Her mind raced trying to find the answers. The man who gave her the stone had said it would lead her into trouble if she wasn’t careful, but when he continued to insist it wasn’t stolen she had brushed aside his warnings. Now she wished she had paid more attention to all that he had told her. She racked her mind trying to remember the details. ‘Did I miss something important?’ she asked herself, panicked to the point of referring to herself in the first person. ‘He said it would be okay to have it appraised but that I should only get it appraised from some jeweler he knew… Damn! He said it wasn’t stolen, so why should it matter where I get it appraised from? Damn! I should have listened, but who knew?!’
She recalled with vivid clarity the moment she met him. She had been in New York waiting for the downtown A train at Columbus Circle. The platform was smelly and hot as usual for that time of year – summer of course – and it was crowded, but only typically so. Someone somewhere was playing a guitar – a pleasant tune that almost made the wait for the train bearable. A homeless woman shuffled slowly by, nearly killing her with the stench of blended shits, young and old. She turned to flee to another part of the platform when she collided with him. Not a football tackle collide, nor an everyone lands on their ass collide, just a gentle bump and ‘excuse me’ collide. But she took note of him immediately all the same. He was dressed slightly… off. Different. And his cologne was unique to her nose. It didn’t completely mask the shit-pourri, but rather distracted from it confusingly. When he said her name she was barely surprised. Something about his presence shifted her consciousness by some non-trivial degree, and she was nearly hypnotized. She wasn’t sexually attracted to him. In fact, the closest she ever felt to this same sensation was at a particularly touching Easter service her then boyfriend had dragged her to some years prior. Not being particularly religious, she had been surprised at her reaction to the service then, and that she was feeling that same sort of warm, fuzzy calm now forced her to full, deep awareness. She remembered in her new found lucidity her name was on her bronze tag – she had never taken if off when she finished work for the day.
She remembered in this strange place laughing at herself on that hot platform all those months ago. She remembered him chatting her up, then offering to buy her a coffee. Trying to avoid the awkwardness, she mentioned that she was heading for the train station and was, in fact, on her way out of town. She remembered her embarrassment when he told her he was heading to Penn Station himself and would like to buy her that coffee if time allowed. Deciding he was harmless enough, she stopped trying to shake him, figuring she may as well drink the coffee, then lose him when she boarded her train. The A train was barreling into the station by now, and when it came to a stop and the doors opened, they boarded the train together. She remembered his oddness, but wondered now at how normal he seemed. If she knew then where she would end up… hell, she wished she knew now where she was.
He handed her the stone over and over again in her mind’s eye. Each time, she accepted it gladly. Never once did she even consider rejecting his offer. The proposition was simple: he would give her the stone, she could keep it or sell it as she willed, and all he asked in return was a simple favor.
The fact that they were booked not only on the same train out of Penn Station, but also the same flight out of Newark Airport that fateful summer afternoon sealed in her mind the inevitability of their crossing and the futility of resisting his harmless offers of chatty companionship and casual chivalry. Besides, she was growing fascinated with his tales of travel and adventure. The way he told them was refreshing, too. He didn’t brag about his adventures, nor did he try the underhanded approach of understating his worldliness in the common style of the name-dropper. He seemed, in some modest way, impressed with himself that he had been to the places he visited, and his eagerness to share his experiences was contagious. He wasn’t American, but she wasn’t sure just where she imagined he hailed from. For some reason she failed to ask him. Every time she thought about it, he seemed almost to sense it, for he would immediately begin anew with some fresh story and distract her from her inquisitive thoughts.
The morning he gave her the stone, over jazz brunch at Antoines in the French Quarter, she had been feeling quite out of herself, she recalled. He had called her a few days earlier, after practically disappearing for a month – not that they were a couple, mind you, and he was certainly under no obligation to keep in constant touch with her – and offered to treat her to New Orleans for the weekend. He offered to arrange the flight for her and take care of the nitty gritty and all she would have to do is catch the flight and meet him in the French Quarter. She had accepted his offer, of course, and met him at Cafe Du Monde, as they had arranged. After the requisite beignet and cafe au lait, they traveled to a small bed and breakfast nearby where he had booked their stay – separate rooms. She remembered feeling very fortunate with her life.
It was late the following morning when she found herself at Antoines, listing to the smooth strumming of the bass and enjoying the lingering essence of soft shell crab Florentine on her tongue. She remembered as if it was yesterday how her eye caught the glimmer of the stone as her friend produced it from a bag he had brought with him to brunch.
“Do you think it pretty?”
“Oh my… yes. It’s gorgeous.” It was huge! Nearly half the size of her palm. Something in her stomach reacted at the time – how she wished she had listened to it. Instead, she had reacted to her gut feeling with suspicion and dismissal. Surely the thing was junk. Plastic even. But it was pretty plastic, for sure. It glimmered like nothing she had ever seen. “What’s it made of?”
“It’s a stone, a rare gem in fact, although I doubt you would be familiar with the name if I told you.”
He ignored her inquiry and immediately began telling her what he needed from her. It certainly hadn’t seemed like much at the time, although it was a strange request. She agreed and he handed her the stone. She remembered the first time the stone touched the flesh of her hand. A tingling sensation traveled up her arm and into her scalp. It was subtle, but not imaginary, and she loved it. His words interrupted her sensations.
“I’ve got to go now. Don’t forget what I’ve told you, and please don’t hesitate to do what I’ve asked you to do.”
“I won’t…” was all she had time to get out before he was gone.