Literary Corner: The Collector

“Beautiful, isn’t it?”

Carla sidled left, allowing the tweed jacket behind her to move closer to the Strad.

“The Spanish Court,” Carla said. “One of only thirteen Stradivarius violas left in the world.”

“Are you a collector?”

“Unfortunately, no,” Carla answered. Then she noticed the man’s picture next to the plaque that named the viola. “Are you the owner?”

“You got me.” He smiled, extending his hand. “Martin Gunther.”

“Carla Rodriguez.”

“Would you like a personalized tour?”

For the next hour, Martin escorted Carla from exhibit to exhibit, telling the story of each item and how he’d come upon it.

The oddity of the collection struck Carla—a car, a painting, a book, a teapot, a viola. No item connected in any way to any other.

“This is all beautiful,” she said at last. “But it’s so…”

“Disparate?” Martin smiled. “I find it’s easier to stay under the radar that way. Speaking of, would you care to see a few pieces I don’t share publicly?”

She agreed and followed him through a door at the back of the gallery, down a flight of stairs, and into a storeroom. The temperature was markedly cooler, and she wondered if he’d collected a rare bottle of Monticello wine.

He led her to a corkboard where dozens of name tags of all types were pinned like butterflies. She fingered her own name tag, confused, until she noticed rust-colored speckles around the edge of one.

Her pulse spiked. The sound of a sliding deadbolt reverberated through the room.

“You know, objects are only imbued with value by people,” Martin said, holding a gun and a zip-tie. “Once I realized that, it seemed obvious I was collecting the wrong things.” He smiled pleasantly, as if he were discussing a Caravaggio. “Would you like to join my collection?”

Mary Elizabeth Summer is the author of the young-adult Trust Me mystery series. She lives in Beaverton with her wife, their daughter, their dog, and their evil overlor—er, cats.