A Short Story by Ernie Whitenack


Copyright © Ernest N. Whitenack 2017
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.

Chapter One

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
From the western hotel, one of these aberrations slid out the back door, slinked along the building and disappeared down a dark and narrow street. He carried a Teak box under his sheet-like clothing; a special box with a soft rubber insert containing a curved indentation. The box is lined top and bottom with heavy velvet. He stopped at a very dark turn in an alley and discarded the cloth that made up his clothing, revealing a black outfit underneath consisting of trousers, sweater and skull cap; his face covered in burnt cork, he seemed to evaporate into the shadows of the building.

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.
Back at his hotel, Gerald Smyth a notorious third-story man sat at a small table and opened the Teak box, took out the strange curved object and examined it. It was hollow with both ends open, one small and the other larger opening lined with an odd colored clay material. He thought to himself, “It doesn’t look like anything I would want to smoke.”
Smyth was paid handsomely to steal the ancient pipe and in the morning, would hand the box over to a courier and receive the remaining half of his fee. Smyth had no idea what would happen to it then and did not care as long as he was fully paid for the job and the box got to his employer; whomever he might be. His next move was to get as far from India as possible before the museum opened Monday morning, as he was positive Interpol along with local police will be looking for him. It was his kind of job and he would be the first to come to mind at Interpol headquarters.

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.

In the year 1894, at an arkeological dig in northern India, very close to Tibet, a piece of organic tubular-like substance was unearthed that was later determined to be a 1500-year-old Calabash gourd in which herbs and tobacco had been burnt. Tooth marks at the narrow end of the gourd substantiated the supposition. Since pieces of tobacco, dating back to 2000 BC, had also been discovered in an Egyptian tomb along with remains of tobacco in mummies presents a mystery as to how tobacco and a Calabash pipe got to the two respective areas of the ancient world. It is generally accepted that Columbus transported the first tobacco from the new world to Spain. It spread through Europe and then to other parts of the world through European colonization. The pipe became the property of the university museum in 1937 after years of study by its anthropology department headed by Professor Jodh Singh.

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
WELL KNOWN COLLECTOR MURDERD

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.

“Yes, I do.? Abe replied and lit the Sergeant’s cigarette. “Are you stationed here?” Abe asked.
“At the new Air Base. How about you, do you live here?” He replied.
“No,” Abe said. “I’m from Boston and just here on vacation. I haven’t been here since 1927 when I escaped the Nazis. I’m now an American citizen.”
The Sergeant’s eyes widened and he said, “Wow, that must be some story! What do you say I buy you a beer, and you tell me all about it?”

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.

“I live in Connecticut, just south of Springfield a few miles. I will get to Boston occasionally.” The Sergeant said.

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.



Ernie Whitenack was born in 1928 in Springfield, Illinois and moved to Massachusetts in the mid 1930's. He is a Korean War veteran, worked as a photographic illustrator for 43 years and is now retired.


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