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November 8, 2015 / hbrowne4

THE FIND by Stephen Brady

Vienna, 1961

He saw it glinting in the shop window, and stopped to stare.

“Now that I have to have.”

Marcus pushed the door.

The interior was dusty and festooned with cobwebs. The clang!! of the door-bell echoed through the gloom like a call to prayer. Antiquities were piled in precarious towers all around.

“Hello…?”

An ancient man, hooked of nose and long of beard, shuffled in from the rear.

“Yes? Help you? Yes?”

“Good afternoon,” said Marcus, aware that the ancient proprietor was appraising his immaculate trenchcoat, scarf and homburg. “Mr…?”

“Bilberstein. Jakob Bilberstein.”

Something about the name jarred with the object Marcus had spotted in the window. He dismissed it from his mind.

“Mr Bilberstein, my name is Gregory Marcus. Like yourself, I’m in the antiques business. I’m a buyer.” He removed his hat. “I represent the interests of some wealthy individuals, and my services are confidential.  My speciality is late First Napoleonic, but I have…” he coughed. “A sideline.”

“Oh yes?”

“Certain of my clients are interested in items from a particular era. An ideologically troublesome one, you might say.”

Bilberstein eyed him impassively. “Go on.”

“The thimble in your window. The one with Adolf Hitler’s face on it. I know its provenance. I would be interested to know if you do.”

The shopkeeper gave a diffident shrug, as if to say I know what I know, Mr Fancy-Hat.

 “There are only five of those thimbles in existence. The set was made as a wedding gift to Hermann Goering, when he married that actress. I’d know the design anywhere. I never thought I’d come across one.” He shook his head. “It’s like some kind of miracle.”

“How he talks,” said Bilberstein, to the air.

“I’ll come to the point then. How much will you take for it?”

“Take?”

“I am authorised to speak of large sums.”

Bilberstein glanced at the window.

“That thing you can have.”

“Price…?”

“No charge.”

Marcus paused, his pocketbook in hand.

“Mr Bilberstein, I don’t believe I heard you correctly.”

“To you, sir, the thimble is free.”

“Are you sure-?”

“Take it, take it.”

Marcus could not believe his good fortune. He took the thimble, now wrapped in brittle paper, from the old man’s yellow fingers.

“With my good wishes,” the shopkeeper said, and vanished into his solitude.

Marcus left the shop and hurried through the cobbled streets of old Vienna. The thimble was nestled in his inside pocket, between his chequebook and his heart.

At his modest hotel he ate a solitary dinner with a bottle of non-decent rosé. As he did so he made a list of names from his pocketbook. Then he went to the lobby and made several telephone calls. He spoke quickly into the phone, his mouth concealed, and cast frequent glances around the quiet foyer.

“Friday in Zurich, then. You will deal directly with me. Auf Wiedersehn.”

At 10 o’clock  he retired to his room.

Marcus unwrapped the thimble and set it on the bedside table. Then he turned out the light and went to sleep, the trace of a smile lingering on his face.

It was sometime deep in the night that the red dreams, and the screaming started.

13-11-2015

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