just wanted to drop Needles off, get back to the antique shop
for a quick pen search, and then be on the way to Indiana
and Stew. But my life was feeling out of control, a feeling
I didn't like at all. That feeling, I realized, was what I
wanted to get away from, That was why I'd agreed to this trip.
Ever since Betsy had gotten sick, I no longer felt like my
own man with my own agenda. Her illness had turned me into
a nursemaid, she was right about that. I wanted to phone her
immediately to tell her so and ask her what she though we
could do to change it before it was too late. But Mr. Diamant
had put Needles to bed and was back in the room, talking to
us, to Anita really, so I felt I had to pay attention.
Morris Diamant was a little taller than Anita and seemed to
be in good shape for a man of eighty-four, which is how old
he told us he was. After putting Needles to bed in what she
called his ghost room, he returned to thank us for looking
after her. I was perplexed, I admit, and didn't understand
exactly what his relationship with Needles was. Her attitude
towards him, however, was obvious. She adored him. As soon
as he'd picked her up, she began to giggle. "Are you
taking your Needles to the ghost room?" she asked. When
the old man nodded, she, sick as she was, sang out, "Ghost
room, most room, post room, roast room!" while he carried
her out of our sight.
While insisting to myself that Needles was not my responsibility,
I still felt a nagging discomfort at what I had witnessed.
What was all this ghost room stuff? Was Needles regularly
passed from person to person or did we happen to come upon
an unusual situation? Though I was curious, I wasn't sure
I wanted to ask questions, as they might just get me even
more involved with the McManus family. I certainly didn't
want or want that that, so I decided to sit back and observe
I have to admit I was struck by how he treated Anita. He was
a real charmer, almost flirtatious in his courtliness, which
was kind of him, as he was a very handsome, old man, and Anita
was just Anita with her hawk face, her strange clothing, and
her short, unfashionably chopped iron grey hair. I expected
his attention to make her uncomfortable, but it didn't. She
acted less as if she were charmed by it than as if she were
used to it. She seemed to take to Mr. Diamant and immediately
began treating him like an old friend.
He seated us on the very clean, though worn arm chairs in
his living room, and brought a pot of tea with some very rich,
European pastries. "Ellen told me of your kindness to
the child," he informed us, pouring a cup of tea and
handing it to Anita. "Please allow me to convey my thanks,"
he continued, looking at Anita with a soft smile while he
handed me a cup of tea.
We made small talk for about a half-hour, mostly about our
trip to the pen show and how we happened to end up with Needles.
Mr. Diamant knew some of what we told him already. I wasn't
I was hoping we'd be able to take our leave soon, but then
he began to tell us about himself. He'd been born in the Dual
Monarchy during the first world war. I racked my brains to
remember what the hell the Dual Monarchy was. When he told
us that his father was Hungarian and his mother from Vienna,
the history course I'd taken in college came back to me. I
looked over at Anita to see if she'd noticed my brain spasm,
but her attention was focused on the old man.
"My parents," he said, "sent me abroad, to
England as soon as I'd finished my university studies."
His hand shook a little as he reached out and picked up his
cup of tea. "That was shortly before Hitler marched into
Austria." I watched as he sipped his tea, eyes closed
for a moment. When I looked over at Anita I saw that she was
observing him closely. I was afraid I was going to be in for
a long visit.
"I never saw them again," the old man continued.
"After the war, I ended up here. Edward Clegg, Ellen's
grandfather, helped me get through the naturalization process.
He was the town clerk and a very intelligent man. I'd already
found work as a jeweler's assistant. When the jeweler retired,
I bought the store from him. I only sold it last year to a
young man from the west coast who'd come here with his wife
and two little sons. He said he didn't want to raise them
in California. Too expensive and increasingly dissimilar to
what he was used to. He grew up not too far from here, you
see. I think he remembered hearing about me but had never
met me before. He seemed relieved that I spoke English."
He laughed. "How absurd! I've been here since 1938. Of
course I speak English!"
"So," Anita said softly, "you left home and
family and made yourself a new life here. I hope it has been
a good one."
"Well, I didn't get to be a classics professor, which
is what I had studied to be in Europe. But a jeweler is a
human being too."
I snorted at this, and Anita gave me a sharp look.
"Sorry," I said, reaching for my cup and a very
Mr. Diamant smiled at me. It was the first time we made eye
contact, and I felt myself grow less impatient and suspicious.
"You are wondering why this old man has to ramble on
so about himself," he said softly. "I am telling
you so much because I like this lady here," he nodded
in Anita's direction, "and also because Ellen told me
you are both travelling to find fountain pens." He took
another sip of his tea. "Fountain pens are my field,"
he said softly but with assurance..
I suddenly had an image of him sitting in a field of pens
and could barely suppress another snort.
"What I mean is that I learned about them from my grandfather
who used to fix them. So when I came here, I took over the
pen sale and repair for the jeweler. That's why he hired me.
About jewelry I knew nothing when I started. Then after the
world war, when people stopped using fountain pens, I studied
with a man who knew all about precious stones. Today they'd
call him a gemologist. I became an expert in lapidary arts.
And I found out that my mother had had relatives in New York
who were diamond importers. But that's a long story. Too long
a story to tell you. Still fountain pens were what I loved
best. So instead of selling out the old stock that remained
when the jeweler decided to stop stocking them, I bought them
and kept them. And I bought more when they became available.
That was long before it became a fashion for some people to
collect old pens."
Anita interrupted him. "Do you still have them?"
He smiled broadly. "Yes, I do. Sometimes I sell a pen
or two, but only to people who will use them and enjoy them.
I still repair pens though, but only for friends."
Anita smiled back at him. "Well, why don't you come to
the pen show with us?"
I almost choked. "Anita!"
She waved her hand at me. "It's all right, Bob."
"What do you mean?" I demanded, totally flustered.
"What about Stew?"
Mr. Diamant held up his hand. "Wait, don't argue! I can't
travel easily. My health is not so good. I tire easily. And
besides I am not really a collector of pens anymore."
I sighed in relief, but Anita looked disappointed. "
"The thing is," Mr. Diamant continued, "when
Ellen told me that you are on the way to the Chicago pen show.
I wondered if you would do me a favor."
Anita nodded, and I just rolled my eyes.
"I don't sell pens in large numbers usually, though I
have hundreds. But earlier this year I had pneumonia. That
is what I meant when I said my health was not so good. I had
bills to pay. There is a man who will be at the show. He calls
himself a pen dealer. But he is a fraud. He bought pens from
me and paid with a bad check. I never sent him the pens, cautious
and suspicious old man that I am. I borrowed the money to
pay my bills, and, thank God, I have since paid it all back
But now he is threatening to denounce me, to ruin my reputation.
All I ask is that if you hear rumors about me, you tell people
that I am not as he says I am. And if you get a chance, you
can tell him to his face that he is a liar."
Mr. Diamant's face had gotten very red, and I was afraid he
"Yes," he , angrily waving his fist in the air..
"You tell this insect that if he pays for pens with bad
checks, he is the thief, not I."
"Insect?" Anita repeated. I could see the same suspicion
dawning in her mind that was taking hold in mine.
"Yes, insect, a flea. This so-called pen dealer is a
"Felix Floh," Anita said softly. Morris. Diamant
stopped in mid-rant and just stared at her.
Once Mr. Diamant had calmed down, Anita explained how she
knew of Felix Floh.
"You must not sell to him," Mr. Diamant insisted.
"He is not to be trusted."
Anita sighed. "Well, that certainly changes my plans.
I didn't expect this."
Mr. Diamant looked at her quizzically, so Anita continued,
"I'd arranged to sell a number of pens to Mr. Floh in
order to finance an auction bid. Now I won't be able to bid."
"I know there is no reason for you to believe me,"
the old man said calmly. "You do not know me. But you
do not know that thief either. Just because he is married
to a former student does not make him a saint or even an honest
Anita looked long and hard at Mr. Diamant. "I never said
I didn't believe you," she told him. "I appreciate
your warning me. I just don't know what to do."
Anita sighed, and I could see her bidding farewell to her
fantasy of winning the auction for the Waterman 58.
"What pens are you trying to sell?" Mr. Diamant
demanded. "Perhaps I could help you."
Anita shook her head. "Nothing special really."
She told him the pens she'd brought with her and I could see
that the old man wasn't particularly interested in any of
them. That was obvious to Anita as well, who actually apologized
for wasting his time with her uninteresting pens.
"No, please, do not apologize," Mr. Diamant interrupted
her. "I will not buy your pens, it's true, but perhaps
I can refer you to someone who will. Unless, of course, you
prefer to find a buyer yourself at the pen show."
Anita shook her head. "No, I wouldn't really know where
to start. I'd certainly appreciate your help. It's just that
I can hardly expect you to find a buyer before the show, and
that means I won't have the funds to bid on the pen I want."
"Tell me how I may reach you," the old man insisted.
"Even if I cannot find a buyer for your pens before the
pen show, you might be able to manage something if you sell
the pens afterwards, no?
Anita shrugged. I could tell she was not at all convinced,
but she gave Mr. Diamant her home phone number and took his.
I personally thought the man wanted her number in order to
keep in touch with her and I wouldn't have been at all surprised
if he popped up to visit her. But I kept my mouth shut for
Despite Mr. Diamant's cordiality and offer of assistance,
the suspicion he'd cast on Felix Floh had soured Anita's mood.
I knew it, and Mr. Diamant could see it too So he soon bid
us a cordial and somewhat apologetic farewell.
"I am sorry to have been the bearer of bad news,"
he said in parting, "but it is better to know than not,
I think." We shook hands with him and took our leave.
"Well," Anita said, after we'd settled into our
seats in the car and I'd pulled away from Mr. Diamant's house.
"What do you think of that?"
"Of that or of him?" I asked, turning onto the road
that led back to the antique shop. "I think he's sweet
Anita didn't answer. She just glared at me and shook her head.
I thought I heard her whisper, "Men!"
When I turned into the driveway, I could see Mrs. Privett
in the store dusting the display cases.. I took a deep breath
and steeled myself to face that ridiculous, yet formidable
female. Sometimes I asked myself if hunting for fountain pens
was worth the trouble I put myself through.
As soon as we walked into the store, Mrs. Privett got so agitated
that she was jumping up and down, her wig bouncing on her
"Oh, there you are," she squealed. "Ellen has
been asking for you. You need to head right over to old Mrs.
Clegg's house. Something has happened. I tried to call you
on the cell phone, but I forgot my own number. Sometimes I
think I'm getting senile. But you have to go over to Mrs.
Clegg's place right away."
"No," I said, "enough is enough," but
Anita silenced me with a look.
"What is it?" she asked, putting her hand on Joanna
Privett's shoulder. "What's happened?"
Mrs. Privett made a hand gesture that indicated bewilderment.
"Old Mrs. Clegg is asking for you. Ellen won't tell me
why. It must be important."
"Important to whom?" I grumbled, as I turned on
my heel and walked back out the door.