November 1st, 1974.  2:10 AM

 

When I was in the ninth grade my dad read a newspaper article about how two friends who lived on opposite sides of the country played a game of chess by mailing each other their moves.  He was strangely fascinated by the concept, and since he didn’t play the game, he tried to talk me into finding a pen pal who would be interested in an interstate match.  When I refused, he found one for me, my second cousin, Albert Louviere.

            What started off as something quite boring soon turned into an obsession, and I became very angry with my father for getting me involved in it.  During the summer I wanted to go out and play baseball or go swimming, but instead found myself in my room staring at the chessboard, wondering what devious plan Cousin Albert had in mind when he’d written his last postcard.  In my mind’s eye I would imagine him sitting at a large writing desk, the board off to one side, scribbling his next move with a great quill pen, the ink having been freshly dipped from an ornate brass well.  In his other hand he would be clenching a pipe.  After finishing his writing, he would read it to himself and throw his head back laughing maniacally as the rosewood smoke drifted up from the pipe bowl and curled around his shoulders, like some spiritual familiar proud of its unearthly aid in the design of his strategy.

            Since Cousin Albert was only 13 years old and lived in a one-room tenement in the Bronx, I knew my visions had no basis in fact.  But I kept the evil apparition in my mind, for it gave me an enemy I had to defeat.

            It didn’t take long before I wasn’t listening to my teachers in school, or my parents at the dinner table when they asked about my day or reminded me of chores I’d forgotten to do (and the ones I had better do tonight).  Eventually my father sat me down and gave me an ultimatum:  either quit the chess games or stop taking them so seriously. 

            I wanted to end the matches, I truly did.  But I just couldn’t.  My father suggested I relax a little.  He said when a new postcard comes, make the move on the board, study it for a few minutes, and then get on with life.  He told me when I least expected it, when I wasn’t even thinking about the game, the right strategy would come to me.  And he was right.

            After a few weeks, I spent little time pondering moves.  The proper offense would just pop into my head at any time, and when it did, I’d write my cousin.  Suddenly I was a much better chess player, and in my mind Cousin Albert was now just a snot-nosed kid.  As a result I became bored with chess and haven’t played since.

            I was reminding myself of this as I lay in bed.  I decided if I was to make any sense about the series of events with the beads, Celia, my employees, and now Sage’s store being broken into (if it was even connected to everything else), I’d have to just forget about it.  But when you remind yourself to forget about something, it is impossible to do.  (For example, don’t think of a monkey.  See?  You did, even though I told you not to.)

            Eventually I drifted off to sleep, and though I don’t remember my dreams, I’m sure they were about beads.

 

November 1st, 1974.  9:30 AM

 

The plane back to Ohio was leaving that evening.  I decided to return and not wait around for Sarah who might not ever present herself.  That morning my first stop was the office to put together an assortment of beads and other supplies to replace what Sage had lost.  I could have just had them mailed to her, but I knew she had a lot of work to do to replace the finished pieces of jewelry, and with the Christmas shopping season officially starting later this month, she had her hands full.  It would take me out of my way to deliver them personally, but if by chance I was in any way responsible for her misfortune, I wanted to do all I could to help her get back to a state of normalcy.

 

November 1st, 1974.  9:50 AM

 

I had two more appointments before I had to be at the airport.  Having gotten an early start, I had an hour or two to kill, so I took a trip to the local public library.  After a few minutes of searching though the card catalogue, I scribbled down the Dewey decimal numbers for all the books about (what else?) beads.

            I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for, so I grabbed a copy of Not Just Around Your Neck: A History of Beads by Lawreen Kayle, So Why Aren’t You Beading Yet? by Junior Matthews, and Magic That You Wear or The Spiritual Property of Beads by someone who called him or herself Drasputin.  I sat down in an uncomfortable wooden chair and set the books on a table containing dozens of impromptu carvings of initials and acid rock group logos before it really sunk in that I didn’t even know where to start.

            I took the book by Drasputin, opened it to about the middle and started flipping back 5 to 10 pages at a time.  I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I fully expected to see a wood carving of my gray-brown ugly bead, or a black and white photograph of some stodgy-looking man in a sand-encrusted fedora holding it up against a backdrop of a recently unearthed pharaoh’s tomb. 

            After spending my free time flipping through the three volumes, I learned nothing that I couldn’t have found out by asking around the office or having lunch with Sage Parker.  Disappointed, I left the library and headed to my first appointment.

 

November 1st, 1974.  11:15 AM

 

Officer Kelly Daily of the Seattle Police Department had been a friend of our saleslady, Eliza Jones, since childhood, and like Eliza had an obsession with beads.  Shortly after Eliza was hired, she gave her friend a tour of our office and Kelly’s nervous excitement could only have been matched by a child’s private expedition through Santa’s workshop.  I was told that Eliza and Kelly spent most of their Saturday nights in junior high staying at each other’s houses and beading while talking about boys and fashion.  I was in town the day she visited, and since I was relatively new to the business, was still awed by how such little trinkets could mean so much to so many people.

            I had gotten Kelly’s phone number from Eliza, and she agreed to meet me for lunch at a coffee shop downtown.  The reason I wanted to talk with her didn’t have as much to do with her admiration for beads as her experience in law enforcement. 

            I had only been waiting in the booth about 10 minutes when Kelly walked in with her partner, a sad-eyed man of about 50 whom she introduced as Nolan.  She was a very petite woman, but oddly enough this probably worked in her favor, as everything hanging from her gun belt seemed twice as large, and therefore, doubly intimidating.  Her straw-colored hair couldn’t have been long enough to touch her shoulders, but she still had it tied back in a ponytail so it wouldn’t get in her eyes if she were to take careful aim at a fleeing perp, or write a ticket for jaywalking to some unlucky housewife.

            I stood and shook each of their hands as she introduced me to Nolan, and as we sat she had to raise her voice over the din of clinking glasses, conversation, and the sound of metal flatware on ceramic as she ordered “the usual” from someone named Maggie who was out of my line of sight. 

            “Nice to see you, Sammy,” she said. “So what’s new in the world of beads?”

            I handed her a plastic bag about half the size of a slice of bread filled with various samples of new product.  Nolan squinted at me, and even though I was just being nice, it felt like I was paying off a law enforcement officer with contraband gems in a clandestine meeting with nefarious intentions.  Nolan, using his finely tuned cop instincts, sensed my guilt and squinted at me harder.  But when Kelly, in an innocent, velvety voice said, “Aw, how sweet!  Thank you!” he seemed to relax slightly.

            “I talked to Eliza last night after you called.  She wanted me to tell you to have a safe trip if she doesn’t see you before you leave,” she continued.  “So, what can I do for you?  You sounded a bit worried on the phone.”

            “Oh, it’s nothing, really,” I said.  And then I told her of the uneasy feeling I’d been having lately, and how it related to the curly-haired Celia Andrews, the experiences of my other salespeople, the undoubtedly-Celia witch woman, and the maybe/maybe not man in cahoots with her who had expressed an interest in unique beads in “accidental” meetings with my female sales staff.

            She looked at me for a moment with knitted brows before she burst out laughing.  Nolan chortled a bit, apparently not at my story (I was a complete non-entity to him -- he was just there for a sandwich), but at his partner’s guffaws.  I felt my ears prickling, meaning I was blushing the blush I always curse myself for not being able to get under control, and it seemed to take much too long for Kelly to finally work through the laughter and talk seriously about the situation.

            “So let me get this straight,” she said as the waitress placed empty mugs in front of them and filled them with steaming coffee.  “You’re hoping I can give you some advice from a law enforcement perspective?”

            “I’m not sure what I want,” I admitted.  “It’s just really strange, and I’m sure you’re used to dealing with odd people and events, so I thought I’d bounce it off you to see what came back.”

            “Hmmm.”  I could tell she was thinking seriously and trying not to say anything that might embarrass me further.  “Well Sammy, to be honest, I’m not aware of any laws against buying beads under false pretenses.”  I’ll give her credit; at least she tried to hold back her laughter.

            I gave her time to catch her breath before I continued. 

            “I understand that,” I said.  “But a customer of mine, a good friend, really, recently had her store broken into.  She sells jewelry made from beads that I’ve sold her.  This blonde, Celia, had stolen my purchase order book a few days after I was at my friend’s shop, so she knew I had sold her some beads.  And when she was going through my samples, she didn’t find what she was looking for, so isn’t the obvious conclusion that she was backtracking?  Tracking down my customers to see if they had the bead she was after?”

            Nolan rolled his eyes. (If I were in his shoes, I would have also thought the bead salesman across the table was a madman.)

            “Okay, where is this store that was broken into?” she asked.  “In Seattle?”

            “No, it’s in Cincinnati.”

            Nolan leaned over and pointed to the placemat in front of me.  On it was a map of the US, and each state had cartoon icons displaying tourist sites and anything else the state was known for.  His index finger tapped at the state of Washington between a drawing of the Space Needle and the lumbering silhouette of a Sasquatch.

            “We’re here,” he said staring me straight in the eye.  “And Cincinnati is…”  It was at this point he realized he had no idea where Cincinnati is.

            “It’s right here,” I said pointing to a simple drawing of the half-circular Museum Center at the bottom of Ohio.

            “Okay.  So by my estimation that puts it some two thousand miles plus outside of our jurisdiction.”

            “Be nice, Nolan.”  Kelly said. “How could this woman have broken into your friend’s place and stolen all those beads if you saw her here in Seattle?”

             “Maybe she didn’t do it, maybe that guy did.  Or maybe there are more than the two of them.  Besides, the robbery was the night before the Christmas party so she had time to fly here.”

            “Christmas party?”  If Nolan had any doubts that I was a lunatic, they had by now evaporated.

            “Be nice, Nolan,” Kelly said again.  “Have you heard from any other customers that were in the book she stole?”

            “No.”

            “Well, when you get back to Ohio, make some calls, see if anything strange has happened to your other customers.  But most importantly, don’t make too big a deal out of it.  It’s probably a series of unrelated events, and when you consider the hours of driving you do -- allowing for plenty of time for your mind to wander around and start connecting dots that shouldn’t be connected -- well, you know, things can look worse than they actually are.”

            She thinks I’m as crazy as her partner does, I thought as the waitress came by, setting a sandwich in front of the two police officers.  Though it was All Saints’ Day, I had the feeling that nobody up there liked me.

 

 

 ..................to be continued

 

© 2006 Brightlings Beads and M. Robert Todd