“HOW MAY I TEMPT YOU?”
The voice was smooth, like butter melting over brimstone. Blue eyes twinkled in a round Father-Christmas face.
“I want ...” The buyer hesitated. “I ... want ...”
“Yes?” Patient. Understanding. I’ve got all the time in the world just to help you find that special something, the voice seemed to say.
“I want ... something ...”
“Yes.” Everybody wants something, the voice seemed to insinuate, without really saying anything at all.
“I want something ... special.”
“Yes.” The voice was smiling now. Still patient, still understanding, but there was something about that smile, the way it spoke, something that suggested ... hunger.
“I want something just for me.”
“Of course you do.” The blue eyes shone. “I think I have just the thing. A one-of-a-kind, you might say. Although the previous owner ...
well, let’s just say that the previous owner wasn’t necessarily all that nice. The previous owner, in fact, had a little run-in with the law.”
“You mean like he was ... a murderer?”
“Well, we needn’t go into that just for the moment. First, let me show you the piece. So fine, so - although I hate to use that particular word - sublime.”
“You mean like a ... religious piece?”
“Let’s just say it was the subject of a certain ... fixation.” Santa Claus turned away.
“Where are you going?” Alarm. Fear.
“Just into the back for a minute. The piece I’m referring to - it’s not the type of thing you’d keep out front where it might be sullied by the ... riff-raff. No offence. No, this piece demands a special owner, a certain type of person. Someone like ...”
As the shopkeeper disappeared behind the dusty black curtain that separated the main part of the shop from the back room, the would-be purchaser took in the atmosphere of the small premises that seemed to be crammed to the ceiling with what, at first glance, looked to be junk.
There were picture frames (wood, gilt, and something that looked like
bone), paintings - including one of a spooky-looking castle perched high atop some even spookier-looking mountains - dolls, ranging from the adorable to the grotesque, books, comics, toys (the creepiest of which was a mechanical musical monkey, its cymbals frozen forever in a silent clash), cameras, stuffed animals, pipes, bottles - including one with a model ship called the Marie Celeste inside - candles, collectors’ cards, plastic fruit (including a shiny red apple so tempting the Wicked Queen could easily have poisoned it and passed it off as real to an unsuspecting Snow White), mugs, maps, astrological charts, scary masks, a huge silver sword with Barbarian scrolling across its hilt, and for true connoisseur of the exotic (and just downright strange) there were incense-burners, ancient typewriters, candelabra (hung with cobwebs like something out of a midnight movie), abstract lamps, a stainless steel hip-flask (engraved with a five-pointed star inside a circle), something that was identified as Petrified Crocodile Head, a genuine crystal ball, and, towering above it all like some monument to the macabre, a grandfather clock, silently stopped at ten thirty-one. Junk.
Yes, that’s what this was - a junkshop.
Smiling, Saint Nick reappeared. He reached into a black velvet bag.
“I thought I heard ...”
“... voices?” Santa smiled. “So did the former owner of this. Frankie Wall, the young man’s name was. He heard voices all the time. They spoke to him, and one day ... he answered.” Santa drew a shotgun out of his sack. “With this.”
“You mean Frankie Wall of---”
“’The very same.”
“But how did you get it?” The buyer reached for the glistening shaft, taking it delicately, reverently.
“Ways and means, my friend. Ways and means.” Father Christmas twinkled.
“But wasn’t it kept by the police as evidence?”
“What for? Everyone knew he did it - climbed up that tower in Carfax Cove one fine Sunday morning and ... pop, pop, pop!”
“Yes ...” Dreamy ... almost seeing it.
“Frankie got even with them - all of them!”
“But wasn’t he just crazy?”
“Unfortunately, Mr Wall is no longer able to answer that question. Not without a psychiatrist interpreting his every syllable and gesture, and probably making a huge cock-up out of whatever it was the young man was trying to say.” The proprietor closed the purchaser’s shaking fingers around the barrel, placed the index finder of the right hand upon the trigger. “Frankie isn’t able to ... but you are.” Santa’s smile was saintly.
“I don’t know if I can. Afford it.” Voice shaking now as badly as the hands.
“Can you afford not to have it? All those people who’ve done you wrong - you’re not going to just let them get away with it, are you?”
“Hell, yes - then we have an agreement!”
“But you haven’t told me the price.”
“Don’t worry about the price, my friend. We’ll work something out. I really do have excellent terms. For now, why don’t I just ask you to sign this ...?”