Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Clean Out

It was another beautiful morning. Yeah, right. Even after all the of coffee, I was annoyed at being up. How did I get talked into it? I let someone else buy the drinks and I needed the bread. It had been a while since I got fired off my last gig and I still needed to make rent. But cleaning out some dead dame's house? It's creepy, you know? What if she...uh...didn't leave? Jerry said it was easy work and in a nice neighborhood and they would be expecting me. It took two more beers before I said yes.I left the bar with a real uneasy feeling.

I check the address on my phone. Yeah, nice enough neighborhood.I take my time driving over. I even stopped to have breakfast. I almost bailed drinking my third cup of coffee, but it was a hundred bucks. Dragging myself back out to the truck, I went on.

The subdivision was frozen in time. Ticky-tacky starter boxes in various states of disrepair. There was nobody to fix them after the kids went to University, I suppose. The dead lady's house was about halfway down the main street. It was nice enough, a white ranch with pink trim. A dusty Lincoln in the garage hadn't moved in years, but the lawn was neat as a pin. Probably used a yard service. I asked for Nancy like I was told and was pointed to this black girl in the dining room who was surrounded with boxes. She told me their company, Precious Estates, had been contracted to clean out and auction the contents of the home and this woman had been seriously into glass.

She wasn't kidding. I've done a bit of trading, both legal and illegal, in collectibles over the years. But the amount and variety of material amazed me. There was crystal goblet sets, colored cut glass, blown figurines, and other stuff I had never seen before. Some of it had to be valuable, and could be fenced for a quick buck. I tucked the thought away for later. This was supposed to be a one day gig, but if it went further, a little five fingered discount might well be worth looking into. I mean, the lady is dead, right? It's not like anybody is going to miss something.

One by one, I fed her assembly line to her as while she gave me the rundown on the job. The owner was a Mrs. Jennie Lou Mabry, a widow. She and her late husband had bought the house new in early 1960's, and lived happily together until he died about ten years ago. They raised four children: William, who was an lawyer and executor of the estate; Paul, a recently divorced engineer who was drunk for their meeting; Jason, who looked homeless; and Amelia, who looked like some kind of butch musician.

Nancy seemed relieved to have someone to listen to her complaints. In ten years of being in the estate liquidation business, she hadn't dealt with a group quite like this one. Each of the kids would interrupt each other constantly. t was obvious there was no love or trust for William and they felt he was trying to milk the estate. It was all she could do to get through the initial meeting and get the group out of the house so she could work.

According to William, Miz Jennie (as they called her) had been collecting glass since she was a kid in the Depression.William, Sr., the father, would just shrug off each purchase as a quirk. If she was happy, he was happy. After the father's  death, the kids made a few attempts to convince Miz Jennie to sell, but she would pitch fits. Apparently a more than a few pieces were thrown at William's head over the years, since he was the one who wanted it gone the most.

Yeah, I thought. Get it sold and pocket the money. Maybe I shouldn't be judging, since I haven't met the guy. But I've seen my share of greedy kids before. I would have been one, too, if my mom had had any money. But there ain't any money in being a maid, so I had to scrap for my own.

The conversation made the work light and in about an hour, we had packed up all the boxes in the living room. I was sweeping up the debris whebn Nancy mentioned there were a few more boxes left in the attic. If I got them, I could take the rest of the day off with the full pay. That sounded good to me. The ceiling door was half way down the hall toward the bedrooms. With a tug, the door opened and I climbed up.

The blast of heat about knocked me off the ladder when I reached the top.The area was empty except for a stack of three boxes tucked in an eave. I had to stoop  keep from hitting my head on a rafter, But they slid easy enough on the plywood floor. Before going back down, I decided to see if there was anything in them worth my while.

The first box was plain white, but the contents weren't. Inside was a matched set of six Tiffany Christmas tree ornaments, made from high grade crystal. The family names had been engraved with what looked like a diamond tool. They must have cost a fortune new. Mom and Dad's were probably a wedding present and the kid's acquired as each came into the world. A very traditional act for families with aspirations. They would be more valuable were unmarked, though. Too easy to trace.

In the next box was a pretty copper green cut vase, probably from the 1940's. It looked mass produced, but it was clear with no chips. There was  market, but it was slow and steady. Might bring me fifty, but it was too big to move comfortably with Nancy here.

The last one was a mix of Hummel and Swarovski pieces. Much better for what I want. At least two of visible ones were worth $500 retail, my take would be about a quarter. I'll stash it downstairs somewhere, there should be a way to sneak it out. I make my way back down to Nancy. On impulse, I leave the Tiffany with the Hummel in the hall next to the front door, a back up plan if the box upstairs doesn't work out.

Just as I set the boxes down, a short woman with buzz cut black hair and blood in her eyes blows through the front door. Kind of short, she smelled like vodka and wore a nondescript flowered dress. Seeing me holding one of the boxes, she turned to Nancy.

"Why are you people still here? I told you my brother fired you." Then pointing at me  "And who is this...scuzzball?"

Without missing a beat, Nancy sighed.

"Miss Mabry, your brother as Executor to Miz Jennie's estate personally hired us. As I told you before, the contract is with him. If he wants to let us go, he will need to do it personally."

That put gas to the fire. The crazed woman picked up one of the Tiffany balls out of the box.

"Are you calling me a liar, Witch?"

Before either one of could say anything, the ball starts flying toward my head. I reached for it, but it bounced off my hand and shattered on the mahogany sideboard behind me. Buzz Cut then grabbed the copper vase and reared back like the starting pitcher for the Yankee's.

"Get out, all of you! I'm calling the Police."

Just then, two men ran in, one tall and gaunt and the other kind of disheveled. The smell of Bloddy Marys became prominent. Mr.Gauant caught the woman's upraised arm and Mr. Disheveled plucked the endangered vase from her and put it gently on the sideboard. Together they guided Buzz Cut to a chair.

"Jason, go get some water."

Disheveled disappeared stage left to the kitchen.

" Amy! What are you doing? We talked about this at lunch and agreed to wait for Will."

"I don't care, Paul! These...thieves are carting away Mommy's treasures."

"No, they are not. This is only a packing and inventory. We gave you several chances to pick out the ones you wanted and you never would do it. It is time to finish this up."

Coming back in the room with a plastic cup somehow got missed it the packing process, Disheveled spoke up.

"And besides, Sis, The museum was going to pay a lot of money for those christmas ornaments."

Nancy and I stared back is shock, while Amy slumped dejectedly in the chair. I couldn't stop myself.

"You mean the like the one that just flew past my head?"

Paul and Jason looked down at Amy. The question came out in stereo.

"Which one?"

The enormity of hit her. Her eyes grew wide.

"I don't know. I just grabbed one."

"Oh, crap. Mom always said..."

The three crazed kids went to the box and began to dig. Old Gaunt brought out his phone and hit a button. Fidgeting as he waited, the speaker got turned on and soon a soothing low voice said.

"You have reached the office of William J Mabry, attorney at Law. No one is available to take your call right now, please leave your name, phone and case number and I will get back to you shortly...beeep."

"Will, where are you? Get over to the house as soon as you can."

He clicked off, looking terrified, he turned to Nancy.

"That set of crystal ornaments were not from Tiffany's, even though they look like it. The story Mom told us she had them made in some Gypsy shop in New York after Amy was born as kind of a Thanksgiving. She was premature, but came out without a lot of complications. They were expensive and we had plenty of Christmas stuff, but like always Dad just shrugged. All he cared about was Mom being happy."

"There was dispute over the price when they got picked up. Mom stuck to her guns and got them for the price she wanted. But before she left, the owner, a Gypsy Woman that put a curse on the ornaments where if a one of them broke, the person named would die."

Tears began to well up in Buzz Cut's eyes.

"I didn't mean to break WIll. You know I didn't."

"Oh, calm down, Sis. That was some tale Mom concocted to keep us from killing each other. I'm sure Will is alright. He's just away from his phone."

Nancy and I looked at each other. I wasn't taking anything home from this gig. This family was nuts and they probably would find some way to move that so called curse to me.

Mr. Gaunt's phone chirped.

"Hello? Yes, this is Paul Mabry... Is he all right?" His eyes became glassy." Yes. Yes. We'll be right down."

"That was St. Joseph's Hospital. Will was just brought in. The lady wouldn't say much, but said we need to get there right away."

The three siblings blew out the door with the same speed they had blown in. The house was silent for a full minute. I picked up the green vase and handed to her and she mechanically put it in its waiting box and taped it. Then we walked out the door, locking it behind us. Anything else could be done by someone else.

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