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“Did it ever burn like this before?” Luc asks as he gazes at the stone in the jug.
“Um yes, it did. The first night I had it. It burned a hole in my favourite sweater.”
Luc looks at the little stone on the bottom of the jug. “For how long does it burn?”
Helena shakes her head. “I actually don’t know. I went to sleep and it was cold again in the morning.”
“You went to sleep?” he stares at her wide-eyed. “How… what… why?”
“Because I was tired. And I had no idea what was going on. And I certainly had no idea I was carrying around some lethal wizard stone from the Andes or something. And I was still half considering showing the thing to Fred, and half surprised at my own resolve for not doing so!” He looks at him defiantly. “I was confused! I like to sleep when I am confused!”
“Who is Fred?”
That is a question she was not expecting. “Fred is my, um, boss, I guess. I am an intern” she says a little shyly and he raises his eyebrows “to become a volunteer ranger, maybe a paid ranger in time, and he is my supervisor. I learn from him,” she adds.
“Yes I gathered as much. And what has he got to do with this necklace? Does he know what is inside?”
“I… don’t know. All I know is that when I found this, I didn’t tell Fred. He had been very… uptight with me the day before and it didn’t feel right to involve him in this.” She remembers how she had wondered to find him at that location at all that day. “It still doesn’t but I am getting to the point where I feel I will have to.”
“I can imagine. It sounds a lot like he knows something was up. Was there something else that was remarkable about the circumstances when you found it?”
“It was unnaturally quiet in the meadow,” says Helena. “Even the crows were gone.”
He nods. “They would be. Animals don’t like this stone. And they can sense it, somehow.”
“I saw only the kittens. And the cat, obviously.”
Luc rolls his eyes. “Am I even going to ask?”
“Just don’t then” snaps Helena, “There are some things I still want to know about this weird stone – but first you will tell me about its casing: the necklace it came in.” She gestures around the shop. “I am sure you recognise the jewellery?
He nods. “I recognised the material, for sure. And then I figured it would perhaps contain the stone. It takes a fair amount of craftsmanship to make something like this, and there are only a few people in the world who were ever able to work this metal. One of them lived in the Netherlands, in Amsterdam actually, for a while. Somewhere along the Herengracht? But that was a long time ago. About 250 years ago, I think.”
Helena stares at the remains of the necklace on the table. “That thing was buried at our estate for 250 years?”
“Of course not, don’t be stupid! It was made 250 years ago but that doesn’t mean people immediately lost it in a puddle. No, the circumstances under which this was lost, must have been quite extraordinary. This is not the type of thing you easily lose sight of, I would think. I would think it would be a highly treasured possession!”
“Or they didn’t lose it at all. Maybe they didn’t treasure it at all. Maybe they intended to lose it in the first place.”
Luc stares at her without speaking.
“I am saying that maybe someone lost it there on purpose or even buried it there to be rid of it.”
“But that would mean…”
“That would mean that others may have known, and have been searching for it ever since.” She feels the water in the jug. It is no longer very hot, and bubbles no longer appear on the stone’s surface. “I also think that the time has come for me to find Fred.”
There is no other option but to return to the last place where she had seen him: the bridge at the end of Betty’s street. At least she will find a friendly face first and it is with relief that she lets herself into the vintage clothes shop. Betty is busy with a customer, an elderly lady with light blue hair, so Helena changes by herself in the back room. Her own clothes feel very comfortable, but she is sorry to see herself lose the elegance that the clothes gave her. A quick brush through her hair and a messy bun at the back of her head return her to normal.
Betty is still busy and blows her a kiss when she steps back out the door again. It feels hopeless when she stands on the bridge. People of all shapes and sizes and nationalities pass her by and take photos of each other and themselves, enjoying the beautiful day. Nobody looks like Fred in his green jacket, and she doesn’t recognise his stride anywhere. Where to even begin?
Where is she, anyway? She always loses track of the canals and streets in Amsterdam centre. Which canals are these? She peers at the sign. This is… Herengracht!
Her heart skips. Luc had said that the maker of the necklace, or at least a possible maker, had lived in Amsterdam on the Herengracht! Yes but that was 250 years ago, says a little voice in the back of her head, but it is quickly and easily drowned out by another, much more practical voice that says: what other leads do we have? None, as she well knows.
Fred walked across the bridge – she thinks – but she doesn’t know which way he turned after crossing it. She walks in the same direction and stands at the entrance of another small street off the canal. There is a café on one corner, a shoe store on the other.
“Oy watch it!” A bike swerves around her and hurls down the little street. “Bloody tourist!” the cyclist calls over his shoulder. Embarrassed, Helena steps aside. As much to hide her consternation as to prove to the café owner that she is not a bloody tourist, she buys a take away coffee and drinks it slowly while standing on the bridge. Let’s think.
Fred was walking across the bridge. What would be the most likely direction for him to be walking in, considering his most likely point of departure? If he had come from Central Station – Helena mentally points towards its direction – he would probably take Betty’s street to cross from one canal to the other before continuing in his same direct, that is to say: left. But if he had taken the car, which is equally likely even in Amsterdam, he could have parked anywhere, but most likely in the parking over the other side. And that would mean that he would have gone right after exiting Betty’s street. Where to go?
tl;dr Thinking that the necklace with the stone was probably deliberately left in the soil, and could be sought after by people, Helena decides to see if her strange-acting supervisor Fred has anything to do with it. But which way to follow him?
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