“So what’s our new cemetery curator like?” Aubry Wilde stirred the simmering pot of clam chowder she’d been cooking for the better part of the morning.
“He’s nice enough,” Edgar said. “I think his accent is thicker than your chowder. He’s got Shelby and me tracking down some information.”
“He’s found some antiques in the cemetery administration building. He wants to know what they are and if they’re worth anything.” Edgar’s stomach rumbled as he watched his grandmother fill his bowl to the rim, then spoon a bird’s portion into her own.
“Oh, dear. I do hope he understands those things are not his to sell,” Aubry sat down across from Edgar and took a small sip of chowder. “What did he find?”
“The first thing he showed us turned out to be an antique page turner. It’s made of wood and beautifully carved. Look, here it is –” He passed his phone across the table. Aubry’s brow furrowed as she stared at the image.
“Well I do declare. What else?”
Edgar reached over and scrolled ahead a few pictures — Aubry smiled as a closeup of Shelby sticking her tongue out briefly filled the screen. Finally the picture of the second item froze into place.
“That doesn’t look pleasant at all. Have you found out what it is?”
“It’s a cork press, if you can believe that.”
Aubry nibbled her bit of chowder. “There’s just no telling what some people will do to try to make life easier. Is there actually a need for cork pressing?”
“Not these days. From what I understand, Victorian-age pharmacists mixed their own medicines, which they then had to bottle. A cork press allowed them to get the cork small enough to fit in the mouth of the bottle. Then the cork would expand again and seal it tight. Different-sized bottles required different-sized corks, which is why this thing has a number of spaces of varying widths. Anyway, he wouldn’t let us take the items with us, so Shelby took these pictures which we posted on the web for our friends to help identify. We’re actually about to go see Amos to let him know what we’ve found. I know Shelby will be relieved this thing isn’t a torture device after all.”
“I really should go introduce myself sometime soon,” Aubry stared out the window. “I’ve been unpardonably rude, I’m afraid. In the meantime, maybe you could take him some chowder? Yes, that would be splendid.”
“No problem, grandma. Just don’t give him anything that requires chewing,” Edgar laughed as he downed the rest of his bowl.
“Oh, Edgar –!” Aubry chided as she filled a container with soup. “Now take this, and tell him I’ll be by in a few days to pay my regards.”
Edgar held the hot Tupperware for a brief second before placing it back on the table. “Oww! Maybe I’ll let it cool just a bit before heading over.”
“Edgar, did Mr. Jones say where he’s from, or who hired him?”
“I didn’t ask,” Edgar replied, rubbing his hands together. “I figured the local government brought him in to replace Corinthian.”
“I’m sure that’s it,” Aubry replied. “It’s rather odd that they brought someone in from outside, though. Edgar, do be cautious about advertising those antiques all over the computer. We don’t actually know what he might stumble across in there. Mr. Harknell was the only inhabitant for so long; I don’t suppose we actually know what all is stored away in that cemetery building.”
“I understand,” Edgar said. “Do you have a paper bag to carry this chowder in, maybe?”
Amos Jones ran his gnarled, arthritic fingers over what had turned out to be a cast-iron cork press. “Ye sure?”
“Pretty sure,” Edgar replied.
“Huh. Don’t sound worth much, I suppose.”
“Maybe you can re-cork half-finished wine bottles with it,” Shelby offered as she searched in vain for a place to sit. The dusty, seatless shed was clearly not meant for resting.
“No such thing as a half-finished bottle of wine,” Amos cackled. “Ye open it, ye finish it – that’s the respect ye pay a good bottle of wine. Anyway, appreciate ye sniffin’ this one out for me. By the by, I got another another one, ye know.”
“What – another antique?”
“Jest a little thing. A trinket,” Amos reached into the chest pocket of his overalls and pulled out a small piece of jewelry. “Looks sorta like a horn-a-plenty, don’t it?”
Shelby leaned close. “That’s beautiful!”
“Go ahead and hold it then,” Amos’s attempt at a smile looked more like an anguished grimace as he held the piece out for her. Shelby tried not to notice as she took it.
“There’s no pin,” Shelby said as she modeled it near her chest. “I thought it might be a brooch, but there’s no way to pin it on. It would be beautiful if it were, though.”
“It’s clearly made for a Victorian lady,” Edgar let his gaze linger as he contemplated a turn-of-the-century version of Shelby. “You know, we’ve got to get you some re-enactment outfits or something. You’d look amazing.”
“Thank you, kind sir!” she bowed. “We may have to arrange that — if you’ll finally let me help lead one of your cemetery tours. Now just let me get a picture of this–”
Resting the object on a relatively clean table, Shelby took a few shots, then handed it back to Amos.
“Almost tempted to let ye have this one, little lady,” Amos attempted another smile. “Aint gointa, but mighty tempted!”
“Thanks,” Shelby scowled. “That means a lot.”
“We’ll get back with you soon about this,” Edgar took Shelby’s hand as they made their way to the door. “Where did you find this one, by the way?”
“Up in the house, same as the others,” Amos motioned with his eyes to the top floor of the cemetery administration building. “Stuff’s everywhere up theyah, jest layin’ around. Thought someone had broken in when I first started explorin’.”
Edgar had spent many hours in the main building with former cemetery curator Corinthian Harknell over the years, talking about history, cemeteries, and everything else. The house had always been ready for visitors — so clean it looked like it had been frozen in time. Had Corinthian ransacked the place before he left? Or could there have actually been some sort of break-in? Without Corinthian around, they’d probably never know.
“Anyway, ye tell yer granny she’s welcome to bring over clam chowdah anytime she likes,” Amos held the Tupperware close to his chest. “I’ll surely be enjoyin’ this. Don’t get much good cookin’ these days. Mighty grateful.”
“She’ll be glad to hear it,” Edgar said as they turned to go.
“He’s really making himself at home, isn’t he?” Shelby said as they walked toward the cemetery entrance. “I guess he’s staying on then.”
“Feels weird, huh?”
“Well, I’ve got just the thing to cheer you up!” Shelby grabbed Edgar by his jacket sleeve and pulled him close. Swiping his top hat, she traded him with a long kiss. He was almost floating when she began to giggle, her kiss-perfect pout widening into a grin still pressed against his mouth.
“What is funny?” he tried to say through the smooch.
“I think,” she stepped back and placed Edgar’s top hat over her own strawberry-blonde curls, “that I would make a far better cemetery tour guide than you. Am I right?”
The contrast of black Victorian top hat with white summer cotton blouse and flowing purple and blue tie-dye skirt was too much. “I think I love you,” he whispered, pulling her close once more.
“I love you, too,” she playfully bit at Edgar’s ear. “But don’t think you can distract me.”
“Who’s distracting who?” Edgar said, his legs suddenly wobbly.