It seemed to take a supreme effort for the gentleman to close the distance between him and me and Milton. He was old, very old and bent over so much that he was shorter than me. He used a cane that was made of knotty dark wood and wore a cap that gave him small wings of gray hair over his ears. But what I noticed most, though, was his coat. It was exactly like the one I wore, the one Milton had given when he saw me shivering from the cold breeze off the ocean. Our short, black wool coats were identical down to the silver metal buttons.
"Yes, Gordon, we did. Are they here?" Milton said.
"Yes, sir. I stalled 'em. I wasn't sure if we wanted him here or not."
"We do. It's okay, stay here though. I'll grab Shannon's phone and call someone up front to send them through." Milton hurried to his wife's phone.
"And you are?" Gordon said as eyed me suspiciously.
I introduced myself and told him where I was from and what I did.
"Golly, darlin', I do the same thing. Jams and preserves - I'm the best ever."
"I believe you," I said as I laughed.
"Come by my stall and I'll give you a jar and a dare. If you can make 'em as good as I do, I'll come out to South Carolina and take you to dinner."
I smiled. I didn't harbor any illusions that I could make a better jam or preserve than my new friend, but I did okay.
I'd carried a jar of my strawberry preserves into the market with me and stuffed it into a pocket when Milton gave me the coat to wear. The plan had been to give it to Shannon when I met her, but nothing had gone to according to plan so far. I had other jars in my suitcase in Milton's van so I'd have plenty to pass around. It suddenly seemed like the jar in my pocket should go to Gordon.
I reached into the deep pocket. There was something else in the way, but I just grabbed it all and pulled.
The jar was intact, if not dotted with a little pocket lint. But it was the other thing, the thing that was in my way that got my real attention.
The item fell to the ground at my feet. Milton, Carolyn, Cece and Shannon were only a few feet away but in the middle of their own conversation so they didn't see it. But, Gordon did. He bent over even further to inspect it.
"What's that, darlin'?" he said.
I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I blinked twice.
"I think it's a jade pendant," I finally said.
That suddenly got everyone's attention and they hurried over to join Gordon and me.
Looks were exchanged all around; looks of question, looks of suspicion and perhaps even one or two of disgust.
Milton finally said, "Well, I suppose it's a good thing the police are here."