August 4, 2015 – Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three,Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six,Chapter Seven,Chapter Eight, Chapter Nine, Chapter Ten, Chapter Eleven, Chapter Twelve, Chapter Thirteen, Chapter Fourteen, Chapter Fifteen, Chapter Sixteen, Chapter Seventeen
Two days later, news had spread throughout the neighborhood that Mr. Hiller won a nice portion of the Power Ball drawing, and that Pine Street Antiques had sold him the winning ticket. Word of mouth and media coverage had more people than usual stopping by to visit the store that had brought their neighbor good luck, or to buy lottery tickets for future drawings just in case it would happen again. There had been plenty of media coverage already, including a piece by a journalist from the local newspaper that printed Carrie Grant’s column. It felt odd to be on the receiving end of an interview, and to realize the journalist had no clue their assignment had them speaking with the society writer herself.
There had been a few winners that night; the big winners numbered two and would split a $75 million jackpot. Several winners also had five numbers, like Mr. Hiller, who would each receive $257,000. The big winners were two groups of office workers, one from New York and one from Virginia, yet in the center city Philadelphia neighborhood, Mr. Hiller became the local hero. The articles in the newspapers and on the local TV news focused on the philanthropic aspects of Mr. Hiller’s life, and not what he did for a living. The mystery of his occupation and his life had been the best-kept secret in the neighborhood, and Jenny realized the man was a pro at keeping secrets.
Mr. Hiller and Jenny received their winnings from a representative of the lottery commission at the store in front of the media and a large crowd of spectators. After the excitement calmed Mr. Hiller asked if Jenny if he could use the store’s computer in the back office. “Mine is on the fritz,” he had explained, “and I need to send a few emails to the folks back home.”
Jenny laughed. “You should buy yourself a brand new state of the art computer sometime soon, and retire the dinosaur you’ve been using.” Mr. Hiller often joked about his old computer, yet he refused to update it, claiming technology changed too frequently to make it worthwhile.
Mr. Hiller frowned for a moment. “If it’s a problem, I can go to the local library.”
Jenny shook her head. “It’s not a problem,” she said playfully. “You can use it anytime.”
Once Mr. Hiller settled in the back, Jenny began sorting through a pile of statements and shipping receipts. She didn’t get to far into the project before the bell rang on the top of the door announcing another customer.
“Charlotte,” Jenny said with a smile. “I thought you might be another lottery customer trying to capture Mr. Hiller’s luck.”
Charlotte reciprocated with a smile. “Yes, I heard about the lottery winnings on the news. Good news for your shop. Congratulations.”
Jenny smiled again. “Thanks. It’s been a chaotic but fun couple of days. How can I help today?”
“I’m here to check out the images of the desk you tracked down.”
Jenny shrugged. “You didn’t have to come in,” she said. “I sent all of the images over last night in an email.”
“Ah, I didn’t check,” Charlotte replied. “I’d rather come in and chat in person anyway.”
Jenny grabbed the folder marked with Charlotte’s name and opened it, laying out a selection of photos on the counter top. “They’re all great choices, but I’ve flagged my favorite, which is number two. It’s also the one with the optional choice for the chair, so you can pass on it if you don’t want the complete set.”
Charlotte glanced at all of the choices in front of her, paying particular attention to the choice Jenny suggested. “I think you’re right,” she said. “This one has a certain quality and some extra detail that the other four don’t have. Although they are equally as lovely.”
“They’re all authentic pieces,” Jenny added, “but the second one is also in the best condition.”
Charlotte agreed. “It looks brand new.”
“It may have been never used. Probably just decorative piece that sat in one of the grander homes of that time. It’s from a dealer outside of Paris, so it will take a few extra weeks to get it over here. We’ll have to order by next week if we want to have it delivered on time. The price is on the back.”
Charlotte nodded and turned over the photo. “Seems reasonable to me. Let’s get it ordered, Jenny. My mother’s birthday is still six weeks away, so I suppose that won’t be a problem.
“It shouldn’t,” she said. “They assured me they’re ready to deal it now.”
“Great. That’s a load off my mind. Here’s a downpayment,” Charlotte replied handing over a sizeable check. “My mother is impossible to buy for, but I think I will get her with his one. I will take the chair, too. It would be a shame to break up the set.”
“It will be ordered today.”
“Thank you. You’re always the answer to my prayers!”
Jenny grinned, soaking in the attention. She didn’t get much positive reinforcement from the other DIH women, but reasoned they had to be happy with her service if they kept coming back. “How did the Laurel Hill Cemetery meeting go? For the Gravediggers Ball? I’m still available to help if you need it.”
Charlotte looked puzzled and then nodded. “Oh, you mean the Red Ball for the American Red Cross. I’m not on the Laurel Hill Committee anymore. Too much going on, and I had to give up something.”
Jenny nodded. “Yes, that’s what I mean. I was reading about the Gravediggers Ball in the paper yesterday, and I suppose that’s why it was on my mind. I visited Laurel Hill a few weeks ago to take pictures of the gravestones. It’s a beautiful place.”
“I love planning that ball, but I don’t think the committee cared too much for me or my ideas, so it wasn’t difficult to let it go.”
Jenny laughed. “I can’t imagine you not getting along with anyone.”
Charlotte shrugged, as if to day that wasn’t true. “The Red Cross committee jumped at the chance to work with you though,” she said. “We’re meeting next Monday night if you’d like to join us. They are familiar with you from your shop.” Charlotte paused for a second, and Jenny wondered if she had something else on her mind. She tried to push their last meeting away from memory after she revealed too much information about the DIH. She had hoped it went unnoticed.
“Do you mind if I ask you something a little personal?” Charlotte asked.
Jenny looked away in fear of giving her friend an indication that she was uncomfortable. She did notice her faux pax, after all. “I’m not sure what you’d want to know about me,” she replied.
“I got the feeling the last time I upset you with the DIH talk, that’s all. I wanted to make sure you were OK.”
Jenny knew she had to proceed with caution. Play it safe, she told herself. Don’t reveal too much. You’ve already made a huge blunder. “I suppose I am a little sensitive I was turned away,” she said. “But it was almost a year ago, and I’ve come to terms with it.”
“I’m referring to the upcoming events we discussed, and your opinions of them.”
“My opinions?” Jenny tried to look puzzled but knew well what Charlotte meant. No doubt about it now, Charlotte had figured it out. She was sure of it.
“Yes, your opinions about how the funds are appropriated. Don’t get me wrong, Jenny. I agree with you 100%. But I got the oddest feeling about it and wondered how you found out about such confidential information.”
“I must have read it in the paper, or I overheard it in the shop.”
Charlotte smiled. “I’m not angry, Jenny. I am intrigued.”
Jenny’s heart raced. Here it comes, she thought. She had been outed.
“Do you know who Carrie Grant is?” Charlotte asked, getting right to the point.
Jenny heard the question, but did not answer. She wanted to answer no, that she didn’t know anyone by that name, but lying never came easy.
Charlotte smiled as she put the rest of the pieces together. It was a kind smile, though, and not one of victory that you might share if you catch someone in a lie. “She’s you, isn’t she?” Charlotte asked. “I kind of put the pieces together when I left the store last week but I’m still not sure how you get the information.”
Jenny looked down at the counter. “No one knows Carrie’s identity,” Jenny replied, still trying to keep up the charade. Then it became too much for her to continue. “And no one did until now.”
Charlotte placed her hand over Jenny’s and patted it gently. “I thought so. You don’t have to tell me how you got the information if you don’t want to, but I am curious.”
Jenny nodded. “Are you going to out me?”
“I don’t think I have a reason to,” she said. “You’ve been good publicity for all of our causes.”
Jenny smiled. “Thank you. I realize the column was a risk to my business, but I wanted to make a point.”
“Jenny, you are the best at what you do, and that’s why those women want to do business with you,” Charlotte said, interrupting her. “Do you mind telling me how you pull this off?” she asked again.
Jenny shrugged. What did she have to lose by telling her secret in its entirety now? She might as well come clean, and hope that she can take Charlotte at her word that she’ll keep her secret. “It’s not that difficult. I pay attention to everything the DIH does on the legitimate level. As for the confidential stuff, I learn a lot of it when two or more of the women are in the shop at the same time. That happens quite frequently because they like to go to lunch at the bistro down the street. They often meet here first and sometimes they chat. I suppose it pays that I am invisible in their eyes.”
Charlotte sighed. “So, they trust you?” she said.
Jenny shook her head. “No, I don’t think it’s that. They don’t even realize I am in the room to overhear them. I’m a non person to them.”
Charlotte laughed. “They are interesting bunch,” she said. “But you’re rather clever.”
Jenny nodded. “Perhaps in the beginning, but I think the gig is up. You’ve figured it out, so I’m guessing others will, too.” She smiled. “So, they have no idea who Carrie is?”
“They don’t suspect you, that’s for sure. They think the snitch is internal.”
Jenny shrugged. “They think I’m a snitch? That’s not what I set out to do.”
“What was your purpose, Jenny?”
“I just wanted the club to take a good look and realize what they’ve become. And possibly return it to the days when my grandmother was a member. I admit I take my aggravations out on them once in a while, but I want to make sure some of the more needy groups in the city aren’t ignored. My aim is true. Or at least was true.”
Charlotte smiled. “I believe you, Jenny and I think it still is true. Your secret is safe with me.” She looked at her watch and shrugged. “I have to run but I’d love to discuss this more. Maybe together we can take this a step or two further.”
Now Jenny was intrigued. “What did you have in mind?”
“For starters, I think you should accept the offer to join the DIH and make an appearance at the gala. You definitely want to stun them with this news before they figure it out themselves. Although, as I said, the news won’t come from me. Can we have lunch next week to iron out the details?”
Jenny agreed, and as she watched Charlotte walk out the door, she felt confident that she would keep her secret.
Seconds later, Mr. Hiller’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “Pardon me, Jenny,” he said. “I didn’t mean to overhear, but I’m glad I did. I know what I want to do with my lottery winnings now, and I want to discuss it with you.”