Janet’s friendship with Victor changed a few months after their discovery of the Bukh when his body suddenly jumped full throttle into adolescence. Overnight, it seemed, his limbs began to lengthen, coarse hair appeared on his arms and legs and bristled in odd patches on his face. The boy-like voice deepened. When he looked at Janet now, it was with a new glint of prurience in eyes that stared out from behind smeary glasses. He didn’t seem like the same person anymore. Janet couldn’t deal with it and stopped going over to his house. Her mother, however, remained close friends with Victor’s mother, Evelyn, and it was through her that Janet learned about a fire that started in Leonard’s office – smoke everywhere and a few small explosions – and luckily was put out before the whole place burned down.
At that point Janet was so repulsed by Victor and everything connected to him that she had little curiosity about the event. Probably a combustion of chemicals had caused the fire. Or perhaps Victor had done something, trying to gain access to the locked room. Or maybe the men in suits had had a hand in it. She had no idea if the Bukh had survived or been burned to cinders. Her guess was the metal filing cabinet in which it was hidden would have protected it. Unless of course it had been stolen in all the confusion.
“So where do you think it is now?” I asked.
Janet threw her head back and laughed. “The million dollar question,” she said. “That thing was like the holy grail. If Leonard was smart, he put it in a bank vault.”
“Where it would have remained to this day?”
Janet laughed again. “I don’t think things work that way, though who knows – it could still be moldering in a vault somewhere with some unknown person paying the fees. I doubt it, though. I think Victor must’ve taken ownership of it at the time of Leonard’s death, if not before.”
Leonard’s death. When had that been?
The spring of 1982, Janet told me. She had just turned twenty-seven, and was living in New York, working for a travel agency and trying to get parts in off Broadway shows. Her mother called to wish her a happy birthday and informed her of Leonard’s death in the same conversation. “It wasn’t a normal death,” Janet said now. “I mean he didn’t die of a heart attack or illness.” She looked at me thoughtfully. “He was run over, which when I piece things together is a little odd.”
“You mean a car came along and plowed into him?”
“No. Well, yes. Sort of. He was in Paris attending a conference or something, and a car hit him when he was crossing a street.”
I shuddered. The accident could have happened to anyone on a busy Paris street, but after the conversation we’d just had about break-ins, fires, and highly treasured books, Leonard’s death took on a darker significance, and suddenly, with nighttime shadows outside the windows, the studio was filled with menace.
To be continued…
Cover photo ~ http://www.billionairebelief.com/soar/bank-vault-door/