A big vaguely-Viking looking guy with an open winter jacket and shaggy black hair surrounding his face comes up to the desk. He’s got a small duffel bag (almost a valise?) in his hand. “You got any signatures of Lincoln in here?” he says with an aggressive tone. Not dangerous aggressive, just like he’s forestalling interruption.
“Signatures, like examples of his autograph? His handwriting?”
And thus launches his tale. “Yeah. I’m from Wisconsin and this nigger [flinch by me] I know he found an envelope on the ground. And it’s this thing that back before Abe Lincoln was even a lawyer he’d borrowed some money and gotten a receipt from the bank and this envelope it’s got the receipt. Signed ‘A. Lincoln.’ What do you think about that?”
“That sounds pretty amazing,” I say as I’m looking up what kind of Lincoln ephemera we might have and figuring out if I have to ask the large aggressive man to stop saying nigger.
“I know! And the historian I talked to said this thing’d be worth 20 million dollars! This little nigger’s [flinch] got $20 million in his jacket pocket. So I told him, ‘You don’t tell anyone about this. You got it?’ And then this big guy comes up, ’cause we’re at the Salvation Army and he says ‘What’s the problem here nigger [flinch]?’ I think fast and say I’m learning how to fix a truck, cause you can buy a van for $500, and if you can fix it then you’re set and we were just talking about that. “Cause you know when those guys start saying nigger [flinch] that means they’re ready to cut your throat. But it was okay. So you got any signatures?”
“I don’t actually.” And I don’t have the balls to ask him to stop using a word he’s obviously very comfortable with. “Nothing listed in the catalogue for famous people’s handwriting at all.”
“Nope. Maybe if he was from around here we might in the Local History room, but…”
“This is Abraham Lincoln the president!”
“I realize that. You might have better luck at an American library. Or you could go upstairs and ask for an inter-library loan…”
He’s walking away from the desk, lost interest trailing behind him. “I’ll be back in Wisconsin in March. Get that guy set up. Twenty million dollars.”