Walking down the foggy London road, Vince ducked into an alleyway to avoid an oncoming group of schoolgirls heading home from some event. He'd spent years as a teacher and had learned to hate the sound of tittering schoolchildren. Pulling his coat around his broad frame, Vince ran a hand through his short hair before turning green eyes down the narrow alleyway.
It broke into several lanes that separated the shops, allowing him to passage down the street without the traffic. Light footfalls echoed the damp stone path as he walked down the alley, turning right to continue towards his destination. He squeezed his briefcase once, allowing his hand to flex a little; he'd been carrying the heavy thing for miles, and his hand was locking up. Switching it to his left hand, he splayed the fingers of his right hand before flexing them a few times.
"Really need to be paid more for this kind of nonsense," Vince grumbled. Checking his watch, he smiled; he was nearly there and he was a half hour early. The trade should go well. Beneath his coat, Vince could feel the hefty Magnum in his chest holster; loaded with hollow-point .45 rounds, they were enough to blow an arm off a man from thirty paces away, and Vince was a crack shot with his weapon of choice.
A light rain began to drizzle, earning a series of curses from Vince; he had to keep the contents of his briefcase in as pristine condition as possible; rainfall wouldn't win him any points with the buyer, Smiling when he saw green eaves jutting from the wall over a door, Vince ran to stand under it, pulling his cell phone to check the weather report.
"Bloody perfect... rain for the rest of the day!" Vince grumbled before sliding his phone back into his pocket. Looking behind him at the glass door, he quirked an eyebrow; all it had was a pyramid with an eye in the middle painted onto the glass.
No name, or indication if this was a store or bar or house. Scowling, and wanting to get away from the rain, he pushed on the door, smiling as it gave way with the ringing of a bell.
Vince's senses were nearly overloaded as he was assaulted with burning incense, multiple sconces built into the stone walls of the surprisingly large room shedding light from torches that looked as if they were carefully tended to. There were glass display cases showing a variety of items; old pistols, knives, ink bottles, even a full tea service kit.
"Hello?" Vince called out, hoping to speak with whoever was in the building.
"Yes?" A raspy voice answered behind him, causing Vince to spin, his hand going to his pistol in an instant.
He felt silly for his reaction when all he found was a small man wearing brown trousers and a white long-sleeved shirt, spectacles resting on the tip of his nose. Dark eyes stared up at Vince, the pitiless black orbs judging him as if he were a slab of meat tossed before the dogs. Vince tried not to squirm beneath the gaze, choosing merely to cough into his fist before addressing the man.
"I didn't know you were here, I'm sorry..." Vince offered, staring down at the man. Knobby fingers moved up to tap Vince in the chest, a smile gracing the man's face.
"Nobody really knows I'm back here," he smiled before ghosting around Vince, moving deeper into the shop. "I have a very... discreet clientele. Much like you Vince..."
Vince's heart caught in his throat. He looked at the man as he turned at the waist, smiling at Vince with obvious cheer. He quirked an eyebrow up. "Is something wrong?"
"No," Vince croaked, fighting the urge to just shoot the man and run. If he knew his name he might know what he was transporting... that made him a liability.
The man turned fully to face Vince, his black shoes squeaking on the smooth stone floor. "Allow me to introduce myself; my name is Shylock. I run this establishment, offering goods and services to those who need them!"
"Goods and services? What kind of services?" Vince asked, adjusting his stance to keep the briefcase behind him.
Shylock folded his arms behind his back. "Oh you know... protection, soothsaying, curses, and hexes... the kind of stuff rational men like you don't really believe in."
Vince held back his laughter. "Yeah... you're right, I really don't believe in what you just said... how do you know my name, by the way?"
Shylock just bowed his head as if nodding his head. "Using methods you believe don't exist."
"Like? I don't believe in a lot of things..." Vince said.
"I did a card reading this morning before communing with the spirits," Shylock replied, turning to walk towards the back of the shop. "They told me a drug smuggler named Vince would be gracing my doorstep today. You arrived earlier than predicted, but they can never be one hundred percent accurate."
Vince fell silent, arguing with himself whether he should take care of the old man or whether he should bolt. Somehow he knew that Vince was carrying over a half a million dollars’ worth of pure Colombian Cocaine in his suitcase. He inched his hand towards his gun before the old man turned slightly, revealing a Luger leveled towards Vince in a lazy grip.
“Please,” Shylock said eyes half-closed as he gave a wry chuckle. “Don’t be so crude as to force me to defend myself. According to my divinations, I have a high chance of coming out of any ordeal a much richer man. Whether that be in spirit, experience, or cash I don’t know.”
“So what? You want the drugs?” Vince asked, his hand frozen halfway to his gun. He didn’t move a muscle, years of work in various gyms granting him the resolve not to shake despite the awkward stance.
Shylock shook his head. “No, I have no interest in drugs. They offer only fleeting pleasures that I’ve grown far beyond.”
“So what is it you want? Money?” Vince asked.
Shylock tilted his head. “In a way. I am a shopkeeper, so it would be rather strange if I didn’t receive cash in exchange for your purchase.”
Vince nearly laughed. “What purchase?”
Shylock did laugh a rather deep and hearty chuckle. He lowered his gun and slipped it into his pocket, the butt of the pistol hanging out for anyone to see. “Why, whatever you decide it is! This is a shop, so have a look around before you decide what you want. Just remember: you are buying something since you came into my store. It was pre-ordained.”
Looking around the dark shop, Vince relaxed and glared at the old man. “I’m getting sick of the strange talk, but why not? I’ll look around. Just keep the gun away from me and we’ll get along.”
Shylock nodded and walked behind a glass counter that Vince only now realized held various trinkets and pieces of jewelry. The shelves of the shop held odd artifacts and strange items: a stuffed monkey that served as a candleholder, a stone hand with a mandala on the palm, and a wicker doll made from what Vince could only guess would be polished twigs and rat furs, a rodent's skull resting in the middle with a shiny red garnet resting in the skull’s jaws.
Vince stared at the doll, his mind drifting to his niece. Becky was an odd girl, obsessed with macabre subjects like death and the dying. She sculpted bizarre statues which she sold on the internet as a means to pay the bills. He’d bought a couple for the decoration of his townhouse while he’d purchased others only to hollow them out for drug smuggling. He felt a little guilty that her statues were broken after they reached their destination, unruly gang leaders who didn’t care one whit about the package, just what was inside.
Vince pointed to the doll. “What about that?”
“Oh, you found one of my favorite marvels… and so quickly! I’ve had customers who take hours to find the perfect purchase.” Shylock seemed pleased as he walked to the shelf, picking up the doll and setting it on the counter gently. “It’s from the Old World, from a time before America.”
Vince looked skeptical. “It looks like you made it out of forest trimmings.”
“Oh no, look closely,” Shylock ordered, moving a delicate hand over the top where the woven head sat. “Look at the frayed edges of the plague rats’ pelts; feel how smooth the Spruce wood is!”
Vince leaned over the doll, peering down at the wood beneath the tunic made from rat hide. The wood was indeed smooth and looked older than any other wood Vince had ever seen. It didn’t shine, nor did it look naturally smooth. You could see small flecks of bark left on the twigs that were bent and shaped into the form of a man. The small stuffed head bore small black X’s where the eye should be and had a stitched mouth with frayed black strings sewn over a slit in the cloth.
Vince could tell the cloth had once been colored, which only added to the claim that this was some old relic from a bygone era. That would make Becky value it all that much more! Vince nodded and looked into the shopkeepers eyes.
“I’ll take it,” Vince said with a tone of finality.