A String Of Murder
 
Chapter 1
 
     “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 smile 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 know about 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 of 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, starting 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 a 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 any more.
     “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 friends 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 pickpocketing 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 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-storey 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-storeys, 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 qualified as 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.