Rooms “A” and “B” which were located in the North part of the property, in the upper echelons, were much larger in size, capable of housing up to three hundred patrons, whereas the “C” only accommodated seventy-five to a maximum of a hundred.
Along both sides of room “C” were long wooden bookshelves, from floor to ceiling, constructed from a deep dark walnut. They ran from back to front and were filled to capacity with first editions from Charles Dickens to Edgar Allan Poe, from Lewis Carroll to Jean Austin, all shielded by airtight and tinted UV resistant glass doors protecting the books inside.
The room had eight red velvet chairs lined up side by side, with a total of ten rows of them, starting from the rear door and extending forward, each row separated by three feet of room with a bidding paddle placed upon each seat and a small writing table attached to the armrest, one which flipped up, for placing drinks, stationery and wallets.
At the front of the room was a podium with a small reading light and platform for the auctioneer. To the left of this were four large black leather high back chairs, for sellers to observe the proceedings and validate the actions taken to sell their wares.
Above them were two massive big screen plasma televisions suspended on bars, one to each side to provide for larger views of smaller items and to prevent bidders from having to come up and personally inspect the items, though some still did.
To the right of the podium was a small oak table with a pivoting video camera, fastened to a radial arm which could be adjusted or moved to any position, hardwired and linked to the televisions to display anything before it.
It was professional auctioneering at its best.
Hayden and Danica took their seats in the middle of the room.
As Hayden put it, “We don’t want to look too anxious, but we certainly don’t want to appear too lax either.”
Danica shook her head at the elaborate measures Hayden was taking to dupe the ‘shrinks.’ She had brought with her the auction catalogue which listed the order of items to be sold, the pages of the journal being fourteen on the schedule.
Hayden grabbed his paddle and placed it against his knee, holding it tight, his hand lightly twitching in preparation to hold it aloft and bid like a quick draw at sundown outside a western saloon.
Danica on the other hand casually slid hers to the seat beside her, giving that patron two to use as she could care less.
The room started filling in.
There were a few men in three piece suits, some in casual attire, one sporting a Christmas sweater to Hayden’s amusement, one woman in a nicely wrapped wool shawl seeming hand spun and another with a pink jogging outfit, yet carrying a briefcase.
An eclectic band of shoppers in my instances, but not in this world of treasure hunters.
Everyone took their seats, some opening books, reviewing catalogues, pulling out pens and pencils, donning eyewear, while others simply sat back and waited patiently.
Danica looked up at Carlos as he entered from the back area, taking a seat on the upraised stage in one of the spectator chairs.
Carlos winked in Danica’s direction once again causing her to blush.
Hayden blushed as well, but not with embarrassment, but annoyance. ‘Did he not see she was with me?’
Hayden turned to Danica as she was reading the program. “Anything you like? Your company is footing the bill.”
“No thank you.” Danica’s eyes squinted tightly when she looked in Hayden’s direction, trying to avoid responding to his cavalier attitude in spending her employer’s money. Not to mention forgoing their trust. “Just the pages. It’s not comp.”
Hayden chuckled at that. “I’m just saying. We could get a couple of things and charge it all as one. Maximus never said he needed a receipt.”
Danica knew he was kidding, but she decided not to give him the satisfaction of an answer. She took a breath and changed the subject by pointing to the booklet and querying. “There sure are alot of artifacts from sea disasters?”
Hayden nodded nonchalantly. “This is Europe. If it didn’t sink after leaving dock, no one cared. You’d be surprised how few of the successful voyages got any press.” He turned to her. ’Not unlike today’s news. Unless it bleeds, it never leads.”
In that, Danica agreed, today’s news was most often a bloodletting in written form.
The auctioneer came in last, a thin reed like man with long bony fingers and pale skin, almost like the Grim Reaper chose to retire and sell antiques. He had short spiked red hair and thick circular eyeglasses with deep black frames, ones which made his eyes seem to expand outward under its magnifying effect, making him look like an owl perched on his podium in search of prey. He placed a clipboard down, adjusted a small microphone on his jacket lapel and tapped it lightly.
The speakers around the room popped.
Looking satisfied with himself, the auctioneer softly reminded the room to take their seats as the bidding was about to begin.
Hayden pivoted around. He could see at least two other professors he knew, by reputation only, one from Bern in Germany whose field was ship faring routes and aquatic salvage and the second from Israel, a specialist in ancient biblical texts. Neither individual would be here for the eight pages.
Based on the catalogue, there were numerous other treasures they were here for.
Danica elbowed Hayden gently. “Look over there.”
Hayden turned as two very large men entered the room.
The men were both six feet tall, short brown hair on one, the other balding, with long term acne scarring their faces. They had solid muscled physiques, looking a lot like spinning tops as their upper bodies were disproportionate to their waist and legs beneath. The appeared to focus too much on the chest and shoulders areas when they pumped iron. They were dressed in weightlifting T-Shirts, blue jeans and combat boots, looking like two body builders in need of a bench press, but none were on the schedule to be sold today.
Danica could tell right away, they were identical twins, as they looked like mirrors of one another, and equally ugly. She asked Hayden. “Are they professors too?”
Hayden scowled. “Not to judge a book by its cover, but the only school I can see them representing is Fuck ‘U’.”
Danica turned sharply. “Seriously. Can we not go just one day? One single day without you swearing?”
Hayden smirked. “Come on. It was funny.”
Even though Danica did agree, she felt the timing was rude. “Funny yes.” She replied. “But not necessary.”
Hayden acquiesced. “Fine Princess. What would you have preferred I said?”
She glowered at him and waited a solid thirty seconds without speaking. “Screw U.” She turned and faced forward again.
Hayden sat there quietly with his mouth firmly closed, having felt he was silenced for some reason.
‘Did she just give me a suggestion… or make one?’ When he thought about it harder. ‘Likely the latter.’
After several minutes of quiet and everyone had taken their seats, Hayden gave Danica a quick gentle elbow to her side.
She looked up, no longer annoyed with him, as his childish antics were somewhat entertaining, though she would never tell him, and noticed what Hayden was pointing at.
The two thugs had taken different seats, one near the group at the front and the second, nearer to the back, but closest to the largest group of people there.
Individual buyers remained seated, alone, but within the sightlines of the podium.
“Remind you of anyone?” Hayden asked softly under his breath.
Danica looked at them again and imagined Maximus and Maxima. She shook her head. “Why would they send another team of bidders to bid against us?”
Hayden shrugged. “Maybe it was destiny.” He mimicked Maximus’ voice perfectly, down to the same arrogant tone and heavy self-righteousness.
Danica smiled. She saw the way the twins stalked around the room before taking their seats, like lumbering gorillas in a pen trying to find a place to dominate. “I’m not sure. But they don’t look like antique collectors in my mind.”
Hayden added. “Unless we missed something on the list and they’re auctioning off bananas.”
Danica suppressed a giggle that time as the bidding began.
Over the next hour, numerous items came and went, some with long bidding battles, while others sat untouched and uncalled upon for several minutes, at least until someone finally bid simply so they could move on to the next item.
Nearing the bottom of the second hour, the eight pages were placed upon the pedestal and before the cameras.
Hayden had his paddle at ready, the number ‘0509’ etched into the middle of it in bright red letters, face down on his lap and ready to be snapped up like a Jack-In-The-Box.
Danica looked at Hayden in amusement, seeing his excitement to begin.
The auctioneer took a drink from a bottle of water he had hidden beneath his podium shelf. Once refreshed, he activated the big screens to reveal the pages to everyone.
Hayden was ready.
The auctioneer quickly described the item, mostly a quick medical history and a short story on the night of the great fire. Finally, he spoke to the meat of the tale. “We have eight pages torn from a century old diary of an inmate from an institution long destroyed.” He paused for dramatic effect. “Nothing else survived. And some rumours have it, the madman went insane because he found something of immense value.” He smiled viciously like a gargoyle on a church edifice leering down at his audience. “It was either that or he was simply as nutty as a German fruitcake.” He took a breath. “Let your bidding decide.”
The auctioneer barely noticed the lack of response to his joke, giggling to himself. He paused and declared loudly for the room to hear. “We start the bidding at ten thousand pound sterling.”
Hayden was ready.
But before he could lift his paddle, a voice from the background, a young woman, brown hair, jogging suit and briefcase, sitting near the last row, lifted her paddle and offered thirteen thousand.
Hayden countered with fifteen thousand. He turned to the woman and smiled.
She winked in return and offered eighteen.
Hayden responded with twenty.
Danica elbowed him in the ribs. “Can you not bid in increments of one, not two.”
Hayden gave her a sad nod, not sympathetically. “Winners don’t pace. They thrust.”
“Thrust in ONES!” Danica snapped. “Ever read the Tortoise and the Hare?”
The woman bid twenty two thousand.
Hayden raised his paddle, offering twenty four. “The Tortoise never had a credit line.”
Danica bristled. Before the next bid could be offered, she turned and saw one of the two thugs, the one near the rear, facing in the direction of the female bidder.
He seemed to whisper something Danica could not hear.
The woman on the other hand paled. She put her paddle down on her lap, letting it go and appearing not likely to bid again.
A man in the front row raised his paddle, suspecting the sudden flurry of bids meant something was worth acquiring. He shouted. “Thirty.”
The auctioneer gave the man a quick nod.
As the auctioneer turned away and called for another bid, the second thug had changed seats, moving in behind the last bidder.
The second thug whispered something into the bidder’s ear and sat back.
The bidder froze, his face ashen. He looked about the room hoping for a higher bid.
Hayden was focused on the auction, thus he offered thirty two.
Danica kicked him in the lower shin, whispering. “I said one.”
Hayden scowled as he rubbed his lower leg. “Baby steps are for infants. I’m a man.”
Danica sighed. ‘Not in her books.’
A third man twitched near the front and seemed he was about to bid when the second thug had moved again and whispered something aloud behind the seat, but not close to his ear to allow all of those around him to hear.
Danica still was out of earshot.
The man dropped his paddle and remained quiet.
Hayden at this point was seeing what Danica saw. “Did you see that?” He directed to Danica.
“I certainly did.” Danica pulled back and jerked her head to the one at the back. “They’ve been doing it since we began.”
Hayden got a horrible feeling. ““I don’t think they’re here to bid against us. I think they’re here to limit the bidding entirely.”
“I know.” Danica was shocked, but she was pointing to the stage. “But this has not gone unnoticed.”
Hayden looked up to see the anger filled eyes of Carlos.
Carlos was staring from the sidelines, stunned at what he observed.
Worse, he was disgusted beyond measure.
‘Who brings thugs to an educational artifact auction to intimidate bidders’
Carlos suspected something like this would happen by offering the pages, but it was still surprising to see.
And based on the targets of intimidation, they were supporting Doctors Lattimer and Swift.
Carlos found this surprising as they did not strike him as the kind of people who would employ such tactics.
Then again, the purported Fountain of Youth legend could draw all comers from around the world and not all of them were what they claimed to be.
Carlos rose from his seat, adjusting his jacket and walked up to the auctioneer, who had slowed the auction, as he too suspected something odd was happening in the audience by the sudden slowing of interested buyers and bids.
Rarely do bidders start a bidding war for an item and stop when the momentum gets good.
Carlos whispered something to the auctioneer.
The auctioneer appeared out of sorts, turning to glare in Carlos’ direction, stating loudly. “This is highly irregular sir.” He paused to listen to Carlos whispering. “Yes I’m well aware of the special circumstances you employed before the auction.” He paused again. “Of course. But don’t expect a lot of bidders next time if you put the item up for grabs again.”
Carlos nodded his acceptance at that.
The auctioneer threw in. “That and be aware, you’ll be paying the fee for our services regardless.” He motioned to the display with the eight pages. “You might as well remove them now.”
The auctioneer drew a key from around his neck to unlock the housing unit that kept the pages from being stolen and handed it to Carlos.
Under the watchful eyes of the bidders, Carlos unlocked the case, slipped the rectangular block containing the eight pages out of the inset and into his briefcase, custom designed to hold them.
In seconds, both he and the pages disappeared through the dark velvet flaps of the rear curtains.
The auctioneer took several seconds to consider how to explain what happened and then turned to the audience. He offered a sheepish grin. “The seller has chosen to withdraw his collectible from the auction. And as per his contract, it’s his legal right to do.”
The room groaned.
To some, it sounded like gratitude.
The two large twins stood, anger evident in their eyes, fists clenched and glaring at all of the patrons around them.
Many seemed to shift away, while others ignored their gaze.
Hayden and Danica stared at both of them with steely eyes, not intimidated in the least.
The thugs departed quickly through a side entrance.
Hayden and Danica rose from their chairs as the auction resumed on item number fifteen.
Hayden turned to her and casually asked. “Does this mean we have to give back the five thousand?”
Danica forced a smile. She wanted to have here spirits lifted, but simply could not.
In the span of a few weeks and being entrusted to help her company in unique and prolific ways, she had failed.