Whatever they found was probably stolen.
January 17, 2014
A VG Serial: Borrowed to the Bone
Deacon pulled a post office drawer key with the number seven on it from his pocket. “I been paying the rent on this box for a long time. Clark left me the money to pay it. Said I could give it to you when I thought the time was right, or when the money ran out. Well, the money ran out last month. Hope the time is right.”
“What’s in the box?”
“Well, we both know Clark. Whatever it is, it’s probably stolen.”
Ben Tom laughed nervously. “Just what I need. Stolen goods.”
“Speaking of stolen goods, Clark told me he left Willy with some rare Japanese prints. Said they might have been part of Frank Lloyd Wright’s collection.”
“Yeah, I know about those. They got too hot for Willy to handle, so I found a place to hide ‘em. I’m just waiting for a way to return them without going to jail.
“This may be your lucky day. Since Clark told me about the prints, I kept my ear to the ground. You know I come across a lot of unsavory characters in my neighborhood. I hear there’s a twenty grand reward offered by a Japanese museum.”
“I’m afraid to admit I have the prints. And I don’t know where Clark stands for sure. The prints might send him back to prison if he’s still on the lam. Course, Willy won’t have to worry anymore, but they could come after his wife for possessing stolen goods or some such thing. Or me.”
“Let me look into it and see what I can find out. Maybe you can collect anonymously or something like that.”
“I wouldn’t feel right taking a reward for something that my uncle stole. But I sure would like to get rid of the Jap art.”
“Write down your number and I’ll call you if I find out anything.”
Ben Tom reached into the console of his truck and produced a business card. Deacon read it and smiled. “Blacksmith, Wood, Iron, and Leather Artist, huh?”
“A man has his dreams. One day soon, I’ll have time to make that card come true.”
“I expect you will. By the way, where’s that cross you wore around your neck?”
Ben Tom had to think a few minutes. He knew where everything he owned was, but he could not remember where he had put the cross. “In a safe place.” He shook Deacon’s hand warmly. “Come to see me when you can. Don’t just call.”
Collen’s car was barely worthy of salvage, so Ben Tom pushed if off the trailer beside Trez’s fish trailer. Trez whistled when he saw the damage. “Told you not to buy a car for that crazy bitch. Look what it got you.”
Ben Tom stood back and looked at what had been a clean car. “I’ll try to sell it for salvage after I’m sure it wasn’t involved in any felonies.”
He handed Trez Willy’s .45. “You recognize that?”
“Sure do. Willy loved this gun. He carried it around every minute he was at home. Wore a holster like he was some kinda old-time gunslinger. Scared to death he’d need it any time. I always admired it.”
“Do you know where he got it?”
“I think it belonged to his loan shark.”
“Well, Waylon got ahold of it and I think it might have been used in a killing or a holdup. Can’t tell. You keep it under your mattress until we know for sure.”
“I may need it for protection. Got any shells?”
“Look in the cylinder, dummy. You’re holding a loaded weapon.”
Trez laughed and took the gun inside.
Tee Jessup and Joe Henry Leathers advised him to use the money he had found in the console to buy another car, but Ben Tom borrowed more money and bought Colleen another car almost like the one Waylon had wrecked. He insured and inspected it, hauled it to her house and left it in the yard. He picked her up at the hospital and drove her home.
She did not speak to him at the hospital or on the way home. She barely glanced at the car when she stepped out of Ben Tom’s truck. When he handed her almost four thousand in cash he had removed from the car’s console, she took the money without any vocal recognition at all.
Halfway to the house, she stopped and turned. “You know Waylon hocked that chop saw he took from you. Said he would pay you back.” That admission seemed to give her satisfaction. She went inside the house and locked the door.
Ben Tom’s hand shook as he tried the post office box key. The dark velvet Crown Royal sack with gold drawstring looked as if it had been subjected to a lot of use and abuse. One side was darker than the other as if the light side had been exposed to the sun or the dark side had been rubbed against someone’s oily skin. He pulled the opening and looked inside.
Necklaces, bracelets, rings all nestled in a bed of loose diamonds and diamond chips. Willy had lovingly described them many times, cursed his uncle for taking them away. He had spent the last years of his life fearing that the King of Diamonds would come for them and kill him because he no longer had them.
Ben Tom failed to see his wooden cross until he started to put the sack back inside the drawer. When had Clark taken his cross and why?
He put the cross back around his neck, returned to sack to the box and turned the key inside the lock. He presented the paperwork Deacon had given him to a postal clerk so that box rental invoices would henceforth be mailed to him.
Joe Henry Leathers listened intently as Ben Tom explained the infamous contents of PO drawer seven in Riverby, Texas. Ben Tom prefaced every sentence with, “Don’t say anything.”
When he finally told the whole story, a long period of silence followed. Ben Tom leaned forward. “Ain’t you got anything to say? I thought lawyers were mouthpieces.”
“Do I have permission to talk? You told me at least a dozen times not to say anything.”
“You know I meant that this is all secret.”
Joe Henry poured them each a cup of coffee. “So what do you aim to do with the jewels?
“I’d like to find out who originally owned them and return them. Can you handle that without getting me thrown in jail?”
“I’ll have to see the jewels. Get a picture. Then I might take a trip to the Dallas County Courthouse and see if I can find any theft records that match what you got.”
Ben Tom smiled. “That would be great.”
“What if I can’t locate the owners? What if they’re already dead? You ever consider just selling them to somebody? Seems like you could use the money.”
Ben Tom stiffened. “What makes you say that? Where did you get the idea I needed money?”
“Relax. You know the bank is my client. So are most of the directors. Mark Conley is my client. This is a small town and that’s a small bank. Don’t get your dander up. Not many secrets here.”
Ben Tom stood as if to leave. “Even if I did need the money, I damn sure ain’t taking any money for something that was stole. I got the money to pay you to find out where I can return the loot and I can sure pay you to do it without revealing my name. You willing to do it? You are a lawyer, ain’t you?”
Joe Henry smiled. “Take it easy. I’ll see what I can do.”
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.