Two dead friends …
A crazed ex-suitor …
Custodianship of six and a half million dollars …
And maybe demons.
Sometimes a Timeless Innocent can change your life.
When her father and his two best friends Ralph and Edith Clerkwell are hit in an accident, Brianna Forte finds herself reluctantly in charge of everything. While settling the Clerkwells’ estate she finds not only a collection of strange and unsettling little figurines but a mystery she never dreamed existed. To complicate things she must deal with two people determined to buy the collection, a bitter relative and a vicious boyfriend who would rather kill her than let her leave him.
And demons. Never forget the demons.
Brianna never knew what made her think of the tiny quill pen in her pocket. With reluctance she picked up the figure Edith had labeled ‘Dan’ – just what were these things made of, anyway? Although it seemed outsized in proportion to the satyr-like little creature, the quill slid easily into the gap in his hand, the point resting just above the blank sheet he held.
She turned him over and over, studying him. Normally she wasn’t so judgmental about things. What was it about these things that aroused such distaste in her? They were quite well done – the craftsmanship was really good, the modeling excellent. Even the tiniest detail was exquisite, the painting most naturalistic, and there were no mold marks that she could see.
And what on earth were they made of? she wondered again. With just a little imagination she could think they felt almost flesh-like.
She put Dan back on the table without any reluctance and turned her attention to the bookshelf, truly looking at the collection for the first time.
The bookshelf was a common type, made of some sort of pale fake wood, and had five shelves. Each shelf was jammed full of figurines, so full that the edges of the outer ones hung a tiny bit over the edge of the shelf. There was no way that even one more of the things could be fitted onto any shelf. Some of the figures appeared a little taller and some a little shorter, but the bases appeared to be all the same size. Brianna did a quick headcount on one shelf, then, startled at the total, counted more slowly.
There were 108 figurines on that one shelf, and there were 5 shelves in the bookcase. That meant, she thought with astonished distaste, there were over 500 of the repulsive little objects. 500! Who would want one of them, let alone 500? What had Edith and Ralph been thinking of?
And who was that man who had shown up so unexpectedly? Why would he want this mess?
Ignoring the insistent ache in her palm, Brianna picked up one at random from the next to bottom shelf. This one was a farmer, she supposed. He leaned against a spading fork held in one hand and in the other grasped a small plant. A floppy straw hat sat precariously atop his crown of light brown curls.
Next to him was a much more feckless type, leaning against a tree stump and blowing into a sort of stylized flute. A garland of tiny, perfect flowers lopsidedly encircled his head.
The next one appeared to be singing. His mouth was open into a perfect ‘o’ and he clasped a sheet of music, inscribed with tiny notes on a minuscule staff.
The closer Brianna looked the more impressed she was with the workmanship. Every detail, no matter how tiny, was perfect. There was even a key signature – D minor, Brianna thought – on the singing one’s sheet music. As far as she could tell from such a cursory inspection each figurine was different from all its fellows, which was amazing. Usually even in the most limited runs of collectibles there were some duplications.
Brianna returned the one she held to the shelf and, without thinking, dusted her hands against her shorts, biting back a yelp as the burn across her palm made contact with the cheap cotton knit. How could that brief contact with the hot electrical cord give her such a painful burn? She hadn’t thought it that bad when it happened, but it seemed to be getting worse. Cool water would make it feel better. Maybe there was some burn ointment in the bathroom. Whether there was or not, she should go wash her hands. They felt vaguely dirty in spite of there being no dust in the room whatsoever.
This was enough. She could tackle this room tomorrow, pack all these little horrors away and find them a climate-controlled storage vault.
Turning to leave the room, Brianna stopped suddenly. She knew she had put Dan down in the center of the table. Now he was close to the edge, so close that he might topple over. Instinctively she lifted it to put him back, then with a scream flung the figurine down and drew back in horror.
On the previously blank scroll was now written in a tiny, perfect hand, “Thank you.”