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A String of Murder

Whenever Laura, a young antique appraiser, handles an object, she sees strings: the heightened emotional episodes that people leave behind. Laura’s best friend, Carol, is dating Travis Dyner, a respected sportscaster. When Laura bumps into him, she sees the strings of twenty-three murdered women on his knife. Laura must get the police to believe in her psychic abilities before Carol, or even herself, becomes his next victim.

Age Rating: 18+

 

A String of Murder by SJ Wilke is now available to read on the Galatea app! Read the first two chapters below, or download Galatea for the full experience.

 


 

The app has received recognition from BBC, Forbes and The Guardian for being the hottest app for explosive new Mystery, Thriller & Suspense novels.
Ali Albazaz, Founder and CEO of Inkitt, on BBC The Five-Month-Old Storytelling App Galatea Is Already A Multimillion-Dollar Business Paulo Coelho tells readers: buy my book after you've read it – if you liked it

Read the full uncensored books on the Galatea iOS app!

1

Summary

Whenever Laura, a young antique appraiser, handles an object, she sees strings: the heightened emotional episodes that people leave behind. Laura’s best friend, Carol, is dating Travis Dyner, a respected sportscaster. When Laura bumps into him, she sees the strings of twenty-three murdered women on his knife. Laura must get the police to believe in her psychic abilities before Carol, or even herself, becomes his next victim.

Age Rating: 18+

Original Author: SJ Wilke

“I don’t see dead people,” Laura said to Carol, her best friend. They were sitting across from each other in a downtown café.

“Okay, okay. You see strings. But at the end of those strings are dead people. So, you see my logic?” Carol said, fiddling with the straw in her soda.

“But, I don’t see dead people. Attached to those strings are memories, not dead people,” Laura said. She wanted to laugh at Carol, but she didn’t. Anybody who did know about her ability didn’t understand.

She didn’t think of her psychic ability as a gift. In fact, it wasn’t until her high school years, gossiping with friends about boys, love, sex, and life, that she realized she was even different.

Until then, she thought everyone saw strings.

Carol shifted in her chair, thinking. She was a brunette with hazel eyes and more than a couple of pounds toward the chunky side. Laura liked her because she didn’t think too deep and loved to laugh and be happy.

The strings that Laura saw didn’t always lead to happy endings, so she preferred to hang around happy people.

Carol laughed, showing she wasn’t going to go any further with the discussion.

“I got a good chance at that promotion at work,” Carol said, squirming in her chair with excitement.

“Excellent,” Laura said with a smile before sipping her soda.

She was blue-eyed with dirty blond, shoulder-length hair, a bit above average height and slender but not skinny, a combination which made her think she didn’t stand out in a crowd.

Even the strings didn’t make her stand out. She disguised her ability with her interest in antiques and history.

When people grew attached to or experienced a traumatic event with an object, they left a string attached to that object.

Laura could see and read those strings. Most antiques had strings attached, so what better occupation to be than an antique appraiser.

Table number two by the window in the Bordeau café was her office. The café was new. New building, new décor, new everything.

That meant few to no strings. Sort of like the difference between a room with a hundred TVs, all on different channels, and a room with no TVs.

“Well, I told a friend you’d tell her future,” Carol said with nonchalance.

“I don’t tell futures,” Laura said, shaking her head.

She’d known Carol since middle school, but only in the last year had Carol found out about strings. Carol found strings a hard concept to grasp.

“Well, just tell her something, like you always tell people,” Carol said in a casual manner.

“So I take it we’re having a guest,” Laura said with resignation. “I should start charging you, you know.”

Carol smiled in a shy, oops-like manner.

“What if there isn’t anything to say?” Laura said with a shrug.

“Oh, here she is. Marcie. Over here,” Carol said, beckoning to a woman who stood at the edge of the café looking it over.

Laura didn’t need a string to understand this woman. Her posture reeked of insecurity. Her shoulders drooped inward as she huddled herself within her jacket, even though it was a warm day.

She wore neutral colors in an attempt to be invisible, but she had beautiful large eyes that stood out against clear olive skin. There was one string, but Laura couldn’t read it just yet.

“Hi Carol,” Marcie said in a meek, quiet voice.

“Marcie. Sit. Can I order you something?” Carol said, being way too animated for Marcie, who looked embarrassed.

“No, thanks,” she said, sitting hunched in her chair.

“Hi, Marcie. I’m Laura. What do you have in your pocket?” Laura said, still unable to read the string. It wasn’t a strong string.

“Oh, come on, Laura. You’re supposed to tell her what’s in her pocket,” Carol said with a laugh.

Marcie, like an obedient puppy, pulled her hand out of her pocket, revealing what she’d been fiddling with since she’d sat down.

“It’s a…” Carol said.

“Token,” Laura said, cutting off Carol. She touched the token without taking it from Marcie’s hand. There were two strings: one from Marcie and a very weak one from her dad.

The strings attached to the token told the story of why Marcie valued the round emblem off a 1980 Buick. It was faded metal, but the red, white, and blue colors of the emblem were still visible.

Her father had given it to her when she was six. Told her it was his most precious belonging, and she needed to keep it safe and that it would always protect her.

A big responsibility for a six-year-old, given that her dad was a no-good laggard, a petty thief, and had a rap sheet already longer than the six-year-old was tall.

Laura knew from his string that he was dead. He died only a few months after he’d given her the emblem. She had the feeling that Marcie didn’t know or didn’t remember much about him. Laura decided that was a good thing.

“Your dad gave it to you,” Laura said.

Marcie didn’t show any feeling as she nodded yes.

Laura didn’t expect any expression. Most people tended to hide expressing any emotion that let Laura know if she was right or wrong. People had the idea that it led the “fortune-teller” on, aiding them in seeming to be accurate.

This was mostly true, but Laura didn’t need these cues.

Carol, looking smug, sat back in her chair, willing herself to be silent, at least until Laura was finished.

“It’s a token. The value is in the giver, not the object itself,” Laura said, thinking carefully.

Laura hated weak women. The news was always full of female victims. Marcie might as well have the word “victim” stamped on her forehead since her meekness made her look weak and vulnerable.

Laura felt she needed to change this. Knowledge could be empowering, and Marcie needed to learn a few things. True or not.

“He gave the token to you because of your eyes,” Laura said, happy to finally see a reaction out of Marcie.

“Marcie is short for Marcella. You’re part Italian. Marcella means warlike and strong. He gave you the token to tone you down. Cool the fire. But…but you’re carrying the token with you, and because of that, you’re too toned down. Weak.”

Carol nodded, enjoying the story.

Marcie seemed frozen, not even breathing.

A waiter approached, and Carol shook her head to let him know they didn’t need him.

Laura was glad he responded to Carol’s gesture, turning away.

“Your eyes have the power to knock men down to their knees, but the token prevents you,” Laura said, pausing to sip her soda.

Marcie needed some time to digest the information. Sometimes trying to help someone with the power of suggestion worked and sometimes it didn’t. Laura liked to think she was more successful than not. Her own attempt at the power of suggestion for herself.

“If you shine a flashlight in a dark room, it’s bright,” Laura said, putting her soda down. “If you shine a flashlight out here, in broad daylight, no one will even see it. Right now, you are a flashlight in a dark room. Everyone is noticing you.”

That comment made Marcie nervous, looking around.

“It’s your eyes. You need to tone them down by brightening yourself around them,” Laura said.

That got both Marcie and Carol looking confused.

“You need to wear bright colors to tone down the brightness of your eyes. Red. Go find a fashion magazine and dress like a model.

“You could be a model like your mom was before your dad came along,” Laura said, careful with her wording, since the strings didn’t tell her if Marcie’s dad married her mom or not.

Information derived from a string could sometimes be hazy.

“My mom was a model? But she was only sixteen,” Marcie said.

“Shoot. All models start out as preteens,” Carol said, then stuck her hand over her mouth, remembering she shouldn’t have talked until Laura was done.

Laura sent her a smile. This time the comment was helpful.

“So, what’s my future?” Marcie said.

“You have two,” Laura said, worried that Marcie had no insight into what she just told her.

“Two?” Marcie said, looking confused.

“You can carry the token and be a flashlight lost in a dark world. Or you can tuck the token in a jewelry box and command the world with your light,” Laura said.

She started to feel she was losing touch with where she wanted to go, sounding too corny.

“How’d my dad die?” Marcie said, almost sounding like she was trying to validate Laura’s psychic ability.

“I don’t know,” Laura said, because she didn’t. The string didn’t show her. “Your future isn’t your dad’s.”

Marcie tensed, sitting upright in the chair, almost as if Laura had slapped her.

Laura felt more tuned in to what might really be happening within the emotions of the woman. Marcie was living the life she felt her dad wanted her to live, rather than her own.

A bright new string blazed from the token, making the table transparent, allowing Laura to see the floor of the café.

“You can put your token back in your pocket,” Laura said, knowing she’d succeeded. Marcie now held greater regard for her father and, therefore the token; a respect for the token and her father, but not a slave to them.

Marcie put the token into her pocket, bringing her hand back out. Another good sign. Marcie was no longer dependent on the token. She didn’t need it anymore.

“I could really use a soda,” Marcie said.

Carol waved over the waiter. She looked like she was bubbling over with joy and energy.

“A Coke,” Marcie said before Carol could talk.

Another good sign.

Carol smiled, looking as if she was going to explode into conversation, but Laura pursed her lips at her, and she stayed silent. They both sipped their sodas.

“What do I owe you for the reading?” Marcie said, pulling out a small purse from inside her coat pocket.

“Oh, nothing. I don’t do this for a living. A friend and family sort of thing. I really deal with antiques,” Laura said. “Except tokens from a 1980 Buick aren’t really antique, yet.” She laughed.

Marcie smiled. “My dad liked to work on cars. He also liked to do magic tricks. The token was one of his favorites to work with.”

Laura knew these magic tricks were pickpocket exercises. She could also tell that Marcie never gave a name to the object, but now, she was comfortable calling it a token.

The waiter came with the soda.

“On my tab,” Laura said, brushing away money from Marcie.

“Oh, but, you just…” Marcie said.

“Don’t worry,” Laura said, waiting for the waiter to leave. “I bring them so much business I get my sodas for free.”

An older man, bald and short, with a suitcase, entered the café. He sat, staring at her.

“I think I have a customer, but don’t leave. He doesn’t have an appointment,” Laura said.

“Oh, shoot. I have to go,” Carol said, looking at her phone. “I have a doctor’s appointment. Thanks a lot, Laura. Marcie, I’ll see you later. Take care.”

Carol rose, heading out the door. The waiter took a drink order from the man with the suitcase.

Marcie sucked down her soda. “Thanks for telling my future. I can tell you didn’t tell me everything,” Marcie said as she drained the last of the soda from the glass.

“Some things aren’t meant to be known,” Laura said.

“You’re a good person. Thank you,” Marcie said, rising. She walked out of the café, taking her coat off.

“Are you free now?” the man with the suitcase said, sitting down in Carol’s chair. His voice had a whine to it that sounded as if he’d been waiting for hours.

“What do you have? Do you want it authenticated, valued, or identified?” Laura said.

“Well, yeah, all the above,” the man said, shifting the heavy-looking suitcase by his chair.

“Authentication and a valuation require a form, and each is one hundred and fifty. I accept electronic payments, credit cards, or cash.

“That will be three hundred,” Laura said as the waiter figured out the guy had moved and brought him his coffee.

“What? But the guy at the jewelry store does it for free,” the man said with an extra whine to his voice.

“Did he give you a piece of paper?” Laura said.

“Well, no,” the man said.

“Another person’s word is worth nothing if it’s not on paper,” she said.

“But what if it isn’t even worth three hundred?” he said, sounding more and more like a whiny child.

“Why don’t I look at it first? I’ll let you know if it’s worth doing the rest. So, what did the jewelry store guy say?” she said.

The man hoisted the suitcase onto the table, sending Marcie’s soda glass to the floor. The glass was heavy plastic and didn’t break, but ice scattered across the floor.

Laura managed to move his coffee cup before he spilled that. The waiter came over to clean up the table and the floor.

“Thanks,” Laura said to the waiter.

The man unlatched the case, opening it. Inside was a clock.

“The jewelry store guy said it was priceless,” the man said.

“Are you sure his exact word wasn’t worthless?”

Laura didn’t touch the clock, which could be classified as a vintage mantel clock. The face was aged. She didn’t see any strings attached to it.

“Oh, no. Priceless,” the man said.

“Does it work?” she said. The time on the clock wasn’t current.

“Of course,” he said, but he didn’t move to show her.

“It’s not worth my time,” Laura said, knowing by his lack of action that the clock didn’t have a windup mechanism, which meant it was electric.

“What? But it’s priceless,” he said, insisting. His face was turning red with exasperation.

Laura guessed she wasn’t the first one to tell him he had a worthless clock.

“My grandma owned this clock,” he said, gently lifting the clock and revealing the electric plug Laura suspected. “She had inherited it from her grandma. Seventeenth-century.”

Laura decided not to waste any more of her time. He was a kook. She shut her laptop, shoving it into her bag and waving a hand at the waiter.

“Really,” the man said. “Back in the day of Thomas Edison.”

“What do I owe?” Laura said to the waiter as he responded to her.

“One lunch. Thirteen seventy-two,” he said.

Laura handed over a twenty and a five. “Keep the change,” she said, heading for the door. Most of her expenses were tipping the waiter.

“Wait. The clock,” the man said, following her but getting stopped by the waiter. The man fumbled out a couple of ones for him.

Her job had one hazard: clueless people who thought they had a treasure.

“The clock has a plug,” she said to the man as he caught up with her. “Electricity wasn’t around in the seventeenth century.”

Laura paused to feel the warm sunshine on her face. Yes, she thought, today would be a good day to cut out early. She didn’t have any other appointments and tomorrow, Friday, was going to be a long day.

Maybe even profitable. She’d volunteered to man a flea market booth. One of her antique dealing friends wanted her to check out some items and help sales.

This meant her friend wanted to make sure he didn’t pay too much or sell anything too cheaply.

Even antique experts didn’t know everything. Collaborating helped. And collaborating meant a little income, which meant she might make rent.

“It was probably added later,” the man said, following Laura as she left the café patio.

“No longer in its original condition then,” she said. “But there’s a flea market tomorrow. Bring it around. You might be able to get twenty or thirty bucks for it.”

She handed him a flyer for the flea market out of her laptop bag.

“But it’s priceless,” he said in a whiny and insistent voice.

She swung to face him. “Who sent you to me?”

“I-I saw your ad in the paper,” he said, stammering.

“I have good credentials. If you don’t like what I say, then you take it somewhere else.

“But you’re not going to get a better answer,” Laura said, spinning back around, taking the steps up to an overpass to cross the six lanes of traffic.

She was relieved that the man didn’t follow her. He remained on the other side, looking like he wanted to catch a bus.

The overpass created a continuous path for walkers and bikers to follow an old canal. The city had spent millions sprucing up the area and now they were reaping the benefits of businesses springing up along the canal.

Her café being one of them. Even water birds were finding the cleaned-up canal a nice place to be, adding to the ambiance.

If you squinted and didn’t look up, you could pretend you weren’t surrounded by skyscrapers and multi-lane expressways.

One more block down the canal and then six blocks to the right was a six-story brownstone apartment building, many times renovated. Duplicate brownstone apartment buildings lined the street on both sides.

Narrow dead-end alleys between the buildings housed the metal staircases that were supposed to be fire escapes but were crowded with potted plants and storage bins.

The apartments spanned two stories, giving the feeling of living in a house. Upstairs were two bedrooms, a full bath, and laundry and downstairs, a living room, dining room, kitchen and a half bath.

Laura lived in the apartment that spanned the third and fourth floors. The building had been gutted so many times that the only original part of the building was the stone facade.

As far as Laura was concerned, this was a new building. There weren’t any strings inside her apartment. Anyone else would call her apartment sterile, with no character. Laura called it peaceful and uncluttered.

Every piece of furniture was gently used but string-free. The art on the wall was cheap replicas. There wasn’t an antique in sight, which most of her friends thought strange. Wasn’t she supposed to be an antique dealer?

She’d just laugh at them, telling them that dealing in antiques didn’t make you rich enough to buy antiques. Authentication fees and the occasional commission fee for brokering a piece just covered her rent and expenses.

Besides, since she was new in the business and a relative nobody, covering rent was a tough task. Part time jobs at a temp agency were her salvation during really tough months.

But as of late, working with other antique dealers was putting more dollars in her pocket.

 

Read the full uncensored books on the Galatea iOS app!

2

A crack of thunder woke Laura out of a deep sleep. Rain poured down so heavily that the view out her window was a blur.

Great, she thought, the flea market is going to be a bust. Only the die-hard bargain hunters show up in the rain. Her potential earnings for the day were tied to buyers.

Oh well, a promise was a promise, and the booths had awnings.

She pulled on jeans and a T-shirt that read, “I love old things.” Breakfast was cereal. In an insulated lunch bag, she tucked two sodas and two waters. She hated paying the inflated prices the flea market vendors charged.

She grabbed her umbrella, only to stop on the stoop of her apartment building. The rain was gone and the clouds above were clearing.

Well, just in case, she thought as she shut the door behind her, keeping the umbrella in hand. She had a mile walk, which she didn’t mind, especially today, with the added benefit of rain-water fresh scented air.

It wasn’t long before she arrived in the square that was part of the original downtown area. The square was blocked off from all but foot traffic.

The flea market started at noon, and she didn’t have to be there until eleven, but she knew better. The clock in the middle of the square chimed nine, and the square was already crowded.

“I hate flea markets,” Jack, Laura’s friend, said with a moan as he uncovered boxes. He was what her friends would call almost tall, dark and handsome. His hair was dark, but his eyes were a light hazel.

He was almost six feet tall with the build of a man who worked out.

“I thought you did some of your best business here,” Laura said, tucking her lunch bag under a table.

“Yeah, except for the old coots who know everything,” he said, raising his voice at an elderly man pausing by the booth.

“Well, this old coot wants immediate service,” the old man said in a growl, banging his hand on a box.

“Well, old coot, mosey on, or I’ll put you to work,” Jack said with the meanest look, but Laura caught laughter in his eyes.

“Who was that?” she said.

“My dad,” Jack said with a laugh. “He’s here looking for baseball memorabilia.”

“I thought for sure the rain was going to make this miserable,” Laura said, helping uncover boxes.

“Naw, not here. Maybe at the country fleas, where there is nothing but mud. We got concrete and good drainage. Here, put these boxes over there and take some out for show.”

Laura put two small boxes at the end of an inner table, where people could look but not touch. From the boxes, she took out lapel pins that were gaining in popularity as a quiet way of making a statement.

There were American flags, crosses, hearts, pink ribbons and symbols for anti-drugs and anti-drunk driving.

She pinned a few of them up on a felt display board.

“I hate those things,” Jack said, pausing to watch her.

Laura laughed. “You hate everything.”

“No, not everything. I love the fact that you got here early. Here, what the heck are these?” Jack said, sliding over a heavy box.

“Where’d you get those?” Laura said, looking over the objects in the box.

“Part of a box deal, ya know. Buy the whole box sort of auction. I don’t think I like those either.”

“But you don’t hate them?” she said with a laugh.

“No, I’ve found some winners. Well, what do I have here?”

“Two broken lava lamps,” Laura said, holding up the base and cord of one lamp.

“Not those. I know the lamps. What are those?” he said, pointing to the rest of the contents of the box.

“Well, I’m sure you thought they were old beer mugs from Germany,” Laura said, surprised there was only one string attached to one of the objects. “These are 17th-century magic lanterns.

Entertainers used them to project images from slides or as a spotlight for a stage.”

“You’re kidding,” Jack said, still unpacking boxes and not taking her seriously.

“If I had the money, I’d give you a hundred bucks each for them,” Laura said.

Jack stopped unpacking, staring at her.

“You don’t buy anything. You serious? What would you sell them for?” he said, stressing more interest in his last question than the first one.

“Historically, you could get five to six hundred, but lately, this type of stuff is going for triple. I’d start at two grand apiece,” Laura said, pulling one lantern out of the box. “These need a good cleaning.”

“Damn. I paid sixty bucks for the box, and I thought that was a rip-off,” Jack said, looking ecstatic. “And I know someone who will pay a hundred bucks just for broken lava lamps. You just paid for yourself.”

“I’m glad I’m earning my keep. I think I earned an entire fifty bucks this whole week,” Laura said, brushing dust off the lantern she held. The lantern’s weight surprised her. It was heavy. “And I paid my electric bill with it.”

“You’re just a kid. It takes a while to build your reputation,” Jack said, placing the lava lamp parts away in another box. He handled them as if they were crystal and would break at any moment.

“I don’t know where you get that love for junk,” Laura said with a laugh at how he handled the lamps.

“Hey, this junk pays the bills and opens doors,” Jack said as if everything around him was magic.

“Maybe that’s my problem. I should tell people their junk is valuable, and get paid for doing so,” Laura said.

“Why not? Everyone else is,” Jack said with a scowl.

“Well, if some guy comes through with a mantel clock, tell him it’s worthless,” Laura said, wiping her hands of dust.

“Mantel clock? Wind up?” Jack said with some interest.

“No, electric,” Laura said, pinning up the last row of lapel pins.

“Darn. Those wind-up ones are worth a pretty penny,” Jack said, waving at someone. “Just my dad. Looks like he scored some baseball cards.”

Two older women stopped by his stall in order to gawk over the lapel pins.

“How much,” one asked, looking at Jack with serious eyes.

“Three bucks,” Jack said.

“But that table over there is selling them for two-fifty,” the lady said.

“Yeah, but he’s probably keeping all the money, and I donate all of mine to the charities. Still three bucks,” Jack said, holding firm.

The old lady ruminated on this information.

“Okay. Two pink ribbons and one flag,” she said.

Her companion nudged her.

“I mean two flags and two pink ribbons.”

“Twelve bucks,” Jack said.

The lady took her time rummaging in her purse before bringing out ten folded dollar bills and eight quarters.

Jack placed the lapel pins in a bag. “Thank you, pretty ladies. Have a good day and behave yourselves.”

“Humph,” the lady said, taking her bag as Jack winked at her.

Laura rolled her eyes as the two ladies turned and giggled.

“You ladies’ man, you,” Laura said.

“Hey, they’ll be back to buy something else. She was just using the crumpled ones as a ploy. I saw some new twenties in there,” he said, moving off toward a couple eyeing up his box of lava lamp parts.

“Hey, do you buy as well?” a man said on the other side of the booth.

Laura’s first impression was that of a homeless man. He wore ragged jeans, spattered with paint and grease. His hair was long, showing strands of gray. His T-shirt displayed a heavy metal band.

He had one string connected to him by a toy stuffed in his back pocket.

“What do you have?” Laura said, as she read the string.

The string evoked the image of a devoted father to two young girls.

“Doubloons,” he said, opening his hand to show five gold coins.

“Sorry, they’re worth more for their gold nowadays,” Laura said, shaking her head.

“Because of that darn wreck they found where they recovered millions of doubloons?” he said.

“You got it. Yes, because of that and the fact that gold is at an all-time high. There’s a flood in the market of doubloons because the owners decided to sell each one individually instead of to a few collectors.

“Everyone has a doubloon these days,” Laura said. “There is a gold dealer here. I think he’s down at the other end, by the food court.”

“Do ya really think I’m gonna get the best gold price at a flea market?” the man said, eyeing her as if she should know better.

Laura laughed. “Heck no, but he’ll give you a good estimate of what to expect.”

“Thanks. Have a good one,” the man said, pocketing his coins.

“You too,” Laura said.

“What’d he have?” Jack said, coming over.

“Doubloons.”

“Sheesh. Everyone and their mother has those. Well, I sold my lava lamp parts,” he said with glee in his eyes.

“For more than their worth, I bet. I can’t understand the demand for those things. They’re still made. It’s not like you can’t get them anymore,” Laura said.

“No one wants a new lava lamp. They want the classics.”

“Yeah, right. Just break a new one, and you can double your money,” Laura said, poking him.

“Hey, I don’t do that,” he said, moving over to some people pausing to look.

“Never said you did,” she said, chuckling at his reaction. Jack was always honest about what he sold. However, taking advantage of someone who pretended to know more than they did was fair game.

Carol appeared in the crowd, waving and pointing. Laura couldn’t tell what or who she was pointing at.

The area was as crowded as it could get and as soon as Carol was in view, she was gone, hidden by the mass of people trying to find that once-in-a-lifetime bargain.

“Hey, there, how’s it going? I’m Craig, by the way. Jack’s dad,” Craig said, joining them in the booth. He was shorter than Jack, with a full head of gray hair and a potbelly.

“Busy—and I gotta go to the ladies room,” Laura said. “Can you take over for me?”

“Go. I know how this works. Buy nothing. Sell for a ridiculously high price,” he said, scowling, but his eyes gleamed with humor.

“Thanks. Won’t take long,” she said, scooting out of the booth into the crowd.

The city planners did one thing right when they updated the downtown square. They put in a large public restroom. Laura hated the portable potties used by most flea markets.

She laughed to herself at the thought of it, reminding herself of Jack and all that he hated. Jack just liked to complain.

The restrooms were clean, monitored and maintained by the merchants in the area. This allowed them to coat the walls with advertising and hang a rack of cards for all the businesses in the area.

Laura didn’t mind that. She’d stuffed her own cards into a slot.

This was her first summer of being in business. The University was too expensive, and the community colleges didn’t offer anything about antiques, other than a history class. Laura knew how to read and didn’t need a class to learn history.

She decided to work her way through flea markets to build her credentials as well as pick up the quick buck or two, which is how she met Jack back some months ago at a swap meet. He’d been calling to have her help him ever since.

Her real breakthrough was right after meeting Jack when he introduced her to a thirty-year veteran of Egyptian pottery. The man had a vase that he didn’t think was of much value because the artisan’s stamp was illegible.

However, Laura read the string tied to the vase and learned it once contained the essence of a lost fetus. The mother, a princess, who shouldn’t have had the pregnancy, carried the vase until her death.

The vase contained the stamp of a royal pottery artisan that was hard to read by the naked eye, but Laura could see clearly through the string.

A few dozen emails, a high-quality picture of the vase and stamp, and nine weeks later, an Egyptian professor verified the stamp. Laura gained some valuable new friends and a list of credentials, which she’d been adding to ever since.

Laura left the restroom, but stopped as she caught a whiff of a familiar smell.

“No,” Laura said to no one. “They weren’t here last time.”

The food court stood just beyond the restrooms. A distinct odor filled her nose, pulling her toward the food court instead of back toward Jack’s booth.

There it was. No, she moaned to herself. Her worst weakness: doughnuts. At the far end of a nearby booth, a machine spit out each perfect doughnut into a river of hot oil.

The doughnuts floated down to a paddle that flipped them over to cook on their other side. One last paddle flipped the doughnuts onto a conveyor that carried them underneath a shower of cinnamon and sugar and into a bin.

Damn, she thought to herself, already pulling out five dollars. Six stupid doughnuts for five dollars. Damn. She handed over her money, taking her small bag of hot, fresh doughnuts.

The first one almost burned her mouth, but they were good that way. Sugar-coated her fingers and lips. She’d not gotten a napkin, but she didn’t care, licking her fingers before picking out the next one.

Score, she thought. There was a total of seven doughnuts. The teenager manning the booth couldn’t count or didn’t care.

Laura checked the area for a free bench or table, as she bumped through the crowd. She wanted to finish before going back to Jack’s booth, as she definitely needed a hand wash.

There were no available tables or benches as the lunch crowd gathered, so she finished her last doughnut as she wove her way toward a trash can to toss away the bag.

She stopped, unable to squeeze through a group until they moved on, finally pushing through only to bounce off another person.

That’s when the screaming started.

 

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Note: This story is the author’s original version and does not have sound.

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