A heavy stream of lilac perfume floated in the air as he stepped up to the counter. “May I help you?” the lady asked.
“You have a tiny music box shaped like a shoe in the window. I would like to look at it.” He stuck a hand in his deep pocket.
The shopkeeper fingered her thick strand of pearls as she went over to the window shelf and carefully lifted the music box shoe from the shelf and set it in the customer’s hands.
He wound the key and faint notes sang. He put the object up in the scant light. The initials M.J.K. were scrawled indistinctly on the shoe’s bottom. “Yes, it is,” he whispered. Glancing at the bewildered lady, he explained, “This was my mother’s. Dad brought it back with him after the war. He said he spent all he’d had for it. A piece of it broke, and he got it fixed. As he was coming home from the repair shop, a man stole it from him. That was ten years ago. My parents have since passed on, and I’ve searched everywhere for it. It meant everything to my parents, and it means a great deal to me. . . ” His voice trailed. Looking expectantly at the lady, he asked, “How much is it?”
The lady drew a breath. “I’ll sell it to you for $75.”
He reached into his pocket, fingering the contents. Pulling out a $100 dollar bill, he handed it to her. While she went to the cash register, he ran a finger delicately over the scalloped top of the ivory shoe swirled with pink, purple, blue and yellow. Absentmindedly, he headed for the door.
“Sir, wait! Your change!” She rushed up to him.
He stopped. “Oh, sorry. Thank you.” Stuffing the cash into his back pocket, he gave a curt nod, and walked out of the building. He traveled down a dark, blustery alley toward home.
“Hold it, buddy.” Tightly gloved hands grabbed the back of his neck.
He bristled, clutching his possession fervently. “Who are you?”
“No one in particular, but I want what you got.” The voice bellowed deeply.
“It’s nothing really. But if you’ll let go of me, maybe we can talk business.”
“I don’t wanna talk bizness; jest give me the shoe.”
“Now, what would you do with an old music box?” He felt hot breath on his right ear.
“For the same reason you want it.”
“Oh, then you must be my long lost brother. How delightful to meet you in such a distressing way. But you did forget to tell me your name. Mine’s Randolph.”
The captor jabbed a round object into Randolph’s side. “Quit the funny talk. If you want to stay alive, give me the shoe.”
“I paid a bit of money for it; are you willing to give me $100?”
“Listen, wise guy, I saw you pay the dame. It didn’t cost you no hundred bucks.”
“Well, I figured the $25 would cover the expenses of my time spent here, including the treatment I’m receiving.”
“Why, you— The man behind him raised the butt of the pistol and grabbed the music box.
A thudding blow, and Randolph heard the man slump to the ground. The porcelain shoe slipped from the mugger’s hand.
Randolph spun around. The lady from the shop stood with a heavy pipe in her hands. “My, you knocked him out cold,” he surmised.
“Is it broken?” she asked.
“Why did you follow me?”
“I saw that man following you as you left the shop. Is it broken?”
Randolph dropped to the ground. The shoe lay shattered in tiny pieces. “My mother’s music box! I’ve searched so long for it and now it’s broken.”
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “What’s this?” She picked up the sound box. “It looks like there’s something inside.”
He took it from her and began to work the object free.
A refined ruby fell into the palm of his hand.
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