Hit Me Page 28

“I can imagine.”

“What am I going to tell Donny? ‘Thanks all the same, but I’ve got a ton of money in an offshore account.’”


“‘And now and then I get a phone call and…’ Well, obviously I can’t tell him that part, either.”

They talked about it, and the following afternoon Julia followed Jenny into the den while he was working with his stamps. She stood there silent while he was cutting a mount. When he looked up she said, “I was thinking.”


“You need a business.”

“I do?”

“Something,” she said. “So that there’s something that you do, so it’ll make sense to Donny that you don’t need to swing a hammer.”

“That’d be nice,” he allowed. “And it’s not just Donny. There must be a lot of people who wonder just what it is I do.”

“Not so much in this town. New Orleans is full of people who don’t seem to do much of anything. But it wouldn’t hurt if you had some visible source of income.”

“I’ve had that thought myself,” he said. “But there’s nothing I know all that much about.”

“You know a lot about stamps, don’t you?”

“So I could go into the business?” He thought about it, frowned. “The dealers I know,” he said, “work all the time. And they’re constantly making little sales and filling orders and doing all this detail work. I don’t think I’d be good at it. I enjoy buying stamps, but if you’re going to make a business out of it, the part you have to enjoy is selling them.”

“If the buying part’s what you like, couldn’t you make a business out of that?”

He extended a hand, indicating first the album on the desk in front of him, then the double row of albums in the bookcase. “I’m already doing that part,” he said, “and it keeps me busy, but it’s hard to call it a business.”

“Did you ever meet my friend Celia Cutrone? She was a year behind me at Ursuline. Skinny little creature then, but she filled out. Yes, you did meet her, she was at Donny and Claudia’s cookout.”

“If you say so.”

“She brought her big old dog, and the two of you were talking about dogs.”

He remembered now, an owlish woman with a wonderfully well-behaved Great Pyrenees, and he’d found himself remembering Nelson, the Australian cattle dog he’d had for a while, until the dog walker walked off with him.

“We didn’t talk about stamps,” he said. “Did we?”

“Probably not. She’s not a stamp collector.”


“She’s in the antiques business, but she doesn’t have a shop or list things on eBay. She’s what they call a picker.”

He’d heard the term. A picker went around and scooped up items at garage sales and junk shops and wholesaled them to retailers.

“I could do that,” he said. “I guess the way to get started is run standing ads in all the neighborhood papers. The ones they give away.”

“Shoppers, they call them. And you wouldn’t want to forget Craigslist.”

“Craigslist is free, isn’t it? Running ads in it, I mean. And ads in the shoppers can’t cost the earth.”

“And then there’d be word of mouth,” she said. “‘You know those old stamps Henry had all those years? Well, the nicest young man came over and paid me decent money for them.’”

“‘The one who married the Roussard girl, and he’s surprisingly polite for a Yankee.’”

“Word of mouth,” she said, “New Orleans–style. You can run all the ads you want, but once you get them talking about you, you’re in business.”

He thought about it. Low start-up costs, nothing like opening a store. Even so…

“I don’t know,” he said.

“Whether you’d enjoy it?”

“Oh, I’d like it well enough. What I don’t know is if there’s any way to do it and come out ahead. I wouldn’t want to cheat anybody, and I wouldn’t get big prices from the dealers I sold to, and I could see myself putting in a lot of hours and barely breaking even.”

“Hours doing what?”

“Well, driving around and looking at people’s stamps,” he said. “And then looking at them some more afterward, and figuring out just what I bought and what it’s worth and who’s the best buyer for it.”

“And you might spend hours doing these things and make chump change for your troubles.”

“Chump change,” he said.

“Isn’t that the expression?”

“It sounded funny,” he said, “coming out of your mouth. But yes, that’s the expression, and it’s probably what I could expect to earn.”


He looked up at her, and got it.

“I don’t have to make money,” he said. “Do I?”

“No. We’ve got plenty of money. And every once in a while you get a call from Dot, and we get more money.”

“All I need,” he said, “is something that looks like a business. I need a sideline, but it doesn’t have to be a profitable one. It could even lose money and that would be all right. In fact, we could declare a net profit whether we actually earned one or not. Pay a few dollars in taxes and keep everybody happy.”

“You’ve got that quick Yankee mind,” she said. “I do admire that in a man.”


Keller, in the parlor of the house on Hurst Street, spent as much time as he could leafing through the stack of mint sheet albums. The contents were what he’d anticipated, panes of commemorative stamps ranging from 1948 to sometime in the early 1960s, when James Houghton Ricks had stopped paying regular visits to the post office.

That was the collector’s name, Keller had discovered, even as he’d learned that his hostess’s name was Edith Vass Ricks, and that her husband was actually James Houghton Ricks, Jr., and was called Houghty to distinguish him from his father, although there was nothing remotely haughty about Houghty.

Mrs. Ricks spoke softly and expressively, and Keller found her words soothing without having to pay very much attention to them. All these stamps, he thought. All commemoratives, all three-centers for years, until the first-class rate went up to four cents.

“The condition’s good,” he said.

“They were placed in those books,” she said, “and never touched.”

That was no guarantee, Keller knew, not in the New Orleans climate. Mold and mildew could find their way into a sealed trunk, and even between the glassine interleaving of a mint sheet album.

“It must have seemed like such a good idea at the time,” he said gently. He kept his eyes on the panes of stamps. “But there was something people didn’t realize.”


“You can’t sell stamps back to the post office,” he said. “They’re not like money. All you can do with them is mail letters.”

He glanced at her, and she did not look happy, but neither did she appear to be taken entirely by surprise. He explained, not for the first time, how it worked. A stamp, while indeed issued by the government, was not currency. It represented the government’s obligation to provide a service, and in that respect it never expired. The stamp you bought in 1948 was still valid as postage sixty-some years later.

“Of course there’s inflation,” he said. “Postal rates go up.”

“Every year, it seems like.”

It wasn’t quite that often, but Keller agreed that it did seem that way. He pointed to a sheet of red stamps showing a young man’s face with a flag on either side, one with only a scattering of stars, the other with considerably more.

“Francis Scott Key,” he said. “The flag on the left flew over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, and when it survived the bombardment, he’s the one who wrote a song about it.”

“‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’” she said.

“It only had fifteen stars,” he said, “because we only had fifteen states at the time. And this other flag has forty-eight, because Alaska and Hawaii weren’t admitted to the union until 1959. I suppose that’s another sort of inflation. But when this three-cent stamp came out it would carry a letter, and now it would take fifteen of them to do that job.”

“That many?”

Well, fourteen, Keller thought, plus a two-cent stamp to make up the deficit. But her question didn’t seem to require an answer.

“You’d cover both sides of the envelope,” she said. “And all those stamps would add weight, and you’d wind up needing another stamp, wouldn’t you?”

“You might.”

She’d been to the post office, she told Keller, just to establish a baseline value for the stamps, and the postal clerk had told her essentially the same thing. But he’d been brusque with her, and she’d thought he might be shading the truth in order to keep the line moving. She’d taken it as an article of faith that, if all else failed, the post office would buy the stamps back from you.

But if that wasn’t true, and she could see now that it wasn’t, and if the stamps were too common for collectors to be interested in them, then what was she going to do with them?

“I don’t mail ten letters a month,” she said. “I pay bills, and I write a note if somebody dies or a baby’s born, but you couldn’t put fifteen stamps on one of those little envelopes, and how would it look if you did? If the post office won’t take the stamps back, would they at least let me trade them in for the new ones?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“You buy it, it’s yours. No refunds and no exchanges. That’s about it, then?”

“That’s their policy.”

“So these are worthless, then. Is that about the size of it? I can just put them out with the trash?”

Not quite, he told her. And he explained that there were brokers who sold stamps at a discount, somewhere around 90 percent of face value, to volume mailers looking to trim their costs. These brokers replenished their stock by buying holdings like that of Mrs. Ricks, paying 70 to 75 percent of face value for them. He’d be happy to give her contact information for one or two brokers and she could deal directly with them.

Or, if she wanted, he’d buy the stamps himself. He could only pay half their face value, but it would save her negotiating with the brokers, along with the nuisance of packing the stamps for shipment.

“And taking them to the post office,” she said darkly. “And paying the postage!”

“Now, if there’s anyone you know who might enjoy having the stamps,” he said. “Church youth groups always welcome donations. Or a Boy Scout troop, or—”

But she was shaking her head. “Add them up,” she said. “See what they come to, and what you can pay me. I just want them out of here.”

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies