The Mysterious Bookshop


‘Tis the Season To Be Dead Part Fourth and Final!

Everyone in the bank--there were no customers, it was all bankers and tellers, or so it seemed--was crouched down on the floor around the huge quiltish thing that was covered with coins. Each was selecting a piece, carefully inspecting it, and then putting it back. How did they tell which had been examined and which hadn’t? I thought, shaking my head.  This small head-shaking moment caused the stack of cash sacks upon which I was perched to wobble, tilt, and finally topple to the vault floor with a crash.  That brought some folks running, and next thing I knew Myrna Hofsteder was in my face shouting, ‘Put him to work!’  Everyone seemed to agree that one more pair of eyes couldn’t hurt, and so I found myself squinting at the edges of dozens and dozens of coins. I was happy to do something other than be locked in a vault, believe me!  When she wasn’t shouting at me or behaving inexplicably, Myrna explained to me that we were looking for very faint marks of separation along the edges, as might occur if one could split the coin in half and hide something in a tiny compartment inside.

It sounded like a bad spy picture; what, were they looking for A-bomb secrets on microfilm?  Turned out that the people who put ‘donations’ in the kettle were plants.  And for what? Rumor had it that we really were looking for a phony coin that had microfilm in it but the coin had got mixed with a batch bound for the local branch of Mendacity Savings and Loan. This microfilm was supposed to contain a map of a long-lost gold mine.  Hard to believe, I know, but now it was beginning to dawn on me just what was going on.  Fowler’s Fortunate Folly contained scenes in which a character very like Myrna Hofsteder supposedly inherited a map bearing the location of what must have been one of the very few untapped veins of gold anywhere around.  In the book it was in the Southwest, very lucrative and had been stolen by the villain’s father who then died suspiciously, as did the leading lady and the innocent bystander.  I knew I’d better watch my back--I knew too much!

Just then there was a shout from the floor. Someone was hopping up and down, holding what looked like half a coin in each hand.  But in her zeal, when she split the coin open, the microfilm was nowhere to be found. It must have slipped out of the chamber while the lucky finder was jumping around celebrating.  So now all the ersatz bankers were still crouched over the floor, but this time instead of inspecting coins they were looking for a few frames of film!

Then, another shout!  ‘I’ve got it!’ yelled Myrna herself.  ‘I saw it first!’  ‘No, I did!’  ‘I know how to handle these things!’  ‘Let go!’  Predictably now several of the searchers were fighting over the scraps. Ostensibly they all wanted credit for the discovery of the microfilm, but of course the object was to find the gold mine!  It didn’t seem to occur to anyone that they needed some kind of projector to read microfilm or that the film might be unreadable after being locked inside a coin for some years or that all these people sharing might cut the take a bit, or even that the mine itself was played out.  But first everyone charged Myrna to try and snatch the film out of her hand, then everyone charged back in the other direction when Myrna zigzagged. What a circus with everyone racing back and forth pell-mell! At last someone got their wires crossed and turned too soon and then everyone ended up in a giant heap on the floor and the blankie full of coins was forgotten. I sidled over. I’d been an avid numismatist (coin collector to you) when I was a kid and it couldn’t hurt to eyeball the pile to see if there were any key dates in the collection, if you could call it a collection.  Nothing much there, though, but--wait!  There was a shiny one!  WOW! A 1955 doubled die Lincoln Cent in AU condition!  Surreptitiously I scooped it up, along with a bunch of other samples, and slipped them into my pocket, throwing down a quarter to make it even.  As far as I know my quarter did not now, nor did it ever, contain microfilm.  Speaking of microfilm, a commotion was developing. I was really beginning to wish I hadn’t got involved with the whole thing, in fact I started thinking that as soon as I was locked in the vault, however briefly that lasted.  Emerging out of the scrum was Myrna, who was triumphantly holding up the now decidedly tattered scrap of microfilm.  

A portly man, red-faced and panting, followed her out of the mass of humanity and shouted, ‘You tore it out of my hand!’ to which Myrna shouted right back, ‘You tore it out of MY hand!’ and now nose to nose, it looked for all the world like they were going to have a scuffle but I took it upon myself to intervene, mostly because I wanted to go the heck home and have my long overdue supper.  Attempting appeasement, I said, ‘Kids, kids, let’s keep our feet on the ground here--there’s plenty of microfilm to go around!’  Now they both turned on me--Portly shouted, ‘Why don’t you mind your own business!’ while Myrna glared at me. ‘You’re not helping!’ she hollered as I once again regretted opening my big fat bazoo.  Suddenly Portly slapped his head. ‘What a dunce!’ a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agreed.  ‘Remember when we sponsored that science fair?  I think one of those nerdy kids left behind an old microscope, I bet we could see what’s on here with that!’  Everyone, including me, allowed as to how that was a pretty good idea, so newly self-important Portly dispatched one of the junior ‘bankers’ (personally I thought this fellow looked like a career criminal. You know the type--weak chin, close-set eyes.) downstairs to search for the ‘scope. In a surprisingly short time he was back with it, and set it down on a desk.  I knew a little something about the things, chemistry being a youthful study along with numismatics, so I carefully put the snippet of film on a slide and adjusted the reflector to steer enough light on the subject to illuminate it. As I bent over the eyepiece I felt something cold, hard, and uncomfortable pressing upon me just behind my right ear.  It was Portly and his portly pistol. ‘Hand over that film, jerk, or I’ll kill you right here and now,’ he hissed.  Oddly I didn’t care about my fate, I was just mad, not only that HE was the jerk, not me, but that he would have the gall to pull a stunt like this on a nice guy like me. So I pretended to acquiesce and carefully slipped the slide off of the tray and made like I was going to hand it over. But instead I grabbed the microscope and went upside his head with it. As he tottered, I leapt at him, figuring if I knocked him down, some of the other men there would separate us, or at least help me. No one even moved. So, now I’m forced to fight for my life?  What a night!  Would it never end?  Luckily being so portly meant he wasn’t in such good shape so I was able to subdue him while still preserving the film scrap.  I slid the gun under a nearby desk where Weak Chin/Close-Set Eyes grabbed it and beat a hasty retreat. No doubt we’d be reading about HIM on the police blotter in the near future. I got up and picked up the microscope, which was bent but still looked like it would work, and set it on the desk.  I re-adjusted it and replaced the slide in the viewing tray and focused.  This was a very strange map to a gold mine:

In a bowl, mix the flour, butter, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Do not add frosting until later. Fold in milk and four eggs. Lick the sides of the bowl for all the creamy goodness. Blend in the blender for 30-60 seconds, then pop in the oven for 45 minutes.  When it’s golden brown and is just starting to pull away from the edges of the pan, it’s done!  Yum!

Good gravy!  It wasn’t a map to a lucrative gold mine at all!  It was a recipe for golden cake!  I shouted, ‘Hey, everybody!  You can all relax now!  This is a cake recipe!’  Of course this caused quite a commotion, and of course Portly, having picked himself up off the ground, said, ‘Nuts!  I know a microfilmed map when I see one!’  Without pausing to reflect on just how he managed that, I lost patience and yelled, ‘Well, if you don’t believe me, look for yourself!’ and pointed the eyepiece in his direction.  He came up for air looking rather sheepish and simply said, ‘It’s cake.’  Sullenly everyone started to slowly file out of the bank.  Quietly crying, Myrna Hofsteder came up to me and asked me to help with the coin-filled comforter.  As we scooped the coins into the coin-counter, she was visibly trembling.  ‘Come on, it’s not so bad!  The cake would probably be good!’ I offered.  This raised a wan smile and she said, ‘Maybe I’ll make one. It’s my son’s birthday tomorrow and I really wanted to give him a share in a gold mine.’  

‘Pish-tush!  You know how it is with gold mines, here today, gone tomorrow!’This got a genuine laugh and soon we had everything shipshape for the bank’s business to resume after the holiday.  We made our way to the door and Myrna locked it up. ‘I don’t know what to do for a present now. If only I could afford one of the things he wants for his coin collection.’  THAT sure caused me to prick up my ears!  ‘May I offer a gen-yoo-ine 1955 Lincoln doubled die?’  Myrna’s eyes fairly glowed as I showed her the treasure. ‘But where--how--’  

‘Tut tut, now, no questions.  It’s a Christmas Miracle (™)!’

She was looking at me gratefully as she whispered, ‘I’m sorry I hit you with that book.’

‘A mere bag of shells!’

We walked away from the bank, hand in hand.  It was Christmas Eve and it was snowing.

Aaand a Happy Merry to all of our friends out there in the interwebs!  Hope your holidays were sufficiently mysterious! Y_r friendly blogger may or may not take next week off, but we’ll definitely see you in 2018--if you don’t see us first!

Questions/Comments/Charitable Donations?

Written by Ian Kern — December 22, 2017

Specializing in Mystery Fiction and all its subgenres, including Detective, Crime, Hardboiled, Thrillers, Espionage, and Suspense.

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