What Goes Around
Greg turned the clackety old antique over in his hands and gave his trademarked purse of the lips and shake of the head.
“It’s been in my family for decades,” the little old woman on the other side of the counter was saying. “It was a wedding gift to my grandparents. It breaks my heart to see it go, but we really need the money. We can’t pay the bills, you see, and we’ll lose the house if we can’t raise some fast.”
Her tale of woe did nothing to sway Greg, as he shook the ornate clock ever so slightly, listening for the tell-tale signs of damage. Everyone came in here with a sad story of some kind of another, and if he empathised with all of them – any of them in fact – he would never get any business done.
“I’ve heard they can be worth a couple of thousand.”
Ohoho, so she had done a little research already. Those were Greg’s favourite kind of customer: the ones who came in thinking they knew what they wanted, but leaving with the comparable pittance that Greg grudgingly handed over. He let out a low whistle, exactly the kind that a plumber always did when evaluating the cost. “It would be,” he said slowly, “If not for the damage. You see here on the lintel? That drops the price considerably, and didn’t you mention that you had difficulty winding it now?”
“I could give you £500 for it.”
She seemed unsure. “We were hoping for a bit more than that for it.”
Greg held up his hands in mock surrender. “Okay, okay, £600, but that’s my final offer. I just can’t go any higher; you’re robbing me blind here!”
Gratefully, the elderly lady exchanged the broken clock for the money and left the shop in reasonable spirits, while Greg tried to hide his glee. Even with the flaws it displayed, the clock was still worth a pretty penny, and once he had got an acquaintance to repair it, it would go for a tidy sum at auction. Yes, Greg felt fairly pleased with the transaction for the time being.
A quick glance of one of the unbroken clocks scattered around the room told Greg that it was twenty past five: nearly time to close up shop. That was the worst part of running your own business; there was no one else to pick up the slack if you didn’t fancy staying until the end. If he wasn’t quite so stingy with the money he did make, Greg might possibly have been able to hire an assistant. As it was, he relied on his sister to cover for him if need be. She never managed to hold down a proper job of her own for more than a couple of weeks anyway, and was grateful of the little money he gave to her for it.
He pottered around a little longer, checking the time all the while, just waiting for the perfect moment to flick the sign on the glass door and lock. Twenty eight minutes past; surely that was close enough? No one ever came at this time, not into an antique and curiosity shop. They preferred the time to browse.
Greg had just turned the sign and reached out a hand to finish the job, when the door flew open and only his quick reflexes prevented him from being whacked square in the nose. A tall, heavyset man wearing orange sneakers and a black coat stalked into the shop carrying a small bundle, holding it close to his body as though it were a child. He looked around for an attendant, but did not turn around.
“Heh hum,” Greg cleared his throat. “Can I help you at all?” Damn idiots coming in at this time, and not looking where they were going to boot.
The man spun on the spot and Greg wished that he had slipped out the door when he had the chance. There was a long scar running down one cheek that met the edge of his mouth and gave it a kind of sneer. He glared at Greg and watched him intently as the shopkeeper sidled around the counter. “I wish to make a bargain,” he grunted.
“Do you have the goods with you?” What a stupid question that was. Greg wished he could take them back before they had even left his lips. It was a measure of just how much he wanted to be out of here.
The customer did not deign to answer him, only narrowing his eyes and carefully unwrapping the package to lay on the counter in front of him. First came the outer layer, some kind of brownish velvet if looks were anything to go by, and Greg prided himself on his attention to detail. Then the layers kept on coming, muslin if he was not mistaken, on and on until Greg began to wonder what could actually be nestled in the middle there was so little space.
Finally, the man with the bizarre orange sneakers leant backwards and Greg peered within the folds to see item. It was small, and warm to the touch when he delicately ran his fingers across the surface. He cocked his head to one side and considered it for a minute before daring to ask. “An egg? Why have you brought me a freckled egg?”
“I am in the market to sell.”
“Nah, mate, you’ve come to the wrong place. This is a live one, I don’t deal with animals, just antiques and curiosities. You might want to try the pet shop down the high street. They might take it?” His voice sounded braver than Greg felt. This was not the kind of man you disagreed with. He was probably carrying a gun or at least a knife. All the knives in this place were ornamental; Greg would have nothing to defend himself with if things go nasty.
“It is a curiosity, is it not?”
This man was sharper than he looked. It was true, the colours on the egg were remarkable, and something in it kept drawing his eyes towards it, to the odd patterns in the dark red freckles that covered the pale brown shell. The care with which he handled the egg suggested that he at least thought there was some kind of value in it, though what that value was, Greg had no idea at all. “I suppose so, but it’s really not my speciality. I wouldn’t know what to do with it.”
“This is a very rare egg. It comes from the Verillion bird.” He paused for effect, but Greg only looked blankly at him and the man continued on. “Very sought after and expensive.”
Greg could not stop himself blurting out, “So what are you bringing it to me for, then?”
“We thought you might be interested in the transaction. You stand to make a fair amount of money from it.”
Something just wasn’t sitting right with the whole thing. “Then why aren’t you selling it yourself? Why bring me in at all?” Slowly, and almost imperceptible, Greg edged backwards towards the back door, just in case he needed to make a quick exit.
This time, however, the guy in the orange sneakers did not seem to react. “You have access to contacts that we do not, Mr. Ashurst.” Greg did not manage to hide his shock at hearing his own name. “My boss believes the arrangement will be beneficial to both parties.”
Against his better judgement, Greg asked. “How much?”
“My boss is willing to let you have it for a grand.”
“A grand? Do you think I’m made of money?”
“Sources say that you are financially solvent.”
Damn, where were they getting their information? “Yeah, well, that’s as may be, but I’m not going to drop a thousand pounds on an item that I know absolutely noting about. I’m no fool.”
The man began to wrap the egg back up in its layers. “Just think about it. The offer will not stay open forever. If you are not amenable, I’m sure we can find someone else willing to spend a little to make a lot.”
Greg said nothing to the man as he left, but stayed dead still until he heard the click of the door at the front of the shop, upon which he literally leapt across the counter and skidded across the floor to lock it before he could come back. Only then did Greg realise that his heart was racing. The man wasn’t that intimidating…. was he? Apart from the strangely uncharacteristic orange sneaker, he certainly appeared to be formidable, not the sort of person Greg would tangle with, not even after a few pints when he had a horrible tendency to pick fights with people considerably bigger than him. Not that it mattered now; he was gone, and it was time to close up. If nothing else it had killed those last few minutes that were usually so dull.
However, the image of the egg remained burned in his memory as he finished closing up shop. Was it really worth as much as the man in the orange sneakers seemed to think? After totting up the takings from today, Greg began to wonder if maybe he should have taken him up on the offer. How much was it worth anyway? Perhaps he should look it up later, just in case.
When he finally got out back to the alley that served as a car park for the row of small shops, he found his sister sitting on the bonnet of his car, letting her long wavy hear blow mindlessly into the wind. “Oh what do you want, Serena?” he said wearily. “And get off the car. I only just washed it.”
She jumped down from her vantage point, the beads around her neck clicking and jangling. The noise grated on Greg’s nerves. “I need a ride home.”
It was hardly a surprise. “Whatever. Get in.”
Greg winced as her mud-covered giant boots scattered bits over the floor of the car, though he said nothing aloud. Of course, Serena was not her original name, though Greg had forgotten how to think of her as anything else now. It certainly suited her right down to the ground. Born Pauline Mary <NAME>, at the age of thirteen she had begun to insist they all call her Serena, at least at home, since she could not get away with it at school, and the day after she turned eighteen she had changed her name by deed poll. Greg knew her better under her new name than her old one, though he still could not understand her at all.
“So how was your day?” she asked him airily. Her long flowing skirt had got caught in the car door and she yanked hard on it until it finally came free.
“Strange,” he conceded eventually.
She clapped her hands excitedly. “Oh, that’s the best kind!” Serena enthused. “Do tell me about it!”
“Really, it wasn’t that interesting.” Greg was still digesting the events of the day; he had yet to form a proper opinion on it.
“Tell me anyway.”
He rolled his eyes, which probably wasn’t a great idea, since he was already reversing down the alleyway, and reluctantly acquiesced. She wasn’t going to give up until she did as he wanted. For a dippy, flighty, always on the go hippie, Serena seemed to get exactly what she wanted a remarkable amount of the time. “Most of it was nothing much, the usually really. Then just before closing some weird guy came in with a funny little freckled egg, telling me it was really rare and from some Veron bird or something. God knows why he brought it to me. It’s not my field at all!”
Serena started bouncing up and down in her seat like a child, even more excited than usual. “Oh my God, Greg, are you telling me someone came in to the shop to sell you a Verillion egg? Is that what you mean.”
“Yeah, could be. What of it, anyway? Is it rare or something?”
“Rare?” she exclaimed. “Are you telling me you haven’t heard of a Verillion egg?”
This was getting annoying now. “Serena, calm the **** down and tell me what you’re on about. No, I hadn’t heard of it before today. Should I have?”
Clasping her hands together in front of her chest, Serena sighed deeply and gazed off into the distance, focusing on nothing. “Verillion eggs are legendary! Verillion birds are rare and beautiful, prized by collectors. They have gorgeous red plumes, and dark purple feathers that are amazingly soft – so I hear, at any rate. Vicious, too, though, and almost never found in captivity. They like their freedom, you see, and are protective to the infinite degree. There are myths attached to them too, all kinds of stories like punishments for thieves, or that if you are gifted with a Verillion egg, it will bestow upon you special powers and exceptional luck… he wasn’t trying to gift it to you was he?”
“Not at that price,” Greg snorted. “Not in the least. Serena, are you saying that these eggs have magical powers?”
“Magical, no, more… mystical.
“Don’t talk rubbish,” he scoffed. He should be used to that kind of silly idea by now. Serena was always parroting one weird thing or another. Last time he had given her a lift home she had rambled on and on about empathy fields or some other such crap. There was no end to the things she could come out with.
“I’m not, I’m really not! There are all kinds of stories surrounding Verillion birds, both good and bad. I’m glad you didn’t buy it, Greg. They might be worth thousands of pounds, but it could have been dangerous!”
So they really were as rare and expensive as the man had made out. Damn. Perhaps he should have gone for it after all. Well, the man might come back yet. A little research never hurt anyone. It might be worth finding out a bit more, just in case. Serena was hardly a reliable source of anything.
To Greg’s surprise, the research he did later that evening did seem to back up everything Serena had told him, though he glossed over anything that suggested any kind of powers attached, mystical or otherwise. The legends were irrelevant; all that mattered was if it would be worthwhile completing the transaction with the man in the orange sneakers. There certainly seemed to be a market for it.
It was almost a disappointment when the next day yielded no sign of the man returning to renew the proffered transaction. Only when Greg had begun to give up hope that he had been unable to find an alternative buyer, did the door swing widely open and a man in orange sneakers entered carrying a delicate bundle. Not the same, man, it should be noted, and the sneakers had to be several sizes smaller to go with his more diminutive stature, but the goods remained the same.
“Have you reconsidered our offer?”
“Maybe.” No point giving too much away too soon. He had to play the game properly for maximum profit. “I’m interested, but the price is a bit high for me right now.”
The man inclined his head forward slightly. “Very well; I am authorised to discuss a deal. What did you have in mind?”
In an attempt to make it look like he hadn’t carefully calculated all this already, Greg lolled his head around a little and shifted from one foot to the other. “I was thinking something more along the lines of eight hundred.”
A sharp twist of the head to the right told Greg that the man in the second pair of orange sneakers, a rarity in itself, was not going to go for it, and he was surprised when the man countered with a reasonable offer. “Make it nine and you have a bargain, Mr. Ashurst.”
The use of his name sent shivers down Greg’s spine. “Done.” He held out a hand to shake on it, but the man did not move a muscle. “Oookay then. How would you prefer payment?”
“Cash. Only cash. No receipts.”
Wow, they really did want to get rid of this item quickly. Could it have been stolen? Not that it mattered to Greg; stolen goods had passed through his hands before, and he had the perfect business for trading items he did not care to keep for himself on to others. Only once had the police actually come a-knocking, and on that particular occasion, the items in question had long since been sold on and Greg got no more than a mild slap on the wrist, nothing to worry about.
It was with a somewhat pained reluctance than Greg handed over the money, and once the man and his stupid orange sneakers had left, he spent a good twenty minutes gazing idly at his unusual purchase before he realised what he was doing and stowed it safely away in the safe for the night. Normally he would have taken it home with him, but tonight was pub night and he would not be there long enough to see it in a safe location.
The trip to the pub was fraught with difficulties and minor incidents. First of all, Greg missed the bus my mere minutes, which meant he either had to drive in and not drink, or call a taxi at great expense, as there was no bus for an hour, if it bothered to turn up at all. The latter was the only real option and he bitched and moaned about it under his breath the whole way there. Greg had barely been in the pub ten minutes when the juke box broke and he found himself completely soaked by a pint carried by a practically horizontal student. Added to this, his pool arm seemed to be atrociously off, and he could not manage to win a single game. It was a piss poor evening all round and Greg drowned his sorrows with pint after pint with his mates who were in no better state.
He finally crawled out of the pub not long after closing time, almost literally in fact, since Greg was completely unable to stand up without support by that time. The rain was coming down in sheets, and Greg could barely see his hand in front of his face, though whether that had more to do with the thick fog of his drunken state, Greg was not entirely sure. He said – or rather, shouted – goodbye to his friends and then wandered off on his own in a random direction in search of a taxi.
Finding a taxi not forthcoming, Greg stumbled around in the half-light. A curious ringing – no, more of a chirp – echoed through his mind and drove him further and further into the council estate as he tried to escape the incessant noise.
Completely lost now, Greg stood stock still and attempted to take in his surroundings. Where the Hell was he? It certainly wasn’t a place he recognised.
Across the front of his vision flashed a bid. A bird with red plumes, or so it seemed. Greg shook his head and shivered. He must be really drunk if he was seeing creatures from one of Serena’s stories. There it was again! It was all just too weird, like they were after him or something. Could it be nothing more than a dodgy pint?
Greg was not sure how he got home that night. All he remembered was waking up at 2am on the floor of his own hallway, with the front door open and the keys still in it. Sick though he now felt, Greg had just about sobered up enough to close it properly and then drag himself off to bed.
Unsurprisingly, the next morning, Greg did not get up at the sound of his first alarm, nor the second, and he woke with a start nearly an hour after he should have opened up the shop. By the time he made it there, through a horrific traffic jam caused by an accident on the main A-road, it was closing on 11 o’clock and Greg’s day did not improve after that. He could count on one hand the number of customers that passed through his doors that day, and none of them spent more than a fiver on his wares. Trinkets were all that he sold at all, the worst takings since he had first opened the shop nearly five years ago. It was beyond depressing. It had to be something to do with the credit crunch that the economists were all talking about. People weren’t spending their hard-earned cash on frivolous items, which spelled bad news for Greg who made his money off them that way.
As the bad day turned into several, Greg began to get more and more worried. The alternator to his car spluttered and died on Friday morning, just to add to his woes, and though he sold one expensive item, it was barely enough to cover the costs of repair, never mind the mortgage and rent on the shop. The more Greg dwelled on the source of his problems, the more he started to believe in the curse of the Verillion egg. Three separate sales of the egg fell through for him, and general business did not improve either.
He sat there, in his empty shop and stared angrily at the egg, which he had laid out carefully onto the counter. You never knew who might walk in and decide they wanted to by it! Ever since he had bought the egg things had been going badly. As much a he hated to even consider Serena’s ideas on anything, the longer it went on, the more he thought that the Verillion egg had been the harbinger of doom, and that made him even more pissed off them before.
“Damn you, damn you all the way to Hades!” he yelled at the inanimate object and shoved it into the nearest container he owned without caring what it was.
Edited by LadyGuinevere, 29 October 2008 - 03:12 PM.