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An ancient rosary and a calico cat propels Annalisse and Alec down crooked paths in Bari, Italy to expose a woman's killer as they uncover answers none of them are prepared for.
SCATTERED LEGACY - Chapter One
Uncle Ted Walker killed himself on August 4, six years ago, in a swan dive off the Williamsburg Bridge, but that didn’t stop him from haunting us. Because it’s been three months since my dead uncle hired a man to kidnap me at gunpoint.
Kate Walker kept the truth to herself for seventy years while she hid a lover and my true parentage from everyone. She had her reasons, and some might say they were good ones. In her defense, keeping secrets prevented her from making a bigger mess of a strained marriage to a man I knew as Uncle Ted.
It’s hard to separate feelings of love and betrayal by the woman who took me in so long ago. Kate’s mysteries are tucked away because if they’re allowed their freedom, they’ll change the direction of so many lives. It sent her in a new direction. She’s running, and in a way, I am too.
I slide an envelope across the jewelry counter and flip it over on the glass. The vibes coming from it are so unnatural it’s hard to explain. Nate Adams, our security man, gave it to me when I walked into Zavos Gallery. The messenger gave him instructions to deliver it only to me. The envelope is an unmarked white number ten. My hand grazes the paper, touching subtle lumps under the surface. What’s within this letter stops me from unsealing the flap. Undiscovered jewelry, artifacts, and Renaissance art during America’s century of innovators is what I love and what our gallery specializes in, but fear keeps me from opening a silly envelope.
I’m known to have elusive instincts when it comes to places and historical relics. I can visualize who might have held a gem or picture them sitting for a portrait painted centuries ago. At times I imagine others who might have been in the room and their motives for acquiring rare oils and stealing personal jewels worth a king’s ransom. The flood of information and imagery that flows from art is welcoming.
A year ago, anyone mentioning me, Annalisse Drury, and successful in the same sentence might have heard my old boss, Harry, laugh. Back then, my biggest worry was paying the rent on the brownstone and how to juggle work with weekends on Walker Farm. Westinn Gallery is where I cut my teeth as an in-house antiquities valuator.
I’m Generosa Zavos’s friend and confidant—somewhat of a personal guru who listens and makes suggestions. She brought me in as a business partner after we rescued her from kidnappers months ago. I’m crazy in love with her son, Alec.
Nate opens the door for the first client of the day. Red, red everywhere, enough to make a London phone booth envious. From her lips to her stilettos, the brunette wears a bloody ensemble. Only the streaks in her hair and the plume in her hat are pink. It’s not unusual to see plenty of character in New Yorkers walking the shops of Wooster Street. Every now and then someone catches me off guard, like this woman of maybe twenty.
“Welcome. Are you looking for anything in particular?” I ask, moving around the glass case for a closer look. Brim and plume shade her in a veil of menacing gray. Something is off about her.
“Honestly, I’m looking mostly. Is your coffee free?” The melodic voice trails off as she motions toward the espresso machine. “Nice for the publics, do you mind?”
“Feel free.” Taking the ominous, delivered envelope in hand, I smooth down my new silk blouse from a quaint boutique on the west side.
Her three-inch heels chirp along polished tile as she roams an aisle, stopping at a garden landscape painted by a local artist. Gen purchased the oil because it reminds her of Hogarth’s View of Chiswick Garden 1741. An elderly couple stands transfixed at a railing overlooking a waterway with orange groves. The painting is one of my all-time faves.
“The Windstrand is a steal at that price. His work is reminiscent of the great masters, wouldn’t you agree? All works in the gallery are included in our sale. We ship anywhere in the world,” I add, catching a whiff of her floral perfume. Red Door, of course.
She continues a stiff walk on the balls of her feet while holding her full cup of coffee. It’s hard to tell if she’s uncomfortable in her shoes or trying not to make noise. The woman in red unnerves me for no particular reason. Certain speech patterns and sentences ending in pluralities give me a clue where she grew up.
I glance toward the office window where Gen sits in perfect posture, writing at her desk. She’s an obsessive letter writer with an exquisite hand that most remark on after receiving one of her personal notes. We joke that she cloistered with monks while she lived in Italy. The flourishes and curlicues in fountain pen ink belong to those of an earlier era. My penmanship should be so lucky.
Roses and violets from Ms. Red’s scent tickle my nose, and I move closer to the office and the comfort of Alec’s mother. Gen sweeps at her bangs and catches me watching, motioning me to come inside. Her meek smile melts my heart no matter what, especially when I consider how close we came to losing her. I wonder if we could have changed what happened to Gen and her husband in Greece if I had been more alert and less concerned about starting a thing with Alec. A thought that stalks me when Gen drifts off into a trance during our long conversations.
“Nate, I’ll be in Gen’s office. Kayla should be in soon. Would you mind covering for me? I won’t be long.”
He nods, glances toward our visitor, and steps to the counter.
We have a silent mode of sending messages to each other when we’re shorthanded on the floor. Gen and I have complete confidence in Nate. He knows less than zero about the selections inside the gallery, but he’s capable of handling all manner of security issues.
Inside Gen’s office, the air is filled with her citrusy perfume.
“Good morning, dear. I wanted to catch you before you left for Alec’s place. Are you excited about your excursion to Italy?” Her smile gleams, making me blush at the thought of our romantic getaway. “I can see by your face you’re ready.”
“More than ready.”
“It’s overdue.” Gen digs around in her Hermès crocodile bag. “When I was cleaning out my desk drawer, looking for Papa’s letter opener…” She excavates deeper into her purse. “Alec is taking you to Bari, yes?” Gen asks, carefully cradling a leather pouch in her palm. “Many years ago, when I was a slip of a girl, Sister Mary Margaret gave these to me. I’d like you to have them.”
“Just a minute.” I set the envelope on the corner of her desk.
Gen unsnaps the top and pours dark beads and a large crucifix into my hands. Rosary beads from an earlier era in vintage condition. The metal crucifix on onyx is fatigued by daily wear and tear. Someone in a religious order might have owned them since the large cross is customary on such rosaries. The beads are uneven wood, maybe bone, and they’re cool to the touch.
Decades are measured by medals of saints and the Virgin Mary between the beads. I’m oddly compelled to run the length of the strand through my fingers, but I don’t dare because the connecting hooks are fragile. The raised corpus crucifixion workmanship and fine detail are worn flat from heavy usage dating back to the sixteenth or seventeenth century.
Closing my eyes and running my thumb over the center Madonna medallion, a warmth penetrates my skin, growing stronger by the second until it’s uncomfortable to hold.
“Ow. That’s weird.” Faint lines shine from the back of the medal. “Can you read this?”
“Put them in the case, dear.”
“But—” I deposit the beadwork, strand by strand into the pouch, sensing that these beads are important somehow. My suspicion is that this rosary used to belong to a priest or a cardinal because the dyed bone and worn metals have a masculine look. Monks and Anglicans use a thirty-three-bead rosary, one for each year of Christ’s life. Catholics have a much larger rosary to include the twenty mysteries that represent the life of Jesus. This set of rosary beads is the fifty-nine-bead style.
“Gen, I can’t accept them. The beads are Roman Catholic, a gift to you. I… can’t.”
She gently shoves my hand away. “Nonsense. The Sister who gave them to me had a special gift. She saw things. A little like your intuition, only stronger.”
“A woman who had visions owned them?”
“I can’t explain it, but she had a knack for guiding parishioners from danger. What she told them gave the people hope. Sister Mary Margaret helped me through a very bad time in my life. I wish I could thank her, but I can’t go back to Bari. She may not be among us anyway. Please, bambolina, keep them for me. Take them with you to Italy. They will bring you good luck.”
Italians believe in many small gestures that bring luck, like the number thirteen. Little things such as never wishing someone good luck because it may be a bad omen, or the spilling of salt, unless one tosses the salt over a left shoulder. That’s the side the Devil stands on. Gen carries a nail in her pocket so that she can touch iron in the same way we knock on wood to ward off evil. Helga, Alec’s housekeeper, rarely turns bread loaves upside down or cuts bread with a knife because it’s disrespectful, and she always adds a cross to each loaf per Gen’s instructions.
“If you’d like, Gen, I’ll keep them. I won’t rest until they’re researched though. Do you know who originally owned them?”
“Always the historian.” She sets her purse on the credenza. “The beads have a spirit to them. The truth is there. Where the senses fail us, reason must step in.”
I’ve heard that saying somewhere. “Where did you visit the Sister? In a convent?”
“Let me think.” Gen taps her chin. “The Church of Saint Anne. She was a novice there.”
“She hadn’t taken her vows yet?”
“There were circumstances. She had to be careful. Nuns who have visions are frowned upon. I went to see her for advice.” Gen waves her hand dismissively. “If you and Alec have time, please stop by Saint Anne’s and light a candle for her.” She points to the envelope. “Is that letter for me?”
“It’s mine. A messenger left it.” As I study the white thing again, an image of a woman overwhelms me. She’s lying on the floor in a pool of her own blood. “Someone is dead, Gen.”
“Pish. People die every day.” Gen rises from her chair. “You’re shaking. Is that what it says?”
“Would you mind looking inside?” I give the envelope to Gen. “Whatever’s in there isn’t paper. Something lumpy that puts out a very bad vibration.”
Gen slides a drawer open and draws out a pair of scissors. She reaches for the envelope and cuts at the short end, which is her habit when she can’t find a letter opener.
Nate taps on the glass pane in the door, and I start.
“Annalisse, you’re needed at the counter.”
“Let me know what you find inside, Gen. I’ll be out front.”
There’s happiness in my shoes as I spring through the office door, adding distance between the envelope and myself. The room was beginning to close in back there.
Nate stops me right outside Gen’s office. “Saw the woman hanging around the back of the cabinet where your purse is. When I marched over there, she took off like a scared rabbit to another part of the shop. Looked kinda guilty to me. I didn’t see her in your bag, but it won’t hurt to check your wallet.”
Great, gone two minutes. “I’ll be right with you,” I assure the client, who’s becoming more of an annoyance. In a beeline to the shelf holding my tote, I flip through my wallet and make a quick tally of keys, loose change, passport, .38 Lady Smith, and the Day Runner kept for appointments. When all’s in order, the leather case with the rosary drops into the zipper compartment, and I slide my purse into a pull-out drawer.
Impatient nails from Ms. Red click on the glass case.
“Can I see the ring on the stands?” The woman’s berry lips are a beacon against her pale skin.
In a half dozen steps to the counter, I slide the glass pane and lay out the slotted velvet tray with a combination of bracelets and rings from Brazil and Australia. Some of the most precious gems on the planet.
The woman in red widens her eyes. “Yeah. That one.” She points to the trilliant cut red diamond ring.
A gemologist brought it into the shop not long ago—a stunning find. Gen couldn’t resist accepting the rare stone, quickly mounting it in gleaming silver for the sale.
“Honestly, it’s so lit.” She sings the phrase in a high-low cadence, laying her keys on the case next to me. “Can I try the diamond on? What about sizing? Or is that only at Nordstroms?”
“We size it here. Let me help you.”
As I slide the ring on her finger, I wonder how she can afford expensive jewelry. I couldn’t imagine such a young girl with press-on nails having that kind of wallet.
My patronizing stream of thought stops dead. Harry taught me never to judge a prospective customer’s background by their clothing or manner.
People have surprised me before.
A large jasper stone attached to her key ring sparkles in the overhead lighting. The darkest ruby bloodstone I’ve seen, and I’d looked at plenty of them for Harry when shipments came in from India and Madagascar. In alternative medicine, it can be crushed as an aphrodisiac or worn as a talisman for its healing powers. This stone is said to have come into existence during the crucifixion of Christ. It’s written that his blood dropped onto the jasper stone placed beneath his feet, creating the red variations shown in some stones.
My focus lands on the unusual setting and weird assortment of skeleton keys on the ring.
“Where did you find your amazing heliotrope?” I ask. “The color is so intense. I’d love to know its origin. I’m Annalisse, by the way. And you are?”
“I’m into rocks, and I like reds,” she answers without fanfare or the courtesy of looking at me, but her smirk tells me to take a hike.
Nate opens the door, and Alec enters the gallery. What’s he doing in Manhattan? In a few hours, my cat Boris and I are leaving for his estate. He should be at home, packing for Italy.
The duskiness in his eyes is a telling shade, and he’s not smiling.
“Hey, Alec, this is a surprise.” My wave meets his frown.
“Hey. Is Mom in back?” he asks without so much as his usual peck on the cheek.
“She’s in her office. I thought we were coming your way this afternoon. Is there a change in plans?”
Alec’s holding a newspaper. No, it’s a tabloid rag folded in half.
My chest grows cold, recalling the last time we dealt with a tabloid. His ex-wife, Tina, tried to come between Alec and me with the fake story about an affair, using an old family photo. The near break-up experience left a tiny wound on my heart that’s still mending.
Alec stalks past me in a determined stride.
Gen’s waiting for him at the threshold as if she expects him, then shuts the door.
Ms. Red takes her keys and coffee. “Never mind.” She speeds toward the gallery exit as if I had a contagious virus and had coughed on her.
The slot in the tray that had earlier held the red diamond is empty.
“Wait!” My voice echoes off the walls. “Nate, hold her.”
The guard folds bulging biceps; his mass stands in her way before she can reach the exit. “Sorry, miss. Please leave your coffee.”
“I’m not finished,” she whines, covering the top of her cup and pulling it close to her body. “It’s free anyway. What gives?”
“We can’t allow you to leave the gallery with it.” Nate slowly reaches out. “Give me the coffee.”
“I told you. I’m not done. What kind of place is this?” The woman’s voice wavers. “I promise to drop it in the trash. Chill.”
She sidesteps, as does he.
“Naaate?” I draw out his name slowly, dreading another client walking into the shop at this moment.
He directs me to his side with a glance.
We pay him well to observe patrons during their stay inside the gallery. No small act gets past him.
In utter calm, I slide the jewelry tray onto its shelf, lock the door, and meet him next to Ms. Red.
“Where’s the ring you tried on?” I send a questioning look to Nate when the girl’s finger no longer shows a ring.
A shuffle, a flick of her wrist, and splash. The coffee inside the woman’s Styrofoam cup sprays the front of my blouse.
“Ack.” I stiffen, holding the dripping silk from my skin.
Nate grabs the woman firmly by her padded shoulder while I run for the tissues.
“Nice of you to wait until the coffee cooled.” I bite back a curse in time to save what’s left of my business etiquette. “What made you do that?”