by Sandra Levy Ceren
This week we have an original, never before published, mystery short story by Sandra Levy Ceren.
A high quality museum reproduction, I thought staring at a familiar object in a locked case in the antique store, a new Mecca for rare international art objects. I had painstakingly studied and catalogued an exact duplicate of the artifact for the New York Metropolitan Museum ten years ago–an unforgettable time for me as assistant to the curator with whom I had fallen in love. He was fifty-two and I was twenty-six. It wasn’t his mass of gray curls nor his wide tumbling mid-riff that attracted me, but his rich experience. His charisma. My adoration for Dr. Alfredo Williams was born of the stuff young women feel for older men. Respect.
His feelings for me, I later learned, were the same as for any ornament that captured his fancy. He objectified me. I over-idealized him. The romance ended upon my return to the university. Disappointed, I kept a pocket of anger filled with feelings of exploitation.
Now, three thousand miles away, I gawked at the object. I had to hold it in my hand. Perhaps I’d buy it, as a memento—a reminder of my folly.
A slim, gray-haired woman appeared at my side. “May I help you?” she asked.
“Yes. I’m interested in this.”
She unlocked the case and handed the object to me. I felt the texture and heft and caught my breath. The item looked genuine, but even a professional antiquities expert like me could be mistaken by a
well-crafted reproduction. I retrieved the jewelers loop from my purse and studied the artifact under the light. My heart pounded and I felt dizzy. There was only one way this genuine museum piece could land here.
“Where did this come from?”
“I’ll find out. Leave your phone number and I’ll have someone call.”
I scrawled my number on a piece of paper, handed it to her, and rushed home.
My hands trembled as I ran my finger down the page of the telephone directory in search of the F.B.I’s number. Within a few minutes I was connected to an agent. I furnished the information and supported it with my credentials.
I had expected my role to be simply a tip-giver. Instead, my episode of skullduggery was launched necessitating a change of the message on my answering machine. A sting operation was set in which I played the lead.
Early the next morning, after I returned from jogging, I received a phone message to ring up Anthony Jones regarding the art object. His British name matched his inflection and his telephone area code was for London, England. Their time was eight hours ahead of ours. I had to hurry.
To prepare for the call, I played a compact disc of Trio Esperanca do Brasil and studied the vocal for accent. My recent summer in Brazil and my early training in drama gave me confidence that I could pull off the charade. Challenged and excited, I rehearsed for my role as Lucinda Luis from Rio de Janeiro and then punched in the long string of numbers.
“Ah, the lady interested in the rare artifact. What can I do for you?”
“My family collects museum quality pieces. How much are you asking?”
“Where is your collection?”
“In Brazil,” I replied.
“No, I mean specifically. We would like a home where it will be appreciated.”
“I beg your pardon, sir, but my willingness to pay should be adequate.”
“Well, yes. We are asking two-hundred-thousand pounds. I assure you it’s worth considerably more. Of necessity, the owner is willing to part with it for this paltry sum.”
“And who is he?”
“He prefers to be anonymous.”
“That’s regrettable. We don’t purchase from agents. We deal only with collectors. We hate to see others–how you say, ripped off by their representatives.”
“Dear lady, apparently you are unaware of my reputation.”
“That is correct,” I said.
“Then I will try to arrange a meeting for you with him. Where and when would it be convenient?”
“Thursday at noon. The bar at the Marriot Hotel near the antique shop housing the object. Please ask him to bring a list of others he may wish to sell.”
“I shall call him straight away. How will he know you?”
“I have dark hair and eyes, olive complexion and am five foot six inches.”
“Very well, then. Good-bye.”
I had lied to Mr. Anthony Jones. I’d have to cover my blonde hair, blue eyes and fair complexion. To compensate for my five feet two height, I’d wear those splendid high-heel platform shoes I’d bought in Brazil. It would take some doing to disguise myself, but what fun! And the outcome!
Forty minutes later, Mr. Jones phoned to confirm the meeting. Immediately, I contacted the FBI agent assigned to this operation.
We met at a salon where she helped me select an expensive black wig and a make-up artist showed me how to achieve an exotic look. Dark contact lenses completed the facial camouflage. Clothes from a Brazilian boutique and a padded bra completed the picture. I rather liked the new buxom Latin me.
It was doubtful that Alfredo, the probable thief and object of my contempt, would suspect my involvement in this enterprise. Nevertheless, I worried he’d recognize me.
At the appointed time, I donned the wire and disguise smiling gleefully at my reflection in the mirror. A taxi awaited me. It was a rare sultry day and my dress clung to the vinyl seat of the cab. As we approached the hotel, I began to perspire, adjusted the wig, and grew afraid that my make-up would run. Of all the days for high humidity!
I slid out of the cab, paid the driver and entered the thankfully, air-conditioned hotel lobby, my heart slamming against my chest. Hot and thirsty, I bought a glass of mineral water at the bar. Sipping the cool fizzy water, I began to relax—until a familiar looking man ambled towards me. Alfredo. He had hardly changed. Our eyes met. My stomach surged. As he drew closer, his sensuous glance seemed to suggest he remembered me. “Ms. Luis?” he asked.
I nodded, followed him to a couch in a quiet corner, and sat next to him. As I moved to avoid his knees, my tight dress hiked up to my thighs. His smile, which I had once found titillating, now revolted me.
He removed some photos from a leather folio and laid them on the table in front of us. As I leaned forward to examine them, I felt him starring at my ample bosom. “Impressive collection,” I remarked. “All yours?” I wondered if he thought the same about my chest.
“Yes. I inherited it from my grandfather.”
Our conversation proceeded and Alfredo complimented me on my good looks and impressive knowledge of archeology. I expected him to invite me to his room, but we were interrupted by the appearance of FBI agents.
While they gathered the evidence and read him his rights, I dipped my napkin into the mineral water and quickly removed my make-up. I pulled off the wig, pushed out the contact lenses and yanked out the falsies.
Alfredo gaped. “Who the hell are you?” He muttered, as he was handcuffed and led away.
“An avenger for the women you seduce, and so quickly forget.”