The Missing Brooch
by Linda Rigsbee
She turned to find Matthew's tall lean frame lounging against the file cabinet, waiting for a fax to go through. His amber gaze reflected admiration as he spoke. "It looks old."
Megan glanced up at him. Since he was a machinist all week and a preacher on Sundays, she was never sure how she should address him, especially so because he was so young.
"Yes, it's been passed down from mother to daughter for six generations now. The oldest female child receives it on her thirteenth birthday."
Matthew nodded, eyeing the brooch with new appreciation. "It must be close to that for Mandy." "This Saturday," Megan confirmed with a broad smile. "Only five more days, but I just had to wear it one more time." Two desks down, Judy glanced up from her work. Her gaze went coolly from the brooch to Matthew, and then rested on Megan with veiled reproach. Her frosty attention was distracted when Bill entered the room. All conversation ceased while the office manager handed Judy a sack of papers. He barked a few instructions and left the room. At that point the telephone rang and Judy answered it, turning her chair away from the others with sanctioned exclusion. Although their relationship could never have been described as friendship, Judy hadn't distanced Megan this way until the last two weeks. Megan glanced up at Matthew, wondering if he had noticed the recent change. Matthew was watching Judy with a perplexed frown. So he had noticed as well. From the expression on his face, he had no idea what was troubling her either. Maybe it was a personal problem that had nothing to do with any of them. Judy had a habit of getting herself in deep with credit cards, and lately she did seem to be wearing a lot of nice clothes. Well, it hadn't been long since she had graduated and left home. Adjusting her lifestyle to a small paycheck would take time. The Fax machine spit out a paper and shrilly demanded Matthew's attention. He retrieved the paper and turned toward the shop door. "See you later," he threw over his shoulder to no one in particular, as he left the office. Norman brushed past Matthew at the door without speaking and dropped into his chair with a sour expression. The tiny office was crowded with five desks, as well as all their equipment. No doubt that added to Norman's bad disposition, but he hadn't been the same since he found out his wife had given most of their savings to some crooked evangelist. Now every preacher was a suspect, and Matthew was his number one target. Matthew had always been sympathetic to his plight, though his patience must have worn thin at times. Norman was a little weird, but he wasn't such a bad sort. He did have a sense of humor, even if it was a little strange. Megan turned back to her work, wondering if Norman would ever get things into a rational perspective. No sooner had her fingers found their place on the keyboard, than a loud pulsing buzz filled the office. Not again. She rose, trying to remember where they were supposed to meet for the fire drill this time. Norman gave her a lopsided smile. "Ladies first," he said with an exaggerated bow, extending his arm toward the exit. Megan laughed and started for the door, pausing to tap Judy on the shoulder. She whispered in Judy's ear, barely above a whisper, so that the customer wouldn't hear. "Better hang up, it's a fire." Judy gave her a withering look that sent a hot flush up Megan's neck. She should have known better, but it was worth a try. Matthew was busy directing people through the doors when she got downstairs. He took his position as fire marshal seriously, so when she stopped suddenly, she gained his full attention. "Oh, no," she gasped trying to step around him. "I forgot my brooch." His somber face twisted into a wry smile. "It's Just a drill." When she hesitated he shrugged. "I'm supposed to check and make sure everyone is out. I'll pick it up and bring it out to you if you want." It was kind of silly going on about the brooch that way. After all, it wasn't as if she was leaving it behind with strangers. The office and shop personnel totaled less than 100 people, so they all knew each other. "Okay," she agreed reluctantly. "Area A?"
At his nod, she headed for the parking lot.
Almost everyone was already lined up along the edge of the parking lot. Megan found the large "A" painted on the pavement and waited impatiently. Of course the fire drills were important, but they also disrupted her busy schedule. She was going to have to work overtime today to get all her work done. "Megan?" Matthew called as he approached. "Where did you leave the brooch?" "On the shelf beside my monitor," she said with an edge to her voice. "You saw me put it there." His troubled expression sent heat racing up her neck. It wasn't Matthew's fault that she was so absent minded and left it behind. "Yes," Matthew said, "but it isn't there now. I thought maybe you moved it." "Maybe I bumped it when I got up. I'm sure it's there somewhere. She glanced at her watch. "We'll be back in the building in a few minutes, so don't worry about it. Thanks, anyway." Norman stared after Matthew with an unreadable expression. He jammed his hands into his pockets and glanced at Megan. He opened his mouth to speak, but the all clear buzzer sounded. Megan grasped the opportunity and started back into the building. She wasn't in any mood to hear another one of his snide remarks about trusting the clergy. Heels clicked beside her and Donna grinned. "You know how men are," she teased. "You tell them where something is and they can't find it if it's an inch from that spot." Megan laughed without humor and glanced around. Judy was nowhere in sight. Maybe she never left the office. No, Matthew would have made her leave -- which meant she would be in one of her moods when they all got back. "Is it just me, or has Judy been kind of testy lately?" Megan mused. Donna shrugged. "it's not just you. I heard she was having some financial problems." Donna wrinkled her freckled nose. "Probably trying to dress beyond her means again." Megan nodded uncomfortably. Donna wasn't particularly fond of Judy, and apparently the feelings were mutual. There wasn't much point in encouraging discord. "She does look nice all the time, doesn't she?" Donna made a noise that might have been agreement, or might have been a groan. Whatever the case, she dropped the subject.
When she reached her desk, Megan searched for the brooch, but it obviously wasn't where she had left it. She ran her hand along the gap between her desk and the wall, and then searched the floor under her desk. Nothing. She leaned back in her chair, trying to imagine where it might roll if it fell.
"Still can't find it?" Norman asked, an unkind light growing in the back of his eyes. He helped her move the desk aside so that she could look under it. When she found nothing, he shook his head.
"You know," he mused, as he continued to examine every crack on her desk, "Matthew was up here -- by himself"
"Oh, don't be silly! Megan defended irritably. "Matthew wouldn't take it." She opened a desk drawer. "Maybe I put it away and forgot." She had worked with the same people for five years, and refused to believe any of them would actually steal from her. How many times had she left money laying on her desk nearly all day? And no one had taken it. Judy glanced up from her work long enough to give Norman a cold stare. She ignored Megan and went back to her work without comment. Norman leaned close to Megan. "What's eating her?" he asked in a whisper. Megan shrugged. She didn't have time to analyze Judy, patronize Norman - or search for the brooch, for that matter. Matthew entered the room and glanced at Megan. "Did you find it?" "No," Megan answered, shooting Norman a warning look as he rolled his eyes. "But it must be here somewhere." "I'm sorry," Matthew responded. "I should have let you go back to get it." "No," Megan assured him. "You were doing what you were supposed to. It wasn't your fault." At his obvious distress, she continued. "I'll report it to lost and found. Maybe the cleaning people will find it." Matthew nodded and left the room, deep in thought. Norman watched him leave and then turned to Megan. "You think he wouldn't take it just because he's a preacher. Everybody trusts a preacher," he said bitterly. "No," Megan answered with a sigh. "I know preachers are just people and some are dishonest, but I trust Matthew. I probably bumped my desk when I got up and it fell. It'll turn up." Judging by the expression on his face, he wanted to say more, but no doubt he could see she was running out of patience. He dropped into his chair, staring blankly at his computer monitor. Apparently he thought she was wasting her time looking for the brooch. Three days passed without sign of the brooch. Megan still believed it was possible that the brooch was wedged somewhere and no one had found it. The trouble was, it was Thursday, and she needed the brooch by Saturday. She had said nothing to her husband or Mandy about the brooch being lost. She stared at the calendar absently. Could someone have taken the brooch? But who? Matthew? He could have picked it up and told her he couldn't find it. Her instincts told her that wasn't the case, but could she be wrong? Who else? It couldn't have been Norman. He had left and returned to the room with her. Donna and Bill left before she and Norman did. Judy was on the phone, so she was the last to leave the room. Megan recalled the scorching look. Judy had acted so cool toward her for the last few days. But why would Judy want the brooch? Judy liked expensive jewelry, and the brooch was just a piece of costume jewelry. It's only value was sentimental. Judy liked to wear the latest fashions, so it was doubtful that the antique aspect would interest her either. Megan was suddenly aware of Norman's attention.
"You still haven't found the brooch?" he asked.
Megan shook her head. "No, and I'm supposed to give it to Mandy this Saturday on her birthday. I shouldn't have worn it to work," she added quickly. "It as irresponsible of me." Norman was giving her a strange look. "Well, it could still turn up." He studied his work, tapping his pencil on the desk absently. He glanced at the clock and stood. "I think I'll take an early lunch. Mary needs to use the car again this afternoon. I'll have her bring me back." His smile was strained as he pulled on his jacket. "I'll be back in an hour." Megan stared after him. Now what was he up to? If he hadn't left the building with her, she would swear he had taken the brooch. Did he know something? The high pitched wail of the fax machine interrupted her thoughts, and she got up to read the incoming message. She read the first line and then caught her breath. There on the paper was the description of her brooch - and it was valued at over $2000! The heading on the fax indicated it's origin was Jerry's Jewelry Store, but she read the addressee twice. She couldn't believe her eyes. It was addressed to Matthew. She lifted the paper from the tray and stared at it. Was Norman right? Surely Matthew wouldn't have taken the brooch. Yet why the fax? According to this fax, she could throw out her earlier theory that money wasn't a motive - which put Judy back into the picture. She shook her head. She was getting as bad as Norman - ignoring the facts and operating strictly on emotion. The only way she was going to figure this thing out was to distance herself from the event. "Just the facts, ma'am," she muttered to herself. And the facts were? Her brooch was missing. Judy was acting hostile toward her. Norman was acting guilty - and now this fax addressed to Matthew. "What is it?" Donna interrupted her thoughts. Megan hesitated before handing the fax to Donna. If Matthew had intended for the information to be secret, why would he have given the man his business card? And that gave her an idea. Donna read the fax and glanced up at Megan with wide eyes. "So Norman was right." Megan shrugged. "I doubt it." Judy glanced up from her work, and her gaze dropped to the paper in Donna's hand. "Norman was right about what?" She left her desk and took the fax from Donna. Her face turned pale as she read the fax. She shoved it back at Donna, avoiding their probing gaze. "Matthew wouldn't steal." She glanced at the clock on the wall. "It's lunch time." Without another word, she left the room. Donna stared after her, frowning. "You don't suppose the two of them are in cahoots, do you?" she mused, reaching for her purse. "Now there's a possibility," Megan answered dryly. "That's probably why Judy's been so moody lately. She's been losing sleep trying to figure out how she and Matthew could steal the brooch they didn't know I owned." Donna smiled sourly and handed the fax back to Megan. "So why don't you call and find out?" Megan nodded. "Good idea." She picked up her telephone receiver and dialed the number on the fax. The phone rang five times before a man's voice answered. "Jerry's Jewelry Store." "This is TOOLCO," Megan answered, glancing up at Donna. "We just received a fax from you about a piece of jewelry." "Yes," the man replied instantly. "I got the number off a business card a young man gave me when he was in here Wednesday. I couldn't reach him on his home phone and he seemed anxious for the information. I hope it was OK to use the fax." "Oh, yes," Megan answered. "Do you have the brooch now?" "No, a lady brought it in today. She didn't want to sell it. She just wanted to know how much it was worth," the man said. "Okay," Megan answered. "I'll see that Matthew gets the information." Megan replaced the receiver and picked up the fax, heading for the shop door.
Donna grabbed her arm. "Well, what did you find out?" she asked in an exasperated tone.
Megan paused. "Matthew described it to the jeweler, but it was a lady who actually brought it to the shop." Megan answered briefly. Donna's eyes glittered. "So it was Judy." Megan smiled. "I don't think so. I'm going to take this fax to Matthew. I'll be back in a minute." Megan found Matthew in the lunch room and handed him the fax. He gave her a puzzled look as he took the paper from her hand. As he read the words, color stained his neck and face. He frowned. "Do you think I stole it?" "No," Megan answered. "I think you felt guilty and took it upon yourself to find it. You had an idea right from the start about who might have taken it, but you wouldn't accuse anybody without proof." She paused, lifting her brows. Matthew looked uncomfortable. "I still don't know for sure." He stared at his feet. Megan nodded. "The man at the jewelry store said a lady brought it in today. He said she didn't want to sell it, just to know what it was worth." She paused again. Was it possible that Matthew had also suspected Judy? She continued in a casual tone. "Judy has been acting kind of strange lately, don't you think?" He glanced up sharply. "It wasn't . . ." His face turned a shade darker. "I mean, I don't think Judy took it," he stammered. Megan nodded. His reaction had confirmed her suspicions about one thing. Judy's strange behavior had nothing to do with the missing brooch. Nor did Matthew ever suspicion that Judy might have taken the brooch. That narrowed it down to her last two suspects, and she was sure she knew the answer.
"Well," Megan sighed as she turned away. "I'm sure I'll find my brooch by Saturday."
She left the lunch room, aware that Matthew was staring after her. Did he suspect the truth?
She returned to the office to find Donna ransacking Judy's desk. Donna blushed. "Nothing." Megan shook her head. "It doesn't surprise me." She picked up her purse. "I'm starved, you want to go out for a pizza?" Donna looked up with a puzzled expression and nodded. She knew that Megan would tell her what she knew when she was ready and not a minute before then. When they returned, the brooch was on the shelf where Megan had left it the day of the fire drill. Donna gasped. "You've known all lunch hour! Now tell me, who stole the brooch?" Megan turned to her. "This is just between you and me," she began. At Donna's anxious nod, she continued. "Norman took it off my desk as we left for the fire drill. I figure it started out as a prank, but you know how he feels about Matthew, and this made the perfect opportunity. Only things didn't work out quite the way he planned." Donna frowned. "Now how did you come to that conclusion?" Megan shrugged. "The look in his eye when he suggested Matthew took it. The way he acted when he found out I was going to leave the brooch to Mandy this Saturday." She chuckled. "It all kind of backfired on him, though." Donna scowled at her. "Come again?" Megan settled into her chair and gazed up at Donna. "It's Norman's wedding anniversary this Sunday, and I'll bet you he forgot again." Donna stared at her. "So?" Megan smiled. "The lady who brought the brooch into the jewelry store to have it appraised. She didn't want to sell it, remember? She just wanted to know how much it was worth." Donna sank into her chair. "I repeat, so?" Megan rolled her eyes. "The way I figure it, Norman's wife found the brooch and thought he was giving it to her for an anniversary present. It looked old, so she had it appraised, thinking he'd never know." She made a face. "Only now she's going to be disappointed when he doesn't present it to her." She stared down at the brooch. Did Norman forget their anniversary again? Donna was still frowning. "So why did Matthew get the fax, and why is Judy acting so strange? Megan glanced up. "Matthew was merely looking for the brooch. He'd never let on, but I'm sure he thought someone stole it. He probably checked with all the jewelry stores around here. As for Judy, I'm surprised you haven't figured that out yet." Donna stared at her. "What?" "She has a crush on Matthew. We've simply been in the way. My guess is, the crush is mutual, and I'll bet it will all work itself out." The office door opened and Judy walked in, closely followed by Norman. Megan glanced at Donna, giving her a warning look. Then she held the brooch up to Judy. "Look. I found my brooch." Judy looked apprehensive. "Where was it?" Megan laughed. "Someone must have found it on the floor and returned it." Judy looked doubtful, but Donna grinned. "Yeah, you know how her desk looks all the time. It was probably under a stack of papers." Norman settled into his chair without a word and started working. Judy went to her desk, still watching Donna and Megan doubtfully. Megan turned to Judy. "Would you mind to tell Matthew that I found the brooch?" Judy nodded, and immediately left the room. Donna winked at Megan and turned to her desk. "Oh, Norman," Megan said, turning to him. "I was going to remind you this year so you wouldn't get into trouble. Sunday is your anniversary." He glanced up and smiled. "I remembered on my own this time, but thanks." He opened his desk drawer and pulled out a small box. "Do you think she'd like this?" He handed the box to Megan. She opened the box and gasped. "Oh, Norman. She's going to be one happy lady. But where on earth did you find it?" He laughed without humor. "Surely you must know. I didn't realize how expensive your brooch was, and it started out as a prank. Then I figured, since you were so fond of it, Mary might like it as well. I took it around to a few jewelry stores, asking if they could make one like it. I finally found one that agreed. It's not exactly the same, but I thought they did a nice job, don't you?" Megan laughed. "I'm sure the average person wouldn't know the difference." She gave him a level look. "Only I hope you've learned your lesson." He nodded and wiped imaginary sweat from his forehead. "I stirred up a hornet's nest. But I never meant any harm. I was just leading you off by suggesting Matthew had taken it." Judy came through the door, a bright smile on her face, and dropped into her chair. She turned to her monitor, completely oblivious to everyone else in the room. Apparently things were working out for everyone. Megan paused, her hand poised half way between the keyboard and the papers clipped to her monitor. Gently she untangled the brooch from the lace on her sleeve. Unpinning it from her dress, she carefully placed it on the shelf beside her monitor. Her gaze lingered on the sparkling jewel. With each generation, the brooch gained sentimental value - and lost nothing in beauty. "It sure is pretty." A voice spoke behind her.