The Picture Ranch 31
By the time I came back the box was red and open. Inside, there were some photographic prints and some negatives.
‘Oh no, Fisher. Not at all.’
I ran a finger along the edge of he open box. It was not a matter of hinges. A slide-out lid lay beside the box itself on the onyx-topped coffee table. The box seemed to be made of something similar. I picked up the lid and made to slide it home again.
‘Don’t!’ Miss G put her hand over mine and I flinched, then drew my hand away.
‘You’ll never get it open again’
She opened her other hand. I saw a black sparkling powder. Then she pointed to a cube shaped recess on the bottom corner of the box.
‘It’s a Chinese box. I removed the pin-piece, and it turned to dust. If you close the lid, there’ll be no way to open it again.’
‘I’m sure Andrew Jackson will get us a hammer.’
She laughed, ‘Even without a working latch, this piece is worth thousands of dollars.’
I raised my eyebrows. 'Oh, sure!'
‘It’s not what it’s made of, though Sardonyx is valuable enough.’
‘It’s old. It’s Chinese, most likely. Take the photos out, go on.’
I took the photographs out, one showed a wooden trunk or chest full of some kind of coins. The next showed a coin with Chinese characters on it. The next photograph was a portrait with someone wearing gloves holding a newspaper in front of their face. There was no indication as to where it might be according to the landscape behind. Still the newspaper was recognisable. I couldn’t read the date, but the masthead was “The California Eagle”.
‘What’s the coin?’
‘It’s a Tang dynasty coin. Over a thousand years old.’
‘What was the snapper doing with this stuff?’
‘He had some interesting customers. Maybe they thought the box would be safe amongst all the “special customers’” requirements.’
I got two crystal tumblers and a bottle of scotch from a piece of furniture I didn’t even know the name of: then I put two rocks of ice in each glass and poured three fingers each.
‘And just how does this help find your brother?
She picked up the glass and took a belt that would have made a stevedore’s eyes water,
Then she took another swig.
I watched her walk into the suite’s bedroom and heard her lock the door behind her. Before I fell asleep I finished the scotch and wished it had been rum.