Small problems can really wreck a day, can’t they? That is, until big ones come along to cut them down to size.
Before I found out about my friend Dima, my day was already falling apart. Maybe it was my own fault for driving to work. A cold fall rain was pouring down, and I had lucked out with a parking space on the street, just in front of my house. Walk seven blocks to the subway in the rain? Or stand under a store awning, waiting for a bus? Or do the easy thing, the warm and dry thing, and hop into my car?
Parking is difficult in my old, pre-driveway, Brooklyn home neighborhood. It is impossible in my older, pre-Civil War work neighborhood.
So I was already wet, late and grouchy when I finally walked into the cubicle I share with other low-level employees at the history museum. My boss was waiting for me.
He didn’t care about my tardiness. (Good) He wanted me to drop everything, attend a meeting and drive a visiting big-wig around. (Not good. ) This was going to be my day to get all caught up on my current assignment. I’m a grad student, single mother of a teen, an employee, a homeowner. Sometimes I fall behind in one, or even all, of those roles. Plus, driving again? No way.
When he promised an interesting meeting I was more than a little skeptical, but attend I did.
The visiting big-wig, Dr. Flint, turned out to be one of great experts on Tiffany glass, a well-dressed, cold-eyed older man. On meeting me he said, “What happened to Sarah? She was a student of mine and she is reasonably capable.”
“Down with the flu.”
“Then you’ll have to do, I suppose. And you are also a decorative arts specialist, I hope?’
“No, I am an urban historian. Historian in training, really. But I’ll be happy to assist today.” It seemed like the right thing to say.
His cool blue eyes got much cooler. I added quickly, “I’ll try not to ask foolish questions.”
“See that you don’t.”
Not the best beginning for a working relationship I didn’t even want, and now wanted less.
The meeting was about some boxes of material brought in by a dumpy woman with a timid manner and the startling name of Bright Skye. She shook out the contents of a large envelope. The drab table was suddenly covered in a rainbow, pages of watercolors, brilliantly glowing. They were familiar Tiffany designs: lacy red dragonflies; exuberantly blooming wisteria, in vivid lavender blue; rosy cherry blossoms; daffodils that radiated sunshine; pale opalescent magnolias and shimmering blue–green peacock feathers.
The entire room seemed to take on the glow. I couldn’t stop staring. Dr. Flint’s cold eyes started sparkling. In short order he agreed to consult on this new found material when he returned from a European conference. I was told to assist him today with a quick trip over to historic Green-Wood Cemetery before he left for the airport, to check some details on a memorial window. Then I would spend the week until his return cataloguing the mysterious new material.
What was I, a pawn on a chessboard, to be moved wherever I was needed? Well, yes, that’s exactly what I was. My ID said Research Assistant; it should have said All Around Servant.
The day got steadily more aggravating, and wetter, until the moment Dr. Flint was off to JFK and the sun finally came out. I thought I’d just walk by my daughter Chris’s school. At fifteen, she did not need – and certainly did not want! – a parental escort after school, but sometimes I just felt like seeing her.
Chris and her friends came down the stairs weeping. And that’s how I found out that Dima was dead. He was chief custodian at the school and father of a friend. Everyone knew him. Everyone liked him.
We didn’t know, then, that he had been murdered.
You can read more about Erica in Brooklyn Graves, the second book in the “Erica Donato” mystery series, published by Poisoned Pen Press. The first book in the series is Brooklyn Bones. Books are available at retail and online booksellers.
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Meet the author
Triss Stein’s Brooklyn Graves (Poisoned Pen Press) is the second book in a new series about Brooklyn neighborhoods, Brooklyn history, families, teens-agers and crime. In other words, real life plus mystery. It includes a famous cemetery and even more famous Tiffany glass. Triss has been a public librarian and a business researcher but prefers writing mysteries. Raised in NY farm country, she especially enjoys writing about Brooklyn, her home for many decades.
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