April at the Antique Alley (3 page)

He continued by telling us that Lola would never discuss politics but seemed to be current on local news that was more gossip than fact. He said she could speak

 

for hours about growing flowers, but also pointed out that there were no flowers in or around her store.

He had a modern security system including several cameras and willingly handed over a video disc that should have covered the time period in question. We did not watch any of his video at that time, we just collected it with a promise that it would be returned at a later date. I gave him one of my cards and he gave me one of his.

 

Parnell’s was the store just east of Lola’s Attic. Our next target was the building just to the west and it was called simply Antiques of Dallas. Where Parnell had focused on low volume high quality; this store was exactly the opposite. It was quite massive for a used furniture store but all I saw was a couple of acres of dusty junk.

The proprietor was one Fredrick Smith (no relations to yours truly but like every other Smiths on the planet we joked about the commonality of our names) who greeted us with a big smile and called himself the “Mayor of Antique Alley.”

His disposition changed though when he found out that we were not customers, but rather we had been pressed into service as investigators of the crime which had occurred next door to one of his fellow business owners. It is not that he was cruel or mean or rude, it was simply that once he figured out that we were not prospective buyers of his junk he simply had no further need of us. He impatiently listened as we requested information about Lola and quickly told us he did not know her very well at all. He told us his store had suffered no breakins at all and said that he had not heard of any from the other business owners in the area. He quickly pointed out two security cameras both on the inside of the store and both pointed directly at the cash register. He told us they were both fakes that were not hooked up to any recording device and were only to fool would be thieves.

The self appointed Mayor Smith had no information at all about where we might find one of Lola’s family members. He asked me if I knew what was to be done with Lola’s estate. He was interested in not only the left over treasures but her building as well. I, of course, had no information to share with him other than to tell him it would all be tied up as evidence for a while.

One of his mayoral duties was to complain about the crime scene tape and let me know that Sunday was their second most important business day of the week. He stated that he was quite sure Lola would not wish her death to interfere with the business that needed to continue along Antique Alley. I do not know if I had grown to like Lola or simply grown to dislike Fredrick Smith from his whining about her brutal death possibly having a slight effect on his balance sheet, but I was about to take a swing at the guy when his son saved him.

 

Donald Smith walked into the room and immediately all attention fell upon him. It was not his fault, it was just the way Mother Nature had crafted him. He was a full two inches taller than me which put him at six feet five inches. He was dressed in black motorcycle leathers with lots of silver chains. His face under the helmet was that of Paul McCartney and when he pulled the crash hat off George Harrison’s hair tumbled out. He had a twenty-four karat smile and a three karat emerald in the ring on his left pinky.

I took a deep breath and heard Jill let out an audible wanton sigh. He was either polite or deaf because he made no comment about her little lust noise.

Perhaps the boy had grown use to hearing such audible gasps from females upon his arrival.

Fredrick introduced Donald as his son and we quickly brought him up to speed on the recent events. I swear I saw a small tear roll down his cheek when we spoke of Lola’s death.

His handshake was fierce and he made sure to tell both Jill and I that he was twenty-seven and single. He claimed to know Lola, but he too had no ideas about how we might contact next of kin. He told us about the one breakin we had heard about from Parnell. I am sure Jill and I would have stayed and chatted for a good deal of time but Donald excused himself so that he could head for home and we had little more use of his father so we moved on to the next store.

 

Next door to Antiques of Dallas was a store called Buy It Bare. This shop differed from the other antique stores in several ways. They were trying to tap a new market of do-it-yourselfers, so what they did was sell only wooden furniture, and no matter what shape the piece was in when they bought it, they would strip the wood of its finish. Then, rather than refinishing it like so many of the other stores would do, they simply sold it stripped down. That way the customer could pick out the pieces they wanted, and finish them to match. The idea was attractive to the store owner because all of the pieces in the store would potentially match so a customer might buy several pieces instead of just a favorite find. In addition, the business of stripping and refinishing furniture was expensive and time consuming so they were cutting that process in half. To the prospective buyer the idea was attractive because the furniture all looked just like they wanted it to if they simply used their imagination. Additionally the furniture would be a little less expensive to buy. This meant though that their customers would generally be younger people, perhaps having their first antique buying experience.

As soon as you walk into Buy It Bare you notice right away that the entire store has nothing but blond wooden furniture stacked everywhere, and then the smell hits you. The chemicals they use to strip the furniture are strong and have an

 

odor. To most the odor is not necessarily a bad odor, but it certainly is a noticeable odor.

I flagged down a tall blond woman who I expected was the store owner.

Shelly Mizell was not quite as tall as me, and not quite as blond as me, and she also was not the store owner. When I introduced myself and my partner Jill, Shelly told us she was the store manager and that the store was actually owned by a small corporation and was the third store they had opened. The first one had been in Atlanta and was considered the flagship store. The other was in Houston. She had worked in both stores and they had picked her to open this third store up less than a year ago.

There were no customers in the store at the time so Shelly took her time showing us around as she explained how the store worked. She claimed to not know Lola well. She, of course, knew who Lola was and recognized her by sight, but could not recall a single long conversation they had ever had. Eventually she took us in the massive back room of the store which is a work shop where they strip the newly acquired furniture of its varnish and paint. It was a smelly crowded room with several large fans blowing furiously, several projects in various stages of progress, and a man wearing a gas mask using a paint sprayer to wash down a kitchen chair.

Shelly made enough distraction so that the man in the gas mask stopped his work, took off the mask, and spoke with us impatiently.

Rubert Glaston (but usually called Ruby Glass) was a forty year old retired military type with hair way too long and shaggy. His army fatigues were well worn which one would expect for the work uniform of one in his profession. He was pretty old school. I mean he would never look you directly in the eye, but he stared instead directly at my chest and made no attempt to hide it. He had to take the glove off of his right hand so that he could shake hands when we were introduced and he sort of did it like it was a big imposition to himself. Rough as he tried to appear I felt him quite harmless and to me at least it was quite apparent that he and Shelly were much more than co-workers. She obviously was the love of his life but his machismo would not permit him to show tenderness towards her when others were present.

Once the mask and glove were off, and since he was taking a break anyway, Rubert quickly lit up a cigarette and I wished he would step a few feet away from the chemicals he was working with. Rubert knew nothing about Lola, and Shelly had to give him several clues before he even realized who had been murdered. He had a rather stupid look about him and one could not quite be sure whether it was the chemicals he constantly worked with or perhaps an over familiarity with Jack Daniels.

 

Just west of Buy It Bare was a smaller shop called Uptown Treasures owned by a young lady named Jana Little. It was a name that fit her well as she was hardly Jill’s equal in height or weight. She told us she was thirty years old and had never wanted to be in the antique business but her parents had owned the store all of her life and just two years ago she had lost the pair to a drunk driver on New Years Eve. She had not had the heart to close the place but admitted she was losing money every month and would have to close it soon if things didn’t turn around.

Jana claimed to not know the other shop owners well at all including Lola Martin preferring to keep to herself and could give us no help at all in finding Lola’s next of kin. When I questioned her about the breakin though we hit pay dirt. The story she told was exactly like the tale Lola had told us. Some guy had stopped with a truck loaded down with several pieces of old furniture and had sold the lot to her at a price so low she could not afford to pass it up. The next morning she had found the back entrance to her shop wide open but the only thing missing was one piece of the recently acquired furniture. She was able to give a good description of the piece of furniture, the truck, and its driver. I wish I had gotten a better description from Lola, but, of course, at the time Lola was telling me the story we did not know it would become important. Somehow though the details Jana provided matched Lola’s story too closely to be coincidence.

Of the nine pieces of furniture she had purchased from the man she still had eight of them. This time we took pictures, and I told Jana that the pieces may need to be examined by the crime scene techs so she should not sell any of it until after the investigation was complete. Jill and I looked over the pieces of furniture that Jana had bought from the truck driver, but we did it without touching just in case the police would want to try to get finger prints. Without knowing what we were actually looking for we found nothing remarkable about any of the pieces except that they were old wooden furniture pieces.

I asked Ms. Little if she had any records from the purchase of the suspicious goods but she had none. She had not even paid for it all with a check giving the man cash instead. I questioned her about when exactly the piece had been stolen and she told me it had been two weeks earlier on Saturday. She had called the police and they took the information over the phone and told her they would send someone over to talk with her in person in a few days but so far no cops had shown up. She had called her insurance agent who told her she had no insurance that would cover the loss of the piece of furniture unless she had some sort of documentation about the piece itself and encouraged her to file a police report, which, of course, she had already tried to do. With the value of one piece of old furniture being so little, she had just dropped the matter.

Jill started asking Jana questions about the other people owning the businesses, which Jana claimed to not know well. As the two talked I looked

 

around the place and even took a few more pictures. I determined that Uptown Treasures had no security cameras. I also determined that Jana took little care of the inventory as everything seemed to be covered in dust. I definitely got the impression that she did not want to be in the antique business but that is what life had chosen for her so she would faithfully play her part but play it with as little effort as was possible, at least until something better came along. I had no idea when something better might come along for poor Jana, but I was about to find out.

When we were leaving Jill asked Jana to keep in touch and we exchanged cards. Jana blurted out that she would like to have dinner with us some evening soon. Without checking with me at all Jill made a date with Jana for the next evening and agreed to call her around six so that we could meet somewhere around seven.

 

Texas Treasuretrove was the last store on the block and the last one we needed to investigate this day. It was owned by Steven and Wanda Crowley. They were both in their late thirties and could have been the cover photo on a magazine targeting African American yuppies. Their store had trouble actually fitting in with the more traditional antique shops on the block. They had made a real effort to modernize the sale of old furniture by supplementing their inventory in several ways. One way was that there was a huge section of what was called vintage clothing but sprinkled amongst the old stuff was some brand new clothing as well.

Also, they had a section of simply modern equipment. For instance, they did not sell cell phones, but they sold cell phone accessories. They also had some new accessories for the furniture, for instance you could buy an old table in their store and also find a new high-tech lamp to put on the table. They also had a full array of new books for sale that were recent publications that had to do with antiques.

There was one other thing I noticed about their store. All of the store owners on the alley had a room in the back where they would refinish the old furniture. In these back rooms one would find the tools and supplies one needed for doing that job. Well in the Crowley store they had that room with those supplies and tools, but they also had a section of their store where you could buy the supplies and tools along with modern DVDs showing you how to do the process yourself. That way they could sell the old furniture without the investment of refinishing it themselves.

Of all the stores on the block Texas Treasuretrove appeared the most profitable. As such, it also was the one best protected by technology. Steven Crowley was proud of his security system and although he would not let me take all of his video tapes, he did tell me the cops could borrow them any time they wanted. I looked at his camera array and was happy to see that two cameras were

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