Illustration by Paul Rogers

Mrs. Karp raised a tweezered brow, let it drop, and resettled herself on her chaise to continue reading. “Good riddance,” she was heard to say to herself.

But Nettie was unappeased. Having apparently mustered all her tolerance to abide the old man in the freezer over the years, she was past consoling now that he was at large and possibly dangerous. Grumbling that it was more than her job was worth to remain in their employ, she plodded down the stairs and out of the Karps’ haunted house forever.

That night Mrs. Karp served her family a meal of canned applesauce and pork ’n’ beans that she had been compelled to prepare herself.

“What’s this?” asked her husband.

“It’s called dinner,” replied Mrs. Karp.

“Maybe at the county penal farm,” said Mr. Karp, pleased with his riposte, “but on Canary Cove”—which was their bosky residential enclave—“we call it something else.”

When she was satisfied that her husband’s patience was sufficiently stretched, Mrs. Karp plumped her frosted shag and explained that Nettie had quit.

“That’s impossible.” For Nettie had been a fixture in the family for nearly a decade.

Mrs. Karp gave her signature shrug, as if to imply that the impossible had become the order of the day. Then she let it drop that the maid was upset on account of the disappearance of the frozen old man.

“What’s that you say?” exclaimed Mr. Karp in disbelief. His wife asked languidly if he were deaf and repeated the information, which her husband challenged. “Do you think he could just up and walk away?”

Mrs. Karp shrugged why not.

For the second time in as many months, Mr. Karp was moved to interrupt his evening meal with a peevish harrumph. He rose, removing the napkin from his collar, descended the stairs to the rumpus room, and returned after some moments to announce, “This is a calamity,” though without much conviction. He sat back down and heaved another sigh, which seemed to signify (along with his puzzlement) a measure of heartfelt relief. Because if the heirloom had truly vanished—never mind how—it was now somebody else’s responsibility, for a change. Of course, as head of the family, it was incumbent upon him to get to the bottom of this enigma, wasn’t it? He couldn’t in good conscience simply let the matter drop. “Bernie,” he asked, “you don’t know anything about this business, do you?”

Since his father’s words were more statement than question, rather than contradict him, Bernie assured Mr. Karp that he knew nothing about anything—a response nobody would gainsay. Then he darted a glance at his sister, whom he had silenced with threats of revealing her late-night basement trysts. Clearly counting the minutes until she could quit this bughouse and return to college, Madeline took the cue from her loathsome little brother and volunteered her ignorance as well.

Mr. Karp made an authoritative moue, which his wife parodied with a lopsided face of her own, and that seemed, for the moment, to be that. Then it was as if the thing in the basement had never existed at all.

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