I had given my notice at the book store and on my last day my coworkers even got me a cake. I was going to miss everyone, but I was excited about the new opportunity that lay ahead.
As everyone was congratulating me on my new endeavor, I couldn’t help but think of my mom. I felt like I was turning another page in my life, and finally becoming a man. Possibly even starting a career.
$50,000 a year? Who would have thought?
I know she would have been very proud of me and I took some comfort in that.
“We are going to miss you around here Jack. Who’s gonna make us laugh now?” Denise said.
Denise had been off work ill ever since the mystery girl had come into the store looking for me. I had been so busy that I completely forgot about it.
“Thanks Denise. I think Pete will fill in nicely.” I said, trying to keep a straight face.
She gave me the look. Pete was a reasonably decent guy, but there was a running joke through the store that if anyone ever saw him smile, and got a picture of it, they would win one million dollars. No one ever collected their fake millions.
Denise’s mock frustrated face changed to one sudden realization.
“Oh Jack, did that girl ever find you?” She said, just remembering.
“No. I was meaning to ask you about it after Gus told me. Did you get a name or anything?” I asked.
“No, sorry. She asked for you and when I said you were off she left in a hurry.”
“What did she look like?” I said, hoping for the one detail that would give me hope.
“Well, she was pretty, thin....but that is all I really remember. She had on a baseball cap and jeans, I think. Does that help?”
It didn’t, but I’m sure Denise didn’t plan on being questioned about every detail of a stranger she met for five seconds.
“Yes, thanks Denise. Don’t forget to keep in touch. I’m not moving to another country, just a few blocks over.
The next morning I was getting ready for my first day at the new job when there was a knock at the front door. I opened the door only to find a small package on the doormat, and a delivery truck already pulling away.
I looked at the label on the package and it was from the Law Firm that handled my mother’s affairs, which I found odd since everything had been settled a long time ago.
The box was small and light and I took it to my room. I opened it up, removed the packing paper, and found two small items. One of which surprised me.
There was a ring that Helen gave my mom, and the other was the necklace I had bought for her the night she was murdered. I don’t know how it ended up at the lawyer’s office, or why it was sent to me, but I was glad to see it. I can’t explain why, but the small piece of jewelry gave me some type of comfort. It made me feel as if a part of my mom was still with me. I know that seems odd and may not make any sense, but it just did. Even though she never got to wear it while she was alive I know it would have been her favorite.
“Hey Jack” I heard Ted say from outside my bedroom door, which snapped me out of dream like state.
“Come on in buddy.” I said, putting the pendant on my dresser. I covered it with a t-shirt, hiding it, and to this day I don’t know why I did that.
Ted came in sheepishly and I could tell right off you wanted to talk about something.
“New job today eh?” He said.
“Yeah, I’m kinda nervous.”
“Sounds like a cool job though. Should be right in your wheel house.”
Ted didn’t say anything for a second then asked sheepishly.
“Are you moving out?” He said.
I had told him that I was going to be making far more than I had ever earned and I guess he thought I would want my own place right away. Though he was coming out of his shell a little more each year, he was still in the introvert category and I’m sure he felt that if I left I would take my friends with me and forget about him. He was wrong of course.
“No plans to go anywhere buddy. I love this place. I may never leave. That being said don’t be afraid to raise my rent. You have carried me long enough.” I said sincerely,
“Nah, I don’t like change, you know that.” Ted said.
Though I could see that he was happy I had no plans to leave, I was even more pleased that he didn’t want me out. I liked to do things in steps, and this new job was plenty of change for now.
“Think I’m over dressed for my first day?” I said seriously.
He looked me over for a second then gave a light shrug.
“Do you sell grave stones there?” He said, making fun of my black shirt and pants.
“Funny, but point taken.” I said.
I changed my shirt then hurried out the door. I didn’t want to be late on my first day.
I showed up to work thirty minutes early, hoping to make a good impression on my first day, and found the doors locked. Since I walked to work I just stood outside the front doors like a vagrant and waited. At 9:57 I heard the sound of the heavy lock opening behind me. Bili pushed the door open and held it without as much as a good morning.
The store was still mostly dark other than a few emergency lights. As we made our way to the rear of the store Bili was turning on a few of the antique lamps in different areas of the floor, giving the area the same amount of scattered ambient light. When she hit the switches to the big overhead lights located behind the counter the room came to life, giving the floor lamps the exact amount of assistance to make the pieces shine. I’m sure plenty of thought went into that. Right off I could tell that these two knew their business.
I still couldn’t believe the art Theo had in his store. He had at least one piece from most of the top masters, a few worth millions.
“I assume you know how to use a computer”, Bili said. It didn’t come out as a question, but I answered anyway not wanting to be rude. Even though she was always on the border of rudeness herself, she was the boss.
She walked to the back room and I followed. Behind Theo’s desk area was another small work station among the inventory and storage. Two desks were facing each other, like something you would see in an old police show. I imagined it was to take advantage of the limited space.
The desks were very nice. One of them had a large amount of paperwork, files, and office supplies, while the other was a clean slate except for a lamp, a top of the line computer, and a stapler.
“I guess this is my desk?” I said gesturing to the empty desk with a slight head tilt.
“Theo was right. You are smart.” Bili said as she just stared at me for a second. I couldn’t tell if she was serious or being a smart ass.
“Thanks, I like to think so.”
“Monkeys like to think that too.”
That answers that.
“On your computer you will see that a number of programs have already been installed. You will also see that a contact list is in there as well. Each person on that list has a personal bio attached to it. Study them and know them. Do you have a phone?”
“I do.” I proudly pulled out the phone from my pocket that I had bought recently and showed her.
“Ah, that’s a nice one. Now throw it in the trash, or save it for a paper weight. Open the top drawer of your desk. In there you will find a proper phone. It also has the contact list already installed, which will make your life much easier once you get acclimated to the Job. We will pay the bill, so take your other phone back and cancel whatever plan you have.”
“Thanks Bili|”. I said with sincerity.
I think this caught her off guard, because she just looked at me for another split as if she had lost her train of thought before she continued. It wasn’t till much later that I would find out why some simple acts of kindness made Bili uncomfortable.
“It will be me and you working out of this store the majority of the time. Theo will be dropping by here and there, but he mostly works from home dealing with the overseas clients and the larger auction houses. We have pieces being sold at Sotheby’s and Christies on a regular basis and that keeps him busy.”
I couldn’t help but be impressed. The two biggest auction houses in New York only dealt with the best of the best.
I was now starting to feel like I may be over my head. My lack of experience was making me feel like I was out of my depth. As if on cue and reading my mind Bili responded.
“Feel like going back to the book store and helping grandma find a cookbook?” She said.
“I’m good. I can handle this.” I wasn’t sure if I was lying or not. Time would tell.
“Alright, let’s get to it”. She said.
We went over every facet of the store’s operations, while simultaneously assisting the walk-in customers. I was shocked at what this business turned over in merchandise and profit. Just from what I learned my first day, the store alone had to be bringing in a small fortune. No wonder Theo was able to offer me such a great salary.
I learned a good deal about the art of selling from Bili. Watching her assist the walk-in customers was like working with a completely different employee. She was a totally different person, very professional and not the least bit the wise-ass I had come to appreciate. She worked each customer differently, and customized her sales techniques to that person. She could read them like a book, and they responded. She was absolutely amazing. She could get customers, who only came in to browse, to buy pieces that they didn’t even know they wanted. I knew I would learn a lot from this girl.
When there was a break in customers Bili went on to explain about the art world and people in general. She told me that the wealthiest people in the world are usually the cheapest. No matter what the cost of a certain piece, if the buyer doesn’t feel like they are getting a good deal they will not buy it. Or if they do, they will eventually get buyer’s remorse and associate those feelings with the store and not return to buy anything else or recommend the shop to their friends.
“How do you do that?” I asked Bili.
“It’s like you know these customers personally, and what they are thinking. How do you relate so easily to them? Even the assholes.” I said.
She cracked a minor grin, which I took as a major victory on my part. There may be a real person in that tough outer shell after all.
“It’s easy when you know what to look for. If you pay attention to the details you will find that most people show their secrets in many different ways and they don’t even know they are doing it.”
“The older woman that was just in here. Do you remember what she looked like?
“Maybe late fifties, wearing jeans and a t-shirt I think?”
“Very good. Anything else?” Bili asked in a quizzical manner.
I couldn’t remember anything out of the ordinary so I just shrugged in defeat.
“Common jeans and t-shirt yes, but $2000 shoes and real diamond earrings that cost as much as a small car. This is a common tact of the wealthy who don’t want to appear too rich. Like I said, cheap. So, when you see this overt act on display you use it to your advantage. Start off by showing them some lower end items you know they will not want, and when you move up to the higher end pieces you pretend to believe that you have gone far over their budget. That’s when you pour it on thick about giving discounts that you normally do not give, and so on.”
Bili went on to give me several other techniques in good salesmanship. It was an art, excuse the pun, and Bili was a master at it. When customers came in I watched and learned.
One afternoon this customer came in who made no attempt to hide his wealth and I would even say he went out of his way to display it. He was a younger man and strutted around like he owned the place.
Bili had just schooled me on this type of person and now she had a chance to show me firsthand how to handle it.
The man showed interest in a Picasso we had, which also had a large price tag. Bili quickly dismissed the man’s interest in the piece, telling him that the painting was going to Sotheby’s, even though it wasn’t.
The man was obviously used to getting his way and he persisted about the painting. Bili denied his inquiries several times, before finally relenting, telling him that she might be able to do something.
Bili told him to wait while she made a phone call. When she came back she told him he could have it, but it would cost him and extra 10% for the Auction House cancellation fee, ‘if that wasn’t too much for him’? She knew he would be the Big Shot and laugh at the increase, which is exactly what he did, and couldn’t have been happier.
The guy was also trying to impress Bili with his money. I could even see that, and Bili had no problem using it to her advantage. She would give him a smile as she touched his arm ever so gently, or she would compliment a particular piece of clothing or jewelry she could see he was proud of.
Bili said there are always exceptions to every rule and she was able to spot them a mile away as well. She was the most observant person I ever met. I was getting better, but I still had a lot to learn. This is what you can never learn in the class room.
One night when we were closing up, Bili and I were getting our things and walking out at the same time.
“Do you live around here Bili? I could walk you home if you wanted?” I said.
I felt like we were getting along pretty well and thought it might be nice gesture. I wasn’t looking to pursue anything romantic, I just figured some after work conversation would go a long way in getting to know each other better.
“I live in an apartment three blocks from here. I’m pretty sure I’ll make it home without getting raped, but thanks.” She said with the customary stone face.
So much for chipping away at ice.
“Okay then. Good night.” I said.
I figured she had to soften up sooner or later. I was really hoping for sooner. I guess it will be later.
I decided to walk over to the Art of Coffee for a late cappuccino. I was more than wishing to run into a certain redhead as well.
I got there only to find the place redhead free. I grabbed a seat anyway and played with my new phone. It was far different from what I was used to and I still hadn’t figured out the finer details on it yet. This Job was challenging, but I was loving it.
I was sipping my coffee and looking out the window at the sidewalk traffic, which was a constant distraction, but one I liked. I loved the diversity and uniqueness of the people in Ann Arbor. It’s one of the few places I’ve been where you could never judge a book by its cover. Telling the difference between an artist, a college professor, and the homeless was challenging to say the least. In Metro-Detroit you could tell with quasi certainty what most people were about with a glance.
I was about to turn my attention back to my new phone when something outside caught my eye. It was dark out, but the street lights kept the sidewalks fairly bright. A group of four, two guys and two girls, were walking by when one of the girls, who was behind the other three locked eyes with me. I look away for a second, but then thought I noticed something. When I looked back she quickly averted her gaze and walked out of sight within seconds. She was wearing a hoodie with the hood pulled up and I never got a good look at her. Had it not been for all the other odd experiences over the last year or so I may never have thought twice about it. Either I was becoming more aware, or more paranoid.