Fixed some glaring typos thanks to hubby editing. Apologies to all.
She had taken the clothes to Goodwill, the furniture was sold, what little anyone would have. The flowered upholstery on the old rocker he sat in everyday was worn clean through and the footstool had been nailed back together so many times it was more nails than wood. His side table was covered with cigarette scars and water marks from his beer bottles. She had pulled the old drapes down and threw them in the trash. They were so full of dry rot that they came down in pieces with her coughing and sneezing. He had gotten so mean the last years, no one would come over to the house and he stopped caring what anything looked like, or smelled like for that matter. Most of what was left when he passed was hauled off to the dump and the house would be sold for taxes.
She just couldn’t bear for folks to see how he lived so she did her best to clean out. She wiped down the shelves in the living room and kitchen, scrubbed the bathroom, and was making one last walk through before she gathered up her cleaning stuff and walked home. She couldn’t afford the bus and as tired as she was, she didn’t want to try to sleep on the floor here with the ghosts and grime of the past. Mama had been gone for years and he had just grown more bitter with time.
As she walked through the bedroom to the front of the house she spied a box on the closet shelf. “Wonder how I missed that?” She thought. She set her bucket and rags down and reached up to pull it down. It was an old boot box, crumbling and faded. She could just make out the lettering and the picture of steel toe work boots. She sat down on the floor with it and pulled off the top. Inside was a treasure. Mama’s bible and a few pictures, an old lace trimmed hankie that Mama had embroidered, and a little red plastic coin purse – the kind you squeeze to open. Inside were two coins. They were odd looking with markings she couldn’t read. She put them back in the purse and covered the box and set off towards home, hugging the box to her chest.
She trudged up the stairs, unlocked the door of her apartment and flipped on the light switch. There wasn’t much to see and it needed painting but it was as clean as she could get it and it was hers as long as she kept the waitress job at the diner. It paid the rent and she got a free meal. Tips bought a few little necessities. It kept her off the streets and out of the shelter anyway. She put up her cleaning supplies and opened up the box.
She dug out the nicest dish towel she had and smoothed it out on the little box she used for a table. She laid the bible gently on it. She folded the hankie and placed it inside the cover where her Mama had signed her name and the date she had been given the bible. It had her and daddy’s wedding date and the date she was born. Another lifetime ago. She closed the cover. She took the pictures out of the box. There were her parents, young and smiling. Another showed her mother holding her when she was born, smiling and proud. She slid them inside the back cover of the bible. She put the little coin purse inside her tote bag and set the box on the counter. Stifling a yawn, she headed to the shower and got ready for bed. She was tired and slept almost as soon as her head hit the pillow.
He walked purposefully down the street glancing neither right nor left. He knew exactly where he was going. He carried his leather briefcase close to his side and held himself with the dignity of a British royal, even though he was actually a glorified messenger boy. He turned at her apartment and climbed the steps, debating on whether he should use his handkerchief to knock on the door, this place was back alley seedy and not to his liking at all. He sighed and raised his hand and rapped on the peeling wooden door.
She washed her breakfast dishes and as she was putting them away there was a loud knock on the door. She peeped through the little hole and didn’t recognize the man outside. He definitely wasn’t from around here. She cracked open the door, peering from behind the chain and timidly said “Yes?” The gentleman removed his hat and said “Miss Lydia Rose?”
“Yes, that’s me. But who are you?” She asked.
He passed a business card through the narrow opening. “Here is my card. I represent a firm of solicitors in London.”
“England?” She asked. “You must have the wrong person, Mr. uh, Mr. Brown! I haven’t done anything wrong!”
“Yes Miss. That is correct. My employers wish for me to speak to you about some coins. If I may please come inside? I feel a bit uncomfortable discussing this through the door.” He replied.
She fumbled with the chain, finally removing it and held the door open for him. “I’m sorry. I don’t get many visitors. Please come in.” She said.
“If I may?” He said pointing to the table and chairs.
“Sure” She said.
He placed his briefcase gingerly on the table, flipped it open and took out a stack of papers. He set the papers down and reached into his inside jacket pocket and took out his glasses and put them on.
“Miss Rose, just to clarify, you are the daughter of one recently deceased, Johnny Rose?” He asked her.
“Yes I am, but I don’t understand how that’s any of your business.” She replied.
He raised an eyebrow at that. Maybe she wasn’t as much of a pushover as they thought. “There is the matter of Mr. Rose’ estate and we have to verify your identity before we can release it to you” He told her.
“Estate? My dad? That’s a laugh. If this is some kind of a joke Mr. Brown, it isn’t funny. You need to go back and tell your bosses that they have made some kind of mistake. The have the wrong Johnny Rose! My dad didn’t have anything.” Politeness was wearing thin. He had a look on his face like he had eaten something sour and she had the feeling that he thought that just because she was poor she must be stupid too. She had noticed the way he looked around when he walked. Like he was afraid to touch anything in case he caught poverty like you caught a disease. She worked and she paid her own way. She might not have much but she stood on her own two feet and she was proud of it.
“Miss Rose, this is not a joke and I assure you that I wouldn’t come here without a good reason. If you allow me to explain I think I can prove my story.” He said.
“Well, then let’s sit down. Sounds like this will be a long tale.” She said, pulling out a chair. He frowned, looking at the other chair and then shrugged and sat down. “Your mother was Glory Rose, maiden name Jackson?” He wasn’t really asking her, but she nodded anyway. “She came to possess two coins. My employers have been hired by a man who wishes to remain anonymous. It is his desire to purchase those coins. If you are able to produce the coins there will be a very generous compensation. We are assuming that you now have the coins?”
“So estate is not exactly correct. How does this man know my mother had some coins and why are they so important to him?” Lydia decided she might need to learn a little more before she answered any more questions.
“The coins belonged to his father many years ago. Your grandmother was working as a housekeeper for his family and she and this man fell in love. His parents did not approve of course, and sent her away. He, being young and foolish, gave her the coins before she left. He told her to sell them to help her get a start somewhere and he would come for her when he could.” He explained.
“What do you mean ‘his parents did not approve, of course’, Mr. Brown?” She was getting more than a little tired of this stuffy little man in a too tight suit, who obviously looked down, not only on her, but everyone related to her.
“I don’t mean to be rude, Miss Rose.” He said.
“Well you are, Mr. Brown. I’m not sure we need to go on with this conversation!”
“Oh. Goodness. I am sorry. Please let me finish. I think you will be very glad that you did.” He said. He used his handkerchief to wife a little sweat from his shiny red forehead. It occurred to her that his employers might not be too thrilled if she threw him out and refused to talk to him anymore. She tucked that knowledge away for future use. It was always good to know where you stood and what you might be able to use.
“I take it mister young and in love rich boy, never went looking for my grandmother.” She said.
“On the contrary. He searched but was never able to find her. It has taken me years to locate her and by the time I found her, she had passed away. In her belongings was a letter that she never mailed to him. In it she told him that she kept the coins to remember him and that she ended up with so much more. She had a child. That child was your mother, Miss Rose.” He finished triumphantly.
“How did your ‘employers’ end up with a letter that my dead grandmother wrote?” She wanted to know.
“By the time your grandmother passed, your mother was married to Mr. Rose and as I understand it, the two of them didn’t get along. Your grandmother had been dead and buried for several months before your mother found out. Notices were sent but she never responded. We went to her house and there was a box of her things in the garage that the new owners were more than glad for us to take off their hands. The letter was in that box. She also wrote that she had given those coins to your mother and told her that they would lead to her father’s family someday.” He told Lydia.
Lydia stood up and walked around the kitchen, pretending to wipe the counter which was already spotless. Trying to give herself a little time. She had known her dad had a mean streak but not that he would have been so cruel to keep her grandmother’s death from her mother. Even as she thought it she new that it was true. He was a strange and insecure man. He didn’t like her mother to go anywhere without him. It must have been like a prison all those years but she wasn’t the type to get a divorce. She stuck it out until it killed her. Did she know about the coins? She must have known they meant something or they wouldn’t have been in the box with the bible. It’s a miracle that her dad didn’t find them.
“I’d like to see a little more proof that you are who you say you are, Mr. Brown. She said.
“Certainly” He said “He pulled out a sheaf of papers with the letterhead to a firm of Solicitors in London. The address matched the one on Mr. Brown’s business card. “Here is a photocopy of the letter your grandmother wrote to your mother.” He handed her another piece of paper. He had a lot of paper. She took the copy and read through the letter. She felt the pressure of tears but was determined not to cry in front of this stranger. “How much are these people willing to pay for this little keepsake my mother left me?” She asked him.
Well, well, he thought. Now we are getting down to it. He could almost taste the nice commission he was going to get if he could just bring this to a close. “You will be very well compensated Miss Rose. We are prepared to pay you a fee of ten thousand dollars up front and then another ninety thousand when we have the coins in our possession.” He looked smug as he said this and she found he was really starting to get on her nerves.
“You have that much money on you now? In this neighborhood?” She asked. “I’d like to see that!”
All I have to do now is reel the fish in, he thought. He reached for his briefcase again and dialed a combination that opened a bottom compartment. There were stacks of cash, all neatly bundled.
She walked around the kitchen, shocked at what she had seen. She had never in her life seen that much money. “So what do you get out of this?” She asked.
“Well I get a small commission, of course. For my trouble you know. I’ve had to do a lot of research to track you down Miss Rose!” He was smiling now, certain that his money was as good as in his hands.
Lydia leaned up against the counter and took a deep breath. When she turned around, the lid was off the box and there was a gun in her hand. Yes, the box held a treasure. A wonderful treasure. Mr. Brown’s eyes were wide and he was stuttering and spluttering and his fancy handkerchief wasn’t going to help him now. “What are you doing?” He asked.
“Mr. Brown, I’ve decided to accept the offer from your employers but I have a different plan that does not include you.” She told him. “I guess you thought you were going to be my hero today. I think I’ll be my own hero thank you!” She squeezed the trigger.
She went to her closet and put on her best dress and got out her coat that she saved for church. She put the bible and pictures in her tote bag along with the bundles of money. She took the papers she would need to identify herself to the solicitors. Everything that had to do with him she put back in his briefcase along with the gun. She would make a little stop at the incinerator on her way out. She gave a little wave in his direction. “Sorry to leave you like this Mr. Brown, but I’m sure you would understand. We don’t want to keep your employers waiting any longer!”
She carefully locked the door on her way out. The incinerator door was almost too small for her bundle of garbage, but she managed to shove it through the hole. No one would look for her. She paid cash for her rent and no one here asked questions or bothered to get to know their neighbors. They were all too deep into their own misery to notice and by the time the smell from her apartment attracted attention, she would be long gone. She did a little turn and dance step as she moved down the sidewalk toward the bus stop.
Lydia was lost in dreams of future comforts. Clothes that fit, plenty to eat, no more crappy waitress jobs! She never saw the car that came barreling down the sidewalk behind her. She was dead on impact and hit so hard that it knocked her shoes one direction and her tote bag the other. There was paper and money all over the sidewalk. Deserted just moments ago, now there were people pouring out of doors grabbing up cash and stuffing it in their pockets. The local cop shop would have a busy night as the liquor flowed and the unaccustomed windfall brought disagreements. No one noticed the little man in the coat with the bullet hole in it as he walked by and scooped up the little change purse.
His chest would be sore for weeks, but the vest had done it’s job. He had told them he could get the coins for fifty thousand and forty was already in a special account. Ten thousand wasn’t too much to pay for the coins and no loose ends. The car driver had medical bills that would be taken care of by the life insurance policy that he had taken out on Lydia a year ago. He hated losing his favorite briefcase. He strolled down the sidewalk whistling. The Widow’s Mites, once delivered to his employers, would find their way into a very private collection and he would get his next assignment.