There were chrysanthemums in the yard, miniature ones, not quite knee high, blazing in tawny and gold like ragged torches waved in defiance against the encroaching gloom. I shuddered. I hate this time of year. Malley, now he’ll wax lyrical about the harsh glitter that the streetlamps waken in the raindrops scattered across the window, and the fog – would you believe it? He even likes fog. Says it makes him feel wrapped up and safe, somehow. Malley’s a city boy, I guess, down in his soul. Not me.
I don’t like these jobs, either. I had plenty of time to dwell on it as we shivered on the step. It felt like an affront just to arrive in a nice car, without knowing we’d come to haggle down some old bird and leave the least cash we could for some trinket that meant the whole world to him, a trinket we’d sell for three or four times what we’d paid, just because we’d cleaned it up and set it to its best advantage on black velvet in a nicer part of town.
When we finally got in I folded myself into a corner and tried not to loom. I was only there to keep the bankroll safe on the street, and our client wasn’t any threat. He was a frail wisp of nothing, less defiance in him than in the flowers in his yard. I almost felt sorry for him as he fiddled nervously with the faded plush box and span his story, though Malley seemed to treat him warily. The stones, when he finally opened the box, took my breath away, till I remembered they were only paste.
Malley and the old bird – Sammy, his name was – argued provenance for a while, and then Malley made an offer that was higher than I expected, and Sammy laughed in his face. Malley looked a little uneasy and threw me a troubled glance. Then he said
“Maybe you’re right. Folk are starting to appreciate this stuff in its own right. Tell you what, for an old client, I can afford to gamble on the market rising, and hold on to this till it does.”
After that it was pretty much over. I didn’t say a word to Malley till we were settled in the car. He seemed about to defend himself, and I didn’t let him waste his breath.
“You’re the boss, Malley. So you got a heart after all, so you drop a few bucks for a guy with no other hope, is that my problem?”
“Hope nothing. Hope’s for young men, and spring time. You’re a farm boy, you should know. You need hope in the spring, hope for enough sun, enough rain, hope the blossom sets, hope the hay dries. Hope and hard work, that’s all you got. You get older, you don’t got no use for either of ‘em.”
I looked at the rain sweeping the street.
“And what’s an old man got, in autumn?”
“Whatever he had the sense to gather away in the summer. Look at the paste.”
I pulled it out of my pocket and gave it a better look. It was good stuff alright, good enough to fool me, maybe even worth almost as much as we’d paid for it. I said as much, and Malley laughed, as the old man had laughed, at a joke I couldn’t see.
“As much and more, only it’ll cost us to get it reset. That’s what I cut him down for.”
I looked from Malley to the stones and back dumbly.
“You don’t mean . . ?”
“Sure I do, kid. Sammy’s got more gathered away than most, and I’m the only fence he trusts.”
619 words, plus title
For Project Gemini’s Flash Fall Festival
Follow the link for more entries or to take part yourself – though I’m cutting it fine there’s still a little time, and the rules give a generous window of 200 – 1000 words