Truth Be Told
Age Rating: 13 +
“Goddamnedpieceofcrapmachine!” Carl squeezed his left index finger and watched as a garnet of blood welled at its tip. Reflexively, his hand went to his mouth. The salty iron bitterness of blood spread across his tongue and Carl stomped on the kick-plate switch to turn off his engraving machine. His mind had not been on his work all day. “Inattention breeds bloodshed.” So said the sign he’d posted over his workbench.
Maggie had been on his mind instead. He had wasted three trophy plates already, screwing up the simple engraving.
No use in trying to continue work. He’d only be risking more brass plates and his own well being to boot. Carl reluctantly shrugged on the jacket that Maggie had given him. Cold outside. He hung the closed sign in the window and locked the door of his tiny engraver’s shop, “The Graven Image”. Today would be better spent in Dupont Circle at Kramer’s Books ~ Afterwords Café & Grill. He walked the two blocks to the subway station, rode down the escalator and bought himself a new ticket before deciding that he’d really much rather walk. Two miles would do him some good. Clear his head. Find something to think about other than his suspicion – ahem -- his very strong suspicion that Maggie was cheating on him.
Of course, the irony was not lost on him that Maggie worked at Kramer’s Books. That’s how he’d met her in the first place, four years ago. She’d begun working in his sanctuary. Now, his sanctuary was defiled by her infidelity. Well, at least she didn’t begin her shift for another four hours yet. Minus the walk, he’d have well over three hours to spend in his sanctuary before she made it untenable.
“It’s nothing like that, Carl,” she’d said last night. “No, I am not cheating on you.”
“The evidence would suggest otherwise, my dear.” Carl had noted that she’d come home smelling of an unfamiliar cologne every Monday and Thursday night, for the past three weeks, two and one quarter hours late on each occasion.
“You are not my keeper. I told you. I’ve been meeting Wendy at the studio to throw pots.”
She’d refused to answer for the cologne, for the absence of pottery slick under her finger nails, and for Wendy’s having called that afternoon and leaving a message to ask if Maggie wanted to get together sometime soon at the studio to throw together.
“Oh, Carl,” she’d said. “I just don’t want to tell you, but it’s not what you think.”
“Trust me,” she’d said.
“I used to.”
As he walked along D.C.’s sidewalks, Carl’s fuming remembrance of last night’s fight was interrupted when he spotted a large coin in the gutter. Wondering if it’d be one for the collection, one for the change jar or one to toss back, he picked it up for a closer look. The coin was bronze in color, about the diameter of a silver dollar but considerably thicker and surprisingly heavy. On one side, was an image of a sphinx, ringed by strange, illegible lettering. On the other side, was a candle, ringed by the same script. This’ll be one to run by Charlie. Not like anything he’d ever seen before. He dropped it into his pocket.
On the way to Kramer’s Carl amused himself -- as he often did -- with watching other people about their business, and if possible, listening in on their conversations. This eavesdropping was actually something that he and Maggie had enjoyed doing together, in restaurants, on airplanes, anywhere. Nothing wrong with it, they had decided, unless you’re listening in on people you know. If you’ll never see them again, it doesn’t matter what you hear about their lives. As he got closer to Dupont Circle, the streets grew more crowded. Turning onto Q street, he fell in close behind two business men.
“We closed that one but good.”
“Yeah, sure did. Thanks to your fast talking.”
“Thanks, but it was you who really gained his trust.”
“Want to have a bite with me at Kramer’s to celebrate?”
“I’d love to. Who better to eat with than….” Carl tuned out what was rapidly becoming an uninteresting conversation and found himself sucked again into distracted self-pity. Why don’t I ever seem to be able to land a solid, healthy romance? Starting to bore himself, Carl searched for something else to occupy his mind. His hand strayed to his jacket pocket and he began fumbling the coin around between his fingers, wondering what it was. Probably either something of considerable value, or else a worthless bauble. He was about to take it out for a look when the conversation ahead of him suddenly became more interesting.
“Well, you nearly blew it back there with that guy.”
“If I was any younger, or any better situated financially, I’d get out from under you and start out on my own. I don’t need your dead weight holding me back.”
“I’ve got to tell you, I only signed you on as a partner as a favor to your father. It’s a wonder I’m able to close as many deals as I am with you gumming up…”
They rounded the corner onto Connecticut Avenue with Carl right behind. “Here we are. Kramer’s.” Carl dropped the coin in his pocket to catch the door before it closed behind the two. “Why don’t you find us a table, Partner? I’ll go right to the bar and get us each a shot to congratulate ourselves on a job well done.”
Carl was still shaking his head at the oddity of that mercurial relationship when, having passed through the café, he pulled today’s first prospect book off the shelf. After a few minutes, he determined it to be a winner. He paid for it, and returned to the café, situating himself at a table where he could hear, if he tried, the conversation of the fellows whom he’d followed in as they sat smiling in conversation over their lunch and whiskey.
He was straining to hear them when he suddenly realized the waitress was talking to him. “…We’ve also got a new item, not yet printed on the menu. The Ostrich Burger, leaner than beef. It’s really very delicious. Worth a try.”
“Yes, that sounds good. I’ll try that.” His businessman friends were back to their boring back-patting prattle. Carl began reading.
When his food came, he put his book down. He took a bite of his burger and made an unhappy face as he chewed. And chewed. If he’d ever eaten a drier burger, he couldn’t remember when. He put the burger down, seeing that chewing and swallowing this first bite was going to take a while. His hand strayed back to the coin in his pocket.
From another table, “…We’ve also got a new item, not yet printed on the menu. The Ostrich Burger, leaner than beef. It’s really a bit like a hockey puck. Best to steer clear.” But for the bite of burger still in his mouth, Carl would have burst out with an objection – why didn’t you tell me that?
“That sounds excellent. I’d like an Ostrich Burger then.” Carl dropped the coin on the floor in astonishment. On her way to the kitchen, the waitress bent to pick it up.
Carl wondered at this point why he hadn’t noticed before what an incredible hotty this waitress was, though the effect was certainly augmented by the view afforded by her bending over in front of him to retrieve the coin. He realized as she straightened that he may have been staring. For cover, he blurted, “I really like your shirt. Guatemalan?”
She looked shocked, tossed the coin rather brusquely onto the table and said, “Pervert!” Again, Carl was rather surprised. He thought he’d covered his cleavage admiration rather well. Maybe I should have complimented her necklace. Would that have been better cover?
Some time later, Carl tore his eyes from the pages of his book to look at his watch. Five minutes to two, Maggie would start her shift in just five minutes, and may already have arrived. He tossed a few bills on the table, grimaced at his half eaten ostrich burger and darted out the door.
“Hey, Charlie, how’s it going?”
“Not bad, haven’t seen you in a while, Carl. How’s your shop? What brings you round?”
“I’ve got a coin here.”
“I’ve got a lotta coins here.” Charlie waved a hand in mock grandiosity. Half his shop was devoted to stamps, the other half to coins. Empty space was not a concept that could be learned in Charlie’s basement shop, except by counter example. Shelves, walls, floor – all covered with small, collectible objects.
“Found it this morning in the gutter. Never seen anything like it.” Carl pulled the coin out of his pocket and held it up so they could each look at a side. “Don’t recognize the script. What do you make of it?”
“I’ve never seen anything like it m’self. I’ven’t a clue. Gotta have been made since the invention of candles, given this image, though that leaves a good deal of history open. It doesn’t look like any kind of modern currency. There’s nothing’t looks like a numeral of any sort. Not Arabic, Roman or otherwise.”
“Yeah, that much I was able to determine on my own. I came for an expert opinion.”
Charlie took the coin from Carl’s hand and put it under his lit magnifier. “I don’t think it’s probably very valuable. I’m guessin’ it’s some carnival trinket or some such. If you want to leave it here, I’d be happy to do some research for you and tell you what I find out.”
“For some reason, I’d like to keep it with me. Can you take a rubbing.”
“Sure.” Charlie took out a graphite stick and a sheet of paper. Rubbed one side, flipped, rubbed the other and then reviewed the image. “Looks good. Here you go.” He handed back the coin.
Carl headed for the door. “Thanks, man,” he said, turning with his hand on the door and lifting the coin in salute. “Owe you one.”
“I hate to see a priceless treasure like that leaving my shop.”
Chuckling, he mounted the stairs. He was at street level before it occurred to him that Charlie’s mouth didn’t seem to be moving in time with those words.
Back at home he turned on the television. There was a political debate on – elections two weeks away. Carl pulled the coin from his pocket, and pulled off his coat, tossed it on the ground and stomped on it a couple of times before hanging it on the back of a chair. He sat down and turned up the volume with the remote.
“It seems to me, that you are actually the candidate whose ideals more closely match those of the constituents.”
“Now, my record speaks for itself if you look deeply enough. I’ve been a corrupt leader in office for more than a decade now. I’ve taken illegal contributions, and God knows I cave to special interests if I think it’ll help my career along.”
“I really don’t know the issues all that well. I’ve been coached by my staff about what to say on a number of topics. I just hope the public doesn’t notice that my canned answers never really address the nuances of the questions asked and the points made by my opponent here.”
To Carl, it looked as though he was watching a dubbed Kung-Fu movie. The candidates had clearly had their voices dubbed over by actors. Carl was surprised to find comedy on CNN, but it was funny, so… He watched and flipped the coin around his fingers for a while. Eventually, he grew tired of the show, which had extended beyond the novelty of the humor and should have ended after a few minutes. He switched off the set.
He sat and prepared for Maggie’s eventual return. She would have to tell him the truth. A few minutes before he expected her home, he pulled a chair around in front of the door and sat waiting for her. As he waited, he studied his coin. When he heard her key turning in the door, he straightened up and angrily squeezed the coin in his palm.
“Maggie…” he trailed off. She looked furious and he hadn’t expected that.
“Carl, I know you think I’m cheating on you, but I am not. But even if I was, that gives you absolutely no right to go to my workplace and to humiliate my coworkers.”
Carl just sat agape.
“No right,” she repeated, reddening.
“What?” he finally managed.
“Beth said that she bent over next to your table to pick up a coin that you’d dropped and that when she stood back up you said… Oh, I just can’t believe it. I am so pissed at you. You had no right to humiliate her – and me – that way.”
“You said, ‘Impressive cleavage. See your breasts?’ You pig.”
Carl’s words finally came back to him in his incredulity. “I said, near as I can recall, ‘I really like your shirt. Guatemalan?’ Then she threw my coin on the table and called me a pervert. I’m the one who was humiliated. She said it loud.”
“Stop playing with that thing when we’re having a fight.” Maggie quickly snatched the coin from his hand. He hadn’t realized he’d begun flipping it from finger to finger again. “What is this thing?” Her anger had momentarily been dissipated by the heft and odd appearance of the coin.
“Oh, it’s nothing. It’s a sample someone brought by my shop. Wants me to sell’em.”
“You found this in the gutter? Do you think it’s worth anything? What are you doing with your mouth?”
“Found…? Gutter…? How did you…? ” He decided not to ask how. He had an inkling. “Where have you been going nights, and coming back smelling of cologne?”
I told you, “I’ve been throwing pots. With Wendy.”
“Gimme that a minute.” He snatched back the coin. “Thanks. Where have you been again?”
Maggie’s lips seemed to mouth the words, “Pottery. With Wendy.” But what Carl heard was “Therapy. Doctor Tritt.”
A weight seemed to fly from Carl’s chest and he tossed his head back and laughed. “What?” asked Maggie, still angry.
“Oh, Mag. Have I got a story for you...”