Nightmare in Shining Armor (5 page)

BOOK: Nightmare in Shining Armor
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“Abby, what do you mean when you say you had a virtual riot on your hands? What was going on?”

“Mama! That's what was going on. She came to the party dressed as Lady Godiva. If she'd come as Mary Poppins, I'm sure Lady Liberty wouldn't have dropped her torch. I tried to keep order, but they just wouldn't listen. What was I to do, but kick them all out?”

Apparently Barb found this amusing. She twittered like a schoolgirl who'd been told a naughty joke.

“You try having Mozella Wiggins as your mother!” I wailed. “She's more trouble than raising teenagers.”

“I wouldn't know. I have no children.”

“Well, take my word for it.”

“I'll do that. Okay, Abby”—she scanned her notes—“do you recall any interaction between Miss Peep and the Tin Man during the party?” She smiled. “Before the riot?”

“No. In fact, it's like they both disappeared. I re
member thinking how glad I was that Tweetie didn't sneak that stupid sheep into my house. She tried to bring it through the front door, you know.”

“Ah, yes the sheep. I was just getting to that. Where is it now?”

“Heck if I know.” I clapped my hands to my cheeks. “Oh my gosh, you don't think it's still tied up outside? If it's eaten my camellias I'll kill Tweetie—oops, that's not what I meant to say! It's just a figure of speech. I say that all the time. And not just me, either, everyone says that. I bet even you say that.” I giggled nervously.

Barb's eyes made contact with mine, but I could no longer read their expression. “Who discovered the body?”

“Not me! It was Wynnell Crawford. I already told you that.”

“Where were you at the time?”

“I was waiting for her at the top of stairs. We were going to go down together to check the windows and doors.”

“What was she doing? Why were you waiting?”

“She was retrieving a machete I keep under the bed.”

MACHETE she wrote in large block letters that I could read even though they were upside down. She underlined the word twice. Then she enclosed the C and turned it into a smiley face.

“It's safer than a gun,” I explained quickly. “And it's really just an antique. I would never really use it, of course, unless someone broke into my
house—” I clapped both hands over my mouth. Give me a thread and I would find some way to twist it into a hangman's noose.

Barb's pen did the flamenco and she was forced to turn the page to allow it more room. “How long was Mrs. Crawford out of your sight?”

“Just a minute or two. Trust me, she didn't have time to kill Tweetie and stuff her in that suit of armor. Besides, where would she have hidden the Bo Peep costume? And what about the person who came in the armor? Where did she disappear to?”

The tiny recorder had a tiny tape, and the machine shut itself off. Barb reversed the direction before answering. “That's a good question. But are you saying you think the perpetrator was female?”

“Huh?”

“You said
she
.”

“I was being nonsexist. I never even saw the person inside the suit, so I don't know if
he
was male or female. It could have been either, you know.”

“I see. Is this a genuine suit of armor?”

“Heavens no. It's a good copy though. I'll grant you that. But nobody I know would abandon a suit of genuine seventeenth-century Italian armor. Besides, a real suit of armor would weigh in the neighborhood of sixty pounds. It would be a real chore to lug that around just for a party.”

“So you are saying that the person who wore it to your party had to be a male.”

“Or a strong female,” I said, and then immediately wished I hadn't.

She gave me the once over while I tried to look
as puny as possible. Apparently satisfied, she consulted her notes briefly.

“Abby, why didn't you kick out your friend, Mrs. Crawford, along with the rest of them?”

“Because she was drunk in bed.”

The pen got a good workout. “Abby, what is your relationship to Mrs. Crawford?”

“Well, we're best friends. As close as gums and teeth. And we're colleagues. She owns the shop across the street.”

“Have the two of you been getting along lately?”

“Of course. Sure, sometimes we have our—hey, you're not thinking I killed Tweetie, and that I'm trying to frame Wynnell, are you?”

“I haven't come to any conclusions,” she said, without making eye contact. “I'm just gathering facts.”

“Facts? I can't read most of what you're writing, but you're sure doing a lot of it. Frankly, Barbie—I mean Barb—I'd feel a lot better if I had my attorney present.”

“Abby, you have not been arrested. There's really no need to involve him.”

“It's a her.”

“Well, you are free to cooperate or not. The decision is yours. But in all fairness, if you choose not to cooperate—well, let's just say there are certain implications to be considered.”

I refuse to be bullied. Most of the time, perhaps due to my diminutive stature, folks want to protect me. But every now and then I run into someone
who seems eager to push me around. When I was younger, I allowed the pushers to get me just to the edge of hysteria before I fought back. By now experience has taught me that it is less stressful, and far more effective, to resist the moment I feel I'm being compromised. If I'd only paid attention to my cat, I would have learned this far earlier in the game.

“This sounds like a threat,” I said calmly.

“Threat?” Barb jabbed the off button on the miniature recorder. “Look here, Mrs. Timberlake, I'm just trying to do my job with as little interference as possible. You want your lawyer? Fine. But I'm warning you—”

I stood. The pain in my ankle was excruciating, but I'm pretty sure I didn't let it show.

“This interview is over.”

Barb blinked. “As you wish.”

“Terrific! Because I also wish you would leave my house.”

“No can do. Not until I finish my job. First I need to speak to Mrs. Crawford.”

G
reg and Wynnell were in the kitchen sipping hot chocolate and eating cheese straws. On the stove a pot of fresh peanuts was boiling merrily. Under normal circumstances I would have plopped a deck of cards on the table and the three of us would have had a rousing game of Up and Down the Ladder. Alas, it was far from a normal evening. I had a throbbing ankle, and there were at least five people in my bedroom upstairs, one of whom was as dead as last Sunday's roast. Wynnell, to tell you the truth, didn't look a whole lot healthier.

She jumped when she saw me. “Abby!”

By contrast, Greg set his mug down casually. “How'd it go?”

“The woman is a witch,” I said kindly. “She gets you to buddy up to her—insists you call her Barb—but the whole time she's waiting to pounce on you like a hen on a June bug.”

Wynnell sipped noisily from her cup. “Were you cooperative, Abby?”

“Until she pushed me too far. Thank heavens I'd taken that Xanax.”

Greg pulled me lightly into his lap. “Barb's new in the department. She has a different way of doing things.”

Wynnell scowled. “Is she a Yankee? I didn't hear an accent.”

“Barb's from California—
Southern
California—but she was born and raised in Raleigh. Anyway, she's pretty good at what she does.”

“Says who?”

“Everyone, I guess. Sure, there was a little resistance when we first heard a woman was joining the department, but then we gradually warmed up to the idea.”

“I bet y'all did. Some of y'all might even have overheated.”

Greg chuckled. “Well, you can't deny she's a looker.”

“Look, but don't touch.” I slipped into a chair of my own.

“Hey, you're not jealous, are you?”

“Not on your life.” I took a sip from his mug. “Wynnell, she wants to talk to you next.”

Wynnell blanched, her black brows standing out like clumps of wet driftwood on a white sand beach. She was in the middle of swallowing, and apparently some of the liquid went down the wrong pipe.

“Now?”
she gasped.

I leaned over and gave her a good hard slap on the back. “I'm afraid so.”

“But I don't know anything. I was—well, I was, uh—”

“Passed out on my guest bed the entire evening?”

“Abby!” Greg said sternly. He gave Wynnell the thumbs-up sign. “Hey. You've got nothing to worry about, right?”

“Right.”

“So just tell her the truth.”

“Which she'll twist into a braid of a thousand strands,” I mumbled.

“Abby!”

“But it's true! She took everything I said the wrong way.”

“Abby, you're acting like a child.”

“I am not!”

“But you are.”

I turned to Wynnell. “Am I?”

“If the shoe fits,” she said and took a loud slurp.

By then I'd had it with everyone. I stamped my size-four, realizing too late it was the wounded party. After a muffled scream and a few choice words, I got my act together.

“I'm out of here, guys. Will one of you please feed Dmitri before you lock up?”

Greg stood. He'd loom over me even if he were on his knees.

“But Abby, you just can't cut out like this. You may be needed for more questioning.”

“Try me.” I hobbled to the door and then remembered that my pocketbook containing my
keys was still upstairs. “Wynnell, may I borrow your car?”

“How will I get home?”

“Greg will take you, won't you, dear?”

He sighed. “Okay, but where will I find you?”

“You're the detective,” I said. “Figure it out.”

 

Every woman should have a sensitive male friend she can turn to when the going gets tough. I am fortunate in that I have two.

The Rob-Bobs live in a sumptuous townhouse they love to show off. Their guest room has an
authentic
Queen Anne bed. According to them it belonged to Anne herself. While I'm sure a queen slept in that bed, I doubt if it was Her Majesty. Still, the pair has a superb collection of first-rate antiques and the class with which to display them to their full advantage. The only trouble is, both men suffer from bad cases of revolving-door syndrome.

This is a chronic disease common among those in our trade. I've experienced severe bouts of this illness. One month I was deeply in love with a French fauteuil which I took home from my shop and placed lovingly beside my fireplace. The next month I replaced this heavily scrolled chair with a more blocky bergère that fit the location even better. It's not that I had fallen out of the love with the former, it's just that I had still to meet the latter. In other words, something better is always bound to come along, a point I have tried in vain to teach my children.

When you attend weekly auctions as I do, this
lesson is learned over and over again, but it is still a hard one to master. Since I own my own shop, I can draw from my inventory whenever I want. As a result my decor is constantly changing. Sometimes I envy Mama, who got locked in a time warp the day Daddy died, killed in a boating accident when a seagull with an enormous brain tumor dive-bombed us while we were waterskiing on Lake Wylie. Unlike her cronies, Mama never gets suckered into visiting furniture stores that promise no interest, and deferred payments until the cows come home. Mama never rearranges, never paints, and consequently never spends. Both her cash flow and contentment levels remain high.

Because the Rob-Bobs are even more fickle than I, visiting them is invariably a treat. But it is their warmth and understanding I enjoy most.

“Abby!” Rob Goldburg cried as he answered the door. He enclosed me in an embrace reeking of imported cologne commingled with party sweat. Still dressed as James Brolin, the man was undeniably handsome.

Bob Steuben, who originally hails from Toledo, is a little more reserved. He'd shed Babs's sequined gown in favor of chinos and a chambray shirt. Although he'd done a decent job of scrubbing off the makeup, traces of lip liner remained.

“Hey,” he boomed in his trademark bass, “I was just stirring up a little nosh. You want a bite!”

Rob laughed. “I've been teaching Bob a little Yiddish. ‘Nosh' seems to be his favorite word.”

I glanced at the long case Bornholm clock in the
foyer. It was new to their digs, but appeared to be working. It was twelve minutes after midnight, a strange hour to be stirring up anything.

“Didn't Mama serve anything at her party?” I asked hopefully. Mama is an excellent cook capable of making ambrosia out of the most unlikely ingredients. She does not own a microwave, however, so instant treats are out of her arena.

“She didn't have time,” Rob said. “You called and then the party just sort of fell apart. Actually, it never really began.”

I felt wickedly exultant. I love my mama dearly, but she always has to steal the show—particularly if it's mine. She fainted during my wedding processional—somehow managed to land sprawled-eagle across the aisle—just I approached her pew. Daddy, who was used to Mama's shenanigans, whispered in my ear to just step over her. The congregation, taking their cue from us, ignored my prostrate progenitress, and she eventually hauled herself back into her seat. At least she was no longer lying there when I walked back down the aisle with Buford.

Bob nudged me. “So, Abby, you want to try my Down Under Surprise?”

“Well—”

“It's emu egg omelets,” Rob warned me. “With kiwi fruit compote on the side.”

I smiled. Bob is a serious gourmand. It didn't surprise me a bit that he was able to find emu eggs in Charlotte. At the moment, however, eggs of any size were unappealing.

“Maybe next time. Y'all mind if I crash here for the night?”

Both men beamed. “We already put mints on your pillow,” Rob said. “Greg just called to let us know you were coming.”

“He
did
?”

Bob led me to a settee done in rococo style with a ribband back. “You can park your tuchas here,” he said. It wasn't a particularly comfortable place to rest my derriere, but since it had a genuine Thomas Chippendale provenance, who cared?

“What all did Greg have to say?”

“Primarily that he knew you were heading here, and that we should tuck you in.”

“And kiss you good night,” Rob said. Both men squirmed.

I laughed. “I can tuck myself in, thanks.”

Rob pulled up a silk hassock. “He also mentioned that Tweetie's body was found stuffed in a suit of armor. Was it the same three-quarter Italian suit we saw at your party?”

I nodded.

Bob perched beside me on the settee. “Don't worry, Abby. It should be really easy for the police to trace a quality costume like that. There can't be that many rental shops in town.”

Rob nodded. “Right. Although, it could be a privately owned costume. Abby, any theater people at your party?”

I must confess I wasn't really listening. “You know,” I said, thinking aloud, “maybe it's not a costume at all, but a genuine suit of armor.”

“What?”
Both men were incredulous.

My cheeks burned with embarrassment. Although I carry quality merchandise in the Den of Antiquity, I'm not even in the same league with the Rob-Bobs. Their shop is on a par with any found in London, New York, or Paris. These men are experts.

“I just thought—well, it looked too real to be a costume. And it was heavy, too. Just lifting the visor took effort.”

They couldn't help but exchange “poor Abby” looks.

“I was just thinking aloud,” I wailed.

“Sweetie,” Rob said, sitting on the other arm of the settee, “you're right. It might not be a costume at all. A lot of people ship these realistic copies of armor back from Europe.”

“They do? Whatever for?”

“To put in their foyers,” Bob boomed.

I could feel myself blush. “What a silly thing to do.”

“It's some kind of an ego trip,” Rob said. He patted my shoulder. “Invite anyone who's been to Europe recently?”

I choked back a gasp. “Buford and Tweetie. They did the grand tour this summer.”

Rob's hand froze. “Abby, you're not suggesting that—”

“No!” I cried. “Buford would sleep with a porcupine, but he couldn't kill anyone.”

Bob leaned forward, looking me gently in the eyes. “How can you be so sure?”

“Because he's the father of my children!”

Neither man spoke.

“Look, guys, Buford is a snake, I won't deny that. But he's slimy, not lethal.”

“Uh-huh, Abby,” they said in unison.

I stood. “Look, he didn't kill Tweetie, okay? And I'm going to prove it.”

“How?” Rob asked softly.

“I'm going to find out who owns that suit, that's how.”

“We'll do what we can to help,” Bob said.

“Just tell us what to do,” Rob agreed.

“Thanks.” I thought for a moment. “I know you guys think I'm crazy, but just
suppose
this suit of armor isn't a costume and isn't a copy meant for some rich American's foyer.
Suppose
it's the real McCoy? Then the question becomes, who here in Charlotte is rich and savvy enough to own a suit of genuine seventeenth-century Italian armor?”

The men exchanged glances.

BOOK: Nightmare in Shining Armor
9.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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