November 2nd, 1974.  10:25 AM

 

I had everything Sage needed separated and labeled pretty well, so it didn't take long for her to go over her checklist and be sure she had every bead, finding, clasp chain, and wire she needed to replace.

            “As usual, Sammy,” she said, “you've outdone yourself.  Everything is perfect.”

            “I aim to please,” I said, picking up a strand of denim lapis beads, trying to see something beyond just pretty blue stones before changing the subject.  “Sage, you know a lot about the supernatural, right?”

            “A little, yeah,” she said.  “I'm not super into it, but it's kind of fun to have a tarot card reading done or have a séance with friends after a couple of glasses of wine.”

            “I'm talking specifically about beads,” I said, having set down the string of lapis and now concentrating on a length of rose quartz.

            “Oh, sure, I know enough to get by and add a little pizazz to my product, if you know what I mean.  Take what you're holding there, rose quartz.  That's all about peace and love, that kind of stuff.  Sort of like if you squeezed the audience of a Mary's Painted Wagon concert into a bead.”

            “How do you know all this?”  I asked.

            “Oh, I've picked it up from various places,” she answered.  “Books mostly, and friends.  When I was a kid there was this really creepy old woman who lived two houses down.  Most of the neighborhood kids were afraid of her, but I thought she was pretty groovy.  She had hundreds of little bottles on shelves all through her house that were filled with all kinds of freaky things. She used to tell me what each was, and how it was used in spells and whatnot.  To be honest, though, most of that didn't sink in.  But, of course, you take what you know and then you tweak it a bit to make it specific to the customer.”

            “Specific?” I asked.

“Sure,” she replied.  “About 90 percent of it is pretty simple.  I mean, as far as that rose quartz goes, well, I just stick with the whole peace and love thing.  I mean, the majority of my customers are college-age so that's all they talk about anyway.  But let's say I get some square in here looking for something different for his wife on Valentine's Day, alright?”

            “Okay,” I said.

            “I'll take these, for instance,” she said, picking up some white howlite beads.  “According to books and whatnot, howlite is good for love and stuff.  So if this Joe Button-Down guy has that look about him that says things haven't been going so well in the bedroom department, well, suddenly I make it more specific to him personally, and tweak it to say that howlite has been known for centuries to drive a woman insane with passion when wearing these beads around her neck.”

            “You can tell something like that just by looking at a guy?” I asked.

            “Oh, of course,” she said giving me a frolicsome wink. “And by the way, congratulations.”  I stuttered and stammered a bit, trying to change the subject before my face and ears became the embarrassing shade of pink that I hate so, but Sage was nice enough to drop the whole thing.  “A good example is money and recognition.  After all, I'm just a couple blocks from an art school, and what does every art student in the world crave more than anything else?  What do they think would bring them true happiness?”

            “Money and recognition,” I parroted back to her.

            “Exactly,” she said.  “When those students come in the store, instead of saying mother of pearl is known for happiness, I just say it’s perfect for ‘money and recognition.’”   

“So when you get right down to it, the whole thing with beads and magic, well, it's all malarkey then?”

            “Wow, Sammy, just when I think there's a really groovy guy under that jacket and tie you go and use a word like 'malarkey.'”

            “Sorry.”

            “But no, it's not all malarkey,” she said.  “What would bring happiness to you wouldn’t necessarily bring happiness to someone else.  So instead of saying mother of pearl brings money and recognition to you, I’d say it brings peace of mind – because I know that is what happiness means to you.  Though to be honest, moonstone specifically brings peace of mind, so I’d suggest that, too.”

            “So my dented aura,” I said, pointing to my chest.  “That wasn't tweaking the truth, though, right?”

             “No, that was very specific. I wouldn't make a play on words with something that serious.”

            “Okay, now I don't want you to think I'm crazy or anything, but what about putting magic into a bead that's different from what is natural, or normal, or whatever?”

            Her mouth twisted in a way that told me she wanted to make sense of what I was saying, but try as she might she wasn’t succeeding.

            “Never mind.  What do you make of these?”  I took the four strange beads from my jacket pocket and placed them on the plywood surface.  At first She just stared at them blankly and didn't seem to react at all.  But then her eyebrows came together, and her gaze shifted back and forth between me and the quartet of odd ornaments.  She wasn't looking me in the eye, however.  Instead she concentrated on the center of my chest.

            She didn't look comfortable.

            “Sammy, I don't...I...”  She shook her head, bringing herself back to our conversation and once again meet my gaze.  “I don't know what those are all about.”

            “Have you ever heard of a legend about a guy named Thibaut and some beads?” I asked.

            “Yeah, but those aren't...” she stuttered a bit before changing her line of thought. “Sammy, just get rid of those things, okay?”

            “How come I'm the only one who'd never heard this story before yesterday?”

            “That weird old lady I was telling you about, my neighbor, she used to go on and on about Thibaut's Beads.  I thought she was just making it up.  But it used to scare me when I was really little.  She'd say if they ever get a hold of you they won't let go, and terrible things would happen.”

            “So you believe in the legend?” I asked.

            “No, not at all.  Well, I didn't, anyway.”

            “Well, what do you see when you look at them?” I asked.

            “Four ugly, ugly beads,” she answered.

            “I mean in the ethereal, spiritual, fourth dimension, whatever.”  I wasn't used to having a conversation based in a realm I'd always believed nonexistent, and I wasn't doing a good job of fishing for specific answers.

            “I don't know,” she said, looking back down at the beads.  “But whatever it is, I don't like it.  Just get rid of them, Sammy.  If they are Thibaut's Beads, you don't want them.  If they aren't, well, you've got a pocketful of damn ugly beads.  So what's the use of keeping them?”

            I scooped them up and put them back in my pocket.  “I'll just hold on to them for now, just in case.”

            “Just in case of what?”

            “I'm not sure,” I replied.

            “It's your funeral, Sammy, but I really don't want to attend.  My advice, just toss them out your car window every 50 miles or so.”

            “I'll take it into consideration.”  I checked my watch and realized I'd been in Sage's store long enough for Sarah to have browsed through several luggage shops.  I looked out the large windows at the front of the store, of the store, but saw no sign of her approaching.

            “Okay, then,” I said to Sage.  “I guess that about does it, huh?”

            “I guess,” she said.  “I'd ask if you're free for dinner tonight, but as I mentioned earlier, I suspect there's someone you already have plans with.”

            “You're very observant, Sage,” I said.  “She was supposed to meet me here and she should have been here by now.  I'd better go find her.  I'll give you a call in a few days.”

            Sage gave me another one of her bear hugs, but this time it felt different; more like a mother sending her teenage son into the big bad world for the first time.  “You take care of yourself, Sammy,” she said.  “There aren't enough guys like you in the world, and I'd hate for there to be one less, even if you do have a new girlfriend.”

            “Truth be told she’s an old girlfriend,” I said before kissing her on the cheek and leaving the store.

 

November 2nd, 1974.  10:50 AM

 

There was nothing unique about the inside of the luggage store.  It was just a large showroom that smelled of leather and plastic and its many displays made it difficult to navigate to the back counter.

            Once there I met the shop’s proprietor and noticed there was nothing particularly interesting about him, either.  He was around 50 years of age, with an obvious clip-on tie resting against a faded blue short-sleeved dress shirt.  When he saw me enter he tried to open his eyes wider as he donned a well-rehearsed smile, but the thick folds of skin under his brows prevented this from happening.

            “A.J. Kensington,” he said shaking my hand in a clammy grasp.  “And I'd like to personally welcome you to Fine Luggage.”  (Even the store’s name showed an almost unreal lack of creativity.)  I tried to introduce myself, but he went into his spiel before I had a chance.  “You look like a guy who's spent all his life in this city and has finally saved up enough to go on a cruise.  Hawaii I'm guessing, am I right?”

            “No, actually...”

            “My mistake,” he cut me off.  “Caribbean, then?  I knew it.  And when you get on that ship you'll want everyone to think to themselves, 'now this guy travels in style.'  I know just how you feel, and I got the perfect set for you right over here.”  He grabbed me by the elbow and  led me over to a stack of expensive looking steam trunks and matching leather bags.

            “No, I'm not going on a cruise, and to be honest I've traveled quite a bit.  I'm a salesman, but that's not why I'm here.  I...”

            Again he gave me no chance to finish my thought.  “A salesman, why yes, of course.  How could I not see that?  Like two peas in a pod we are, practically kinfolk.”  Without missing a beat he changed direction and led me to a pile of less luxurious, more utilitarian bags.  “So what do you sell, Mr...?”

                        “Louviere,” I said.  “Sam Louviere.  And I sell beads.”

                        “Beets?”

                        “Beads.  Like for necklaces and earrings, things like that.”

                        “Well whether you sell beads, beets, baseball bats or fruit bats, these here will last you   for years.  I've told myself many times that if I were the type to be selling on the road, these             little babies here would be my bags.  Nope, wouldn't carry anything less.  They may not have t         he fine polished brass buckles, and the fancy looking stitching, but these will last you, yes they        will, the last bags you'll ever have to buy.”

            “I'm really not here for luggage,” I said, feeling kind of bad about it.  A.J. Kensington's enthusiasm was such that I could smell he hadn't made a sale in quite a while.  “Actually I'm looking for someone, a lady.  Brunette, pretty, British accent.”

            “Oh,” he said with realization.  “So you're him.  Lucky guy, eh?  Yeah, she was in here, told me to tell you she'd meet you back at the hotel.”  He gave me a wink that I found extremely inappropriate, so I was glad that I wasn't in the market for luggage.

            “Thanks,” I said, and headed for the hotel.

 

November 2nd, 1974.  11:25 AM

 

When I got back to our room I was relieved to see Sarah was there.  Not that I doubted she would be, but when a woman disappears on you once, I guess the fear that it could happen again lingers in the back of your mind.  She was lying on the bed with a damp washcloth on her forehead, so my first thought was to ask if she was all right.

“Oh, I’m fine, Sam.  No need to worry,” she said.  “I did so want to meet your friend, and watch the world’s best bead salesman in action, but at the luggage store I felt a slight pressure at my temples.  Sometimes when that happens it turns into the most awful migraine unless I lie down and close my eyes for a while.”  She sat up and I took her hand.

“Don’t worry about me,” I said.  “If all you missed was me selling beads, you didn’t miss very much.  Besides, I’m sure you’ll be able to meet my friend Sage sometime in the near future.  I’m just concerned about you.  Are you sure you’re okay?”

            “I’m fine, Sam, really.  It’s passed,” then she changed the subject.  “When I got back to the room I had the front desk call to have some laundry picked up – you really should dry clean your suits more often.  The way you wash them in those coin laundry places it’s a wonder they haven’t fallen apart by now.”

            “Sorry, yeah, I’ll try to do that more often,” I said, feeling chastised.

            “Anyway, when the cleaner arrived  I went through your pockets to make sure they were empty and didn’t find those odd beads you’ve been carrying around.”

            “That’s because I’m still carrying them around,” I told her, patting my jacket pocket.

            “You really shouldn’t do that,” she said.  “I’m worried about you, Sam.  If those people want those beads that much, I don’t feel safe if you have them on you.  Why don’t we put them in a safety deposit box?  I’d feel so much better if we did.”

“If this Celia and her friend are a threat – which is possible, I’ll admit – they’re still going to come after me for the beads.  Maybe I’ll be safer if I have them on me when they do.”  Sarah rested her head on my shoulder.  “Besides,” I continued, “there’s someone I need to show them to; a rather eccentric acquaintance, to be honest.  You’ll find him quite interesting – even if only from an anthropological aspect.”

            “And why is it you need to show your friend these beads?”

            “Because I don’t think they’re phony,” I admitted.  “Oh, to be sure they’re probably not the actual Thibaut’s Beads…that has to just be a legend, right?  But I don’t think they’re just simple forgeries, either.  And if there is more to them, I think this guy can help us out.”

 

November 3rd, 1974.  12:45 AM

 

The night before had been rather pleasant, I guess.  Sarah and I dined at the kind of restaurant I’d never even considered eating at, i.e. a very elegant and expensive one with little on the menu I could pronounce.  Afterwards Sarah “surprised” me with tickets to see a stringed quartet play the kind of music you don’t tap your foot to.  It was not the evening I would have planned if I had my druthers, but I’d rather be bored next to Sarah than thrilled without her.

            After the concert I had suggested a walk around the city.  It was as romantic as it sounds, but I did have an ulterior motive -- checking up on Sage’s store.  After all, if I was being watched, they knew I had been there earlier.  The shop was fine, though, and the walk was  enchanting.  All in all, not a bad night.

            I was sitting on the bed comparing a map of southern Ohio and surrounding states with a handwritten list of places I needed to stop.  The morning news was on the television, but I was paying little attention.  When I had just about worked out the best routes to take, Sarah came into the room with two cups of coffee and a cheese Danish for us to share.  She kissed me on the forehead as she handed me a Styrofoam cup.

            “Is everything in order, Mr. Louviere?” Sarah asked.

            “I think so,” I answered.  “I just need to call Sage.  If she can tell me where I’ll be able to meet up with that fellow I was telling you about yesterday, then all will be well.”  She leaned towards me, offering a deep kiss that I could have enjoyed for hours but ended way too quickly as I heard a familiar voice.  What a stroke of luck, I thought.  “That guy I was just telling you about,” I said, pointing to the television set.  “Well, that’s him.”

 

 

 

 ..................to be continued

 

© 2006 Brightlings Beads and M. Robert Todd