The Body At King Richard's
He was struck by a new smell when he opened the door to let all the vendors in for the day.
Normally, King Richard’s Antiques smelled of layers of dust and old lady Avon perfume, coupled with cat piss, and stale air. All the same smell, really. It was not an altogether unpleasant aroma, rather it seemed to state to him exactly where he was — an old warehouse converted to thematic stalls of vendors hoping someone would wander through their wares and purchase something, anything. Still there wasn’t a day he didn’t come to work that he didn’t wonder to himself what antiques smelled like when they were new and not antiques. It’s the same feeling he had when he went to museums. Fade to white is the color of museums — but how brilliant was the before? Whenever the before was. Surely reliefs were once painted with vibrant colors. Surely statues had inset eyes of shell and coral and the world was once a bright, bright sunglasses needed place.
He looked down at the nearest counter at an array of pillbox hats with various tears in the mess. These were once sold at a department store counter, vibrant and with the smell of new fashion. There was no way to imagine such newness.
King Richard’s had stall after stall of pretty things and dusty things that each collector thought was valuable and perhaps before eBay some of it was. The collectors made big plans — these items — be they china cups or ancient fur stoles, were going to be their children or grandchildren’s legacies and they refused to listen as their kids came and went, taking nothing with them, remembering always the suburban hoarder houses they grew up in, with RVs parked on the side lawns that never once took a trip across America .
Who needed a box of beanie babies with their tags still on? Who needed Donald Duck orange juice glasses and lapel pins from the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics? Who needed baseball cards from the 80s? The answer was always no one. They’d buy no one’s first car and put no one through college.
The customers were dwindling. The town had a shortage of granny-shoed girls and Oscar Wilde loving boys. The new crop of college bound and college-aged kids were too pragmatic for antiques. They preferred Target. They preferred less dust. They preferred cheap things designed to match. Even Ikea was too much for them. He considered it a remarkable feat that King Richard’s had lasted as long as it had. Someday soon, he thought, I’ll get the call saying they don’t need me to open the doors anymore. He shook his head and breathed in deep.
The breath said iron. Heavy iron. He went from stall to stall searching for something tangible to match the smell, like someone set over ripe steaks out over night and forgot to do anything with them. He’d almost circled the whole floor back to the door when he found the source.
He had dismissed it at first: He thought it was some artistic stall collector having a laugh. A slumped over mannequin in a big hat, looking down at a Life magazine of the moon landing. But then he let his eyes trail down from her gold and cream Jackie O suit to the puddle of drying blood on the thread bare graying floral carpet. There she was: The source of it all. He took a photo of her with his phone and conjured up every once of strength within him not to Instagram it. He circled the body, like a coyote circling dinner, but the dinner didn’t move. She wore vintage golden heels with sparkling glitter. There were splatter marks of dried red polka-dotting them. He took a close up photo of the heels with his phone. The undersides of the shoes were not scuffed as old vintage shoes should be. It bothered him.
He called the cops and kept his eyes on her as he talked on the phone. Yes, he came there every morning. Yes, he’d wait for the cops to show. Yes, as far as he knew, he was the one who locked up in the evening. About 9 p.m. No, he hadn’t touched her or anything more than the door and the counter he put his phone and keys on.
He waited in the office area on the other side of the front door and tried to make himself coffee with the Mr. Coffeemaker and make like everything was how it usually was. What was his routine? What if the cops ask? What does he do usually? The vendors weren’t due for another hour.
He sipped the coffee. He sat there and pretended to read the paper. He surfs porn on his phone. He thinks about calling her and then he doesn’t do it. He still doesn’t do it. Over and over again. Sometimes he read a chapter from one of the antique first editions he prized on the desk. He meant to read them in college because they were classics, but there’d been no time to read in college. So he does it now. He picked up a faded red hardback. A children’s edition of The Count of Monte Cristo. He opened randomly and read, “There is neither happiness nor unhappiness in this world; there is only the comparison of one state with another. Only a man who has felt ultimate despair is capable of feeling ultimate bliss. It is necessary to have wished for death in order to know how good it is to live." He closed the book rather nervously and stood up to view the woman in the gold beige suit laying face down on the carpet. Did such quotes apply to women? Should he have turned her over?
The sirens broke his thoughts. He’d meant to call the vendors — especially Alex, whose stall the dead woman’s head was in front of. They’d be starting a little late this morning, he was going to say when he called. But there was no time now. He pointed to her body as the cops and paramedics came in.
The paramedic turned her body over. Her eyes were vacant green and stared at no one. Her hair was not her own, but a wig from a near by stall. Her purse — a sleek black patent leather triangle — was tight against her chest as if she were fighting off a pickpocket.
“Nothing seems to be taken from her purse. There’s still a wallet, money, and cosmetics and keys,” said one of the cops as he handed the purse to another one.
“Did she have a phone? Where’s her phone?”
“She lived on Bailey. In the apartments,” said the cop looking at her ID. “Tell us your story, Jennifer Vasquez. What happened to you?”
Later, in the midday, when the vendors had all arrived and they swarmed the back alley behind the building with him while the cops and emergency people finished up their work, waiting to be let in, he thought about how perfect the night had been.
Jenny had met him up in the hills. There’d been an estate sale she just had to be a part of, he told her. Dress up. The guy up here does vintage photography shoots. Loves to discover new talent. Has a thing for black-haired women with green eyes. Push the Jackie O look, he told her. Watch, you’ll be in the alternative mags in no time.
She got to the address in the hills in a bad mood. She noticed that it wasn’t the mansion he’d promised, but a trailer and an outbuilding that couldn’t possibly be the setting for anything other than a meth deal.
She made a U-turn and started back down the hill when he ran in front of the car to stop her.
“Wait. It’s supposed to be out here. Maybe this is just the meet up point.”
“I think you’re a twisted little fucker, Eliot,” Jenny said. But then a blonde woman in a jogging suit showed up in a gray Saab with an address further up the hillside and there was the photographer, and the estate sale, and many interesting people for Jenny to meet.
“You didn’t fuck up completely,” Jenny looked at Eliot. “Thank you. You know, this could really lead to something.” She took out her phone to selfie the moment before walking into the Mediterranean style mansion, which over looked the San Gabriel Mountains in one direction and the ocean in another. He stared at her while she stared at herself. She was in her thirties and too late for Hollywood, but loving herself still seemed to come to easy to her. He grabbed for her phone.
“I’m taking it away from you for the rest of the evening. The photographer might even want to start up with you tonight,” he said. He grabbed for it and put it in the passenger side door of her car. She stepped out of the old Galaxy. It wouldn’t make the rest of the climb up the hill anyhow.
He walked back in King Richards when the cops had gone and stared at the outline of space where she’d been. Life now felt more lived.