A Dubious Delivery (A Seagrove Cozy Mystery Book 9)

BOOK: A Dubious Delivery (A Seagrove Cozy Mystery Book 9)
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A Dubious Delivery
A Seagrove Mystery Series Book 9
A Dubious Delivery
A Seagrove Mystery Series Book 9
Leona Fox

© 2016 by Leona Fox

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.


he great thing
about unpacking the shipping crates after a buying trip was you got to relive all the best moments of the trip. Sadie Barnett, the owner of Seagrove’s antiques and junk shop, Timeless Treasures, was laughing with Lucy and Betty -- one her best friend and the other her shop assistant. It had been three weeks since they’d returned from their trip to Italy and Spain where they’d searched for Europe’s most unusual treasures and, incidentally, had had so much fun they hadn’t wanted to come home. But, of course, Sadie had missed Mr. Bradshaw and Zach, her fiancé, and Betty had missed Syl, her ex-undercover agent, ex-circus man, and current Boston cop boyfriend. And Lucy didn't like to be away from her jewelry business for too long.

So in the end, they came home. It wasn’t so bad, especially now that the shipping pallets had come in.

“Remember this?” Betty asked, holding up a red skirt that looked like it might have been worn by a flamingo dancer.

“This was in the flea market we found tucked in a courtyard down that narrow stone passageway. Lucy, you thought we were crazy when we headed down there.”

“Can you blame me?” Lucy asked. “It was dark and damp, and it looked like one of those medieval passages that would lead you to a dungeon full of torture instruments.”

“True,” Sadie said, “but instead we found a beautiful courtyard full of warmth and stalls for every kind of junk you ever could imagine. I think that was my favorite place.”

“I liked the market across from the beach in that little Italian town. Can’t remember its name right now, but I had the most fun bargaining with that gorgeous Greek Adonis.” Lucy smiled at the memory.

“I bought several things I normally wouldn’t have looked at twice just so I could keep talking with him. Such fun.”

“He asked you out, didn’t he?” Betty said. “But you didn’t end up going. What was that?”

“Turned out to be married,” Lucy said, “and his wife showed up at the hotel and threatened to kill me. I told her I was not interested in married men, and she’d do better to kill her husband instead. Surprisingly, she agreed with me.”

“I hope it all worked out without any premature deaths,” Sadie said. “I’d hate to think we’d left a murderer in our wake when our trip was so delightful. He cured me of ever wanting to go on a buying trip alone again.”

“I like Spain the best,” Betty said, “but it all was fun.”

She shook out a brightly patterned shawl and laid it on the table next to the skirt.

“These look well together,” she said. “All you need is a white blouse and a mannequin to put them on.”

“I bought two from that junk shop near Madrid,” Sadie said. “Remember? They should be in this crate somewhere.”

She picked up the electric drill and removed the screws from the lid of the second crate. It was large, so large she didn’t have to bend over to fit the drill bit into the screws.

“What in the world?” Sadie held up a small flat wooden crate that had been laid on top of the raffia packing material.

“I don’t remember buying this, did either of you?”

Sadie held up the smaller crate. It was a little worse for wear and had faded printing on it. Lucy shook her head and Betty looked perplexed and held out her hands to take the container from Sadie’s hands.

“Let’s open this up,” Betty said and grabbed the electric drill. It took just a moment to remove the screws and she lifted out a flat package wrapped in cloth.

“Shall I?” Betty asked Sadie before unwrapping the fabric.

“It’s what we’re waiting for! Go ahead,” Sadie said.

She watched in anticipation as Betty unfolded the layers of fabric to reveal a small painting in a gilded frame. It was unbalanced, Sadie noticed, the width of the frame overwhelming the small painting. It was an ocean scene, a wooden changing hut on a beach in a bay, with whitecaps on the waves and gulls wheeling in the breeze above the water.

“I didn’t buy that,” Sadie said. “Did either of you?”

Lucy and Betty shook their heads, confusion clouding their faces.

“But look,” Betty said, “that’s Seagrove’s bay.”

Sadie leaned in and examined the painting. “You’re right,” she said. “That’s our beach. There’s the outcropping out over the mouth of the bay, and there’s Bird Rock Island.”

She picked up the painting and turned it over, examining the back, frame, and painting. “This is so odd.”

“It’s a mystery,” Lucy said.

“And I’m sure you’ll solve it. But the rest of this stuff isn’t going to unpack itself.” She turned back to the crate from which the painting had come.

“That’s true,” Sadie said.

“For now, it can live in the front window. Maybe someone will recognize it.”

She took it into the shop and set it on an easel in the window box before joining the other women who were fawning over the treasures from their trip.

Betty removed a nesting doll from its cozy bed. “This looks Russian,” she said.

“Wonder what it was doing in Italy? Which reminds me, Syl says he wants to take me to Russia. He swears he could show me a better time than the two of you. I think he’s just jealous.”

“Zack’s jealous, too,” Sadie said. “He’s insisting I take him next time. But I think it would be better if he and I just went on vacation. I can’t see him standing around while I haggle with people over old pieces of junk. That would just make him crazy.”

“Unless it was his kind of junk,” Lucy said. “You could take him to Europe to look at old pieces of armor and swords. And what about ancient firearms? I bet he’d like that.”

“I’d have to expand the shop,” Sadie said. “Old pieces of armor take up a lot of space.”

“We could buy the bookshop next door,” Betty said. “I don’t think it’s ever going to open back up.”

“That’s an idea,” Sadie said. “I could buy the building and expand the shop and my apartment. Mr. Bradshaw would like that.”

“But are you going to move in with Zack when you get married?” Betty asked. “Then you could make the shop two stories, and double the frequency of our buying trips. Pretty please?”

“We haven’t decided where were going to live,” Sadie said. “Zack owns that cute little craftsman he lives in, but it’s not really big enough for the both of us.”

“And neither is your apartment,” Lucy said.

“But it would be if we expanded next store… Don’t you think?” Sadie raised her eyebrows.

“And then Mr. Bradshaw wouldn’t have to move away from the park.”

“It’s a pipe dream,” Betty said. “You don’t even know if she really wants to sell next door.”

“True, but it never hurts to dream,” Sadie said.

“Dreaming will not get these crates unpacked,” Lucy said. “Back to work with you.”

“Slave driver,” Sadie said, but she picked up the drill and opened another crate.

“I’m going to start inventorying this stuff,” Betty said, “before this room gets so full we can’t move. I’ll be back in a sec.”

“Do you think things are going okay with Betty and Syl?” Lucy asked quietly. “It can’t be easy with him working so far away.”

“He comes up on his days off,” Sadie said, “and Betty is pretty independent. So far, so good, I’d say.”

“Hope you’re right,” Lucy said. “I’d hate for Betty to get her heart broken.”

Just then, Betty returned with the scanner tags and laptop, and Lucy turned back to the job of the decanting junk from the crates.

The next morning Lucy had a jewelry show, so Sadie and Betty were on their own. Betty was scanning, tagging and entering the new merchandise into the inventory while Sadie brought the inventoried items into the shop. She discovered the 60s mannequins in one of the crates and was dressing one of them in the Flamenco skirt and scarf. She didn’t have a white blouse so she arranged a colorful shawl over the mannequin’s bodice for modesty.

The modesty probably was misplaced, as there were no anatomical details on the mannequin, other than being in the basic shape of a woman, but customers were so easily offended. She was fussing over how to tie the shawl when the bells over the shop door rang. She turned to see a shrunken white-haired man standing in the doorway. He looked confused, and Sadie bustled over to him, worried he might fall down or something. She wasn’t quite sure what she was worried about except that he looked so frail and easily broken.

“Can I help you?” She asked.

“Young lady,” he said in a creaky voice.

Sadie couldn’t help but smile. She’d left young behind quite a while ago.

“I am Cyrus Dumville, and I do believe you have my painting in your window,” the old gentleman said.

“I’ve come to get it if you would be so kind,” he said, gesturing toward the window.

“Certainly,” Sadie said. “But can I ask how your picture got into my shipping crates?”

He looked confused for a moment but then his face cleared.

“Ah, yes,” he said, and stood a little straighter.

“I know someone at the free house that shipped your goods. I asked them to put my painting into your crate because…” he paused for a moment.

“Because I knew you were on a buying trip and that customs wouldn’t be likely to examine your crates too closely.” He smiled and looked relieved.

Sadie thought it was as if he had memorized his speech and was relieved when the reciting was over. But she pushed the thought aside. It wasn’t her painting, and she had no reason to doubt him. She plucked the painting from the window but didn’t hand it to him.

“Can I ask why you needed to smuggle this painting into the country?” she asked.

“It’s clearly contemporary, and not worth a whole lot of money. And you must have had to pay the man who packed it into my crate, so why not just pay to have it shipped directly to your home?”

“It’s not as simple as that,” he said. “People might ask questions, mightn’t they? Some things need to remain a secret. Don’t you see?”

Sadie nodded her head thinking old Mr. Dumville might be suffering from dementia. She handed him the painting.

“Here you are, Mr. Dumville, but I’d appreciate it if you’d ask before you have anything else packed into my crates.”

“Of course, my dear, of course. I don’t know what I was thinking.” He took the painting and shuffled out the door.

Sadie watched him through the window as he climbed carefully into an old Honda. The car pulled away, and Sadie thought there was something extremely unsatisfying about how the mysterious painting incident had resolved itself. She had a lot of unanswered questions. She took herself off into the back room where Betty was working and sat on the edge of the table.

“That was the strangest thing,” she said.

Betty looked up from the computer and raised her eyebrows.

“An old man just walked in out of the blue to claim that painting,” Sadie said.

“The one we didn’t buy?” Betty asked.

“Yes, the one we didn’t buy. And when I asked him how it happened to get into my shipping containers, he wouldn’t give me a straight answer. I’m sure he paid a guy who worked in the free house to pack it in my stuff, but he did not say why. It had to be as cheap, if not cheaper, to ship that painting as to pay the bribe. Don’t you think?”

“It’s a mystery,” Betty said.

“But you don’t really have time to solve it. Let it go, Sadie, or it will end up driving you mad. As I would rather my boss wasn’t mad, I think you should get back to work.”

“Spoil sport,” Sadie said sliding off the table. “You’re no fun at all.”

“One of us has to watch out for the interests of this business,” Betty said. “Or we both will be out on the street.”

“I guess you’re right,” Sadie said and went back to work. When she got back to the mannequin, it was clear the shawl wasn’t working.

“I’m going down to the thrift shop,” she called into Betty. “I’ll be back in twenty minutes.”

Betty responded, although Sadie couldn’t understand what she said. She grabbed her purse from the office and Mr. Bradshaw’s leash from it. This had the effect of making Mr. Bradshaw jump up from his bed and hurry to the shop door.

They headed first across the street to the park, Sadie wielding her plastic bag. While she cleaned up Mr. Bradshaw’s morning constitutional, he sniffed around the flower beds and chased a squirrel up a tree. Sadie felt a little guilty about the squirrel, but as Mr. Bradshaw never caught one, and they didn’t seem any worse for wear from the exercise, she didn’t stop him chasing them. Maybe it was even a game they both enjoyed, she thought as the squirrel scolded Mr. Bradshaw from the top of the tree. At least she hoped so.

Back on his leash, Mr. Bradshaw accompanied Sadie down the street toward town hall. The thrift shop was in an old brick building just past the lawn in front of the town buildings. It was a quaint little shop, with a good assortment of white blouses for practically nothing. Sadie chose two she thought might work with the skirt and paid two dollars each, while Mr. Bradshaw watched from the sidewalk outside the door.

There were shops that tolerated dogs, and there were shops that didn’t tolerate dogs. It surprised Sadie that the thrift store was among the non-tolerating ones. It wasn’t as if there was anything worth a lot of money that Mr. Bradshaw could ruin, and anyway he had the best manners of any dog she’d ever known. But rules are rules, so she picked up Mr. Bradshaw’s leash from the hook on the wall next to the door, and they headed back home.

“Come and look,” Sadie called to Betty once she had added one of the blouses to the mannequin.

Betty’s face lit up as she came out of the back room. “Perfect,” she said. “I knew that outfit needed a white blouse.”

“I’ll be sad when this gets sold,” Sadie said. “It really brightens up things.”

She stood back and surveyed the effect. Maybe a white blouse wasn’t what a Flamenco dancer would wear with that red skirt but paired with the brightly patterned shawl, it was very striking. It made her happy just looking at it.

“What would I do without you?” she asked Betty.

“You make everything better.” Betty blushed and grinned.

“Just my way of making myself indispensable,” she said.

“And besides, everyone should have the opportunity to use their creativity once in a while.” She took a last look at the mannequin and headed back to do the inventory.

BOOK: A Dubious Delivery (A Seagrove Cozy Mystery Book 9)
7.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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