Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Round 1 Showcase - Erica Sumner

Category/genre: NA Mystery
Author: Erica Sumner
Chosen by editor Cynthia T. Luna

Book blurb

Dangerously armed with a pregnant imagination and observation skills bordering on stalking, physically awkward college senior Sara Donovan is convinced she's stumbled upon an international antiquity smuggling ring in Tuscaloosa, AL. Being the civic-minded person she believes herself to be, Sara takes it upon herself to investigate. The notion that such an idea is preposterous never occurred to her. It should have. But it didn't. Until she found herself on the business end of law enforcement. During the course of Sara’s investigation, she has an Air Marshal Incident; encounters the iron-pumping octogenarian Mrs. Majelski and her walker; overcomes granny panties on crack and Newton's Third Law of Motion; tactically employs the OCD Tissue System (patent pending by Sara Donovan); and makes strategic use of the explosive seat number C5.

Opening Pages
Chapter One
Where’s a Good Wormhole When You Need One

I recently read about a big to-do erupting over part of Einstein’s theory of relativity being proven right, that all objects to some extent distort the fabric of space and time. Big deal. I may only be a business major but even I know that such a phenomenon exists. That’s because for decades between Friday and Saturday nights, time dilation has been occurring on college campuses all over the country. Saturday morning is simply a wormhole between partying. I get it and I’m not even a physics major.

And it’s because of time dilation that I’m in my current situation.

The dash clock ticks over to 8:00 when my black Honda Civic roars into the Employees Only parking lot at the Dauphin Museum of Art and Antiquities, just south of the Birmingham business district. With its gray primer splotches the Civic looks more like a giant Holstein cow on wheels, but it’s moving fast. Because I’m late. Due to the aforementioned wormhole and my inability to stop playing whack-a-mole with the snooze button. Repeatedly.

As a second semester senior at the University of Alabama you would think I have better things to do on a Saturday. But other than sleeping I really don’t. And if you forget the whole being late thing, going to work this early in the morning is not an issue because I love the atmosphere of the Museum. During lunch breaks I inhale my food so there’s plenty of time to go through the exhibits, of course spending the most time in the Egyptian hall.

Slamming the Civic in park I snatch my purse and phone and scramble out of the car. One benefit about being here early is the number of primo parking spaces close to the building. I shoot across the walk and hurriedly scale the big marble steps, taking care not to have a “Sara Moment” as my best friend Zoe loves to call my occasional mishaps. Nodding at Hank the Security Guard I breeze through the towering brass-finished front doors, turn right and right again into the Museum’s souvenir store. I’m flying towards the supply room in the back to put away my purse and coat before— 


Edna Martin, the Assistant Manager, is there—waiting for me.

She’s middle-aged, about five feet six inches tall, with a head of short gray perpetually disheveled hair, almost in a scholarly I-don’t-care way. But that’s just a pure accident on her part. She is no more scholarly than I am. I just think she has no idea what to do with her hair, or her wardrobe for that matter. The woman has no fashion sense whatsoever. For example, this morning she’s wearing a white cotton pleated skirt with a pastel yellow chiffon blouse. In mid-March? And I’m not even bringing up the black school marm thick clunker heels she’s wearing. Well, I guess I am bringing those up, but that’s not the point. It’s technically still winter. White skirts? Pastel yellow—chiffon?

“Good morning Edna,” I say cheerily, hoping she doesn’t notice I’m three minutes late.

Edna nods at me and slips in behind a corner desk besieged with piles of paper, shipping manifests and supplier invoices. “Morning Sara,” she says plainly.

Even though Edna’s title is Assistant Manager, she spends most of her time managing the store inventory. She does all the buying, usually from vendors in Mexico, Egypt, Dubai and China. There was a real brouhaha about a year ago when the Store Manager, Missy Poindexter, retired after twenty-five years and Doctor Mitchell, the Museum’s Managing Director, passed over Edna for the job. We all thought it was because at the time Edna had only been with the Museum for a few months, even though she apparently had an impressive résumé. But Doctor Mitchell said it was a budget thing and instead gave responsibility for the store to Roger Gwynne, the Museum’s Director of the Ancient Egypt and Byzantine Empire Collection.

“We got a shipment in yesterday from Cairo,” Edna says, motioning with her head to a five-by-five wooden crate on the floor near a table so large it would fill my living room. “Make sure you get it unpacked, sorted and into the system before we open. And,” she pauses while grabbing a thick manila folder from a haphazard pile of folders, “don’t be late again. This being your first day back, I certainly hope this doesn’t portend how the rest of your semester will go here.”

Portend? Really? Who uses that word? Of course, if I don’t pass my GBA490 class, the business program’s infamous weed-out course, I may be using that word as a newly minted English major. And I guess technically she has a point, I am late, even though we don’t open for two hours (yeah, I’m rounding up).

“I’m sorry, it won’t happen again. Um, just trying to get back into the routine,” I offer weakly. “You know, Spring Break, woot wo—”

Without looking up, Edna just gives a “mmm hmm”, snaps the folder closed and flips it into an overflowing wire out basket on the corner of her desk.

Sufficiently chastised, I turn to the new shipment. It was a standard size shipping crate. Two hours should be enough to get everything organized and entered into the system before ten o’clock. I’ve gotten pretty good over the past three years at inventorying shipments since Museum policy doesn’t allow Edna as the buyer to also open any inventory purchases she makes.

“Edna, are there any special items in there I need to know about?”

Since Roger took over he’s been adamant on improving the store’s atmosphere and upgrading its inventory. Now, whenever the Dauphin plans a new exhibit and he directs Edna to purchase specific reproductions to augment the exhibit, he also has these items added to our online inventory that customers can special order. I know there are no new exhibits being planned but I like to ask, just in case, if for no other reason than to fill the otherwise deafeningly silent room with some modicum of conversation.

“Hmm? Oh, uh, no,” Edna mumbles. She tosses another thick manila folder into the out basket, snags a worn overstuffed file from a different pile and starts poring over the contents. After a few paper shuffles, without looking up, she adds, “Oh, actually yes, there’s a special order in there for Mrs. Bagley. One of those painted funeral masks that are so popular. Said she’ll pick it up next week.”

“Okay, I’ll put it with Karen’s things,” I say.

Karen Allen works the register during the week and Mrs. Bagley, a sixth grade social studies teacher, typically picks up her orders mid-week. The items she orders are for an ongoing Egyptian segment during the school year in which each of her classes create and immerse themselves in a fictitious ancient Egyptian community.

I brighten. “Any tours for me today?” Since I know the Egyptian hall better than I know my little cottage, occasionally I give a tour of the Egyptian exhibit if the normal freelance tour guide, Sissy Barnes, isn’t available.

“Nope. You’ll be working the register all day.”

“Okay,” I say wistfully.

Head still buried in paperwork, Edna says curtly, “Thank you.”

In the other corner opposite Edna’s desk sits a small table with a drawer and shelf underneath. On top is the most important piece of equipment in the backroom, if not the entire Museum.

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