“Croesus! Good to see you. What can I do you for?”
Croesus sauntered into the shop. Then stopped, mid-saunter, before he’d reached the counter. “What did you just say to me?”
“Eh?” asked Fletcher. Suddenly the man looked wary and shady, ready to dive for cover behind his counter, which was carved into the crenellated shape of a castle wall. “I only asked what I could do for you. You know, doin my bit to be friendly. Helpful, like. Providing a spot of customer service. Not that I’d take you for a routine customer. You’re not usually in the market for arrows. What’s up? Taken up archery in your spare time?”
“No. Before that. ‘Good to see me’. What was that?” Croesus advanced with eyes narrowed.
“Friendly. You know. Being nice. You oughta try it sometime.”
“All right. Never mind.” Croesus relaxed, laid an arm atop the counter’s faux battlements. The fact was, he didn’t have a lot of spare time for archery or anything. And he stood to get a few more answers if Fletcher wasn’t on the defensive. He let the unexpected friendliness go this once. “What you can do or me is tell me if certain items have shown up in your shop.”
“Arrows, you mean? Certain types of arrow? We only sell arrows here, mate.”
“Don’t get cute.” Fletcher had inherited his original trade from his old man, but it had quickly turned into a front for more underhand commerce. He was a pasty-skinned fellow with red hair and a moustache that drooped to partially hide a droopier face. Croesus would have deemed him well-suited to boredom, but he had found the business of churning out arrow after arrow to be pointless drudgery and had sought to spice up his life by fencing stolen goods.
The shelves and racks out front were stacked with arrows. Every possible variety plus bolts for crossbows over in their dedicated corner section. But Croesus knew if he hopped the counter and wandered into the back rooms he’d find other treasures missing from their rightful homes. Not necessarily the specific treasures he was looking for, but still several hot items waiting to be sold that were not cakes.
Not only did he know that, he knew that Fletcher knew he knew it. And knew that he could have guards summoned for an impromptu store inspection and shut him down. Which was quite a lot of knowing between them and Croesus framed as much knowing as he could in the look he gave the bushy-lipped storekeep.
“All right, all right,” Fletcher caved. He leaned across the counter and muttered through his moustache. “What sort of items d’you have in mind?”
Croesus reeled off the first few objets d’art like he was reciting his week’s grocery list. “Two commemorative silver sandwich platters marking the centenary of the Battle Of Thistle Fjord; glass galleon threaded with dragonscale filigree; one sapphire-collared porcelain Pekinese; seven authentic gold-framed triptychs by Avgost Velophin depicting the Trials Of Lady Jenoise; diamond chess set with pearl and jet gameboard and hourglass pawns; twelve Sinoan warrior figurines fashioned from pure – ”
“Wait, wait,” Fletcher waved him quiet. “Can’t you just give me a list?”
“What does it sound like I’m doing?”
“No, no. Written. On paper. A proper list list.”
Croesus wrinkled his upper lip. “Because I don’t have one.” He tapped the side of his skull. “It’s all up here. Committed to memory.”
“Really?” Fletcher eyed Croesus’ head dubiously, as though doubting there was room for so many words between his ears. He sniffed eventually though, apparently impressed. “Quite a feat if you ask me, to keep that lot stored in your head. Some days I can’t even remember whether I’ve brushed my teeth or not.”
Croesus would hazard a guess not today. Although the smell of stale food may have emanated from morsels lodged in the man’s moustache.
“It’s not that difficult. The King has me do routine inspections all the time. Number of times I’ve toured that vault and checked inventory, wasn’t hard to learn it all. What’s more I don’t just know every item in the collection, I know exactly where it is.”
Croesus nodded, allowing Fletcher time to be impressed some more.
“Except now, you mean,” said Fletcher.
Croesus grumbled irritably. He straightened, tired of leaning on the counter. “Yes. As it happens. Except now. What I mean is, I keep a mental picture of all the items and their position in the vault – as they should be. Bit like I now have a vivid mental image of you languishing in His Majesty’s dungeon feeding the royal rats.”
“Steady on, Croesus, I’m doing my best to assist.”
“All right then. I’ll keep going. You just nod if anything rings a bell.”
Fletcher made a face like he was all ears. Leaned forward some more.
“Right, where was I?” Croesus shut his eyes momentarily to recall his mental picture. Turned the image of the vault interior around in his head. Noting each item again in turn, up to the Sinoan warrior figurines.
“Go on then,” urged Fletcher, a touch impatient.
“Wait,” said Croesus. That was odd.
He stared hard at the insides of his eyelids. Wherever his mental image was projected, everything was in its place. Except –
No marble bust of Montgomery Prye.
Funny. Why wouldn’t he have memorised that?
[To Be Continued…]