“Katherine,” my assistant called to me. “I made a dumb mistake.”
“Calm down, Daniel, it’ll be alright. What’d you do, leave a fingerprint on the glass?”
“I took last weekend off without telling you. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, but the book is gone.”
“The sketchbook you mean? My God, you do not mean the last sketchbook Leonardo Da Vinci kept before his death. What have you done?”
“Something bad,” he whispered. In a way it never had before, fear struck my heart like a lightning bolt ripping a castle in half- he couldn’t even look at me. I was a chicken with its head cut off hurrying to the greatest treasure in the world, or rather, I ran in my awkwardly bumbling way to where it was supposed to be. Sure enough, we had a missing book on our hands. How could a guy like Daniel be so reckless a treasure of art history just slipped through his fingers? I howled with the anger and the agony of it all as if my stomach had been ripped out of my body with the claws of a rabid bear. Its sound echoed off the tiles all around me. I found such comfort in those neat boxes, the perfect complement to an Art History degree. But now they were the stones that built my prison. Let’s just say I don’t remember, but it’s reasonable to assume that I collapsed.
I woke up to hear it was the last time I ever would. Not because the sketchbook had been stolen, but because I had a literal disease dissolving my organs all of a sudden. What a perfect time to be debilitated. Kindly enough to swoon over had I been that type of woman, Daniel stayed by my hospital bed, though he was hardly the person I would’ve chosen to spend my final day with. At least he would know what I was saying. At least I had company while my wife was out of town.
“Tell me everything that happened,” I begged him. He snapped at me- it was hopeless, he insisted, I was no Nancy Drew. In my defense, for someone whose life was over (twice over), I was keeping it all pulled together pretty gosh darn well.
“I left the museum early,” we reviewed. He explained the situation with his mother’s health problems and I did my best to extend faux sympathy. As cold as I wish it wasn’t, the only thing I thought mattered was the book. I thought his mother had died very suddenly some years ago, but I didn’t mention to him that I was confusing his poor old lady with someone else.
“I remember seeing a man in a hoodie walking around outside. I waved at him, and I remember wondering why he ducked out of sight instead of just waving back. I mean, you know how it is with strangers on the street: acknowledge each other for a half second and that’s it. I came back early the next morning, but I admit I didn’t see anything suspicious. Honestly, I didn’t even come near the book. I’m sorry, Catherine.”
“Did you see the man again?” I pressed. He shook his head. After a reflective pause, he piped up.
“Honestly I barely saw him the first time. Didn’t see his face or a prison tattoo, nothing like that.“ Something didn’t feel right to me after that. Actually, by that point, everything felt wrong.
“Why would you be in the room but not walk the extra five feet to check on the precious sketchbook that may or may not have been there?”
“I never thought we’d have to worry about some guy in a hoodie stealing it.”
“Stop lying. Stop lying to me. Stop lying!” I was screaming and hurling every spare object within my reach, adding up to three pillows, some jello, an orange, and a random bag of mango slices. He turned cold by the last loose pillow and simply got up to close the door. The lock clicked loudly and sharply, striking me with the finality of it all. Only then did it sink in that my wild gut was dead on. I was dealing with a dirty coward.
His rage boiled with a vile poison seeping from his narrowed lips with every breath. “So, here’s how this is going to go. You magically get better. You retire to focus on your wellness and your crumbling marriage. No one needs to hear about that from you, but the gossip will fill in most of the blanks, don’t you think? This whole time you’ve been just the same as me, but on a pedestal. Never joining the real world and playing with the big boys, but bravo to the saint none of us can stack up to. Now. you exit, and so do I. My, shall we say, business associate will handle Da Vinci’s sketchbook.”
“And how exactly do you think you’re going to swing that with me alive?”
“Well, I got you sick of course. Did you know the legends say only the witch who cast a curse can ever lift it? So, you let me help you, and your curse gets lifted, clear?”
“I would say you’d have to kill me before I ever parted with that book, but obviously you’ve already taken care of business. Obviously… ” He smiled, appreciating my generous gesture.
“Au contraire, Katherine. I merely needed you out of my way until this whole sordid affair could be sorted out. Truthfully, I had no idea you’d fall so tragically ill. Quite tragic and quite unintentional, you understand.”
“You kill me and sell the book. That’s your brilliant plan?”
“How did you figure it out anyway?” His eyes were no longer jokingly cruel, but laughingly so.
“I had a hunch that everything you said was a lie. I tested you on it. You changed the lie again. You know, they say when someone’s lying they never change the story they rehearsed, but you must have procrastinated and ran out of time to rehearse. Or did you get cocky and figure you could make it up as you went along and still outsmart me? Either way, you’re no good on your feet and you couldn’t stick to a story. It all made sense. Suddenly it all made sense and it was true, I knew it then.”
“Interesting. You’ve been helpful, Katherine,” Daniel intoned drily. “Now, my little piece of basura, what’ll it be: would you like to go chasing after my associate from this bed in your remaining eighteen hours of pathetic little life or would you like the anecdote and a chance to start over?”
“The word you’re looking for is ‘antidote’ and you know my answer already.”
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed this short story since I mostly publish poetry nowadays. If you’d like to check out more of my recent works, start with these: