Between a Vamp and a Hard Place One
It was a lovely Saturday afternoon . . . and a very unsuccessful one for Lincoln, Nebraska, estate hunters. I’d hit up four estate sales and come away with a few ginger jars (which always sold at the antique booth), a butter dish shaped like a chicken, an ugly cookie jar that would probably bring in a few hundred online, and a bruise on my arm from being pushed into a wall. People tended to get mean at estate sales.
It was a depressing haul, though, so I immediately went to the grocery store and bought three bags of gummy bears. I ate one on the way home.
The apartment I shared with my BFF Gemma was a mess—packing peanuts were strewn across the carpet, empty boxes were everywhere, the sofa was covered with items in various stages of being shipped, and the photography stand in the corner had a vase sitting on the pedestal. It looked as if a hurricane had rolled through, which didn’t help my mood any. I set down the box of useless crap I’d acquired today and headed into the working office of Lindsey’s Vintage Treasures, where I found Gemma typing with two fingers on her keyboard. She looked up at me as I entered, her smile bright. “Hey! How’d it go?”
I grunted at her and sat in my chair, then opened bag number two of gummy bears and began to eat.
“That bad?” Gemma gave me a worried look. “I thought you said there was some Chinese porcelain out there today. I know you love that stuff.”
“Fake,” I told her between handfuls of gummy bears. “All fake. Made in Taiwan.”
“Motherfuckers,” Gemma said with a small shake of her head. Her sweet demeanor always seemed at odds with the fact that she could swear a sailor down. “Anything else?”
“A junky cookie jar.” I threw another gummy bear into my mouth. “Today was a bust.”
“That is some shit-ass luck,” Gemma agreed in a sympathetic voice. “We could always sell that ugly-ass bracelet you always wear.”
“Har de har har,” I said. “You know what that’s used for.” I touched my ID bracelet, running my fingers over the life-saving lettering. LINDSEY HUGHES. BLOOD TYPE HH. NO BLOOD TRANSFUSIONS. Underneath that was my emergency contact information—Gemma’s phone number. It had saved my bacon more than once, because my type of blood was so rare that only sixty people in the world had it. Something about how I didn’t make the proper antigens or something. At any rate, a blood transfusion from a normal blood donor would kill me, so I had to wear the bracelet at all times. Sure, it was ugly, but it was useful. I stuck my tongue out at Gemma. “No one would want the damn thing anyhow.”
“Not unless they’re into hospital chic.” She turned in her chair and clapped her hands. “But guess what?”
I gave her a wary look. When Gemma got excited, I got worried. “What?”
“You know Franco? The European guy who always says he can get me a deal on whatever I’m looking for?”
Oh no. “Isn’t he the one that wears his shirt un-buttoned down to his navel and a lot of gold chains?”
“That’s him,” she agreed.
“I thought he was in Europe.” Franco only showed up in the States for big-time auctions. That, and occasionally sleeping with Gemma, who had terrible taste in men.
“He is!” Her eyes lit up. “I told him that we’ve been having a dry run, and he offered to help us out.”
I groaned, shoving another handful of gummy bears in my mouth. Sugar rush, don’t fail me now. “No, Gem. No. Seriously. The last thing we need is Franco’s help. There are a bunch of estate sales in the city next weekend, and I’m sure we can rebuild our inventory, and—”
“But that’s just it,” Gemma said, biting on a nail unhappily. “Franco says that all the good Chinese porcelain is overseas.”
“You mean like in China?” I said sarcastically.
“He’s trying to be helpful,” Gemma said in a small voice.
“I’m sorry,” I told her. “My blood sugar’s just low and I’m cranky.” Ugh. And I hated Franco, who regarded Gemma as a booty call.
“Anyhow, he said he got a great deal on a place that needs to be cleaned out. He paid a lot for it, but he’s going on vacation to Grenada, so he offered to let us have it for half price.”
I paused, bear midway to my mouth. “Um, what?”
“You know. An estate?”
I choked. “An entire estate? Really?” Most of those went to coordinated businesses that handled everything from top to bottom. Gemma and I just picked through what went up for sale.
“Yes! Well, no, actually.” Gemma’s pink mouth turned down in a grimace. “It’s an apartment that some rich couple owned and vacationed in. They died and left no one in the will, so everything’s being sold off. Apparently, the old owners hadn’t been there in over twenty years.”
I recoiled. “A vacation home?” Visions of seashell decor floated through my head.
“Yeah! Some antique hunters, too. Franco said he was giving us a sweet deal. Only half price, and we have an entire month to clean the place out. Just think of all the good stuff they’ve got.”
I shook my head. “I don’t like it. We should probably pass.”
She bit her lip. “So, you’re going to think I’m a real shit stain, but I already sorta paid him.”
I groaned into my bag of gummy bears.
My best friend gave me an apologetic look. “He said we had to jump on it right away and we wouldn’t regret it. So I had to wire him the funds.”
I nibbled the head off one bear, thinking maybe this wouldn’t be so terrible. A vacation home was bound to be sparsely furnished, but what was there might have been selected by an interior decorator, so it wouldn’t be so bad. Hopefully we could find something sellable. “That fast, huh?”
“Yeah, the month starts today, so we have a little over four weeks to clean the place out. You want to see the contracts?”
I stared at her. “There were contracts?”
“Of course there were.” She looked offended. “It wasn’t like I’d hand over ten grand without some sort of contract. I fucking docu-signed the hell out of those bad boys.”
“Ten grand?” I shrieked.
She winced. “Too much?”
“Ten freaking grand?” I just stared at her, aghast. That was our entire nest egg. It was the money that was supposed to get us through a dry month or two. It was rent money and shop money and car money and grocery money. And the thought of it all being gone in a flash made me want to tear my hair out. “All ten grand?”
Gemma’s lower lip wobbled. “Franco says it’s a sweet deal, I promise. He said I’ll want to fuck him like a horny stripper once I see the stuff in the house. He wouldn’t say that unless it was straight-up legit.”
I just stared at her in horror. “Ten grand is everything we have in the business account.”
“I know, but we’ll have a place to stay for the entire month! The apartment, remember? I’m told it’s right on the water.”
“So it is a beach house?” Maybe a month on the beach would cure me of the recent slump I’d been in. Lately I’d just wanted to do nothing but sleep late and eat more gummy bears. I was so tired of looking for a big break and never finding it. Instead of selling the beautiful Chinese porcelain I adored, we had to resort to selling freaking cookie jars.
Ten grand. Oh my God. That was so many darn cookie jars. I couldn’t even process. Gemma and I had been saving our pennies for such a long time. That ten grand was going to change our circumstances. Right now we had to scrape by on small acquisitions and reselling things for a fraction above what we’d paid for them. The truth of the matter was that to make money in antiques, you needed money. And so we’d been saving for a long time, hoping to get to the next level. I had my eye on a cute little storefront on a busy downtown street that would be the perfect place to start a store instead of just renting a booth.
But with all of our savings gone . . . The reality of it hit me, and I felt sick . . . or maybe it was all the sugar. “I can’t believe you gave him all our money.”
“He says we’ll make it back.” Her voice was small and unhappy.
“Oh God. I hope so.” The thought of losing it all made me want to vomit.
Her lower lip quivered even more. “You have to trust me, Lindsey!”
“No, you say you do, but you don’t. You like being in control. I’m just the box-taping lackey. We’re supposed to be partners, but all I ever do is ship stuff.”
I made a sound of protest, but the truth of the matter was that I was a control freak. I did like handling everything. And I was a crappy friend, because in the “Lindsey and Gemma Antiques” business, all Gemma did was ship things. I didn’t let her do much else. “But you’re so good at packing things up.”
“I can be good at finding antiques too, but you won’t let me!” Gemma gave me a sad look. She dashed a hand across her eyes, and I felt guilty. Gemma was the only person in the world I had. We’d grown up at the same state foster home together. She was my family and I was hers. “We can always just forfeit the money and I’ll just pack boxes for the rest of my life.”
“I’m sorry, Gem. I just get nervous thinking about all that money.”
“Which is why you have to trust me.” She clasped her hands under her chin and gazed at me. “Please, Linds.”
I sighed heavily, because I sensed I was losing this battle. Heck, I’d already lost it. Ten grand down the drain. “All right. I guess we can go check it out.”
“Fucking awesome!” Gemma said, and clapped her hands like a little girl. “This is going to be badass. I just know it.”
“So where’s this beach house at?”
Gemma widened her eyes innocently. “I didn’t say it was a beach house. I said it was on the water.”
I narrowed my eyes at her. “Where on the water?”