31st, 1974. 11:35 AM
On a busy day our receptionist, Susan Oxman, would
probably field no more than two-dozen calls, and each would result in an
immediate transfer or a message scribbled down quickly. She has a lot of
free time on her hands.
The odd thing about Susan is she has
nothing to fill her down time. She doesn’t read or knit, she just sits
there with her hands folded neatly and resting on the desk waiting for the
phone to ring. On several occasions I had pointed out that perhaps beading
would be a nice way to idle away the hours. She had all the tools, clasps,
wire, and string a person could hope for just a few feet away, and what bead
enthusiast wouldn’t envy the selection of baubles available to her?
She didn’t share my zeal for the idea.
Susan looked like a bulldog. The corners of
her mouth pointed to the ground pulling her full cheeks down with them, she
had a prominent under-bite, and each morning she rubber-banded her short
hair into two miniature pigtails. But when the telephone rang a strange
transformation took place: her smile pulled those jowls up to form pink,
cherubic cheeks, all sense of boredom evaporated from her eyes, her posture
straightened, and her voice became downright pleasant and perky. It was as
if she had a cute doppelganger that took over whenever duty called.
I had come into the office to pick up
whatever new samples I would be taking with me and say goodbye to the other
salespeople. I was expecting they would be at the office for the same
reason. Earlier in the day I had spent almost an hour staring at my
suitcase wondering if getting back to work was the best thing to do. The
letter from Sarah had my head spinning; was she planning on contacting me?
If so, when? Would I be wasting my time if I were to spend a few more days
in Seattle waiting for her? Would those days turn into weeks? How far
behind would I fall, and would it be all for naught?
In my left pocket I had my flight
itinerary, and when I walked up to Susan’s desk my plan was to have her call
the airline and delay my departure for two days. But instead I found myself
reaching into my right pocket and pulling out the letter from Sarah.
“Susan, do you remember this letter coming
in?” I said, handing the envelope to her.
“Mm hmm,” she replied dryly, after studying
it for about 15 seconds.
“Did the handwriting or stationary look
familiar to you? Could there have been other letters like this delivered
that maybe fell through the cracks?”
“No,” she said. “I’d remember. If not the
handwriting, then definitely the perfume.” With these last words the
spiritual transformation of Susan took place, and a devilish spark glinted
in her eye. “Does Mr. Louviere have a lady that’s sweet on him?” she
“Mr. Louviere doesn’t know. That’s the
problem.” I winked at her, and headed for the conference room.
31st, 1974. 11:40 AM
Three of the six other salespeople were already there,
arranging their wares in display cases and pointing out beads to the others
that they thought would be particularly hot sellers. The usual hellos and
greetings awaited me as I set my display case on the table and prepared to
join my coworkers in adding the new beads into my already crowded
“Thanks for the party last night,” Eliza
said. “I had a great time.”
“Oh, yes, me too,” Grace quipped. “The
dancing, and all that excitement with that witch woman.”
“Speaking of the witch, has anybody seen
Donald today? I have some questions I’d like to ask him about his dancing
The burly ex-Marine, Oliver Hampton,
chuckled. “Yeah, so do I.” He made the remark rather off the cuff, setting
a rose quartz bead in one compartment before standing back, squinting his
eyes and studying his placement, then changing his mind. His remark
reminded me that he, too, had had a rather strange reaction when Toby
Bartman told his story of the mysterious blond with the curly hair in the
“Do you have a couple minutes, Oliver?” I
“Sure boss. Anything wrong?”
“No, I’d just like to talk to you in my
office if you can spare them.”
Oliver poked at a few beads in his display
case before following me down the hall.
31st, 1974. 11:45 AM
I had no use for an office, but since the company was
mine I had one. There was no phone, chairs, or even a desk, but Oliver and
I were able to make ourselves relatively comfortable sitting on the stacked
boxes of inventory that were temporarily filling the space, and had been
during my entire time with the company.
“Oliver, I was in Ohio, I think, when I ran
into that woman, Celia Andrews.”
“No kidding,” he looked genuinely
surprised. “You sure it’s the same woman? I mean, Toby was in Spearfish,
you were in Ohio, and I was just outside of Tampa when I saw her. What are
the odds it could be the same woman? Too much of a coincidence, I say.”
“It wasn’t a coincidence,” I was surprised
by how sure of myself I sounded now that I had said it out loud. “I just
need to know what happened.”
“Okay, well let me think.” Oliver leaned
back, put his hand on his face, and slid it downward. When his fingers and
thumb met at his chin he inhaled and began his story.
“It was a Sunday, I’m sure of that. Don’t
exactly know which Sunday, probably about two months ago, I’d say. Two, two
and a half at the most. I know it was Sunday ‘cause I had been in church.
I don’t remember the name of the church, but it was right next to a park.
But that’s why I picked that church, I noticed when I had driven into town
that it was right next to a park, though I don’t remember the name of the
“Anyway, after church I went to my car and
got the lunch I had packed. Ham sandwich and a thermos of coffee. I don’t
know why, but after church I like to have a ham sandwich and coffee. Ain’t
that strange? Only after church do I want a ham sandwich and coffee. I’d
never really thought about that before.”
Oliver’s eyes drifted, as if his Sunday
culinary habits were the real mystery here. I had to bring him back on
“So the girl,” I said.
“Oh, right, the girl. Well, they had these
picnic benches all around the park so I sat down and unwrapped my sandwich,
and that’s when I noticed her. Well, noticed her for the second time, I had
also seen her in church. She stood out ‘cause she was alone, like me, but
also she didn’t seem to be following along too well with what was going on.
She would flounder when we would all sing, as if she didn’t know the words.
That’s what I really found strange, ‘cause it was the basic, standard stuff.
“So, anyway, she’s kind of pacing around
and looking sort of distressed so I yelled to her and asked if she was
okay. She walked over, asked if she could sit, I told her I didn’t mind at
all, and offered her half of my ham sandwich. She politely refused. I told
her it was good, and that maybe getting something in her belly would make
her feel better, but she said she was too upset to eat ‘cause it was her
niece’s birthday and she had totally forgotten to get the girl a present.”
“It appears our Miss Andrews has a penchant
for forgetting niece’s birthdays,” I said, and let Oliver continue.
“You don’t say. Well, anyway,” he
continued. “An idea hit me right out of the blue, how about a pretty piece
of jewelry? She said she was due at the party, and didn’t know of any
places open on Sunday. The Lord does work in wondrous ways, I remember
telling her. And when I mentioned I was a bead salesman, with all the
makings for a beautiful gift in my car, she smiled a smile that would melt
I thought I could take over the story from
here, so I took a go at it. “Then you get your case, she looks around.
Now, this is the important part, Oliver, I need you to remember as best you
can: did she find anything she liked?”
“Oh, yeah, she sure did,” he said. “She
was so happy she even changed her mind about that sandwich, and took half.”
“Do you remember what she bought?”
“How could I forget? It was the weird
bead. Not weird like the one Toby said he had, this was different, but
still weird. And what else was odd was that’s all she wanted, just the one
bead. I tried to tell her she’d need more than a single bead to make a
piece of jewelry, but she had her mind set on just that one bead.”
“What did it look like?”
“It was red, kind of cube shaped, but not
perfectly square. And it had these veins all through it. Not like veins in
marble, they were raised and smooth, sort of a blue tint.”
“Sounds pretty enough,” I offered.
“No, not really. The veins on this bead
had always reminded me of the veins on the back of an old lady’s hand. And
the whole thing, with the glossy red color, well, to be honest, it looked
like something a vet might pull out of a sick cat. It wasn’t surprising
that bead had been in my case since I started working here, and no one ever
came close to thinking about buying it.”
I stood and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Thanks, Oliver,” I told him. “That’s all I needed to know.”
“I didn’t do something wrong, did I
Sammy?” He said as we both walked out of my office.
“Not at all,” I reassured him. “I just
wish Donald would get here so I could have the same chat with him.”
When we entered the conference room Grace
and Eliza shared a look and a grin, as if whatever their conversation had
been about, it had stopped specifically because of our being there. I
ignored it, at first.
“So, more man talk about your mysterious
witch woman?” Eliza chided.
“As a matter of fact, yes,” I said back.
“And it doesn’t have to be limited to man talk. If either of you ladies
have any interesting tales of odd women wanting to buy even odder beads, I’d
be happy to hear them.”
Grace laughed. “Oh, I’m afraid, Mr.
Louviere, that we’ve got something better than that. It just so happens
that Eliza and I have both had puzzling encounters of our own with a mystery
“Excuse me?” I wasn’t expecting this, and
I certainly wasn’t ready for it.
“Now, now, we’re not sure.” Eliza stepped
in, using her political background to quell the confusion she saw in my
expression. “Not a hundred percent sure that it’s the same man. It’s just
that our descriptions of him are similar. It could be, and probably was,
two different men.”
I went to the water cooler and quickly
downed a few ounces of the-much-too-cold liquid while wishing it was
bourbon. If I was going crazy, I had to get a hold of myself. If I wasn’t,
well, I still had to get a hold of myself.
“Just let me know one thing,” I said to the
ladies as I rearranged some beads in my case. “Please, for the sake of my
sanity, tell me that he wasn’t looking for a last minute birthday gift for
“He wasn’t looking for a gift for his
niece,” Eliza said in a smooth voice, noticeably trying to calm my nerves.
But then, at the exact same instant, she and Grace said the same words: “It
was for his mother.”
The shocked looks bounced around the four
of us like a pinball being shot from bumper to bumper. Even Eliza and Grace
looked at each other, stunned, as this last fact was something they hadn’t
yet shared with each other. Grace then, of course, dropped her coffee cup.
“What’s going on?” Eliza asked me, in a
tone more grave than wanted to hear at the moment.
I wanted to just throw up my arms and leave
the room, tell them all that if any weird people approach them in weird ways
with weird excuses for buying a weird bead from them, then fine. Sell the
bead, or give them the bead, and forget about it. It was all too strange,
and though I wanted to ask Eliza and Grace what their beads looked like and
if Mr. Mystery had left with what he wanted, or left disappointed, I also
wanted to not think about it.
Then the phone rang and Eliza answered.
“Yeah, he’s right here. Thanks Susan.” Then to me: “Sam, you have a call,
We only had two phone lines at the company,
but Hubie Three had the idea to call them six and seven rather than one and
two. His reasoning was that if someone were visiting the office, they would
be more impressed with the operation if they thought we had more phone lines
than we did. It never occurred to Hubie that any visitor could easily see
that each phone only had two clear cubes of plastic at its base.
“Oh, and it’s a girl,” Eliza said in a
mocking voice as she handed the receiver t me. “I wonder if it’s the
I stopped dead in my tracks. My heart
raced, and a tingling chill went up my spine, spread out over my shoulders,
and grabbed tightly onto the back of my head. Who could it be besides
Sarah? No one I could think of. I knew I couldn’t talk in front of the
others, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to speak even if I did..
“I’ll take it in Hubie’s office,” I told
31st, 1974. 11:55 AM
When I walked into Hubie Three’s office, he was bent
over a ledger book, as he always was, and as he looked up at me I sensed
disappointment in his eyes, as I always did.
“I need to use your phone, Hubie,” I told
“Sure, go ahead.” He pointed towards the
phone with the eraser end of his pencil, not missing a beat in his work.
“And I need some privacy,” I added.
He started to say something, but decided
against it. He closed the ledger, held it tight to his chest, and when he
bumped into me on his way out I knew it wasn’t by accident, but I didn’t
When I heard the door close behind him I
took a deep breath, picked up the receiver, and pushed the button for line
“Samuel Louviere speaking,” I said, trying
not to betray to her that I was hoping she would be calling me.
“Sam?” The voice was familiar, but it
wasn’t Sarah. “Sage here, how you doing?”
Caught off guard, I barely managed to choke
out a, “fine.”
“Listen, sorry to ask for you specifically,
I just took a stab, hoping you’d be there. I need to buy some beads, lots
of beads, actually.”
There was something in her voice that
didn’t sound quite like the usual happy go lucky Sage. “Are you okay?” I
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she answered. “But my
store, well, it was broken into. They stole all my jewelry.”
Happy Halloween, I thought to
..................to be continued
© 2006 Brightlings
Beads and M. Robert Todd