His Precious Jewel
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you,” the little man spluttered, “Ada left me all her costume jewelry when she died. She’d been collecting it for years, wore the stuff around the house while she vacuumed and pretended she was the Queen of Sheba.” He chuckled softly at the memory and his gaze dropped down to somewhere to the right of his lap.
He sat in the grey interrogation room looking small and bewildered; pushing his thick glasses up his nose for the hundredth time as he finally met the gaze of the officer sitting across the table. Between them lay the evidence, a sparkling collection of rings, bracelets, brooches, and necklace and earring sets that caught the light in a way the policeman found distracting.
“It was our little joke, see? We never had much, but she was an excellent home economist—always made me feel like a rich man. Made all the curtains and rag rugs and even her own cloths, and grew vegetables nine months out of the year and cooked and baked from scratch—we ate like royalty. She was always better with figures than me, so I’d give her my check and she’d always manage to make it stretch enough to cover everything. It was amazing, she always tucked away enough for me to have a steak on my birthday and to buy herself a piece of costume jewelry on hers.” He sighed with nostalgia and wiped the steam off his glasses. “I was her King, and she was my Precious“Jewel.”
Perkins listened, trying to find the hole the man’s story. “How long were you married, Mr. Gomez?”
He pounced on the meager inconsistency, “But there aren’t thirty-seven pieces of jewelry here,” gesturing to the collection spread out between them.
Mr. Gomez stared at the jewelry on the table in confusion, and Perkins felt a stab of self-loathing. “Well,” the old man responded, slowly, “sometimes, she traded in older things to get something she really liked—she was very thrifty.”
Perkins stared at the sad, elderly man, lost again in the memories of his beloved Ada, and rubbed the sweat from his forehead in frustration. He thought of his own girlfriend, Chelsea, if he could ever trust her with his whole paycheck,—his whole life— and if she’d do as well with it as Ada allegedly had. Probably not, he loved Chelsea, but half the time they drove each other nuts.
“You talk like your Ada was some kind of perfect angel, Mr Gomez,” he said. “Were you that lucky?”
“Hah!” Gomez barked and wiped his glasses, his smile turning rueful. “I called her my Precious Jewel, but it was a joke, because sometimes she was too precious—too particular. And she was a terrible cleaner! You’d think as a janitor I wouldn’t have to come home and clean my own house! Still,” he murmured, fingering a pearl ring, surrounded by rubies and seed pearls, “I miss her most every day. I miss yelling at her to sweep the damn floor once in a while. I miss teasing her about all this paste and glass she made such a fuss over, but wouldn’t wear out of the house, or even if we had company over.” He slipped the ring onto his pinky till it stopped, just past the first knuckle. “This was her favorite.”
“So, after she dies, you hoc it?” Perkins said, interrupting Gomez’s reverie. “You’re telling me that over all those years your wife amassed a horde of jewels, and you didn’t notice? Then why bother taking the junk to pawn shop in the first place?”
“I told you,” the elderly man said, “It’s just costume jewelry. I mean, it’s nice costume jewelry—glass and metal and paste, not the cheap plastic stuff they got now. It wasn’t cheap—some of it was designer stuff, you know; but she only bought one a year and she never asked for anything else. I don’t even know why she bothered to write a will, I mean, who else would get it?
“I didn’t have the heart to get rid of it all; but my pension check is late again and I needed to buy some TV dinners; so I just brought it all to the pawn shop to get some cash until my check arrived.”
Officer Perkins steeled himself, “Please Mr. Gomez, you’re going to have to do better than that. The pawnbroker called us and reported it himself, so just explain to me how over a hundred thousand dollars worth of jewelry ends up in the hands of a retired janitor.” The old man gaped at him, revealing ancient, yellow brown teeth.
He sighed with frustration, then excused himself and stepped out of the room and wandered over to the window of an identical room next door. Inside, the fat, greasy pawnbroker was explaining to another officer how his sense of civic duty had demanded that he report the suspicious riches of old Mr. Gomez. Perkins picked up the file on the broker and idly leafed through it, knowing what he’d find. The man had been a witness to or marginally involved in several cases of trafficking stolen goods without ever being charged. Perkins tossed the file back down as he heard the weasel ask if there had been any rewards offered for reports of stolen jewelry. Apparently, he’d decided to try a new angle in this racket. His sergeant sidled up next to him and watched the interview for a moment before asking, “Well?”
Perkins forced air through his lips with a rapid, brrrr, then explained the situation. The officer with the pawnbroker finished her interview and excused herself, handing her notes to Perkins with an expression of disgust.
“So,” Sergeant Addison said, “it looks like there’s no crime here. You can let him go.”
“Yeah,” Perkins growled. He scowled at the fat man in the interrogation room, who was checking his nails and smiling to himself. “Hold on a sec.”
A moment later, Perkins was standing next to Mr. Gomez, both drinking coffee. They watched as an officer brought Ada’s jewelry into the interrogation room where the pawnbroker still sat.
Mr. Gomez looked up at Perkins in confusion, “I thought you said everything is okay, that I can go.”
“You can,” Perkins answered. “I just thought this might be interesting.” They turned back to look through the window.
“For our records, could you please tell me what this piece is worth,” asked the officer, holding up Ada’s favorite ring.
The pawnbroker took it eagerly, “Certainly, certainly. I would say this ruby and pearl ring could easily fetch two thousand dollars.”
Perkins glanced down and saw Mr. Gomez’s mouth fall open.
“And this?” the officer continued, now picking up a glittering tennis bracelet.
“Eighteen hundred dollars.”
“But…Ada…” Mr. Gomez tried, then fell silent.
Perkins sighed, satisfaction allowing his chest to fully expand for the first time all day, and walked back to his desk, pulling his cell out of his pocket. When he sat down, he called Chelsea.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED