A fair price to pay

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: The Dark And Suspenseful

Tales from beyond the shadows

Submitted: September 04, 2018

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Submitted: September 04, 2018



His mind was torn between elation and a deep burning suspicion, in all his years in this trade he had never set eyes on something like this, let alone hold it in his hands. His first instinct was that someone was trying to make him look foolish, if he sold everything in his shop this minute he would acquire nowhere near the value of this piece. The pocket watch was beyond rare and would attract bidders worldwide at auction, yet the frail old lady dressed in clothes from a bygone era chose to bring it to him. Removing the jeweller’s loupe he stared at the woman standing before him, she smiled back at him in a kindly fashion. A thousand different questions crowded his mind yet he found it almost impossible to find his voice, in the end he asked her the only one that mattered. “How much do you want for the watch?”

When she answered he could scarcely prevent himself from laughing in her face. “Whatever you think is a fair price” was not exactly the answer he was expecting. Jonathan Price could never be accused of passing up a bargain, but this was bordering on the ridiculous. Something had to be a miss here, a sudden urge came over him to hand back the watch and ask the old dear to leave. This had to be stolen property, even if the frail little lady looked the picture of innocence. When she could not provide proof of ownership his suspicions seemed solid, yet deep down he knew he had to have this. “The person who owned this watch has no further use for it, he has long since passed onto a place where watches are of no use to him”. The old ladies softly spoken words finally sealed the bargain.

Jonathan’s hand trembled for some reason as he counted out the ten fifty dollar bills; he was still waiting for her to tell him it was all a cruel joke. However the old lady simply took the money and placed it her antique purse, before smiling at him and turning to leave. At the door she paused and turned back. “I can bring you more stuff like this if you are interested, the next time I am in the city”. Jonathan had already turned his attention to his new acquisition and just nodded in her direction. The little brass bell above the door tinkled and then the sound of the door closing and she was gone. Almost as soon as she had closed the door Jonathan had an overwhelming urge to reverse the deal, he ran from behind the counter and out onto the street. But almost as if she had vanished into thin air, there was neither sight nor light of her on the almost deserted street.

Jonathan had ended up having to sell the watch privately; selling it at auction without a letter of provenance was not possible. Still he had made a huge profit from his little venture and for a while he was happy, but gradually he began to lose interest in the business. It just was not the same selling what he now considered as trinkets for small profit margins, he had tasted the big time and now he craved for more. But Jonathan learned a bitter lesson; to be in the big time was beyond his means. Unlike the frail old lady the people who moved in those circles had a different idea on what was a fair price for their merchandise. As the weeks and months dragged painfully by, Jonathan Price became more and more disillusioned with his lot. He took to standing in the shop doorway scanning the street for any sign of the old lady. In the end he could hardly bear to open the shop in the mornings.

Exactly one year to the day since he had purchased the watch, the old lady appeared once again in his shop. Jonathan watched her approach the counter with bated breath; she smiled at him and slid something wrapped in red velvet cloth through the opening in the glass. He had to wipe his hands on his trouser legs to clear the sweat from his palms, before handling the small package. The pounding of his heart sounded like a drum in his head as he slowly un-wrapped the item, when he saw it an involuntary gasp escaped his lips. It was the most exquisite bejewelled broach he had ever seen. The only thing he had ever seen like this was in a portrait of some European queen or other. The detail of the workmanship on the item was stunning through the magnification of the loupe; this broach was surely worth a king’s ransom on the open market.

“Whatever you feel is a fair price young man” the same answer as before. Jonathan went to the safe and returned with ten crisp one hundred dollar bills, but  he badly needed to learn exactly where these items were coming from. Jonathan’s mind went into overdrive now and instead of handing the money over immediately, he began examining the brooch again. The old lady gave no indication that she was in anyway bothered by the delay, in fact she stood there with what appeared to be an amused expression on her face. Jonathan eventually slid the broach back across the counter, he was taking a gamble here and silently prayed she would not leave and take the item with her. “I had problems selling on the last piece you brought me; I will need to know the provenance of the brooch”. The old woman just stood watching him for what seemed an eternity, and then she giggled softly to herself.

“I can assure you Mr Price that the owner of this particular item has no further use for it, I have full permission to trade it for a fair price”. Jonathan watched in horror as she began to wrap the broach in the velvet cloth once again, he had blown his chance and would probably end up having to offer more than he had intended. When she returned the broach to her antique purse, he thought he would be physically sick right there on the spot. The old woman took a small card from her wallet and pushed it across the counter to him; he took the card with a trembling hand. The card was embossed with gold lettering that spelled out an address, a place he had never even heard of. “I will tell you what young man, if you come to this address tomorrow evening. I will show you the origin of this item and many more items of equal value that can be yours for a fair price”.

By the time Jonathan had glanced up from the small card the woman was already at the door, it was as if he had lost moments in time. “Where is this place?” Jonathan barely manged to get the words out and he was shocked by the pleading tone in his voice. The woman turned and treated him to a strange look; it was as if she was weighing him up. The silence in the small shop suddenly took on a life of its own, as he waited for her to reply. In his mind a scathing voice repeated over and over again, “you have blown it”. At that very moment he could have easily put his hands around her scrawny neck and strangled her for that piece of jewellery. For a brief moment the woman’s expression changed, it was almost as if she had read his thoughts. Then she laughed softly to herself again. “Take the main route north out of the city, you will find it I am sure”. Before he could reply she was already out of the door, he followed her out onto the street but just like the last time she seemed to have disappeared.

Jonathan left the city the following evening, in one coat pocket he carried all the cash he had available. In the other pocket he carried the small hand gun he normally kept under the counter, one way or another he was bringing back anything of value the old woman had. He was driving for almost an hour, and he was totally lost. The sun had begun to set and all the narrow country lanes looked the same, he cursed the fact that there was a complete absence of road signs. He was on the point of retracing his steps back to the city when he spotted her, the old woman stood at a set of large wrought iron gates. The feeling of relief was palpable that he had found her, and it was a while before he realised the gates led to what appeared to be an abandoned church. By the time he was out of the car she was walking ahead of him towards the old stone church.

The interior of the old church was in almost total darkness when he entered the door she had left ajar, without even thinking he hurried deeper into the bowels of the big old building. Once his eyes became accustomed to the gloom he could just make about the blurred shapes of old wooden pews on either side of him. How did she move so fast in the darkness he wondered, he called out but the only answer was the echo of his own voice. It was then he spotted the faint glow from the far corner, with pounding heart he made his way towards the source of that glow. The light emanated from a trap door in the floor, a flight of stone steps led downwards the source of the light came from down there. Again he called out but only his own voice came back to him, even this seemed to be distorted in the cavernous building.

The flight of stone steps led him to a short corridor; he must have been ten feet below the church floor by now. A stout oak door at the end of the corridor stood ajar and he could make out the flickering of candlelight. The old woman stood in the centre of the crypt in a pool of light generated by the candles of the candelabra she held, it appeared to be made from solid gold and at least a hundred years old. So this is where she got the merchandise, the old crone was a grave robber. In the dancing candle light she looked almost corpse like; before he had a chance to even speak she lifted the candelabra higher illuminating the rest of the crypt. Jonathan wanted badly to scream now but the sound was caught in his throat, as the corpses shuffled towards him with outstretched hands. “You see Jonathan I told you I had permission to trade those items. They have much more to trade and the fair price they want is your company here below the earth”.



© Copyright 2018 Patrick G Moloney. All rights reserved.

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