The Hawaiian Missionary

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Originally published 2017, in Straylight, the literary magazine of University of Wisconsin-Parkside. In the wake of The Great Recession, Steve Woods loses his job, but rides the commuter train to New York City out of habit. By chance, he sits next to a rare documents dealer who spins a tale about acquiring one of the rarest stamps--the 19th century's Hawaiian Missionary. But engrossed as he is in the story, Steve suspects that his seat mate is leaving out key details. As the train rolls toward Grand Central, Steve has 30 minutes to solve the puzzle and try to win back some of his professional dignity.

Drama / Mystery
Age Rating:

Chapter 1

Commuting daily to a job I no longer had, I spent the hour staring out of the train window. After a month of this, I came to this conclusion: the Great Recession was the Great Depression, minus the picturesque bread lines and the soothing voice of leadership on the radio. Angst without the reassurance that you had a right to despair.

Still, I preferred action to introspection, and I rode the train into New York City, whether I had a job interview or not. Spending long days in Starbucks, combing the job boards, and firing off resumes and cover letters with lots of active verbs. My suit was always pressed, and my tie was always straight. I even shined my shoes every other day.

One morning, an old man got on the train at the station right after mine, on the outskirts of Westchester County. We were still an hour from the Grand Central Terminal. I sat in a four-seat section with the benches facing each other, which gave me a few more inches of leg room. When he sat down across from me, I realized he was not old, merely a badly aging middle-aged man. His shoulder had the stooped posture of the intellectual who spent his days bent over books, and his pallor spoke of a life without sunshine. He looked vaguely familiar, and I was trying to place him when he spoke up.

“Nice to see you again. It’s been a while.” His voice moved him to the front of my memory. His office had been in the building where I worked. Used to work.

“500 Avenue of the Americas, right? Seventh floor.”

“Good memory. Simon Gold,” he said extending a bony hand.

He was an elevator acquaintance, of which there are many when you’re in New York City. We exchanged pleasantries about the weather, the Yankees. On rainy days, we commiserated about global terrorism.

“Steve Wood. And you’re the owner of Gold Rare Documents.”

“Right again. You just saved me the trouble of giving you my business card.”

“Rightly so. I’m not in the market for letters written by Lincoln’s lovers.”

He laughed, exposing tiny, regular teeth, like those of a carnivorous fish.

“Nothing so spicy, I’m afraid. The document part is a bit misleading. I deal mainly in stamps. And I can tell by your reaction that you’re wondering how a business like mine is weathering this recession.”

“Actually, no. I figure in bad times, collectors want to unload their stamps.”

“Yes. I am fortunate to be in a business that is recession proof.”

When you’ve been in the insurance game as long as I have, you learn to spot lies, however small. Sometimes, it’s just an involuntary tightening of the forehead, bringing out the creases. A slight tug of the lips.

With Gold, it was a narrowing of his left eye, as if a piece of dust had found its way into it. Something in him piqued my interest, and he saw it, the way a good salesman will pick up on the subtlest of buying signals.

“I just had the most remarkable experience in my forty years in the business,” he said. “Mind if I tell you about it? Or do you prefer to read your newspaper?”

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