Purveyors of the Magic of Imagination
Llyfrawr: Home of the Mathomium
 
An American Forger in Wales
The Case of the Colleen from the Colonies

Tolkien and Sanskrit cover


Also by this author:

A Tolkienian Mathomium

The Hobbitonian Anthology

Tolkien and Welsh

 

The Tolkienaeum Cover

 

Iter Tolkienensis Cover

 

Tolkien and Sanskrit Cover

The Door Opened

The motion of the door handle caught my eye, and the door to my furnished rent-an-office opened without the customary screening call from the reception desk downstairs, or even a perfunctory knock. A young woman emerged from the doorway with a slow step that spoke of self-assurance. Her fashionably over-sized beige dress flowed with each step she took, playing hide and seek with the fact that she had a lanky, sun-tanned figure, full of curves in all the right places. Her playfully brown eyes complemented a radiant smile that could have sold toothpaste on television. The total effect said that you could not ignore the fact that she was a woman.

I wondered what she was doing in my place. She didn’t look like my typical client. The people who trade in old manuscripts are kind of stodgy, and she wasn’t. She was about the same age as me. When I was younger.

Normally, forgery is a peaceful, restful, nonviolent occupation for those in retirement, or doing penance in Purgatory like I was, but the moment she came through the door things changed. The briefcase that she was carrying in her right hand not only contained the drawing of a family tree she wanted me to fake for her, it was also full of all the things that blur the fine line between love and hate, heroism and cowardice, generosity and greed, truth and lies. They leaked out slowly through the cracks in the briefcase, forming a low-hanging fog that set off alarm bells in the space in my mind reserved for paranoia.

I motioned for her to sit in the sturdily built oak chair beside the desk. It could have held up a much heftier figure than hers, so I didn’t think it would object to the light burden she presented. She sat down on the edge of the wooden seat, adjusting her dress so that the flow of the material artistically highlighted her legs.

I gave my swivel chair a quarter turn to the right, and smiled politely. The clock in the upper-right corner of my computer screen said, “16:33.” The calendar on the wall said “24 April.”

“How can I be of assistance, miss … ?”

“’Miss’ will do just fine,” she said with an American accent that spoke of moneyed New York.

She tightened her lips into a straight line. It wasn’t becoming. I was being sized up. She had her feet flat on the floor, and her legs tensed, ready to rise at a moment’s notice in case I didn’t make the grade. The calmness of her face made her look like a dumb blonde, but any man who believed that needed his head examined.

She surveyed my huge desk piled high with disheveled stacks of paper threatening to fall over onto the floor. One of them already had.

I caught her look and smiled innocently into her eyes, like a little boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

“They say that Einstein kept a messy desk,” she said, smiling back.

“I couldn’t say,” I parried. “I never met him.”

The smile broadened. “You’ll do,” she said, more to herself than to me.

I knew better than to say anything out loud in response to that, so I shifted my smile into what I hoped was a look of sharp attentiveness.

A dark-gloved hand flipped the latches of the briefcase on her lap, and she pulled out a largish piece of folded paper.

“This is a composite genealogical chart of the Cynrig family,” she said, handing it across the desk to me. I stood up to take it, and unfolded it across the stacks of paper on my desk. Another one of them collapsed.

I looked at the chart for a minute. It was one of those modern computer-generated charts that started with some obscure fourth century king named Arthfoddw, and branched out until it came down to a guy named Llywelyn, born in 1987. I pushed my glasses back against the bridge of my nose. This is one of those unconscious twitches we all have. In my case, it signifies that I’m thinking.

“Can you make me a copy that will pass for a ninth century original?” she asked.

“Maybe,” I replied, and went back to reading that chart. “Of course, that will cut off everybody on your family tree after the carbon dating of the parchment.”

“That won’t be a problem,” she replied. “We are going to ‘marry’ it up to the genealogy in the family Bible, which only starts in the eight century.”

“Gotcha,” I said, and went back to studying the chart.

After I pushed my glasses back onto the bridge of my nose for the fifth time, she got tired of trying to stare a hole through me, and took a none too surreptitious look at her watch.

“It’s a simple question,” she said. “Are you going to take all day to decide?”

“It’s not as simple as you seem to think,” I replied. “Who does it have to fool besides Llywelyn? The marriage of Morfydd verch Olwain to Hywl ap Rhys in 496 is going to set off alarm bells for anybody who actually knows anything about this family.”

“He said you were good,” she quipped flatly, as she pulled her black glove back up over her watch.

“That’s nice to hear,” I said in feigned amazement. “Anyone I might know?” I was hoping for the name of a person I could check with to make sure she was on the up and up, and was not someone from the Constabulary, trying to fit me up.

Dennis,” she replied coldly, as if that was all the passport she needed.

I smiled a wry smile. Dennis would do nicely, and she clearly knew it.

“Mind if I call him?”

“Go right ahead,” she said without enthusiasm or nervousness. “Do you need his number?”

I shook my head, as I dialed Dennis’ number.

“Dennis,” I said when he answered. “You recommend me to anyone lately?”

“A Colleen from the Colonies,” he replied calmly. “If she shows up, you’ll thank me.”

“Maybe I will,” I replied. The alliteration of the type of person with the place they came from said she was OK. If he’d called her the ‘girl from Glasgow,’ or the ‘bird from Boston,’ she had his seal of approval. The ‘girl from Cardiff,’ on the other hand, or the ‘bird from London’ would have meant his endorsement was under duress. It was a code we had worked out. If you didn’t know the trick, you’d never catch him out by listening in when I called.

“And you’ll not be forgetting me?” he inquired.

“The usual I.C.[1],” I said, and hung up.

“I don’t mind you doubting me, because I have hot and cold running paranoia myself,” she said.

“That’s nice to hear,” I replied. “I think I can fix the lapse in your chart with a second marriage with a more prestigious wife.”

“He said you were the best.”

“When will you be needing it?”

“Two weeks.”

“That’s a bit tight,” I said. “It pushes the price up.”

“How high is up?”

“Ten K,” I replied, naming a price that I hoped would scare her off. I couldn’t have her telling Dennis that I flatly refused.

“That’s a bit high,” she frowned right on cue.

“You’re free to comparison shop,” I said hopefully. “Did Dennis give you any other names?”

“Yes, but he said that you and Christ were the only ones who could possibly make it work.”

“I’m pleased to hear that. Nothing like good word of mouth advertising,” I retorted. “I’m not Christ, so don’t count on miracles, but I have done my share of making the impossible happen.”

There was a long pause before she answered.

“OK. Ten K, two weeks,” she said placidly.

“I assure you that it’s a fair price,” I said, reluctantly going into my salesman’s spiel. “For your ten K you get a provenance that says where the document was found, an accelerated mass spectrometry carbon dating certificate for the parchment, a near-infrared Raman microspectroscopy analysis of the ink, a translation of the surface text, and a scan plus translation of the text —your text—that will appear to be the original text that was on the parchment before the parchment was scrapped to be reused for the surface text.”

“Why won’t my text be on top?”

“You don’t just go to the store to buy blank thousand year-old parchments,” I said with as little condescension as I could muster. “I’m going to have to get an old one that will date correctly, and then hide your family tree under the present text. The hidden text will show up in a scan.”

“Won’t that make them suspicious?”

“Not really. Hidden text is fairly common with documents this old. It’s so common that there’s a technical name for it. They call it a palimpsest. There are several famous ones. Ever hear of The Archimedes Palimpsest?”

“No.”

“In 1229, what was originally a tenth-century Byzantine copy of an otherwise unknown work of Archimedes of Syracuse was unbound, scraped and washed so that it could be reused for a Christian liturgical text. The erasure was probably cutting edge in the thirteenth century, but modern digital image processing by X-ray, ultraviolet, infrared, visible and raking light can make it legible again.”

“Dennis said that you could bore me to death with more than I wanted to know about the process,” she replied. “I’ll take your word for it.”

“That’s fifty percent up front, in small unmarked bills, and I will have them checked, just like I’ll check the final payment for chemical traces and counterfeits.”

“You think I carry that kind of money around with me?”

“I don’t know, but I’m sure you’ll enlighten me,” I said. “Part of the up-front money goes to buy the parchment you need.”

She opened up her briefcase again, leaving the lid up so I couldn’t see what was inside it. She pulled off her elegant black glove, and stuck her lovely hand back in the briefcase to pull out four banded packets of banknotes, which she plopped on my desk one by one. She shut her briefcase, but didn’t click the latches.

“There’s a thousand in each one,” she said, her Park Avenue pronunciation giving way to a slight hint of the Bronx. “That enough?”

“I’ll make some inquiries about the parchment, but I won’t get started until you drop by with the fifth packet,” I replied. “And the two-week clock doesn’t start ticking until you do.”

She opened the briefcase again, and pulled out another packet of banknotes. I had the suspicion that there were more of those in her briefcase, and that they all had American-dollar twins.

“Grand,” I said, as the fifth thousand landed on my desk. “Two weeks from today. Let’s say at four p.m..”

The svelte left hand that put the packet on my desk didn’t have a ring on its third finger, which turned my mind to other things now that the question of money had been settled.

“Dinner tonight? I know this great place that …”

“Can it!” said the Bronx girl with a tone that sounded like a buzzsaw spinning. “Five grand minus a twenty,” she said in a more relaxed tone, as she pulled a twenty-pound note off the top stack, and tore it in half.

“I’ll send Jimmy to pick it up. This half of the twenty is the claim check. Be sure to check the serial numbers and the tear line to make certain they match.”

“Who’s Jimmy? Your boyfriend?”

“Dennis said I’d get to watch you play Romeo. You get extra points for trying it on, but don’t try it again. Jimmy’s not my boyfriend. He’s worse than that as far as you’re concerned. He’s what the Brits call a minder[2]. I’ll have him break your legs if you come on to me again.”

“Former SAS?”

“In a word, ‘yes’,” she replied. “And he’s a man of few words. Direct action is more his style.”

“Tell him to use the door when he comes. My bill doesn’t include repairing holes in the wall that he blasts open for an entrance. That’d be extra.”

“Funny. I’ll tell him,” she said as she stood up, and floated out the door, closing it softly behind her, leaving me standing knee-deep in the low-hanging fog of the shadowy life that had leaked out of her briefcase.


[1] Introductory Commission: a payment (commonly 10%) made to the person who introduces a bookseller to a deal.

[2] British slang for body guard.

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