“Karina, is that you?”
The connection was scratchy, but I thought I recognized the voice. “Mrs. Thundermuffin?”
“Yes, dearie, it’s me. I’m so glad I caught you.”
“Where are you?”
“In Mexico. Didn’t—” Her voice faded out.
“What? I can’t hear you.” I checked to make sure the volume on my phone was up all the way. “Hello?”
“I said . . . Mexico.”
The connection cleared as she spoke again. “I’m in Mexico. Didn’t I tell you that’s where I’d be?”
“Yes, you did. I’m surprised you’re calling. Is something the matter?”
“I’m not sure. Did you get that package yet?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, it came in yesterday.” I winced. “Only, I hate to tell you, I’m afraid it’s been damaged.”
“What? Did you say the item was damaged?”
“Well, I’m not sure about what’s inside, but the outer box was partially crushed, and there is a tear. Also, when I picked it up, there was a rattling sound.”
“Oh, boy.” She seemed to turn away from the phone to speak to someone else. Faintly, I heard, “She says the package is damaged. I don’t know, I’ll ask.” Her voice came back on the line at full strength. “Karina, would you do me a favor and check it out for me?”
“You want me to open the box?”
“Yes, and tell me what the contents look like.”
“Okay.” I retrieved the box from the front hall and brought it to the kitchen. “Let me put you on speaker.” Placing the phone on the counter, I sliced into the end that was not crushed.
“Okay, there’s a good bit of packing material.” I pulled out a bunch of the brown shredded paper. “We have a manila envelope, about four-by-eight, and scrawled across the center—’To Aunt Milly for your stamp collection.’ I didn’t know you were a stamp collector.” I put the unsealed envelope aside.
“I collect all sorts of things.”
Half a dozen loose coins fell out, clanking their way across the counter. “And there are some coins in here. Maybe that’s what was making the noise. They say centavos on one side, and the other—oh, I see, they’re from Brazil.” Someone spoke in a foreign language in the background, really more like bellowed in short, demanding sentences. I couldn’t catch what he was saying, but the tone didn’t sound nice. “Are you okay, Mrs. Thundermuffin?”
“Just fine, dear. My grandnephew sends me coins from the places he’s visited. Now about the case inside the box, has it been damaged?”
I gave the box a shake, and a hard, black plastic case, about twelve-by-ten inches, slid into my hand. “The case looks undamaged, and it feels fairly sturdy. Should I open it?”
“No, I don’t think that’s necessary. As long as the case is undamaged, I’m sure it’s fine.”
“Okay. Then it’ll be here when you get back.” I laid it down.
“Actually, dear, I was hoping you could do me the favor of bringing it with you when you come to Mexico.”
“Um, I suppose I can do that. But I’m headed to Cancun, I don’t think that’s very close to Mexico City at all.”
“I’m no longer in Mexico City. I’m on my way to Mérida. It’s on the Yucatan Peninsula, not far from Cancun. I can arrange to get it after you arrive,” she explained.
“Well, I suppose that would work.” Someone shouted in the background and the line went dead. “Mrs. Thundermuffin? Hello?”