Everyone in Chelsea is between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
The town plays host to the First Annual Chelsea Rock And Gem Show. Some of the exhibitors turn out to be scoundrels, cheats and scam artists. It’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad.
Annie is beset by a group of people who want to take over her operations and seem to stoop to a new definition of low to succeed.
Ray’s first cruise for the season is scheduled and The Escape may not be able to leave the harbor.
A mysterious man comes to town in the midst of a rash of high-end burglaries. Pete, beset by the burglaries, then an arson with injury, then a murder, has only a day or two to solve the cases before everyone is scheduled to leave town.
A tragedy occurs at one of Annie’s businesses, and while dealing with this, Annie finds out she’s not who she thinks she is.
And through it all, the moon waxes gibbous and comes full. Is it the moon, or is The Avenue falling apart for real?
Author: Kathleen Thompson
Excerpt from A Rock And A Hard Place
Chapter 1: The Rock
Mem’s naturally calm demeanor was gone. Perhaps never to return. In a weak moment, she agreed to be the local organizer for the first annual Chelsea Rock & Gem Show. Mem could only hope this would be the first and the last that involved her.
Never again, she thought to herself. Never, ever again.
She stood, surrounded by carts of folding tables and folding chairs and nearly fifty crates of who-knows-what delivered by FedEx and UPS, all labeled “fragile,” deciding whom to strangle first: Dwight, the main event organizer or the Gods of Fate that found her in this position.
The space was to be arranged by noon, as exhibitors were expected to start arriving by that time.
Nothing on the outside of the crates noted what was inside, or to whom they belonged. Even had she known to whom they belonged, she still would not have known where to place them.
She had secured the location and arranged for delivery of tables, chairs and a sound system. She arranged with friends to be on hand, strictly on a volunteer basis, to take money from event guests for the next several days. She arranged for the campground to hold a large section for the exhibitors that came in their RVs. She sent Dwight information about local B&Bs and other accommodations, as well as contact names and email addresses for advertisers. She personally passed out flyers of the event in every local business and in many businesses in a multi-county area.
In short, before this morning, she spent a significant amount of time in an attempt to make this a successful event.
She arrived early this morning expecting to meet Dwight and acclimate him to the facility and the town. She had not counted on this. This mess.
As she met the first delivery man, Harry, with the tables, chairs and sound system, she received a blithe telephone call from Dwight. He would be delayed until about noon. Just start setting things up. You don’t need a floorplan, just set it up in a way that feels right.
Feels right? What felt right was a neck between her strong hands.
And then FedEx arrived. Followed shortly by UPS.
She didn’t have a list of vendors. She didn’t have notes that said how many tables individual vendors would need. She didn’t know how they liked to arrange the tables. She didn’t have a moving crew.
Now, two delivery men from some fly-by-night company stood in front of her. They had about twenty crates. Cash on delivery. That will be $500, ma’am.
Mem stood firm. She would not pay for the crates. The fly-by-night gentlemen stood firm. One of them, a tall, full-bearded brute of a man, said, “They does this all the time. We gets paid before we goes. And we has a schedule. Pay up.”
Mem called Dwight, supposedly still on the road. His response was, “Pay the men and I’ll reimburse you.”
“You’ve got me between a rock and a hard place. He’s demanding cash. $500. I don’t carry that kind of cash.”
“Well, can you go get some? There have to be ATMs in that town. It’s a tourist place!”
“Oh, for goodness sakes. What would be the problem if I told them to hit the road?”
“You can’t do that! Those crates probably belong to Garry. He would have a fit if the delivery wasn’t made on time”
“Well, maybe Garry needs to get here on time to pay for his own deliveries!”
“Please, Mem, just pay the man.”
After a quick trip to her storefront across The Avenue, Mem paid. The brute then said, “Who’s takin’ this lot from the truck? We deliver. We don’t unload. And someone has to get the lot upstairs.”
Mem, on the phone again, nearly threw it across the room when Dwight said, “Well, don’t you have people around that can do that?”
She caught herself, hung up, closed her eyes, breathed deeply for ten long counts, and called Frank. When she finished the conversation, she turned to the brute and said, “Go back to your truck. Someone will be here shortly.”
Mem returned to her checklist, marked off items delivered by Harry and glanced out the windows from time to time. She looked at the podium with a self-contained sound system. Not what she had ordered, but in this facility, it would work. She checked “sound system” off her list.
Frank, a special friend to Mem and the owner of an antique store, was there within ten minutes, equipment for moving large crates on hand. Mem noted his arrival and saw Ben coming from another direction. Ben was a college student who worked for Frank part-time. Thankfully, this was Monday, and this semester, he did not have classes scheduled on Monday mornings.
Frank and Ben, took on the task of unloading large crates, all marked “fragile” in letters large enough Mem could see them from the second floor window. Mem turned as Harry came up the back stairway with a to-go carton.
Harry, an employee of a rental firm used almost exclusively by Mem and her friends, loved his Chelsea deliveries. After dropping off his items, he went downstairs and now had an excellent breakfast in hand, a spinach and mushroom omelet served with a rye bagel. A large to-go cup of coffee, blonde, flavored with chocolate and cashews, topped it off.
Mem smiled at Harry as he sat down to eat. Harry was a gem. He would help Mem place the tables and chairs, and with Frank and Ben, maybe she could at least take a stab at arranging the facility.
They were on the second floor of Tiger Lily’s Café. This was the Café’s catering and party venue. It featured a large, open space with a deck on the back overlooking a small park.
The Café was the main gathering place for the town of Chelsea, locals and tourists alike. It was located at the corner of Sunset Avenue and Main Street. Sunset Avenue was one long city block, extra wide, with ample parking on both sides and a welcoming park area for a median. It started at the town building and ended at the lakefront where, given the right time of day, a brilliant sunset could be viewed year round.
To the locals, it was known simply as The Avenue. Sitting at the tip of it, Tiger Lily’s Café acted as a gateway to paradise. Manager and chef Felicity was known for her eclectic and ever-changing menu. Trudie, the barista, was known for her coffee creations. The blonde bomb enjoyed by Harry was her newest spring flavor.
Harry said, “I shoulda brought a cup for you.”
“Thank you, Harry. I have a carafe of tea here. I’ll get a cup. Thank you again for taking the time to help me arrange this mess. We’ll start as soon as Frank and Ben are ready.”
The two sat together, drinking their hot beverages and watching as Frank placed the crates at the edge of the pile. Frank looked around at the mess, shook his head, and walked slowly to Mem and Harry.
“Harry, did you load these tables and chairs yourself?”
“Nope. For once, the truck was already loaded when I got to the warehouse. Unusual, but it gave me time to eat breakfast.”
“I’m not sure you really have any extra time. Did you look at those tables as you unloaded them?”
“Nope. Just brought up the carts. What’s the problem?”
“Come over here and look. They seem to be marked as broken.”
Harry and Mem jumped up and walked quickly to the carts holding the folding tables, They went through them, one at a time. Each and every table had a broken leg, a broken clasp, a broken hinge, or one or more brutally sharp table feet. The chairs were similar. As Mem picked several up to place them, she had chairs leaning left or right, or collapsing straight to the floor.
Mem walked over to the self-contained podium. She opened the storage compartment, and a bundle of wires, broken microphones and speaker connectors fell out.
“Harry, this has to be fixed right away!”
Harry was already on the phone to the warehouse. He walked to the far side of the room to talk to the warehouse manager, but that wasn’t far enough for Mem and Frank to hear the suddenly raised voice speaking, as Mem kindly put it, in French.
Mem, eyes tightly shut against the next disaster, waited until Harry stood in front of her. She opened her eyes, looked up, and saw a face planted with a mixture of anger and sympathy.
“They gave me the wrong truck. And then, to make matters worse, they loaded my order on another truck that went to the landfill. Your order is already in the middle of that pile of trash.”
Mem sank into a chair, not paying heed that a chair was not behind her. By the time she got there, however, Frank had grabbed a left-leaning folding chair to break her slow descent.
“Sam said we could have a new load here by tomorrow morning, but we can’t do it before then. Your order cleaned out our stock; other things are coming back today, but we have nothing left at the warehouse.”
Mem, numb and staring blankly at the floor, pulled her cellphone out one more time. She called across The Avenue to the hardware store. Jolly answered. Mem, in a rather wooden voice, told Jolly the problem, hung up, and a single tear traced down her cheek.
In a strange, choked voice, she said, mostly to herself, “The moon is waxing gibbous.”