“Chip!” Reggie Peps said as he bumped into me on the street. “No time to talk.” He bundled up his papers, which had fluttered out of his hands after our collision. He grasped at them as they flapped away like butterflies.
“Hello, Reggie,” I said, gathering myself up off the ground. “Where are you off to?”
“I’ve got to be there, Chip.”
“Where?” I asked. Knowing that wherever Reggie was going trouble would certainly follow.
“The museum. The new exhibit is having its grand opening,” he said. “I’ve got to finish with the set up. I’m in the business of state of the art security systems; and I just installed one at the new exhibit.” And he darted off.
Reggie Peps was a businessman, plain and simple. All of his businesses invariably failed because if there was one thing Peps was good at, it was being extraordinarily cheap. For his frozen banana business he found it’d be much cheaper to use corn instead of bananas. For his dog washing business he cut all expenses by putting the pups through the washing machine. For his car washing business he cut all expenses by driving the cars into a lake. And now there was this new venture—the ‘state-of-the-art’ security systems. I didn’t see anything good coming from it; and I wasn’t going to miss it for the world, which is why, when an old friend the next day asked me to go with her to the event, I couldn’t say no, even if it was Ally Alice.
Ally Alice and I go way back. We first met in elementary school. She was drawing a picture of a panda and I was busy eating her crayons. Our eyes met and it was true love. We began a relationship which lasted from around 1:30 in the afternoon till about 2:15 when we got picked up from parent-pick-up; we even high-fived, which back in those days was only done between the best of friends. Since our little-one-years together, we have been doing our separate things. Alice went off to college and succeeded in getting a good degree in the Fine Arts and I ended up getting stuck in radio (until the fire… that is).
Ally Alice, as I said, always had a thing for me since we were little babies and she had tried countless times to get me to notice how much she adored me by leaving me love letters at my doorstep or breaking in late at night and sprinkling crayons all over the bed (“Like when we first met, you understand”). But I was in love with my wife. Since my wife had vanished, I had been receiving many voicemails from Alice, so I figured, to end them, I must at some point oblige her requests. I figured what harm could there be of going to a museum. I told her strictly that this was a friendship that would not go anywhere passed a friendship.
“But we can hold hands tonight?” she asked.
“There won’t even be a high five,” I said to end that conversation. “There would be no hand holding.” I put my foot down on that note.
I still loved my wife and had hopes that she would somehow come back from her African Safari in one piece—but since she was due back months ago—that seemed unlikely.
Alice and I met outside the museum. She was standing there amongst a large crowd of people giving a speech about how much everyone would like the new exhibit and how it housed some of the finest gemstones in the world.
“From the beginning of time,” she said. “The world has been the producer of the most beautiful rock collections in the…” and then she trailed off as she began talking about dates, times, geological formations, and chemical formulas, nearly putting everyone to sleep even before they got the chance to let the exhibit put them to sleep.
That was when I saw him. Today was a day for old friends; and this friend was really old—he looked old, that is.
Guy Vandue stood on the edge of the street, his face pressed close to the curb, his eyes gawking through a magnifying glass that he held with his large, bulbous obtrusions that he called hands. Vandue was a big man; a cubit round—if I’m thinking right about what a cubit is. I think that was about the size of Noah’s ark and if that’s the case then this man could easily have been mistaken for such a piece of ship. If you set him on a mountain you’d surely think ‘now there’s Mount Ararat.’
“Hello, Guy,” I said as I walked up to him.
He looked up from his spot and gazed at me through his glass. He then set his magnifying glass into his large, coat pocket and extended his hand respectfully. I shook it and my hand was, much to my frustration, immediately soaked with this man’s sweat. I decided, at this point, that any hand-contact with anyone was out of the question.
“Long time no see,” Guy said in his thick accent—I could never place the accent, I figured it probably was either welsh or from Ararat, itself.
“Yes,” I said. “Where have you been?”
He grabbed me around the collar aggressively and lifted me off the ground, an action that is usually more suited when someone says something about another’s mother.
“That’s the problem,” he said. “Don’t you see?! She’s asked the wrong guy. She’s got the wrong guy! I can’t find it.”
“The jewel, dear boy! The Jewel of Queen Peabody.”
“Oh, that,” I said. Not understanding a word of what he was talking about.
Guy Vandue was a private investigator and a rotten one at that. He spent most of his time getting extraordinarily lost. When he wasn’t lost, he spent the remainder of his time at local bars drinking more than he should and shouting at wall-paintings, which is why a museum’s exhibit’s grand opening which was bound to have both drink and paintings on walls was probably not a good place for Guy Vandue to be.
But come the time for the museum to open, we all were hustled in and found that the new exhibit did indeed house some of the most exquisite examples of earth’s ability at making rocks. There were big rocks. There were small rocks. There were rocks of every shape, color and size. Within 10 minutes Guy and I found ourselves at the bar and on our third drink.
“These rocks,” he said. “They keep looking at me.”
“Really?” I stammered. The drinks had gotten to me.
“I don’t like it,” he said. He took a swig of his drink.
I looked at a large rock that stared back at me with glaring sapphire. “I see what you mean,” I said.
That was when Vandue’s eyes bulged out of his head; if they had bulged anymore, they would have rolled right out and probably been mistaken as another part of the exhibit.
“Great Zander!” he spat. “It’s here.” He stumbled to a display. It was a large pedestal with a shiny blue-looking stone sparkling newly polished behind some thick glass.
“What is it?” I asked.
“It’s the Jewel of Queen Peabody!” he said. He pressed his face against the glass.
That was when Ally came over to us.
“Don’t press your face against the glass,” she said. “You’ll smudge it.” She turned to me and smiled. “Everything’s going good, dear. All the corporate executives seem to like the whole set-up. This is my time to shine. I nearly lost my job a few weeks ago because we went over budget acquiring the jewels. The execs, Miss Fairfeather, even accused me of stealing funds—not only that,” she laughed. “But they thought I was trying to rig the whole thing so I could get at the jewels. You know how these business-types are.” She smiled.
“Oh yes,” I said, drunkenly. That was when she thought it’d be ample time to try and slip her hand in mine, but I steadied myself back and bumped into the glass case. “Sorry,” I said to the glass case and turned to find that the gleaming object that had been Guy Vandue’s affection was no longer in its case. “Great Scott!” I spat.
That was when the alarms began to buzz. Apparently there had been a flaw in the system. Old Reggie Pep was notorious for trying to “save money” and one of the ways he saved money was by not installing as many sensors as there should have been. Vandue, who had nicked the jewel believing, in his drunken stopper, that it was the Jewel of Queen Peabody, had gotten distracted on his get-way by a rather rude looking painting that had obviously made a nasty comment about Vandue’s mother. He had grabbed the painting by the top of its frame like he had grabbed me earlier and began throttling it. This had set off the alarms.
As the alarm buzzed, everyone darted to and fro attempting to flee the place. A great whir started to emit from above and steel cages began there decent, attempting to close off the exhibit area and catching the culprit behind steely bars. In Vandue’s panic, he dropped not only the picture, but the jewel and bolted out of the museum.
On our way out, to her great joy, Ally found the jewel laying on the floor and darted over to it.
“Hurry!” I yelped as the cages nearly had us caged in. There was little room left. But she was too busy grabbing at the jewel. I was on the other side of the closing cage and she was running towards me now. The cage was just feet from closing. “Quick!” I shouted.
She reached for my hand and I pulled away.
I had expressly told her that there would be no hand-holding. To think, in such a time as that to want to take advantage of a friend trying to make his haste out of a troublesome situation she thought she could slip her hand into mine—I am not that sort of man!
She gave me the most steely-cold look. The cages closed and there she was, stuck on the other side cradling the stolen jewel in her arms. That was when I realized my mistake. She wasn’t trying to hold my hand, she was reaching out for help; she needed me to pull her to the other side before the cage trapped her. Well, I seemed to have mucked that up and by not aiding her escape she was now trapped behind bars.
“Just as I thought,” an old looking woman said beside me. She was in an elegant green dress that made her look a lot like a Douglas Fir Tree. “You were trying to steal the prized jewel of the exhibit.”
“That’s not it, Miss Fairfeather!” Ally exclaimed. “Please, my friend will explain.”
“I don’t want to hear it,” Miss Fairfeather said.
“Please, listen?! He’s got something important to say.”
“Miss Fairfeather turned to me. “I will not listen,” she said coldly. “The cops will be here shortly and you and your friend will be in a lot of trouble.”
I glared at her.
“But just listen,” I said.
“Not a chance.”
“Well,” I said, feeling defeated. “Thanks for listening.”