Was he a thief or a collector of valuable art?
August 9, 2013
A VG Serial: Borrowed to the Bone
Willy didn’t sleep. The commotion with the coyote and the wailing of illegal Mexican men and women kept up until two big vans hauled them away in the wee hours. With his hands behind his head, he lay back on his pillow and contemplated his predicament and options. There seemed to be none.
He could not return to work, at least not in his pickup. The loan shark would take it again and punish him for taking it back. Even the chop shop owner might be after him. He also could not leave his wife and children alone now that all his nemeses knew where he lived. If he hocked or fenced the jewelry to pay off the loan shark, he would have nothing to get the King of Diamonds off his back.
The loan shark musclemen had taken his truck, broken his finger, threatened his wife, and promised to burn down his house. The King seemed like a choirboy by comparison. As for Hoyle Broom, Willy found himself liking the man in spite of himself. There was no proof that he was a hired killer in the Dixie Mafia.
In the many calculations and self-talk with himself about the jewelry, he had come to the conclusion all of it could be worth as much as fifty thousand. Clark had referred to it as his retirement plan. Surely one piece would be worth the two grand he owed the loan shark. The acrobatic man in black might forgive him one piece. Might not even notice it was missing.
Figuring the broken finger earned him at least one more day off work, he pulled his pickup behind the shop, took a hammer and crowbar from his toolbox and put them on the wood floor of the shop. He sat in the pickup, holding his .38 in one hand and a beer in the other, until dark.
He crept into the shed as if he were burglarizing his own shop and, as quietly as possible, pulled back the boards over his beloved treasure. The sounds that came from the shed a few minutes later shattered the silence and caused his dogs to retreat under the porch. A moaning, waling sound like a coyote makes in the dark of night was followed by repeated howls that resembled two tomcats issuing mutual territorial threats. The boots, the velour sack and its contents were gone.
Willy beat his head against the floor until it bled. His mind racing, he slumped down and leaned against the shop wall to try to recover. It simply could not be gone. There was no sign of tampering with the nails or boards. He had checked them every day since hiding the jewelry. Only a varmint could have slivered under the board floor and taken them. Maybe a raccoon. But would he have taken boots and all.
He kept a box of matches and a Coleman lantern on a work bench. When the light from the lantern illuminated the room, he moaned with relief when he saw the toes of his old boots protruding from a tarp on the floor. They had not been there the day before. He reached inside one of the boot tops and came back with an envelope that bore his name.
He tore it open and found a note:
Give the hog feed to Broom if he agrees to take care of your loan shark. I took the trinkets. Needed them for a little vacation I am taking. I left you something better. Look deep into the hole. You just need to hold onto it for a few years before doing anything with it. I will leave an easy trail to lead the King away from you to me. Don’t screw up this time.
Willy held the light over the hole where the boots had been, reached down and brushed away loose dirt to reveal one of Clark’s ragged quilts. He tugged on the quilt and felt the outline of something solid underneath. He carefully brushed back the fresh dirt until he could see the outline of a box before lifting it out. It seemed too light to hold anything.
He carefully removed the quilt and the box it was protecting. He shook the dirt from the quilt and focused his lantern light on the box. It was about twelve by twenty-four inches. Willy’s hands shook as he examined the painting on the top of the box. It looked like a Japanese flower garden. It took him several tries before he determined that the box could be opened by sliding the top.
Inside he found a scroll that looked like ancient parchment, a few crisp paper cards that felt more like ultra-thin wood, and one folding book. A painting of people in various poses dressed in Japanese fashions graced each page. Some were erotica, almost caricatures of ancient people. It all looked worthless to Willy until he picked up the newspaper article that someone had stuck in the tiny book.
The newspaper name was not shown. Neither was the date. And parts of the article had been marked through with black ink. But Willy could make out words like valuable, shunga, shin hanga, woodblock prints and something about famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright being a collector of such work.
He was able to piece together enough other words to determine that Wright had financial troubles and had used the prints as collateral for a loan. Some of his collection had been placed in a safe deposit box in a motel in Japan for safekeeping and a thief had cleverly exchanged a box full of worthless paper for the box of valuable prints.
The rest of the article was hard to follow with all the redactions. But the word that drew Willy’s attention was burglary and the phrase “valued at close to a quarter million dollars.” There was something about a trail from the Metropolitan Museum of New York to the Dallas Museum of Art. The home of a wealthy patron of the arts in Highland Park was also mentioned.
Willie read the note again. It was obviously from Clark. What did he mean by Broom taking care of the loan shark? Was he in a strong enough position to bargain? Was he saying these little Japanese paintings that looked like comic books were more valuable than his precious jewelry? And how was Clark going to lead away the King of Diamonds?
Chapters of the serial are published on Friday.
You can learn more about Borrowed to the Bone and other titles by Jim H. Ainsworth on his Amazon Author Page.