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A Present From Uncle Elmer
A new story for Pentrace readers
from the fountain pen of Myra Love
You see that guy over there? The one in the gray blazer and fluorescent, green chinos? He follows me from pen show to pen store to antique shop and buys up everything I want before I get a chance. I'm not just imagining it. I've seen him, and so has my wife Myrtle.

The last time Myrtle and I went shopping for groceries together, we happened to drive past our favorite pen store. "Hey, Myrt!" I said, "you in a hurry or can we stop for a quick look?" Myrtle is never in a hurry, but I thought I better ask so as not to make her mad. "Yeah, let's stop, Bernie," she said. "I wanna get some Amodex. That Slimfold Aunt Irma sent me leaked all over my bag. Stupid thing uncapped itself."

So we hunted for a parking space. It was busy downtown, and we ended up in an underground garage on the other side of the common. On the way out, I thought I saw that guy, but I didn't mention it to Myrtle because she was telling me a long story about how her cousin Josie's dog ate Josie's last package of Penman Sapphire cartridges. "Josie was fit to be tied," she said, gleefully slapping her hand against her ample bosom. "I told her I always thought that dog had the blues."

Myrtle has quite a sense of humor. It's one of the nicest things about her, and it makes up for her short fuse. Another nice thing is that her whole family is crazy for fountain pens, just like the two of us. When we get together at Thanksgiving, dinner turns into a pen swap. Uncle Buzz and Aunt Callie always have pen stories too, mostly about the good old days before ballpoints.

Anyway, we were walking across the common, headed for the big pen shop when suddenly Myrtle grabbed my arm and whispered, "Look, Bernie, there he is again." Sure enough, when I turned my head, I saw the guy in the gray blazer and fluorescent, green chinos about twenty yards back. We picked up the pace, which left poor Myrtle breathless. When we got to the pen store we had lost him. Or so we thought.

I had an ulterior motive for stopping at the store that day. I knew one pen I'd wanted for a long time was scheduled to go on sale. So while Myrtle looked at the Omas display in the back of the store, I bent over the glass counter up front, staring at an oversized, amber Etruria. I'd been tempted every time I'd seen it but had always resisted because I just couldn't face paying retail. Now I could almost afford it. I kept my eye fixed on it, praying the clerk would come over quickly before anything interfered. I'd tried it during an earlier visit, so I just needed to pay for it. I told that to the clerk repeatedly, but he kept putting me off. So I compulsively tapped my fingernails on the glass and waited. Suddenly I felt someone slip in next to me.

"Excuse me," a nasal voice announced. "I've come for my Etruria."

I looked up, and there he was, gray blazer, glowing green chinos, and a smug expression on his face. The clerk came right over, reached under the counter,, and handed him the pen.

"I tried it yesterday," that nasal voice resounded, "so if this is the same pen, I'll just pay for it."

"Yes, sir," the clerk replied. "It's the same pen. That's the only oversized, amber Etruria we have in stock."

I felt shell-shocked. "But..but..," I sputtered. The clerk ignored me and went to the back of the store to find the right box for the pen. Myrtle came over and put her hand on my shoulder. "You okay, Bernie?" she asked.

I shook my head, afraid to look at her. I didn't want her to see the tears on my glasses. "My Etruria," I mumbled, but couldn't say any more.

Now Myrtle is nothing if not forthright. Although she hadn't been watching the interaction at the counter, she knew something was wrong and was not about to put up with it. "Excuse me," she squealed at the clerk who'd returned with the boxed pen, "but my husband was here before this, uh, gentleman and should have been waited on first."

The clerk stared at her blankly. "Mr. Candell had arranged to pick up his pen earlier today. I'll be with your husband in a moment." He took the credit card from his customer, who opened the box and shifted the pen into his shirt pocket. Candell smirked at me, picked up the box, tucked it jauntily under his arm, and then leaned over to sign the credit slip with a Mont Blanc roller the clerk handed him. I couldn't believe it had happened again,.

In her hand Myrtle held a couple of boxes of Amodex she no longer wanted. Squeezing between me and Candell, who was grinning as he signed the credit slip and pulled off the customer copy, she put the boxes on the counter. I noticed that Candell pressed up against Myrtle's bosom as she reached over. He laughed out loud when she pushed him away.

"I think we better get out of here, Bernie," Myrtle said loudly. "They don't really want our business."

"It's not them," I blurted, feeling something snap inside me. "It's him! Candell! He's out to get me! Every time I get close to buying a pen I want, he snatches it from my grasp. Well, I'm tired of it," I screamed, grabbing the startled man next to me by the lapels of his blue, corduroy jacket. He looked terrified as he pulled away. That was when I realized Candell had already left with myŠ, his Etruria. I removed my hands with an apology and followed Myrtle out the door. Behind me I could hear the clerk saying something about mental instability and how a lot of crazy people wandered around downtown and what a shame it was there was no way to keep them out of the store until they started acting out.

Myrtle and I went back to the car. "Do you still want to shop for groceries?" I asked, feeling as if a truck had run over me.

She shook her head. "Not if you're tired." I handed her the keys and she drove us home.

"You know," she said as she pulled into our garage, "Good old Uncle Elmer is coming to town for Christmas. He's the one fixated on PFMs. You never met him because he no sooner gets out of jail for picking pockets than he's at it again. I spent a lot of time with Uncle Elmer when I was a little girl."

She reached down into the front of her blouse and pulled something out. I stared dumbfounded as she opened her hand to reveal an oversized, amber fountain pen.

"You..you stole it?" I muttered.

"I wouldn't say that," Myrtle answered with a wicked grin. "Let's just call it a present from Uncle Elmer."

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