Pete’s feet stuttered through the shop doorway. His hands arced out and caught the corner of the wooden counter before gravity could floor him. Shoulders stiff, head turned away from danger, his knees bent and narrowly missed banging the floor. The stocky pawnbroker in front of him erupted into raucous laughter, one hand over his mouth, the other on his hip.
‘Oh, Sir,’ said the infuriating man between giggles. ‘You’re the third one today to trip over that. ‘ere, let me take it up before someone sues me.’ He reached out a chubby hand. Still beaming like the Joker, he picked up the doormat. ‘Gift from my daughter you know, she’s a hoot.’
The wording on the rubber read “Oh no! Not you again!” He wasn’t amused; either by the “joke” or by the man laughing at him. Pulling himself upright, Pete brushed rain from his sleeves. He imagined the raindrops were the shopkeeper’s inane sniggers, liquified and cast towards him; tiny, materialised insults. Pete treated them with the distain they deserved.
‘Now what brings you in ‘ere, Sir? In need of a brolly?’ he smirked, gesturing towards a stand full of umbrellas by the door.
Pete contained his breath to control his rage. He is not your mother. That is not her laugh. He is not your mother. That is not her laugh. He’d promised to try Dr Albrow’s mantra as a first step in his therapy. Maybe it helped.
‘I’m looking for a present for my wife.’
‘In a pawnshop, Sir?’
‘She likes things with history, things with stories to tell.’ And with a touch of the macabre, not that it’s any of your business.
‘Then you’re in the right place! Jewellery perhaps? A coloured vase?’
‘I’ll have a look around.’
Glass cabinets against one wall glinted with coins, medals, rings, necklaces. Maybe something small would be nice, something personal to someone. But there were also pieces of antique furniture. A French-polished cedar wood bookcase caught his eye and he took a step over to it. Resting on the top shelf, at waist height, was a chunky wooden box with a bright, brass anchor inlaid into the centre of the lid. Pete picked it up and opened the top. Lying inside, with half of it standing proud of its shaped, velvet bed, was a handheld telescope, collapsed down to its smallest size.
‘May I take this out?’ asked Pete.
‘Why yes, Sir. Be my guest.’
Pete extracted the telescope from its resting place and teased it out to full length. It was about eighteen inches when extended. There was a pleasing wave design carved into the wooden casing at the eye end. The metallic parts were highly polished, catching the light as he turned it in his hands.
‘Does it work?’
‘Certainly does, Sir. Nautical spyglass, that is, Sir, brass. Selling for £45 today.’
Pete removed the gleaming lens cap and held the spyglass to his right eye, closing his left. The room spun, as if after a few too many tots of rum. Scared of losing his balance and being laughed at a second time, Pete widened his stance and leaned against the bookcase.
After a few seconds, his vision cleared. He focused the spyglass on a diamond ring in an open red box inside the cabinet opposite him. He adjusted the mirror-tube to account for the blur, and the ring came into sharp focus. Running his fingers over the brass, they hit upon a tiny metal toggle towards the near end of the telescope. He clicked it across to its alternative position. The room in front of him began to swirl like a kaleidoscopic daydream. When it stopped moving, Pete was no longer looking at a cabinet in a pawnshop.
Bright sunshine swaddled a young couple sitting on a bench among the daffodils. The edges of the picture were blurred like bathroom glass. The man stood up, then bent down on one knee. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small red box. He flipped it open to reveal the very ring from the pawnshop. He took the woman’s hand and held the box out to her. She smiled, nodded, and placed the ring on her finger before leaning forward into his arms. Then the vision blurred until Pete was staring at the cabinet again.
‘You alright there, Sir?’ asked the pawnbroker.
‘Yes, fine, thank you, just, er, a little intrigued by this old thing.’
‘You carry on, Sir. £45 today.’
Not the ring then. If the spyglass somehow shows where an item has come from, Leanne would find that story too soppy altogether. Let’s try again.
Pete focused the telescope on a small, old fashioned, teddy bear with movable arms and legs. The image of the balding bear swirled out of focus until a new scene presented itself. A small girl in a hospital bed, surrounded by tubes and wires. That’s more like it, dying young and having your parents pawn your favourite bear. A man and a woman arrived, frowning and fussing over the child. A nurse approached, all smiles, and spoke with them. Again, there was no sound, only a picture. The man and woman looked relieved, and hugged each other. They produced the bear from a gift bag and handed it to the girl while the nurse started to unhook her from the hospital machines. Oh, she went home and lived happily ever after. That’s no good for Leanne. Next!
Pete carried the spyglass around the shop for a while, looking for something that would appeal to his wife even if it did have a disappointingly happy past. He searched shelves and cabinets galore until he noticed an archway into a back room with an “Over 18’s only” sign. That’s worth a look.
On the other side of the archway was a mismatched collection of weapons, lighters, and adult reading materials. Pete had no interest in the porn, other than smiling at the irony of it being the last thing he expected to find in a pawnbroker’s. Some of the lighters were interesting, ornate Zippos mostly, though Leanne didn’t smoke. But the weapons, oh the weapons.
There were arrows, crossbows, blow darts, slingshots, bb guns, pen knives, flick knives, hunting knives, even a couple of antique pistols. Surely half of this stuff is illegal. And there, against the back wall, in a glass-topped cabinet, was a black-handled, silver dagger that could not go unnoticed. Pete approached with cautious enthusiasm and examined the object up close. The handle was formed of two, chunky, hexagonal pieces separated by a smaller square block. All three sections would fit well in the palm of a hand, giving an unusual but effective grip. The blade was embossed with a repeating, geometric pattern from the tip to the hilt. Lying next to the dagger, on the velvet cloth, was its equally ornate leather sheath and a ticket - £55.
Pete raised the spyglass again. Surely this has to have a dodgy story that Leanne will love. The swirling stopped, and a man in dark blue pyjamas, with his back to Pete, was struggling on an Indian rug. Again, the edges of the picture were fuzzy. As Pete watched the story unfold, a woman approached. Only her espadrilles and the bottom three inches of her pale blue dress were visible. She bent down, and reached her right hand towards him. When she pulled it back, her hand was crimson and holding the very same dagger. Her other hand shook the man’s shoulder before the image blurred again and disappeared. Perfect! Leanne will go for that.
Now I just want to know about this telescope.
‘I’ll take this please, and the silver dagger from cabinet 12. Paying cash.’ Pete said to the pawnbroker back at the till.
‘Yes, Sir, right you are.’
As the shopkeeper returned with the dagger, Pete caught his eye. ‘Do you know who brought this in? This er, spyglass?’
‘It’ll be in my book, Sir, but I can’t share the name. All I can say is ‘e was an ex-sailor, navy man. Said it had been in ‘is family for generations. Said ‘e was down on ‘is luck or ‘e wouldn’t part with it. If you ask me, Sir, ‘e was sellin’ it for rum. Stank o’ the stuff.’
Taste for rum! A man after my own heart. Obviously didn’t know its powers though, or perhaps he was scared of them?
Pete ran a few more errands in town, picked up a gift box, and drove back to Hangleton Village as the clouds were clearing. Leanne wouldn’t be back for a while. Once her dagger was boxed and wrapped, he took out his spyglass and wandered round the house. His wife had quite the collection of oddments.
Pete focussed the spyglass on her antique brush and mirror set, with the silver bird skulls on the handles. The spyglass revealed that it had belonged to a small girl with very long, auburn hair. Leanne’s rosewood jewellery box, with the Ouija board design on the lid, had come from an auction house. In fact, several of her things had come from the same auction house and that was the only image Pete got of them, waiting for sale with lot numbers attached. Some of them were examined by queues of people and some garnered little attention.
I never knew she went to auctions. I wonder what else I don’t know.
Pete swept the spyglass around their bedroom. He caught a glimpse of the cushion on the bed. She always said her aunt made it for her. It had a pair of antlers cross stitched into the cover, black on a teal background. Let’s take a look at famous Aunt Terri.
The stripy duvet spun in swirling shapes before Pete’s eyes, and then the spyglass focussed. The cushion was on a shelf in a shop with a handwritten price tag of just £2. Why would Leanne lie about where she got a cushion from?
Pete stepped back. Is Leanne laughing at me? Why would she tell me these things had sentimental value when she has apparently picked them up at auctions and charity shops?
He retracted the telescope slightly and lined it up to view the whole of the mahogany sleigh bed which, allegedly, was a family heirloom going back three generations. The bedding and wallpaper swirled in his vision and when the images settled, there was Leanne. She lay in the bed, wearing an unfamiliar pink satin night dress. She always wore dark clothes, despite Pete’s repeated attempts to broaden her colour scheme. The wallpaper and carpet were exactly the same as they were now. But the bedroom had only been decorated two months ago.
A man approached from the other side of the room. He was blurry to begin with but, as his face came into focus, so did his ginger beard and hair. It was David! That creep from Leanne’s office party. He got into bed with her.
The images showed an illicit affair, and very recently, judging by the décor in the room. In spite of himself, he watched the whole story play out for as long as it lasted. Then he watched it again as his spine prickled and his stomach sank. And again, as he covered his mouth and retched.
Is the spyglass lying?
Pete ran downstairs and pointed the telescope at his coffee machine. When the vision-twisting stopped, the image was of himself, making coffee in his favourite mug; the one with the gold coffee beans on the front. Nothing unusual there. He made coffee in that mug every morning. In fact, he would make coffee in that mug right now. No lies; it was all true.
Pete sat down, with his steaming cup, at the breakfast bar. He put his head in his hands. Leanne’s lies stretched in every direction, from where she had got her favourite cushion - maybe David bought it for her? - to what she did when Pete was away with work. It must have been last week, when I was in Paris. Tears dripped into his coffee. Now that’s ruined too!
And worst of all, Leanne and David are laughing at me. Behind my back. Together. Maybe the whole office knows?
Pete threw his tainted coffee down the sink, splashed his face, and checked his watch. Five minutes or less. He perched himself in the bay window seat in the living room and stared down the drive. He lined up the spyglass with the spot where Leanne always parked her car.
After three minutes and twenty-five seconds, Leanne pulled into the drive in her gloss black mini. She saw Pete in the window and waved. He waved back, but kept the telescope trained on her as she got out of the car. The spiralling cleared as she opened the back door and reached in for her handbag.
Pete was presented with a vision of his wife in her favourite black jeans and grey polo neck. She was crying, wiping her tears with a handkerchief that wasn’t his. A man with a ginger beard put his arm around her and pulled her against his chest. Leanne leaned in and the man kissed her head as she did so. David!
Why is another man comforting my wife? Why does she even need comforting? Is she unhappy with me?
‘How are you Pete? Good day?’
‘Yes, not bad.’ I can hold it together. Deep breaths. ‘Looking forward to your birthday tomorrow?’ I bet David has got her a gift!
‘Oh, yes. I hope you haven’t gone to too much trouble.’ She was taking off her boots and coat.
There’ll be trouble for you my Sweet. Don’t you worry about that. ‘No, no. No trouble at all.’
‘I may have a surprise for you tomorrow too.’ Leanne stuck her head into the kitchen and waved a River Island bag.
‘Oh! Anything exciting?’ Spending my bloody money while carrying on with that git.
‘You’ll have to wait and see.’
Leanne woke up to a chorus of birdsong. She stretched across to stroke Pete's hair, but he wasn't there. Must have got up to make breakfast. What a sweetheart!
She brushed her teeth, got dressed in her new outfit, and skipped down the stairs.
What the Hell?!
Pete was lying, struggling at the bottom of the stairs. Blood was pooling on the floor. Leanne’s new blue dress and espadrilles weren’t going to stay new for very long. She crouched down beside him and grabbed his wrist to feel for a pulse.
Please, oh God, please.
There was something in his hand. A dagger with a strange handle. She took it from his grip, his hands were weak.
What the Hell?!
Her hand came away covered in blood. She shook his shoulder and called his name. Pushing her ear to his mouth it was clear that his breath was laboured and stank of rum. There was an envelope in his top pyjama pocket. Grabbing her phone and dialling 999 she retrieved the note. It was addressed to her.
You can’t carry on behind my back, laughing at me all the time, and expect me not to find out.
This dagger was to be your birthday gift. A suicide weapon in the past, and now it will be again. You always liked the macabre. Well, here it is, in full glory.
There's a second gift for you by my coffee machine, if you can bear to look through it. Perhaps it will show you how I found you out. Maybe then you'll understand my pain.
Leanne put Pete in the recovery position, as instructed by the ambulance service, and tried to stem the bleeding. Blue lights and green uniforms soon took over the house. They tried to resuscitate him. I can’t watch this.
She went to the kitchen and found a wooden box with a brass anchor on the lid, next to the coffee machine. What did he mean?
Leanne wiped her hands on her dress, opened the box and retrieved the spyglass from inside. There was another note underneath it, in Pete’s handwriting.
‘Use this to look at me.’
Leanne took the spyglass to the hallway and trained it on Pete as the paramedics worked around him. The room spun and a kaleidoscope of wood panelling and Indian rugs swirled in her vision. When the motion stopped, she was no longer looking at the hallway. She could see Pete, lying in a coffin, surrounded by roses, wearing his favourite suit.
It shows the future! Oh God, what did he see?
The jaunty ring tone of her phone snapped her back into the hallway.
‘David! I can’t talk right now, something awful has happened. It’s Pete. I think he’s stabbed himself.’
‘Oh my God! I’m coming right over. What’s your address?’
‘That’s kind, but you don’t need to. I mean, I hardly know you. I’ll call my mother.’
‘It’s no trouble, honestly. I’d do the same for anyone.’
‘Well, if you’re sure. My place is hard to find. Meet me at St Margaret’s.’
Leanne dumped her blood-soaked dress in the bath, washed her hands, and changed into her trusty black jeans and grey polo neck. It wasn't long before she was in her car and following the ambulance to the hospital.