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by Switch
Rated: E · Draft · Mystery · #1924771
This is the rough draft beginning of a short story.First attempt at mystery/suspense.
         How is a Raven like a writing desk?, the old riddle tumbled into Emily Harris’ brain as she shifted some blue-and-white china inside a sideboard. The desk was small, wooden with some decorative carvings. It seemed a little grimy, maybe it had been in an attic or a basement, but she thought it would clean up very nicely.  It had a hinged lid and a small groove, probably for a pencil or a pen, and hole, for an inkwell. It was old, a little shabby, and exactly the perfect piece for Emily. She fell in love amongst the china and tchotchkes.
         The shop was darker inside than it seemed like it should be. The tables were cheek-by-jowl down the makeshift aisles, but they were crowded with treasures. A table full of old radios, a bookshelf that held vases by the dozens. The glass display cases were filled with antique costume jewelry that sparkled in the light.
         “Hello?” Emily called into the back checkout area. There didn’t seem to be a clerk or a salesperson. A few muffled thumps from behind the counter said she wasn’t alone.
         “Be right with you! ”, the voice was high, a little sing-song. The tiny person who came out of the back room was in her 50s, with salt-and-pepper hair, tied back in a ribbon that matched her blue eyes. She wore a pair of capris and a tunic-length sweater that were currently decorated with smears of dust. She brushed and flicked as much of the debris as she could and smiled at Emily.
         “There, now, aren’t I a sight? How are you this morning? All ready to check out?” Emily placed the writing desk on the counter. The clerk adjusted bifocals on her nose as she examined the piece, looking at the handwritted price tag on the back.
         “Can you tell me anything about this piece?” Emily asked. For her, the history of the pieces were as interesting as the pieces themselves. Her mother, who helped Emily begin her collection hobby, always said that buying an antique was like buying a story. Everything came from somewhere.
         The shopkeeper examined the tag and then consulted a file that she pulled from a drawer.
         “Yes, this piece came from the estate of Lorna Davis, her Cape Cod estate. You know her, dear, she was quite a famous actress in her days. Disappeared after a big shindig at her house, very sad. Eventually they had her declared dead and her estate was liquidated by her husband and children. I bought this from an auction house that had acquired many of her things.”
         “When did all this happen? I mean, did she disappear recently?” Emily searched her memory for any news item she may have heard or seen about the actress.
         “Oh my no, honey. This would have been in the early 1950s, she was missing for almost 10 years before she was declared legally dead. They had hoped that she would be found, you see. This piece had been bought and sold a few times before I got it, which was probably a year ago. It’s really very beautiful, isn’t it?” 
         “Yes. I have a little library room at home, and I think it would be perfect for it. I have a small collection of antique pens, inkwells and things.”
         “Well, this ought to round out your collection beautifully. That’ll be $50 dollars, dear,” the clerk smiled at Emily over her glasses.
         Emily paid for the desk and waited while it was wrapped and bagged. She sailed out of the shop and into the June sunshine of Crystal Cove, humming a little song as she headed back to her rental cottage.
         The rain poured down as she pulled into the driveway of her tiny cottage in Prescott, New Hampshire. She frowned up at the leaden skies of the summer thunderstorm as she debated the best way to get her luggage inside, hopefully without becoming drenched in the process. She decided there was no hope for it, she was just going to have to stand the rain. She dashed from her car to the door, digging for the keys as she ran.
         Wetter than she’d like to have been, she hauled the last suitcase into the house and leaned against the door to close it. She really, really hoped there was something in the kitchen to eat, because there was absolutely no way she was going back out in that mess. She began to make her way to her bedroom at the back of the house, down the narrow hallway. Cringing each time she bumped the plaster walls with a suitcase, she promised herself that next trip, she would not take 3 suitcases. It was beyond ridiculous that any one woman would need that much for one week at the beach. But, she thought, the last bag is mostly taken up with the writing desk and it’s wrapping.
         She opened the suitcase that contained the desk, eager to look at it further and put it in her library with her other pieces. She grabbed the shopping bag that the piece was in and went down the hall to what she, rather comically, called her library. It was a room the size of a large closet and so was too small for a spare room, but it did nicely once she’d painted it a warm green and lined it with bookshelves and a small desk. By the window there was a fat club chair in a pretty taupe damask and an ottoman, with a standing lamp just to the side. It was her happy place. When she was blue or stressed, this little nook was the perfect place to curl up with a book and forget her worries for a while.
Unwrapping the desk, she turned on the lamp by the window for the extra light. It was a little dusty, a little grungy. But she had some furniture oil soap that would set that right. She lifted the hinged lid of the desk, checking for any maker’s marks that would tell her who made the piece. Not seeing anything, she ran her fingers around the inside of the case, pausing when she came to an odd sort of groove in the bottom. She held it to the light to see what her fingers had felt, worried there was a crack in it. In the crease, where the bottom joined the side of the case, almost hidden within the grain of the wood was a small groove. She tried to wedge her fingertips in to no avail but a short search of the desk drawers found her a letter opener she thought would work. Hoping she wasn’t about to ruin a fifty dollar investment, she slid the tip of the opener and tried to lever the bottom up. To her surprise, it lifted an inch. She could get her hands in there now, she tugged, but it wasn’t going to be easy. She gave a harder tug and the bottom slowly pulled out.
Inside, the desk was lined in black velvet, like what you would find in a jeweler’s display. One corner though, looked as though it weren’t quite tacked down. She tugged the corner and her jaw dropped. Under the cloth, probably to keep them from making any noise, was a pair of stunning, elaborate earrings!
Emily pulled them out of the box, pausing only to put the box on the floor. They were silver, bright with no sign of tarnish, in a beautiful Art Nouveau style, with gemstones worked into it. The stones were clear, and blue and green, quite beautifully cut. Emily turned them over and over in her hands, looking for marks to indicate the silver quality. She didn’t see any numbers, but did see what looked like some tiny letters on the backs of the earrings. I’ll take it to an expert tomorrow, she told herself. For now, she would put the jewels in her box and work on cleaning up the writing desk.
The desk was clean, the bottom replaced neatly, and now had pride of place on her bookshelf. She had eaten some soup around midnight, turned off the lights and gone to bed with a happy smile.
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