Authors: Lawrence Block

favorable hour I could establish the coin’s bona fides without leaving this building. But at this time of night let us merely assume the coin is genuine. To whom could I sell it? And for what price? It would have to go to a collector who would be willing to own it anonymously, one who could accept the fact that open resale would be forever impossible. Art collectors of this stripe abound; the pleasure they take in their paintings seems to be heightened by their illegitimate provenance. But coin collectors respond less to the aesthetic beauty of an object and more to the prestige and profit that accompany it. Who would buy this piece? Oh, there are collectors who’d be glad to have it, but which of them might I approach and what might I ask?”

I got some more coffee. I started to pour a little Armagnac into it to give it a bit more authority, then told myself the Armagnac was entirely too good to be so dealt with. And then I reminded myself that I had just lifted a half-million-dollar coin, so why was I holdingback on some thirty-bucks-a-bottle French brandy? I laced my coffee with it and took a sip, and it warmed me clear down to my toes.

“You have three choices,” Abel said.

“Oh?”

“One: You can take the coin home with you and enjoy the secret ownership of an object more valuable than you are ever likely to own again. This coin is worth at least a quarter of a million, perhaps twice that, possibly even more. And I have been holding it in my hand. Extraordinary, is it not? For a few hours’ work, you can have the pleasure of holding it in your own hands whenever you want.”

“What are my other choices?”

“Two: You can sell it to me tonight. I’ll give you cash, unrecorded fifties and hundreds. You’ll leave here with the money in your pocket.”

“How much, Abel?”

“Fifteen thousand dollars.”

“For a coin worth half a million.”

He let that pass. “Three: You can leave the coin with me. I will sell it for what I can and I will give you half of whatever I receive. I’ll take my time, but I’ll certainly endeavor to move the coin as quickly as possible. Perhaps I’ll find a customer. Perhaps the verdammte thing’s insured by a carrier with a policy of repurchasing stolen goods. It’s a delicate business, dealing with those companies. You can’t always trustthem. If it was a recent acquisition, Colcannon may not even have insured it yet. Perhaps he never insures his coins, perhaps he regards his safe-deposit box as insurance enough, and intended placing this coin there after he’d had an appropriate case made for it.”

He spread his hands, sighed heavily. “Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. Dozens of perhapses. I’m an old man, Bernard. Take the coin with you tonight and save me a headache. What do I need with the aggravation? I have enough money.”

“What will you try to sell it for?”

“I already told you I don’t know. You want a rough estimate? I shall pluck a figure out of the air, then, and say a hundred thousand dollars. A nice round number. The final price might be a great deal more or a great deal less, depending on circumstances, but you ask me to come up with a figure and that is the figure that comes to mind.”

“A hundred thousand.”

“Perhaps.”

“And our half would be fifty thousand.”

“And to think you made the calculation without pencil and paper, Bernard.”

“And if we take the cash tonight?”

“What sum did I offer? Fifteen thousand. Plus the twenty-five hundred I owe you for the earrings and the watch. That would total seventeen-five.” No pencil and paper for him, either. We were a couple of mathematical wizards. “I’ll tell you what. Let’s deal in round numbers tonight. Twenty thousand dollars for everything.”

“Or twenty-five hundred now plus half of what you get for the coin.”

“If I get anything for it. If it proves to be genuine, and if I find someone who wants it.”

“You wouldn’t care to make it three thousand for

I got some more coffee. I started to pour a little Armagnac into it to give it a bit more authority, then told myself the Armagnac was entirely too good to be so dealt with. And then I reminded myself that I had just lifted a half-million-dollar coin, so why was I holdingback on some thirty-bucks-a-bottle French brandy? I laced my coffee with it and took a sip, and it warmed me clear down to my toes.

“You have three choices,” Abel said.

“Oh?”

“One: You can take the coin home with you and enjoy the secret ownership of an object more valuable than you are ever likely to own again. This coin is worth at least a quarter of a million, perhaps twice that, possibly even more. And I have been holding it in my hand. Extraordinary, is it not? For a few hours’ work, you can have the pleasure of holding it in your own hands whenever you want.”

“What are my other choices?”

“Two: You can sell it to me tonight. I’ll give you cash, unrecorded fifties and hundreds. You’ll leave here with the money in your pocket.”

“How much, Abel?”

“Fifteen thousand dollars.”

“For a coin worth half a million.”

He let that pass. “Three: You can leave the coin with me. I will sell it for what I can and I will give you half of whatever I receive. I’ll take my time, but I’ll certainly endeavor to move the coin as quickly as possible. Perhaps I’ll find a customer. Perhaps the verdammte thing’s insured by a carrier with a policy of repurchasing stolen goods. It’s a delicate business, dealing with those companies. You can’t always trustthem. If it was a recent acquisition, Colcannon may not even have insured it yet. Perhaps he never insures his coins, perhaps he regards his safe-deposit box as insurance enough, and intended placing this coin there after he’d had an appropriate case made for it.”

He spread his hands, sighed heavily. “Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. Dozens of perhapses. I’m an old man, Bernard. Take the coin with you tonight and save me a headache. What do I need with the aggravation? I have enough money.”

“What will you try to sell it for?”

“I already told you I don’t know. You want a rough estimate? I shall pluck a figure out of the air, then, and say a hundred thousand dollars. A nice round number. The final price might be a great deal more or a great deal less, depending on circumstances, but you ask me to come up with a figure and that is the figure that comes to mind.”

“A hundred thousand.”

“Perhaps.”

“And our half would be fifty thousand.”

“And to think you made the calculation without pencil and paper, Bernard.”

“And if we take the cash tonight?”

“What sum did I offer? Fifteen thousand. Plus the twenty-five hundred I owe you for the earrings and the watch. That would total seventeen-five.” No pencil and paper for him, either. We were a couple of mathematical wizards. “I’ll tell you what. Let’s deal in round numbers tonight. Twenty thousand dollars for everything.”

“Or twenty-five hundred now plus half of what you get for the coin.”

“If I get anything for it. If it proves to be genuine, and if I find someone who wants it.”

“You wouldn’t care to make it three thousand for

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