As promised, here is Part II of One Special Treasure, which I wrote at the inspiration of Janet Fearnley. If you’d like to catch up on Part I, here it is.
One Special Treasure
Gerard drew his forefinger across his chin. Then he said, ‘Listen, I wonder if I could ask you for a little help.’
‘If I can.’
‘Great! I don’t want to alarm anyone, but I am getting concerned about Jenna. Do you think you could ask around? You know, quietly? I’m afraid if I go barging into the meetings and so on, that I’ll just get everyone concerned. And probably for no reason at all.’
Amanda nodded her head. She was getting a little concerned, too. ‘Sure. I’ll see if anyone’s seen her.’
‘You’re an angel! Thanks!’ Gerard was gone before she could say anything else.
Amanda glanced at her watch: ten minutes to four. The hotel offered a Victorian/Edwardian-style tea every day from three-thirty to five o’clock. Hopefully Jenna would be there and this would all be cleared up. And if not, there might be someone there from the conference who could tell her where Jenna might be.
The tea room really was beautiful, with lace curtains, pale-green wall coverings, and cherry wood furniture. Even the tea services, dishes and cutlery were exactly right for the period. There were no name cards on the tables, so Amanda walked up to the nearest one. The only person sitting there was a man she remembered from her presentation. Thinning, sandy hair, clean-shaven, small, rimless glasses, narrow face. He smiled as she approached.
‘Mind if I join you?’
‘Please do. I was hoping to speak to you anyway. You gave a terrific presentation.’
‘I know your name – Amanda Sadler. Mine’s Greg Upham.’
‘Pleasure to meet you.’
They talked for a few minutes about Amanda’s presentation. Then Amanda glanced around and said, ‘Hmm, Jenna DeRoche isn’t here.’
‘And aren’t we all lucky for that!’
Amanda raised an eyebrow. ‘Not a fan?’
‘Nobody is. But you don’t need to hear about all of our dirty laundry. Let’s just say our next voting meeting will probably have some very interesting results.’
‘Have you seen her today?’
‘Jenna? No. Haven’t you?’
‘Well, I saw her this morning, but not since then.’
‘She’ll probably turn up later.’ Greg pulled a telephone out of his pocket and glanced at the time displayed on it. ‘Please excuse me. I need to go to the reception desk and check on a package I was expecting.’
‘No problem. Nice to have met you.’
They shook hands and Greg left.
Amanda took her last sip of tea, wiped her mouth, and got up to leave, too. As she crossed the lobby on the way to the next presentation, she noticed Greg at the reception desk, talking to the receptionist. Amanda saw that it was a different receptionist this time – a young man.
‘Are you sure?’ Greg was asking.
‘I’m sorry, but no packages have come for you.’
‘I don’t mean to be difficult, but would you check again? I was supposed to get a delivery from Special Treasures. It’s a bookstore. And, to be honest, it’s a rather valuable package.’
‘Of course.’ The young man looked around the desk, consulted a list, and looked around again. ‘I’m very sorry, sir, but there’s nothing for you.’
‘All right. I appreciate your checking. Could you let me know if it does arrive?’
‘Certainly. If you’ll just leave me your telephone number, I can be sure that you get a call as soon as it comes.’
Greg gave the number, thanked the receptionist and left.
Amanda swallowed once and then followed Greg. When she reached him, she said, ‘Look, I hope you don’t mind. I know I shouldn’t interfere. But I couldn’t help overhearing you mention a place called Special Treasures.’
‘Yes,’ Greg nodded. ‘I’ve had them looking for a first edition of one of Erle Stanley Gardner’s novels. There are a few he signed, and that’s what I’ve been trying to get. They called to say they’d gotten one in and would deliver it today as a special courtesy. Some courtesy!’
Amanda looked away and then back at Greg. ‘I’m not sure how to say this, or even if I’m right. But, well, remember I told you I saw Jenna DeRoche this morning?’
‘She was accepting delivery of a package. From Special Treasures. She could have been expecting her own package, but, well…’
Greg looked grimly at her. ‘I’m going to call them right now,’ he said as he pulled his telephone out of his pocket.
Five minutes later he completed the call. Amanda could tell by his facial expression that he’d gotten bad news.
‘We have to find Jenna,’ he snapped. ‘Now.’
It didn’t take long, especially with Gerard’s help, to establish that Jenna wasn’t in any of the public areas of the hotel. She wasn’t in her room, either, although she hadn’t checked out.
‘I hope she’s OK,’ Gerard said, after the third call to her room went unanswered. ‘Housekeeping went back up to her room – no luck. I’m just hoping nothing’s wrong.’
Amanda thought for a moment. ‘She didn’t say anything to you about going anywhere, did she?’
‘To me? No, not a word.’
‘She didn’t ask you about any places nearby or anything?’
Gerard shook his head. ‘We could ask the desk staff again. Perhaps she spoke to them.’
Amanda nodded. ‘I think that’s a good idea. I have a thought about where she might have gone.’
Five minutes later, they were at the reception desk. Meghan was on duty. ‘Well, she did ask if there were any estate appraisers around here. People who might know what a rare book might be worth.’
‘What did you tell her?’ Amanda asked.
‘I told her I didn’t know of any. Then she practically bit my head off and said she’d find one herself.’
‘That sounds like her,’ Gerard sighed.
Amanda turned to Gerard and Greg. ‘Give me a few minutes online. Maybe I can find a place – at least a starting point.’
Half an hour later, Amanda was in the lobby again, this time waiting for a cab. She watched as a late-afternoon mist turned into a steady shower, and was glad she wasn’t going to be walking. She turned as she heard a voice behind her.
‘Oh, hello, Greg. Yes, I think I’ve found the place I want.’
‘Mind if I tag along? I mean, it’s my book, after all. Well, I paid for it. I’d like to know what happened to it.’
‘Sure, I guess.’
Just then, the cab pulled up, leaving no more time for discussion.
Once they were seated, and Amanda had told the driver where they wanted to go, Greg asked her, ‘What made you think of this?’
‘If I got my hands on what might be a valuable book, the first thing I’d do would be to get it appraised. McGirk & Sons was the only collector/appraiser listed as reasonably close and open this evening. If Jenna went anywhere, it was probably there.’
‘That’s kind of a big leap, isn’t it? Are you sure this is a good idea?’
‘It might be a leap. But don’t you want your book back?’
Greg nodded and looked out the window at the rain streaming down the pane.
When they got to McGirk & Sons, Greg said, ‘Why don’t you wait in the cab and stay dry? I’ll just go in and ask.’
‘Oh, I’m way too curious now,’ Amanda replied. ‘I’m coming, too.’
‘You don’t have to.’
‘I know. I want to.’
Amanda paid the driver and they got out of the cab. Ducking their shoulders against the rain, they hurried to the door.
Inside, McGirk’s looked like a high-end antique shop. Amanda would have loved browsing for a while, but not now. She and Greg went up to the counter, where a heavy-set man with a white thatch of hair and a small moustache greeted them.
‘I’m Steve McGirk. Something I can show you?’
Greg started to open his mouth, but Amanda touched his arm as a warning. ‘A friend of mine stopped in here earlier today. She said you have some terrific rare editions. I’m a rare book curator, so I thought I’d take a look if you don’t mind.’
‘Absolutely. I’m afraid we don’t have much in right now, but we do get things in regularly, so you could always stop back.’
‘Thank you. My friend also said you give fair appraisals on books, too.’
‘We give very good prices, though I say it myself. Have you got something you’d like me to look at?’
‘Well, not right now. But she said she brought something to you earlier today. A signed Erle Stanley Gardner.’
‘Oh, yes, of course. I looked at it – it’s in terrific condition – and gave her what I thought was a very good price for it. She…didn’t agree with me and left.’
That sounded very much like Jenna, Amanda thought. ‘I won’t let that put me off,’ she said with a smile. ‘I’d still like to see what you’ve got.’
Greg shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot as Amanda and Steve looked at the books in McGirk’s small collection. Finally, he said, ‘We really ought to be getting back.’
‘Of course,’ Amanda said. Feeling a little guilty about making Greg wait so long and keeping Steve there until closing time, she paid for one book she’d found, and the two left the shop. By this time, the sky had cleared a little and the rain had stopped.
‘I’m so sorry,’ she said. ‘I really wish we’d found your book.’
‘It’s not your fault,’ Greg said. ‘Let’s just call for a cab.’
‘I think I see something. There, just around the corner.’ Before Greg could stop her, Amanda had gone down an alley. There, lying in a puddle, was a bracelet. It was one she’d seen Jenna wearing earlier that day. She straightened up and looked around. There were some trash bins along the alley, but little else. Then she got an idea and walked towards the bins. There was something poking out from behind them. Something that looked like the tip of a shoe.
She’d gotten about halfway there when her arm was gripped and twisted behind her. Before she could scream, she felt a hand over her mouth. ‘Just shut up,’ Greg’s voice hissed. ‘Don’t say a word.’
For a moment Amanda stood quietly. Then, as hard as she could, she grabbed the little finger of the hand clapped over her mouth and pulled down. Greg cursed as the pain hit him, and lost concentration just long enough for Amanda to run.
Five minutes later, she was pounding on the door of McGirk’s. Steve saw her facial expression and unlocked the door to let her in. She gasped her thanks and then used her telephone to call the police. When she’d finished, she slumped in the seat Steve had pulled over for her.
Two hours later, Amanda sat with Gerard in his private corner of the hotel lounge. He pushed a warm brandy over to her, saying, ‘It’s on the house. You need this.’
She nodded gratefully and took a sip, then another. They sat silently for a few minutes as she started to feel the brandy warm her insides.
Gerard finally said, ‘I hope it wasn’t too bad – at the police station.’
‘No, actually they were very nice. And my guess is, it won’t take them long to find Greg.’
‘I hope not. And…Jenna?’
Amanda’s face paled. ‘She’s dead, I’m afraid. They said that her – she was found behind the trash cans in the alley.’
‘Oh, my God, that’s awful!’
‘It is.’ Amanda took another sip of her brandy.
‘So,’ Gerard took a moment to choose his words. ‘They think it was Greg?’
Amanda nodded. ‘I can’t say for sure, but here’s what I think. He found out Jenna got that package. He followed her to McGirk’s, and when she left, he tried to get the book from her. She wouldn’t give it to him, and, well, he lost it. They think she was strangled. Then later, he faked that scene at the reception desk. That way nobody would know he had already found out about the book.’ She took another drink.
‘You were lucky, you know. It could have been you, too.’
Two mornings later, Amanda finished her packing and got ready to check out of the hotel. Gerard, God bless him, had moved her to the Royal Suite, so she’d had sumptuous quarters. She hadn’t slept very well, but she was hoping that would pass. It helped that the Victim’s Advocate Office from the police department had called yesterday to tell her they’d caught Greg. She zipped her suitcase up, looked around the suite one more time, and then wheeled the suitcase to the door, putting her handbag over her shoulder as she did so.
As she checked out, another woman came up to her. ‘Excuse me, you’re Amanda Sadler, right?’
‘I’m Marcelle Loughlin. I’m sort of managing things with the Rare Book Society until we get a new President.’
‘I don’t envy you.’
‘It’s difficult, that’s for sure. Anyway, I was wondering…you gave such an interesting talk. I hope you’ll join us next year?’
‘Thank you. That’s a kind offer. Erm…can I let you know?’