The Mysterious Deed

THE MYSTERIOUS DEED Old Frieda Lawrence ceaselessly led the search through every conceivable hiding place in the Landmark Bookshop for the precious Deed which had disappeared on her watch from its well-lit place on the wall behind the desk at the front of the store. The priceless document had been found two years ago when it had tumbled out of a very old mold-eaten leather-bound book discovered entirely by chance in a clean up of the old shop when it was purchased by Rosa Swensky and Patina Lastino. Until its discovery in the bookstore, occasionally a great great great great relative of an old founding Southampton family would insist it was known, through generations, that such a document existed, the first formal Deed of conveyance (the faded date seemed to be late 1700s) to a long gone family member of a no longer existing structure on a no longer existing dirt road on the edge of town. Although its discovery soon became public knowledge, the Deed remained in the ownership of the two women who had found it (willed to the Town after their demise) and who displayed the small yellowed handwritten page after having it properly restored and mounted on acid free paper, behind UV glass, in a gold-gilt frame. And it was this precious document that had disappeared from its well-lit place on the wall behind the small desk in the front of the bookstore. Frieda seemed more stricken than the bookshop’s owners for it was gone, stolen, missing on her watch when she had, as usual spent Thursdays in the store so the owners could have a few hours off. Although she was eighty-seven years old and mildly crippled (she walked slowly, hunched over and with a cane), she was an admired, long-trusted member of the community and never more so than when she was the helpful cheerful keeper-of-the-guard (as it were) at the community’s most revered and respected bookstore — the old-fashioned kind, with rows and rows of books, new and used, and rickety kitchen tables on which were piled signed copies of the latest novels and poetry. Once the terrible loss was announced, “Who?” the people of the town questioned, “would do such a thing? So ignoble? So cruel?” And how, the police wondered, did the miscreant abscond with it from its framed and well-lit place on the wall? Of course the old lady, blamed herself. Until her retirement, she had worked as a knowledgeable clerk in one bookstore or another all her life; she was thrilled at this part-time job in the Landmark Bookshop. She was so watchful, so alert; how, she wondered could the theft possibly have happened? There had been just a few visitors to the bookstore on Thursday, browsers, friendly and talkative. Frieda’s friends (she had a few still living) and her one niece all rallied to assure her that it wasn’t her fault, that she must stop suffering and blaming herself. Never never would she have allowed anyone to hurt or steal from the wonderful women who owned the bookstore and left her in charge. Not a religious woman, not usually given to prayer, she nonetheless bowed to her knees (not an easy task), and leaning on the ottoman in front of the big easy chair, she prayed in new-found devotion. “Dear Lord, let the Deed be found. Let the rascal who took it be punished.” Hoping The Lord would heed her prayer and believing that Latin was The Lord’s language, she mumbled the few words in Latin that she had read or heard: et cetera, habeas corpus, habemus papem, e pluribus unum, ecce homo. She then crossed herself, unsure if her hand was to move head to chest, then left to right, or right to left and remembered seeing somewhere (the movies?) the supplicant kiss his or her own hand, which she did — anything to render her prayer more correct, profound, urgent and sincere. As she rose from her knees, leaning heavily on the seat of the big armchair, she heard a crackle, a terrible sound. Bending down again, she saw there, under the big leather chair, the precious Deed in its new gold-gilt frame, the glass now cracked and splintered. “My God,” she said instinctively, “How? When? It was I!” In a flash she saw her lifelong reputation as a good and honest woman crash, disappear, instantly replaced by disgust and anger, no quarter given to her age, her inability to track her own behavior, to do things she didn’t remember doing. Ever so carefully, she slid the broken frame and its contents back under the big armchair. She rose, unsteadily but determinedly, and called the bookstore. “Good morning, dear Rosa. It’s Frieda. I won’t be coming in today. I’m not feeling well. … Thank you, my dear. Yes, tomorrow. Perhaps. Tomorrow.” But she never went back to the bookstore. In fact, it was as if she had disappeared, seen occasionally either very early or very late at the grocery store. Gradually, over time, Frieda Lawrence became known as a recluse, remembered by some as the sprightly octogenarian who had once been an active beloved person in the community, the nice old lady in the book store. The search goes on…