BEHIND THE WALLS
SIXTH IN THE JOLIE GENTIL COZY MYSTERY SERIES
Elaine L. Orr
All Rights Reserved
“AND WHAT DO I HEAR for this antique brass bed with its pink ruffled bedspread?”
“How about ten dollars to burn it?” Scoobie asked, quietly.
“You secretly want those ruffles,” I said, eyes on the elderly auctioneer.
Scoobie snorted. “Not on a cold day in Hades.” He winked at me and turned to walk toward an elaborate train set
that had been set up on a piece of plywood.
It was a beautiful spring day on a lazy Sunday, and that buoyed my mood. Nothing keeps a Jersey girl down long,
not even Hurricane Sandy.
My eyes swept the crowd as well as the assorted furniture and remnants of lives. I was looking for stuff for my
bargain-priced bungalow that was a few blocks from the center of Ocean Alley and five blocks back from the
ocean. My house would have been a lot more expensive if all of the plumbing worked. Considering that not long
ago my future seemed destined to be a room at Aunt Madge’s Cozy Corner B&B, having a house, no matter how
small, was a luxury.
Except for the rotten wood on part of the back porch and the bit of mold in the living room. Okay, there’s no such
thing as 'a bit' of mold, but after a week of bleach and sponges, I think I got it all.
I put a lot of things in storage when I left my gambling husband eighteen months ago, but I hadn’t kept much
furniture other than what I took with me to Aunt Madge’s. Robby and I had bought every piece together. I didn’t
need to look at it.
So here I was at the Sunday auction of Moira Peebles’ possessions. I had already bought her home, but its contents
had been in a storage locker a few miles inland since late last fall. According to the Ocean Alley Press, she had passed
peacefully, so I didn’t feel bad, the way I would if it was an auction because people got booted out of their home.
Like most local auctions, it was held outside with furniture spread around a yard and tables that held smaller items.
This auction had things from many people who had contracted with the auction company but didn’t have enough to
warrant a sale of their own.
I looked again at the rows of tables with odds and ends that were going to be sold in a couple of minutes. Aunt
Madge had warned me that auctioneers knew people want the furniture but not a lot of the miscellany, so they made
buyers wait while the junk sold.
“And look at this…thing. I’m not sure what the holes in this metal box are for. Humph. And there’s this sliding
mechanism.” He leaned over to talk to a younger colleague, and then his face turned a deep shade of red. “You just
don’t see a genuine suppository mold any more,” the elderly auctioneer said.
There was a great deal of laughter and I deliberately did not look at Scoobie.
The auctioneer went into his rapid-speak patter, which meant I didn’t understand what he was saying except for,
sometimes, the amount of a bid. I planned to bid on a small sectional sofa and maybe a dinette set.
Auctioneer Norman Fitzgerald turned his attention to the tables of household goods, small tools, art supplies, and
costume jewelry. Really? Who would buy used crayons and paint brushes?
“Jolie!” I followed my friend Ramona’s voice and saw that she was looking at the art supplies. She does pen or
charcoal drawings on the boardwalk all summer. Maybe I do know someone who would buy used art supplies.
“Hey, Ramona.” I walked to the table she was examining.
She pulled a large box of colored chalk toward her. “I’ve never done anything with chalk because…”
“Too many colors for you?” Scoobie asked. He grinned and moved aside a few inches as she tugged on his dark
blond hair, which today hung over his shirt’s collar. His sometimes cocky demeanor belies his struggle with
depression, which he works hard to manage.
“You’re as funny as sea nettles,” she said. “I’ve been thinking of doing some chalk drawings on the part of the
boardwalk that’s concrete, you know, near the bandstand. It would be like free advertising for my caricatures. But
I'm not sure I want to put in all that work and then have the rain wash it away.”
“ Maybe you could draw stuff on the sidewalk outside the Purple Cow. Roland would love that,” I said, trying to
hide a smirk. The owner of the office supply store where Ramona works is a nice guy, but he’s a serious
businessman, despite what he named his store.
“That’ll be the day.” She shifted through more of the art supplies. “I’m going to bid on the easel over there.”
I followed her gaze. I hadn’t noticed some of the furniture and such that was on the other side of a large tree, so I
walked over to look at it.
There were two recliners, one of them quite new with a handle that raised the seat, and a large rocking chair that I
thought was maple. I felt as if I was looking at Moira Peebles’ progress through old age. First a standard rocker,
then a recliner, then one that helped her get out of the chair when she couldn’t do it herself.
As if to affirm her (or someone’s) physical decline, there was a port-a-potty next to the newest recliner, and one of
those bedside tables you roll up and down. I pushed this depressing mental picture aside and checked out several
pieces of oak bedroom furniture. Aunt Madge’s affinity for antique oak had become mine.
I really liked a large oak chest of drawers. It would fit perfectly along one wall in my small bedroom. I tried the
drawers. All but one were a little sluggish, but I knew Aunt Madge could tell me how to fix that. I couldn’t get the
top right drawer opened, and gave up.
I fished my customer number out of the pocket of my navy blue slacks. I would need to hold it up to bid.
TWENTY MINUTES LATER I had not gotten the sofa or dinette set, and I was determined to win the chest of
“Ladies and gents, this is a beautiful oak bedroom set, probably from the early 1900s or so, but you’ll have to be the
judge of that. Let’s open the bidding on all four pieces at four hundred dollars.”
I didn’t want a bed, chest of drawers, dresser and mirror. Especially the mirror. It was so old the glass was sort of
No one said anything, and Fitzgerald brought the opening bid down to three hundred dollars. Finally, he said that
as much as it pained him, he would break up the set. Bidding was lively for the dresser and mirror, which went for a
price well more than I would have paid. I watched two women who looked to be sisters confer about their purchase
as the bed went up for auction. There were fewer takers there, probably because the mattress and old-fashioned
springs would have to be replaced.
Finally the chest of drawers was on the so-called auction block, which was actually a sturdy picnic table. I’m short,
so I moved a bit to the right so the auctioneer would be able to see my bidding number. “We’ll start this beautiful
oak-crafted chest of drawers at one hundred dollars,” Fitzgerald said.
No takers. When he was down to fifty dollars for a starting bid I held up my number, which was fifty five.
“Who wants to go to sixty dollars for this handsome…?” One of the two women who had bought the dresser held
up her number and he nodded at her. “Okay then, how about seventy?”
I held up my number and he nodded at me. I was not going to go more than one hundred dollars, and had about
resigned myself that I would not get the chest when I saw the two auburn-haired women, who were not a lot older
than my twenty-nine years, exchange a look. Aha. They’re running out of money.
I bid one hundred dollars and was disappointed that they bid one hundred five, but I took a chance and raised my
number when the auctioneer asked for a bid of one hundred ten dollars.
“Do I hear one-fifteen?” he called out.
I held my breath. When several seconds had passed, he pointed a long finger at me and said, “Sold to number fifty-
five for one hundred ten dollars.”
I was very pleased with myself. When I finally got all my stuff moved into the bungalow I’d have a place to put
clothes. I walked toward the chest and met the eyes of the taller of the two women. “All’s fair in love and war, I
She smiled, but seemed to be covering irritation. “Yes. I should have taken a bit more out of the bank this morning,”
she said. “Fiona Henderson.”
“And I’m Patricia Franklin,” the other woman said.
“Jolie Gentil.” I pronounced the J and G softly and letting both names end in the sound of a long e. It’s French, and
means pretty nice. I periodically grouse at my French-Canadian father for his choice, and am constantly telling
people it’s pronounced Zho-lee Zhan-tee.
“I think I know your aunt,” Patricia said. The dark-haired man holding her hand retained his somber expression and
“Who doesn’t?” I asked, smiling.
Behind Fiona, a man said, “The drawers are awfully shallow. You would have hated it.” He was about forty, with
the sort of rugged good looks that I associate with someone who is a tennis coach at a private club.
“Men. What do they know?” Fiona asked.
We all laughed politely, and they moved away. The man continued to gently tease Fiona, and she swatted him on
I tried to tackle the recalcitrant drawer again.
“Want some help?” Scoobie asked.
“Let me give it one,” I tugged, “more” a bigger tug, “try.” The drawer slid open abruptly and it forced me to step
backward about three paces.
“Stuff in it,” Scoobie said as he peered in the drawer. “Oops, ladies’ stuff.”
I pulled out something that was a kind of filmy pink and quite large. I held it up and started to laugh. “I’m not sure I’
ve ever seen underwear this…”
There was a clicking sound and I looked up to see the junior reporter from the Ocean Alley Press. “You print that and
you’re going to have to park your car indoors!” I yelled.
Several people turned to look at us.
“Oh, I won’t!” She backed away, stumbling slightly over the bottom of her jeans, which were overly long with holes
along the sides at artful intervals.
“Now, now,” Scoobie said. “You know who gives Tiffany her assignments.”
“Yeah, yeah, and I heard her emphasis on the word I.” A picture of George Winters floated to the front of my brain.
I had an achy feeling in my stomach and turned back to Scoobie. “Who do we know who has a pickup truck?” I
“You came to an auction to buy furniture and didn’t think about how to get it back to your place?”
“There’re guys who hang out at these auctions with their pickups. I’m going over there to talk to a couple of them. It’
ll be cheap.”
Half an hour passed quickly and the auction was winding down. I reflected on the fact that eight or ten people had
either called over to me or stopped to talk for a couple of minutes. Ocean Alley is small, only twelve blocks back
from the ocean and about two miles long. I went to eleventh grade here. When I first moved back from Lakewood, I
resented that the town was so small. It didn’t take much time for half of the year-round residents to know I was the
soon-to-be ex-wife of a man who had gambled away all of our money. And started on his bank’s before they wised
up to him.
Now that I’ve been here awhile, I like the cozy atmosphere in the off-season. People always nod if they meet your
eyes in a store, and I’ve rekindled friendships with people like Scoobie and Ramona. Well, Scoobie. Ramona is pretty
much a new friend. The only thing I really remembered about Ramona was that I tripped over her art portfolio in
I meandered back to the chest of drawers and stopped about five feet from it. The drawer I’d had so much trouble
with was gone.
“YO, JOLIE.” It was Scoobie giving his traditional greeting as he walked onto my front porch. Then I heard him
swear, rare for him.
“What?” I called.
He poked his head around the door jamb. “There’s so much old junk on your porch you’re going to get somebody
killed. Is it safe to come in?” he asked.
I looked up from where I was scraping mottled wallpaper off the plaster wall in my living room. I was still seething
about buying a chest of drawers that was now minus the top right drawer. “I’m going to put the gardening stuff in
that tiny shed out back. And it’s as safe as it was yesterday.”
“See you later, then.” When I threw a small gob of soggy wallpaper and glue at him, he added, “Now you know
why I asked. Want some help for a few minutes?”
Scoobie’s getting a two-year degree to become a radiology technologist. This particular Monday he had just finished
a test on radiation protection that he’d spent half the night studying for, so I shook my head. “Nope, it’s almost four
o’clock, I’m getting ready to quit for the day.” I pulled off a rubber glove and lobbed it at him.
“A little hostility on the horizon?” He easily avoided the limp glove and stuck his head in the small refrigerator that
sat on a card table and pulled out a bottle of water.
Scoobie and I didn’t really see each other after eleventh grade until just before our tenth high school reunion, which
was eighteen months ago. But if we hadn’t been good buds before last October, protecting the Cozy Corner B&B the
night Hurricane Sandy landed in New Jersey would have bonded us for life.
He sat in one of the two canvas chairs, the only furniture in the small living room besides the rickety card table, and
looked down to where I was sitting cross legged on the floor. “How come I never knew you could do practical work
I tucked my shoulder-length hair behind one ear, and then studied the goop on my fingers. No doubt some was now
in my hair. Oh well. Maybe my brown hair will have some highlights. “You know I didn’t know. Aunt Madge and
Harry have been teaching me the easy stuff.”
Aunt Madge has always done her own maintenance at the Cozy Corner. Her new husband and my boss in his
appraisal business, Harry Steele, has spent almost two years refurbishing a Victorian style house that used to belong
to his grandparents. They are patient teachers. That’s good, because my living room was a hodgepodge of
remodeling efforts, with the only original wall being the one with the cursed wallpaper. That wall was as solid as
the concrete used for the post-hurricane boardwalk pilings in Ocean Alley.
“Hey, can you help me with one thing? There’s some wallboard that’s still attached, and I want to check behind it to
make sure there’s no more mold. I couldn’t pull hard enough to get it off.” The bare studs in other places along the
wall were testament to at least some arm strength, despite my having had a broken wrist a few months ago.
“As long as I don’t get too dirty. It’s my night to work in the college library.”
This is a perfect job for him, since he doesn’t always like to have a lot to do with people. I stood up and brushed off
my tattered jeans. “You won’t.”
Scoobie followed my gaze to the other side of the room, picked up my heavy-duty work gloves from a window sill,
and put them on. “This is worth two cups of coffee at Java Jolt.”
“Three if we don’t find any mold.” The house had been thoroughly cleaned after its bout with the storm last
October, but the heat had been off all winter and the humid beach air was perfect for mold growth.
There was just enough of a hole in the board at about the height of Scoobie’s head, which was about eight inches
higher than my five feet two. Scoobie got a grip and pulled hard. The wallboard made a sound like ripping heavy-
duty cardboard, and generated a lot of dust. “One more tug ought to finish it,” he said, as we both stood back to
avoid some dust.
I nodded and sneezed.
Scoobie pulled hard and the wallboard split and broke. When we had brushed dust off our clothes we peered at the
studs. “I don’t see mold, do you?” I asked.
“Nope.” He picked up a small draw-string canvas sack. “What’s this?”
We both looked at the contents as he spilled them into his hand. Scoobie held a bunch of shiny stones that looked
like diamonds, three bracelets that appeared to be gold, and two that looked like heavy-duty, rust-colored plastic.
Our eyes met. “This is worth at least ten cups,” he said.
* * * * * *
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