I was startled but gratified. Nothing I’d learned seemed to fit together, but then I’d only just begun. I felt I’d taken the first couple of steps at least toward unraveling the truth. The antiques dealer rubbed at his chin. He was about to speak again when the bell on the shop door jangled its discordant notes, cutting him off.
The girl who entered looked enough like him that I was left in no doubt that they were related. She was in a furious temper, every inch of her screamed anger so that I expected static sparks to fly from her clenched fists. When she saw there was apparently a customer present, she made a big effort to control herself. She placed a heavy bag down on the floor beside the desk when she so obviously would have preferred to fling it. She sighed, where she might have roared, and sent Zacharius agonized glares of mute rage. Her eyes, I was happy to see, were both dark brown.
Zacharius coughed. He meant it as a cue for me to leave I’m sure. “Well, that’s all,” he said. “I wish you luck.”
“I thought I might have a look around the shop before I go,” I said, enjoying how the girl glared at this news. “Maybe I’ll buy something,” I added. “I’ve been looking for a lamp for my study.” The study was entirely fictitious, but there was no reason why they’d guess this.
I wandered about, peering at things and examining the lamps like they were suspects in a line-up. From behind me there were urgent whispers and angry exclamations, until the girl managed finally to drag him into a back room off the shop floor. They shut the door behind them, but I could hear her raised voice and his quieter sympathetic sounds. I couldn’t hear words, only the tones, and after about two minutes there was the sound of another door closing and silence.
I’d been holding the same lamp for a full minute. I put it down and made my way back toward the desk. I was hoping I’d be able to take a look at the ledger there, possibly find out the names of recent customers other than Eleanor Gordon, and whether anyone else had been interested in the vase. More than anything I wanted to find out about the vase. A photo of it would have been my choice, but failing that a written description would do.
Luck was against me. I hadn’t even reached an angle where I could see the ledger amongst the clutter when the door opened at the back of the shop. It was the angry girl. She looked less angry now. As soon as she saw me she stopped, her hand still on the door. The disappointment she felt at finding me still hanging around was clear as anything, but after a moment she pulled her face into something resembling a smile.
“Can I help you? Still searching for a lamp?”
“Everything ok?” I said, nodding toward the door.
“Fine, fine,” she snapped and glared so I decided to drop it. “Well, do you want a lamp? Or were you just listening-in?”
“I’ll have a lamp,” I said. I don’t know why. I didn’t have to prove anything to her. Her eyes were very bright, and she seemed to have a trapped energy. At any moment, I felt, she might burst with it.
“Well, which one,” she demanded. I wondered that they had any customers, if she treated all of them this way.
“This one,” I said and instantly regretted my choice. I had blindly reached for the one I’d been holding before and now I took a closer look I realized it looked expensive; very expensive. The girl made a sound that might have been a snort of derision.
“Would you like it wrapped?”
She reached for the lamp to take it. Some innate miserly instinct, reacting against the prospect of throwing away hundreds on a lamp, made me hang onto it. Her fingers closed around mine.
She closed down. Her expression went flat and hard. She dropped her hand as if her fingers had been stung. Revulsion made her mouth turn down and she shuddered, like a person who has bitten an apple and discovered in the flesh half a worm. She stared at me, seeing me, as if she knew me right to the core and was repulsed.
The door banged behind her, leaving me alone still holding that lamp. I put it down, noticing how my hand shook. There was nothing else to do but leave.