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March 27, 2023

Geistmann Redux: John Robinson Investigates, Chapter Three

By Ron Singer

Chapter Three

Cape Town, Thursday, May 8 - Friday, May 9, 2025.

Ubering the short distance from the V&A Waterfront to the Two Oceans Aquarium, Robinson paid the reduced "After Three" admission. He was told that coat-checking services were unavailable, and that he should wear his backpack on his chest. Although Covid had also paused public access to feedings, Robinson did not care. Instead, he enjoyed his usual rapport with the aquarium's unusual selection of sea creatures. Not much of a penguin man, the short, bearded tourist felt a closer affinity to the large green sea turtles, with whose look of mature wisdom he was coming increasingly to identify. He also found an affinity with the creatures of the deep ocean state, the rays, exotic jellyfish, and such.

As he stood in wonder, probably augmented by fatigue, before a massive viewing window, he was surrounded by half-a-dozen children, of all sizes and colors. He curbed his self-gratulatory pleasure at the sight of these children of color, who were as entranced as he was.

Suddenly, he heard a deep male voice close behind him. Could this be his first encounter with the copycat? Already? The thought produced a stab of fear, for he had long understood the danger he probably faced for having executed the Original — Geistmann.

The voice said, "Quite a show, isn't it! Wouldn't want to meet one of those critters while I was scuba diving." Robinson assumed the man was alluding to the giant ray that had its ... nose, snout, whatever ... pressed against the other side of the glass. Robinson half-turned toward the voice, and was relieved to see what looked like a prototypical paterfamilias, a tall, fat, brown-complected man of about forty, dressed in a casual sports shirt and creased, unfaded blue jeans.

"Let's go, kids, time to head home," said the man, not expecting a reply from the short, bushy-bearded white tourist. Robinson eased and, when three of the children skipped off behind their father, he relaxed, and enjoyed the less-impeded view for another quarter hour. Was the giant squid trying to make eye contact?

Then, the P.A. system announced that the six o'clock closing time was in twenty minutes, and that anyone who wished to purchase souvenirs should proceed to the shop. Ten minutes later, with a realistic papier-maché sea turtle for George, and a rubber scuba diver (female) for Amy, each in a cardboard box carefully secreted in his backpack, Robinson left the aquarium with about thirty other patrons.

Realizing he had gotten hungry, and up for anything but seafood, he began looking for a place to have dinner. Not seeing any that did not look like a tourist trap, he phoned for another Uber, and wound up on the veranda of a steak restaurant close to the UCT campus. He would have enjoyed the meal, which was excellent, had he not kept hearing the scolding voice of his daughter, Amy, newly converted to veganism. ("Daaad!") With the local lager, but no dessert, the bill came to about the same amount as the two seltzers had cost Uncle at the V & A Waterfront.

By the time Robinson left the restaurant, it was almost nine, so he went to his room in the faculty dorm, and got ready for bed. The book he had started reading on the flight from New York to Jo-burg, Caught in the Web of Words, was a very good one, about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary. The author was Elizabeth Murray, a daughter of "Dictionary" Murray. Robinson had completed about a third of the ponderous tome on the longer leg of his trip, but now he managed only a page or two more, before sleep carried him off.

The next morning, he shat, shaved, showered, dressed and had coffee and a roll at a place just off campus. Assuming that Dr. Mzamene —RAM— was an early riser, and wondering if he would have work for him yet, Robinson walked back to the library, where he found the Director in his office, poring over photostats of what looked like the block book fragment. Also on the desk was a pile of what looked like budget spreadsheets. Since the door was open, Robinson cleared his throat and walked in.

"Good morning, John," said RAM. "You look ready for work." Gesturing to a straight chair beside his desk chair, he held up one of the facsimiles he had been examining. "Does this look genuine to you? I find the inks suspicious, as if the rubbings had damaged some of the pages."

Robinson put on the reading glasses he had started needing about three years before, and scrutinized a page, which reproduced four fragments of the block book. "You're right," he said almost immediately. "I think we're looking at a modern forgery."

"Exactly! But why were the pages sent to me, instead of to some gullible or crooked dealer who might have bought them?"

Robinson was surprised by RAM's question. Didn't he realize that the forgery was a calling card, and that its purpose was to draw him, Robinson, to Cape Town? The signature also indicated that the sender must be the copycat. It seemed like the kind of touch the original prankster, Geistmann, might have added. But the original might also have left a clearer fingerprint, in the likely form of a bad pun. ("There's a new book on the block," or something like that.) These conjectures prompted another mental question: was the copycat a skilled forger or, if not, had someone who was, created the block book for him?

"Definitely a forgery," Robinson repeated. "As for the motive ... " He was excited by how quickly he had caught the copycat's scent, but hesitated to draw RAM further into the business. If the preoccupied administrator had missed the implication of the signature, so be it! "I think I should confer with Dr. Neugeborn about this."

But, then, he had two sobering thoughts. If the copycat were anywhere close to as clever as Geistmann had been, the "scent" could have been left intentionally. The old hunter-hunted switch! And, secondly, where was the copycat?

Article © Ron Singer. All rights reserved.
Published on 2022-11-21
Image(s) are public domain.
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