She walked up to the cabin same as before, a week pretty much to the minute since she first appeared, not a word until we were face to face. The only difference was she walked up to the porch this time.
“Hi, Kathy,” I called, and she stopped dead in her tracks.
We looked at each other for a few seconds, calmly.
“I see you talked with Pete.” It was hard to make out her eyes under the baseball cap, so it was hard to tell what she was thinking.
“Yeah, I did,” I said. “But that was a good thing.”
I held out a bronze-colored medallion. It had a sleek new railroad engine on one side and a historic steam engine scene at a rural train station on the other. The writing gave the name of the town and the date of the dedication ceremony.
All around the rim of the coin, printed on the narrow edge, was the name of the artist.
The trim blond woman looked it over, over and over. As she peered at the writing on the edge, I said, “He has a long name, this artist.”
“She sure does,” she said, glancing up sharply with that look of disgust women get when you assume someone’s a man.
“Sorry,” I said, mostly sincerely. “You gotta give me that the name sounds masculine.”
“Maybe,” she conceded – or did she? Concede, that is. “It looks good. This could pass for the real thing.”
“That was the assignment, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, I guess it was.” She allowed a half-smile and, like everything else, it looked good on her. Handing the coin back to me, she said, “And I’d rather you call me Stella.”
“Don’t want my real name floating around in public. Not while we’re on this job.”
“This isn’t public.”
“Get used to calling me Stella all the time, and you won’t accidentally call me something else under stress, in public,” she said. I couldn’t argue with that.
“OK, Stel,” I said. “I have –”
“Stella. And while we’re at it, my mama named me Kathleen.” Not even half-smiling now. “But call me Stella.”
“OK, Stella,” I said, deliberately. “I have to ask you –”
“Full of questions today.”
“I hadn’t noticed. I thought about this while I was working on this,” indicating the medallion in her hand. “Why not sell the fake to whoever your buyer is, and forget about the break-in?”
“You agree the break-in is doable, don’t you?” she said after a beat.
“Well, yeah, but the point is if we have a casting that’s as good as the original, why not pass it off as the original and not go to the trouble of substituting it?”
“I’m going to give you that that’s a good question,” said the woman with the earnest blue eyes. “Scrutiny.”
When she didn’t elaborate, I nudged the conversation forward. “What about scrutiny?”
“You have a valuable collectible and you went to the trouble of framing it and hanging it on the wall,” she said. “After a while you get used to it being there, it just blends with the rest of the wall. You might glance at it now and again, but you don’t scrutinize it.”
I could see where she was going. “Your buyer’s going to scrutinize it, like you are now.”
“A-yep,” said the trim woman, depositing the medallion back into my hand. “That coin’s good, but it has to be perfect.”
I held the coin toward her with my thumb and index finger pinching just the bottom, so she could see the workmanship.
“This is perfect,” I told her. “It’s what I do.”
“It’s a perfect copy,” she said. “There’s a difference. We go ahead with the switch. You’ve got it figured out, right?”
“Course I do.”
“Then let’s get on with it.”