A book by Darwin, a secret compartment, a visit to the afterlife…
“In heaven, all the interesting people are missing.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche
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Vance switched on the light. The clicking and the humming of the fluorescent tubes disturbed the quiet, and the sudden brightness blinded their eyes. The storage room, about sixty feet wide and thirty feet deep, was filled with antiques: small cabinets, armoires, dining tables, desks and chairs, paintings and mirrors. Transportation crates were stacked against the left wall. Mrs. Chamid’s mahogany rococo table stood at the very front, just as Vance had left it the day before. Enrique had described it quite accurately. The table was perfectly symmetrical and stood on three cabriole legs. It had a round top, with three triangular drawers positioned below it, like equally sized portions of a pie. It was obviously French in design, less heavy than the German pieces of that period. Vance had concluded that it was late eighteenth century, with baroque-like carving was still in evidence, but not dominant. Most striking was the fancy decoration of the tabletop, consisting of intricate, floral parquetry, the result of expert and high dedication artisanship. Wood and ivory had been combined to create small flowers, flowing out from the center. Again, Vance admired the table’s stunning design. The past centuries had left the piece unscathed. No flaw could be seen in the wood, no scratch in the ivory. Only a blatant layman could be ignorant of its value. Vance concluded again that it was worth every penny that he had paid for it.
Paolo stepped forward and touched the table’s surface. Vance raised his hand. “Careful. It is worth a lot of money.” Enrique stood behind Vance and put his hand on his shoulder. “Bear with us. We won’t damage it. Besides that, I am insured.” He wasn’t joking. In fact, as Vance looked at his face, he realized that Enrique was probably one of the least humorous persons that he had ever met. His countenance seemed to be unable to transmit any emotion. The sunglasses that covered his eyes didn’t help. Again, Enrique got the sheet out of his breast pocket, and gave it to José. Vance noticed that a photo seemed to be taped to it – from a catalog? “Here are the instructions.” José studied the text, his hands trembling slightly. He handed the sheet back to Enrique and stepped up to the table. One after the other, he opened all three drawers. They were empty. Not surprising: just before Vance had carried the table from Mrs. Chamid’s apartment, he had seen her removing all her personal belongings from the compartments. José closed the drawers. Suddenly, he picked it up and turned it upside down. He held the table high up in the air by two of its legs, his hands positioned close to the table’s surface. Then, unexpectedly, he opened his fists. The table started to fall to the ground. Vance cursed and moved forward, but Enrique held him back. Just before the table hit the ground, José closed his hands again and caught it on the very end of the two legs. José turned the table over and put it down firmly on its three legs. An audible sigh of relieve could be heard – it came from Martha. Vance glanced at her worried face, and very briefly, she frowned back at him.
Enrique stepped forward and inspected the table, which seemed to be unchanged. He removed his sunglasses and handed them to Paolo, who put them in his breast pocket. Enrique’s eyes contained a gleam of anticipation. Slowly he put his hand on the grip of one of the drawers. He pulled it open. They all bent forward and looked at its interior. It was empty. Vance looked at the four faces. The girl bit her lip. Obviously, his visitors had expected that an object should now have been visible in the drawer – magically materialized through José’s manhandling of the table. Enrique opened the second drawer. It was empty too. He shook his head in frustration. “Madre mia. What do you make of that? Can you believe it? Holy Mary of Mount Carmel.” José softly prayed in Spanish. He rocked forward and backward, his hands folded on his chest, eyes closed. “Dios te salve, Maria. Llena eres de gracia: El Señor es contigo…”
Enrique bent forward and pulled the final drawer open. His movement was so brusque that the drawer almost fell out of the table and onto the floor. They all stared at its content. It must have been some hidden mechanism that the original designer had built in. Vance had occasionally come across such pieces of furniture, with secret compartments. They always had a fascinating effect on the buyers, usually resulting in a profit increase for Vance. This one was very cleverly made. There must have been a secret compartment above the drawer, integrated in the tabletop itself. It was probably held shut by a rotatable piece of wood or metal that could only be released by a particular handling of the table. Not just turning it upside down or shaking it. Most likely two of the legs had to be pulled apart slightly to activate a hidden and highly precise spring mechanism. In any case, through José’s activity, a lock had been released and a package had dropped into the drawer.
It was less than an inch thick, six inches long, and four inches wide. Vance speculated that it was a small book, wrapped in old, yellowed newspaper. An abundance of string kept the parcel together, making it look like a Marcel Duchamp’s readymade. Vance could see a fragment of an English headline, printed on the newspaper. It contained the word Weimar. The Weimar Republic sprang into his mind, a German political era of the early twentieth century. Did the package date back to that time?