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Just Killing Time (A Clock Shop Mystery) Mass Market Paperback – October 6, 2015
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About the Author
Julianne Holmes's short stories have appeared in the award-winning Level Best Books. Just Killing Time is the first in her new Clock Shop mystery series.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The brochure lied. A week in the mountains of Vermont had not, in fact, helped me achieve a peaceful Zen that would pervade my life for the coming weeks, helping me approach old challenges with fresh energy. Instead it had made me aware of two things. First, much as I hated to admit it, I was addicted to technology. Not being allowed to have my cell phone for seven days was an interesting experiment at first, but an exercise in frustration toward the end. Never mind that the battery was completely drained of power by the time I got it back.
The second realization? Coffee and I couldn’t break up. I did wonder, briefly, if a week of no coffee had crushed the addiction. The green tea I’d drunk by the bucketful had enough caffeine to keep the headaches mostly at bay. And I knew that any addiction was a vice. But honestly, aside from the occasional glass of wine or beer, coffee was it. Coffee and baked goods. I walked into the first coffee shop I found on my way back to civilization. I ordered the French roast but hesitated before I ordered the scone. It looked dry and a little anemic. Not worth it, I decided. Maybe that was progress? I did grab a protein bar and filled up my water bottle at the water station in the store.
I took the coffee back out to the car and sat inside with the key turned and the windows cracked. I plugged in my phone, but it didn’t come back to life right away. I took a deep breath and looked out the window at the view. October was a stunning time to live in New England. The leaves were turning and the mountains were smeared with splashes of orange, red, yellow, and brown in between the deep green of the pines. The air was crisp, but not cold. Layers were necessary. The sky was a stunning crystal clear blue with white puffy clouds. Even I had to admit the scenery was beautiful. Especially with a cup of coffee. I closed my eyes and took a sip. Heaven.
I unwrapped the protein bar and grabbed my black bound notebook from my bag. I’d taken to carrying one notebook and using it as a combination journal, to-do list, sketchbook, and message pad. I took a bite of the protein bar, which tasted like chemicals. I should have tried the scone. I’d inherited the notebook habit from my grandfather, and he’d inherited it from his father. There were boxes of notebooks from all the Clagan clockmakers in my grandfather’s attic. Or at least the past four generations, since the first generation had emigrated from Europe.
I wondered if the notebooks were still there, or if G.T.’s wife had tossed them. What was her name, anyway? I honestly couldn’t remember. I’d nicknamed my grandfather G.T., Grandpa Thom, when I was a little girl, during one of my summer-long visits to my grandparents’ house in Orchard, Massachusetts. It wasn’t that he was ashamed of being my grandfather, my grandmother had explained. It was that Grandpa wasn’t professional in the shop. So G.T. it was. If that was the rule for working in the shop, I was more than happy to comply. Because my summer visits hadn’t just been a welcome reprieve from my parents’ benign neglect, they had been my introduction to clocks and time and how humans could work with both. G.T. was a master clockmaker, and he had passed on his passion, and some of his skill, to me.
I turned on my phone, which finally booted up. I checked the time and smiled. There was great accuracy to the clock on my cell phone, but little art. Time could be so much more. I flexed my shoulders back and mentally prepared myself to check my voice mail. I had been in a vulnerable place during a “Healing” workshop at my yoga retreat last week, and I’d sent G.T. a postcard asking him if I could stop by on my way back to Boston. My grandmother’s death six years ago had broken both of our hearts. G.T. and I had a falling-out when I brought my then husband (now ex) to meet him and they didn’t hit it off. The falling-out became a full-out rift when he called me a couple of months later to tell me he had gotten remarried. I’d sent him Christmas and birthday cards, and he’d sent them to me, but we hadn’t seen each other in five years. It was time to change that.
When the phone rang, I almost spilled my coffee. I didn’t recognize the number, but the 413 area code identified it as western Massachusetts. Maybe G.T. had a cell phone?
“Ruth Clagan here.” I sounded so officious, even to myself.
“Miss Clagan, this is Kristen Gauger. I’m a lawyer here in Marytown. And a friend of your grandfather’s. I’m afraid I have some very bad news.”
G.T. was dead. Kristen Gauger was not only G.T.’s friend and a lawyer, she was his lawyer. They’d found the postcard I sent him at his shop, the Cog & Sprocket, and had been trying to reach me all week. The reading of the will was today. Would I possibly be able to make it?
“Reading of the will?”
“There are some issues that need to be addressed in the next few days. We decided to do the reading this afternoon so we could start getting the will processed through probate. At one o’clock. Might you possibly make it?”
“What time is it now?” I looked down at my watch. “Eleven o’clock. I can try, but it will be tough. I’m up in Vermont.”
“We could reschedule, but there’s a preliminary meeting with the Board of Selectmen at three, and the contents of the will may have some impact on the meeting.”
“Really?” My grandfather had always been a concerned citizen. The Clagans were one of the oldest families in Orchard. But still, impacting a town meeting?
“Ruth, I’ll tell you what. Write down this address and come to my office when you get to town. We’ll delay as long as we can.” She gave me her address in Marytown, which I wrote down in a shaky scrawl and then programmed into my GPS.
“I’ve got it,” I said. “I’ll be there as soon as possible. I don’t even, I mean, wow, this is starting to sink in. What happened? Had G.T. been sick? We’ve been out of touch. I’d hate to think I wasn’t there to say good-bye.” There was a long pause on the phone. For a second, I thought we’d been disconnected.
“Oh, Ruth, there’s no easy way to say this. I’d rather tell you in person, but you should hear it from me. They think that Thom died of a heart attack. But he was being robbed at the time. The police are treating it as a murder.”
• • •
I was riding an emotional roller coaster as I drove toward Orchard. Sadness and grief overwhelmed me. The ride down took almost five hours. Tears caused some of the delays. And there were a couple of times when I just needed to pull over and scream, trying to get rid of some of the emotions. Anger that I’d been robbed of the chance to see G.T. once more. Guilt that we’d been estranged. Overwhelming sadness. And a slow burn building up inside me. Screaming in the car had been very cathartic for me over the past year as I tried to move past my divorce, and it helped this time as well. A little. Not enough. But some.
Even under the best of circumstances, chances were good I would have been late. I could build timepieces, but I couldn’t keep time. An irony in my life—one of many.
But seeing the Berkshires again brought forth a flood of happy memories as I recognized old stomping grounds. I felt some pride in seeing how spruced up Main Street was. Of course, Main Street was always the center of attention, since it was in Marytown, the closest thing to a city in these parts. Six years ago I’d driven away from a region full of hardworking people trying to figure it all out. Some new businesses had brought economic vibrancy back, but the town was still a pale imitation of what it had once been, at least according to my grandparents. But now? Storefronts were open. The street itself was newly paved, with freshly painted lines. Streetlights had been replaced by gas lanterns. Marytown looked good. I wondered if Orchard had fared as well.
Had the town finally come into its own? After the last great flood wiped the town out in the 1920s, the townspeople of Orchard worked hard to bring the apple orchards back and to embrace the possibilities of the future, but true prosperity always passed the small town by. I used to refer to Orchard as the town that almost was. Almost was the site of a railroad station, until another community won the bid. Almost saw a new mill built after the flood, but the aforementioned railroad station took that off the table. Almost was the site of a huge private college in the early 1900s, but that honor also went to another town, five miles south.
Maybe Orchard’s luck had changed, even if G.T.’s hadn’t.
• • •
Kristen Gauger had directed me to the offices of Gauger, Spence, Colfer, and Lentz in Marytown. A lot of names for a tiny office that consisted of two desks, three chairs, and a couch.
“Ruth? I’m Kristen Gauger.” She walked around her desk and held out her hand. I shook it and walked toward the desk. Kristen Gauger was shorter than I was, but the high heels she’d kicked off would have made us eye to eye. She had brown hair streaked with gray and pulled back into a ponytail. Her makeup was a little smudged and there were dark circles under her brown eyes. Her shirt was untucked from her suit skirt.
“Let’s sit over here.” She motioned me toward the couch. “Can I get you anything? You sure? Well, sit down while I pull the file. Forgive the office clutter. A bunch of us share the space. We have ‘offices’ all over the Berkshires, but most of them involve our dining room tables and home visits with clients. You made decent time getting here.”
“Not good enough. I missed the reading. And I must have missed the funeral,” I said. I sounded pitiful, but she didn’t seem to notice.
“There hasn’t been a funeral. Thom didn’t want one, according to his will. Caroline would still like to have a service, but wanted to talk to you.”
That was her name, Caroline. G.T’s wife.
“Your folks already told Caroline they aren’t planning on coming back,” she continued.
I’d long ago given up making excuses for my world-traveling parents, and so I didn’t respond. We e-mailed and talked on occasion, but I hadn’t seen them in a couple of years. Again, Kristen didn’t respond to my silence, but instead moved on.
“I’m sorry you had to hear the news from me that way. But I know you have a few voice mails and I thought you should hear it from a human being.”
“Thank you, I barely listened to my messages. I just wanted to get here.”
“Well, you should know, he didn’t suffer. He got hit in the head and then he had a heart attack. It was pretty quick.”
“Where was he?”
“Out in back of the shop, getting into his car. There had been a robbery a couple of weeks before, and the police are assuming that the robbers came back for a second round and ran into Thom.”
“A robbery? What did they steal?”
“The first time? Five clocks. I don’t have the descriptions handy, but Caroline says they were worth about a thousand dollars each.”
“Wow. What was he doing with that kind of inventory?”
“He had bought out a couple of estate sales recently. Including the Winters’ house. Do you remember Grover Winter? He passed three months ago, and his son, Jonah, has been selling off the estate. Apparently he and his late wife were clock fanatics.”
“I remember him. Wasn’t his nickname the Chairman?”
“I don’t remember her that well.”
“Harriet,” Kristen supplied. “She passed last fall. She’d been sick for a long while. But the Chairman, his death took everyone by surprise. Anyway, Thom has a full shop.”
“He always did,” I said, sadness overwhelming me.
My life with my grandparents had been filled with clocks. Both real and imagined. We used to spend hours designing clocks that would do all sorts of things. And dream of building them together once I finished my education. I thought about the drawings I’d made while I was on retreat and realized I’d give anything to show them to my grandfather and talk to him about what I’d been working on lately. But that was never going to happen.
Kristen handed me a box of tissues, and I wiped my eyes.
“He’d actually cut back on the inventory last winter, but then he bought a couple of estates of collectors lately. He called them his swan song before retirement. Not sure if it helps or not, but he was making noise about offering to let you buy him out. I offered to help him find you, but he wanted to get things cleaned up first. His words, not mine.”
“I’m not sure if that helps or not either. Makes me sadder.”
“Well, then, this isn’t going to help at all.” She handed me a thick envelope. “His will was pretty straightforward. Caroline gets the house and everything in it. You get the Cog & Sprocket and everything in it. According to the will, you need to come to terms regarding the contents of the workshop at the house. There are some other bequests, but they can be taken care of easily. Right now his estate is tied up in inventory, so there isn’t any cash to speak of. But he owned the shop; taxes are paid. If you want to sell, it should get a fair amount.”
“The shop? I don’t know what to say.”
“Well, I have a couple of things to say. First, you should know that Jeff Paisley—he’s the chief of police in Orchard—he’s working on this case morning, noon, and night. Second, Caroline Adler has an alibi, just in case you were wondering. She was also in Vermont, visiting her son.”
Again, I didn’t respond directly. “Anything else?”
Kristen shook her head slightly and smiled. “You remind me of your grandfather. There are a couple of codicils to the will. Not binding, but Thom’s wishes. He made Caroline promise to give you first dibs if and when she sells the house. And he asked that you consider keeping Caroline and Pat Reed on in the shop, if you chose to run it. She’s been helping Thom run it for the past few years, keeping the books. And Pat has been working there part-time for a while.”
“Forever. When I was young I never understood what Pat did. G.T. called him a handyman and the most important part of the operation.”
“Pat and Nancy Reed are part of the backbone of Orchard. They helped see the town through some hard times. Now that things are turning around, I hope they benefit. But times are still tough for a lot of folks. Your grandfather kept Pat on the payroll even when he was slowing down. Pat’s taking his death very hard.”
“I haven’t seen Pat in a while, since my grandmother’s funeral.”
“Well, he’s looking forward to seeing you. Ruth, I know you are processing a lot right now, and I don’t want to overwhelm you. But there’s a lot going on in Orchard, mostly having to do with rezoning the historic district.”
“Historic district?” I couldn’t help but smile. “Since when does Orchard have a historic district?”
“Since the new town administrator decided to make Orchard a Berkshires destination town. The Cog & Sprocket is central to the district in more ways than one. Anyway, I know you’re going to have questions, so take this packet with you and go through it when you have a moment. I put all my contact information on the envelope. Call me day or night with any questions or concerns. Anything.
“The key to the shop is in the envelope. Pat Reed has the other one. There are new locks on the doors, and a security system is being installed. Despite everything, being there is perfectly safe, so don’t worry about that. Let me know when you are going there, and I’ll let Pat and Caroline know. I don’t know when the last time you visited was, but there’s still a place to stay upstairs.”
“I remember. My grandparents lived up in that apartment before they bought the cottage, and I spent a lot of time there in the summers as a child.”
“Sounds perfect then. Though I have to warn you: there are a lot of clocks. A lot of clocks.”
“There can never be too many clocks as far as I’m concerned. Don’t worry about calling Pat or Caroline. I’ll touch base with them tomorrow. I’ll head over now. The Cog & Sprocket was my favorite place in the world. I can’t imagine that will have changed. But I don’t want to get there in the dark. It’s closer than Boston, and I’m done in.”
And so I made two brief calls, one to leave a voice mail for my boss at the museum, who I had been waiting to hear from about funding for my position, and the second to my friends Steve and Rick to let them know what was going on so they didn’t call the police and start trawling the Charles River for my body. Then I got back in the car for the very short trip to the Cog & Sprocket. My shop.
I backtracked to Washington Street, deciding to go to the shop down the main thoroughfare of Orchard. I slowed down when I approached the official town line, where Main Street in Marytown became Washington Street in Orchard. We didn’t make things easy for the tourists in the Berkshires. The faded old wooden sign from my childhood had been replaced, but the new, fancy, hand-painted sign still had the same image of the apple tree bearing fruit. I rolled my shoulders and let go of the steering wheel as I crossed into Orchard. I had a couple of miles to go before I hit the town center.
The fading October sunlight allowed me a full view of what I considered my hometown as I drove on. My happiest memories of my childhood were from Orchard. The library looming on my left marked the unofficial beginning of downtown, which I guess was the new historic district. I loved that library and had spent hours discovering new worlds while hiding in its stacks.
The Corner Market nestled next to the library, set back a bit from the street, with the coveted half-dozen parking spots in the front of the store. I noticed signs that said ORGANIC and LOCALLY GROWN in the windows. That couldn’t be old Mr. Clark’s doing, since he hadn’t ever spent money on things like signage, shoveling in the winter, or sprucing up the outside in the spring. G.T. had always said Matthew Clark could squeeze blood from a stone, and I’d believed him. There must be new owners.
The old diner was across the street from the Corner Market, as out of place as always. I’d never understood how the Board of Selectmen talked the town into letting a ’50s diner get approved, especially downtown. Chrome and polished steel had its charms, but here it just stood out like a sore thumb, especially since the chrome was only a façade, pasted onto a boring angular building to make it look more hip. The wooden building had a single story in the front, but rose to a second story in the back. The vaulted ceilings always made the insides look like a ’50s diner and a hunting lodge had an illicit love child. My grandfather had tried to explain the backroom politics behind the approval of the building, but I couldn’t remember the details. Just that it was meant as a slight to the chairman of the Board of Selectmen that term, one of the most ineffective selectmen in town history. I sighed. Orchard politics at its best: a permanent eyesore to upset a temporary politician. Or, on the other side of the coin, where dreams were thwarted when the dreamers got on the wrong side of the board.
The diner looked better though, its back half painted blue-gray and its trim painted black and white. Last time I’d been in town it was teal with bright pink trim. The red window boxes also softened it. But the neon teal, gray, and pink coffee cup still lit up the outside, with the new name in red cursive. The Sleeping Latte? Lattes? In Orchard? I could only imagine what my grandfather thought of that name. But if it meant coffee, that worked for me.
I saw the white siding of Parker’s Emporium peeking over the top of the diner. I always loved that name—it elicited a much grander establishment than the assemblage of family businesses that all existed under one ad hoc roof. A drugstore took up the right half of the building. On the left side, the beauty parlor that sat at the front of the building was always a town center, where people went as much for gossip as for haircuts or blowouts. As an afterthought, there was a barbershop tacked on the back of the building. Flo Parker and her family had lived upstairs for as long as I remembered. I slowed down a bit. The drugstore still sat on the right-hand side, also with a face-lift, but the left-hand side had a large plate glass window replacing the paned bowfront window of the past. I saw a barber pole outside the shop. Was the beauty parlor gone? I slowed down to a crawl and peered to my right, looking for a name.
A bang on my hood jolted me. I’d been creeping so slowly the car barely registered stopping. I looked around and saw a tall, scruffy blond man on my left come into view just as I tapped the brakes. Worn jeans, old-school Levi’s. A hoodie worn under a brown leather bomber jacket. Reddish blond hair worn a little long. A couple of days’ growth of beard. Aviator sunglasses hid the eyes, but I’d bet they were blue. Blue eyes would fit with the rest of the look. I rolled down my window to hear what he was yelling.
“Don’t you have crosswalks back where you come from? Pay attention, lady. You almost hit my dog.”
“Wow. Sorry, I didn’t see the crosswalk. Is it new?” It may or may not have been new. I never used crosswalks in Orchard.
“New? What are you talking about?”
“Never mind. Sorry.” I rolled the window back up, and the scruffy man just stood in front of my car, staring at me. I stared back, which wasn’t hard. Sure, he needed a shave and a haircut. But the jeans fit well. Really well, from what I could see over the hood of my car. I stopped staring and looked back at his eyes. I smiled as sweetly as I could and waved him on.
I watched as he crossed the street, meeting the large Australian shepherd who sat on the corner, tail thumping behind him. The dog seemed none the worse for the near-death experience, and his owner went into Ben’s Barbershop. That’s what it was called, according to the paper taped to the front door. Ben’s Barbershop. I wondered if Mr. Scruffy was the owner or, more likely, a client in need of services.
The street curved a bit and then there it was, a half block away on my right. The Cog & Sprocket. My love. Now, the Cog & Sprocket wasn’t the biggest building on Washington Street. That honor belonged to the bank across the street. But it did anchor the end of Washington Street before it forked out into two separate smaller roads, one of which led over a small bridge. There was a small service road right before the bridge that ran along the back of the shops, along the river. When I was a little girl visiting my grandparents in the summer, I’d spend time down at the river, poking at rocks and throwing stones. But most of the time I’d stay inside the shop, falling more and more in love with clocks. My destiny had been preordained when I was born a Clagan.
I looked toward the middle of the fork, looking at the town cemetery with a pang. Not that I knew anyone in there, at least not well. My grandmother’s ashes had been buried out at the cottage, where a tree was planted in her memory. I’d always known we would do the same thing for my grandfather. I just hadn’t expected it to be so soon. Or under such awful circumstances.
I pulled up and parked in one of the four spaces outside the shop. I turned the car off and sat for a moment, soaking her in. The butter yellow paint looked fresh, and the white trim wasn’t only fresh, the trim itself looked new. I loved the symmetry of the wood-framed building. The twelve-pane front door sat in the center, framed with a wide doorframe and black lanterns on either side. There was a shade pulled down on the front door, and a CLOSED sign hanging in the middle. I looked at the two-story porch that ran along the front of the building, noting that the rocking chairs were still out on the first floor. I wondered if Caroline made G.T. go outside to smoke his pipe, like my grandmother had? Or did he still smoke his pipe?
On either side of the front door there was a large double-hung window. Honestly, they looked more like doors, since they ran almost floor to ceiling. They could also be completely removed, which helped when large pieces came in and out of the shop. These windows were closed off with a film that didn’t let in light. They also had shutters inside that were meant to be closed during storms. They looked like they were closed now. “No need to be in a fishbowl” was how G.T. explained his dislike of open windows. The sun’s rays weren’t much good for the clocks either.
I looked up at the second floor, noting that the shutters around the two windows had been painted black. There was a center door in between the upstairs windows and a small porch ran along the second story. I could never remember actually using that door to go out to the porch. Instead, we’d open it for a cross breeze in the summer.
There were flower boxes on the railings of both the upper and lower porches, with mums peeking over the top. My grandfather’s wife had kept the space up well; I had to give that to her. I knew it wasn’t my grandfather, unless he’d really changed since my grandmother died and developed a green thumb. But then again, I wouldn’t know, would I? What a stubborn fool I’d been.
I looked across the street to the old bank, the largest building by far on the street. Wait—what? The bank sign was gone. I noticed a number of shades of green painted on the siding, and the old porch had been ripped out. The big bowfront window was blacked out with a large BOOKSTORE COMING SOON: BEEN THERE, READ THAT sign in the window. A bookstore? Interesting.
The only building that didn’t look like it had been refreshed was the old Town Hall to the left of the bookstore. It was set back from the street, with a large front area that had been lovely gardens while I was growing up. Now I noticed a bike rack and some overgrown flower beds. I could see the peeling paint even from this distance, but I’d explore the changes in the Town Hall later. Right now, I needed to get reacquainted with the Cog & Sprocket.
I stretched as I got out of the car, moving my hips around to get them less stiff. I pulled my fleece back down and looked down at my yoga pants. Luckily I’d brought some wrap dresses and tunics with me, so I could dress it up a bit. The retreat was already becoming a distant memory. Now it was time to get back to life.
I walked around to grab my bag from the passenger seat. It was so heavy that it registered as a person, so I had taken to buckling it in so that the car would stop beeping. I hauled it up and was pulling the strap across me when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I screamed and turned to face the tapper.
He was about my height, bald, with black-framed glasses that looked old-fashioned five years ago, but were very hip these days. His soft corduroys were dark olive, and his zipper sweater was a shade lighter. I could swear his eyes were green too, but he jumped back so fast I couldn’t be sure.
“Oh my, you scared me,” he said.
“I scared you? Are you kidding me?” I asked.
“I saw you sitting in your car and wondered if you were lost. That’s all,” he said. “The Cog & Sprocket is closed. If you are picking up a clock, I can make sure the owners get the note.”
“I’m the owner,” I said. The words felt odd in my mouth, but they were true enough.
“You? You’re Ruth?”
“I am. And you are?”
“Sorry, sorry. Where are my manners? First I scare you, then I accuse you . . . Sorry. I’m Beckett Green. I own the store across the street. Caroline had let me know that you were taking over for Thom.”
“I’m not sure I’m taking over. I just found out about . . . everything . . . this morning.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry. And I’m so sorry for your loss. Thom was a good man, a pillar in this town.”
“Thank you. Have you lived here long?”
“Not long. I was driving through this past spring on my way out to Tanglewood, and I saw that the building was for sale. Well, it’s a long story, but to shorten it up, I decided to buy it on the spot. Always dreamed of running a bookstore, and thought now is the time. I’m in the middle of some renovations. Hoping to be open early in the new year.”
“Well, that sounds interesting.”
“Not really. A very dull midlife crisis, in fact. And here I am prattling on. Are you going to stay here?”
I looked at Beckett Green and considered his question. For him, a polite inquiry. For me, a multilayered potentially life-altering decision. Was I going to stay at the Cog & Sprocket tonight? The exhaustion of the day was catching up to me, so I supposed that staying overnight made sense. Should I be concerned about staying there, given what had happened? I looked back at the building. No, there was nothing to be afraid of at the Cog & Sprocket. I had to believe that. But was I staying at the Cog & Sprocket more permanently? That was too complicated a question to ponder right now.
“I am going to go in and look around.”
“Well, that’s good. You should know, we are all keeping vigil on the building, and nothing has happened. Pat Reed’s been adding more locks to all the windows and doors just to be sure, but it is perfectly safe. Besides, poor Bezel needs the company.”
“The shop cat. You can’t miss her. Ben’s been over feeding her, but she and Blue don’t get on well.”
“Oh.” I felt like Alice in Wonderland, and someone had given me the magic tea. Who were all these people? And where were the people I knew? “Do you know if Pat Reed is here?”
“Last I knew he was out making deliveries. He’s been trying to keep up with the shop since, you know. It’s difficult to believe it hasn’t even been a week yet. We’re all reeling, I tell you, reeling.”
“G.T. had lived here his whole life. He knew everyone in Orchard.”
“Grandpa Thom. My nickname for him.” I cleared my throat.
“Thom did, indeed, know everyone. Which is why the theft was such a shock. Who would steal from Thom and Caroline? And then that they came back?”
“Is that what they think happened?” I asked.
“Well, it’s the current theory. The shop had never been robbed, then twice within a month?”
“Was anything taken the second time?”
“No. Not that anyone can tell. Thom hit the car alarm. It was making a real racket. I was getting dressed to go over and see what the commotion was about. Woke me out of a sound sleep, let me tell you. And it woke Ben up too—he lives next door. You don’t hear car alarms that often in Orchard, and never at two o’clock in the morning.”
“Why was G.T. here so late?”
“Caroline was out of town, so I guess he was catching up with work at the shop. There are a lot of clocks that need fixing if he was going to meet his goals for the shop and be ready for Thursday.”
“Goals? Deadlines?” I asked. Things really had changed around here.
“Look at me, keeping you standing here. You must be exhausted. As I said, you are perfectly safe. Here’s my card, call me if you need anything. What say I stop by in a couple of days, and we can get to know each other properly? I look forward to that, I really do.” With that he turned and walked back across the street, half turning to wave at me over his shoulder. I watched him go, wondering what was going to happen in six days, on Thursday.
The door was double keyed, so it took me a few minutes to figure it out. I finally opened it and stepped inside. I knew exactly where the lights were. And I knew exactly how it would look once I turned them on. But I paused for a minute, trying to brace myself. The last time I’d been in this shop was three weeks after my grandmother’s funeral. I was heading back to London to finish my internship at the World Horological Institute. The two-year program had been a huge expense for my grandparents, but I know G.T. had been as excited as I was about the opportunity. I’d hugged my grandfather tight and promised to write soon. I had no idea that was the last time I would see the shop. Or one of the last times I would see him.
I reached to the left and flipped the switch. Since there was little ambient light from outside seeping in, it was dark. But even in shadow, it was familiar. Shelves of clocks on both sides, starting from five feet up. Glass cases with watches and smaller clocks lining either wall. The wooden counter still cut the front part of the room off from the workshop itself. There were a few batteries out, and a couple of cases of watches on the counter. Halfhearted attempts to get last-minute sales.
I locked the door behind me and put down the bags. I walked over and lifted the counter up. Then I heard it—a noise behind me. I whipped around to see a gray cat nudging my bag with her head.
“Hey, you.” I leaned down and reached my hand out. “Bezel, I presume?”
When I’d left, Chime, a huge tabby, was the shop cat. My great-grandfather had started naming cats after clock parts, and my grandfather had continued the tradition. Bezel was a large gray beauty. She looked like she was part Russian Blue. She was eyeing me warily as she inspected my bag, though I could hear her purring from four feet away. She crept forward, stopped about a foot from my hand, and looked at me. I just waited.
“My name is Ruth. I am Thom’s granddaughter. Sorry we haven’t met before.” Bezel walked around my hand and gave my knees a head-butt. She made a hissing sound, but looked up at me with her big, round eyes. She walked in between the curtains that led to the back of the shop, looking over her shoulder as if to say, “Are you coming or not?”
“I’m coming.” I pulled open the heavy velvet curtains and walked into the back of the shop—the heart of the operation.
Under the best of circumstances, there was never enough room at the Cog & Sprocket. Clock repair required wall space for testing, shelf space for storage, and somewhere to put clock parts and packing cases. G.T. and Pat had always been good about using every possible space for storage, including shelves that ran a foot from the ceiling around the entire perimeter of the shop. Because we backed up to the river, the basement was always deemed too dank for storage. Too dank for much else either.
I’d seen a lot of inventory before, but never anything like this. Clocks were packed on every single shelf. The smaller clocks were double shelved. All three worktables were covered with clocks in varying states of repair. Boxes sat all over the room, some piled on top of one another, some opened, most closed. I peered into one of them, but restrained myself from taking anything out. Was there a method to this madness? Probably. I looked over at the old library card files where G.T. kept his clock filing cards, but wooden crates blocked them.
Bezel stopped about halfway into the workshop and blocked my path back. I walked up to her and looked to my right. More boxes. “You’re right—I can look through that later. Should I look upstairs?”
Bezel hissed and then smiled again. Was hissing her way of letting me know who was boss? She certainly owned the place. She walked to the back of the shop, where the curtain to the upstairs was pulled open. Before I went back, she stopped and flicked her head to the left.
So far, I’d avoided looking at the back door, for fear of seeing outside to where it had happened. But Bezel wasn’t pointing me there, but rather to the left of the door, behind a wall of boxes. I walked back and gasped. Eight grandfather clocks, beautiful examples of longcases. All different sizes and styles, but all impressive. I took out my cell phone and used the light from the screen for a closer look. There was a card table set up in the corner, and I saw three pendulums laid out. There were weights laid out in front of each clock. Most of the doors were partially open. Were these what G.T. had been working on?
Bezel nudged the back of my knees, waking me from my reverie. She walked over to the staircase and took one step up. She meowed at me, a deep husky meow that wasn’t friendly—more “Obey me now.” She took one step up, and then looked back at me.
I did as Bezel told me, following her upstairs, ducking as I walked up the first step. Funny, I hadn’t walked up or down those stairs in years, but I still remembered that the staircase was only easy to clear if you were five foot six or shorter. I’d outgrown the door when I was fourteen, topping out at five foot ten finally. I reached the top of the stairs, felt around to the right to find the light switch, finding it and flipping it on by rote.
If the shop hadn’t changed that much, the same could not be said of the rooms upstairs. Rather than the rabbit warren of four small rooms where my grandparents had started their marriage that I remembered from my childhood, the space was open. I could see the fading light through the window on the back, though the details loomed in darkness. On the right was the galley kitchen, such as it was. A refrigerator, microwave, and deep slop sink. Old metal cabinets that had been there for as long as I remembered, and looked much the worse for the wear. Behind the kitchen was the only room with doors left in the space. I turned on the light and peeked my head in the bathroom. Clean, but still as cramped, with a toilet, tiny sink, and the claw-foot tub. Walking down the hall I reached around the back of the bathroom and found the light switch. And I stood there, gobsmacked.
My grandmother’s bedroom set was all there. The sleigh bed, the highboy dresser, the bureau, the wardrobe. More than the bedroom set was in the back of the space. A couple of chairs, both of which I remembered from my grandparents’ living room. A dry sink. Books, so many, many books, piled on the furniture. And more clocks. Everywhere I turned there were clocks. Were I not Thom Clagan’s granddaughter, I would be overwhelmed. Cuckoo clocks stuck open. Gears exposed on a beautiful but tattered grandfather. Clock guts everywhere. A smell that combined lemon oil, dust, mothballs and motor grease. As I was, indeed, Thom Clagan’s granddaughter, I felt comforted and inspired.
I turned and looked on the bed, noticing the box set on it. A piece of yellow legal paper was folded in half and taped to the side. Ruth was written in big red letters. I pulled it off and read the note.
I’m sorry to not be there in person to welcome you back to the Cog & Sprocket, in case you decided to stay here. I’ve added new locks, and the place is locked up as tight as a drum. I cleared some space for you and hope that you can find some rest. Here are a few things for the night. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow.
All my best,
I looked in the box and found sheets, towels, a bar of soap, a tin of cookies, and a bottle of wine. I looked over at Bezel, who perched on top of the headboard.
“I’m just going downstairs to get my bags. Do you want to come?” I asked Bezel, hoping the answer would be yes. Instead she climbed up onto the bed and curled herself into a ball.
“Thanks for the support,” I said. I took my phone out as I went back down the stairs, ready to dial for help if I needed it. The enormity of today hit me, and I moved around the shop triple-checking the locks. The back door had a crate in front of it. I walked to the front of the shop, and moved a box in front of the door, grabbing an alarm clock from one of the shelves and resting it on top. I realized it was a silly security system, but it made me feel better. I turned off all the lights, my Yankee frugality kicking in. Then I went back and turned one of them back on, common sense taking over. I grabbed my bags and headed upstairs.
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