By Anthony Lukas
I don’t expect you to believe me.
I am, after all, just a small shop
owner, certainly no one special. I inherited my shop from my father and have
run “Smith’s Emporium” for over forty years now. Some would call it a junk
shop, but there is no junk in my shop, just myriad things, waiting—from hats to
rugs (for both head and floor), from jewelry to furniture. Most come to me with
Like Jeffrey, my bear. Five feet tall,
stuffed to be five feet around, a bit scruffy, the big brown teddy bear had
been the store mascot for a lady who had owned a chocolate store. It had always
been her dream to make fine chocolates and confections. But hard times had
closed her store and ended her dream. I had bought her copper pots, cooking
utensils, candy thermometers, and Jeffrey. I had long since sold the copper
pots and candy making tools to others to use in their dreams, but kept Jeffrey
as my mascot, to sit enthroned in a highbacked oak chair—someone’s dear
departed mother’s—in the center of and presiding over my shop. He is someone to
I have regulars who come from time
to time, looking for bargains. They scour the jewelry case, study the cutlery
case, inspect the furniture, and check what few clothes I stock. I tell them
the stories that come with each, only slightly embellished. Often, we sit on
the bench out in front of my shop, or on rainy days, in the middle of the shop
in chairs gathered around Jeffrey, and sip espresso I make with a machine I
acquired from someone else’s darkened dream.
A few other shop owners on the
block often join me to sit around Jeffrey and sip coffee or tea. They include George
the baker from across the street, Amy from the crystals and herb shop next door,
and Paul from the used books and records shop. We sit and discuss this and that
and I share the stories of some of the new things brought into the store.
George is most interested in the Emporium’s
culinary items, and Paul, in the antique knives and few swords. Despite my
stories as to how I have acquired them, he has deemed one of the swords to be
Excalibur and a silver dagger to be the one that had appeared to Macbeth.
“I’m certain that it is,” he often says
with a smile, “because I can feel the magic of ghosts around it.”
Without fail, sometime during these
conversations, Amy will say, “Yours is a magical shop, Thomas. All these things
with their histories, the hopes, the dreams, the desires of former owners. I
feel you imbue them with life by keeping their stories alive.” (A nice
sentiment that I did not believe.)
But, last Monday, just after noon, three
customers entered the shop who immediately made me ill at ease. Two young men
and a young woman prowled about; the tallest youth nodded and said ‘hello’ to
me. They did not examine my things, just glanced at them, darting eyes finally
settling on the jewelry case.
I heard a click, and saw that the
shorter of the men had latched the front door and pulled down the shade. “Don’t
want to be disturbed, do we?” he said, grinning.
I had guns in one of the cabinets
toward the back, their stories flitting through my mind, but they were antiques
and there was no ammunition.
“Please, just take what you want,”
The tall one stood next to Jeffrey,
patting his head. “We’re going to do just that.” He had taken out a switch
blade, flicked it open, and put the blade to the bear’s neck. “Now do as we say
or the bear gets it.”
The girl laughed and said, “Don’t
hurt the teddy! Stick the old fart!”
The short one came behind the
counter and waved me toward him. “Keys,” he said, nodding at the jewelry display
“It’s not locked.”
“Well, then,” said the tall one,
now across the counter from me, “we don’t need you, do we?”
I looked at him. He was leaning on
the counter, toying with a vase that I had gotten from an estate sale. We were
standing at the knife case, my hands resting inside. I clutched the handle of
Macbeth’s dagger, praying there was indeed magic in its blade.
“Please,” I said, but he lifted the
vase and swung it at my head.
I snatched the dagger from the case,
and then…heard a banging from the front of the shop. I was lying on the floor
behind the display case, the dagger still gripped in my hand
I staggered up and saw police at
the window, one knocking on the glass. My head swimming, I swayed unsteadily to
the door and unlocked it.
“Are you all right, Mr. Smith?” said
Sergeant Chase, the local beat cop, and looked at the dagger in my hand. “Let
me take that. You’re bleeding. Call an ambulance!” (to the cop behind him). He
led me out to sit on the bench in front of the store.
“What happened?” Chase asked.
I told him of the three. He peered
through the window and drew his gun. He and the other cop went in, saying,
“Police!” In a minute or two I heard the young cop cursing. She had come out,
Casey came out grim and said, “What
I told him some of what had
happened. I started to describe the three, but he stopped me.
“I won’t be needing that,” he said,
looking at me strangely.
The ambulance arrived and more
police. An EMT sat beside me, tending the gash on my head and asking me
questions. She seemed satisfied with my answers and said, “You could have a
mild concussion. Best if we take you to the hospital for some tests.”
Casey was standing behind her. “I
need to ask him a few questions first.” To me, “You’re sure you don’t remember
anything after he hit you?”
“No, I remember his smiling as he
swung the vase at me—I had the dagger in my hand—but then nothing until I saw
you at the window.” He nodded slowly, a troubled look on his face. “What’s the
matter?” I asked.
He looked at me for a moment, then
said, “I need you to come into the shop. You’d better come too,” he told the
We went in, and there was an odd
smell in the air, making me wonder what had they done to my store. Casey led us
over to the counter where there were pieces of broken vase on the counter and
the floor, specks of blood on some of them. Macbeth’s dagger lay among them.
“Yes,” I said, “this is where he hit me,” my hand going to the bandage that the
EMT had put on the side of my head.
Casey nodded again. “Come over
here,” he said, leading back to the center of the store. We came around a
cabinet to where Jeffrey sat, and I heard the EMT gasp.
On the floor lay the three robbers.
The tall one’s chest was a mass of blood. The girl’s throat had been slashed.
The other man had been gutted. I looked away and saw blood splashed on all my
things, even poor Jeffrey. My knees felt weak and my head was pounding.
I felt a hand on my arm, and the
EMT was leading me back around the corner to an oak love seat (brought to me
when the owners’ love had dissipated.) “Sit here a minute.”
The coroner and a crime scene
technician had come as I sat with the EMT. I could see the flashes as
photographs were taken and hear their comments as they examined the gruesome
scene. After a bit, three black body bags were carried past me and out of my
A few minutes later one of the
technicians came around to me and asked, “Is the stuffed bear always sitting in
“Yes,” I said. At his puzzled look
I asked, “Why?”
He motioned me back around the
corner, and I steeled myself and went.
“Well, look, there’s blood all over
the front of the bear, but see,” lifting Jeffrey from his throne, “there is
blood on the chair back and seat and on the wall behind, as though he had not
been sitting there when the blood had flown, and then later was placed there
after the slaughter.” He looked at me, but I said nothing and could only shrug.
I have spent a great deal of time
cleaning blood from the shop and my things, especially Jeffrey. He seems
different now, his fur darker, his limbs stiffer, as though he has changed.
Well, of course, he must have.
I clean him carefully. I want to
return him to be as he was. To thank him.
Anthony Lukas, email@example.com, of Petaluma,
California, who wrote BP #77’s “Smith’s Emporium,” is a retired attorney and
chocolatier, now spending time working t-time in a national park and writing a
story or two. He has previously been published in overmydeadbody.com, bewilderingstories.com,
and Yellow Mama.