Possibly, he says, it could be a ceremonial African key, and if so, would be valuable. Some of the encrusted dirt could be shipped to a lab to see if the soil is germane to a particular part of the world. The key could be cleaned with acid, and new photos shipped to professors of mythology for speculation on the face in the medallion. Archaeologists at the Smithsonian Institution and Penn State University could be asked about the snakes on the handle.
Yes, says Roditis on the ride home. That's exactly what needs to be done. Not to mention appraisals from metallurgists, geophysicists, auctioneers and lock manufacturers.
El Greco, it seems, is ready to go to the ends of the earth to unlock the mystery of his wondrous key. Ready to go anywhere, that is, except just across the street. That's where he would find the one person he has never asked about his key: John Raccuglia, the man who sold it to him.
"I've sold about 20 of those things," Raccuglia says. "They're keys to the city, souvenirs that were common from about the 1890s through the 1920s. Mayors would give them out to minor dignitaries."
Raccuglia and Roditis have known each other for many years. Their shops stand across from each other on Eastern Avenue. Why didn't he spare his old acquaintance all the trouble?
"He's cagey when he buys things from me," says Raccuglia, ZTC gently noting that every time El Greco buys a violin from him, he's certain he's landed a Stradivarius.
"He doesn't ask what I think they're worth because he thinks he's getting a treasure," Raccuglia says. "He thinks it would hurt my feelings to know that I'd sold off a national treasure for $25."
El Greco is unconvinced, unmoved.
"John, he don't know this business like I do," Roditis says. "Key is thousands of years old, maybe back to the ancient Olympics in Greece. When I take to the Smithsonian, then he'll see."
Why would Raccuglia try to mislead him?
"Because," smiles El Greco, "he lose the key now!"
Pub Date: 3/12/98