Rory Stimson’s death was not unexpected.
He was an older man with a tired, haggard cough and a weak heart, who spent his days in the dusty little two-story shop that had been passed down through his family. He had once been a lawyer (a damn fine one) and a father (a prolific one) when his own father, Rudolph Stimson, had owned the shop. But as Rudolph Stimson’s physical (and mental) health deteriorated, Rory decided that it was time to put the lawbook down and retire comfortably as his own children (all six of them) left the nest to fend for themselves.
And now, it was Rory whose time had come, quietly in his sleep, after weeks of spastic coughing and babbling insanities.
His funeral was just as uneventful as funerals often are. Few people came (beyond his family) and fewer people stayed for more than ten minutes to pay their respects.
But, after Rory Stimson was locked away in a pine box and lowered into a deep pit is where the story begins for now. With his youngest son, Thomas Stimson, a reasonably average man of twenty-seven, who worked in a bookstore in a rather clean, quaint strip mall at the edge of town. Thomas had learned the hard way that a bachelors degree in English Literature did not qualify you to do anything in life that you could not do with a decent amount of chutzpah and the ability to read.
Needless to say, Thomas was eager to do anything that seemed more important than stocking self-help books at Borders.
The financial and legal details of how one inherits an entire store, even if it is just a dusty, cramped antiques/curiosities/junk shop wedged on the corner between a dance studio and bakery in a run-down part of town where every building was older than the people are actually fairly boring, so we’ll skip that part.
And so, only a week after his father’s demise, Thomas Stimson wandered into a shop he’d only been to once before in his life, as a child visiting his ailing grandfather. Upon stepping over the threshold of the store, he realized why he had only visited once in his life, and never come back until now.
To be quite frank, this place scared the shit out of him.
The cash registers at the front desk were antiques, that chimed and WHR-CHUNK-ed loudly upon pressing any buttons, although his father had seen fit to add a credit-card reader nearby and a printer for processing checks and receipts that didn’t have to be written out by hand anymore. The lights were dim, and the large glass windows at the front of the store were too fogged by age, dust, and irregularities in the glass to let sunlight filter through properly.
It was cramped, and Thomas had to tilt his shoulders at an angle just to fit between some of the shelves, all of which were completely filled with various items loosely organized. Old, broken clocks and boxes of spare parts here, dolls and toys and puppets made out of everything from wood to what he suspected was bleached bone there. A narrow staircase along the back wall, over the door to the back rooms (which he was informed were ‘storage’) groaned like something alive and in pain when followed up to the second floor, where bookcases lined with slowly-rotting, leather-bound tomes and busted electronics were stacked, among other things.
Among other things actually seemed to be a pretty apt description for, well, everything there, Thomas mused as he wandered back down the staircase, pausing to brush some cobwebs away from the old paintings hung on the walls with the back of his hand.
Once you worked past the childish fear of leering puppet faces and all the quiet creaks of settling wood, the place was rather peaceful, he thought, smiling as he looked over a small painting of a pretty blonde woman.
Of course, Thomas was still tense enough in the strange shop that he collapsed against the banister and nearly slid the last five or so steps down to the floor when the voice interrupted his thoughts.
“Sorry ‘bout that, son.” Thomas caught his breath and looked up, recognizing the tiny older man as Jakob Baskalov. Jakob Baskalov had once been a fresh-faced teenager, hired by Thomas’ grandfather (Rudolph) to man the front desk, and had done so through the years. Up until Rory’s passing, of course. “I just came by to see that you’d gotten in okay. An’ to give you all the shop papers.” His voice was weathered and weary and rasped. Thomas mused that he couldn’t possibly be /that/ old.
“I’m fine.” He answered. “Just startled me, there…this place is so quiet.”
“Yeh.” Jakob muttered, walking over behind the front desk and pulling several thick binders stuffed with papers out from a drawer, setting them near the register. “But at least it’s not a hard place to maintain.”
“I suppose not…” Thomas mumbled, making his way to the desk and looking down at the folders. “…This is everything?”
Thomas picked up one of the binders, skinny and red, and flipped through it absently, not really looking or reading in particular. It looked like financial stuff, records of customers and transactions. Boring. “Doesn’t look like much, I mean, this whole place is so full of…things…” He eyed a particularly menacing looking dried bat, pinned to a board under glass like some people did with butterflies. “…I thought there’d be a lot more of a log of things.”
“Oh, trust me…stuff goes in and out of here enough that it won’t matter.” Jakob tapped his fingers on a heavy, black binder with yellowed, alphabetic tabs sticking out the side. “When’re yeh planning on opening up again, son?”
Thomas shrugged. “Well, I was hoping for sooner, rather than later.”
“Good…gets boring without anything to do.” Jakob smiled. Thomas noted that all of the old man’s teeth were gold. All of them. He decided it would be rude to comment, and smiled back. “D’ya need anything else tonight? I figured I’d just dust and straighten up a little…can’t go too long before going through here. Otherwise the dust cakes on so thick you have to peel it off.”
“Right.” Thomas nodded, watching as the older man pulled an old feather duster out from behind the countertop and made his way quietly towards the aisles of things, humming to himself off-key. Thomas looked at the binders and took a seat behind the desk. No better time to start reading, he supposed, sighing quietly and opening the red finances binder back up again.
Several hours passed in silence, broken only by the creaking of floors and Jakob’s humming, and a page occasionally being turned.
Thomas couldn’t help but note that, for being hand-written on theme paper, the finances were amazingly well-kept. And for two, that while there was page after page of little purchases (a cheap china set for five dollars, a set of dictionaries of three, something labeled as a “mandrake root” for twelve) here and there, there were entries that were…blank, with only the price listed.
“Jesus, Mary, and sweet saint Joseph.” Thomas breathed as he looked at the numbers. That was a lot of zeros.
There was a dull thump from somewhere upstairs, and Jakob’s humming abruptly cut off.
”…Mister Baskalov?” Thomas called out lightly, to no reply. Putting the finances folder out of his mind, he got up and slowly made his way towards the stairs. “…Mister Baskalov? Are you alright?…Jesus Christ!”
At the very least, it only took five minutes for the ambulance to get there.