(Being an exercise in storytelling, inspired by the memory of a comic book story I read a long LONG time ago - with a tip of the fedora, by the way, to Atom Mudman Bezecny for providing me with the name of my protagonist.)

...Mrs. de Coverlet was pacing about her late husband’s study, trying - without much success - to collect her thoughts, when the butler walked into the room. “Madam, the police detective you sent for has finally arrived,” he announced.

In response, Mrs. de Coverlet looked at the grandfather clock and gave a quiet sigh of disapproval. “Finally,” she said under her breath. “Thank you, Abelard. Please, send him in.”

Abelard bowed slightly in response, then spun around and quietly exited the study. A moment later he returned, followed closely by a tall, thin man wearing a disheveled old trench coat and a beat-up Stetson cowboy hat that looked as if it had been stepped on once too often by a horse at some small town rodeo. 

The lady of the house seemed none too impressed, but managed a weak smile as she held out her hand in greeting. “Welcome,” she said. “I am Mrs. Constance de Coverlet.”

“Hiya,” the newcomer said as he shook her hand. “Captain Jacob Caligula Church, Detective Squad.” He took a moment to glance around the room before adding, “Nice place. This room could use a TV set, though. Seems like a good place to watch football on Sundays.”

Abelard rolled his eyes but said nothing as he left again to attend to other duties. Mrs. de Coverlet softly cleared her throat before speaking again. “I appreciate the speed at which you have responded to my call,” she said with barely a hint of sarcasm. “I’m afraid we have a bit of a situation.”

“Then it’s a good thing you called me,” Church said as he took a seat. “Situations happen to be my specialty. So tell me about it.”

Mrs. de Coverlet took a deep breath before launching into her story. “My dear husband, the late Elric Aloysius de Coverlet, served for many years as president of the North American Society of Numismatists. Are you familiar with the organization, Captain Church?”

The detective’s eyes narrowed slightly as he gave the inquiry some thought. “Numismatists,” he repeated slowly. “Are they the ones who tell people’s fortunes by counting the number of letters in their names?”

Mrs. de Coverlet shook her head. “No,” she answered. “Numismatists are people who collect coins, paper currency and medals.”

“Really,” Church replied, though it was more a statement than a question. “I thought those were called millionaires.”

The woman ignored the comment as she continued. “Now you have to understand, coin collectors can be a somewhat vainglorious and self-deceiving lot. They like to believe that their ability to identify counterfeit coins is infallible, and whenever some unscrupulous miscreant puts one over on them, they consider it such an insult to that sense of superiority that they often will choose not to prosecute in order to keep other collectors know that they've been taken advantage of. 

“Unfortunately, my husband was such a man. Shortly before he took ill and passed away, Elric became suspicious that a certain set of old coins he had recently purchased for his collection may not have been authentic as the seller had claimed. But despite my insistence that he investigate, he refused. The thought that he could have been so hoodwinked shook him to the very core of his being, and I truly feel that his stubborn belief that reputation outweighed compensation may have hastened the illness that occasionally claimed his life.”

Church nodded as he reached into the pocket of his trench coat - a deathbed gift from an ancient mystic soft drink distributor on a fog-shrouded bayou island years earlier - and pulled out a Tootsie Pop, raspberry flavored. “Do you mind?” he asked as he removed the paper wrapper. “They help me think since the doc made me give up my cigars.” 

He popped the candy into his mouth and rolled around on his tongue, then took it back out long enough to inquire, “Do you know who sold your husband these phony doubloons?”

“As a matter of fact, I do,” Mrs. de Coverlet told him. “A scoundrel named Simon McGyrk. He runs a shop over on the east side, right across the street from a Greek diner…”

“Yeah, I know the place,” Church said. “Best souvlaki in town.” He rose to his feet and announced, “I think I’ll go pay Mr. McGyrk a visit. Fear not, Mrs. de Coverlet, your husband shall be avenged.” Then he popped the lollipop back into his mouth as he headed for the door.

Twenty minutes later Church parked his 1962 El Tiburon Shark Roadster in front of McGyrk’s Coins and Collectibles and went inside to put his plan into effect. He walked up to the man behind the counter and asked, “Do I have the pleasure of addressing Mr. McGyrk?”

“You do,” McGyrk responded. “Can I help you?”

“I hope so,” Church told him. “I recently came into a bit of an inheritance and am considering investing part of it in collectible coins, but I’m not very knowledgable about such things. I was hoping that perhaps you might have a suggestion to help me get started.” 

A grin spread across McGyrk’s features. “A newbie, eh?” he said. “Well, as it happens I did just come upon a coin that would make a great first piece for someone’s collection.” He reached down to a drawer beneath the counter and produced a piece roughly the size of a half-dollar, copper in color and somewhat egg-shaped. 

Church took the coin and examined it closely, flipping it back and forth as he inspected both sides. “Interesting,” he muttered. “How old is it?”

“23 B.C.,” McGyrk answered. “See, there’s the date, stamped right there on the back.”

“Ah, yes, so I see.” Church placed the coin on the countertop and smiled at the dealer. “Mr. McGyrk, you’re under arrest.”

A look of surprise came over McGyrk’s face. “On what charge?”

“Sale of counterfeit coins,” Church answered. He picked the coin back up and waived it under McGyrk’s nose. “This is obviously a phony - as phony as those coins you recently sold to the late Elric Aloysius de Coverlet, I’d guess!”

He placed the coin in his pocket as evidence and slapped the cuffs on McGyrk’s wrists, leading him outside into the custody of a pair of waiting uniformed officers. As they placed him in the back of their squad car, McGyrk called out to Church. “How did you know?”

“I’m a detective,” Church replied. “It’s my job to know.”

Later that evening Church returned to give Mrs. de Coverlet the news. She was thrilled, naturally, and at one point posed the same question that McGyrk had asked. “So how did you know it was phony, Captain Church?”

“Simple,” the detective replied. He reached into his pocket and produced the coin, placing it in the woman’s hand. “I knew it was phony the moment I saw it wasn’t round. Smart, huh?”

“Lucky, more like,” Mrs. de Coverlet said. “You’re right, it’s a fake, but not for the reason you thought. Many coins of the period weren’t round; they were stamped out on stone presses, not with machines like are used today. No, what gives this one away as fake is the date.”

“The date?”

Mrs. de Coverlet smiled. “Yes, the date. This is 2020 A.D. - an abbreviation for ‘Anno Domini,” Latin for ‘In the Year of our Lord.’ Which means that this is 2,020 years after the birth of Jesus.”

Church seemed confused. “So?”

“So, the years before Jesus’ birth have traditionally been labeled as B.C. - ‘Before Christ’ - meaning that this coin, if real, had been minted 23 years before the birth of Christ. But the minter would not have used ‘B.C.’ for the date, because the term would not yet have existed. How could he have known that Jesus would be born 23 years after the coin was made?”

Church reached into his coat pocket and pulled out another Tootsie Pop, grape this time. “You know, I hadn’t thought of that,” he muttered as he popped the candy into his mouth.

(Copyright © 2020 by John A. Small)