intense relief, Betsy picked up the phone on the second ring.
We had a long conversation, and when we said good-bye, it
was with the understanding that I would be back home that
night. She was full of remorse about making me miss the pen
show, but I found I didn't mind all that much. I'd begun to
wonder if we'd ever even get there, and besides, Betsy said
she needed me at home, as Maggie had fallen off a stepladder
and broken her ankle during a fit of housecleaning. I hadn't
felt needed in a very long time, and I admit that I was delighted.
Not that I was glad Maggie had fallen, of course.
"Housecleaning?" I repeated in astonishment when
she told me. "Maggie is the biggest slob I know. Her
house is like a barn."
Betsy didn't take offense at my comment as she might have
done in the past. Instead she giggled. "Yes, I know.
But I think she was getting bored. Besides, she always gets
a housecleaning attack when she visits us. It's your disorder,
especially the pens and pen parts you always leave lying around
in your study. This year I managed to keep her out of there,
but last year when she visited for just half a day, it was
all I could do to stop her from stuffing a rather small plastic
bag chock full of all the pen parts she could find and dumping
them in the trash. When I asked her what she thought she was
doing, she told me the bag already contained a broken pen
and she was just adding garbage to it. Garbage! Can you imagine?
I told her that what she thought was garbage could be used
to repair pens and make them good as new and quite valuable.
She didn't believe me, of course."
"Really?" I responded, feeling as if a light bulb
were flickering in my brain. Maggie's brief visit had occurred
during the episode with Jason Hardy's fountain pen. "That
plastic bag didn't happen to have the broken parts of Jason's
Esterbrook in it when she started, did it?"
"Esterbrook?" Betsy asked. She thought for a few
seconds. "I'm not sure. It had a bunch of green plastic
fragments and a nib in it, so I assume that's why she thought
it was just a broken pen.. Oh, and it had one of those rubber
doohickey's that holds the ink in those old pens as well.
It was last year, Bob, and I really can't remember if the
parts were from an Esterbrook." She laughed. "You
know I always mixed up Esterbrook and Eversharp. And I sometimes
mixed up Eversharp and Wearever." She stopped for a breath
and to chuckle again at her own inability to remember brand
names. "I know you were preoccupied with Jason's case
at the time. All I remember though is that I picked out a
whole bunch of obviously extraneous pen parts that she'd tossed
in. That was after I grabbed the bag from her hand. She was
quite insulted." Betsy giggled again. "I didn't
take out something I should have left in, did I?"
"No, not at all," I replied. I wanted to ask if
she recalled seeing a clip in the bag, but I was pretty sure
she wouldn't. She was so proud of her rescue that I didn't
want to make her feel as if she'd missed anything, so I just
told her I loved her and would see her as soon as we could
get back. Then, with only the briefest glance at the pen trays
lying invitingly before me, I returned to the living room
to tell Anita and the others my news.
Anita was not there, but Ellen was. She was sitting next to
her mother, and the usual expression of petulant disdain that
she usually wore was absent. There were car keys on the coffee
table, and I gathered that Ellen had brought back the van.
Miranda's hand was massaging hers, and when I looked closely
I saw an ugly bruise on Ellen's forearm, I wanted to ask about
it, but I knew better, so I just seated myself across from
the two women and looked around for Morris who also was missing.
Anita came in first, a big grin on her face that turned into
an expression of intense satisfaction when she saw Ellen and
Miranda sitting so companionably together.
"Well," she said, sitting down next to me. "The
erstwhile Mrs. P. has gone home to watch TV with hubby. She
informed me that according to the good book, a woman's place
is in her home and not in some old man's living room eating
pastries." She shook her head. "I really don't know
which good book she was citing. A very old issue of Good Housekeeping
Anita looked around. "Where is Morris?" she asked.
I'd been wondering that myself.
"Oh, he's gone to get me my father's diary," Ellen
Anita and I exchanged glances.
"So you've decided not to head off to California with
Kevin?" I asked in as non-judgmental a tone of voice
as I could manage.
Ellen shook her head. "He never intended to take me to
California with him. He just wanted the van and whatever money
he could extort from me."
Her voice was measured and slow, totally unlike the angry
staccato of her recent utterances.
"I'm glad you chose to come here," Anita said gently.
"That's a nasty bruise on your arm. Let me find some
ice for it." She walked past Ellen, briefly putting a
hand on her shoulder, and disappeared through the door that
led to the rest of the house.
Ellen's smile was a bit hesitant as she made eye contact with
me. "I couldn't have gone with him anyway and left my
daughter here." She took a deep breath. "I know
you think I'm not much of a parent, but my life would be empty
without my little Anita."
I bit my tongue and didn't agree with her assessment of her
parenting, though I wanted to very much. Instead I smiled
at her and said, "Well, you're going to get a second
chance with little Needles, and I hope you make good use of
I don't know if that was the right thing to say, but it was
the best I could do before Anita returned with a kitchen towel
full of ice and Morris with a large, bound journal.
"There are more volumes," he said. "From when
he was younger. But this is the one you need to read."
It starts at about the time your mother became ill."
"I think you could have brought the one before it as
well, Morris," Miranda told him, looking distressed.
"Ellen needs to see that he wasn't always
She fell silent and shook her head.
"It's all right, mother," Ellen said gently. "You
don't need to protect him anymore."
"Well," Anita said, exhaling, "I think the
three of us should leave Miranda and Ellen for a few moments
and transact our pen business. Morris? Bob?"
Morris led us out of the living room back to the room where
I'd called Betsy. He pulled a chair out from behind the desk
for Anita and perched on the edge of the work table full of
pens. "Bob, you can join me up here," he offered.
"I don't usually have guests in this room, so there is
only one chair."
"I'd much rather look at your pens than sit on them,"
I quipped, causing Morris to jump quickly to his feet. "Please,"
he said, "look to your heart's content!"
He walked quickly over to Anita sitting in front of his desk.
She had her loupe in hand and was looking at one of the large,
red ripple Waterman pens she'd gotten from Miranda.
"So," Morris said with a smile, "this one you
have gotten from Miranda. Yes, I remember well when Martin
collected red ripple Waterman to the exclusion of almost all
else. Now, you must show me again the pens you were going
to sell to that insect."
Anita grinned, apparently entertained by his ongoing indignation
at Felix Floh, and handed over her pens. Morris grabbed a
jeweler's loupe from inside a desk drawer and screwed it into
his eye socket with exaggerated emphasis. "I must look
at these more carefully now that I have agreed to sell them
Even as I turned to handle and admire Morris' astonishing
assortment of pens, I was torn. I wanted desperately to tell
Anita my new of Maggie's accident and impress on her the necessity
of our returning home as soon as possible. I just hoped she
wouldn't be too disappointed, but looking at her admiring
yet another of her recent acquisitions, I somehow suspected
she could and would reconcile herself to missing the pen show.
However, for all that I wanted to share my news and get on
my way, Morris' pens were so very tempting. Many were pens
I'd seen only in photographs, particularly the pre-World War
II German and Italian pens. I wanted to handle all of them,
the old Montblancs and Pelikans and the Aurora and Omas pens
as well. He had a great variety Italian of sub-brands as well,
particularly of Omas. I only knew what they were because he
had them labeled.
I glanced at my watch and was relieved to see that it was
not yet noon. If we left here in an hour, there would still
be time to pick up our bags at Miranda's place, say our farewells,
and be home before midnight. I sighed my contentment and began
to sift through the pens before me. Morris had a bottle of
Skrip Black ink on the table, and when I asked him if I could
dip a few of the pens, he nodded his acquiescence.
I was playing with my fourth Montblanc from the 1920s when
I heard Morris' voice. "Yes," he said softly, "these
are all in very good condition, my friend. I can certainly
find buyers within in couple of weeks. None of them will fetch
a fortune, of course, but Miranda has told me that she is
willing to accept whatever your pens bring."
Anita cleared her throat. "I promised her that I would
make up the difference between your valuation of the pens
I have from her and what mine bring" she informed him.
"So why don't you take a look at these," she extended
the box I'd fetched from inside Martin's closet to him, "and
tell me what you think."
Morris sighed and began examining the pens. "I remember
well how Martin was with pens," he remarked as he took
apart a large, black hard rubber lever-filler. "He would
accumulate them and then leave them unrestored, never using
them. Except for the few that he took a fancy to. Those he
would begin to work on and then turn them over to me when
he got bored." He shook his head. "So all of these
will be fairly clean, but they'll need sacs, nib smoothing,
and an occasional repair of the lever box. And this one,"
he concluded, "runs true to form. Look here at this nib.
The right tine is twisted slightly. It will never write as
smoothly as it should until that is corrected." He shook
his head, put the pen down, and picked up another. "And
this lever box is shot. If it's not repaired soon, the rubber
of the barrel around it will start to fall apart when it's
I wondered why he was so critical of what I thought were pretty
nice pens. Of course, they weren't in as good shape as the
pens Anita had just given him, but she was a fanatic about
restoring her pens and was particularly good at nib smoothing.
She's smoothed some of the nibs on a few of my pens so effectively
that I was convinced they couldn't have written as well when
they were new.
"Morris," Anita interrupted him gently, "there
is no need to undervalue the pens. I will take them home and
work on them and they'll be fine. I may not keep all of them.
I will send Miranda the money I make on those I sell. And
if you still intend to visit, I'll show you a few more pens
I'd be willing to part with to pay Miranda for these."
Morris looked at her with an expression of perplexity. "If
you have a potential market for pens, why have you drawn me
into this?" he demanded. "Here," he barked,
"take back your pens and sell them yourself!"
Anita remained calm in the face of his outburst. "I don't
have a market for those pens," she told him. "I
do know a few people who might be interested in old Waterman
Morris calmed down and apologized, and Anita graciously accepted
his apology. We were just about done, I thought, and then
Morris turned to me. "You want to see the pens I will
not sell?" he asked. "These," he said, indicating
the pens I'd been playing with rather too disdainfully, I
thought, "will be gone in a few months. Here are my pens."
He walked to a small closet that was really just a hole in
the wall, unlocked it, and pulled out a wooden box. He brought
the box over to the work table and unlocked it with yet another
key. In side the box were six pens, a Sonnecken Rheingold,
a Wahl-Eversharp Doric, a Montblanc Meisterstück 20 from
the 1920s, a Pelikan 100, a vintage Omas Extra in gray celluloid,
and a Waterman #20 eyedropper.
Anita got up and came over to look. "They're really very
nice, Morris," she said.
He wheeled around and looked at her. "But?" he barked.
"But it doesn't look as if you write with any of them
regularly. What do you write with?"
He shook his head, an expression of amused condescension on
his face. "A black, oversized Sheaffer Balance, of course,"
he replied. "And sometimes a Sheaffer Flattop in green.
I am an American, after all."
Anita chuckled and so did I. After a moment, Morris joined
in our laughter.
"Shall we rejoin Ellen and Miranda?" he asked.
"I think Bob needs to phone his wife first," Anita
"He already did," Morris replied.
Anita turned to me. "And?" she asked.
I told her my news, and she was a good sport about missing
the pen show, though I could tell she was a bit disappointed.
"I really wanted to set my eyes on Mr. Floh," she
announced, causing Morris' face to darken in disapproval.
"Only to give him a piece of my mind, of course,"
she added hastily and was rewarded with a big beaming smile.