This story includes recreational dentistry, family feuds, and unusual tattoos (some sexy, some frightening). If I haven't scared you away yet, it also contains forgery, fraud, and fornication—all three of which took place inside a museum, of all places. There are a lot of degenerates in Cleveland. That's probably why I fit into this story so well. The city also has more than its share of spiders. And after this adventure, I can say I hate spiders.
Don't worry that I've given it all away. There's much more to this than what I just shared. And since you're still reading, I'll assume there's just enough depravity or curiosity inside you to hang with me as I unravel this tale. I like that about you. We’re going to get along just fine.
In case you and I haven't bumped in to each other at some auction or collector's convention, my name is Quick. My parents gave me the superfluous first name of Jonathan, but nobody bothers to utter it unless I'm being questioned or detained. Quick is all you really need to know. As for my occupation, I deal in baseball artifacts. There are nearly 200 years of baseball history that have been documented by American researchers. Men and women of all ages want to own a piece of that history. Whether it's a glove from the 1870s or a baseball signed by Mickey Mantle, there is a ravenous public that will pay good money for artifacts.
People pretend collecting sports memorabilia is more civilized than shooting a deer and mounting the head to the wall of your typical suburban man cave. But as you will soon see, that's not really the case. It's my job to match the right piece to the right collector—all the while trying to avoid counterfeiters, forgers, and the other miscreants who comprise the underbelly of the collecting world. I like to think you have to get a little dirty in order to do good. Kind of like Batman, which is who I was dressed as when this story began.
It was October and I was in an office building overlooking Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis. The space belonged to Techforce, the web-based client services provider. I was attending their Halloween party as a guest, dressed as the Caped Crusader. Chris, the friend who had invited me to the party, had disappeared with some coworkers and left me to mingle.
I had just extracted myself from a conversation with three coders dressed as the same Lord of the Rings character, when I noticed a woman dressed as a roller derby blocker. She had a black and red helmet, a black shirt with a white skull, and black and red striped socks up to her knees. She was even wearing skates.
"Love your costume. You look like you could actually be in roller derby."
"That's good to know, since I am in roller derby," she replied.
"Really? For the Indy Tornado Chasers?"
She looked down at her shirt, which said Tornado Chasers, and then looked me in the eyes. "You're sharp. Yes,” she added in a patronizing tone, “for the Tornado Chasers."
"Tell me something, do your ..."
"Boobs get black and blue after a bout?" she shook her head. "Do you know how many times I get asked that question?"
"No, I was going to ask, do your teammates cheat at Halloween too, or just you?"
"Cheat?" she asked. "How is this cheating?"
"You wear that all the time. That's not creative."
"It is, if you're trying to bring awareness to the sport." She clenched her fist, and I thought she might take a swing at me.
"Good point." I started to walk away. "Best of luck on your next bout."
She was either warming up or wasn't finished with the argument because she followed me. "Have you ever been to one?"
I ended my retreat and turned towards her. "Are you asking me out?"
She looked both ways nervously—a sure sign that there was a boyfriend around somewhere. "No,” she paused. “NO. I was just ..."
I cut her off. "I'd love to come to your next bout. When is it?"
She looked both ways again and lowered her voice a little. "This Saturday, why don't you give me your name and number and I will leave you a ticket at Will Call."
"This sounds like a date," I said.
Her blue eyes glanced both ways then back to me. "It's not a date. You'll be watching me compete."
"Depends on how the match goes," she said.
"I'll be there." I handed her my card.
"Quick Baseball Artifacts. Are you some sort of antique dealer?"
"Yes and no. I deal in relics and memorabilia from baseball’s beginning in the mid 1800s to more recent items."
She pondered that for a moment, and I guess I passed the test—barely. "I suppose," she paused, "that's cool."
"It is actually. And you are?"
"Mandy, Mandy Dalton."
"And what's your roller derby name?"
I could tell by her smile she was impressed that I knew she would have a derby name. She brushed a brown curly lock that had escaped from under her helmet out of her eyes. "Mandible Crusher."
"Have you ever broken a jaw?"
"Yes, but never my own," she said and flashed a wicked smile.
"Good to know. You want me to refill our drinks?"
She glanced around nervously. "Uh, no thanks. Have a nice night." She looked both ways again. "I'll see you Saturday." Off she went and I wondered if I had blown it. Some women hear baseball artifacts and think I live in my mom's basement and sell baseball cards on eBay. Actually, things had become potentially lucrative as of late. I had recently scored the biggest find in the history of baseball collectibles. Nobody in the industry knew about it yet. It was currently locked in a safe at my showroom. I picked it up—not without risk of life and limb—in Savannah. Now, I was working on a plan to find the right buyer or the right auction. This one sale would make me a millionaire, and that’s after I split half with the man who helped me find it. I could redo the showroom, or semi-retire. "So, yeah, Ms. Roller Derby," I thought out loud. "It is cool."
"You're off your game and you're talking to yourself." My friend Chris returned from wherever he had wandered off. He was twenty-nine, a year younger than me, and managing the customer service teams for Techforce’s email clients. We met one night in college outside of a popular bar in Bloomington called Jake's. I say outside the bar, because both of us were thrown out at the same time by different bouncers for different reasons. Lying on the ground, we struck up a conversation and we're still friends today.
I turned around to face him. “What makes you say that?"
"Looks like she got away."
"She got my number," I replied.
"Wow, have things become that bad?"
"What do you mean?"
"You don't honestly think she's going to call?"
"Actually, I do. I think she's here with someone," I said. "That's why she didn't give me hers."
"Okay, that's the Quick I'm used to. Hitting on someone who already has a boyfriend."
"It's not like I knew she had a boyfriend before I approached her. And besides, she might be looking for an excuse to break it off," I reasoned.
"Come on, there are plenty of fish in the sea." He noticed a couple of ladies go by, dressed as flight attendants. "Let's go see what they are serving in first class."
My internal radar went off—and not the one that spots flight attendants. "I'll catch up with you in minute." I headed away from the party and towards a short hallway that led to a few offices and bathrooms beyond. As Chris had been talking, I could see inside an office via the reflection in a mirror in the hallway. Hanging on the office wall was a framed baseball jersey.
The door was only half open, but I could see an autographed Cubs jersey framed on the wall. Pushing the door all the way, I saw two jerseys side by side, followed by an "Oh my God" from the right. A guy dressed as Spock from Star Trek was making out with a sexy witch. She was livid. "Excuse us, can we have some privacy?"
"Don't mind me, I'm just getting a closer look at those." She was on the desk and he had his hands behind her back, while standing on the floor. She was leaned back not quite fully resting on the desk but showing a lot of cleavage.
"I think you've seen enough," she said.
"Not those." I pointed to the jerseys, "These."
"Seriously?" he protested.
I ignored their complaints and grabbed a chair so I could stand on it and get a closer look at the jerseys. After about twenty seconds, I jumped down and put the chair back. Surprisingly, the couple was still in the same position, staring at me in disbelief. I looked her in the eyes, then looked at him, "Sorry to break the news to you, but they're fake."
She was indignant. "They are most certainly not!" She looked down at her chest. "They're one hundred percent real."
"Not those," I said and pointed back over my shoulder. "Those!"
He let go of her and she hit her head on the desk. "Hey," he called after me as I walked back to the hallway. "I paid $1,500 for those jerseys from a top seller on eBay. I have a letter of authenticity."
"It's probably fake too." I responded without turning around. I was done at the party. Chris could have the flight attendants. Fakes and forgeries make me sick.
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