Louisa’s Score

The crowd milled and murmured impatiently outside the Riff-Raff Thrift store while the manager unlocked the inner doors, then slid back the ornate gates. He stood back quickly as the crowd surged forward and swarmed into the store. It was the annual “Rush for Furniture” sale. Pushing and shoving their way into the store, the intrepid shoppers ran to the pieces of furniture that caught their eye. The first customer to touch the furniture won the right to buy it at a discount.

Two men broke out of the crowd and headed toward the back of the store where a lone dilapidated dresser sat with a half-off sign taped to the front. The two men arrived at the same time, slapping their hands on the dusty dresser top.

Charlie Sullivan, the black sheep youngest son of a wealthy family, recognized the dresser from when he was a child. He remembered the scratch he made with an old toy car on the top of it. He could feel the deep scar now in the wood under his hand. Charlie also recalled hiding an old letter in the false bottom of one of the drawers. Since graduating from college and leaving the family home, he had taken up stamp collecting as a hobby. About five years ago, he ran across a picture of a stamp that was quite rare, worth more than Charlie owed the loan sharks he had been trying to avoid.

He was sure the letter he hid in the false bottom of the old family dresser had the same stamp on it. He needed that stamp because he desperately needed the money, having been cut out of the family fortune because of his gambling habits. He had briefly discussed the stamp with a friend in his philatelist club, but no one else knew about it. Or so he thought. He knew his sister was the last in the family to have the dresser and he had been looking for it ever since she died, her possessions auctioned for charity. Now, he finally had his hands on it.

Ed Pickens stood in his way. Ed had been in the antique business most of his life. Since he was a teenager, he had been restoring antique furniture with his father and grandfather. They often ran a con on out of town antique dealers and customers, selling second-rate pieces as the real deal. However, Ed had fallen in love with colonial furniture and this piece, once restored, could become a showpiece in his shop. They could become legitimate or at least run a better con. He recognized the famous colonial designer Fredrick Reynolds’ stamp burned on the back of the dresser and knew it would be worth a small fortune in restored condition. “Sorry, bud, I got here first.”

“No, I was here first.” Charlie responded, “But I tell you what, I’ll give you a hundred dollars to get something else.”

Ed knew the dresser would make him a lot more than a stack of Benjamins, let alone one, once he restored it. He thought Charlie was an antique dealer new to the area trying to weasel his way into Ed’s territory. That would never do. “It’s worth a whole lot more than that. What? Do you think I’m an idiot?” He shoved Charlie’s hands off the dresser.

“No, no, I was here first.” Charlie looked around to see if the clerk heard them. He wondered to himself, “Did his philatelist friend tell this guy about the stamp? Why else would someone want this old piece of junk so bad?” He shoved Ed back, “Look, buddy, I tried to be nice, but this dresser is mine.”

Ed shoved back, “I’m not your buddy! Don’t push me! I was here first! It’s mine!” He fired off as Charlie, fists clenched, stepped closer.

“Who do you think you are?” Charlie’s now raised voice carried across the back of the store and drew the attention of Louisa Stottlemeyer, an elderly widow. She glanced toward the men, but became transfixed by the dresser that caught her eye just behind them.

It looked just like the one her mother had when she was a child. Louisa remembered her mother telling stories about putting her in one of the drawers to sleep when she was a baby. She also remembered the smell of lavender from the embroidered handkerchiefs her mother kept in the top drawer. She was devastated when a house fire destroyed the old dresser years ago. This was a wonderful find! She waded around the men, who were now rolling on the floor, punching and shouting at each other, her eyes only on the dresser.

The crowd formed a ring around them, blocking both Louisa and the dresser from the men’s view. The manager tried to push his way through the crowd. He attempted to get them to stop, and several of the male sales clerks tried to pull them apart to no avail. The manager leaned over the pair, imploring them to stop. A fist knocked him backward into an armoire. The manager rose with help from customers and dabbed his nose with a hankie from his pocket. He pulled out his cell phone, his cultured accent turning to a low Bronx rumble as he called the police.

Meanwhile, Louisa called a female clerk over and quietly paid for the dresser. The police arrived, rushing past a young man loading the dresser into the back of Louisa’s car. Louisa dabbed her eyes, feeling warm and loved again as she gazed at the precious dresser. Moving inside, the officers broke up the crowd, handcuffing the two pugilists. Charlie and Ed were shoved unceremoniously into police cars as Louisa drove away completely unaware of the value of the antique dresser or the possibility of a valuable stamp hidden in a false bottom of one of the drawers.

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