Read Chance Online

Authors: Kem Nunn

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Literary, #Thrillers

Chance (3 page)

BOOK: Chance
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“What about with the metalwork? Just to make me feel bad.”

“Twice that.”

“Christ, just for some brass?”

“It’s the difference between selling to someone in the market for a nice grouping and a serious collector. Do you know what the set looked like originally?”

“I’ve seen pictures, in books.”

“Then you know. The strips were substantial, etched with acid, quite lovely, really. You have one piece of it left here, in the bookshelf.” He pointed to one of the photographs.

Chance nodded. “Yeah, I know. Guess the way to look at it . . . the set had been complete I would never have gotten it for what I did. Still . . .”

“It’s a big swing.”

“In a tough time, let me tell you.” Chance spent his days listening to the woes of others. Rarely did he air his own, particularly of late, in the absence of wife or family, or even, when he thought about it, of a close
friend. “Didn’t imagine I’d ever want to sell,” he said, indulging now in the perception that Carl was in fact the type of guy one might tell one’s troubles to. “Always entertained the fantasy that someday I’d be poking around in a place like this, and there it would be, a pile of brass runners gathering dust on top of somebody’s armoire or something.” He smiled and shrugged it off. “How might we proceed?” he asked. “If I wanted to go for the sixty?”

Carl tugged at a short goatee that was almost completely white and neatly trimmed. A moment passed. “Let me show you something,” he said.

 

They left Chance’s computer on the table and walked toward the rear of the store. There was a hole cut in a wall back there to make a window with a little counter on it. There was what appeared to be a workroom on the other side. The window did not allow for much of a view. What Carl wanted him to look at was the cabinet he had spoken of. It was indeed a wonderful piece, made also of palm wood with brass trimming.

“Beautiful,” Chance said.

The old man nodded. “Brass work is not
exactly
the same as what should have been on yours but not so dissimilar either.
And,
as yours is missing . . .” He let his voice trail away. “Let’s just say I thought of you. Odd you should stop by when you did.”

“Yes, well, were I buying instead of selling . . .” His eyes clocked to the cabinet. “Probably out of my price range even then.”

“Oh, it’s not original,” Carl put in almost before Chance could finish.

Chance just looked at him.

“The piece was in very bad shape when I found it. No brass at all. It’s not even by Printz, or at least it’s not signed by him, but I could see there were possibilities.”

Chance looked more closely at the metalwork. “I looked into having mine replaced once. None of the samples I was shown were anything like what I’d seen in the photographs. And nothing like this.” He faced the old man.

“It was all in the process,” Carl told him. “For one thing, they used natural sponges to get the patterns. No one uses those anymore. There were other materials involved too, acids and dyes. . . . Suffice it to say, it is a process lost to time. Part of what adds to its value.”

Chance looked once more at the cabinet. “And this, then?” His hand brushed the metalwork. “Do you know who did it?”

The old man smiled. He went to the little window and called for someone he referred to as D. Whether this was Dee as in a given name or simply the letter
D
as the shortened form of some longer name, the old man didn’t say. In another moment or two a very large man, which is to say a man built roughly along the lines of a refrigerator, appeared on the other side of the window. The man rested a formidable forearm on the little counter and bent to look out. The act allowed for a pair of observations, both in regard to the man’s head, which was large and round, though not disproportionally so given the size of the arm resting on the counter. The first of these was that the man had no hair, neither on his face nor his scalp. There was none. Chance took him as suffering from alopecia universalis, an extremely rare condition by which every last bit of body hair is lost. The causes were not well understood. And while on certain even more rare occasions the hair might at some point return, as rapidly and mysteriously as it left, the condition was generally thought to be permanent. The second thing one noticed, which one could in no way avoid noticing, was the large black widow spider maybe half again as big as a silver dollar tattooed dead center on the great expanse of otherwise unmarked flesh that covered the big man’s skull.

The big man didn’t say anything but looked from the window with flat dark eyes, from Chance to Carl and back again. Given the man’s size in relation to the window, the effect was that of making eye contact with a caged beast.

“Come on out here,” Carl said, careful, Chance thought, to be overtly cheerful in making the request. A door soon opened and D appeared. Chance guessed him to be well over three hundred pounds, though not much taller than Chance himself, who was five nine but thin as a rail. He wore a khaki-colored military-looking jacket and military
cargo-style pants well soiled with a variety of paints and stains above black combat boots equally tarnished. The boots, Chance noticed, were worn without recourse to laces. The jacket was worn open over a black T-shirt with some red writing across the chest that Chance was unable to quite make out. There was an Army Rangers patch on the sleeve of the jacket. It was difficult, given the man’s size, his smooth, hairless face and head, to be precise about his age. Chance was willing to put him somewhere in his early to mid-thirties. He was an unusual-looking person to say the least but in no way misshapen or ugly. His features in fact were almost fine, organized by way of straight, well-ordered lines above a powerful jaw and thick neck and within only a moment or two of making the initial observations regarding size and lack of hair, one could not quite imagine, or even wish upon him, save perhaps for the unfortunate tattoo, any other look than the look he had, that of a heavyweight Mr. Clean in black and tan.

Carl introduced them and D smiled a bit at hearing Chance’s name. “Dr. Chance,” he repeated.

“That’s what I told him.”

D looked to the old man. “Great minds, huh?”

The three stood for a moment or two in silence.

“The doc brought pictures,” Carl said.

They returned to the table and Chance’s pictures. Carl pointed to the bit of brass on the bookshelf. “Look familiar?”

D nodded.

“So what do you think?”

“Sure. He’s not in a big hurry.”

D looked once more at Chance, then turned and walked away.

“A man of few words,” Carl said.

“You’re telling me what, exactly?” Chance asked. “D can make this look like the original?” He waved at the photographs still on display.

“He’s good,” Carl said. “As you have seen.”

“Yes he is, and then what? You would put it on sale, as an original?”

Carl just looked at him.

“There wouldn’t be ways . . . of checking . . .”

Carl shrugged.

Chance stood in the muted light of the big room. He was trying to formulate his next question. “What are the odds?” he asked at length.

“That furniture is signed, as I recall.”

Chance nodded.

“That’s generally enough. Did you buy from a dealer or a private party?”

“Private party.”

“Are they still alive?”

“It was an estate sale, some guy, selling off stuff that had belonged to his mother. I’ve forgotten his name.”

“That’s a plus. If it had been a dealer, if the set were to show up at some later time and the dealer were to see it and recognized it and so on and so forth . . . that kind of thing.” He waved his hands. “Private parties are good,” he said.

“Still . . .”

The old man nodded. “Yes, there’s always a chance.”

The two men looked at each other.

“How about that?” Carl asked him.

 

Chance went out as he had come in, by way of the door fronting on Market Street, his head spinning with possibility. He found the sunlight blinding after the darkness of the building. Turning north in the direction of his office, he noted the boy in black across the street. The youth appeared to be smoking something in a glass pipe with a pair of look-alike companions. Chance took it for crack, or perhaps some form of methamphetamine. The boy looked in Chance’s direction before inclining toward his friends in a manner that might only have been taken for conspiratorial so that in heading up Market Chance was aware of all three looking in his direction, and averted his gaze. Still, in rounding a corner at the end of the block, he was afforded a last glimpse of the youth as he crossed through traffic to reenter the old man’s place of business.

Jaclyn
 

Jaclyn Blackstone is an ambidextrous 36-year-old woman living in Berkeley. She has a college education and a teaching credential. She is employed as a substitute teacher for middle school classes in the Oakland School District, where she also works as a private tutor for students in algebra and geometry.

The patient is referred for evaluation from the Stanford Neurology Clinic for complaints of intermittent memory loss and periods of poor concentration. As a child and young adult, Mrs. Blackstone reports that she was a “sleepwalker,” often waking in strange places without any memory or knowledge of how she had arrived. She describes her recent episodes of memory loss as “Like that,” in reference to these earlier sleepwalking episodes. A full set of laboratory studies (including SMA-20, CBC with diff. and thyroid function tests, vitamin B-12 levels, heavy metal screen, and serum ceruloplasmin) were completely normal. An MRI head scan was within normal limits. Her neurologic examination was normal and no evidence was found to suggest an organic basis for her cognitive disturbances.

The patient states that she has recently become aware of a “second personality,” whom she calls “Jackie Black.” She states that Jackie is daring
and extroverted, a person who comes out at times of particular distress. In particular, it is Jackie who continues to have a sexual relationship with her estranged husband, even though she, Jaclyn, does not approve of this. Mrs. Blackstone states that she hates being called by the name of Jackie and the only person who uses that name is her husband, a homicide detective in the Oakland Police Department. The patient states that while prior to her discovery of Jackie Black there were no other known alternative personalities, there have been “periods of time” for which she has no specific recall. As to whether or not these “blank spaces” may also be associated with other personalities, the patient is unwilling to speculate. The patient further states that at one point she acquired a gun as a means of killing herself if things became intolerable. She says now that the gun has been sold to a pawnshop dealer in downtown Oakland.

 

It seemed straightforward enough, really. Mrs. Blackstone’s memory problems were clearly secondary to psychiatric distress, engendered most directly from her continuing to see the abusive husband from whom she is ostensibly seeking a divorce.
“The development of secondary or multiple personalities occurs most frequently in the context of physical, sexual, or psychological abuse,”
Chance had written.
“I think it is important for this warded-off aspect of her personality to be addressed and, ideally, integrated into her basic persona. However, as long as she continues to have a relationship with a person whom she both despises and fears, there is little reason to believe that her underlying anxiety can be successfully treated with pharmacologic approaches.”

By way of treatment, he had recommended that Mrs. Blackstone consider psychotherapy. He had also recommended that she work with a female therapist and had offered a name, Janice Silver, a therapist in the East Bay he believed to be particularly good.

In most cases that would have been the end of it, and there was nothing about this case to suggest that Jaclyn Blackstone was the type of patient he would ever see more than once. Nor was it likely she would have replaced Mariella as the object of his obsession. She would have faded back into that great gray array of the lost and lonely, the neurasthenic and terminally distraught, the walking wounded he saw by the score day in and day out. But then two things happened.

BOOK: Chance
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