Tuesday, February 24, 2009


The Shop at the End of the Rainbow

Lately, no matter what Liz Charles did, it seemed to come out wrong. For the past several months she was on a losing streak of biblical proportions. The company she worked for went out of business and gave her minimal severance. Unemployment didn’t pay enough to cover her bills and she was rapidly depleting her savings. Soon she would be broke.
She applied for dozens of jobs to no avail. She was becoming more and more depressed over every bad job interview. This depression began to feed on itself- she seemed to carry a negative aura that seemed to be perceived by every hiring manager she encountered. Weeks were turning into months. Her unemployment ran out and her savings was evaporating.
Most of Liz’s friends didn’t want to be around her when she got negative, which was becoming more and more often. It was then that her boyfriend of nearly three years dumped her. She withdrew even further.
She stopped opening her mail, dreading the bills she couldn’t pay. How much more bad news could she take?
She looked at the pile of unopened mail dating back nearly a month. She picked up an envelope from her bank. She opened it and saw last month’s statement, confirming her fears. She didn’t have enough to cover next month’s rent.
Liz picked up the phone and called her sister, getting her answering machine.
“Joanne, it’s Liz. I need to talk to you. It’s important. Call me.”
Liz looked at the next letter in the pile. It was marked “URGENT.” Her visa card reached its maximum and if she didn’t call to set up a payment plan, her account would be turned over to a collection agency. She took a deep breath and opened her phone bill. She was two months behind and there was a disconnect notice enclosed in red, boldfaced type. She looked at the cutoff date and then at her calendar. She had three days of phone service remaining. She called her friend Kristy, the one friend who hadn’t turned their back on her. Kristy also wasn’t home.
Liz shouted out loud to no one. Her apartment was as empty as her life.
The phone rang. Liz jumped as though she had been shocked. It rang a second time. She picked up the receiver.
“Is this Elizabeth Charles?”
“This is Gerald Perkins with Interstate Financial.
Liz’s heart sank. The collection calls were beginning.
“Interstate Financial has been contracted to collect your Macy’s account. I’d like to set up a payment plan so that you can resolve your situation with Macy’s.”
“Mr. Perkins, believe me, nothing would make me happier today than to be able to do that, but I’m not in any position today.”
“You know, continued nonpayment will not only greatly harm your credit, but will eventually lead to legal action.”
“I know that. I’m telling you I’m broke and out of work.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. But we do need to set up something. Can’t you even promise a hundred dollars a month?”
“I can promise anything. The real question is can I live up to any promise. Today the answer to that is no.”
“I’ll call you back in two weeks. Let’s hope your luck changes. We can’t put this off much longer or serious consequences will arise. I’m sorry.”
“I understand.”
“Thank you. Good-bye.”
Liz wondered how much longer Mr. Perkins would be nice to her. She knew he would start pressuring her sooner than later.
The phone rang again. This time she let the answering machine get it.
“Liz, it’s Joanne.”
Liz grabbed the phone.
“Hi, I’m here.”
“You just called me, right?”
“So? Here I am.”
“I’m in a real bind, Joanne.”
“Tell me something I don’t already know.”
“Thanks a lot!”
“I don’t have next month’s rent and I’m maxed on my cards. I haven’t had a job interview in a month. I don’t know where to turn.”
“Well I have nothing to give. Daycare costs nearly half of what I make. I’m not even sure why I’m working. I think I’d be happier at home with the kids and let Bill do all the work.”
“You have a husband and a job, and he’s got a really good job as well. I’ve got nothing.”
“You say that like it’s my fault. I’m not the one who fucked up.”
“I’ll get a job sooner or later.”
“You needed one at least three months ago, and what were you doing? Coming up with a plan to make and sell purses instead of taking that computer class I told you about.”
“I have a lot of applications out. One will come through, I know it. It’s just a matter of time.”
“You wasted all that time with your pie-in-the-sky ideas that got you nowhere. Well, your pie has smacked you in the face. How could you let this happen?”
“How am I supposed to answer that?”
“Bill and I work hard for what we have, and we don’t have much. If I give you this month’s rent, then there’ll be next month.”
“Joanne, this can’t last much longer. The pendulum has to swing the other way, I know it. I feel it. There just has to be something out there for me.”
“Look, Liz, you have to find some way to stop the bleeding. We don’t have the money to give you, and that’s that.”
They both hung up on each other at the same exact moment.
Liz began pacing back and forth in her living room, going faster and faster. Then, she sat on her sofa and suddenly burst into tears. She had no idea what to do next. She cried for several minutes before pulling herself together.
She got off the sofa and went into the bathroom to throw some cold water on her face. She looked at herself in the mirror, her green eyes red-rimmed and puffy. Her auburn hair was hanging like thousands of threads that had been blown and tangled by a high-speed fan.
“Christ, you look like hell,” she said to her mirror. “Who’s going to hire you looking like that?” She heaved a deep sigh. “Maybe I should go out for a walk and get some fresh air.”
Liz left her apartment building and walked to the corner, a busy thoroughfare. A newspaper-vending box screamed out headlines: MORE LAYOFFS ON HORIZON read one paper. JOBLESS RATE SOARS stated another. She burst into tears once again.
She looked at the traffic. She saw a large truck speeding along the boulevard in the right lane. She suddenly thought there was nothing left and she could take no more. She just wanted it to be over. She stepped off the curb into the lane and closed her eyes.
Liz heard the squeal of tires and a blaring horn. She braced for the impact.
The next thing she heard was the voice of the truck driver.
She opened her eyes to see the bumper of the truck was inches from her. She snapped out of it. “LOOK WHERE I’M GOING? LOOK WHERE I’M GOING? I DID LOOK! I WENT EXACTLY WHERE I WANTED TO GO! YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE SPEEDING YOU LAZY ASSHOLE!” Liz stepped back onto the sidewalk and shook her fist at him.
The truck driver cocked his head to one side as though he was a dog listening to his master. A handful of pedestrians stared at Liz with shock, but not one went to her assistance. Liz felt more alone than ever.
“I can’t even do that right,” Liz muttered to herself as she headed back toward her apartment.
She let herself back in the door and saw her answering machine was blinking. She hit the button.
“You have-one-new-message,” came the electronic voice. “Wednesday-one-fourteen-pm.”
“Hey, Liz, it’s Kristy. I’m back. Give me a call.”
She picked up the phone. “Hi, Kristy, it’s Liz.”
“Hey, what’s up?”
“I can’t even kill myself right.”
“What? That’s not funny.”
“Wasn’t meant to be. I actually walked into traffic today.”
“I don’t know what to do with myself anymore. I feel useless.”
“Stay put. I’m coming over. Right now.”
Liz hung up the phone. “Thank God for Kristy,” she said to herself, out loud. “I don’t know what I’d do without her.”
Forty-five minutes later, the doorbell rang. Liz went to the intercom.
“Who’s there?”
“It’s me.”
She hit the buzzer and Kristy came up the stairs, bags in hand.
“I brought some Chinese food and a bottle of wine.”
“You’re a lifesaver.”
Liz went to the kitchen and took both salad and dinner plates out of a cabinet. She opened a drawer and took out forks, some butter knives, and serving spoons. Kristy joined her in the kitchen and picked two glasses out of the dish rack.
“There are plastic settings,” Kristy said. “You don’t need to dirty anything.”
“I don’t want to eat off of plastic. I need to feel like I’m eating a special meal.”
Liz opened a carton and took out an egg roll. She tore open packets of sweet and sour sauce and hot mustard, mixed the two on a salad plate and smeared the egg roll with the mixture.
“I don’t know how you can eat it with that much mustard,” Kristy said. “It’s too hot.”
“I need to feel the spice. I need to feel alive.”
“Boy oh boy, do you need a night out.”
“I need more than that.”
Kristy raised her glass. “To better luck, starting tomorrow.”
“Oh, yeah. I’ll drink to that,” Liz said.
They ate in silence.
They drank the wine in front of the television. Liz turned on a classic movie channel. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was on. Humphrey Bogart had just won the lottery.
“If only something like that happened to me,” Liz said. “I need a swift turn of luck. Something to get me out of this.”
“Something will come,” Kristy offered. “It has to.”
“Well, it doesn’t have to,” Liz retorted. “But it would be nice if it did.”
The two friends continued to talk with the movie in the background. The classic movie channel was a perfect escape-just what the doctor ordered. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was followed by It’s a Gift. Liz needed the silliness of the old W. C. Fields film. The scene with Fields attempting to shave while sharing the bathroom mirror with his daughter was hilarious. After many more comedic bits there would be a happy ending with W. C. Fields sitting on the porch of his new house at his orange grove in sunny California. The two old movies temporarily undid the damage of weeks of bad news. Liz was able to push the bad thoughts away from the forefront for another day.
Kristy got up from the sofa.
“I have to go. I have to get up for work early tomorrow.”
“Okay. Thanks for coming over. And thanks for dinner.”
“It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it. Are you going to be okay?”
“Yeah, I’m okay.”
“You’re sure? Call me if you need me. I’m serious.”
“I’ll be fine. Really.”
Kristy gave Liz a long look.
“Go on,” Liz gave her a shooing motion. “I’m over it, I swear.”
“Here, go get yourself something.” Kristy gave Liz a couple of twenties. “Go someplace you’ve never been and spend some money on something silly. Hey- I saw this resale shop on my way here. The place looks like it’s a hundred years old but somehow I’ve never noticed it before. It’s called Another Man’s Treasure. There was some interesting stuff in the window. Check it out. Tell me if it’s worth stopping in.”
“Paying me to be your junk shop scout, eh?”
“Sure. Treat it like a gig as a mystery shopper. Give me an evaluation.”
The next morning Liz woke up feeling possibilities in the air. She decided she’d pamper herself as best as she could. Not having a masseur handy she made due with a foot log roller she bought some time ago that mostly gathered dust. As she rolled it under her bare feet, first one, then the other, she wondered why she didn’t do this more often. It felt great. She got into the shower and stood under the hot water, arching her back, loosening every muscle. She poured a handful of shampoo over her head and massaged her scalp, then rinsed. She stood under the cascade of hot water for another few minutes, then massaged in some conditioner. After the second rinse she was feeling more relaxed than she had in months. She got out of the shower and dried off, putting on her terrycloth robe.
Liz was doing whatever she could to drive her negative thoughts away. The glow of the nice dinner was wearing off and the pile of the rest of the unopened mail stood close by. She saw it as a monument to her ineptness.
“Stop thinking that way!” She yelled at herself, out loud. “You’re not inept! It’s just a streak of bad luck!”
She pulled herself together, dried her hair, then poured herself a bowl of Raisin Bran. She read the side of the box as she crunched her flakes, put the empty bowl in the sink and filled it with water. “I’ll wash it later.”
She realized she was starting to talk to herself out loud a lot. “I’m going to become one of those weird old ladies who talks to pigeons in the park.” She shook off the image. She saw something out of the corner of her eye and turned to look at the table. The two twenties were there. “Kristy was right. I should go out and get myself something.”
Liz went into the bedroom and took off her robe. She looked at herself in the mirror. “Not bad. I’ve seen worse. It’s not hopeless. Your thighs are a bit chunky, but you could still turn some heads.” She put on her underwear and opened her closet door, picking out a plain yellow top and jeans. “Well, let’s see what ‘Another Man’s Treasure’ has to offer.” She left her bedroom, picked up her purse, her keys, and the two twenty dollar bills. She opened her purse to add the two twenties to her on-hand capital, about twelve dollars. She realized that she had been getting pretty good at rationing her remaining cash. She had been taking sixty out of the bank each week, and when it was done she refused to take out another dime. Sometimes she went without cash for most of the week.
Liz left her building and walked down the block, towards the busy street where she had her crisis the day before. She looked at the newspaper boxes and at the traffic. She realized that she never looked up the number or address of the store, and Kristy had only told her that it was on the way between their apartments. It could be any number of places. She headed down the busy street in the direction of Kristy’s place. She checked the internet yellow pages on her cell phone and the place didn’t seem to exist.
The sky suddenly was cloudy, then just plain dark. The wind picked up, scattering shreds of newspaper and hurling grit into Liz’s face like little projectiles. A storm was imminent.
“Perfect. I left the house with no jacket or umbrella.” At the intersection of two busy streets, she saw a coffee shop and ducked inside, just before it started to pour.
“Can I get you something?” A waitress asked.
“I’ll have some coffee.” Liz looked out the window at the downpour.
“Don’t worry. I think it’ll blow over pretty soon,” the waitress said. “The prediction was for scattered thunderstorms. Give it 20 minutes, a half hour maybe.”
“Thanks. I walked out without an umbrella. I didn’t see the weather report.”
“Relax a bit.”
Liz sipped her coffee and thumbed through a newspaper. She read the want ads. The employment section was thin. The few jobs that were available were all entry-level or minimum wage. She was getting depressed again. When the rain stopped, Liz paid her tab, put down a tip and went back out.
Visible rays of sunlight sliced through the cumulous clouds and the sky began to look like a colorized Ansel Adams photo. She saw a rainbow that seemed to be rooted in the street that intersected the road that she had been walking on. Liz realized this could easily be the street that Kristy took to get to Liz’ place. This was on the way between the two apartments. She walked towards the image of the rainbow.
“This is silly. It’s an illusion. The end of the rainbow keeps moving.” She kept walking towards it anyway. Another block, and then, there it was. It was unmistakable.
The building looked like it was at least a hundred years old. A wooden, hand painted sign hung over the door. “Another Man’s Treasure” had French windows, a grid of small glass panes, frames around dozens of small curios on shelves just behind, shaded by a weather-beaten awning.
Liz walked up to the building and tried the door. It swung open at the slightest touch. She walked in. It was dimly lit. Several glass cases held costume jewelry and watches. The walls were lined with chipped mirrors, cheap paintings, empty frames, and frameless posters. A few bookcases were completely filled with both hardcover editions and paperbacks. Other bookcases held an eclectic mix of just about anything one could think of- old trophies, racquets, knick-knacks, crystal figurines, ceramic vases, old radios, you name it. Some wooden produce crates held old phonograph records and stacks of old magazines. One large cabinet held dozens of board games. In the middle of the store there were racks of old clothes, jackets and coats. It was as though she had stepped into the attics of two dozen sets of pack rat grandparents.
The place had its own atmosphere. The sunlight that leaked in through a few tears in the awning illuminated the dust in the air. It was as though the place was lit for an early Orson Welles film set. The shop had a slight scent of mustiness, in keeping with the age and contents of the room.
Behind the counter stood a man of about seventy, with thick white hair and even thicker glasses. He wore clothing that might have come off the racks in the middle of the room- a red plaid flannel shirt with brown slacks, held up with a thin dress belt.
“Good afternoon, young lady!” He boomed out to Liz.
Liz flinched a bit at the volume of the greeting. “Good afternoon,” she replied tentatively.
“Thank you.”
“Take a look around!”
“Okay.” Liz was a little taken aback by this man.
“Look, look! I’m sure there’s something here that’s perfect for you! You hear me? Perfect! Just what the doctor ordered!”
“I’ll look,” she said, almost annoyed at his insistence.
She poked around for a few minutes, occasionally looking back at the counter to see if the old man was watching her. He was not only watching her, she thought, but he was watching her with the intensity of a cat watching a mouse hole for movement. Liz felt like she should reopen the conversation. She wasn’t sure why, but she had a need to talk to the man.
“You know I must have walked past this place a hundred times and never noticed it before.”
“I hear that a lot.”
“How long have you been in business?”
“Me or the store?”
“I guess the store.”
“This shop has been in my family for around a hundred years. My grandparents started it, then my parents ran it, and now me.”
“Where do you get this stuff? It’s quite a mix.”
“Estate sales, mostly. Sometimes I go to the back doors of other resale shops, or even the city dump. That’s where the name comes from. Some of this is one man’s trash, so here it becomes another man’s treasure. You never know what you’ll find here. Last week someone found an old toy exactly like the one he used to play with when he was a little boy. It was a tin wind-up duck that rolled across the floor and flapped its wings. The man was overwhelmed with joy at finding it. I think he’d have given me a thousand dollars for that old piece of tin it meant so much to him. The store earned its name that day, I’ll tell you.”
“Wow. That’s a great story.”
“I’ll tell you another one, then. The store almost got named ‘One Man’s Trash,’ but that got nipped in the bud in a New York minute!”
“As the family lore goes, my grandfather came up with that name.”
“So what happened?”
“As soon as he said it out loud, my grandmother smacked him across the back of his head and yelled ‘NO STORE OF MINE WILL HAVE THE WORD TRASH IN THE TITLE!’ So it became ‘Another Man’s Treasure’ instead.”
Liz laughed.
“You see, you already got yourself something you needed. You did need to laugh, didn’t you?”
“I did, you’re right,” Liz responded with a bit of surprise. “How did you know?”
“Hell, everyone needs a laugh,” the old man shot back. “But I could read it in your face the minute you came in. And that’s not all you need.”
“What else do you think I need?” Liz was getting a little annoyed.
“You need what was one man’s trash, or maybe one woman’s. You came to the right place, I’ll tell you. Keep looking, you’ll find something that’s exactly what you need. It’ll be like magic. Like that man last week. He’s not the only one. There’s a bit of magic in old stuff from the past. It’s seen things and done things you have no idea of.”
I need a winning lottery ticket, Liz thought to herself. She began to look at the knick-knacks in the bookcases. Nothing moved her. She moved to the glass cases that the man stood behind and looked at the costume jewelry. It all looked more like junk than like treasure.
“Take a look at the clothing racks,” the man guided. “I just got in some dresses that look pretty good. Vintage clothing I suppose you’d call it. Or maybe take a look at a coat. Winter’s coming, sooner than you think.”
Liz moved to the clothing racks and started to flip through the hangers, looking quickly from one dress to the next, one blouse to the next. Nothing moved her. She moved to the coats.
“How about one of those minks?”
“Mink is not my style.”
“Are you one of those animal cruelty people?”
“Well, I’m not an activist, but I do think that minks that are being raised to be killed is kind of creepy.”
“Do you eat meat?”
“Yes, some.”
“Well, that’s the same thing. And besides, these mink coats are probably as old as I am. Any cruelty that took place happened long before you were born. You’re not the one who’s being cruel, and those who were have already met their maker and gotten their judgment.”
“I guess that’s true.”
“No guessing about it. You know it’s true.”
“Yeah,” Liz said in an unconvinced acknowledgement.
The old man came out from behind the counter and shuffled slowly towards her. He stood next to Liz at the rack that held the mink coats and picked one off the rack.
“This one. This one is exactly the one for you.” He held up the hanger next to her, measuring the coat to her body. “It hangs to your knees. Not too long. It looks like the shoulders and sleeves match you. Try it.”
“I don’t know…”
“Go ahead! Try it!”
Liz looked at the old coat. There were a few tears and lumps in the lining and the cuffs looked worn and dried out. She thought it might fall apart if she took it off the hanger, but she felt compelled to try it, as though there was another presence in the room, a third unseen force was telling her to. She took the coat off the hanger and slid her right arm into its sleeve, then worked her way into the rest of it. It fit perfectly. The feel of the fur against her hands was warm and inviting.
“It does feel pretty good,” she admitted.
“You should take it.”
“It’s a little ratty, and I have a winter coat anyway.”
“So make it into pillow covers. This is perfect for you, I’m telling you. It’s exactly what you need, I know it.”
She took off the coat and looked for a tag. It was fifty dollars.
“It’s more than what I wanted to spend today anyway.”
“I want you to have it. Tell me what you wanted to spend today.”
“I can only spend forty dollars.”
The old man looked at Liz for a moment.
“I’ll mark it down to forty if you give me a kiss.”
“What?” Liz was truly taken aback now.
“Just a little kiss,” he said, offhandedly.
“No,” she stated flatly.
“Come on!” He cajoled. “Maybe I’ll turn into a frog!”
Liz laughed again. “Don’t you mean a handsome prince?”
“Handsome prince, frog, what’s the difference? It’s all magic.”
“Well, speaking as the woman involved, I can tell you it’ll be a big difference.”
He gave her a penetrating stare for several seconds, then spoke with a quiet, nearly forceful sense of urgency.
“You want this coat. I know it. What’s more, you need it. I’m sure of it.” He then shifted his tone to a dry, almost joke-like patter. “Forty bucks and a little kiss and it’s yours.”
Liz sighed. “Okay, why not.” She leaned towards him and puckered her lips, closing her eyes with a touch of dread.
The old man clasped her upper arms and planted a full kiss on her waiting lips, holding it a moment longer than Liz expected, but she remained still and did not try to pull away. He tasted of stale coffee and a bit of cinnamon.
“There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” He was more stating it than asking.
Liz smiled and handed him the two twenties that Kristy had given her the night before. The old man took the cash and the coat and went back to the counter. He took out a large bag and put the coat inside it, then handed Liz the bag.
“Come again. You can find the perfect gift for someone you care about here. You just come in the door and something will present itself to you. You’ll know it when you see it, just like with this coat.”
Liz looked at him from the door. He gave her a warm, grandfatherly smile. He spoke again.
“See you next time. I’ll be here when you need something special.”
“Good-bye. Oh, what’s your name?”
“Prince Frog.”
“No, really, what’s your name?”
“You mean like the angel?”
“Precisely. Like the angel,” the old man stated, as though he may actually be the biblical being. “And your name is…?”
“Elizabeth. But everyone calls me Liz.” Liz looked at Elijah one more time before turning towards the door. She stopped and turned back to look at him one more time. “Well, Elijah, this has been quite the experience,” Liz stated, truthfully.
“Everything you do is an experience of some kind or another,” Elijah stated sagely. “Come again.”
Liz walked out the door and headed home. As she walked, the images of the shop played again and again in her thoughts. When she got back to her apartment she put the bag on the sofa and took out the old coat. She held it up and looked at the torn lining.
“Well, the first thing I should do is take out this ratty old lining,” she said out loud. She put her hand inside the largest tear and started to pull. The dried old material gave quickly. A yellowed envelope fell to the floor. Liz froze for a moment and stared at the envelope. She put the coat on the sofa and bent down to pick up the Cracker-Jack surprise the coat had held for who knows how long.
She held up the envelope to the light and tried to see what might be inside. It wasn’t sealed, but still Liz hesitated to open it. She took a deep breath and picked up the flap. It appeared to be cash. She took out the paper and studied it. There were three ten dollar bills that didn’t seem real. First of all, the bills were the wrong size. They were bigger than any American currency she had ever seen. They seemed to sparkle. They seemed new, unwrinkled, and straight. The serial numbers were sequential. They must have come straight from the bank and gone directly into this envelope.
She took one of them and held it up to study it closely. The face was immediately recognizable but was out of place. It wasn’t Alexander Hamilton. It was Andrew Jackson, the same exact portrait as on the twenty. There were red seals on either side of the portrait, round to the left and x-shaped to the right. She turned it over to look at the back. The number 10 or the word ten appeared on the back in six places, each side mirroring the other. From top to bottom along the sides, the note stated TEN 10 TEN. The 10s appeared to be stamped on poker chips. She looked at the face again. The notes were dated 1923. They had to be real, she reasoned. She carefully put the old ten-dollar notes back into the envelope.
She opened the envelope again and had another look, just to be sure that they were indeed there, that they actually existed. She replaced them again, then, lifted the envelope’s flap and peered inside at the currency.
Liz picked up the phone and called Kristy. When Kristy answered the phone, Liz almost shouted.
“You are not going to believe what happened!”
“What?” Kristy had no idea where this could be going.
“I don’t know where to start! I went to that store!” Liz was almost too excited to talk.
“So, tell me about it!” Kristy had to find out. The excitement was instantly contagious.
“It could be the weirdest place I’ve ever been to. It’s run by this odd old man.”
“Big shock there,” Kristy laughed. “A junk shop run by a weird old man.”
“That’s just the beginning.”
Liz launched into the story of how she found the place, being caught in the rain, the diner, the old man who knew what she wanted, and the price of the kiss. Then getting home and finding the envelope.
“Do you know anything about old money?” Liz asked.
“No. Not a thing. But I’ll bet it’s real. I know that money was bigger at some point way back when. I don’t know when it changed. My grandfather called old bills ‘horse blankets’ so they must have been bigger than what we’re used to.”
“I need to find an expert. Maybe they’re worth something.”
“I’ll bet they are.”
“Where do I even start with this?”
“I don’t know, the Yellow Pages, the better business bureau, maybe there’s an organization of collectors and dealers.”
“I’ll start doing some research.”
“I will too, then we’ll compare notes.”
“Sounds good. I’ll call you later.”
Liz and Kristy hung up at the same moment.
Liz jumped up with excitement. Then she froze for a moment. Liz realized that she hadn’t felt this good in months. She nodded her head and said “Yeah!” out loud. She opened the drawer of the cabinet the phone was perched on and pulled out the Yellow Pages. She looked for coin dealers and studied the listings. One ad caught her eye. It was on the same street as Another Man’s Treasure.
“Well, that street’s been good to me so far,” Liz said to herself out loud as she dialed the phone.
“Lucky Penny, can I help you?”
“Hi, do you deal in old currency?”
“Sure. Is it American currency?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“You think so?”
“Yes, I mean, it looks like American currency, but it’s bigger.”
“Is there a visible date? Is it from before 1929?”
“Yes. 1923.”
“Yes, I’d like to take a look at it. I’m just closing. Can you come in tomorrow?”
“Sure. Tomorrow’s fine.”
Liz hung up the phone and called Kristy back and told her she was going to a coin shop in the morning.
Liz could barely sleep that night. Every once in a while she got up and looked at the envelope again. She must have looked at it a half dozen times. There was no change.
When Liz got up the next morning she wasn’t tired in the slightest. She had a bowl of cereal and a cup of yogurt, picked up the old yellowed envelope and headed to Lucky Penny. It was a couple of blocks closer than Another Man’s Treasure. She walked past the coin shop and continued towards the junk shop, just to make sure it was still there, and not a dream. She stopped at the corner and looked at the shop that seemed to be at the end of the rainbow the day before. There were taller buildings across the street from the shop, and a narrow gap in between two of these buildings provided a frame for a shaft of sunlight to illuminate the odd old man’s store.
Liz backtracked to the coin shop. She took a deep breath and walked inside. Behind the counter sat an old man who could have been related to Elijah. The two men were far from identical, but had enough similarities for Liz to look twice.
“Hello! Can I help you?”
“Yes, I called yesterday just before you closed, about the old currency.”
“Oh, yes, I was hoping you’d come in,” the old man said. “I’m Bill Argent. Pretty good name for someone who deals in money, don’t you think?” He stated cheerfully.
“I’m Liz Charles.” Liz took out the envelope and approached the counter. “Would you take a look at these and tell me what you think?”
The man carefully took the notes out of the envelope. He reached for a magnifying glass and looked closer. He then reached into a drawer and took out some plastic sleeves.
“I’m going to put them into these sleeves for safe keeping. We shouldn’t be handling them too much, it’ll decrease the value. That’s ok with you, right?”
“Of course.”
“Where did you get these?”
“I found them in an old coat. The envelope was inside the lining.”
“You’re kidding.”
“No, it’s true.”
“Well, I’ll be damned. These have been out of circulation for some time, and to find them in such good shape is pretty amazing.”
“So, I take it they’re worth more than face value.”
“Yes, they are.”
“What do you think they’re worth?”
“No thinking about it. I know how much.”
“If I were to tell you they were worth ten times their face value, you’d be pretty happy wouldn’t you?”
Liz brightened. “I sure would!”
“I’m not going to tell you that.”
The air seemed to go out of Liz.
“I’m just playing with you. They’re actually worth more than that.”
“I could reach into a drawer right now and give you five hundred bucks apiece and you’d leave here dancing, wouldn’t you?”
“Oh my God! Really? Five hundred each?!” Liz could barely contain herself.
“Do you think I have a nice face?”
“What?” Liz had no idea where this could be going. The question was totally out of left field to her.
“Well, I think I have a very nice face,” Bill Argent said. “I look at it every day. I have to, or I’ll cut myself shaving.”
“Yes, I guess so. I mean, I’ve never had to shave my face or anything, but I can imagine you’d have to look.”
“Yes. And you know what? I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the mirror if I gave you five hundred each. I’m not greedy, and, I don’t need to be. I’m in good shape.
The only reason I haven’t retired is because I’d die of boredom. I like this business and I like running the store. I just want to make a decent, honest living.”
“Of course. We all want to make a decent living,” Liz still was unsure of this part of the conversation.
“I’m not going to give you market value, though, I still have to make a living. I’ll give you eighty percent. I already know someone who’ll take these off my hands today. It’ll take one phone call. Eighty percent is ok with you, right? I should get twenty percent to turn it around for you in just one day, right?”
“Um, sure,” Liz said, still uncertain of what Bill was talking about.
Bill picked up the phone and punched in a number that he knew by heart. Liz listened as Bill made his pitch to his customer.
“Rick, it’s Bill. You’re never going to guess what just walked into my place this morning. Go ahead, guess!... Nope…. Nope…. Aw, hell, you’re never gonna guess so I’ll tell you. Are you ready? Three poker chips in mint condition. …I swear…. No, I’m not kidding. It’s the real deal. They’ve been in an envelope. Not even a single fold…. Like they just came off the press…. No, they’re real, I’m sure of it. Come on over and look for yourself. And bring your checkbook. Sequential numbers even. You’ve never seen anything like it….Yeah, get your ass over here before I call someone else….I called you first, that’s how highly I think of you….Yeah, you and your fat wallet!”
Liz could hear Rick laughing on the other end of the phone.
“Stick around. It’ll be worth it, believe me.”
Around ten minutes went by when the door opened and a well-dressed middle-aged man walked in.
“Rick, meet Lucky Lizzie,” Bill boomed.
“Hello. You really found these in an envelope?”
“Yeah, inside the lining of an old coat.”
“Well I’ll be damned,” Rick said as he looked at the notes in their plastic sheaths. “How much are you asking for them?” Rick looked at Liz.
She looked at Rick in silence trying to come up with a figure when Bill spoke for her.
“Fifteen each. Forty-five thousand for the set.”
Rick looked at Bill and Liz for less than two seconds before announcing his decision. “Done. I’ll go to the bank right now and get you a certified check.”
Liz was speechless.
Rick left the shop almost as quickly as he arrived.
“So, that makes thirty-six thousand dollars for you, my dear. Now isn’t that better than five hundred bucks apiece?”
Liz still couldn’t make any words come out. It was as though she had been struck by lightning. She would be able to pay her back rent, two additional months, get the collection people off her back, even settle some of the cards entirely.
Rick came back in less than a half-hour with the certified check and the exchange was made. Bill then took Liz to his bank where he deposited the check and had her portion drafted into a second certified check for her.
Liz looked at her certified check for thirty-six thousand dollars. She left the bank and walked by Another Man’s Treasure one more time. She looked in the window. A sign hung on the door stating that the store was closed and would reopen after lunch.
Liz hurried to her bank and deposited the check, fearful it might vanish or she’d wake up from the dream. After leaving her bank she walked home in a daze. When she got home the message light on her answering machine was blinking. She pushed the play button and heard the mechanical voice give the time stamp.
“You have one-new-message. Friday-two-eighteen-pm.”
“This is a message for Elizabeth, this is Susan Walker from The Williamsburg Group. I’m sorry it’s taken so long to get back to you, but the position is still available and we’re interviewing for it on Monday. Please call me at 272-1441 extension 6624 if you’re still interested so we can set up a time. I really liked your resume and I’d like to meet with you.”
Her mouth dropped open. She had sent that letter and resume at least two or three months ago and barely remembered the job and the company. She played the message again and wrote down the number, then grabbed the phone.
“Hello, Ms. Walker? This is Liz Charles. I’d love to meet with you Monday…. Yes, 10:00 is fine….Yes, I’m looking forward to meeting with you as well. Thank you for calling….Yes, see you then.”
Liz couldn’t believe what had transpired. Her luck had turned, and it all started with picking up one person’s trash at Another Man’s Treasure.

©2008 by Rob Bronstein

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