Thomas was not feeling particularly good about going back to the shop today. His only help on the job had died before the first day even started (Jakob Baskalov’s heart had simply given out on him without warning. Nobody seemed surprised by this at all.) and while he’d gotten a good look at the shop’s finances (needless to say, explicatives were yelped when he wondered why his father drove a beat-up buggy instead of a convertible hot rod) and realized that paying hired help would be easy as anything else, he had found one nagging little detail that made him worry.
While there were records of people bringing in items to sell here and there, and they were more often purchased from the owners than not, no matter how redundant or useless-seeming, much of the inventory seemed…strange unaccounted for. There were no deals with any suppliers, no records of where the piles of books or dolls came from.
It was as if they’d just appeared out of thin air.
Or, perhaps, been acquired through less-than-legal measures, Thomas figured.
“You know, it’s not impossible that all that crap’s just been there since forever.” Mark said. Mark was a close friend of Thomas’, one of the few, and he was a rather mouthy, smart young man who worked for an ambiguous company that paid him more per week than Thomas had ever made in a month. To say that Thomas was jealous was an understatement, since he only ever seemed to see Mark having just returned form a trip to Italy or Guatemala or places like that with tales of women and drink and tight lips whenever asked about his work.
Of course, Thomas also assumed that Mark lied about his work constantly, but he felt he was polite enough to not say anything and simply accept help when Mark dropped by with a six-pack to help him look over financial records.
“Some of this stuff didn’t look that old. Maybe he just found it in dumps or junkyards somewhere.” Thomas offered. Mark snorted.
“With the sort of income your dad was making? While it’d be a brilliant way to get that much money, it just seems…needless.” Mark took a swig of some sort of imported beer that was so costly-looking Thomas felt bad just touching the bottles.
He sighed. “I just don’t get it.”
”Can I offer an alternative suggestion, Tom?” Mark piped up, flipping back and forth between two pages in the red binder, while Thomas paged through a much older brown one. The heaviest binder, bound in black, rested under the couch, ignored. “Your father was kinda crazy, right?”
“Maybe he just didn’t care to keep track of where he got stuff. Or couldn’t remember where he got it. Same goes for your granddad, and great-grandpa, and…whoever else owned the shop.”
“Great-great grandfather. Before that it was owned by…shit, I don’t know. I was going to look it up but then Mr. Baskalov kicked it and I forgot.”
“You’re a nice guy. You’re just useless when somebody throws a wrench in the works.”
Mark wasn’t a very good friend, sometimes.
But, he had charm and business experience and by the next day had found Thomas someone to work the front end, a perky young woman named Julie with red-dyed short, spiked hair who picked up on the ancient register and (to Thomas’ chagrin to learn) often-malfunctioning printer quickly.
She was cute, too, the type of cute that when she smiled and asked Thomas if she could please please pretty please (in her own words) have Tuesdays off for class Thomas agreed before she finished asking and then had to shout at himself mentally, reminding himself that she was (if her job application was to be correct) nineteen, and therefore so far out of his league that it was painful to think about.
Thomas spent the last day before he planned to re-open investigating the back room, full of boxes and crates and shelving units stuffed with various things, coated with dust. The lightbulb had burned out the second he entered the room, so he decided that, perhaps, a flashlight was in order. While Julie plugged into her Ipod and skipped around, dusting things rather inefficiently, Thomas discovered that the back room was cramped and stuffed so full of crates and boxes that it was hard to maneuver around, but nearly a quarter of the room was…clean. With a small workbench set up, a few items and a half-unpacked box nearby, pricing tags and supplies in neatly-organized shelves…
…well, it made sense, he mused. You weren’t going to price and study items at the front end, were you? He peered into the cupboards above the workbench and looked over a selection of tools and supplies. Useful! Taking a seat, he looked over whatever items his father must have been working on pricing before he died.
“Make your own voodoo doll.” He read aloud off the packaging, a half-dozen little boxes containing supplies like blank cloth and stuffing and directions (and needles, and matches) all identical. One of them was open, and he took the opportunity to rifle through the inside of it, and read through the packaging directions, chuckling nervously to himself. While it seemed like a kid’s thing at first, the directions were…complex, and the intentions of them a little…dark, for his tastes. All about how to injure or seduce people or partners. He made a note to give one of them to Mark, this seemed right up his alley of humor.
As he continued reading the directions, he was nearly startled clean out of the chair by a dull skittering from somewhere amidst the boxes. After a split second of panic, he took a deep breath and made a note to get some rattraps set up in here, after all, an old grimy place like this…it had to have some sort of creatures crawling around it. He shivered at the thought, and looked over other open boxes near the workbench.
By the end of an hour he had unpacked and set up on the bench a dozen or so items before realizing he had no way to gauge their value and price them. By that point, he’d grown used to the occasional sounds of scrabbling somewhere out of sight, recalling memories of a rat infestation in the attic as a child, and settling to ignore them. He picked up a necklace made out of the vertebrae and skull of a small snake and grimaced. Who the hell bought this stuff?
His flashlight started to flicker dim, the batteries running out, pulling him from his thoughts.
He marked it for five dollars and called it a day, heading back up to the front, where Julie was just getting done with her dusting (she wasn’t very good at it, having simply kicked all the dust into the air. Thomas told he she’d done a fine job while holding back allergy-induced sneezing) and locked up after she’d left, zipping away on a little cherry-red moped.
As he settled into his own car across the street, he watched as a sleek black van pulled up to the sidewalk in front of the store (illegally parking in front of a fire hydrant), stopping for a moment, before pulling away again. He wondered if they were looking at the ‘RE-OPENING TOMORROW’ sign he’d put up in the window in orange letters, before shaking his head.
At least if they were customers they could come back tomorrow.
He went home, ignoring the nagging thought that the store occupied at the back of his head, and slept, ready for a grand opening tomorrow.
It wasn’t very grand.
Julie read magazines and catnapped at the front desk, helping the few customers. The only people who came in were aging antique buyers who shuffled around and occasionally found a clock or china doll to purchase, and bored teenagers who didn’t buy anything. Thomas retreated to the back room where the late-summer heat turned instead to a cool, damp stuffiness and cleared off the workbench, finally setting down the black binder and opening it up.
INVENTORY AND PRICING GUIDE read his father’s handwriting.
“Thank God.” He mumbled, glancing over at a broken music box he’d uncovered yesterday and looking at the alphabetical tabs. Careful not to disturb the aging paper too much, he opened it to the M tab, looking over time-soiled pages. He flipped through the top corners until he came across one labeled ‘Music Boxes’ and read the handwritten notes.
Thomas decided right then and there that dementia had started ruining his father’s mind much earlier than he had believed.
“What the hell does ‘memetic’ mean?”