April at the Antique Alley (15 page)

 

and phone number so it could mean he died fifty years ago, or it could also mean he simply had no listed phone number.

The second name Samuels had given me was a Sheila Martin. So once again I typed in “Martin” for last name and put in the expected social security number.

When I hit the search button it took a few seconds longer and it returned everything I needed.

Sheila Martin had several aliases which probably simply meant that she had been married a few times. It listed a current address in Durant, Oklahoma which was just across the Red River and about an hour and a half away by car. There was a phone number listed so I dialed it.

The conversation itself took about twenty minutes. It probably could have been done in three minutes but Sheila was one of those people who actually enjoy talking on the phone and was quite pleased she had someone to talk to so she just wouldn’t let me off the phone.

She was, in fact, Lola’s older sister. She had even worked at the antique store. It had been called “Lola’s Attic” when her parents had bought the store and since Lola had not yet been born they had named her to inherit the place. I vaguely remembered Lola telling me that she was the original owner’s grand daughter. That did not mean that Sheila Martin was lying, it probably just meant that Lola had invented a story for prospective customers.

Sheila and Lola had some falling out about thirty years ago but Sheila could not remember what it was about. Her younger brother Michael had been one of the first of the troops shipped off to Viet Nam in the early sixties and returned in a wooden box. Sheila had moved to Durant because her third husband owned a small hardware and paint store there. He too was now gone and she was living from month to month on a small social security pittance. She, of course, was sorry to hear that Lola had been killed, but was quite thrilled to find there was a little money coming her way. She took the information about the funeral and promised to be there tomorrow when we lowered Lola into the ground.

 

There it was. I was done with my job. It would take some time to type up the proper reports, and the city of Dallas would pick up my medical bills and cut me a check for my services that would near three thousand, but I had been hired to find Lola’s next of kin, and I had now completed the task.

Never mind that my life was now in total disarray. No matter that I had a new love that I had just falsely accused of a crime. No matter that my partner’s car had been damaged. No matter that my body hurt from head to toe. No matter that I had turned a million dollars worth of heroine over to the cops and that had not yet been fully explained. No matter that Jill and I were still in quite a bit of danger

 

from whomever owned the drugs. No matter that a killer was still out there. No matter that I would host a funeral in just a few hours.

I was not in a good mood, and certainly not ready to spend hours at a keyboard typing up a report for my client. I called Eric Samuels and gave him Sheila Martin’s contact information.

I turned all the jets on in the hot tub and climbed in. I told Jill to turn the radio onto a station I listen to all the time that plays mostly sixties and seventies rock and roll. I spent the rest of the day letting the swirling warm water work on my wounds.

 

CHAPTER-15.

 

Monday, at least, would be a good weather day. In north Texas we have many beautiful days each year and April is usually filled with them. We turned on the television to a local news affiliate so we could get the weather report but we already knew it was going to be a fine day weather wise.

The sun was shining and the temperature was in the lower seventies. The television suggested that it would climb to the low eighties and promised not a hint of rain. In other words, it would be a fine day to say goodbye to Lola Martin, caretaker of the world’s treasures.

At eight o’clock I painfully climbed the stairs to the second floor where my bed room, and therefore my closet, is. I pulled out my utility black dress and painfully shimmied into it. At my size and build I always thought I looked like a bad transvestite when I put on a dress and all the exposed bandages on my arms and the bruises on my face only enhanced the look. At least the five o’clock shadow was on my legs instead of my face.

Jill looked lovely in a long sleeved black lace blouse atop a billowy black skirt that reached her shoes. I am sure it was the longest skirt I had ever seen her in but it was, of course, appropriate uniform for today’s event.

At nine o’clock Jill and I climbed into my Taurus and headed to the funeral home that borders the cemetery in Dallas. It would be a really brief service in the chapel and then we would ride half a mile to the actual grave site for a few more prayers. It was scheduled to start at ten and I hoped to be back at my home/office by eleven-thirty at the latest.

In attendance besides Jill and myself were all I expected and a few others I hadn’t expected to be there. Steven and Wanda Crowley were both there as well as Parnell Erickson. Donald Smith was there along with his father Fredrick Smith the self proclaimed Mayor of Antique Alley. Jana Little appeared but kept to herself appearing to stay within the crowd but as far from me as she could. I suppose I could understand her feelings and I certainly would not prevent her from this

 

opportunity to grieve her friend Lola and pay her last respects. Shelly Mizell was there dressed in black and she had Rubert Glaston with her. He looked like a failed attempt at respect. He was wearing an old wrinkled black suit but he had topped it all off with an old army green baseball cap that hid little of his long blond shaggy bush of hair. You sort of expected him to pull a flask out of his hip pocket, but he was reluctantly and impatiently behaving. The funeral director was also there amongst us as it was his ceremony to perform. These all I had expected.

I had not expected Eric Samuels to show up but he did and it was comforting to have him there. At least I felt safer with him by my side. I was hoping for Lola’s sister Sheila but not really expecting her, but there she was. She alone amongst all the women in attendance was not wearing black. She had chosen instead a rather bold red and blue print as if it were closer to the fourth of July. She had in tow with her a man whom I expected to be the current husband but turned out to be a lawyer she had thought to bring with her in case she had reason to prove providence. He, at least, was intelligent enough to wear a black suit. In addition to these two there were also a few others I did not know at all. I found out later that there are quite a few people who either enjoy funerals or find it their duty to pay last respects to total strangers, but in any case there were perhaps eight or ten there in the chapel.

The chapel itself was a nice little room with stained glass windows and comfortable benches. Lola’s casket was up in the front of the room and it was surrounded by lovely flower arrangements. I wondered if the flowers had all been brought by different mourners or if the funeral director had made such arrangements for them. I did not remember ever talking to him about flowers but, in truth, I had blocked out most of what he and Jill and I had agreed too. At any rate, the flowers looked lovely. I could hear some soft music playing in the background and vaguely wondered what Lola’s favorite music might have been.

We were all just sort of sitting there in the chapel with the coffin already closed waiting around. I looked at my watch and it was eleven minutes after ten. I did not understand the reason for the delay but almost as soon as I checked my watch the funeral director jumped up and got things under way.

He stepped up to a lectern and introduced himself and the very first thing he did was exactly the last thing I wanted him to do which was publicly thank me for making the arrangements. Now, publicly, everyone knew I was in charge, and more importantly it reinforced the idea in Sheila Martin’s head that I controlled what estate Lola had and to whom and when it would be distributed.

The funeral director then spoke for just a few moments about Lola Martin and who she was and how sad the world would be without her. He then led us in a very Christian sounding but very nondenominational prayer in her honor. With that the service would have ended but almost as if an afterthought he asked if any from the crowd wanted to say a few words.

 

I had been dreading this moment. I knew the crowd would expect a eulogy. I did not want to get up in front of these strangers and fumble my way through half true half felt words. In expectation of this dreaded event I had prepared a few words but I was horrified at the thought that I might have to get up and deliver them. There was perhaps fifteen seconds of silence and I was saved by the Mayor himself.

Fredrick Smith stepped up to the lectern and shook hands with the funeral director. He made a brief show of taking out a handkerchief with which he dabbed at the corner of one of his eyes. He made a theatrical production of placing the handkerchief carefully upon the lectern. Nearly twenty minutes later he picked it up again from the lectern and returned it to his pocket, but in that twenty minutes he delivered a eulogy fit for a queen.

I know it was mostly contrived bullshit but he spoke so lovingly of Lola and painted her as such a saint amongst us on Earth. His words were flowery and poetic when they needed to be. They were soft and almost whispered at times and they were, at times, booming and blusterous almost challenging the actual word of the Lord. He called himself the Mayor of Antique Alley but named Lola as the Alley’s heart and soul. He proclaimed her the best citizen in Dallas and the most true and country girl in Texas. In his words Lola was the Earth Mother and an Angel on Earth. She was the belle of every ball and the religious foundation of the bible belt. She was every girl’s mother and every man’s daughter. He proclaimed her business the icon that put the Antique Alley on the map and claimed that all in the crowd owed their livelihood to her entrepreneurial spirit. By the time he was through every eye in the crowd was red and I would have voted for Lola for Governor, but most importantly he had saved me from making a fool of myself.

After his eulogy we all watched teary eyed as Lola’s casket was loaded into a black hearse. The funeral procession included the hearse followed by a black limo driven by someone I had not met in which the funeral director and myself as well as Jill and Detective Samuels rode. We were followed by two other black limos containing most of the store owners from the antique businesses. These were followed by a couple of other regular cars one of which contained Sheila driven by her lawyer. For some reason I noticed Donald Smith on his Harley trailing as the last vehicle.

 

The funeral procession lasted only a few minutes as we were going only half a mile. The road was fresh blacktop and wound around a lot. It really was a lovely spot on a lovely day. This cemetery was a nice spot on any day but with today’s weather and the recent rains we had sustained in the area the grass was all green, the trees were all filled in with thick leaves. The numerous flower beds exploded

 

with vibrant color. Even the flowers left by mourners at individual graves looked fresh and new. All in all it would not be a bad place to spend eternity.

When we arrived at the grave-site we all assembled on one side of the coffin which had been laid on velvet straps across the freshly dug hole. I looked to the side and noticed that even though we had driven a full half mile we were only about a hundred yards over the ground from the parking lot by the chapel where our cars were parked. Vaguely I wondered whether we would ride back in the limousines or walk back.

I was pretty much in a daze. We all sort of stood together on one side and the funeral director stood on the other side. He said a few words then hit a button which lowered Lola slowly into her final resting spot. We did not toss flowers on her or shovel in a spoon of dirt.

With that the service ended but before hopping into the limos everyone sort of stood around talking. Most of the mourners gathered to thank me for a lovely service and they stood in line to shake hands with Fredrick Smith and congratulate him on his fine eulogy. Towards the end of this chit chat I found myself standing in the grass right next to the paved blacktop locked in a conversation with Sheila Martin and her lawyer who had button holed me and they were trying to tag team me into giving them information that I did not have. Like a typical lawyer, when he asked when Sheila would get the money and I told him that I did not know, he simply asked the exact same question but with the words changed a bit. He would continue asking the same question and I would continue giving the same answer. I did not know how long we would spar.

I looked around trying to keep all of the players accounted for and noticed that I no longer could find Rubert Glaston or Shelly Mizell. I wondered where they had gotten to.

I looked over and saw Detective Samuels but before I could give him that pity look that says “please come rescue me immediately” he gave me the look. I guess he needed it as well because Fredrick Smith had him squarely in his sights and was verbally pounding at him in what I expect was questions about when Lola’s building would be auctioned off.

I noticed Jana was speaking with Wanda Crowley. I was so happy she was there and said a silent prayer that she would come say hello to me. People were not standing still but rather circulating. I caught sight of Jill as she approached me. We spoke just briefly about the service and then we heard Donald’s Harley roar to life shattering the peace and tranquility of the moment. Jill told me that she and Donald were going to go get some breakfast at some restaurant and that she would call me later to see what was going on.

Donald piloted his cycle up the blacktop right next to us and I watched as cute little Jill lifted her full length black skirt to allow her to swing her leg over the

 

seat and sit behind Donald. As she lifted the skirt I noticed she was wearing black leather pants under the skirt. I quickly realized she had been planning on escaping with Donald all along. It was a good plan. I wish I had thought of it. I would probably be stuck with the mourners another couple of hours sorting out questions for Sheila and her lawyer. I watched as Donald handed Jill a helmet and watched her plop it down over her head and buckle it on.

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