I was enjoying my third cup of coffee Monday morning when Detective Hal Tomkins entered my store. We exchanged pleasantries and I told him my name was Clyde, the owner of the shop. He started asking questions about a girl and handed me a picture.
“Have you ever seen her, the detective asked me. “Her name is Sandra Moreland.”
I leaned against one of the jewelry cases and looked at the small wallet-sized school picture. Nervously, I turned it over to see the back, and then turned back to the picture again. The girl had an unruly head of red hair, long dangling earrings and wasn’t smiling. If it wasn’t for the red hair I probably wouldn’t have recognized her.
“That name doesn’t sound familiar”. I handed the picture back to him and said, “But I think I did see her in my store last week with a man and another woman.”
“Really? Did they buy anything?” the detective asked not looking up from an old comic book.
“Actually, no”, I sighed. “The man seemed interested in the jewelry but that girl in your picture started acting really strange and ran out of the door. She knocked over a lamp on her way out. The guy and the other lady left then, too. I do get some weird ones in here sometimes with the bar right next door.”
“Had they been in your store before that day?” the detective asked. “No, I don’t believe so”, I said shaking my head and nervously straightening some old doilies in a basket.
I had decided not tell the detective about the locket I found on the floor that day while picking up the lamp. It was on a long gold chain and looked very old, possibly Victorian. Neither woman had been wearing it so it must have dropped from one of their pockets. I had put the locket in the jewelry case until I could look up how much it could be worth. Now while talking to Detective Tomkins I remembered I never did.
The detective walked over towards me and asked, “So was that the only time you ever saw Sandra?”
Clearing my throat I said, “Well, I might have seen her Saturday night when I was locking up.”
“How did you know it was Sandra? Was she alone?” he asked as he walked to the front windows and stood there, looking left and then right down the main street sidewalk.
I told him she had been alone. She walked past my store with her head down, red hair sticking out from her hoodie, looking at her phone.
I went to the stand beside the detective hoping he would forget he asked me two questions.
He turned to me, “Did you talk with her, ask her where she was going?”
Surprised, I said quickly, “No, sir, I didn’t talk to her, I don’t think she even saw me.”
The detective seemed to let that thought sink in before he asked me, “What time did you say you closed up Saturday night?”
I stared at the ceiling trying to avoid looking at him. “Let’s see, after locking up the cash drawer I shut off the ceiling lights and set the security alarm. I left out the front door and locked it behind me like I always do. I’m sure I was home by 11:05. But, hey, why all the questions? Has something happened to this Sandra girl?”
Detective Tomkins walked around my store, making notes on his pad, then he stopped, the tip of his pen tapping on the jewelry case. He looked down into the case shaking his head slowly. My body froze when I realized he had probably spotted the gold locket. Suddenly he stood up straight, adjusted his glasses and came to stand directly in front of me. “We are not sure if Sandra is okay or not. She is missing” the detective said putting his note pad and pen back into his shirt pocket. He handed me his card. “If you happen to remember anything else that might be helpful please call me.” He put his hand out and we shook hands. Before he walked out, he turned and asked me if any of the jewelry in my case was valuable. I gave a slight chuckle and said, “I wish.”
I put his card near the cash drawer and watched from the window as he drove off in his dark sedan. For the rest of the day I thought about why the detective thought Sandra had been in my store. I also wondered if he thought I had been the last one to see her.
The next morning I arrived at my shop later than usual. When I turned the corner onto Main Street and looked towards my shop I noticed a tall man leaning against my door. My first thought had been the detective was back but I didn’t see his sedan anywhere on the street. I parked my car in front of the shop and grabbed my lunch from the backseat. When the man saw me approaching he quickly threw his burning cigarette out to the sidewalk, blowing the inhaled smoke into air. Seeing it wasn’t the detective I extended my hand and introduced myself as Clyde, the store owner, but he did not reciprocate his hand nor offer his name. As he moved aside so that I could unlock the door, his reflection in the glass revealed him watching me closely. I entered the store while he waited outside watching me as I approached the loudly beeping alarm. I fumbled with the little key, trying several times to turn it off. For some reason this man watching me made me nervous. I waved him inside and said, “have a look around the shop”. He went straight to the jewelry case as if he had been here before. I went to the checkout counter and put away my coat and hat. I unlocked my empty cash drawer making a note my revolver was still there. I glanced at the light on the phone, no calls or messages. I noted the desk clock said 11:23. The man was still standing by the jewelry case when I went to pull up the blinds. The store filled with winter sunshine from the large front windows. I made my way to where the man was stooped down in front of the jewelry case and I turned on the display light.
“See anything you like?” I asked.
Without speaking the man tapped his large gold ring on the glass pointing towards the gold locket, the very one I thought Sandra might have dropped.
“Nice choice,” I said, “is it for someone special?”
He made no reply.
I unlocked the case and carefully handed him the chain and locket. There was no price tag because I had forgotten to look into a price. From his pocket he produced a jeweler’s magnifier and inspected the locket and the chain carefully. He held up the chain to the light letting the locket swing back and forth. In the sunlight the locket sent arcs of light onto the walls of the store like dancing diamons. I studied the man while he was distracted. He was about my age, broad shoulders filling out his dated 2 button suitcoat. A graying hairline peeked out from under his fedora, his gray moustache was in need of a trim. The locket looked very small in this man’s hand as he studied the back of the locket. In the quietness of the store, I heard the wind blowing outside, I could see swirls of dusty snow whirlpool at the front door. As I was thinking I need to put some salt on the sidewalk, he finally spoke, “I’ll take it.”
“Don’t you want to know the price first?”
“I’ll take it,” he said again.
“The price of that locket is $2400”, I said, surprising myself, since I had no idea what the thing was worth, or for that matter, who it even belonged to. I figured $2400 sounded steep enough to discourage this potential buyer until I could investigate the locket further.
“I’ll take it,” this time sounding annoyed. I mentally kicked myself for not quoting him more.
“Is this a gift? Would you like me to gift wrap it?”
“No,” he said clearing his throat and sighing loudly.
I took the chain and locket from his hand and asked him to follow me to the cashier counter. Over my shoulder I asked, “Will you be paying..”
“Cash,” he said cutting my off.
With my back towards him at the counter I quickly looked on the back of the locket and using my magnifier saw the inscribed initials S.A.M. Quickly, I opened the locket to look inside. A very small piece of yellow paper fell out and I quickly brushed it aside. As I turned back around the man had his wallet out and had meticulously laid out 24 crisp one hundred dollar bills straight across the counter in front of me. I couldn’t help to notice that his wallet still quite thick. I picked up the money quickly and stuffed it in the cash drawer forgetting to make a receipt. The man sighed heavily again as I wrapped the locket in tissue paper, put it inside a small box and then in a small bag. Handing it to the man I added, “Thank you for your business, sir. I hope she enjoys it.”
He quickly grabbed the bag and rushed out the door. I hurried to the window to see him walking briskly down the sidewalk before entering the bar next door. The cigarette butt he threw to the ground earlier was still smoking on the snowy sidewalk. “Have a nice day, jerk.” I said under my breath. I went to the cash drawer and removed the $100 bills and smelled them. I love the smell of money. I licked my fingers counting them like a teller making sure there were 24, hoping there were more. I put the bills in my wallet, the extra weight feeling good in my back pocket. On the counter next to the detective’s card, I noticed the small piece of paper that had fallen out of the locket. Opening it, two thick black words glared from the yellow square, “HELP ME”. Feeling lightheaded and nauseous, I grabbed my gun from the cash draw, hung the “closed” sign and left the store. I got into my cold car and drove away from the store with only one question on my mind, Help who?