THE FOOD BAR PART 2
My, soon to be, ex-wife, Lilly, arrived, demanded I agree to give her more money, and walked off when I told her to rot in hell. The sounds of her slamming the car door and driving off with her new, but old, man, was music to my ears. Gold-digger she is, so good luck mate, she’s all yours.
It would be dark soon but I couldn’t wait until the morning. Picking up a couple of cold chisels, a large and a small hammer, a rake, spade and a powerful torch. I walked back to the food bar. Shovelling the shingle and the bit of grass away was easy, cutting the fabric wasn’t as I’d forgotten the small garden shears. Eventually I found them on a shelf in the garage and recommenced my journey into the unknown.
Once I’d carefully cut away the plastic, removed much of the broken concrete, and the weather-beaten supports, I shone the torch down the hole. “What the hell is that?” I couldn’t stop myself. The ladder was a bit rusty but in good condition. The walls were lined with well-seasoned planks of woods making the way down smooth, and, as far as I could see, safe. Yet, the large box at the bottom of the hole looked like a coffin. I didn’t hesitate. I put one foot on the ladder, held onto a rung with one hand, held the torch in the other and descended.
Once my feet touched the bottom, I looked around. The space was wider here than at the top; clever, I thought, for a larger hole at the top would have likely been found by now. Apart from the coffin, there were many shelves held by strong brackets screwed into the stone. An array of boxes, mainly small, sat neatly on the shelves. Opening the nearest box revealed a few old newspaper cuttings, a candle and a very old box of matches. Underneath the paper lay a faded blue box. And inside I found a golden ring with a single stone inset. In the light of my torch it sparkled like all the jewels in the heavens above.
It took me time to recover from my surprise. But soon, as I carefully opened them up with my eager hands, other boxes revealed their secrets. None were empty but only a few contained anything other than old newspapers or tatty unopened envelopes. For now, I ignored those and concentrated on what I could see. Most of the jewellery was damaged; some had burn marks, others had holes where jewels once lay. All were old. Few had any engravings. But all were stuffed in my pockets.
I thought it best to leave, for now, but once my foot was placed on the first rung of the ladder, I cursed loudly. The coffin was still untouched.
A part of me refused to open the coffin lid; it’s sacrilege, I was told. The other side of my brain told me to ignore my feelings and proceed. My curiosity won the brief battle. With my hands shaking, I placed both hands on the badly faded brass handle. Inhaling deeply, I pulled and reluctantly, the lid opened. Without thinking, I placed one hand over my nose and mouth, but I shouldn’t have worried. The air hitting me was musty, the dust in the air dry, and, alas for my curiosity, the coffin did not hold a body, nor even a skeleton.
I didn’t know whether to be pleased on disappointed. On the verge of closing the lid, I saw a bulge under the golden satin material covering the inside. Rubbing my fingers over the material failed to give me a clue but I did find a hole at one end. As I prised the satin apart, an old black bag appeared. It was full of sparkling gems shimmering in the light of my torch. I guess they were diamonds. Once my heart beat had slowed to a reasonable level, I thought through the possibilities. Were they mine? Do I have to share this find with my wife, whether we’re married or not? Or do I say nothing, hide everything and plan for a different future? Maybe I could sell the jewels to a specialist living far away?
Such thoughts were tearing me apart. I didn’t know what to do. But I did know the dark was nibbling away at the light and I had to act now. Reluctantly, I closed the coffin lid, leaving all the jewels safely inside. Slowly, I pulled myself up to the fading light. I rushed inside my bungalow, emptied my pockets and ran to the garage. Dragging the old tarpaulin was difficult, finding a few old planks, easy. I laid the planks over the hole, carefully dragged the tarp over them, covered it with dirt and the recently removed shingle, and walked back to my kitchen. I needed a drink; a large drink. And afterwards, I’d dream about my secure future.
When I awoke the next morning, returning to my underground den of secrets was the first thing on my mind. I didn’t hesitate. With the sun rise imminent, I was already climbing the ladder with a shopping bag full of the jewels from the coffin.
With everything packed into a large case I drove off. I had to wait outside for the local jewellers to open. When their door opened I rushed in. I was taken to a private room where I laid out all the jewels from the coffin. With the jeweller saying nothing, I asked her to hurry up. A finger to her lips was the only answer I received but at least I now knew her title. I’d always liked the name, Catherine.
Eventually, after separating all the items into separate piles, Catherine ceased, inhaled deeply and gave me the news. Every item of my sparkling jewellery was fake. Good copies, she added, but fake nevertheless. I couldn’t move. I felt sick and had to ask her where the toilet was. Sometime later I emerged. Having looked in the mirror, I knew I looked a mess but it didn’t seem to bother the lady for she had been looking at the contents of my small bag I’d left on the table.
Catherine had laid them all out in neat rows with the golden ring at the top. When she explained the ring was old, I nodded like a faithful dog. When she told me it was priceless, I fell off my chair. And when she told me all the other items were rare and collectible even though damaged, I closed my eyes and dreamed.
After bringing me a strong cup of tea, Catherine gave me a gem lesson. Red diamonds are the rarest in the world as only thirty are known to exist; there could be more held in private collections but no one knows for sure. Fancy Pink diamonds are almost as rare. She was smiling, her voice was high pitched and her arms were waving like a conductor in an orchestra. My ring was, she believed, a fancy pink, and thus nearly as rare as a red diamond. In simple terms, it was worth fortune.
I stood up too quickly and once more found the floor coming to meet me.
After that, all was a blur over the coming weeks. Catherine arranged for the gem to be inspected and when it had been confirmed as a genuine stone by two experts she posted the details to all the main auctioneers in England. Offers to buy were already arriving from all over the world and it seemed I’d soon be a very rich man.
Even the damaged items were rare and collectible.
But one question hung in the air and refused to sway in the wind. How did I come to own such a rare jewel? Luckily for me, Catherine already had the answer. The two initials engraved on the inside of the golden ring were R and Y. My name is John Young, but my father and grandfather were both christened Robert Young. There would be no argument over ownership now. I gave Catherine a kiss and went home. I had to push my way through the mass of reporters and stayed inside for a week before the auction commenced.
I was told the colour was right, the colour distribution was even, the weight was above the norm and it was very rare. Thus, after the bidding had finished, I would receive a payment of over 1 million pounds sterling. Another payment for the damaged jewellery would follow once they had all been sold. I took Catherine to a top restaurant in town as a treat and it was clear the attraction to each other was mutual.
I thought my world had changed for the better but Lilly turned up. She was so sorry; her ‘old man’ was a pig and she shouldn’t have left. Her tears fell and I couldn’t stop myself. Putting an arm around her shoulder and taking her into the kitchen was automatic. I gave her a nice cup of tea and watched her drink all of it as we had a long chat about the future.
I remembered the rows, the heartache of watching her leave then beg to return. But that was in the past now. As only my future mattered. I’d already decided Lilly could stay, and this time permanently.
After all, a coffin is useless if empty.