Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Chapter Fifteen: Eggs, Etc.

“Ibegyourpardonwhat?” That feeling of the world spinning out of her control was almost comforting in its familiarity. She was starting to feel like an alcoholic who couldn’t walk upright if the world wasn’t spinning, just a little, all the time.

“He’s a jewel thief,” said Arthur, and he returned to attacking his eggs.

Compass and Mark sat and gaped at her grandparents. There was a long, stretchy silence while the elders ate and the youngers gaped and everyone avoided eye contact with everyone else and the waitress came and refilled their coffee cups and left them to their eating and gaping while she had a cigarette outside and narrowly missed being hit by a garbage truck. The truck driver who almost hit her wasn’t their regular pick-up guy, and presumably didn’t know about the secret hidey hole for the smokers. Nor did he know, apparently, to pick up their garbage.

Inside, Compass had given up gaping as a lost cause and stuck some eggs in her open mouth instead. She needed a moment to gather thoughts as scattered as a clumsy child’s marble collection, mentally picking up the pieces of what she had thought was her life: one here under the cerebellum, a couple hiding behind the corpus callosum, one dangling from her basal ganglia. Virtually nothing of her old life remained: grandparents not dead after all; father replaced by some other guy, apparently a committed criminal; mother . . . well, Mina was still a raging bitch and a liar.

“Is everyone’s life like this?”

“Oh no, dear,” said Ginny, patting Compass’ hand with one of her own. “Just you.” She smiled. “Not everyone is able to handle an interesting life; those are only assigned to the strong.”

Compass didn’t feel strong. She felt like she’d been on the receiving end of that garbage truck, not her not-quite father. “What do I do now?”

“Do you have anything of his, anything he might want back?” Arthur dribbled a bit more Tabasco on his eggs.

“I wouldn’t know what was his if I saw it. What would it look like?”

“All things bug-related,” said Arthur. “For starters. His job was to catalog bugs at the London Museum of Natural History.”

Compass started to tell her grandparents about the dragonflies when a sharp kick under the table distracted her. She turned an angry glare on Mark who was shaking his head in a tiny ‘no.’

“I don’t think Compass has any bugs she knows about,” said Mark. “I’m an entomologist – she’d have shown them to me by now. So how did he pull off his heists?”

“His job was to catalog bugs, as we said. The specimens would come in, and he would first encase them in Lucite, if the bug wasn’t particularly valuable, then catalog them and add them to the collection. Apparently he would include a stolen jewel with some of the bugs, then proceed as usual,” said Arthur.

“Lucite is transparent, isn’t it?” asked Mark. “Couldn’t someone see the jewel inside?”

“No. All of the Lucite containers are given a storage number. It's printed on a metallic plate that's placed around one corner of the block while the Lucite is still wet and a little sticky. He hid his treasures beneath the tags. He’d let the Museum store the insects in their extensive collections, then retrieve the jeweled ones when he needed them.”

“If the jewels were invisible, how could he keep track of which bugs were loaded?” Compass didn’t like that Mark had kicked her and then taken over her conversation.

“There was a list,” said Ginny. “Of all the catalog numbers.”

“So he thinks I have some of the jewels?”

“Possibly. Willy got ahold of that list once and managed to ‘liberate’ quite a few of the jeweled bugs. She sold the stones on the black market and has been living well off of them for years. Your father found out and threatened to turn her in, so she threatened to turn him in, and both decided to leave the other alone.”

“Uh . . . does my father have a name?”

Arthur got all stony and cold. “He does. But we don’t use it.”

“Oh. It’s just that, I might need to know it. Someday. If he calls. Should I guess and you can tell me if I get it right?”

Mark snorted at that. “He’s not Rumpelstiltskin, Compass.”

Compass was now thoroughly annoyed with Mark and turned a chilly shoulder in his direction.

“His name is Oliver,” said Ginny. “Oliver Edwards. But he calls himself the Dragonfly.”

Mark laughed out loud. “You’re kidding.”

Ginny laughed too, a light, tinkling laugh that relieved the tension at the table, if just for a moment. “Isn’t it ridiculous? Fancies himself a super-villain, that boy does. We call him the Idiot.”

“Why now? Why after all this time would he be coming after me?”

“We don’t know, dear,” said Ginny. “We haven’t had contact in ages, then just that one, drunken phone call. Your mother might be able to shed some light.”

“She ran away to Europe. When I found out my father wasn’t really my father, she bolted instead of telling me the truth.”

“Yes, that’s our daughter,” said Arthur. “Queen of the 100 Meter Dash of Conflict Avoidance.”

“Mom? She loves conflict; she thrives on it. She spews conflict everywhere she goes! I’ve seen her pick fights between best friends just so she can sit ringside and eat popcorn.”

“Conflict that isn’t her own is fascinating,” said Ginny. “When she was little, she’d stir up an anthill for hours. But when she’s on the receiving end of the stirring stick, well, she hightails it for higher ground.”

“Where did the jewels come from?” asked Mark.

“When pieces come in that have jewels in them -- crowns, for example -- the stones are generally removed and replaced with fakes, and the jewels are stored in vaults somewhere in the Museum,” said Arthur. “The Idiot would intercept the real stones somewhere in that process; we don't know the details. The whole procedure was intended to prevent crime. Amusing, huh?”

What remained of their breakfasts had long been cold. They had drunk as much coffee as they could reasonably drink; their brains and bladders were full to bursting. It was time to say good-bye and head home.

“Be safe, won’t you, dear,” said Ginny, giving Compass another long hug.

“Let us know if you find anything suspicious in Willy’s house,” said Arthur. “We don’t want anything to happen to our brand-new grandchild.”

“I’ll be careful. And I’ll keep in touch,” Compass assured him.

Arthur and Mark did the manly handshake thing, and after many promises of phone calls and visits and care-taking, the two couples moved off in opposite directions.

Back on the ferry, Compass finally had the chance to vent on Mark. “What the hell was that about? Why did you kick me?”

“Compass, what proof do you have that these people are really your grandparents?”

“What? I- But- What are you talking about?”

“Your mom’s not here to verify, they had no pictures, no documents or records of any kind, they don’t look a thing like you or your mom – couldn’t they be after the dragonflies just as much as your dad is? If any part of this crazy story is true?”

Compass sat back in her seat. “Oh. My. God.”

Mark moved from his seat opposite her to sit beside her and stroke her head. “I’m sorry, sweetie, I just want you to be safe. I’m not sure we can trust these people until we know for sure who they are.”

Sweetie? Compass stored that for later. “They could be anyone.”

“They could. Chances are they’re your dotty, long-lost grandparents. But on the off chance they aren’t . . . .”

“Don’t tell them about the dragonflies.”

“Maybe best not.”

“Do you think my dragonflies are loaded?”

“It’s possible, I guess,” said Mark. “It makes a sort of sense – at least it explains why your mom has never had to work.”

“And why she was so adamant that I never open that box. Should we look? I mean, should we look at the dragonflies, see if they’re carriers?”

“I guess we should. Maybe you should. And keep the results a secret.”

“Secret even from you?” Compass looked up at Mark, confused.

“The fewer people who know, the better. The safer for you. And I want you to feel you can trust me.”

“I do,” said Compass. She did. She trusted him more than anyone she knew, certainly more than those who claimed blood relations with her. “Do you have a hammer?”


NuclearToast said...

Finally, some answers! A lot of this makes sense now. But, ooooh, the sinister inner workings begin to show themselves. More, more!

Ash said...

I love where this is going!

Fav parts:

“Not everyone is able to handle an interesting life; those are only assigned to the strong.”
(Such a grandma thing to say!)

“Queen of the 100 Meter Dash of Conflict Avoidance.”

DK said...

Revelations, indeed. What happens next???