Jules curiously watched as the bald man in the bowler hat put down the crust of his sandwich, looked up at her, and winked. She knew that she shouldn’t be staring at strangers, but she also knew that strangers shouldn’t be winking at her, so she wasn’t sure whether she or the man would get into more trouble with mom. The man gave her a warm smile, placed his opened briefcase on the sidewalk next to the bench he had been resting on and lightly hopped into it. She looked up at her mom to see if she noticed, but she was busy paying the baker for some day-old sour dough that Jules knew she was going to have to eat with watered leak soup. The baker hadn’t noticed either. It was the most remarkable thing Jules had ever seen, and no one else had noticed.
Jules walked over to the queer briefcase and peered at it through her blue eight year-old eyes. It looked like a briefcase, the same as her father took to work every day. It had sundry papers lining the bottom and an old-looking ink pen in a slot on the side. Jules weighed the crime of altering other’s property against having to look at a mess of papers, and decided that they had to be made neat. She leaned her rolling book bag against the bench and gathered the papers, lining them up by tapping them lightly against the bottom of the case.
Wood. Jules had never seen a wooden inside to what looked on the outside like a standard faux-leather-covered aluminum briefcase. Further, It looked bigger on the inside than on the outside. Not much bigger. But just enough that Jules noticed.
“Julie?” Jules’s mother looked up from her purse, having replaced he money clutch. She took the paper bag with the bread from the baker and started turning to Jules.
“Julie, what have you got into?” As her mom walked over, Jules quickly shut the case and shoved it under the concrete bench into the dark place between the bench and the bushes backing it.
“Nothing Mama, just an old briefcase under the bench.”
“You didn’t open it did you? It probably belongs to a homeless person, or was left there by one. You know better than to get into other people’s belongings.”
“Yes, Mama,” Jules replied, slyly affirming her mother’s admonition without answering her question about opening the case. While Jules knew better than to lie, she had long ago learned the art of saying just enough and no more.