The police sergeant closed the door to the interrogation room and waved the other man to a seat.
“Now, Mr. Legier, as I said on the phone, I believe we have found your missing wallet which was stolen from you five weeks ago,” Sergeant Kaplan said. If you could just describe it for me, please.”
“Certainly. It’s a simple brown bi-fold wallet. Rather well used; it’s not new. It had my name in it.”
“Anything … unusual about it that might help further identify it, Mr. Legier?”
“Well, not really,” he said, and paused. “I mean, it had my driver’s license and grocery store club card and library card and such things.”
“So there’s nothing, shall we say, peculiar … at all … about this wallet? Mr. Legier?” Sergeant Kaplan lowered his head and looked over his glasses at Mr. Legier. His eyebrows were up in his hairline and there was great meaning in his stare, which Mr. Legier understood.
“Well, it …” He stopped. “It makes money,” he admitted quietly.
“Five $20 bills every time it’s opened,” Mr. Legier continued softly.
Sergeant Kaplan pulled an old brown bi-fold wallet from a pocket. He opened it and removed five $20 bills. He showed the empty wallet to Mr. Legier and closed it. Then he reopened it and took out another five $20s.
“That’s quite a wallet, Mr. Legier. Care to explain it?”
“I could, Sergeant, but I doubt you’d believe me.”
“Mr. Legier, I am forced to believe the evidence of my senses that every time I open this wallet there are another five brand spanking new $20 bills inside. I’m largely prepared to believe any explanation you can give me for this.”
Mr. Legier sighed. “I had just moved from my home of many years to a smaller house. I was in the attic – a finished attic – familiarizing myself with my new home.”
* * *
One thing Arnold Legier could say for his new home is that it had been well cared for by the previous owners. There was nothing fancy about it, but it was clean and attractive both inside and out.
He walked through the small attic, thinking it would make a nice office space for him to keep up with his household accounts and his stamp and coin collections. Something on a corner shelf caught his eye.
He walked over and found an old oil lamp. “Straight out of The Thousand and One Nights,” he mused.”
* * *
“Mr. Legier,” Sergeant Kaplan said. “If you are going to tell me that you rubbed the lamp and a genie came out, you are going to tax me greatly.”
“I remind you, Sergeant,” Mr. Legier said sternly, “that you said you were prepared to believe any explanation I could give you.”
“I said ‘largely prepared.’ All right, go on.”
* * *
Mr. Legier buffed the side of the lamp on the sleeve of his well-worn yellow cardigan. A sudden whoosh of smoke erupted from the spout and quickly formed itself into a person. He wore the traditional accouterments of someone from Arabia’s past.
“Ah, someone new,” the djinn said. He had no trace of accent to indicate where he might have learned English. “I am Najdat, a djinn of pure heart.” And Najdat waited patiently.
“Oh, I’m, uh, I’m Herman Legier. Former bookkeeper for the Golden Rule Charitable Foundation and Trust.”
“That sounds important,” Najdat allowed. “You no longer are this bookkeeper?”
“No, I just retired. I worked there for many years, though.”
Najdat bowed slightly. “A good job well done is a great treasure.”
“Yes, yes it is,” Mr. Legier agreed. “So … what is it you do?”
“I live in the lamp. When summoned, I issue forth and, in the name of Allah, who of his benevolence created me, grant three wishes before returning to the lamp.”
Mr. Legier thought about that momentarily. “Will you come out every time I rub the lamp?”
“No. Only once per generation will I leave the lamp to do my holy master’s will. Between times, I do not know whether someone touches the lamp or not.”
Mr. Legier nodded thoughtfully. “Why do you live in an oil lamp?”
Najdat cocked his head slightly to one side in a shrug. “Tradition.” He looked around the attic. “And the interior of my lamp requires very little upkeep. So … do you require a little time to consider the three wishes I will grant?”
“Yes, I suppose I…” He looked at the djinn expectantly.
“Before you ask,” Najdat said gently, “the answer is ‘no.’ I cannot restore her to life. It is not given to me to do so. I am truly sorry.”
Mr. Legier’s face fell. “No, I suppose not. How did you know that was what I was going to ask?”
“I am older than I appear,” the djinn said. “I have seen that look of hope on many faces, and have had to disappoint each one.”
“Hmmm. Then I’m the one who’s sorry for you. That must be difficult, to see that hope and have to extinguish it time after time.”
“It is. I appreciate your pity.”
The djinn fell silent to permit Mr. Legier to think his thoughts; he had all the time the gentleman needed to take.
“What is it you do between times, when you’re waiting for a generation to pass?”
The djinn made the shrugging motion with his head again. “I simply wait. I think about people I knew in the days before I was placed in the lamp. I think about the goodness of Allah that I live. I wait.”
“How did you come to live in the lamp,” Mr. Legier asked.
“Long, long ago, I agreed to the request of a holy man who wished to spread happiness into the future. I would live in the lamp, as I have described, to grant wishes in each succeeding generation.”
The djinn thought about that a moment. “It would seem so,” he said at length. “We did not discuss a time at which I might resume my own life’s purpose. Still,” he said brightly, “this is a good life.”
Silence fell over them again, and Najdat waited.
“Very well,” Mr. Legier said. “For my first wish, I would like to be in good health until I die.”
Najdat bowed slightly. “It is granted.”
“For my second wish.” He pulled out his wallet. “Every time I open this, I want to find another $100. Say in five $20 bills. That’s more portable than gold or rubies, and I’m not a greedy man.”
Najdat bowed again. “It is granted.”
“And finally … I wish that you would do whatever is necessary, and go wherever or whenever it is necessary, for you to be fulfilled in your life.”
The djinn stared blankly at the human.
“I am certain you have done well and that holy man of long ago would be pleased with your work. But I free you from those duties and from the lamp.”
A single tear rolled down Najdat’s face. “It is granted,” he whispered. “You are a good and decent man, and you have my eternal gratitude.”
* * *
“Najdat cast one last glance at the lamp that had been his home for so very long, and then disappeared,” Mr. Legier told Sergeant Kaplan. “That was seven years ago.”
Sergeant Kaplan leaned back as far as he could in a chair made for sitting up straight in. “And you haven’t seen him since?”
“No. Although … once in a while, I get a sense of someone being happy. I think it might be Najdat smiling in my direction.”
Sergeant Kaplan rubbed the back of his neck. “Just one more question, Mr. Legier: Do you report the extra income from your magic wallet to the Internal Revenue Service?”
Mr. Legier raised an eyebrow. “Sergeant, I am a good and decent man. Not a saint.”
The sergeant barked out a loud laugh. He picked up the wallet and tossed it lightly to land in front of its rightful owner. “Mr. Legier, for however long it lasts, you have restored my faith in human nature.”
Mr. Legier looked at the wallet. “You could have kept this for yourself. You, Sergeant, have restored my faith as well.”
They passed a quiet, happy moment.
“Tell me,” Mr. Legier said at last, “where was this found?”
“Only a block from where you were mugged. The thief must have pulled out the five $20s that I presume were in there and tossed the wallet, figuring he was done with it. He’ll never know what he threw away. Your driver’s license and library and grocery store cards are still in there.”
“When did you find it?”
“On my way home from work. Wednesday.”
The sergeant hesitated, and blushed ever so slightly. “Actually, it was three Wednesdays ago. But my wife and I sure like our new big-screen TV.”