"Wow! I can't believe it!" Gretchen said, her pretty green eyes fixed on her computer monitor. "That's Bobby Jordan." She lowered her voice to a near-whisper, and I knew the juicy part was coming. "Riley's not in the photo." She looked at me, her eyes round. "Bobby's holding Ruby Bowers's hand."
I knew I shouldn't look at the photograph. I didn't want to contribute to the already rampant rumors that Bobby and Riley Jordan's marriage was on the rocks. As I neatened a pile of antiques-themed magazines, tapping the bottom edges to square them up, I told myself to walk away, just walk away. Instead, I found myself rationalizing looking. The photo was, after all, on a public Web site, and I didn't see how taking a quick peek could do any harm. It wasn't as if I were peeping into someone's bedroom, after all. Curiosity and discretion warred inside me, and curiosity won.
The photo was just as Gretchen described.
I shrugged, feigning a lack of interest. "Maybe Riley's just out of the shot," I said.
"I suppose … or maybe she's in the ladies' room." Gretchen stared at the photo for a moment longer, then turned to face me. "Do you think they're…"
I didn't know how to respond.
Bobby Jordan was the founder of the trendy Rocky Point–based, blue-themed restaurant chain, and since he was as charismatic as he was handsome, his occasional TV appearances had opened a floodgate of work and social opportunities. Within a year, he'd become one of the most recognizable celebrity chefs in the world. He was also a former Olympic biathlon medal winner—and the grandson of Babs Miller, one of America's sweethearts, an Olympic figure skating champion in the 1930s and one of the first female graduates of Hitchens University. Bobby's flagship restaurant, the Blue Dolphin, was my favorite hangout.
Riley, his wife of seven years, was more reserved. She exuded ladylike elegance. If there had been a New Hampshire Best Dressed List, she'd have been at the top. She was also a serious collector of vintage clothing and had recently started a small consulting business advising museums and individuals on how to build their twentieth-century designer clothing collections. Her book, Collecting Vintage Clothing, had brought her instantaneous acclaim in the fashion world.
During my first year in Rocky Point, I'd heard Riley speak at the Rocky Point Woman's Club. Her topic had been "Letting Your Passion Drive Your Collecting." She'd focused on her own favorite collectibles, vintage clothing, specifically the sexy and glamorous gowns designed by Bob Mackie and the practical and stylish separates designed by Claire McCardell, the groundbreaking inventor of "ready-to-wear" fashion. I'd been transfixed. Not only had Riley's presentation been filled with insider stories, she'd been a terrific speaker: energetic, accessible, and informative. I could trace my fascination with vintage clothing to Riley's fun and inspiring program.
Bobby and Riley Jordan were a golden couple, and it was awful to think that their relationship was unraveling.
I looked at the photo again. Ruby Bowers was a bona fide A-list movie star. She was tall and ethereal, in her early thirties and single, and her comings and goings were constant fodder for the gossip magazines. I knew this because Gretchen, the first employee I'd hired when I opened Prescott's Antiques & Auctions six years earlier, had an addiction to celebrity gossip and chattered about her all the time. In this shot, Ruby was wearing Versace. Bobby's tux had been tailored by a pro.
It wasn't the first time Ruby's name had been connected to Bobby's. Lurid headlines in cheesy tabloids had become the norm. According to Riley there was nothing to it but a publicity stunt that seemed to be working. Ruby had started frequenting Bobby's New York City Blue Apple restaurant last fall, and he, a smart and ambitious businessman, had leveraged their burgeoning friendship into priceless publicity. Ditto for Ruby. Occasionally, Riley tagged along on their outings, but as Riley had explained to me over lunch a month earlier, whereas Bobby was in his element smiling for the paparazzi and waving to Ruby's fans, she hated being in the spotlight. Other rumors swirled around Bobby, too, and not just about his alleged affairs. One gossip column Gretchen had told me about speculated that his newfound fame had gone to his head, that with his jet-setting lifestyle and aggressive expansion plans, he was nearly broke.
I sighed, still staring at the photograph of Bobby, with his chiseled features facing the camera, his eyes alight with pleasure, and Ruby, larger than life and as magnificent as always, in her shimmering gold lamé gown, flashing a radiant, Botox-enhanced smile.
Gretchen was waiting for me to speak. I didn't want to add fuel to the already smoldering fire, and I didn't want the rumors to be true. Bobby and Riley were good customers and good friends. I liked them both—a lot. Plus, I'd been in grammar school when I'd learned that there was no upside to gossip.
I smiled at Gretchen and shrugged. "I'm sure their holding hands is completely innocent," I said. "Bobby's in chef-to-the-stars mode, so it makes sense he'd be hanging out with a movie star like Ruby Bowers at some tony Broadway opening party."
"Maybe," Gretchen said, gazing at the screen.
I could tell from her tone that she didn't for a minute believe it.
Neither did I.
Just last week, I'd asked my boyfriend, Ty Alverez—the former Rocky Point police chief and a current training manager for Homeland Security—what he thought about their alleged affair. He'd smiled at me, a private, just-for-me smile that started in his eyes.
"I think Bobby's insane to be messing around with an empty gown like Ruby," he said, "but that's because compared to you, she's nothing but a pretty face. I don't know what Bobby thinks of Riley. Maybe in his mind, Ruby's a hot ticket."
I'd leaned my head against Ty's shoulder and smiled, luxuriating in the knowledge that the man of my dreams wanted me above all others, including a gorgeous-to-the-max movie star.
I shook off the memory and picked up a copy of Riley's book from the stack on Gretchen's desk.
"How many copies did you get?" I asked Gretchen, consciously changing the subject.
"A dozen," she replied. "I figure that whatever doesn't sell at tomorrow's class will sell in the boutique. I thought I'd put up a display by the cash register."
"Good thinking!" I said, pleased at her initiative.
Gretchen had started as a receptionist when I'd opened Prescott's. She'd moved up to chief cashier and administrative manager, and in the last month, she'd taken on a major new responsibility—managing one of our two newest ventures, the small boutique we'd added called Prescott's Vintage Fashions. I'd opened it after I'd purchased the entire inventory of a Manhattan consignment shop. The owner, a woman named Lana whom I'd known since my days working in the city, had called last fall saying she wanted to retire and move to the Bahamas. She'd made me an offer I couldn't refuse, and overnight, we were in the vintage clothing business.
I was taking care of the other new undertaking myself—a workshop series. "Prescott's Antiques & Collectibles: How to Build a Great Vintage Clothing Collection." Tomorrow evening's class, the third in the series, was scheduled to cover shoes and handbags, and I'd invited Riley to co-facilitate. I was thrilled that she'd accepted my offer, and I hoped her book would sell like hotcakes.
"I wish I could take credit," Gretchen said, laughing, "but it was Ava's idea!" She nodded at Ava Marlow, our new intern, a graduate student at nearby Hitchens University.
"Kudos to Ava, then," I replied, smiling at her, then turning back to Gretchen, "but managing a team takes talent, too, so you get credit as well."
"Thanks!" Gretchen said, her expressive eyes sparkling at the compliment.
"Speaking of a team effort," Ava said, standing up and stretching, "cataloguing Prescott's incredible vintage clothing collection makes a girl hungry! I'm going to run over to Westil's Deli. Can I bring anyone anything?"
Ava, in her midtwenties, was a little taller than me, about five-three or so, with platinum blond hair styled in an angle-cut bob and intelligent, dark brown eyes. Not only was she smart and a quick learner, she was innately curious, a must-have quality for an antiques appraiser. She researched carefully, wrote well, and chatted with customers with ease. She also had a terrific work ethic. In addition to attending grad school full-time and interning part-time for us, she spent most of her weekends waitressing at the Blue Dolphin for extra money—and she sewed her own clothes to boot. Today she wore a dark orange raw silk sheath with a brown nubby silk jacket. Her only jewelry was a long, heavy silver link chain that disappeared under her dress. She looked like a million bucks. I was already formulating plans to offer her a full-time job when she graduated.
We all said no, thank you, we didn't want anything. She slipped in her iPod earphones and left, setting the wind chimes Gretchen had hung on the door shortly after we opened tinkling.
I watched as she strolled across the parking lot toward her car, then glanced into the woods, eager for signs of spring. It was only April, too early to realistically expect warm days in New Hampshire, but I was tired of what had been an especially bitter winter. This year's snowfall had shattered all previous records. Adding insult to injury, forecasters were predicting that an overnight storm would add at least another dusting.
"Look!" I said, pointing to a spot near the street. "The forsythia is about to bloom! I see dots of yellow."
"Finally!" Gretchen said, marking the end of her lunch hour by closing the Web site where she'd found Bobby and Ruby's photo. She joined me at the window. "Well, would you look at that?" She pointed to a scruffy-looking silvery gray and beige long-haired cat sauntering through the parking lot. An innate caretaker, she frowned as she watched the cat meander toward our building. "Do you think he's lost? He must be, poor thing. There are no houses nearby."
"Lost or homeless," I said. "Can you tell if he's wearing a collar?" From his sturdy physique, I thought the cat was probably a male.
"No," she said, following his progress until he passed out of sight, heading, it seemed, for the tag sale venue.
"I'll go see," she said.
"I'll come with you."
The cat was sitting behind a bush near the corner of the building. As we approached, he came to meet us. Without hesitation, he rubbed up against my blue-jean-clad leg and mewed, then walked to Gretchen and mewed again. Little tufts of fur grew on the tips of his ears and in between his paw pads. His tail was as bushy as a squirrel's.
"No collar," I said. The cat looked up at me. "He needs a good brushing, but he's very handsome, isn't he?"
"Yes." She watched him for a moment. "He seems friendly. Maybe I'll put out a little bowl of water for him in case he's thirsty."
"Okay—and why don't you ask Eric if he's seen him around?" I suggested. Among Eric's responsibilities as facilities manager was caring for the grounds. "Also, you could call the animal shelter and see if anyone's reported a handsome silver-colored long-haired cat missing."
"Good idea," she agreed.
Inside again, I watched as Gretchen made the calls. Eric had never seen the cat before, and no one had reported him missing.
"He's just a little wanderer," I said.
"I'm sorry to bother you, Josie." Sasha, my chief appraiser, said as Gretchen stepped outside with the water bowl. "Do you have a minute?"
Sasha was quiet and self-effacing most of the time. Only when talking about antiques and art did she become animated and confident.
I zigzagged around a welter of ladies' handbags, purses, and totes covering most of the floor from her desk clear across the room to the guest table. I recognized a black caviar leather Chanel shoulder bag in a quilt pattern, a bamboo-handled patent leather Gucci handbag, and a red-and-white-striped Capezio tote.
If Sasha could authenticate them, and they were in as good shape as they appeared to be, some of them were real finds. The Chanel would sell for around four hundred dollars, and the Gucci would fetch almost a thousand. The Capezio wasn't rare, but it would thrill someone who had just the right outfit to match. Probably it would sell for around fifty dollars. To a stranger, the jumble of bags might appear haphazardly arranged, but knowing Sasha as I did, I was certain there was a method to her madness.
"We found this beautiful Pucci purse at the bottom of one of the boxes," she said, holding it up. "I thought you might want to add it to tomorrow's examples."
"Wow!" The psychedelic pink and orange swirl-patterned purse nearly glowed, the colors were so effervescent. It looked to be in new or near-new condition. "Gotta love the sixties! Too bad we don't have the go-go boots to go with it!"
"I remember go-go boots!" our grandmotherly receptionist, Cara, exclaimed. Cara wore her wavy white hair short. With her round cheerful face and rosy complexion, both the color and the style suited her. "I had a pair! I loved those boots."
"I bet you looked great in them," I said. To Sasha, I remarked, "It's in terrific condition, isn't it?"
"Yes. I doubt it's ever been used. I'm thinking it's worth between five and six hundred dollars."
"What's worth that much?" Gretchen asked as she stepped back inside.
"This Pucci purse," Sasha replied.
"We were wishing we had some go-go boots," I added. "It would have been fun to show the pairing at tomorrow's workshop."
"I guess you'll just have to make do with those gorgeous Christian Dior pumps!" Gretchen said, pointing to the workshop handouts that sat on her desk next to Riley's book.
The cover photo showed the open-toe Dior pumps. They were classically styled with see-through heavy-duty plastic uppers, embellished with navy blue leather trim. Even from a photo, you could tell that they were beautifully crafted.
"You're right—we'll just have to power through somehow," I said, smiling.
"While we're on the subject of gorgeous accessories, I have a question," Gretchen said. "How come these shoes are more than double the price of those Italian turquoise suede and copper metallic ones? They're beautiful, too."
"Good question," Sasha said, in her element. "The Italian shoes are lovely and well constructed, and they're unusual, all of which add value, but the brand isn't as famous or as desirable as Dior. Also, the Diors are made primarily of plastic, a perishable material. Over the years it dries out and cracks."
Gretchen nodded. "Got it! Supply and demand. So the Italian pumps appraise at four hundred dollars, while the Diors go for nearly nine hundred."
"The way of the world," Sasha said.
"And the bane of an antiques dealer's existence!" I remarked, thinking that I didn't need to add what we all knew—it was way harder to find good-quality antiques than it was to sell them. I swept my arm toward the various bags and purses littering the floor. "What's your plan for all of this?"
"If they're on the floor, they're in our database. I've asked Eric to move them all to the warehouse. I'm just trying to create a basic inventory at this point."
"Sounds smart," I replied. I pushed open the door to the warehouse, thinking how lucky Prescott's was to have Sasha at the antiques appraisal reins.
* * *
My footsteps echoed as I walked across the cavernous concrete space en route to my private office on the mezzanine level. No one was working at the tables that ranged around the perimeter, so the lighting was dim. Orderly shelves of inventory covered half the space. Most of the other half was cordoned off, separating the various lots of consignment goods waiting for appraising or sale.
I hoped the rumors about Bobby and other women weren't true. Why, I wondered, not for the first time, do people risk everything for a moment or two of transitory pleasure? It made no sense to me, but I knew enough about the world to know that sense wasn't what drove people to cheat.
Riley was loyal, rich, supportive, and fun, but she was also highly private. You always hear how it's the quiet ones who do the most damage if and when they lose it, and Riley was one of the most self-contained people I knew. I had a bad feeling. If Bobby was seeing Ruby, there was a chance he was playing with fire. If I were Bobby, and if the rumors were true, I'd be looking over my shoulder for sure.
Copyright © 2011 by Jane K. Cleland