A short while later, the bells over the shop door jingled again. Jeremiah Bennington looked up from his work and smiled. “Good afternoon, Inspector.”
“It’s Detective, Mr. Bennington, you know that.” He was a slender man, but not weak or gangly. He looked as if he had begun the day fresh-shaven, but the stubble had grown out on his chin to make him look older and tired. There were shadows around his eyes, not permanent just yet, but close. Perhaps only one gruesome crime away.
“Of course, of course. And what brings you to my tiny shop on this fine afternoon?”
Detective Williams looked around the store as he approached the counter. “I think you probably know that, too.”
Jeremiah Bennington rubbed his chin slowly as he looked over Detective Williams. “Judging by the light in your eyes, I’d say you had yourself a lady-friend. A rather serious lady-friend, at that. No, no, Detective—don’t try to use seriousness to cover up your inner light. That never works. Perhaps you need a gift for her, eh? I’ve got just the thing.”
“Mr. Bennington, I’m not here to get a gift for my ‘lady-friend,’ as you put it. I’m here on serious business.”
Jeremiah Bennington fussed about with something underneath the counter. He glanced up at Detective Williams and said, “I should think that a gift for a lady-friend is serious business…especially when she makes you as happy as this one seems to.”
“Mr. Bennington, have you had any contact with a man by the name of Jerrodson lately?”
“A-ha!” Jeremiah Bennington said, bringing out a small pink velvet box and placing it gently upon the countertop. “This should do just fine.” He lifted the lid, exposing a glimmering blue stone wrapped in strands of fine silver. Jeremiah Bennington slid one of his long, delicate fingers behind the stone, and lifted it up by the silver chain. The stone was spherical, and about the size of a marble, but when one peered into it, it seemed as deep as the ocean and as clear as a baby’s conscience.
“It’s…beautiful,” Detective Williams said.
“It is, isn’t it? Very rare. A gift from the last remaining of the Silonamic Monks of Ferministad.”
“I’ve never hear of ‘em.” Detective Williams was unaware that he had taken the silver chain. He looked deeply into the stone, mesmerized. It looked as if there were oceans twirling inside, or universes spinning, or mysteries dancing. It seemed to go on and on, crystal clear and eternal, and so blue, so pure, so beautiful.
“They keep to themselves. Not many of them left, sadly. The Forever Stone is the final test before induction.”
“The Forever Stone?”
Jeremiah Bennington nodded slightly at the dangling stone. “Every hundred years, a member of the Silonamic Monks polishes the stone. Legend has it that the monk polishes in all of the knowledge gained since the previous century. The Order of the Silonamic Monks of Ferministad believes that there is a limit to how much our world can know. They polish their wisdom into the Forever Stone so that the world may be free to learn more, to move on. That’s why it has so much depth to it, they say, why it seems to sink in on itself, why it seems to be so clear and so cloudy at the same time. Because it has been polished in layers, once every one hundred years, and it is as old as the world itself.”
“And you’d just let me give it to my ‘lady-friend?’”
“All part of the cycle. It can’t learn the world if it stays under my counter, can it?”
“I don’t suppose it…can,” Detective Williams said, staring at the stone as if in a trance.
“And correct me if I am mistaken, but she is your forever, is she not?”
“Oh, Becky’s great, she’s…” Then he blinked hard, and glared at Jeremiah Bennington. “Neither here nor there, Mr. Bennington. I’m here on official business.”
“Very well,” Jeremiah Bennington said, replacing the necklace. He closed the delicate pink box, but didn’t put it back under his countertop. “I will help as much as I can, Detective.”
“I’m looking for this guy Eric Jerrodson. You know him?”
“It seems as though I might have heard the name. My mind isn’t quite what it used to be, of course.”
“Of course,” Detective Williams said, clearly not believing it. Something deep inside of him said that Jeremiah Bennington’s mind worked just as well as it had at any other point in his life, and that it worked better than most other people could ever hope for.
“I do believe he came in, but aside from that information, I’m afraid I can’t be of much service.”
“From what we’ve heard, this was the last place he was seen.”
“Yeah, ‘Oh.’ Maybe you knew him because he was just right down the block, standin’ on that corner just about every weekday from about two-thirty to four.”
“I’m sorry, Detective, but I’m usually in my shop from morning until I close up in the evening. I wouldn’t know what goes on down the block.”
“He sells dope. You know—to the kids.”
“How terrible,” Jeremiah Bennington said, his voice flat and emotionless.
“Right? Well, he’s been missing for about four weeks now, so it hasn’t been that terrible. Nobody really feels like steppin’ in to take his place, you know what I mean?”
Jeremiah Bennington chuckled a polite chuckle. “I’m afraid I don’t, Detective Williams. I mind my shop, and that is what I know. I don’t have enough to do with the outside world to understand why drug dealers aren’t replacing each other, or why they vanish in the first place.”
“They’re afraid, Mr. Bennington. Word on the street is, they’re afraid of you.”
Jeremiah Bennington chuckled again, this time with more emotion. “I’m sorry to laugh, Detective, but it strikes me as humorous that drug dealers would have anything to fear from an old toy salesman.”
“And that’s all you are?” Detective Williams turned and looked deep into the eyes of Jeremiah Bennington. “An old toy salesman? That’s all you have going on?”
The smile dropped from Jeremiah Bennington’s face and his voice dropped with it. “I also do repairs, upon occasion.”
“Yeah,” Detective Williams said, stepping back from the counter. “I bet you can fix the hell out of stuff.”
“Only that which is in need of repair, sir,” Jeremiah Bennington said.
“I don’t know what the hell you’re up to, but I’m gonna find out.”
Jeremiah Bennington said nothing, only looked back at Detective Williams. Detective Williams looked back for a matter of moments, and then turned, walking down the aisle towards the door.
“Detective Williams?” Jeremiah Bennington stepped around from the counter and walked towards the police officer.
“I…would like to tell you something.”
“I am not a law breaker. You have been into my shop upon several occasions, and you have always viewed me as a suspect. You have always viewed me through a haze of hostility. I can understand that, but I would like you to know that I am not the enemy.”
“You know why I’m in here instead of any of the other guys?”
“I could only assume.”
“They all love you. They think you’re great. They remember you from when they were kids.”
“They aren’t objective enough.”
“Exactly. You seem like a great guy, but I’m watchin’ your ass, that’s all I’m sayin’.”
“Understood. I am not a threat to you, Detective. I am not one of the bad guys. At some point, I hope you come to realize that.”
“I’d come to realize it if you’d let me search your place.”
“Search it, then. I would appreciate it if you could be extra careful around my toys and workbench—the things there are exceptionally delicate—but otherwise, do as you wish.”
“If I brought in a search team, that’d be okay?”
“I have nothing to hide, Detective. I won’t lie and say that I would be happy if you and your team pawed through all of my personal belongings, but if it would make you feel better about my innocence, I would be willing to make that sacrifice.”
Detective Williams stared at Jeremiah Bennington for several moments. “We’ll see what happens.”
“Very well, Detective. Good day to you, then.”
“And you as well, Mr. Bennington.” He started towards the door, but stopped and turned. “How much is it?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“The Forever Stone. How much does something like that cost?”
“One does not sell something like the Forever Stone, Detective,” Jeremiah Bennington answered.
Detective Williams tried to hide his disappointment, but it was obvious he was disheartened. “Couldn’t afford somethin’ like that on a cop’s salary, anyway.”
“I’m afraid you’ve misunderstood, Detective.” Jeremiah Bennington reached into his pocket and brought out the pink box. “I hope she enjoys it.”
Detective Williams stared at the box, first with joy, then with suspicion. “You can’t buy me off, Mr. Bennington.”
“I would never try, sir. I have been waiting for the right person to pass it along to, and I believe you are that person.”
“And why is that?” Detective Williams asked, still suspicious.
“The purpose of the Forever Stone is to gather knowledge. Knowledge is gained by experience. I have a feeling that you and your lady-friend will be able to show it some very memorable experiences in the near future.”
“You have the glow, Detective. It’s new, but it’s true. And where there is true love, there is something worth remembering.” Jeremiah Bennington held out the box.
Detective Williams took it, slowly, wearing half of a smile and a look of puzzlement.
“I wish you and your lady-friend nothing but happiness, Detective. If you believe me about nothing else, please believe me about that.”
Detective Williams smiled. The smile made his face look like a young boy’s, and the shadows of witnessed cruelty faded. “Thank you.”
“You’re very welcome. Good day, Detective Williams.
“Yeah, you too,” Detective Williams said, and stepped out of the shop.
Jeremiah Bennington continued to smile out the door after Detective Williams. There were good things in store for that young man. Times of difficulty, as well, but such is life. He was young, healthy, and in love. Jeremiah Bennington would have envied the man, had he not been so happy for him.