Felix rushes to help when he sees his elderly neighbour struggling to cut her overgrown lawn. She forces an unusual antique box on him as a token of her appreciation, but the gift lands Felix in deep trouble when her lawyer phones to request an urgent meeting.
Felix was going through the monthly figures for his handyman business when the growl of a lawnmower drew his attention. He peeked through his kitchen window and was shocked to see elderly Mrs. McAllister struggling to control her lawnmower with one hand while using her cane with the other.
When Felix caught up to her, Mrs. McAllister was red in the face and sweating profusely. She switched the lawnmower off.
“Felix…is there…something…I can help…you with?” she panted.
“Step aside and let me help you! Honestly, Mrs. McAllister, your son should be helping you with these chores. It ain’t right to let your elderly Mom struggle alone.”
After a long morning cutting and raking the tall, damp grass, Mrs. McAllister invited Felix inside for a glass of lemonade. He was astonished by the dusty clutter of knick-knacks, dirt, and cobwebs in her home. It seemed to Felix that his kindhearted neighbor couldn’t take care of herself anymore.
“Here you go, dear.” Mrs. McAllister placed a glass of lemonade on the table.
“I also want you to have this. It’s an antique that’s been passed down in my family.”
Felix frowned at the metal box she held out to him. It had an odd set of dials on the lid and was surprisingly heavy.
“I don’t need a fancy gift for such a simple task, Mrs. McAllister.” Felix handed the box back to her.
Mrs. McAllister frowned with disappointment. She insisted he take something for his troubles and fetched a grocery bag filled with apples for his daughter, Suzie. Afterward, she slumped into her armchair with a loud groan, clearly exhausted
Felix insisted that Mrs. McAllister call him next time she needed help and left her to rest. Later that day, Suzie rushed up to Felix with an excited grin.
“Dad, look what I found under the apples Mrs. McAllister gave us!” She showed him the same strange metal box. “I think these dials are a combination lock, but I can’t open it.”
“I’m sorry, Suzie, I know you love old puzzle boxes and things, but we aren’t keeping this.” He held out his hand for the box. “I’m going to return it to Mrs. McAllister.”
Suzie was deeply upset, but Felix insisted. He marched back to Mrs. McAllister’s house with the box, but she didn’t answer the door. With a frustrated groan, he tried the door handle. He yelled to Mrs. McAllister that he was coming in to return her box safely, then stepped inside.
Mrs. McAllister’s body was slumped in the armchair. Her eyes stared at the wall, unseeing and empty.
“Mrs. McAllister!” Felix shouted as he rushed to her side, but it was no good: Mrs. McAllister was gone.
Felix forgot about the box until much later when he realized it was in his pocket. On a whim, he searched online for similar antique boxes. He swore when he finally found a match.
This box was worth $250,000!
Felix hadn’t wanted to keep the box, but he couldn’t return it anymore, and that amount of money would secure Suzie’s future. He had to sell it, for Suzie’s sake. In the meanwhile, Felix stored the box in a safe place. A few days later, Felix got a strange phone call.
“This is Tim, Mrs. McAllister’s lawyer. I’d like to meet with you, as soon as possible. Are you available now?”
Tim’s urgency made Felix wary, but he agreed to meet the lawyer at a cafe in town. Despite his unease, he was curious about why Tim wanted to see him. His confusion grew when he arrived and saw Mrs. McAllister’s son, Henry, seated at a table with the man who had to be Tim.
Henry glared at him when Felix joined them. “I’m going to cut to the chase, Felix. A precious heirloom has gone missing from my mother’s house, a small box with some dials on the lid. You were the last person in her house and I wanted to give you a chance to do the right thing.”
“You think I stole from your mother?” Felix yelled. “Mrs. McAllister gave the box to me as thanks for cutting her grass—a chore you should’ve done for her!”
“Mom would never have given you that box!” Henry stabbed his finger in Felix’s direction. “It belonged to my great-great-grandfather, a well-known politician, who commissioned it from a famous artisan! It’s one of only two in the world! You’re going to return the box to me and I’ll give you $1000 for it. Deal?”
“No.” Felix stood. “You’re welcome to join the bidding when I put it up for auction. Goodbye, Henry.”
The next day, Felix went to a local auction house to have the box appraised. An earnest man with a snooty accent called Mr. Whitaker invited him into a back room for the appraisal. They were joined by a woman called Ellen.
“I can immediately verify that the craftsmen’s mark on the underside is authentic,” Mr. Whitaker said. “That means this is quite a notable piece, sir. One of only two in the world.”
Ellen leaned over to study the box. “That is quite lovely…may I see your provenance documentation?”
“Excuse me?” Felix asked.
A muscle twitched in the woman’s cheek. “You need to provide a certificate of authentication, or any verifiable document that proves the artifact’s authenticity and your ownership.”
“Uh…I left all that stuff at home,” Felix lied. He didn’t like the turn this appraisal had taken. He took the box from the table and moved toward the door. “I’ll fetch it and be right back.”
“We can’t let you do that.” Ellen sidestepped to block his path to the door.
“We are obliged to notify the authorities of any…irregularities concerning items tied to historical figures.”
Felix panicked. He dodged around the woman and Mr. Whitaker and rushed into the hallway. He reached the reception area just as an alarm started blaring.
Felix felt like he was back on his high school football field as he dodged and slipped past guards who hurried to stop him. One caught hold of his arm, but he jerked free and raced out of the building and onto the street. He ran from there until his legs felt like jelly.
Felix paced his sitting room as he pondered his next move. He needed to sell the box to invest in Suzie’s future, but he couldn’t do that without some kind of paperwork.
He wished he could ask Mrs. McAllister about it. She’d know exactly what documents he needed to prove provenance and probably be able to provide them too. Felix paused as he realized there might be a way to sell the box. It wasn’t something he wanted to do, but he had no other choice.
Felix selected some useful items from his toolboxes and then fetched his boltcutter from the garage. After Suzie went to bed that night, Felix crept out and broke into Mrs. McAllister’s house to search for the documents he needed.
A chill went down Felix’s spine as he stepped into Mrs. McAllister’s bedroom. It still smelled like her in here. Looking through her personal space felt creepy and invasive, but he forced himself to continue. He was halfway across the room when the bedroom light turned on.
“Not so high and mighty now, are you Felix?” Henry crowed from the door.
Felix turned. Henry was holding his phone up, and the flash flickered in Felix’s eyes as Henry took photos of him.
Felix raised a hand to hide his face. “This isn’t what it looks like, Henry. I just need—”
“The documentation for the box, I know.” Henry smirked. “My family has a known connection to that box so the auction house contacted me after you tried to scam them. Of course, I told them you stole it—”
“That’s a lie!”
“But you can’t prove ownership without proper documentation.” Henry crossed his arms and widened his stance, filling the doorway. “You can’t sell it either. I’ll give you until 8 a. m tomorrow to hand it over, otherwise I’ll call the cops.”
Henry stepped aside, and Felix fled from Mrs. McAllister’s house. The consequences he now faced weighed heavily on him. He wished he’d left the box in Mrs. McAllister’s house the same day he found her dead.
But she’d wanted him to have it! Felix didn’t believe Henry would stick to his word if he handed the box over. Thoughts raced through his mind. By dawn, he knew what he had to do.
He asked his mom to come over immediately, then woke Suzie and told her to quickly pack a bag. A few hours later, they all stood at the front door. He’d explained everything, and now they had to say goodbye.
Felix gave the box to Suzie. “Sell it as soon as you can. Don’t take anything less than 100, 000 dollars for it, okay? This is the only way to get clear of this mess while still ensuring you get to live your life to the fullest.”
Felix hugged his daughter tightly and held back the tears forming in his eyes. Saying goodbye to her was one of the hardest things he’d ever faced in his life.
“Promise me you’ll live a good life, Suzie,” he said as he looked into her eyes. “Study hard so you make something of yourself, and travel so you can see what the world has to offer you. Take care of your grandma…family is important, and the elderly deserve our respect.”
Police sirens wailed in the distance. It was 8:30 a.m., half an hour past Henry’s deadline. He suspected those sirens were coming for him. He watched Mom and Suzie pull out of the driveway as the police sirens grew closer and closer. He took some comfort from knowing they were clear of this mess when the cops arrested him.
Despite Henry’s threats, the charges against Felix were complicated by legal technicalities. Since the box was now missing, key parts of Henry’s case were in doubt. Felix spent four months in a holding cell awaiting his court date. One day, a guard told him someone posted his bail.
Felix was deeply confused. He followed the man to the front section of the prison, where Suzie was waiting for him. They walked outside together. Mom was parked at the curb, waiting for them.
“Okay, Suzie, I can’t wait anymore,” Felix said as they got into the car. “What’s going on?”
“Well, I didn’t listen to you about the box.” Suzie smiled sheepishly. “Instead, I figured out how to open it. Inside it was a certificate of authentication, and a note from Mrs. McAllister. She really wanted you to have that box, Dad. The note said so.”
Felix frowned. He still didn’t understand Mrs. McAllister’s insistence that he take the box, but Suzie wasn’t finished, so he didn’t get much time to mull it over.
“So I showed the note to your lawyer, and then I took the box with all the papers to an antique dealer.” Suzie grinned broadly. “He gave us enough money for it to post bail and we still have $100,000 left!”
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