Jane K. Cleland

Consigned to Death

The first book in the Josie Prescott Antiques Mysteries series, 2006



The author is grateful for the information and assistance provided by Dayle Hinman, criminal profiler, and Hans van den Nieuwendijk, fingerprint expert. Thanks also to Mary Ann Eckels, Susan A. Schwartz, Deborah Miller, and Katie Scheding. Special thanks to Ben Sevier, my editor, for his astute observations, and Denise Marcil, my agent, for her wise counsel.


This is a work of fiction. All of the characters and events are imaginary. While there is a seacoast region in New Hampshire, there is no town called Rocky Point, and many other geographic liberties have been taken.


Eric!” I shouted from under the table.

“Yo!” he answered cheerfully, close by.

“Didn’t I tell you to use linseed oil on this one?”

“I did.”

I pushed myself out from under and stood up, brushing the grit from my hands onto my jeans. “Not on the back of the legs, you didn’t.”

“I thought I did,” he said, beginning to hedge.

I’d been working hard and I was tired. Fighting an inclination to snap, I reminded myself that Eric was only nineteen, basically untrained but willing to learn, reliable, mostly honest, and pleasant to be around-overall, a much-better-than-average employee. I smiled a little, hoping to blunt the force of my next comments.

“I just looked at it, Eric. You missed the backside of all four legs. Everyone considering bidding on this table will know its quality. And if they’re willing and able to pay the price I expect it to fetch, they will damn sure get down on their hands and knees and examine it closely.”

He began to look embarrassed. The Mission-style table dated from the early twentieth century and featured select quarter-sawn oak finished in a warm brown. When properly oiled, the finish became lush and supple. It was a beautiful piece.

“The problem with poor-quality work,” I continued, “is that it creates a negative image for the firm, implying that we’re lazy or sloppy. People may even think we’re sleazy. For instance, potential buyers might figure that we slapped some oil on the table as a quick fix, to disguise its previous ill-treatment. Does that make sense?”

“Yeah,” he said, grinning sheepishly. “Sorry. I was in a hurry.”

“Don’t be. I pay you by the hour-you don’t need to be in a hurry with a job like this.”

“Got it.”

I nodded and smiled again, sincerely this time. “Don’t get me wrong. Being in a hurry is a good thing most of the time-you know me, I hate slow.”

“Don’t I know it,” he responded, grinning back.

“Josie!” Gretchen called, her voice echoing in the cavernous warehouse. “Josie? Where are you?”

“Here, in the Wilson corner!” I answered, projecting my voice, referring to a roped-off area near the back where the Wilson estate’s goods were being catalogued and readied for Friday’s auction preview.

“There’s a police officer to see you.”

“What?” I called back to her, startled.

“A police chief,” she answered, as if that helped to clarify the situation.

Leaving Eric at the table, I walked quickly toward the front, my unpolished engineer boots click-clacking on the concrete. I spotted a tall, broad-shouldered man, somewhere near forty, with dark, pockmarked skin and graying hair, waiting by the door that led from the warehouse to the entryway. He wasn’t smiling. My heart began to thud. The last time a cop had asked to see me, it had damn near ruined my life.

Gretchen, my assistant, stood beside him, her copper-colored hair falling in cascades below her shoulders. Her green eyes were big with news, and her flawless ivory skin showed a slight flush.

“Hi,” I said to the man as I approached. “I’m Josie Prescott.”

“I’m Chief Alverez. Is there somewhere we can talk?”

“Sure,” I answered, my internal trouble spotter whirring into high alert. “What’s going on?”

“I’m the chief of Rocky Point,” he told me, flipping open a worn leather case, showing me his badge. Rocky Point, a city of about hundred thousand, included almost three miles of New Hampshire’s eighteen-mile coastline about ten miles south of Portsmouth.

“Chief of police?” I queried. “What’s up?”

“I have a few questions about a case… Maybe it would be better if we talked in private.”

“Sure… Gretchen,” I said, turning to her, “you can go back to work.”

She left, and I moved away from the door toward some used, oversized crates stacked like bricks in a corner of the warehouse near the office door. “Is this all right?”


From where I stood, I could see the entire warehouse, stocked with furnishings of various types, periods, and quality. To unknowing eyes it probably looked chaotic, but I knew better; it was a production line in perfect working order. Items came in for sorting; the good stuff got primped and primed and sent to auction, usually in- house; the junk, with a good piece or two thrown in to entice the faithful, was left in “as-is” condition for our weekly tag sale. Right now the warehouse was about half-full, and half-full was good. We were busy, and growing.

“Okay,” I said. “We’re private. What’s going on?”

“I understand you knew Nathaniel Grant.” It sounded more like an accusation than a question.

“ ‘Knew’ him?” I responded.

“Did you?”

“‘Did’ I? Are you saying… Is he… What are you saying?”

“You haven’t heard the news?”

“What news?”

“Where have you been this morning?”

In a nanosecond, I went from confused and slightly impatient to angry and rebellious. Tired of playing cat-

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