Day 77. 161 pages, 58,131 words.
“You’re right,” Marion admitted, “when I saw the X-ray specs, I knew they were originals, probably pretty old, maybe valuable to the right collector. I figured there was no harm, since Anton said they’d been thrown in the bin. Or at least I think that’s what he said. He doesn’t speak very good English.”
“I noticed that,” I said. “It’s not a problem, I understand completely. It’s just that, well, my friend picked them up from an antique dealer’s place and … I don’t know if they’re worth anything, but … ”
Marion was nodding. “I put them in my bag,” he said gesturing at the bag by his feet, “and continued my shift. But then I, well, I sort of started feeling guilty, and … well, they’re kind of weird things to be thrown away, right? So I thought it might be better to sit on them for a while just in case, so … just before my shift ended, I put them back on the ‘new articles’ shelf. They were still there when I left.”
“But,” I said, a huge and awful suspicion beginning to well up inside me, “I was just there, and Rose showed me the ‘new articles’ shelf and they weren’t ‑ ”
“Yeah, look,” Marion said with a little grimace, “Rose is a nice lady most of the time and I don’t like to gossip about her behind her back, but she … has some issues with … okay, she sometimes takes things from the lost and found. We all do, it’s sort of a perk ‑ ”
“You think she took them?” I summarised. “She said she thought you took them.”
“Yeah, but she’s a bit … ” Marion made a helpless little gesture that said I’m too nice to make the crazy old trout gesture. “She sometimes gets confused. It’s not her fault. She probably panicked when you came asking, she didn’t want to face the embarrassment of saying they were in her handbag or whatever.”
“Why would she send me to you, though?” I asked. “She could have just let me think you’d gone home, but she said you’d be here. She must have known you’d tell me all this, or something like it,” even as I spoke, though, the answer came to me. “It gives her a chance to put them back on a shelf we didn’t check,” I said, “then when I come back to the lost and found, she can pretend to look more carefully and … ”
Marion was nodding. “That sounds about right,” he said. “Spare everyone a lot of embarrassment and we can all have a chuckle about the misunderstanding.”
It occurred to me, as I watched Marion’s honest, slightly pleading face – come on, he seemed to be saying, it’s alright for you, I’ve got to keep coming in to work with her – that he probably wouldn’t be as willing to make excuses for Rose if he’d heard some of the things she’d been saying about him behind his back. In the end, though, I shrugged. I had much bigger problems than this to deal with.
“I’ll go back and see what she has to say,” I said. “I’ll mention that you did sort of pinch them, but that you had a crisis of conscience and in your embarrassment you might have put them back on another shelf.”
Marion looked relieved. “Thanks,” he said fervently. “And listen,” he went on as I stood up, “if she doesn’t ‘find’ them this time around, there’s a good chance she’ll take them to her ex-husband’s antique store and sell them to him.”
I sighed explosively. It seemed like I was doing that way more regularly than usual today, and I usually do sigh quite regularly. It’s an occupational hazard. “This would be Reggie Keyes’s dealership on the corner of Collins Square,” I said with heavy certainty.
“Yeah,” Marion said in surprise. “Wait, is that where your friend got them from in the first place?” I nodded, and he leaned back in his chair, whistling silently. “Man,” he said, “this got complicated.”
“You have no idea,” I muttered. “But if she’s all that worried about opinion and propriety, she’s not very likely to try selling them now, is she? I mean, she knows I’m looking for them, and she must know what you’re going to say about it all, so if I go back and they’re still not on the shelf, what’s her next move?”
Marion shrugged eloquently. “Deny everything, probably,” he said with a defeated expression. “If I say I put them back on the shelf, but they turn up at Reggie’s dealership and she says she doesn’t know anything about it … I guess it comes down to how much fuss she thinks you’re likely to make,” he pointed at his bag again. “You can search my bag if you want,” he said. “I haven’t had time to finish work, walk to Collins Square and back, then have lunch … ”
“No, I believe you,” I said. I’d known Marion wasn’t the guilty party – well, not the really guilty party – from the start. I wasn’t even all that sure Rose was worth getting mad about. There were no winners here. There was only me, and my wasted afternoon. “She had a lot to say about what a crook Reggie Keyes was.”
“Well, yeah,” Marion said. “She’s always having a go at him. Ex-husband. I think it goes with the territory.”
“But she uses him as a fence for stolen goods?”
Marion winced. “Bit of a harsh way to put it,” he said, but raised his hands in acknowledgement of the accusation. “But yeah, they have a bit of a … I think she uses it as an excuse to go in there and snipe at him, and to show off the stuff she’s got, and make out that his place is more of a pawnshop than an antique dealer’s. And, you know, snoot a bit about what a lowlife he is.”
I squinted. “While selling on stolen goods?”
Marion shrugged again. “Also,” he added, “I guess she doesn’t know any other antique dealers who would take her stuff, and her standards are too high to go to an actual pawnshop.”
Ah, I thought, nodding. That certainly made more sense. “Alright,” I said, “well, thanks Marion. I guess I’ll go and see.”
“I’m really sorry about this,” he said earnestly.
“I’m sorry my klutz of a friend dropped his X-ray specs in Anton’s bin,” I said, and headed back out of the cafeteria.
When I arrived back at the lost and found, however, I was confronted with a little hand-written sign propped up on the desk:
Popped out for a “mo’”
Back in a “jiffy”!
I sighed again. It was the quotation marks, this time, that hurt more than anything. Nobody who considered mo’ and jiffy to be dangerous slang terms worthy of quotation marks was ever going to be as easy to deal with as worried-looking, science-fiction-reading Marion.
“Fine,” I growled to myself. “Looks like I’m going for a walk in the swamp.”