The Collector (Part 1) The death of a Thief.

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

James is desperate, his gambling debts have caught up with him. In a moment of madness he turns to robbery to raise the money to pay off his debts.

At first, he held his breath until it felt as if his lungs would burst; now he just breathed as quietly as possible. The stench of urine and vomit made his head feel light, but he was too scared to move. He had no idea how long he had been hiding in the dark alleyway behind the dumpster, but it seemed like hours. Part of his mind told James he was just being paranoid, but another part told him there was someone following him. Perhaps it was just a coincidence the big guy in the long coat had left the pub at the same time as him, and perhaps the guy just happened to live in the same area as him. But James had already been warned, pay up or take the consequences.

Lately, he had concluded that he would be better off, to be like some of the other students. Why couldn’t he have the normal vices, like drink or drugs? James’s addiction was not as obvious as some, he liked to gamble. Nothing he had ever tried, gave him a high like it. Those final hundred yards of a horse race, when you are still in the race, and your heart is pounding. It was a continuous roller coaster of euphoric highs and devastating lows, but the upshot of it all was he owed almost two grand to an illegal bookie. Barry Murphy was not the kind of guy to get on the wrong side of; even the dogs in the street knew that if you owed Murphy money you paid it. Murphy had some very unsavory characters on his payroll, and he used them to make sure all debts were settled.

It was the rain that finally galvanized him to break cover, it came down in a deluge and the temperature plummeted. If he stayed crouched behind the steel structure much longer he would die of exposure, so cautiously he crept from his hiding place. James stopped in the center of the dark alleyway, holding his breath he listened for any tell-tale noises but the place was silent. Breathing a sigh of relief he started towards the high street, he was almost at the entrance of the alleyway when he caught a movement in the shadows. Before he had a chance to react, a fist like a rock smashed into his chin and his knees buckled. A few well-placed kicks had him drifting towards unconsciousness, but then the big man bent over and snapped the baby finger of his right hand like a twig. The searing pain brought him around like a bucket of cold water.

James started to scream before a big calloused hand clamped over his mouth, cutting off the scream. A face like a gorilla appeared out of the darkness and did not stop until it was almost touching his. “Murphy wants his money by the end of the month, or else it won’t be your little finger that gets broken next time. Do you understand me?” James tried to nod but the giant hand had a hold of his face in a vice-like grip, in the end, he just blinked rapidly in the hope the big man understood the gesture. Finally, the pressure over his mouth was released, the hand was removed from his face and he could breathe again. For an instant he felt a sense of relief that it was over, his attacker had begun to turn away from him. Then there was a sudden movement and the boot collided with force, the last thing he remembered thinking was that he had just lost any chance of becoming a father.

James stood shivering as he waited for the shower to heat up, he had a bruise on his chin, his hand throbbed painfully, and his balls felt the size of melons. The hot water cascading over his bruised body brought him some relief, but his mind was in turmoil. There was no way he could get that kind of money by the end of the month, and his long-suffering parents had made it clear no more bailouts were coming from them. Sean his flatmate was just as broke as him, and all his other friends had been tapped out a long time ago. Murphy wanted his money by the end of the month, which left James a little over two weeks to put it together. His summer job at the museum paid a pittance and was only designed as a way to earn credits for his college course. When he finally got to sleep that night, his dreams were haunted by images of his limbs being broken.

He was just on his way out to work when he spotted the flyer on the mat behind the front door. It had a black background with red writing on it.  He was just about to roll it in a ball and dump it when something caught his eye. “Top rates paid for antiques and collectibles.” A desperate plan was formulating in his mind as he looked at the flyer. James worked in a basement room at the museum cataloging items that had remained unseen for years; if a few small items went missing he was sure it would never be noticed. There were hundreds of crates of items that were donated to the museum, and a good portion of those items had yet to be recorded. The thought of being caught thieving terrified him, but not as much as having his knee caps broken. He folded the flyer and put it in his wallet, before heading for the payphone on the corner.

The ringing sound at the other end was going unanswered and he was just about to hang up, even when the call was picked up, he was hesitant. James had a bad feeling that he was about to cross some invisible line, a line that once crossed there would be no going back. “Hello” The voice on the other end of the line had a strange quality to it, and for a moment he felt as if the owner of the voice was next to him. The urge to hang up was strong, but the memory of the beating was still fresh in his mind. He pushed the button and the coins dropped into the box, he had not rehearsed what he would say so he just blurted it out. There was an extended silence before the voice replied. “I have a preference for wartime collectibles, especially Nazi-era items. I particularly like official historical documents.” Do you have some for sale?” James was pretty sure he had seen crates of items that originated in German around that era, so he agreed to contact the collector again.

The basement was gloomy and dusty, most of the regular staff avoided coming down here. James was left to his own devices most of the time, with no particular agenda to follow. He would open the dusty old crates, and list the contents along with the origin of the items. Sometimes the crates contained lists of the contents, but a lot of the time they were inaccurate. No one would ever miss a few small items from the vast stack of crates. At least that was what he was trying to convince himself, as he searched through the huge room. James finally found what he was looking for at the far end of the room, behind a large support pillar. Several wooden crates were donated by the family of a deceased army bigwig, two of the crates were marked Berlin 1945. James’s heart was racing and his stomach felt sick as he levered the lid from the crate, on more than one occasion he thought of abandoning the plan. But he kept repeating a mantra in his head. “Just this one time”.

The second crate he opened contained files of documents, but his delight was short-lived. They were all in German and without a translation he could not read what they were about. The thought of risking stealing them, only to find out they were worthless did not appeal to him. In the end, he selected a small stack that had the Nazi eagle on the top of the page, he promised himself that either way this was all he was willing to take. Later that evening, he placed the papers down the front of his jeans, before heading for the exit. He had never been so scared in his life; he slowed down passing the security guard at the desk, fully expecting to be challenged. But nobody even glanced in his direction. By the time he got home his legs were so weak, he collapsed on the sofa. He spent the next couple of hours waiting for a knock on the door from the cops.

The windows of the small building were so grimy it was impossible to see inside; the place looked like it had been abandoned for years.  A faded weather-beaten sign above the door declared that at some stage the building housed an antique shop. Situated in a tiny side street, the shop was surrounded by a warren of narrow forgotten streets. James checked the piece of paper he had written the address on, to make sure he was at the right place. The rain had started early this morning and had grown heavier by the evening. The street was deserted and eerily quiet and James regretted ever becoming involved in this. Composing himself, he turned the handle and was more than a little surprised when the door opened. The gloomy room was lined with glass cases covered in a thick veneer of dust; the only illumination came from a lamp behind the counter at the far end of the room. The tinkle of the brass bell above the door seemed to echo in the empty room.

It was the smell that first drew James's attention; it was a mixture of strong tobacco with an underlying smell of something deeply corrupted. James turned towards the source of the stench and his breath caught in his throat, there was the sound of someone inhaling deeply and the glow of a cigarette end flared. Whoever was in the room stood in the shadows, and it took moments for James’s eyes to adjust to the deeper shadow. The silhouette of a man of small stature came into focus, the cigarette flared again and he had the briefest glimpse of the man’s features. “Did you bring the documents?” The words were almost whispered, and the rattling in the man’s chest signified a lifelong smoker. James held the papers aloft with a trembling hand, something about the unseen stranger terrified him. “Take them over and leave them on the counter.” The voice had a slight accent and the unmistakeable tone of authority, here was a man who was used to being obeyed.

James left the documents on the counter and stepped back, he must have blinked because suddenly the small man was standing next to him. Up close the underlying stench was not masked by the smell of the tobacco, it was the sickly sweet smell of rotting flesh. The man’s breathing sounded as if his lungs were filled with fluid, and his complexion had the waxy quality of a corpse. He was around five feet tall and wore an old-fashioned dark trench coat. A black wide-brimmed hat kept most of his features in shadow, and he wore old-style round wire-framed spectacles. His appearance reminded James of a caricature of a pervert, but there was an unmissable sense of deep menace about the man. A disturbing thought flashed across James’s mind, that this man would kill him in a heartbeat. The stranger picked up one of the documents and studied it, all the while nodding his head as if pleased with what he was looking at. He carefully went through each document meticulously; he ignored James as if he was not even there.

“Excellent! These are something I might be interested in. However, they are incomplete. I believe that the old General had the full set of these documents.”  The stranger turned and for the first time since James had entered the building, the small man stared him straight in the face. The man’s cheeks were scarred with pockmarks, and his teeth were stained brown from tobacco when he spoke. But the most striking feature of the man was those small beady eyes behind the spectacle lenses. They bored into James and they had the hypnotic quality of a snake’s eyes, a cold feeling came over James as he realized that there was something otherworldly about the man. James reached for the documents his only thought now was to be gone from this man’s company; he would return the papers in the morning and forget about the whole thing. The atmosphere in the room suddenly shifted, and it felt as if he was standing in a deep freeze. The small man moved in a blur of speed, and his hand grasped James’s wrist with crushing force.

“I will pay you the sum of one thousand pounds for these, bring what remains of this set of documents, and I will pay you an additional two thousand pounds.”  The menace in the man’s voice was unmistakable, this was not an offer; it was an order. As if to emphasize the thinly veiled threat, the hand holding his wrist tightened until James thought the bones would break. The small man leaned closer to James until his face was inches from his, his breath was rancid with a mixture of decay, tobacco smoke, and the coppery smell of blood. “Do not let me down on this; I never take kindly to being disappointed.” Just as quickly as he had been grabbed, the vice-like grip was released. As if by magic a brown envelope appeared on the counter next to the documents, it was open and James could see the stack of twenty-pound notes inside. “Take your money”. James reached out with a trembling hand and took the envelope when he looked back at the counter the documents were gone and he was alone.

James sat on the couch staring at the envelope containing the money; he had not even counted it. He had a bad feeling about all this; something told him that he had jumped from the frying pan and into the fire. He was well aware that Barry Murphy would have no qualms in having his legs broke, but he was equally aware that the small strange man would kill him in a heartbeat. There was something unnatural about the creepy little man, he seemed to be able to move from one place to the next by disappearing and reappearing somewhere else. There was something else the small man said that bothered him but he could not remember, the man frightened him so much that he could not think straight. Then it finally came to him, the man had mentioned something about the old general. How did he know that the documents were from a collection donated by the family of the late General Howard Spencer? It was as if the small man had singled him out because of where he worked, but if this was true, how did he know these things about James.

The arched ceiling of the subterranean room was once white lime mortar, but now it was a yellowish-brown. Years of tobacco smoke had stained it this color. The flickering candlelight cast a shadow of the man hunched over the desk, which made him look monstrous as if giving a would-be observer a glimpse of the man’s true character. Edgar Hues was the name he was presently going under, but he had used so many aliases over his long life, that he could scarcely remember his given name. Edgar was a collector of particular items, things that possessed great powers. It was his blessing and his curse that he was put on this earth to gather such items, once an item was in his possession it would never again fall into human hands. What he sought at this time was a sword that had been forged when the fallen angels had walked the earth, and he would stop at nothing until it was in his possession. He lit another of the strong black tobacco cigarettes and turned his attention to documents he had just purchased. The last known sighting of the weapon he sought had been in German at the end of the war, and these documents would lead him to what he desired.

Edgar was overcome by a fit of coughing, and the document he held was sprayed with fine drops of blood. Taking a handkerchief from his pocket Edgar wiped his lips; the white cloth came away stained crimson. Any mere mortal would have succumbed to cancer eating away at his lungs, a long time ago. But to Edgar, it was just a minor inconvenience. He had long since learned to live with the excruciating pain of his condition, he had sinned greatly and his penance was a long life. He would continue his task in a body that slowly decade until he had atoned for his sins, and he had a feeling it would be for a great many years yet. Edgar placed the documents to one side, and his mind turned to James. He had already looked deep into the young man’s soul; he was a gambler and a thief. Once he brought the rest of the documents, Edgar had decided that he would put an end to James’s sinning. Not only was Edgar a collector, but he was also a judge, jury, and executioner to a great many souls over the centuries. Sometimes he tried to remember all those he had slain, but their numbers were legion.

James walked slowly as he approached the security desk, the documents stuffed down his jeans chaffed against the top of his thighs. Since he had come in this morning he had convinced himself that he would be caught in the act, and the thought of this made him nauseous. But just like the last time the guard behind the desk ignored him, it was all too good to be true. He had just reached the lobby when the security guard called his name; he turned to face the guard with a growing feeling of dread. “Your paper James.” The man held this morning’s paper aloft, it was only then he remembered lending the paper to the guard at break time.

 By the time he had turned the corner outside, the bile from his stomach exploded on to the pavement. James leaned against a wall until the feeling of nausea passed, and he swore to himself that this was the last time he would steal anything. If the small man offered him a million quid, he would just tell him to fuck off. However, by the time he got to his front door, James’s thoughts had turned towards the money he would get for the stolen documents.

The moment he opened the door, his instincts told him that something was wrong. The atmosphere in the apartment just did not feel right; he had only taken a couple of steps inside when the smell hit him. That all too familiar stench of stale tobacco and decaying flesh, his heart sank when he realized the creepy little man had been to his home. Turning on his heels he was almost at the door when his unwanted visitor spoke. “I have your money here James. Did you bring the documents?” The urge to bolt from the apartment and keep running was strong, but a part of his mind told him he could never outrun this man. This man would find him no matter where he went, another realization hit him that just confirmed the thought. The man had called him by name and knew where he lived; James could not remember telling him either of these things. Turning again James walked into the sitting room with a growing sense of dread, the curtains had been drawn and the room was almost dark. A faint clicking sound came from the corner and the standing lamp lit up, the small man was seated in the armchair.

James took the documents from inside his jeans and left them on the coffee table, noticing there was an envelope on the table containing money. Anger flared briefly in him when he realized that the arrogant little man had known that James would carry out his instructions. “Bring them here to me James I want to study them.” The statement was made in a matter of fact way, but once again it was an order and not a request. James stood morosely in the middle of the room, while the small perused the documents. Finally, he closed the file with a smug grin on his face and turned his attention to James. “Excellent, James our transaction is complete.” He lit one of those foul-smelling cigarettes and gestured towards the envelope containing the money. “Count your money and I will be on my way.” James lifted the envelope with a trembling hand and began to count. Suddenly he sensed the man standing directly behind him, but before he could turn the antique stiletto blade pierced his flesh. The blade entered at an upward angle behind his right ear, it continued its journey until it pierced his brain.

James crumpled to the floor without as much as a sigh, the money in his hand falling about him like some strange offering. Edgar Hues replaced the knife in the custom made scabbard beneath his coat, and stood contemplating the body lying at his feet. Back in the distant past, he might have felt some emotion at the Killing of one so young, but there had been so many deaths at his hands that it no longer registered in his mind. In the beginning, his human emotions had troubled him greatly, but in the intervening decades, he ceased to experience any emotions. Edgar had evolved to become something that was both less than human and at the same time more than human. Edgar gathered the documents and secreted them beneath his coat; it never even entered his mind to retrieve the money from the floor. Money was nothing more than a tool for him, everything he ever needed was supplied to him. Over his long time on this earth, he had accumulated vast wealth, but it meant nothing to him. Edgar walked casually from the apartment, in the corridor he brushed past Sean and he was on the first landing before he heard Sean scream.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Submitted: November 22, 2020

© Copyright 2020 Patrick G Moloney. All rights reserved.

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