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Xenolith, Page 21

A. Sparrow

  Chapter 14: The Rock Shop

  Mr. Brown, caught in mid-sip, gave a start when the door of his shop jingled open, dribbling lukewarm Dunkin Donuts coffee over the football scores. That his shop had opened at all was surprising, given the ordeal he had gone through that earlier that morning.

  He had arrived at the shop a hair after six, driving in all the way from Derby after the security service had called to inform him of the break-in. Police were waiting for him in the lot, replete with bagels and coffee.

  He entered his shop through the back, expecting the worst. He found a large puddle on the floor. The place looked like a deer had run through it, every display knocked over, every tray and basket spilled. But amazingly, not a single piece of inventory was missing.

  Each of his most prized and costliest showpieces remained in place: the little fossil Keichousaurus that looked like a baby Nessie, the iron maiden-shaped geode from Missouri with six-inch spikes of purple amethyst, and his entire armada of nautili.

  The cash he had neglected to drop off at the bank yesterday was still zipped in its pouch below the register; which is what really convinced the policemen that a deer or a bear had rampaged through the shop. They asked if he might have gone out the front at closing time and left the back door propped open. Not a chance, he told them, if his memory could be trusted, though he knew full well how sketchy it could be these days.

  Mr. Brown didn’t bother reporting the incident to his insurance company. Damage was minimal: a collapsed shelf, a shattered bowl, some chipped stones. Doubtful he could cobble together enough losses to get past the $500 deductible.

  So he got himself a broom and started sweeping. Three hours later, the shop was cleaner and better organized than it had been in ages, and he was pooped. He considered not opening and just heading home, but didn’t see the point. After retiring from Sikorsky, he had opened the place expressly to keep out of the house. And with his wife watching the two grandkids all day, his odds of catching a nap were much better in the storeroom amidst the bundles of old magazines and boxes of unlabeled specimens.

  So when his wayward rocks and minerals had all been reunited with their labels and he had finished wringing the mop out back, he unlocked the front and settled into his cushioned office chair with an extra-large coffee and the morning paper. That’s when the bells on the front door jangled.

  The woman entering his shop did not fit the profile of his typical customer. She wasn’t a geeky middle-schooler come to gawk at the fossils and spend nothing but Mr. Brown’s patience. Nor was she a mom with little kids in tow, coming to fill a $5 bag with pretty cabochons. The best slot he could find for her peg was maybe a thirty-something new ager come to look for healing crystals.

  But that slot didn’t fit. First, her ethnicity defied classification. She blended petite Neanderthal with Tolkien elf, but in the best possible way, combining elegance and earthiness. Spiral curls, both long and short stuck out randomly, impaling bits of leaf and spider web. Her build was compact, child-like but with well-defined muscles in her arms and shoulders, olive-toned and deeply tanned. She wore a pink Tinker Bell tank top, saggy jeans and the body odor of someone who had skipped a few too many showers.

  Mr. Brown smiled at her and nodded, and began to settle back in to his survey of the NFL pre-season when he noticed that the lady was wearing no shoes.

  “I’m sorry miss, but you can’t be in here barefoot.”

  Her head swiveled abruptly and she impaled him with the ferocity of her gaze. It bore nothing malevolent, just a single-minded fervor that reminded him of those religious nuts who try to cajole you to join their prayer meetings.

  “Your feet. You need shoes to come in my shop. Health Department rules. Besides, I just swept up a pile of broken glass this morning. There’s probably shards.”

  Mr. Brown pointed down at her feet to emphasize the point, in case her English language skills were as weak as he suspected. He found himself looking at the most impressively calloused set of appendages he had ever seen; feet that might trample light bulbs without concern.

  She ignored him, heading straight for the credenza where he kept an alphabetic inventory of exotic rocks and minerals that he had either collected himself, bought from distributors or acquired from amateur rock hounds in the area. She perused methodically through the ‘A’ drawer and its agate, amber, and azurite.

  Mr. Brown thought he had made his desires obvious, even to a deaf person. Was she daft? He came out from behind the counter and tapped at his Clark Natureveldts. He spoke slowly and loudly.

  “Miss. You need shoes to be in here. I’m sorry, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

  She looked down at his feet, then into his eyes. Her eyes were the deepest black. Not dark brown. Black. Pupil indistinguishable from cornea. She stared so deeply into him, he had to look away. But it seems, this time she understood.

  She went to the door, leaned out and made a rippling gesture with her finger to someone down the sidewalk. A young man in baggy shorts bounded up. They spoke briefly and he bent over, pulled off his sneakers and gave them to her. She came back into the shop wearing an oversized pair of low-rise Converse sneakers without laces. Mr. Brown rolled his eyes and sighed. The woman returned to the credenza and started in on the B’s: bakerite, beryl, biotite.

  Mr. Brown decided to facilitate her shopping. “Is there something I can help you with?” he said. He hovered beside her, trying to get her attention. “No habla ingles? Habla Español?”

  She barely glanced at him, moving on to the C drawer: calcite, celestite, chalcopyrite. The young man stuck his head in the store again. An unintelligible torrent poured forth from him; a rapid burst of looping vowels and staccato plosives. The woman responded tersely and her friend went back outside. Their lingo resembled nothing Mr. Brown had ever heard before. They weren’t from around here. That much was clear.

  The young man hovered outside the window, grinning at Mr. Brown, making what hair remained on his scalp prickle. The couple gave him the creeps, not only for the way they looked, but the way they acted, the way they moved and interacted with the world. Feral. A hunger pang away from tearing out his throat with their teeth and hauling his carcass up into a tree.

  It was disconcerting that such an odd pair would show up the same morning as a most unusual break-in. He thought about calling the police, but held off, not wishing to over-react like that old lady in his neighborhood who made the police blotter anytime a car drove too slowly in front of her house, or when the wind clapped a shutter against her siding. Coincidences happened.

  Mr. Brown decided it would behoove him to get behind the counter, just in case. There he had an aluminum baseball bat handy by the waste basket, and quick access to the back room. He retreated.

  “If there’s something specific you’re looking for, let me know and I can help you find it.” The words spilled out habitually. He didn’t really expect this one to understand.

  The woman seemed to linger on the C’s, particularly on the big chunks of chalcopyrite that formed the bulk of the collection in that drawer. Copper iron sulfide, in its squared and metallic-looking crystalline form, was better known as Fool’s Gold. These particular chalcopyrites were its non-crystalline, amorphous manifestation, drab and grey by comparison, apart from an oily, iridescent sheen.

  She removed the entire drawer and carried it to the counter.

  “Oh. Good! You found whatever you were looking for.”

  She was indeed interested in the chalcopyrites. She passed her finger over the whole row.

  “Okay. Which one would you like?” To help her indicate her selection, he pointed to each stone in turn. “This one? That one?”

  She glared and swept her palm over the entire bottom row.

  “All of them? You want all of them?”

  She gave him what he took to be her version of a nod: a slow rotation of her chin.

  What was it about chalcopyrites lately? He had sold one from the same drawer the
other day to a young man. Was someone out there making them trendy? Some mention of them in pop culture or some new disposition of their healing properties in an alternative medicine tome? If he was truly serious about his business, he would keep on such things.

  “Seven stones in all at eight dollars apiece,” said Mr. Brown. “I’ll give you a bulk discount.” He tallied up the prices and knocked off 10%. He showed her the figure. “That’ll be $50.40 after the discount. With tax it comes out to $52.92.”

  She pointed to a framed dollar bill he had on the wall behind him from his first sale, and made a swirly gesture with her fingers.

  “I’m not sure what you’re asking? Cash only? I take credit too, anything except American Express.”

  She reached in her pocket, pulled out a crumpled wad of 20 dollar bills and slapped it on the counter.

  Mr. Brown peeled three 20’s from the wad and rang up the sale, while she loaded the stones into the front of her blouse.

  “If you just wait a second miss, I can wrap and bag them for you.”

  She scooped the rest of her wad and swooped off towards the door.

  “Wait! You have change coming!”

  The door slammed shut.

  “Come again soon,” he said out of habit, not entirely sure he meant it, wondering if he should after all, call it a day.