The Collector

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
You won’t believe the stuff some people consider collectible.

Submitted: August 09, 2017

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Submitted: August 09, 2017

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Theodore Drughe smiled as the teenagers from Brownsville High School filtered from the stamp gallery to the cavernous room that contained his automobile collection.  It was always the same with kids.

 

He enjoyed giving tours to schools and civic groups.  He didn’t expect young people, in this day of technology, to be interested in old coins or the world’s largest assortment of clocks.  But everybody likes cars.  It was a 1964 Volkswagon bus that got Theodore hooked on collecting.  The children cheered and did fist pumps as he revved the 12 cylinder engine on the Ferrari 250 GTO. 

 

Requiring an investment of $38 million, it was the most expensive item in any of his collections.  Only 33 of these vehicles were made.  This one was set up for racing and it won the 24 Hours of Le Mans twice.  Photographs of the car graced the cover of racing magazines.  Theodore liked it because it was red, and he could drive it really fast on his private track.

 

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One does not become a collector at that level without being rich.  Theodore had a knack for the stock market.  The money he earned bagging groceries in high school bought stock in startup technology companies.  Back then, nobody had heard of Intergraph, SCI, or Nichols Research.  They had ideas and leadership but were short on cash.

 

He invested in a number of firms, often at less than a dollar per share.  Half of the companies went belly up.  The ones that didn’t made it all worthwhile.  In his junior year at college, Theodore liquidated his Intergraph holdings at $43 per share.  That worked out to an annual return on investment of 1245%.  

 

By the time he was 30, Theodore was a billionaire.  At 40, he made the Forbes 100 wealthiest Americans list.  Once you have a lot of money, making more just keeps getting easier.

 

Theodore didn’t realize it, but he was also getting bored.  A traffic jam on the interstate, while his limousine was heading to the airport, pointed him in a new direction.

 

According to the radio, an 18-wheeler had jackknifed across the highway.  Cars were backed up for miles.  Waiting it out would mean missing his flight.  The driver drove slowly down the shoulder to the next exit.  Hopefully, there was time to get to the airport via the back roads.

 

His luck got worse when they got behind a truck hauling gravel.  The overloaded truck hit a pothole and rocks bounced onto the road.  A fist sized chunk made a thud when it hit the front of the limousine.  Steam poured from under the hood.  The driver pulled over.

 

The billionaire hadn’t forgotten the hours he’d spent in the garage, alongside his father.  If he had to, he could rebuild a lawnmower engine or replace a car’s starter.  He knew what the hole in the radiator meant.  He wasn’t going to make his flight.

 

The driver called AAA while Theodore spoke to his associates about rescheduling.  In a few minutes, a rusty tow truck pulled up.  A young man, wearing overalls and no shirt, climbed out and inspected the damage.

 

“Yeah, I can haul you to the yard.  I ‘spect we got a radiator somewhere that will fit your car.  We got 30 acres, a few late model Lincolns.  Should have you back on the road in a couple of hours. My name’s Jason Akins.”

 

Theodore wondered just how far out in the country they had strayed.  He could barely understand the young man’s accent.  But he heard the part about getting back on the road soon.

 

He and the driver sat next to Jason as the tow truck lumbered down the road.  Theodore was amused when the young man pulled an 8-track tape cartridge from the console.  They had been obsolete for decades.  He wedged it into a player.  Theodore grimaced.  It was Come To The Fair by Tennessee Ernie Ford.  The billionaire wondered if there would be an albino banjo player on the porch when they got to the auto shop.

 

Then Jason started singing along with the tape.  Theodore made a mental note to stop judging books by their cover.  The shirtless teenager sung with perfect pitch and a rich baritone voice.  By the time the tow truck pulled into the yard, Theodore realized he’d been tapping his foot along with the music.

 

No one was playing banjo when the truck pulled into the salvage yard, run for generations by Jason’s family.  There were acres of rusted and dented automobiles, a shop building, and an office.  And something that impressed Theodore even more than Jason’s singing.  Parked in a row, in front of the office, were a half dozen beautifully restored cars.

 

“It’s hot out here but the air conditioning in the office is ice cold.  So are the drinks in the Coke machine.  If you’re hungry, let my Ma know, she runs the counter.  She’s always got leftovers in the refrigerator.”

 

“I’ll haul the limo to the shop then hunt for a radiator.  If we’ve got one in the yard it will take me an hour to install it.  If not, Ma will make some calls.  She knows every parts dealer in a hundred miles.”

 

The Coke was as cold as advertised and the fried chicken was restaurant worthy.  After thanking Mrs. Akins, Theodore decided to check out the cars.  He’ d stared at them through the window while he ate.

 

He couldn’t decide which one he liked the most.  The obvious choice was the 1971 Dodge Challenger.  It was painted classic muscle car purple, but taken to the next level.  The metal flake was done in a mother of pearl pattern.  The color changed when you moved around and the sun reflected at different angles.  Theodore saw everything from dark green to rich purple.  He didn’t know much about auto painting but he could tell this job took skill and a long time.

 

He was even more drawn to the VW bus.  When he was 12, his older brother bought one.  Danny spray painted it brown and put orange shag carpet in the back.  This VW didn’t look anything like that.

 

In fact, Theodore couldn’t imagine one looking this good as it rolled off the assembly line.  He couldn’t resist opening the door.  It made a whooshing sound.  Like a brand new car.  The interior was spotless.  There was a Skeeter Davis tape in the 8-track player.

 

Jason pulled up in the limousine.  It was repaired and ready to go.  Theodore was in no hurry.  He wanted to talk cars.

 

“So, did you do all this work yourself?”

 

“No sir, me and Daddy can do anything mechanical but we source out some things.  Uncle Bobby does all the painting.”

 

“Any chance you’d sell the VW?”

 

“Naw, I’ve got too much time in it.  Anyway it’s what I use when I go fishing.”  Jason opened the side door, revealing coolers, tackle boxes and racks of fishing rods.  Theodore wondered how the vehicle could stay clean while being used for something as messy as fishing.

 

“Would $60,000 buy it?”

 

Jason thought for a moment.  “That’s more than it’s worth, but no, it’s not for sale.”

 

“If I hired you to fix one up for me as nice as this one, would you do it?”

 

“Yes sir, I’d love to do that.”

 

That was when Theodore became a collector.  It didn’t stop with cars.  Whatever caught his eye became his new passion.  Antique whistles, first issue comic books, dung beetles from the Amazon river basin, it didn’t matter.  Being a billionaire means you never have to ask how much something costs.

 

On the other hand, having money will not prevent you from overwhelming your mansion with stuff.  After a few years of collecting, his normally reserved cook began making wisecracks about getting lost.  The house no longer had rooms.  Just corridors lined with boxes and piles.  He knew he had a problem.  Nothing that couldn’t be solved by spending more money.  It was time to build a museum.  

 

It was no ordinary building.  Theodore had the side of a mountain dug out.  After pouring enough concrete to make another Hoover Dam, the crew buried the enormous structure under dirt and rock.  When they were done, aside from entrances and ventilation shafts, the mountain looked untouched.

 

Theodore had instructed the architect to make the structure invulnerable to flood, fire, earthquake, or any other conceivable disaster.  Nothing less than a bunker-busting nuke had a chance of damaging Theodore’s collection.  

 

Three independent electrical systems powered the building, all connected to massive generators.  Each generator had a line running to an industrial sized tank, filled with diesel fuel.  

 

Continuing the theme of redundancy, there were three separate heating and cooling systems.  All automated, run by a bank of computers.  If the human race went away, Theodore’s collection would be kept at an ideal temperature and humidity for decades.

After all, if you are a serious collector, you take care of your stuff.

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He waved as the bus drove the children out of the parking lot.  This was the best part of the day.  When the museum was empty, he could look at his favorite collection.  He had to go through a locked door, hidden in a maintenance room closet.  This collection was for Theodore’s eyes only.

 

According to the blueprint, this part of the building was a storage warehouse.  After the construction crew finished up, a second crew was brought in to make additional changes.  These men came all the way from Ukraine.  

 

Ordinarily, when Theodore conducts business, it involves a lengthy contract carefully reviewed by his attorney.  This deal was done with cash and a handshake.  The blueprints contained no names, locations, or dates.  It was made clear from the start, this was to be a job without a paper trail.

 

He walked past an office.  Ju Chowdury, the curator, was asleep.  His feet were propped up on the desk in front of a row of security monitors.  That was okay.  Everything was automated and an alarm would wake him if necessary.  This job was 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  The man had to sleep.

 

The specimen in cell one was a white male, in his forties.  Theodore found him hitchhiking on Interstate 40.  Tasing the man and binding his arms and legs with zip ties was easy.  

 

All of this collection’s specimens had one thing in common.  They were people no one would miss.  Every city in America has residents who are homeless and poor.  Society’s detritus.  

 

Theodore’s business ventures took him all over the country.  Usually, he travelled by jet or limousine, accompanied by assistants.  When the mood struck him, he would make the trip alone, in a nondescript van.  On the way back, there was always something new in the cargo bay.

 

Not all of the specimens were male.  He found the woman in cell seven on a park bench in Missouri.  She had needle marks up and down her arms.  She was so out of it he didn’t have to sedate or bind her.  He bought her a meal, then she slept all the way to her new home.  That was three years ago.  Theodore was certain she would be dead by now if he hadn’t collected her.  

 

Each cell contained an all-in-one gym machine that had stations for cardio, flexibility, and weightlifting.  A computer recorded each specimen’s activity.  It wasn’t difficult to make them do their daily exercises.  The tiny door between them and their next meal would remain closed until they used every station and burned the requisite number of calories.  

 

Likewise, Theodore encouraged his specimens to keep their minds sharp.  Each cell had a Kindle, with access to a wide range of literature.  An iPod provided an extensive musical playlist.  The TV had dozens of channels but none of the brain-numbing garbage that most Americans watch.  Likewise, the internet feed was heavily filtered, and only worked in one direction.

 

Some of his specimens thrived in captivity.  The former addict in cell seven, emaciated when collected, had gained 30 pounds.  The dark circles under her eyes were gone.  

 

The man in cell four was teaching himself how to play classical guitar.  Theodore rewarded his specimens with gifts when they exhibited good behavior.  The salt water aquarium in cell eight kept its resident busy for hours each day.

 

He had failures as well.  The man in cell six wouldn’t exercise from the start.  After a few days, Theodore decided to feed him.  He refused to eat.  

 

That was okay.  Through the thick polycarbonate window, Theodore watched the man starve to death.  He wasn’t sure what to do with the body.  He left it in the cell.  The 18 inch concrete walls and the ventilation system took care of the smell.  Theodore was fascinated as the man’s body dried and shrunk.  A good start to his mummy collection.

 

The curator was awake when the billionaire finished his tour.  They spoke briefly.  Theodore was  sure he could trust the man.  He’d recruited him from the slums of Bangladesh.  He would have nowhere to go if he lost this job.

 

Also, Mr. Chowdury was aware of the story behind the man in cell nine.  He was the previous curator.  When he dropped a hint about getting a large raise, or maybe he would sell an interesting story to some magazine, he found himself on the wrong side of a locked door.

 

It is never a good idea to blackmail a sociopathic billionaire.  Particularly one who is a collector.


© Copyright 2017 Serge Wlodarski. All rights reserved.

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