Board Games: A Trio of Mysteries in the Dangerous Games Series features three stories centered on a theme of board games. The first chapters of Amy Barkman's story Victim have been offered as samples in various places, so we decided we'd share the first chapter of my story Mind Games. Look out for the first chapter of Tracy Ruckman's story later in the week.
by Debbie Roome
“Making an early start?” Bruno Severini placed a steaming latte on Lindsay Wilson’s counter.
“I certainly am ... and thank you for this.” She wrapped her hands around the mug of creamy liquid and took a long sip. “First class as always. You spoil me, Bruno.”
He smiled. “Only the best for good neighbors.” Their shops stood side by side in New Regent Street; a popular tourist area in Christchurch, New Zealand.
“So how are your preparations for The Floral Festival?” she questioned, knowing his wife always worked wonders.
He waggled his hands in the air. “The cafe is decorated from top to bottom and Isabella has arranged roses on every table.”
Lindsay nodded. “I must come and have a look. She always does an amazing job.”
“Good morning, everyone.” A breezy voice interrupted their conversation. “Have you walked down our street this morning? The shops are looking fabulous.” Heather Jackson was Lindsay’s right hand woman and knew as much about the collectibles business as she did. They weren’t related but with slim builds, spirals of blonde hair and infectious laughs, they were often mistaken for sisters. At fifty, Lindsay was younger by three years.
Bruno raised a hand in farewell. “Must get back to the Cozy Cappuccino. I’ll see you girls later.”
Heather stowed her purse under the counter. “Our shop front looks great, Lindsay. I love the lilies in the central arrangement.”
New Regent Street was a parallel row of mirror-image shops; all were painted in pastels, all were narrow and all consisted of an upstairs and downstairs. The architectural style was Spanish mission and dated back to 1931. The street itself was paved and the contents of some shops spilled onto the sidewalks – teddy displays, postcards, souvenirs, and crafts. The Cozy Cappuccino and other cafes had outside eating areas, dotted with gaily-colored umbrellas. The only traffic allowed on the street was the old-fashioned trams which followed their tracks round and round like clockwork trains.
Lindsay drained the last of her latte. “I actually haven’t been past the other shops. Coming for another look?” She locked the door and together they set off down the street. “Ugh!” she exclaimed, pointing at the shop next to hers. “The Green Sprout looks as plain as ever. I don’t think Irvine has a creative bone in his body.”
Heather laughed in agreement. “Is he still showing you attitude?”
“Is he ever! I can’t imagine why he’s like that. It’s like he was born with a chip on his shoulder.” They paused, examining his window display; an unimaginative collection of wheat germ, sunflower seeds, canola oil, royal jelly tablets and dried seaweed.
“Can I help you ladies?” Irvine thrust his head through the door, his skin florid and eyes bloodshot although it was barely 8 a.m. “Or are you just here to criticize?” Heather took a step back but Lindsay stood her ground.
“Actually, Irvine, we were wondering why you aren’t participating in the festival by doing a floral window display.” He slammed the door and Heather tugged Lindsay’s arm.
“Come on. Leave him to wallow in his misery.”
Lindsay fell in step with her. “I don’t know why he has such an attitude. It’s no wonder he’s not liked around here.”
“Yeah. His only visitor is that nephew of his. What’s his name? Henry? Harry?”
“Harvey,” Lindsay supplied.
“That’s it. Harvey. And Roland of course.” Roland was landlord of the three shops at the end of the street. The Cozy Cappuccino, which was on the corner, Calico Cottage Collectibles and The Green Sprout. It was common knowledge that he was forever trying to extract rental payments from Irvine. Sometimes he would pay two months in advance; other times he would lag behind for weeks.
“I still say he’s involved in drugs,” Heather continued.
Lindsay nodded. “I wouldn’t be surprised. I’ve seen several shady characters lurking around his shop. One of them has been there every evening this week. A skinny youngster, wears a dark grey hoodie and baggy jeans.”
“Yes. I’ve noticed him hanging around too.”
Their conversation drifted in other directions as they exclaimed over the floral decorations. Christchurch was known as the Garden City and hosted several annual flower shows each year. The Floral Festival was the largest and thousands of tourists swamped the city each year, laden with bags, cameras, and fat wallets.
“I feel like I’m walking through a country garden.” Lindsay bent to examine a display crafted from chipped bark and dozens of potted plants. “Can you smell the fragrance from these carnations?”
Heather inhaled deeply, closing her eyes. “Exquisite. I think this year will be the best yet.”
“And look at those begonias.” The two women gazed at the blood red and deep gold blossoms.
“It’s so good to be back in our store. Working from home after the earthquake wasn’t the same.”
Heather nodded. “It was terrible being blocked out of town. Do you remember how we were escorted in with two hours to grab as much stock as we could salvage?”
“Yes, and we were among the lucky ones. So many others lost their businesses and the demolitions were heartbreaking.”
Heather gazed down the street. “The city’s skyline changed daily back then. Even now I feel sad when I see the gaps where some of the heritage buildings stood.”
“It’s a loss we’ll never forget, but also an opportunity to rebuild a stronger city ...”
“Yoo-hoo, Lindsay.” She swivelled her head to source the sound. “There’s a courier delivery waiting outside your shop.” It was Sarah Matthews who owned The Painted Camel, a craft shop opposite Calico Cottage Collectibles. “I saw you walking down the street and told him to hang on a minute.”
Heather fastened the doors back while Lindsay signed for the parcels. “The local one got here quickly,” she said as she carried them in. “Look at this. A collection of glass figurines from a deceased estate in Auckland.” She read the labels on the other two packages before slitting them open and displaying the contents on the counter. “These are games that I bought through eBay. First edition Mind Games, and Classic Mind Games. They come from two different people in different parts of the States.”
“What are the odds they would arrive on the same day?”
“Well, there’s a story behind that. I bought the first edition Mind Games from a woman called Brenda and she shipped it by fast mail. The other one dates back a few months as it somehow it ended up in Christchurch, England instead of here. The recipient kindly forwarded it in to me.”
Heather picked up one of the boxes and examined the brightly colored brain on the front. “The first edition still has the cellophane on.”
“Amazing, isn’t it?”
“Well it certainly increases the value. Especially as it must be at least 20 years old.” She flipped the box and read the instructions on the back. “It looks interesting. I’ve never seen this game before.”
“Me neither but they are collectibles according to my Google research. I’m going to give Professor Holbrook a call just now as I’m sure he’ll take one of them.” She marked a price on the new stock, placed the games on a downstairs shelf, and took the glass figurines to a locked glass cabinet on the first floor. All the upstairs stock was in secure cabinets and the area had video surveillance that displayed on a screen next to the counter.
“Here you are.” Heather handed her a sheet of paper, warm from the printer. Whenever new stock arrived, Lindsay listed the items in the window. Regular customers would browse the list before coming in for a closer look.
An hour later, the crowds started to build as the trams followed their circuit and dropped fresh batches of tourists every twelve minutes. There were three running that morning and all of them were beautifully decorated. Lavish wreathes hung from the front and rear and honeyed wood contrasted with twisted flower garlands on the sides. “It’s going to be a busy day.” Heather watched a departing customer after swiping yet another credit card through the till point. “People are in the mood for spending and it’s only the beginning of the festival.”
Lindsay nodded as she straightened stock and tidied shelves. She thrived on excitement and found it exhilarating rather than draining. “Rather busy than idle, Neil used to say. He loved to watch me working; said I reminded him of a honey bee buzzing round its hive.” She paused for a moment. “I still miss him, even after all these years.”
“He was a good man.”
“Yes. It’s hard to understand why he died so young.” She flicked a duster across some pottery pigs. “Life isn’t fair sometimes but living in the past won’t help.”
The doorbell chimed again and Heather turned to serve another customer. Lindsay finished tidying the shelves and then remembered she was going to give the professor a call. He answered after two rings and seemed delighted to hear her voice. “Of course I’d be interested. Probably in the first edition. I’ll pop in first thing tomorrow morning.”
“Wonderful. I’ll put a reserved tag on it for you.” Humming quietly, she walked to the back corner where the two Mind Games boxes sat side by side. They were both in mint condition and looked almost the same. She tagged the correct box and replaced it on the shelf.
“Lindsay,” Heather called her from the front of the shop. She looked up just in time to see a skinny figure in hoodie and jeans entering the premises. Her heart rate picked up speed. This was the fellow they’d been discussing earlier. Stuffing her fears away, she walked to the front of the shop.
“Good morning. Can I help you?”
Two vacant eyes peered from the depths of his hood and she saw his skin was rough with acne.
“Are you looking for something in particular?” He was younger than she had originally thought. Maybe twenty.
“Jus’ havin’ a look.” He jammed his hands into his pockets and moved towards the shelves, slightly unsteady on his feet.
Lindsay threw a glance towards Heather. “Call Bruno,” she mouthed before following the youth. He’d paused by a shelf of old fashioned flat irons and was running his hand across the base of one. Thoughts tumbled through her mind. What if he uses it as a weapon? What if he hits me with it? What should I do?
It was at times like this that she really missed Neil. He would have handled the situation calmly instead of fighting panic like she was. Thank goodness Bruno worked next door. He was generally easy going but had a fiery Italian temper that surfaced every so often. Breathe, she instructed herself, as she stepped towards the youth. He’s not going to do anything in broad daylight. “That iron is pretty old. Your great, great grandmother probably used a similar one for her laundry.”
He placed it back on the shelf and turned to look at her. “Can you spare me a couple of dollars?”
Lindsay had learned the hard way not to hand out cash from the shop. “I’m afraid I can’t do that. If you go down to the City Mission in Colombo Street they’ll help you out with some food.” Just then the bell dinged and a couple of customers walked in, followed by Heather and Bruno.
“Everything alright, Lindsay?” Bruno stood next to her and his sheer bulk seemed to deflate the youth. “What’s your name young man?”
“Alright, Ricky. Want to tell me what you’re doing?” The youth shrugged his shoulders and Bruno placed a firm hand on his arm. “I don’t think you have a legitimate reason for being here so get going.”
Lindsay almost felt sorry for him as he swayed past them and out of the door.
“You alright?” Bruno enquired.
“I will be, and thank you for coming over. We feel much safer knowing you’re so close.”
He smiled. “Anytime ... and I’ll send two espressos and some ravioli over. That will settle your nerves.”
Her heart rate was subsiding already. “That sounds good, Bruno. Just be sure to add it to my tab.”
The food arrived in due course and Lindsay won the toss for eating first. “Be careful where you sit,” Heather cautioned. “Ricky’s still out there. I saw him go into The Green Sprout earlier and he’s been wandering up and down like a lost soul.”
Lindsay put her head out the door and saw Ricky sagging against the trunk of a tree. “I still say that Irvine’s supplying him with drugs. He’s probably desperate for a top up of P or whatever he’s on.”
Heather shuddered. “They found a P lab near my house last week. Police were all over the place and recovered about $100,000 worth of methamphetamines.”
“I remember reading about that. In fact I won’t be surprised if Irvine’s mug is plastered across the The Press one day soon.”
A customer walked in just then and Lindsay decided to find a table outside The Cozy Cappuccino. She was halfway through the ravioli when a familiar figure appeared on the street. Harvey sauntered past, stopping dead when he saw Ricky. He obviously wasn’t pleased to see him and angry words were exchanged.
Eventually, Ricky slouched off and Harvey headed across to The Green Sprout. He paused en route, his eyes skimming the notices in Lindsay’s window.
The rest of the day passed in a blur and by 5:30, Lindsay was tired but buzzing. “This must have been one of our best days ever. I can’t imagine how busy parade day will be.” She shoved a handful of curls back from her face. “And I still have several hours of work to do. I haven’t had a chance to touch the Internet sales today.”
“Work late and sleep in tomorrow,” Heather advised as she finished cashing up. “I have a dentist appointment in the morning but Sherrie will be here from 8:30.”
Lindsay flicked the lights off, leaving only the window display lit up. Some of the eating houses stayed open till late and the trams ran till 10 p.m. Even on a normal evening, there would be plenty of window shoppers out on the street.
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