The voice was male, somewhat gravelly, and the message sounded like this: "Miss Millhone, this is Teddy Rich. I'm calling from Olvidado about something might innerest you. This is eight A.M. Monday. Hope it's not too early. Gimme a call when you can. Thanks." He recited a telephone number in the 805 area code, and I dutifully jotted it down. It was only 8:23 so I hadn't missed him by much. Olvidado is a town of 157,000, 30 miles south of Santa Teresa on Highway 101. Always one to be interested in something that might "innerest" me, I dialed the number he'd left. The ringing went on so long I thought his machine would kick in, but the line was finally picked up by Mr. Rich, whose distinctive voice I recognized.
"Hi, Mr. Rich. This is Kinsey Millhone up in Santa Teresa. I'm returning your call."
"Hey, Miss Millhone. Nice to hear from you. How are you today?"
"Fine. How are you?"
"I'm fine. Thanks for asking, and thanks for being so prompt. I appreciate that."
"Sure, no problem. What can I do for you?"
"Well, I'm hoping this is something I can do for you," he said. "I'm a storage space scavenger. Are you familiar with the term?"
"I'm afraid not." I pulled the chair out and sat down, realizing Ted Rich was going to take his sweet time about this. I'd already pegged him as a salesman or a huckster, someone thoroughly enamored of whatever minor charms he possessed. I didn't want what he was selling, but I decided I might as well hear him out. This business of storage space scavenging was a new one on me, and I gave him points for novelty.
He said, "I won't bore you with details. Basically, I bid on the contents of self-storage lockers when the monthly payment's in arrears."
"I didn't know they did that on delinquent accounts. Sounds reasonable, I suppose." I took the towel from my gym bag and ruffed it across my head. My hair was stilldamp from the workout and I was getting chillier by the minute, longing to hit the shower before my muscles stiffened up.
"Oh, sure. Storage unit's been abandoned by its owner for more'n sixty days, the contents go up for auction. How else can the company recoup its losses? Guys like me show up and blind bid on the contents, paying anywheres from $200 to $1500, hoping for a hit."
"As in what?" I reached down, untied my Sauconys, and slipped them off my feet. My gym socks smelled atrocious and I'd only worn them a week.
"Well, most times you get junk, but once in a while you get lucky and come across something good. Tools, furniture--stuff you can convert to hard cash. I'm sure you're pro'bly curious what this has to do with you."
"It crossed my mind," I said mildly, anticipating his pitch. For mere pennies a day, you, too, can acquire abandoned bric-a-brac with which to clutter up your premises.
"Yeah, right. Anyways, this past Saturday, I bid on a couple storage bins. Neither of 'em netted much, but in the process, I picked up a bunch of cardboard boxes. I was sorting through the contents and I came across your name on some personal documents. I'm wondering what it's worth to you to get 'em back."
"What kind of documents?"
"Lemme see here. Hold on. Frankly, I didn't expect to hear so soon or I'd have had 'em on the desk in front of me." I could hear him rattling papers in the background. "Okay now. We got a pink-bead baby bracelet and there's quite a collection of school-type memorabilia: drawings, class pictures, report cards from Woodrow Wilson Elementary. This ringin' any bells with you?"
"My name's on these papers?
"Kinsey Millhone, right? Millhone with two l's. Here's a history report, entitled 'San Juan Capistrano Mission,' with a model of the mission made of egg cartons. Mrs. Rosen's class, fourth grade. She gave you a D plus. 'Report is not bad, but project is poorly presented,' she says. I had a teacher like her once. What a bitch," he said, idly. "Oh, and here's something else. Diploma says you graduated Santa Teresa High School June tenth, 1967? How'm I doin' so far?"
Copyright Sue Grafton. Excerpted with the permission of the publisher - Henry Holt
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