Carol W Hazelwood

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The Franchetti Chase available from

The Franchetti Chase

Paperback: 231 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1593309886
6 x 9 inches, $14.00
Published by Aventine Press  

by Carol W. Hazelwood

Chapter 1

On Monday morning Nicole Rogers unlocked the door to Franchetti Fine Jewels, turned off the alarm, and flipped on the lights. She went inside and locked the door behind her. Outside the wind raged and rain pounded the roof, unusual for southern California. Back in her office, she placed her Gucci handbag on her desk.

After Isaac Franchetti's murder, she’d inherited his estate which included the store, a mixed blessing. Since he'd been her friend and mentor, she'd sacrificed her dream of becoming a concert pianist to make the store the premier place for quality jewelry in the county.

When her cell phone rang, she rummaged through her purse to retrieve it.

"Hi," came the breathless voice of her young store assistant, Patty. "I'll be late. My car's got a flat and I haven't got a spare. I’m waiting for a tow to a garage."

"I'm so sorry. Come in as soon as you can." Nicole stifled a swear word realizing the problems Patty's late arrival would cause. She hung up, then punched in Jon's phone number. When her store manager answered, she explained the problem.

"I can’t come in,” he said. "I'm already on the freeway to downtown, and the rain is causing havoc with the traffic. You wanted me to pick up the jewelry from the diamond distributor today."

"Our customers will understand if there’s a delay," she said, although she doubted her own words.

"We’re already losing business to that new jewelry store in the Grand View shopping mall," he said. "We can't afford to miss a deadline. Our reputation is on the line."

"You know my rule. I can’t open with only one person here."

"Then don’t open."" His exasperation was palpable as he paused before adding, "It’s your call."

She hesitated, then agreed to open while he continued to downtown Los Angeles. She hated confrontations, and she often butted heads with Jon about how the store should be run. Although she'd often thought of firing him, his expertise would be difficult to replace, so she'd continued to put up with his behavior.

To prepare for the ten o’clock opening, she set the less expensive items on green velvet cushions in the front locked glass cases. Back in her office she opened the vault where the more expensive pieces were kept overnight. She removed an heirloom pendant, placed it in a case on a cream-colored pad, locked the case, and put the key in her jacket pocket. She stood back to admire the glittering marquise diamond encircled with emeralds.

Her thoughts shifted to Warren who’d placed the exquisite piece with her on consignment. Her relationship with him frustrated her. Since he lived far away in the mountain town of Alpen, they only saw each other occasionally. After her fiancé dumped her for another woman, she’d met Warren, and he’d soothed her wounded ego. It wasn't only that he was ten years older but it was his stern and rigid behavior about little things that annoyed her.

With the store her primary concern, and no beaus on the horizon, her social life was nil. This drove her best friend, Margie, to distraction and as a result she constantly set Nicole up with blind dates.

Before closing the vault, she noticed a necklace not on the inventory list. One of Jon’s customer’s not doubt. He had a habit of storing a customer’s item when they left town, a practice she’d discouraged, apparently to no avail. At times she wondered who was the boss and who was the employee. With a sigh of frustration, she left the necklace and locked the vault.

Antique mirrors reflected the store’s less expensive items like the Swiss clocks and carved wooden chess pieces located in a wall niche. When her old friend Al asked her to sell his chess pieces, she’d arranged to take them on a consignment basis. Much to her surprise Al’s work drew customers from chess clubs all around the area. Although Nicole thought that one to three thousand for each piece was far beyond what they were worth, the repeat customers seemed unfazed by the prices.

The storm had kept most shoppers home and several stores had not opened. Not a bad idea, but she didn’t have that luxury. She unlocked the door, and turned the sign to open. About a half hour later two men dressed in raincoats with turned-up collars walked through the drizzle toward her store. One wore dark glasses, used a white cane, and had his hand on the other man’s forearm. The mustached men hesitated before the sighted man opened the door and said to his friend, “We’re here at Franchetti Fine Jewels, Joe.”

“We just got in from Denver.” The blind man’s speech was slurred. “Glad you’re open. It’s our Mother’s birthday and we want to buy her a watch before we visit her.”

Nicole moved behind a glass case. “We have a nice assortment of women’s watches.” She bent to unlock the case’s sliding door. “What did you have in…” When she straightened up, the apparent blind man had a snub-nosed pistol aimed at her.

“Put your hands on the counter and you won’t get hurt.” He’d obviously stuffed something into the side of his mouth to distort his voice.

The cold glass was as icy as her fury at being taken in by their masquerade. “My assistant is next door. You’d better leave now before you get caught.”

He let out a coarse laugh and motioned with his gun toward her office. When she didn’t move, he grabbed her elbow, spun her around, and shoved her toward the back of the store. “It’s daylight.” She turned to face him. “You can’t get away. The police patrol this area.”

He smacked her across the mouth with his gloved hand. She stumbled into her desk, blood oozing from her split lip. Her anger melted to fear.

He waved the gun at her. “Where are the keys?”

She fished them out of her pocket, and he wrenched them from her and tossed them to his partner. While he was distracted, she picked up a paperweight and swung it at him. He caught her arm and twisted it, forcing the object out of her hand. He tore out the telephone cord, lashed her hands behind her back, pushed her to the floor, and hogtied her.

When he took out a rag, she pleaded, “I won’t scream. Please don’t.”

Ignoring her, he jammed the rag into her mouth, took duct tape out of his pocket, and taped the gag in place. She feared she’d suffocate. He twisted her diamond ring to remove it, but gave up when he couldn’t get it over her knuckle.

“We’ve got enough without it.” His left arm brushed against her forehead, shoving his coat sleeve up to expose a tattoo on his forearm. The Franchetti crest! The sight sent her into a spiral of confusion. While she lay helpless, the men emptied every case, sweeping the contents into paper bags. Even the pendant was dumped in like trash. Although they took Al’s chess pieces, they left other less expensive items.

Everything she’d worked for disappeared in moments. Grief overwhelmed her. The store was all important to her. It was her livelihood, her career. The robbers glanced at her trussed like a sow, put up the closed sign, and locked the door as they left. The tick of the Swiss clocks echoed through the now bare store. She writhed, trying to loosen the cord, but it only grew tighter. She closed her eyes, stifled rising panic by thinking of an etude she’d play on the piano. She had no idea when Patty or John would arrive and remaining bound until they arrived would be unbearable.

Her handbag had fallen under the desk and inside was an etui with a manicure set. She slithered forward, rolled over, and gripped the clasp of her purse. She worked it open, then blindly rummaged through it until she felt the clippers. She snipped at the cord over and over until it snapped, freeing the line that had lashed her wrists to her feet. Although her hands were still tied, the cord had separated enough for her arms to be farther apart. Now she could pull her knees up and slide her hands under her hip and legs until they were in front of her.

She peeled off the duct tape, spat out the gag, and gulped air. Her bruised skin stung. Turning the clippers around, she clipped the cord binding her wrists, and unwound the cord around her ankles. She grasped the side of the desk, and stood on unsteady legs.

She found her cell phone under her desk and tried to sound coherent to the 911 operator. When she flung open the front door, she came face to face with Patty who greeted her with an innocent smile.