She pulled up in front of Trojan Artifacts a few minutes after nine, which according to the hand painted gold script on the shop window was opening time. She entered and was announced by an electronic bell, the sort you would expect in a liquor store or government office. It was a cluttered place like most antique stores with pyramids of expensive furniture topped by comparatively more expensive curios. As she was looking around she heard Andrew’s voice.
“Well, hello, Debbie,” Andrew said from behind her.
“Good morning, Andrew. Hope the hours posted out front are good for Saturdays too.”
“Of course, I think keeping dependable and consistent hours helps develop dependable and consistent customers.”
“Well, show me around then.”
“Come back to the warehouse. I just got some fabulous pieces from Europe. Haven’t gotten a chance to get them presented yet.”
They walked a weaving path towards the back. “It’s a bit like a maze in here.”
“Yes, I’m sorry. I really don’t do a good job of organizing everything in here. It seems the aisles are created by sales.”
“What a beautiful pair of candelabra,” she said stopping mid way back.
“Good eye,” he said encouragingly. “Those came from the estate of a very old New England family. The story goes that they had been in the import business since colonial times. I got them up in Massachusetts a few weeks back.”
“Oh, yes. I remember reading about that. Two brother and their wives died in a plane crash I believe?”
“Yes, just tragic. A friend of mine was handling the estate. I paid more than I should have, but I thought it might help out those poor children.”
They continued back.
“The same man found this piece for me. French Country, wonderful detail in the woodworking. It’s a shame you can’t find craftsmanship like it anymore.”
“So, are you from the Northeast?”
“No, I was raised out in California. After graduating, I spent some time in Asia and just slowly worked back to the states the long way.”
“India first, then Turkey up through Greece, Italy, France and finally Spain.”
“That’s a long trek”, she said.
“Yes, it was. But the history behind all those cultures. . . . it’s a bit depressing here in the states, so little concept of tradition, such disregard for the finer things.”
“But this is where you ended up?” she asked.
“Well, I came down to visit some friends and was just overwhelmed by the possibilities. It was about ten years ago and there were these pristine beaches, really million dollar views and people lived in cinder block houses that were decorated in vinyl and wicker, like the set of some working class sitcom.”
“It certainly has matured since then.”
“That generation, for the most part, has passed on and their children seem to be much more knowledgeable about how such a wonderful place should be lived in. And with the way property values have risen, they have the equity to do it.”
“I would think the climate would be harsh on some of these pieces”, Debbie thought out loud.
“In the rentals it is. I usually won’t sell to anyone looking to furnish a rental house because it’s just like asking a sixteen year-old to take care of a new Mercedes. But the real damage, of course, comes from the hurricanes.”
“You can’t really protect against that”, Debbie said.
“This building isn’t really in danger. I had it built to be sealed up tight as a vault plus we’re a good half-mile inland, but some of the beachfront homes just can’t be protected. We’ve had two moderate hurricanes come through since I’ve been here. Have you ever driven through the aftermath of a hurricane?”
“When I was twelve, we were living in the Dominican Republic,” she said staring into a peer mirror.
“The Dominican Republic?”
“My father was raised in the West Virginia mountains. His family was poor. His father was a coal miner who had a thing for the sea. Don’t ask me why. I guess it had something to do with the dream of open spaces after being down in those mines day after day. Anyway, my father inherited a love of the sea from him. So he became a missionary and worked mostly in the Caribbean his whole life. So we were living right outside Santo Domingo when David hit.”
“I don’t recall hearing about David. Was it bad?” Andrew asked.
“By the time it made landfall in the states, no, but when it hit down there the winds were over one hundred and seventy miles per hour.”
“Incredible,” Andrew exclaimed.
“Yes, it was pretty surreal. I remember being so afraid because mother had my brother and me huddled under her for hours. She was just squeezing hard and praying out loud the whole time.”
“Where were you?”
“Well, Dad had just finished building a church about three months before. Luckily, he had made it right and because of it a lot of Dominicans along with my family were safe. We were back in a small room off of the worship room and Dad was in the worship room guarding the door.”
“Holding the wind out?”
“No, trying to keep the people in. The men kept wanting to go outside.”
“To bring others in. He said you could see the shanties around the church just disintegrating in the wind through the windows. The people wanted to save others. One man kept yelling, ‘Mi cabrios, mi cabrios’.”
“My goats?” Andrew asked.
“His goats. It’s all he had before David and afterwards he had nothing. I can still remember the sound of things crashing against that wall. Some of them hard, but it was the sound of the soft hits that still gives me chills. When the storm finally passed Dad took us outside. The devastation was total. My brother and I were climbing over all sorts of wreckage that had piled up against the side of the church. And in the debris, right against the wall that protected us was the body of a goat. It’s back broken and twisted so that its front legs were on one side and its back legs on the other.
“Did you stay?”
“Dad did, we didn’t. Mother took us back to the mainland to Virginia a few weeks after. The last time I saw Dad, he was standing on a makeshift pier loaded with relief supplies that were coming in as we were sailing out. As we pulled away on a boat, he stood there, glasses cracked and wearing a tattered rain coat.”
“Your mother did the right thing.”
“Yes, she did, but so did Dad.”
Just then a young lady in a miniskirt and flip flops appeared from the back of the store.
“Mr. Troy, your wife is on the phone,” she called.
“Tell her I’ll be right there, Lydia,” he replied.
Then to Debbie, he said, “Feel free to browse. I’ll be back in a minute.”
“Take your time,” Debbie replied.
He walked quickly back to the office while Debbie surveyed the antiques around her. She found a Barrister’s bookcase and raised the door to browse the titles. There were a couple of dozen hard cover novels all in excellent condition though many were missing their dust jackets. She thumbed through the pages of a few classics and smiled then her hand stopped on one titled I am Thinking of My Darling. She pulled it out and opened the cover. Inside she found the inscription: “To My Fond Compatriot Andrew, yours, E.B.” She flipped the book to it’s spine and found the author’s name was Vincent McHugh. She opened it back and read the inscription again.
“I apologize about that,” Andrew said, “my wife is hosting a party tonight and she likes to ask for my input despite the fact that she never uses it.”
Debbie quickly closed the book and replaced it on the shelf. “Well, she probably needs a sounding board more than she needs answers,” she said as she turned towards him.
Andrew looked at the bookcase and then closed the glass door. “Well let me show you these new pieces.”
They walked back and he pulled open a large pocket door, revealing his storeroom. Unlike the show room it was well organized with lines on the floor and hanging signs that had a progression of number and letter codes for designating storage areas.
“This is a very efficient warehouse system you have,” Debbie noticed.
“Yes, I’ve been trying to follow the modern inventory practices. They say it is the dividing factor between a successful business and a failure.”
“I’ve always considered it a bit ironic that we can no longer afford to make goods in the US. But, we can get it to consumers cheaper than anywhere else.”
“Give the people what they want,” Andrew said walking down a row of chests. “Ah, here they are.” He went into a long lesson about the attributes of fine old furniture. While he described different woods, joining techniques and finishes, he tapped repeatedly at his focal point. He did so in a way that suggested a professor boasting his own knowledge. As he began to talk about an enormous desk, the front door buzzer rang. Without finishing his sentence, Andrew looked down at his watch quickly.
Lydia’s voice came on the P.A. system.
“Mr. Troy, Mr. White’s here.”
“Well, we’ll have to stop here,” he said, stating that the lecture had come to an end. “Perhaps Lydia could show you around?”
“No, don’t go to any trouble, I’ll just browse for a bit,” Debbie said.
“It’s not any trouble, really, on the weekends she rarely has anything else to do.”
“No, please. I’ll be fine.”
“Sure. Shall we go back up to the front?” Andrew said gesturing towards the showroom. As soon as they walked through the door, Mr. White startled them with a curt, “Hello.”
“Walter, this is Debbie Baylor. Debbie, my father-in-law, Walter White.”
“How do you do Mrs. Baylor?” White said holding out his hand.
“It’s Ms,” Debbie replied shaking his hand.
“Walter, let me get those plans. I’ll be right back,” Andrew said excusing himself.
“Your son-in-law certainly has some nice antiques,” Debbie told White.
“Yes, he and Barbara love this place. Frankly, I think it’s not much of a living but your heart’s gotta be in what you do they say.”
“I think so,” Debbie agreed.
“So, Ms. Baylor, you building a place down here?” he asked.
“Not yet. I’ve only been here a couple of weeks. But, who knows? It does grow on you.”
“Well if you decide to build forget about the beach. It’s all too built-out in my opinion. You should look on the bay front of the other side of 98. A person can get a nice home over there.”
“Are you in the business?”
“Yes, mostly down in Panama City, though. Condos and malls are what I know.”
“Really,” she said, “I’ve done some consulting for commercial developers in the past. A pretty interesting bunch.”
“How so?” White asked.
“The ones I worked with were real lone wolfs. Even after a few meetings on a particular project, I’d still have no idea what exactly they were building. It would be ‘promote this’ and ‘accentuate improvements in quality of life’ of that. I felt like I was working with the CIA.”
“Well, you know it’s difficult to make things happen. People want their lives to be simple and they want easy access to those things that please them. But once they get it, they want to prevent anyone else from having it.”
“Yes, but the way you guys do it is so… obscure. It starts out secretive, then goes to hazy and vague and six months later it’s a three ring circus.”
“Well, of course, that’s when it comes public and you can go ahead and sell the idea. Until then, it’s a matter of keeping others from interfering with your vision. So, what kind of work do you do?”
“Public relations, the firm I worked for was called in to help negotiate with environmental and historical opponents to particular developments.”
“You should open an office here. It’s amazing what lengths those damn tree-huggers will go to just to protect an alligator in a swamp.”
“Careful now, I am one of those damn tree huggers,” she replied sternly
“Surprises me. You seem too pragmatic to be wasting your time with that.”
“Yes, I started out volunteering with the Sierra Club out of college. At first, working recruitment jobs at other colleges then after a couple of years, I did fundraising work. But, it became too ineffectual, raising money to complain. Contrary to what they believe, more good can be done constructively than in protest.”
“The Sierra Club’s not a bad bunch. They’ve got ownership of some land across the way at Four Mile Beach.”
“Yes, Andrew said you lived there,” she replied.
“For now I do, I’m trying to finish a house further down but between the builder and the architect, it’ll be finished after I’m in my grave. Ms. Baylor, Andrew and Barbara are having a party at my house, tomorrow. I would like for you to come.”
“Thank you, Mr. White, but I’d feel a bit out of place.”
“No, you won’t. You’ll be my escort. It’ll do my reputation good to be seen with such a fetching woman and it’s practically on Sierra Club land anyway. It’s twenty five Sea Oats Place. We’ll be starting at seven p.m.”
Andrew came out of the office with some rolls under one arm saying, “Right where I told you they were,” back through the door.
Mr. White said to him, “You need a proper assistant, mature and capable.”
Andrew said, “Lydia is fine, Walter, she’s just not terribly organized.”
Debbie jumped slightly when the office door seemingly slammed itself shut. The men were startled only by her reaction.
“Walter, let’s go to the conference room. Debbie feel free, Lydia’s available if you have any questions,” Andrew said.
Debbie continued to browse around the narrow winding aisles. Trojan Artifacts had been established for those whose good fortune in life allowed them to add a certain beauty to their homes or to impress those around them. As such for someone like Debbie it provided the enjoyment of looking through hundreds of years of furniture. One could run their hand across tables that had been the setting for a family meal during the Depression or a wardrobe that once contained silk dresses for a Victorian woman. As she looked in the reflection of a dressing mirror, she could see in the conference room window. Andrew’s back was to her. He was animatedly discussing, arms outstretched, something with Mr. White. It didn’t seem to be going well for him. White was looking down at the papers on the table shaking his head side to side. She looked away and headed towards the door.
As she walked outside, stopping to rummage around her purse for her keys, she heard the door swing open behind her.
“I don’t know why he bothers with that old man,” Lydia said turning her head down to light a cigarette.
“That’s the way family is,” Debbie replied.
Exhaling smoke and crossing her arms Lydia replied, “Yeah, I guess. But Mr. White’s kinda a jerk. People say he’s beginning to lose his mind.”
“Be careful what people tell you. They usually have a reason,” Debbie replied with a smile.
“Well, Andy’s such a nice guy, you know, a good boss and all. But, he lets his wife and her father push him around too much. I can see that much for myself.”
“How long have you worked here?”
“Andy hired me a few months ago, right after Eden quit and went to Arizona.”
“Eden Brockwell worked here?”
“Yeah, we took a Biology class together. She really helped me out, kept me from flunking. I didn’t really get the whole thing but she was so into animals and organs and stuff. Anyway, I was doing really bad and so our teacher, Mr. Tyson, made me sit next to her cause she was so good at it. She took me to the library during study hall and just explained it all to me. ‘The body is just a living machine,’ she would say. We got to be friends too. I mean outside of school. Then right before prom, I was so bummed out, because I really wanted this guy, Michael Johnson, to ask me to prom, but everyone knew he was going to ask Eden. So he asked her, and she made some excuse about not being able to go and so he asked me instead. It was so nice of her.”
“It sounds like a really sweet thing to do.”
“Yeah, it was. Only he turned out to be a real jerk. Showed up at my house already drunk --thank God my dad didn’t notice. And, he made us leave the dance early to go to this party, but it was just like three couples at this guy’s house whose parents were out of town. He got all horny with me on the couch, rubbing all over me and telling me how he was going to get a scholarship to Florida State and be a big football star. He failed out after one semester and is working down at Big T Tires now. Anyway she was real cool. How did you know her?”
“I didn’t,” Debbie answered, “but I’ve heard a lot about her.”
“Yeah, she was the type of person people talked about, always good, you know? Well, I’ve got to get back inside, answering the phones and stuff,” Lydia said.
“Lydia, I need a new bathing suit. Is there a department store around here?”
“A department store? This is the beach. We don’t shop at department stores around here.”
“Well, where should I go?”
“I’d go to Love Light.”
“What’s Love Light?”
“It’s a surf shop. About two miles that way down towards Destin,” she said pointing right.
“Sure thing,” Lydia said walking back inside.
Debbie got into her car and headed west.
RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS CONTINUE TO CHAPTER 8