Read Pearl of Great Price Online

Authors: Myra Johnson

Tags: #Christian Books & Bibles, #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Mystery & Suspense, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Contemporary Fiction, #Religious & Inspirational Fiction, #Christian, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Religion & Spirituality, #Christian Fiction

Pearl of Great Price (2 page)

BOOK: Pearl of Great Price
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Not exactly what I needed today.

I gave myself a mental shake and straightened the skirt of my orange psychedelic-print mini-dress (circa 1971). “Hi, Mrs. Nelson. You’re out bright and early on a Monday.”

“You know me—can’t abide the weekend crowds.” The elderly woman’s golden-brown curls, although obviously from a bottle these days, were just a shade lighter than mine, and she still carried herself with posture to rival a runway model. Being tall, myself, she was one of the few women I could look at eye-to-eye. She strode up to the counter and blessed me with a warm smile. “How are you, Julie?”

I swallowed my edginess and tried for a friendly tone. “Fair to middlin’. How about you?”

“Never better.” She leaned closer and patted my hand as if I were family. “Mr. Tuttle phoned over the weekend saying he’d found that piece of carnival glass I’ve been looking for.”

I snapped my fingers, remembering. “Got it right here under the counter.” Setting the bubble-wrapped candy dish between us, I started to peel back the tape. “I’m sure you’ll want to inspect it.”

“Oh, leave it wrapped. Mr. Tuttle has never done me wrong.”

I winked. “And you
you’re one of LeRoy’s favorite customers. Do you want me to ring this up now, or did you want to look around?”

“Actually, I was expecting someone to meet me here.” Mrs. Nelson scanned the shop, then checked her watch. “Looks like she hasn’t shown up yet.”

“Nope, you’re the first customer of the day. Need to call someone?” I pushed the counter phone toward her. Mrs. Nelson was
among the elderly who’d embraced the cell phone generation.

“Maybe I should.” She dialed a number and tapped her short, shiny nails on the counter. “Hello, dear, I’m at the shop I told you about. Are you on your way?” Her smile drooped. “One o’clock? Oh, my, I wrote down ten. I’m so sorry. . . . Well, certainly, you must get that taken care of. . . . Yes, dear, I understand. I’ll talk to you later.”

I propped one elbow on the counter and cupped my chin in my palm. “Your friend stand you up?”

“My niece. Apparently we got our times mixed up. She’d planned to stop here after lunch on her way to an appointment in Hot Springs. And I was so anxious for her to meet you.” Mrs. Nelson heaved a sigh and tugged her wallet from her purse. “What do I owe you, dear?”

I tapped some keys on the register to ring up the sale, then read her the total. “Your niece, huh? Now, if you’d said your handsome young, single
 . . .”

“Why, Julie Stiles, surely you have potential beaux lined up from here to Little Rock.” She handed me her charge card.

“I’m sure I’d have better luck in Little Rock. Most of Caddo Pines’s eligible bachelors took off for the big city straight out of high school.” Not that I’d have been interested. Guys you’ve grown up with your entire life seem more like pesky brothers than boyfriend material.

We shared a chuckle as I double-bagged the carnival glass, tucked her receipt inside, and wished her a pleasant day. When she left the shop, a twinge of something like homesickness hollowed out my stomach, and the agitation I’d shoved aside for a while came back full-force. Before I could stop them, all my age-old questions slithered back into my brain. Mama might be dead, but did I still have a father out there somewhere? And if I did, why hadn’t he ever come for me? Did I mean so little to him? Didn’t he care? A deep, deep part of me ached to track down my father and force him to acknowledge me, but how could I go looking for him without upsetting Grandpa?

With a tiny shudder, I pressed a fist to my lips. I needed to quit dwelling on such things and get busy doing something productive. As usual, weekend browsers had left displays in disarray, so I spent an hour or so reshelving paperbacks, straightening clothing racks, and generally reorganizing.

Along about eleven, our mailman, Lester Carlson, popped in. “Hey there, Julie Pearl.” A bulky cardboard shipping crate stretched Lester’s skinny arms to nearly twice their length. He dropped the box inside Katy Harcourt’s booth and dabbed the sweat off his forehead with the hem of his pale-blue shirtsleeve.

I moseyed over to peer at the shipping label. “Looks like Katy’s purse order. She’ll be glad to know it finally came in.” Where the woman found a reputable supplier for her knockoff designer handbags, I’d just as soon not ask.

Lester collected a stack of mail from his pouch and thrust it into my hands. “Looks like slim pickin’s. The job ain’t what it used to be since folks started e-mailin’ and even payin’ their bills online.”

“Shame, isn’t it? Nothing’s quite the same as getting a handwritten letter from a friend—although the bills I could do without!” Anyway, considering Caddo Pines’s hit-or-miss Internet service, e-mail wasn’t much use to me.

Returning to the front counter, I flipped through the assortment of advertising flyers, ads for stuff like gutter cleaning and air-conditioner repair, catalogues from companies I’d never heard of. A fishing lure catalogue caught my eye, and I flipped it open. Oh, yeah, just what I needed. A neon-yellow spinnerbait with a tandem blade configuration—whatever that was. Like you’d ever find me on a rocking boat in the middle of the lake. No way, no how. “You fish, don’t you, Lester? You’re welcome to this catalogue.”

“Don’t mind if I do.” He’d ambled over to another vendor’s consignment booth and bent to paw through a box of greasy, grimy tools. His knobby spine poked through his shirt like a row of nickel-plated pinballs. “Say, this looks handy.”

“Whatcha got there, Lester?”

He pulled out a big orange C-clamp. Or at least it used to be orange. Now it was mostly an icky shade of rust. “Side mirror on my truck’s loose. This’d just about do the trick, I’m thinkin’.” He turned it every which way and twisted the screw thingy a few times. “How much, Julie?”

“Make me an offer.”

“A buck-fifty?”

“Sold.” I keyed in the consignment code for Tom’s Tools & More and rang up the sale. I wrapped the clamp in a plastic bag and slid the fishing lure catalogue in beside it, then handed Lester our outgoing mail.

He tucked the envelopes into one of his mailbag pockets. “Oops, almost forgot your newspaper.”

“Thanks, Lester. The whole world would go to pot if I missed the latest edition of the
Caddo Pines Recorder
.” Usually four thin pages—eight at the most—the weekly publication promised everything you ever wanted to know, plus a lot you probably wished you didn’t, about the goings-on around our homey little town.

Lester headed on his way, and a few minutes later the rear door banged shut, followed by rustling sounds in the storeroom. Grandpa appeared with a broom and dustpan and joined me behind the counter. “Estate sale was a bust—already picked over. Anything important in the mail?”

“Nothing worth keeping. Mostly ads and catalogues.” I opened the
and smoothed out the creases. “And the paper.”

“What’s newsworthy in Caddo Pines this week?” Grandpa’s voice had a funny edge to it, like his mind was a million miles away.

“Let’s see, Lacy Jones won the Memorial Day chili cook-off, a deer wandered into the feed store and polished off half a bag of corn . . .” A headline at the lower right snagged my attention:
anniversary: Lake Hamilton regulars recall tragic drowning.
Gut clenching, I pushed the paper away. “How awful. Why would they rerun a story about a little girl who died?”

“Sells papers, I guess.” Grandpa snatched up the
and tossed it into the recycling bin beneath the counter, then swung his broom like he was beating out fires. “Time’s a-wastin’, Julie Pearl. Hadn’t you oughta get some work done around here?”

Now I knew for certain something was up with Grandpa. He never got this riled up without good reason. I snagged his arm and made him look at me. “You haven’t been yourself all weekend. Want to tell me what’s going on?”

“Must be the heat. Don’t bother your head about it.” Heaving a shrug, he shuffled back to the workroom to do who-knew-what.

My gaze darted toward the recycle bin, and I shuddered. Just as well Grandpa had tossed the
, because the way I felt about water, I sure didn’t care to read an article about a drowning victim. Instead, I got busy with the bookkeeping, then polished real and imaginary fingerprints off the display cases, inventoried cups and napkins in the snack bar, and refilled the Coke machine.

By mid-afternoon I’d grown so antsy and out of sorts that I took to rearranging coins in the cash register by the year of their mint. As I paused to admire my neat little stacks, the brass bells on the front door announced another visitor. I jumped about three feet off my barstool and sent a pile of pennies clattering across the counter. While my heartbeat backed off from hyper-drive, I swept up the pennies with my forearm and beamed a nervous smile toward a woman I’d never seen before. “Come on in, ma’am. Welcome to the Swap & Shop.”

The chic Jackie Onassis look-alike cast a bland smile my way and stepped inside. Maybe I was the only under-50 person on the planet who’d notice the resemblance, but just yesterday I’d sold a shrink-wrapped 1968
Time Magazine
with Jackie and Ari on the cover. Slender, thirty-something, and wearing a pale-yellow sundress, our new customer looked as rich as the late Jackie-O and just as mysterious behind wide tortoise-shell sunglasses.

I scooped up the pennies I’d been counting and dropped them into the cash drawer. “Looking for anything in particular, ma’am?” A breathy weariness stole the sincerity from my tone. Hopefully the woman wouldn’t notice.

“Just browsing.” She folded her sunglasses and dropped them into a butterfly-appliquéd tote draped across a bronzed forearm. Hmmm, tennis player? Or just hours beside her backyard pool paging through the latest issue of
? Although, considering all the hype about skin cancer these days, a tan like that probably came straight from a spray-on tanning salon. With a hefty price tag to boot.

Considering how my day had gone so far, I didn’t mind at all the distraction our new customer provided. I set my mind to pondering what exactly would prompt a snooty rich lady to bother stopping at our humble establishment. Probably just an interesting off-road diversion, which was how most of our non-local customers found us. It didn’t take much imagination to picture the lady arriving at her Little Rock mansion later and telling her husband, “Oh,
, I came upon the
resale shop on my way home from high tea with the racing commissioners at Oaklawn.”

Sneezy, our shop cat, wandered over from wherever he’d been snoozing all day and wound himself around the legs of my barstool. With a plaintive meow, he hopped on the counter and snuggled up to the cash register. I scratched him behind one notched ear. “Oh, well, she isn’t the first rich lady to cross our threshold
just browsing
, and she won’t be the last.”

I decided to let her wander on her own—that’s often the best approach for those aloof types. She certainly was attractive, trendy, obviously loaded. And tall. Which made me wonder if she might be the niece Mrs. Nelson told me about. Not much resemblance otherwise, but just like sweet Mrs. Nelson, this lady carried herself with the kind of poise and confidence I only dreamed about. I imagined men tripping over themselves to get a nod or smile from beneath her magnificent mane of thick, mahogany-colored hair. She didn’t look the type to be very free with her smiles, though.

And she definitely didn’t look like she belonged in a flea market.

Giving Sneezy a tickle behind his ears, I glanced down the aisle to see what Ms. Moneybags was up to. She looked away almost too quickly—had she been sizing me up, too?

More likely just making sure the mop-haired, hick-town flea market clerk wasn’t stalking her, ready to lay on a cheesy sales pitch if she so much as looked sideways at an item.

Grandpa came up beside me, broom and dustpan in hand. The worry lines around his eyes had eased some. I hoped it was a good sign. “New customer, eh? You keeping an eye on her?”

Kind of a mutual admiration society,
I didn’t say. “Said she’s just browsing.”

“Why don’t you show her the silver coffee service LeRoy just got in? First customer I’ve seen in a while who looks like she could afford it.” He nudged me off my barstool and moved it so he could sweep around me.

“You just swept here before lunch, Grandpa. I’m not that messy,” I said, then cringed when he swept up a couple of stray Lincolns having a tête-à-tête under the counter.

He slapped the pennies into my palm. “What else is an old man supposed to do when business is slow?”

In other words, Julie Pearl, quit ruminating and get to work.

“So you think Ms. Moneybags is the silver tea service type? Shoot, I’d be happy to sell her an heirloom china teacup to match her set of genuine Haviland from France.”

“Now, Julie—”

“Although she’d do a far sight better down the road at Maudine’s Antiques. Or the Park Plaza Mall in Little Rock.” I was on a roll and couldn’t stop myself. “Actually, she just oughta hop on her Lear jet and zip across the state line to Dallas. I hear they’ve got some fancy-schmancy stores at the Galleria.”

“That’s quite enough, young lady.” Grandpa leveled his index finger at my nose. “Remember what James has to say about the tongue. It’s ‘a restless evil, full of deadly poison.’ If you can’t say anything nice—”

“Don’t say anything at all. Sorry. Guess you and I are both a bit touchy today.”

“Then best we both work on our attitudes and go about our business.” Grandpa gave me a five-second massage between my shoulder blades before continuing his sweeping, and I loved him even more.

With a rasping sigh, I tracked down our customer as she exited LeRoy Tuttle’s booth carrying a pink “Cabbage Rose” Depression glass plate. “Need any help, ma’am?”

“No, thank you.” She gave me the once-over before swiveling in the opposite direction.

“Fine,” I mumbled, and strode to the front counter. So Grandpa wouldn’t pester me anymore, I got out the calculator and tried to look busy double-checking the weekend sales entries.

BOOK: Pearl of Great Price
7.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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