Ill gotten panes a stain.., p.1
Ill-Gotten Panes (A Stained-Glass Mystery), page 1
The Color of Murder
Determined to get some info while at the same time afraid of what I might learn, I headed up the street a little. Ahead, in front of Village Grocery, a cluster of senior citizens stood as if in conference. It reminded me of the scene across the street from Grandy’s house. Sweat prickled my scalp, from nerves or the heat or both, and I quick-timed it to Aggie’s Gifts and Antiques and burst through the door.
“Carrie?” I called over the jingling of the bell. “Hello? Are you here?”
Impatient, I circled the perimeter of the store, passing by jewelry armoires, quilt racks, and an old vanity table to where the register sat midway along the western wall. Back to me, she was climbing down from a step stool, feather duster in her hand, when I located her.
“Carrie,” I said again.
Her eyes found me and opened wide. “Oh my gosh! Georgia, is it true? It’s not true, is it? It just can’t be.”
“I—uh—is what true? No, wait.” I squinched my eyes shut for a moment, as if that action alone could pause the conversation. “What happened at the hardware store?” I asked, then opened my eyes.
Carrie’s eyes remained wide, and were now accompanied by a slack jaw. “It’s Andy Edgers,” she said. “Bill Harper found him yesterday, dead in the back room with . . . with . . . ” She swallowed hard, and I imagined she had a knot in her throat as big as the one in my stomach. “With his . . . head . . . bashed in. Murdered.”
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Copyright © 2014 by Jennifer McAndrews.
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eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-62373-2
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / July 2014
Cover illustration by Stephen Gardner.
Cover design by George Long.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For my sisters Judy, Laura, and Carolyn
The Color of Murder
Because there is no possible way this book would exist without her, the first and biggest thanks I can extend goes to my editor, Faith Black. For years I wanted to work with her, and I’m so glad it was this book that at last made it happen. May this be the start of many good books to come. Further thanks to all the wonderful people at Berkley Prime Crime who went out of their way to welcome me into their fold and make this book the best it could be—especially Stephen Gardner, who is responsible for that gorgeous cover.
Big thanks to my family near and far, especially Judy Grant, Laura Finan, and Carolyn Hassett. When I’m down they pick me up, when the world is crumbling they stand beside me, and when a celebration is in order, together we do the Time Warp with joyous abandon. You just can’t beat that.
Continous gratitude to my critique partners, creative cohorts, and all-around besties Julie O’Connell, Linda Gerber, and Ginger Calem—mercy buckets!
Finally, as ever, thanks to my husband, Bob, and my daughters, Tracy and Christine, for the brainstorming, the endless cups of tea, and the noise-cancelling headphones that make this dream possible.
For generations, my family followed a simple principle: If everything goes wrong, go back to the beginning. Every back to the beginning my mother undertook—every time her marriage tanked or her job failed to support us—she went back to the house she grew up in, with me in tow, to get back on her feet. Thus, it stood to reason that when my job fell apart in the midst of an epic investment banking scandal and my fiancé invited me to move out because he couldn’t stand the heat, I had no urge to take shelter in the over-decorated apartment where my mother currently resided. The only place in my life that had enough consistency to qualify as a place to go back to was that same rambling house my mother spent her childhood in and retreated to throughout her life. I took up residence in my grandfather’s spare room in the past-its-prime town of Wenwood, New York, population eighty-four hundred and me.
Make no mistake. I made a good effort to get back on my feet without leaving the city. But jobs were scarce for brokenhearted accountants caught in a scandal, and not being able to find a decent, affordable place to live on my own made the challenge of starting over seem insurmountable. And the lure of the familiarity and acceptance of my grandfather also seemed insurmountable.
So I had landed in Wenwood and there I would stay until such time as my life had direction again. Or my grandfather got sick of me turning the “hi-fi” too loud, I got sick of him sneaking cookies into the bathroom, and it was time for me to move out. For the time being, though, I was a Wenwood resident. And on a hot Monday morning in the early days of summer, I headed along the pitted, cobbled main road, admiring the weathered shops lining the village on my way to run some errands.
I steered my grandfather’s Jeep into the sixteen-space parking lot behind Village Grocery and slid into a spot in the shade of a black walnut tree whose branches overhung the boundary fence. With my stash of reusable bags in one hand and my list in the other, I crossed the cracked macadam and ducked in through the back door of the grocer’s. This was not the thing to do if you wanted to slip in unnoticed.
My eyes had yet to adjust to the sudden shift in light when a cheery voice called, “Good morning, Georgia!”
I stood just inside the door at the back end of the produce aisle and tried to identify the hulking shape of the man who greeted me. “Morning, Misterrr . . .” I began, hoping he would throw his name into the hole in my memory. No luck. He slowly came into focus, a half-bald gent in a white polo shirt an
“Harper,” he said at last. “Bill Harper.”
“Right. Harper. Sorry.” I tried for a smile; it might have come off looking like I was about to be ill.
He returned this with a grin that might be gas. “Can I help you find anything?” he asked.
I pointed along the produce aisle stretching behind him. “This is all I need.”
“That right? You’re not going to pick up anything for Pete?”
I called my grandfather Grandy. Hearing him referred to by his given name would take some adjustment. “Not today, thanks. Plenty of cake and cookies in the house as it is,” I joked, chuckling a little and looking to Mr. Harper as a fellow conspirator.
I stopped chuckling, cleared my throat, but his scowl didn’t budge. “Okay, then. Well. You know I think I’ll just hold off on the groceries until I’ve done the rest of my errands. Don’t want anything to spoil in this heat.” I forced a smile then scuttled past Mr. Harper. The grocery store aisles were no more than forty feet long yet I wished like mad they were shorter.
Talk about getting off on the wrong foot. Grandy had introduced me to Mr. Harper in the middle of the Sunday after-church rush at Rozelle’s Bakery. Really, was it so unforgivable that I couldn’t remember his name? I met a lot of people that day, before I had my coffee. I’m not a miracle worker.
The front door swung open automatically at my approach, and I left the market feeling far less assured than when I’d entered. I kept my head down as I walked away, reluctant to make eye contact with anyone else who might expect me to remember their name and take offense if I didn’t.
Homesickness rushed up and blindsided me. I missed New York City. I missed the noise and the fast pace and the strange marriage of anonymity and camaraderie. In the life I’d led, I knew Mr. Wang operated the produce shop on Third Street that sold the most amazing Asian pears. I’d shopped there every week. But it had taken more than eight months of residency for me learn his name, and a few months more for him to start putting some of the juiciest pears aside for me.
I missed the life I’d left.
Stopping on the old brick sidewalk as though something more substantial than a tear had caught my eye, I turned to face the display window of a narrow shop. I used the moment and the illusion to take a deep breath. Inside the shop, on the other side of AGGIE’S GIFTS AND ANTIQUES painted on the glass, a smiling face gazed out at me. The woman waved then motioned emphatically for me to step inside.
Fighting the urge to look over my shoulder to see who she was waving at nearly made me shake, but I knew there were few people on the street. Who else but the elderly and unemployed would be wandering the village midmorning on a Monday?
With my forehead wrinkled in confusion, I sidestepped to the door—a lightweight wooden door with three-over-three windows, the kind you’d find on any home in any town where theft and vandalism were rarities. Sure enough, pushing the door open sent the little bell above it jingling. No high-tech electronic sensors for Wenwood, not when the old-fashioned methods worked just fine.
I stopped just inside the shop, angling my head to where the woman stood. “I . . .” I began, but I had no idea where to go from there.
“You’re Georgia, aren’t you? Pete Keene’s granddaughter?” She was older than me, but not by much, mid-thirties maybe, simply dressed in a polo shirt and jeans.
“Um . . .” I hated to ask it, I really did. “How did you know . . .”
“Oh, your hair.” She nodded as if her response were perfectly obvious.
I forced a smile but I’m afraid I might have come off looking constipated. My hair is, in fact, remarkable. Not remarkable in the sense of salon-inspired conditioner commercials or studio cut and style. Not even in the wild heyday of fast finance could I afford hair like that. I had curly orange hair. And when I say that, I’m not being modest about my auburn tresses. Little Orphan Annie would laugh at my hair. Irish red, corkscrew curls, and fine as the day is long. Oh, yeah, I was a looker all right.
“Okay, so what is it that . . .” I had no idea how to ask the right question. Did she want something from me? Need something from me? Want to know when Grandy would give in already and start selling off some of the old family heirlooms? A quick scan of the shop, with its frames and old crystal, earthenware and accent tables, assured me that most of Grandy’s living room would look right at home in an antiques shop.
“It’s in the back,” she said, and headed away from the window and to the rear of the store.
“I’m sorry. What?” Was I supposed to follow her?
She spun, hand over her heart, and laughed. “I get ahead of myself.” Waving me closer, she continued, “I have a lamp in the back that needs a little restoration work. Pete was by the other day and told me you had some skill with stained glass. I was hoping you could look at it and let me know, well, you know, if you could help.”
Okay, so one of the few things I took with me from my city life and carted back to my second-chance starting line was a half-dozen boxes of stained glass materials and equipment. Yes, it was technically bringing the past to the future. But the best thing I found to relax me while I was working at Washington Heritage Financial was glass. And okay, I took up stained glass because the receptionist for the company advised me to take up a craft instead of blowing money on a psychotherapist. After looking up the cost of psychotherapists in the city, I figured crafting was worth a shot. I tried a few different things, learned I was more dangerous with knitting needles than I was skilled with them, ditto for quilting needles, before I discovered the immense satisfaction of breaking glass just so and assembling the aftermath of destruction into something beautiful. All the scattered pieces had a very special place. I was hooked.
So there should be no surprise that I eagerly followed the shopkeep through a narrow passageway to the back of the store.
“Are you Aggie?” I asked as she led me past an employee-only washroom and a paper-strewn inlaid desk that looked precisely like a piece I’d once admired in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
She reached for a switch plate, and the far end of the space was flooded with light. Stacked tables, tilting curio cabinets, and an old schoolhouse desk cluttered the right side of room, with smaller pieces shelved along the left. “Lord, no. Aggie was my grandmother. She ran the place until her Corolla was totaled in a snowplow drive-by and then she was off to Palm Beach, where it never snows and no one even owns a plow.”
While she rattled on about Granny’s home in Florida and her mother’s disinterest in running the antiques shop, I walked to the shelving to my left, chockablock with dusty miscellanea and stacks of dishes. On the floor in front of it sat a lamp that called to me as loudly as a Godiva salted chocolate bar.
I tiptoed close and knelt beside the lamp. Resting my shopping bag on the ground, I reached to finger the edge of the shade. It was a Tiffany style, better than two feet in diameter, with delicate iron scrollwork forming the base. The shade had a classic floral motif: full-blown blossoms and trailing leaves dappled by unseen sunlight. It was also missing a large portion out of one side, as though the lamp had fallen over and the impact had shattered the side on which it landed. A hint of sorrow washed through me to see the forlorn condition of such a beautiful piece. A wilted flower needs water to restore it to beauty; this lamp needed me.
And yes, I know that sounds super-presumptuous and self-aggrandizing. But I’d just lost my job, my home, and my fiancé. I was in need of a little positive-self-talk pick-me-up. And maybe some of that Godiva.
“What do you think?” Aggie’s granddaughter asked. I had no idea when she’d stopped talking about the migratory patterns of her female ancestors. The lamp held me enraptured.
I stood and wiped t
Her hand fluttered at her throat. “Really? Are you sure? You really think you can restore it?”
“I can try.” Then I confessed, “I would be truly honored to try.”
Her smile did more to start a friendship than all her chatter about Florida. “I’m Carrie, by the way,” she said. She extended a hand and ducked her head a bit. “I should have started with that, huh?”
“Leading with the lamp was good.”
Laughing, she shook her head. “You must think I’m crazy.”
“Well, now that you mention it . . .” I grinned to show her I was kidding. There was something about Carrie—about the way she stood close enough to be friendly but far enough to be respectful, about the way she looked straight at me when she spoke, and the way she kept her back straight and shoulders squared like she was ready to take on the world—that I instantly liked. “Just one question, though. You said you knew me by my hair, but . . .”
“Oh, that. Helen told me you’d be easy to spot.” Carrie wandered to the doorway leading to the front of the shop and peered out—perhaps in case an antiques hunter with highly honed espionage skills had entered the shop without setting off the jingly bell.
“And Helen is . . .” A butcher block table huddled beside the lamp, its surface scattered with gift boxes in a variety of sizes. Spools of boldly colored curling ribbon were affixed to the side of the table, tails dangling like strings of gems in the sunlight of the high-set window at the back of the room. I tugged on a bit of bright green, the texture of the ribbon somehow soothing beneath my fingertips. “I don’t remember meeting anyone named Helen.”
Carrie returned her attention to me. “Helen is Grace’s sister.”
Not a big help. “So who’s Grace?”
“Grace runs the luncheonette. See, she gets her rolls from Rozelle’s Bakery. And I guess you were in there with your granddad?” Carrie’s brow puckered, intimating she herself wasn’t quite clear on the progression of the gossip. I couldn’t blame her. That was quite a chain to go through. My arrival in town and visit to the bakery appeared to have made something of a stir. I wasn’t sure whether I should be flattered or frightened.
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