That one caught my attention. Saaz? I moved the paper back and forth until I could make out the words written long ago in purple ink, but that now had faded to a light lavender.
1 sugar box, jeweled, 2200.
1 silver vessel, 600.
2 little tea spoons.
I was musing over the quaint description "little," when I noticed no prices were cited for the spoons. I looked back at the stationery's letterhead. July 1927 was scribbled at the top right hand corner. Embossed on the center of the page was a red coat of arms and, beneath that, in royal blue letters, the name Franz Bauer. A third line ran across the width of the page. SaazNew YorkRio de Janeiro. But where was Saaz? Germany, perhaps? Poland?
Again I shifted the paper to get it in a better light when a straight pin holding a handwritten note attached to the back pricked my finger. I turned the page over and read: "To whom it may concern, these spoons are genuine antiquities and over a hundred years old and the work of Saaz handicraft and passed on in possession of families of this region of Bohemia and sold privately."
Well, that answered one question. Saaz, Bohemia, now Saaz, Czech Republic, I surmised. But the handwritten explanation struck me as peculiar. Why would a merchant have included the spoons on his list? To get them past customs was all I could think of. But no price? I came up empty.
Still, something about these papers storedor had they been hidden?in the attic, rather than being on file in the curator's office, seemed strange. Then again, in a house as large as this one and with so much in it, the chances were great that things would be scattered all about. I had had a gut feeling about the attic, and Michelle had been surprisingly agreeable. "Who knows what's up there," she'd said offhandedly. "Just see what you can find."
Many an attic has held great treasures. Why every four or five months there's breaking news that a heretofore unknown composition by Beethoven, a manuscript by Goethe, a long lost old master painting, or some such discovery has turned up hidden beneath often walked-by shadows. In Virginia the original eighteenth-century plans for Francis Lightfoot Lee's Menokin plantation were found in the attic of a house several miles away. I was wondering how much more might be up here.
"It's almost three thirty."
My heart leapt.
Michelle Hendrix loomed above me. She looked no different in the gloomy shadows of the attic than she had in the daylight when I had arrived at Wynderly. A tall woman probably in her mid-thirties, she had no sparkle.
"I had no idea," I said, attempting to recover, while also trying to slip the papers onto the floor without her noticing. "I didn't hear you." "Dr. Houseman expects board meetings to start on time." Michelle crossed her arms in front of her and stepped closer. "Finding anything?" she asked.
"Board meeting?" I replied. "Oh, did I forget to tell you yesterday? Alfred Houseman, you know, the chairman of the Wynderly Foundation board . . . anyway, he's called a meeting for this afternoon."
I struggled to my feet. Michelle Hendrix didn't budge.
"So, finding anything?" she asked again.
"Too early to be sure." I said offhandedly.
Too many questions were swimming around in my head for me to share my findings. I gave her a noncommittal shrug. "What about you? Have you had a productive afternoon?"
"Not after Houseman blew in earlier than I had expected. He has a way of doing that." She rolled her eyes. "I was back in my office when he showed up, a full half an hour early. Didn't bother to call ahead either." She made a low growling sound. "That man thinks he owns this place."
Excerpted from The Big Steal by Emyl Jenkins. Copyright © 2009 by Emyl Jenkins. Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books, a division of Workman Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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