A Short Story by Ernie Whitenack
Copyright © Ernest N. Whitenack 2018
All Rights Reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, printing, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.
Hyderabad, India. 1940
The moon in it’s third-quarter provided just enough light, at
two-thirty in the morning, to transform Hyderabad India from the progressive
university community it was, to a deeply shadowed image of its Victorian
past. Here and there a homeless person can be seen roaming the streets
or asleep in a doorway; all looking like ghostly aberrations. The golden
dome of a mosque peeking between buildings was the brightest thing seen,
gleam through the darkness
He worked his way to the administration building of Hyderabad University
and let himself in a basement door after disabling the alarm, and went
directly to the control box of the primitive alarm system and disabled
the entire system. Then, to the tunnel that connects to the building housing
the University Museum of Antiquities. He quickly found what he was looking
for and removed it from the domed display stand and placed it snugly in
the Teak box.
The anger and disappointment that came over Professor Jodh Sing when informed of the theft of the Calabash, left him in a terrible state. Just last week he accepted the curatorship and directorship of the museum, and now this. He immediately called a meeting of the board of directors and put the problem before them. Sing stood before the board looking magnificent in the embroidered frock of silk, his jeweled white turban, with his near-white beard neatly arranged in a beard net. He brought them up to date on the theft, stating that local and national police were notified along with Interpol. He explained emphasized the importance of the pipe’s arkeological discovery and how priceless it was to all concerned; although insured for a hundred-fifty-million Rupees.
Sing stated, “I think it imperative we hire a private detective agency. The insurance company assured me their best investigators would be on the case. However, private investigators have a bit more freedom. Not being held back by company rules.” The board agreed to a man. Perhaps because they didn’t know what to do themselves, or the high regard in which they held Professor Jodh Sing.
Hancock, Massachusetts 1946
In a section locally known as South Hancock, just over the New York border from Lebanon Springs, lies a section known as Quill-Hammer by its residents. It is simply a very large neighborhood but bent on becoming a Hamlet or Sub-town, self-sufficient and leaning toward self-government. Over a couple of decades, Quill-Hammer has become a haven to writers, artists, sculptors and specialty tradesmen and tradeswomen. It is gaining recognition throughout the commonwealth and nationally as being home to some of the finest creators of art in the country. Among these is Harlan J. Abby, artist and author. He lives a somewhat secluded life in a medium sized cottage about three miles from the commercial section of Quill-Hammer, at the end of a Poplar tree studded road, reminiscent of those seen in popular French paintings. Considered an eccentric by some, and simply shy by others, Abby seldom ventures into town except to attend a concert, deliver a painting to a gallery, pick up an urgently needed item at the supermarket. He often attends one of the several pipe clubs to which he belongs. Along with his pipe club activity he is a compulsive collector, and has amassed a huge collection of extremely rare and expensive pipes; huge considering the rareness and age of some of them. The collection, hidden from all but himself, rests in a large safe he had put in the cellar of his home, where a secret sliding wall covers it from prying eyes.
It took several years, but Harlan J. Abby compiled a book cataloging his collection to date. Each pipe, expertly photographed by Abby, has a notation as to its age, origin, material and notations as to how it came into his collection. It is a very expensive book and seldom purchased by anyone but the most ardent collector. Abby published under an assumed name and phony publishing house name, and had it privately printed in Italy under his personal supervision. No effort is too great to protect his collection.
Augsburg, Austria 1946
An article in an Augsburg newspaper, buried near the classifieds, sported a fourteen-point headline:
HISTORIC SMOKING PIPE STOLEN
The article took up about five inches of one column and told, very briefly, the story of the pipe until it’s theft in 1940. The author speculated the theft from the University Museum of Antiquities at Hyderabad might be the work of a contractor, hired, by the then notorious, Gestapo Colonel Baron Alfred Kunz; the murdered man. Kunz returned to his estate in the outskirts of Augsburg after the war, and resumed his normal life. Although, he seldom stepped out in public and abandoned of local politics completely.
Germany, about the same time
Abraham Müller closed his watch and clock shop in Boston, notifying customers he is on vacation and will be returning in three weeks. He proudly entered Germany using his recently acquired U S passport and feeling very proud of his American citizenship. Driving a rented Opel, Abe drove to Bitburg to see what had happened since his escape in 1927. Some of the old town remained and much construction was underway to replace buildings destroyed by bombs and artillery.
The coffee shop, where Abe often had breakfast, and most of Hauptstrasse remained standing. He went in and had some coffee and a sweet roll, hoping to see a familiar face. He saw none and thought to himself, “You stupid old man. What did you expect after all these years?” Abe walked around a little, oddly surprised at the number of American military on the streets. One Sergeant stopped him and asked if he had a match.
So, Abe spent three hours that afternoon with the Sergeant, in a small German beer hall, telling the story of his escape, his run-in with the Nazis in America, his great pipe smoking friends and the German club. As they left the sergeant promised to look Abe up when he gets home.
Abe picked up a newspaper at the Hotel and retired to his room after ordering coffee sent up. He washed up, loosened his necktie and settled in with the newspaper and coffee; pipe and pouch close by. The news wire services must be working as Abe spotted a reprint about the gourd pipe from the Austrian paper as he thumbed through looking for something interesting to read. He read it with great interest, thinking that perhaps it will make the Boston papers. It did make the Boston papers and papers in all Massachusetts major cities.
Harlan J. Abby read it in a Springfield paper and wondered who might have the Calabash now. Oh, how he wished it could be his.
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