Read April at the Antique Alley Online
Authors: Bill McGrath
Other than the couch there were no other chairs at all in the living room indicating a woman who never entertained.
As I said earlier, the dining room was used for storage. One entire wall had boxes packed and stacked with no labels at all. It would take forever to go through them all. Along another wall were stacks of old magazines and many, many more romance novels. There were those big plastic rectangular tubs stacked from floor to ceiling. The first contained sweaters, the second blankets, the third pants, the fourth table cloths for each season but we had not found a dining table at all. It was all quite sad.
The animal control people arrived while we were snooping in this storage-dining room. They made quick work of rounding up the cats and I felt sorry for
them when I told them that Lola was dead because neither cat was young so they would be taken to an SPCA but they would not get much time there, perhaps five days, before they were either adopted or sent off to the county pound for final processing.
Just as the animal control people were leaving Jill’s cell phone chirped to life. While she was talking I took the opportunity to contact Detective Samuels and give him a progress report. I still could tell him little about any next of kin for Lola and I certainly had no other clues for him. I did mention that I had collected prescription bottles and he encouraged me to check with the doctor to see if he could shed any light on the mysterious lady. I told him about the tax forms I had found and he suggested I give them to him so that he could have his department look into them. I was happy to agree to this.
When I got off the phone Jill asked me how much longer we were going to be at it. It was by now four in the afternoon and I was pretty tired myself, so I asked her why, and she said that she had just been asked out on a date and wanted to go home for a shower and a change of clothes. I, of course, asked who the lucky fellow was and she reported that she would be dining with the hunky Donald Smith.
We picked four boxes at random from the big stack of boxes and loaded them into Jill’s car. Her car might have more head room but my Taurus has a much bigger trunk. We also carried the accordion folder and the address book.
Back at my house/office in Irving we unloaded the car and Jill danced upstairs to the shower and her clothes stash. I was quite tired of it all and started wondering what I might find for dinner with Jill out on the town and me all by myself. It was just about then that Jana rang my phone and asked if I wanted some company.
Jana and I relaxed on the back porch. We were both still clothed but that old hot tub was tempting us with its warm water, its blue glow, and its pulsating air jets. It was important to me though that we postpone any lusting and have just a regular conversation. Heck, I hadn’t even poured wine for this meeting which is why we each sat there with a can of Diet Coke.
Jana had told Jill and I, in her store when we first met her, that she did not want to be an antique store owner but found herself trapped in that life after inheriting her parents store. I wanted to pick her brain and find out what things she did enjoy, what did she wish to do with her life, what her dreams were.
I found that she had actually completed a degree at the University of North Texas and was a licensed dietician meaning that she was qualified to work in a hospital advising what each patient might need to eat, or she was also qualified to open a fat farm, or she could work for some public school district planning exciting and nutritious meals for kids that would eat the brownie and throw the rest away.
She didn’t want to do any of these things though.
All of her childhood she had dreamed of being a rock star but, after starting lessons on half a dozen different musical instruments, found that she had no musical talent at all. She had then concentrated on singing instead always joining the school and church choirs but found herself always singing the chorus and never being assigned the solo parts.
Jana told me she had then turned to writing songs but was completely unable to string three notes together in a row. She did admit though that she had written lots of lyrics that she thought might be pretty good but they were all filled with green earth aspirations peppered liberally with depressing teen-aged angst. She also promised that somewhere buried in the back of some closet she still had the notebook with all these lyrics.
In college she had changed her major almost every single semester and had ended up as a dietician simply because by the time she got to her senior year it was the only degree she could finish that year with the various diverse credits she had already accumulated.
With her degree and not much aspiration she had started working full time at her parents store. She had spent a lot of time at the store in the past and even officially worked there part-time most summers. She just happened to be working full time there when her parents had died and she had inherited the place.
Family-wise she was an only child but both of her parents had been from big families so she had twenty-five or so first cousins. Some lived as close as Austin, some as far away as Oregon. Half of them she had met, half she never had. Some were closer than others but mostly she knew them by the letters she would receive around Christmas time.
It was then my time to fess up. I chronicled my life hitting the highlights and passing over the things that made me look less than stellar. When I was done we agreed that we were a lot alike. I mean both of us had gone through life letting fate and circumstances make our decisions and never forcing ourselves to make up our own minds. I guess there are probably a lot of people out there who allow fate to take its course rather than shaping it with hard work. We are the ones who forge the well traveled path in the fork in the road so those adventurous ones of you may valiantly choose the path less taken. Oh well!
The discussion done we added a liberal amount of rum to our Diet Cokes, dropped our clothing on the floor, and sunk into the warm gurgling water together.
Jill got back from her date earlier than we expected so she caught Jana and I in the hot tub. Not being shy she shucked her clothes and joined us. We pumped her for details but she had little to tell us.
Donald Smith had been a real gentleman. He had met her at the restaurant and had been on time. They had a single drink at the bar then went to their table.
They had a pleasant conversation all through the dinner. He picked up the check.
At his suggestion they walked across the street to another restaurant for coffee which turned out to be coffee and dessert. In all they had been together about three hours and the only time all night that he had touched her was that he took her arm when they were crossing the street. He made no attempt at all to lure her to his bed.
He made no suggestion that they have a follow-up date.
Jokingly Jana suggested that Jill was welcome to join Jana and I after we left the hot tub. Jill said “Not tonight honey, I have a headache.” We all laughed.
The next morning Jana left at seven so she could get home to change before opening her shop for business. Jill was not yet awake so by myself I started working on the things we had brought back from Lola’s house.
Keeping in mind that my first mission was to find Lola’s next of kin; I started with the address book. Lola’s last name was Martin, so I went directly to the page indexed as “M.” She had her own name and address listed and it was the only Martin on the page. Well, I hadn’t expected it to be easy. There were only twenty-four names in the address book and most of them didn’t make much sense.
For instance Lola had a specific name and address including the phone number and next to it she had scribbled in that the person was her mail man. Using her notes I was able to identify her butcher, the fire chief, her state representative, her U.S.
senator but I noticed this data was incorrect as the name listed had lost the last election three years ago. Finally I found one that I was going to have to talk to anyway. Its caption was “Lawn Boy” but when I dialed the number I reached the lawn boy’s mother. She reported that the lawn boy hadn’t done Lola’s lawn in more than two years because he had gone away to college. She had no idea who had taken his place but she did mention that he had received a nice Christmas card from Lola this past year.
It really saddened me but I finally had to admit that I was not looking through an address book as much as I was looking through a Christmas card list for a person who had no family at all and wanted to share the season with someone so she sent cards to people most of us would never consider sending cards to. Briefly
I wondered if she sent cards to all of her customers as well. I mean I get a card each year from my insurance guy.
I pressed on with the little address book and found two different names both with Lola’s notes identifying them as lawyers. I called each and had to do a lot to identify myself and explain my mission but with each lawyer I did find out that he had done some sort of work for Lola in the past having to do with her business but neither had ever prepared or filed a will for Lola.
Depressed I put away the address book and took out the accordion file. In the seventh folder from the front I found the slot for the past years tax forms. We had found the file itself in the desk in the living room but not in the folder. I wondered why she might have pulled the file out of the folder but admitted to myself that I might never know the answer to that riddle.
I pulled the tax records out of the bag I had loaded them into and looked them over. Of course there were no dependents listed but the form itself gave me an idea. Down where you list the dependents you have to put in their social security number, and up where you put your own name and social you also list your date of birth and then enter all the same information for your spouse. We already knew that Lola’s father was John Martin but there would be around a hundred-thousand John Martins in the country, and we did not yet know her mother’s first name or her maiden name. If we could find that information we might easily be able to find a next of kin or at least a place to look for them. So I called Eric Samuels and asked him if he knew anybody that owed him a favor and could search IRS databanks. I specifically instructed him to search out tax forms where Lola’s social security number was listed as a dependent. He told me he could gather the information and jokingly told me he would have to charge me the same rate that I was billing him since he would be the one doing the work.
When I hung up from Samuels I saw Jill sitting there with a steaming cup of coffee in her hands. We spent about half an hour doing girl talk centered around the gorgeous Mr. Donald Smith and liberally peppered with a bit of Ms. Jana Little. Then we attacked the four boxes we had pilfered from the stack in Lola’s dining room. We found nothing of any real value but it was not just a waste of time. Part of our task was to inventory Lola’s house so some estimate could be made of her estate. Although the four boxes we had pulled at random from the stack contained just junk and no real clues to her next of kin, they were a part of her estate and needed to be inventoried. So with a little time on our hands and not much else to work on Jill and I started working on the inventory of Lola’s possessions.
I had done this type of work myself several times in the past and must admit that it worked a lot easier with two people. I downloaded all the pictures we had
taken from both my own digital camera as well as Jill’s onto my own computer.
While I was doing that Jill got her laptop set up and started a spreadsheet. We went through each room of Lola’s house in the same order we had investigated using the pictures we had taken. It was a lot easier with two computers because I could pull up three or four shots of her kitchen and together we could look at the images, and Jill could enter things on her spreadsheet. Doing this on one computer would have required constant clicking back and forth between the spreadsheet and the pictures.
It took only about an hour to enter everything onto the spreadsheet with the exception of the dining room because we obviously had not finished with that room yet. Using the photos we had taken we identified that there were forty five boxes in the stack from which we had collected four. We then went through the four boxes we had. One was full of old kitchen appliances including two of the old electric coffee percolators that your parents probably made coffee in before the drip kind like Mr. Coffee came along. Nothing in the box was less than a decade old and nothing had any real value. The second box may have had some value to a recording collector because it was filled with old cassette tapes and eight-track tapes mostly by country & western artists. Vaguely I wondered if there was some study being done in Nashville that would be interested. The third box was simply a box of paperback books but this box contained no romance novels. It was mainly celebrity biographies. All of the books looked like they had water damage and the entire box was quite worthless. Finally the fourth box proved to be no more valuable than the first three by containing an array of makeup and makeup accessories but all well past the dates in which they could be safely used.
Jill and I looked at this list of Lola’s possessions and tried to come up with a theory for what we had found so far in the boxes. I am not sure which one of us actually first glommed onto the idea but we refined it until we were left with a working theory. In the business Lola is in she must obtain old furniture and then clean it up and sell it for more than she had paid for it. She would obtain the furniture in one of several ways. For instance we know that Lola had bought a load of furniture that someone had brought to her, that is what started this whole mess, but she could not possibly run the business on the off chance that someone might drop by with a truck load of old furniture to sell. The main two ways she would obtain the items she sold would be by attending auctions for estates whose owners had just passed or by attending auctions for the contents of storage rooms whose owners had defaulted on the rent. In both cases they usually try to auction the entire lot for one price so you would buy, for instance, all the contents of a house rather than just the few pieces of furniture you wanted for your store. These things boxed up we expected were leftovers from Lola’s past auction wins. Most should have probably been tossed out, but perhaps she was thinking of holding a garage sale or something.