Read The Moche Warrior Online

Authors: Lyn Hamilton

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Detectives, #Women Sleuths, #Mystery Fiction, #Social Science, #Toronto (Ont.), #Antique Dealers, #McClintoch; Lara (Fictitious Character), #Archaeology, #Archaeological Thefts, #Women Detectives - Peru, #Moche (Peru)

The Moche Warrior (3 page)

BOOK: The Moche Warrior
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Intrigued, I turned back as well. The bidding was getting really competitive, and two parties were battling it out for something, number nine and number thirty-one: Clive and the Lizard.

The item that was being auctioned was a box of small objects that had not been claimed in customs and was therefore on the block. I’d seen it on my quick survey before the auction began. I really hadn’t taken much notice of it, and in my haste to get out of the place, I hadn’t heard the description of it from the auctioneer. My vague recollection was that there was a fair amount of junk in the box, and maybe a couple of things that looked interesting, although nothing I cared about.

But I knew which object held Clive’s attention: a small carved jade snuff bottle. Collecting was one of Clive’s passions, and on a scale of one to ten, snuff bottles would score a nine point five with him. He had an impressive collection which at one time we’d displayed on the shelf beneath a glass coffee table in our living room. I’d managed to find a few nice ones as Christmas and birthday presents, and he’d invariably been pleased with them.

The bidding was getting quite hot and moving up fast. Lizard, when he wasn’t holding up his paddle, was casting desperate glances back toward Clive. The price continued to rise. Clive was leaning forward in his chair, and Lizard was mopping the sweat from his brow; he wanted the box that badly. But it was clear that Clive had the resources, Lizard did not.

As the gavel was about to come down on his bid, smelling victory and convinced he had won, Clive leaned toward a pretty young woman sitting next to him and whispered something to her.

And then, on impulse, I did to Clive what he had done to me. I held my paddle up, and before he knew what was happening, I found myself the proud owner of a box of junk that was suddenly worth, by my own action, $990. It was a malicious thing to do, to say nothing of infantile, reckless, and even foolhardy.

It was also one of the worst mistakes I have ever made.

2

Clive got them!“ Moira shrieked. ”How awful!“

We were sitting in the little office at the back of the store, just after closing, contemplating the wretched box of junk I’d purchased. As we did so, Diesel, an orange cat who holds the title of Official Shop Cat, leapt up on the table and stuck his nose in the box. After a moment or two of poking about, he looked up and, giving me a look of pure disdain, stalked off to more interesting and rewarding activities. “Dumb, I know,” I said to the little beast’s retreating back.

My moment of triumph at having wrenched the snuff bottle away from Clive was very short-lived. In fact, I didn’t make it out of the building. The feeling lasted only until I used my personal credit card (how could I charge this moment of madness to the shop?) to pay for it. The $1000 tab, $990, to be precise, put my credit card perilously close to the limit, and I skulked back to the store in despair.

An hour or so later, Moira appeared, her dark hair in a sleek and sophisticated new hairdo, dressed in a long grey cotton sweater with matching leggings. She looked spectacular, as usual, and I had the feeling she had a date, but she said she’d just been passing by and decided to drop in. I had my suspicions that Alex, sensing my gloom, had called her, but neither of them said anything.

“I think what you really have to do,” Moira said, after a few minutes of quiet contemplation on both our parts, “is to get someone to make this jade thingy into a pendant of some sort which you’ll wear every day. Every single day,” she added, “while you parade up and down in front of Clive’s store.”

I had to laugh. “That’s better,” she said. “Now let’s see what else you’ve got here. Maybe there’ll be a treasure and you’ll get to recoup your losses.”

“I doubt it,” I said. “If there’d been something of value here, Molesworth & Cox would have found it and pulled it out for a separate sale, wouldn’t they?”

“You never know,” Moira insisted. “Let’s look. What do you figure you could get for the snuff bottle?”

“Four, maybe five hundred, tops,” I said.

“See, we’re halfway there,” she said. “Only five hundred or so to go.”

We began to delve into the box, the contents of which were not, in my opinion, worth anything near what I’d paid, even allowing for a generous $500 for the jade bottle. Undeterred, Moira rummaged around.

“Isn’t this cute?” she said, pulling a small object out of the box. We both stared at it. Moira often used words like cute and thingy, and some people made the mistake of assuming she wasn’t too smart. In fact, she’d enjoyed a private school education, finishing school in Switzerland, and a couple of years at Cornell before she thumbed her nose at her snotty family and went off to become a hairdresser. Now she owns one of the smartest and most successful salons in the city. Over the past year or two, since I’d been back in the shop, she’d become a really good friend.

“What is it?” I asked.

“It looks like… a peanut. A silver peanut,”‘ Moira said. I rolled my eyes, and we both collapsed laughing. It did, indeed, look exactly like a peanut, and it was approximately life-size. I felt the weight of it in the palm of my hand.

“Actually,” I said, after a moment or two, “I think it’s real silver, and possibly old. The workmanship is excellent. It’s so real-looking, you can almost imagine breaking it apart and finding the two little nuts inside. And look, here,” I said, pointing to a tiny hole in each end, “I think it must be a bead.”

“See, what did I tell you?” Moira said. “A treasure. Hard to say if there’s a market for a single silver peanut, though,” she added, and we both laughed again. I was happy to find I was beginning to see the humor in all this.

“At least it’s not plastic like these,” Moira said, pulling out a string of beads that would have made someone in the sixties proud. I sighed. “Or ugly like this,” she added, displaying a particularly awful brooch.

“No wonder this wasn’t claimed in customs,” I moaned. “It wouldn’t be worth the trip to pick it up!” I said, opening a wooden box. Inside, carefully packaged in straw, was a flared bowl or vase, about six or seven inches high. On the inside of the flare was drawn, in beautiful detail, a serpentlike creature, which undulated around the rim. On the outside, below the flare, another fine line drawing had a quite fantastic scene in which elaborately clothed figures, some of them quite human looking, others with the heads of birds and animals, wrapped around the stem.

“Wow. That’s beautiful!” Moira exclaimed as I carefully lifted it out of the protective packaging. “What is it? It looks very old.”

“It does,” I agreed. “However…” I turned the bottom of the pot toward her, so that she could see where the words
hecho en Peru
—made in Peru—had been etched into the clay.

“And then there’s this,” I said, holding up a small card which I translated for her. “Replica of a pre-Columbian flared vase,” I read. “Made in Campina Vieja, Peru, which, if my Spanish serves me well, means old small farm. A small town, I expect.”

She laughed. “It’s a good thing I’m not in your business,” she said. “This might have fooled me.”

“Well, it might fool just about anybody,” I said. “The thing about replicas, you see, is that unlike reproductions, which are essentially copies, replicas are made to exactly match whatever is being copied: same materials, same method of manufacture, everything. In fact, sometimes when a replica is made, a mistake is deliberately put in it somewhere, so that it will not be taken for the original, should the documentation that identifies it as a replica get separated from the work. It’s possible here, for example, that one of the lines of the drawing is different from the original. Replicas are very costly to make, by and large, but pre-Columbian works are so valuable that I would think it might pay to make one. And at least in this case, it is clearly marked as such, and not the work of the unscrupulous among us who have a short lapse of memory, shall we say, and forget to put the
hecho en Peru
on the bottom.”

“That’s when tourists pay way too much for what they think is an authentic pre-Columbian piece, and then try to smuggle it back home wrapped in their dirty underwear, I suppose,” Moira said. “What is it a replica of, do you think? It says Peru, so Incan perhaps?”

“I’m not sure. As you well know, I studied Meso-american history for a while, the Maya in particular, but I can’t say this is like anything I’ve seen. The fact that it’s made in Peru might make it Incan, but I really don’t know. Maybe I’ll do a little research, just for fun, when I’ve got a minute.”

“Could you ask Lucas about it? He should know about Peruvian stuff, shouldn’t he?” Moira asked, rather coyly I thought. She’d always liked my former partner, Lucas, and thought he and I should get together again. In her mind, I’d broken off the relationship, when in fact, he was the one who’d ended it a year earlier. He couldn’t do his patriotic duty for Mexico and maintain our relationship, he’d said. In Moira’s world, this was a mere technicality, however.

“He’s an expert on the Maya, Moira, not Peru. And it’s over, okay?”

“Whatever,” Moira said. Nothing short of a total reconciliation would satisfy her, I concluded. As irritating as this occasionally was, it was also sort of endearing. “Well, whatever it is, could you sell it in the shop?” she went on, turning the vase in her hands. “I think it would look good with the type of stuff you sell. You carry pre-Columbian reproductions from time to time, don’t you?”

“I do and it would,” I conceded. “It would fit in very well, in fact. But what would I charge for ,it? Do you think I could get five hundred by any chance?”

“Probably not,” Moira replied. I made a face at her. “Gotta go,” she said, rising from her chair. “Date. A new man. Do you think he’ll be The One?”

“Probably not,” I said, mimicking her.

She laughed. “Come on over to the salon. I’ll treat you to a free haircut next time you’re in. And it should be soon,” she said, reaching over and pulling a long piece of hair down in front of my eyes.

“Thanks,” I said. “That’s very nice of you.”

“What are friends for?” she replied. “And you can do something for me when I bomb out, as usual, with this guy.”

“You don’t bomb out, Moira, you dump them,” I said. “But I’ll be here.”

After she left, I took a closer look at the contents of the box. Right at the bottom there was a smaller version of the wooden box that had contained the vase. This one too had a card declaring the contents to be a pre-Columbian replica. The object was round, about two to two and a half inches in diameter, made of what looked to be gold and a turquoise stone of some kind. In the center was the tiny figure of a man with an elaborate headdress, carrying a scepter or something, and what appeared to be a shield. The scepter could actually be removed from his little gold hand, and a string of beads around his neck were each individually made. The rim of the circle was surrounded by the smallest gold beads. On the back of it was a rather hefty post. This time I thought I knew what it was. It would be one of a pair of ear ornaments—ear flares they are sometimes called—used by pre-Columbian peoples of Mexico, Central America, and presumably South America too. The workmanship, even for a replica, was really quite extraordinary, and promising myself I would take some time to look into it, I rewrapped it in tissue and set it carefully in the desk drawer.

The vase, I decided, would sell. I thought I’d try a price of $150—the drawing was exquisite, and it would make a very unusual decorative item for someone. I found a good place for it on a coffee table, where it could be seen all round for maximum effect, and propped the card, with my handwritten translation, against it. The peanut I decided to keep, to clean it up and thread it onto a very fine silver chain I had, to wear around my neck as a reminder of my impulsiveness. Perhaps next time I went to an auction, I should wear it, I thought. On a more positive note, it would make a very interesting piece of jewelry, a bit of a conversation piece.

The snuff bottle? I would have to decide what to do with that.

As I put the box away, I caught a glimpse of a piece of paper wedged between the packing material and the side of the box. I carefully extracted it and found a letter, written by an Edmund Edwards, proprietor of something called Ancient Ways in New York, to a gallery in Toronto I’d not heard of, although that didn’t mean anything. Toronto is a big place. It was called the Smythson Gallery, and the proprietor according to this letter was someone called, appropriately enough, A. J. Smythson. The letter was all very formal, befitting a gallery that had affiliates in London, Tokyo, Bonn, and Paris, as the letterhead discreetly informed you. Mr. Edwards sent his regards to Mr. Smythson, said that he hoped the merchandise had arrived in good order, and that, since many other objects were available, he also hoped to be of service in the future. The letter was dated just over two years earlier. On a whim, I looked up the Smythson Gallery in the phone book, but it wasn’t listed, nor was there an A. J. Smythson, although there was something familiar about the name, and the rather unusual spelling. Perhaps the gallery had closed, which would explain why the box was never picked up in customs. In any event, I decided, it was really no affair of mine, so I tossed the letter into the wastebasket.

The next few days more or less went back to normal, except for two things. One was that the security alarm took to going off in the middle of the night for no apparent reason. On two separate nights, and twice on one of them, I had to pull on jeans and a sweatshirt, and drive to the shop to meet the police. Neither time was there any indication of anything unusual. The following night, the alarm went off only once, but this time the policeman told me I’d be sent a bill for his services because there’d been one too many false alarms. I had the security company come to check out the system, but they told me it was operating just fine.

The other aspect of the week that made it a bit different from the norm was that I spent every spare minute dreaming up horrible things to do to Clive. These ranged from taking a hammer and smashing his beloved little jade bottle to powder right before his eyes, heaving a rock or two through his sophisticated front window display, or spray-painting his Armani suit. I did none of the things I imagined, of course.

BOOK: The Moche Warrior
9.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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