Jill agreed and we started that thing where we each suggest a restaurant or two and then try to decide what sounds good to both of us. When I mentioned her father’s restaurant Jill immediately became a little too argumentative saying that she wanted to go there Friday night which was tomorrow. I asked her why tomorrow and she wouldn’t tell me but rather just played it off. That was the first hint that there might be a surprise

 

party for my birthday but I had to play it very carefully. I had only met Jill three months ago, and although we had become good friends and even business partners this was the first special occasion that had come along and I really did not want to complicate our relationship. On the same token though, I wasn’t even sure if she was aware that tomorrow was my birthday. I mean I wasn’t wearing a sign or anything. So I let it go. We ended up pulling off of highway 183 just long enough to buy a bucket of chicken to take home.

I know, I know. I am a fast food junkie! I just can’t help it. Living alone for so long I just hardly ever cook, and we all know how pathetic an unescorted lady looks eating by herself in a restaurant. Regardless of the massive calorie and cholesterol counts I just love those little drive through windows.

Jill got all domestic in the kitchen and proceeded to turn our bucket of chicken into a Kentucky fried feast, but before I had my first finger licking taste I checked my answering machine and found a message from Detective Samuels, which simply told me he had a favor to ask and then directed me to read my e-mail.

His e-mail told me that he had been busy with a couple of other cases and had not gotten to a task he had originally assigned to himself. We had found a card from Salvation Army in one of the pieces of furniture that had been delivered to Jana’s store and not stolen. Samuels wanted to follow up with the store and see if they could pinpoint the person that had purchased the truck load of furniture and then sold it to Jana. He had not yet done that and asked if I could run with it. He also, in his e-mail, had attached digital pictures of some of the pieces of furniture.

I downloaded the pictures and printed them off and took notes about the store. I sent Detective Samuels a short e-mail response saying I would take care of it and then dove into my dinner.

 

CHAPTER-11.

 

Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday dear Xara.

Happy birthday to me.

Thursday night had ended with a big jug of wine and a platonic hour with Jill in my hot tub. Friday morning started with a big cup of coffee and a mild headache. It is sort of funny, but I remember from my childhood being able to sleep late and having my mother working hard to get me out of bed early enough each day to get to school on time, and sleeping till noon on Saturdays, but then I joined the navy. I was actually a sailor for a total of six years and the one habit I had picked up in all my training was to wake up at five o’clock every morning.

Didn’t matter what day of the week it was, didn’t matter how late I went to bed the night before. My internal clock just woke me up at five A.M. It was rather

 

annoying, especially on days like this. Sometimes, if I tried, I could get back to sleep, but today I didn’t even try.

I was getting nowhere on my case. My only charge was to find the next of kin for a recently deceased business owner. It should have been quite simple. Now the funeral was all planned and I had spent several days with absolutely no luck at all. In addition I kept getting bogged down. I mean I had agreed to check out the thrift store for Eric Samuels, and they didn’t open until ten, so I had five hours to wait with nothing to do and my lover was not here and my partner was deep asleep like I should have been, and to top it all off I was no longer a youth in my twenties.

I have a full length mirror in my bed room so I climbed the stairs and shut the door. I took off my bathrobe which left me bare and stood in front of the mirror for a long time with the lights on and took a good look.

I was no taller and no shorter. My long blond hair was the exact same color, and it too was no longer or shorter than I remembered it from the day before. My shoulders seemed big and square, but they had been all my life. I was happy to see that my boobs were not sagging any more now that I was an old hag in her thirties, but to be honest they had never been very big so I really had not expected them to sag. Embarrassingly I noticed for the millionth time that my nipples drew unwanted attention to themselves by being the darkest of all the skin on my body.

My arms, as always, seemed longer than they should have been. My belly not as flat as I wanted but not bad for a girl no longer in her twenties. My hips still flared and my blond pubic hair still hid nothing. My thighs were thick but long enough to hide it giving me my height. My belly button was still an innie.

I turned and looked over my shoulder to look at my back side. All of my life I had garnered compliments, some wanted and most unnecessary and even inappropriate, about what a fine ass I had, but I could never tell by looking over my shoulder in a mirror and this time was no different. Briefly I thought of taking a picture so I could study it but then thought just how pathetic that sounded.

The piteous self examination done I stepped into a hot shower and stayed there almost an hour unsuccessfully trying to wash away the years. I was never one to keep calendars but the way I was feeling I fully expected mother nature to ruin this day so I checked my supply of maxi pads.

 

Three aspirin, two cups of coffee, and an hour later I felt much better. I looked through the supplies in my kitchen and found them woefully short of anything I might wish to eat for breakfast so I hopped into the Taurus and headed down the road to my favorite donut store.

Jill was just getting up when I arrived home with my goodies and we had a pleasant breakfast and, of course, more girl talk about Donald and Jana.

 

There were exactly two items on the day’s agenda. One was to check out the Salvation Army store and the other was dinner at Feldman’s on Fifth at seven. That would leave a lot of day left over so Jill and I started talking about how else we might be able to get a line on Lola’s family. At this point the best lead I could think of was the tax records check I had asked Eric Samuels to do. Jill suggested that we also look through the other boxes in Lola’s dining room because there might be a box of important business records buried amongst the stack of junk, but we had not yet been cleared to look through that stuff yet.

I called my detective and caught him at his desk. He did not yet have the IRS

records sorted out but did tell me that Lola’s house had been cleared so we could look through her boxes but told me to be careful. We, of course, would go packing heat just in case. Just as we were about to hang up Samuels suggested we come by his office the next morning and he promised he would have the tax info by then.

 

Before the Fort Worth and Dallas area had pooled some money and built their shiny new airport the best way into or out of Dallas by air was Love Field. It still operated as an airport and is, in fact, the home base of Southwest Airlines, which was the first American air carrier to show a profitable year after the tragic attack on New York city back on that famous September eleventh.

On Lemon avenue not far from Love Field you will find the biggest Salvation Army resale store in the area. For all I know it may well be the biggest in the country but I have never asked them about that. It is a store that I am not unfamiliar with. Inside they have acres of floor space crowded with row after row of racks stuffed with used clothing. They make an honest effort to keep the clothing in some sort of order but every single day the crowds of people shopping there mess it all up. In addition to clothing they have a section that has old records and tapes with a few new CDs sprinkled in, and right next to that they have a room for used books that is actually larger than any used book store in town.

Unfortunately they really don’t have the staff to organize the books very well so they are basically sorted by putting all the hard backs on one side and all the paperbacks on the other. I personally have gone into that book room on more than one occasion and spent hours at a time digging out treasures for pennies on the dollar. They have a complete toy store that would make any kid smile but in truth a lot of the toys are busted up a bit.

All of this did not matter to Jill and I today because we were there to investigate the operations of their furniture department.

From a cashier we were directed to the furniture manager on duty. He was an old man who had probably been saved from the evils of alcohol by the Salvation Army when in his twenties and had worked for them ever since. He was kind enough to look at the photos I showed him and he actually remembered the

 

furniture. He did not remember selling it but by looking through a box of old cash register print-out he as able to narrow it down to the specific cashier who had sold the stuff. Our luck held as the cashier in question happened to be in the store at the moment.

Our luck continued to hold as the cashier even claimed to remember the sale and the person she sold it to. I asked her how she remembered these details and she claimed that virtually every single big furniture sale is done on a delivery basis so once a sale is written up the cashier has to write up a delivery ticket. The particular sale had been an exception as the man had insisted on taking the furniture with him. He even had a rented truck outside waiting for him. According to our cashier and the cash register tape the man had paid cash for the furniture. The cashier also reported that the man had then gotten help from another man who was with him and they loaded up the furniture themselves.

I asked the cashier for a description of the men and the best she could do was tell me two small Hispanic men in their twenties with gang tattoos. I looked around and that description fit almost every male customer in the store at the time.

About the truck she was a little more help because she remembered what rental outfit it had come from but she did not have the license plate number or anything like that.

As it turned out though the furniture manager offered that they had security cameras that covered the parking lot. He took the cashier and I into a cluttered office and looked through VCR tapes until he had the one for the appropriate day.

The cashier pointed out the rental truck and the footage showed the two men both coming and going so I talked the furniture manager into giving me the tape to help in a criminal investigation and then Jill and I warned the two store employees to keep quiet about it.

Almost as an afterthought I asked if they remembered any other sales similar in the recent days. Not surprisingly they could not think of any other example that fit. That was a bit depressing. I mean if the bad guys always bought their stash of furniture at the same store it would have been a lot easier. There are hundreds of stores in the Dallas area where one might buy a truck load of old furniture. I was not about to make a long list and investigate each one.

 

We locked the incriminating security tape in the trunk of my car and Jill and I sat there in the Salvation Army parking lot discussing our next move. Where we sat we were about two miles from Lola’s house and the 45 boxes that desperately needed our attention, on the other hand we were about six miles from the Dallas PD where we could hand the tape over to Detective Samuels so he could start the process of mining good information from it.

 

I was not sure which to give a priority to but Jill reminded me that our assignment was to find Lola’s next of kin which is why we wanted to examine the boxes. Looking through the security tape to find the license plate of the rental truck and from there checking with the truck rental company might lead us to the killer, which would be good, but that was Detective Samuels assignment. Besides, she suggested, we might just as easily bring him the tape in the morning when we were scheduled to meet with him anyway.

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