Her name is Ann and she came to the newspaper with all the earnestness of a woman come to pay her taxes.

We went inside, found a quiet little conference room and took chairs across from each other.

An older lady, is Ann. Perhaps in her 70s, perhaps a little older. When she sat across the table from me, she heaved a weary sigh and said, “I want to show you something.”

I love when readers come to me with their mysteries. Some are big mysteries, some are small, all of them fascinate me like enigmatic treasures found on the ground.

And speaking of enigmatic treasures, Ann pulled a ring from a little box and dropped it onto the table without ceremony. A-dink-dank-dingle, went the ring before it came to a rest. Then it just sat there gleaming at me.

I’ve got to tell you: I don’t know jack diddly squat about rings. Display your hand and show me your fine jewelry and I’ll do my best to be polite.

“Uh-huh,” I’ll mutter, “Sure is nice. Those … stone thingies really catch the light and whatnot.”

But I do know dazzling when I see it and this little ring was a dazzler. Even under the gloomy office lights, it shined in all sorts of place and in all sorts of ways. The light coming off the stone thingies alternated blue, yellow, purple, red and all sorts of colors I find myself unable to name.

“It’s pretty,” I said politely.

It turns out the stones were diamonds, and while Ann acknowledged it sure was a pretty little thing, the ring had brought her nothing but distress for the 23 years it has been in her possession.

Mainly because it wasn’t hers to possess.

As it happens. Ann’s husband was a custodian at the Auburn Middle School back in 1996. One late afternoon as he was coming in to work, he stubbed his toe on something in the school parking lot. Whatever it was that had assaulted his foot, it was hard packed with the mud and ice of late winter.

Irritated more than curious, he stuffed the thing in his pocket and more or less forgot about it until later, when he was at home.

Ann explains, gently turning the ring over in her hands like an old, but troublesome friend.

“We have this cup on the bureau,” she said. “When he comes home, everything in his pocket goes into that cup.”

The cup was mostly filled with pennies, she said, but there were other trinkets, as well. Cheap chains, scuffed coins and other things a person finds while going about his day.

Her husband was a school custodian, you have to remember. When he was vacuuming the school carpets, he would find all sorts of things. Jewelry and ribbons and all varieties of things that kids drop and forget in their mad rush toward adulthood.

Her husband’s policy was to bring anything of significance into the school secretary’s office to be added to the lost and found. Most of that loot was never claimed and would end up back in his possession. Into the cup on the bureau it would go, to be inventoried later.

So when Ann got around to cleaning out the mad jumble of stuff in that cup, she came across the rock-like item that had stricken woe on her husband’s big toe.

“So I took everything out of that cup and there was this rock,” Ann recalls. “It was loaded with rock salt, ice, mud, everything. I had to scrape it all away.”

She scraped vigorously at first, using a knife and a screwdriver to hack away the crust of mud and ice. When she finally had most of the gunk cleaned away, the item inside began to gleam exotically, a true diamond in the rough.

“I says: ‘Oh. That’s a ring. It’s really nice,” Ann recalls, excitement rising with the memory. “It’s gorgeous.”

She soaked it to get the last of the dirt off. She rubbed it and polished and cleaned it up nice until the ring was gleaming again at its full potential.

She brought the ring to a jewelry store. The jeweler offered her $250 for it on the spot, although it was appraised much higher than that. But Ann didn’t want money for somebody else’s ring.

“I kept telling everybody, ‘Somebody lost this ring.’ This ring means something to them,” Ann said.

She went to the police. In fact, she still carries around a slip from Auburn police Detective Richard Small, who took down Ann’s report and did whatever police do when trying to reconnect lost items with their original owners.

But no one came forward to claim the ring, and as the years began to pile up, Ann just couldn’t put the thought of it out of her mind. She went to a bank and placed the ring into a safety deposit box along, with all of the pertinent papers. There the ring resides full time, except for the rare occasions when Ann fetches it on her never ending quest to find the owner.

Clues don’t exactly abound in this little caper. The ring was found in the winter of 1996, but God alone knows how long it had been getting kicked around the parking lot by plow trucks, wind, rain and human feet. How it came to be there is the real mystery.

Did some little girl lose the ring after swiping it from her mother’s jewelry box just to wear it for a day? Did a young teacher’s assistant drop the ring while juggling books and papers and files the way teachers do? Did it belong to an angry, young fiancee who yanked the ring from her finger and chucked it in a rage across the parking lot? You see that kind of thing in the movies all the time.

Maybe there’s a great backstory there, and who doesn’t love a good backstory?

As is so often the case, I represented a kind of last resort in Ann’s efforts to reunite owner with ring. She’s been trying to get that ring out of her hands for more than two decades now. Why not give a local newspaper hack a shot?

So, here’s my offer to you, dear reader, absently reading this column while sitting on the toilet or in the waiting room at the dentist’s office. If you lost a ring somewhere near the Auburn Middle School in the mid-to-late 1990s, get in touch, describe your ring — the ring for sure has some unique characteristics — and by God, we’ll get your jewelry back on your finger and clear Ann’s conscience, at long last.

It could be that simple. Of course, it’s just as likely that no one will call and the mystery will linger forevermore.

Ann has a backup plan for the ring, just in case.

“I have a granddaughter who’s 8 or 9 years old,” she said. “I think she’d love to have it.”

But then she sighed again as she packed the ring once more into its little box — a pretty little thing that gleams as bright as the stars yet keeps its secrets in the dark.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal columnist and staff writer.

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