The spider slowly descended down its half constructed web looking for a secure place to anchor its next thread. The slim sliver of light that made its way into the darkened room, illuminated the scene; a builder in the spotlight still deciding where to attach his next spar. Such was life in my small dusty half forgotten second hand shop in downtown New Norfolk. Few customers with even fewer sales kept me bored and disillusioned. Life’s monotony was in full display in this ageing shop of mine. Even the bric-a-brac looked tired and bored as my eyes slowly scanned the store looking for who knows what; a habit from years of diminishing mental activity. The odd piece that was sold was soon replaced with something that looked the same, did the same. I gave up a secure job that placed a great deal more on my mental agility to do this. The idea seemed right at the time. But like most things in my life, it hadn’t turned out the way I expected.
My wife Betty was banging around in the back doing what she did most days – bang around. We had stopped most communication a long time ago and only talked when it became absolutely necessary. We shared an ordinary house in an ordinary street in an ordinary suburb with almost nothing else in common. Life’s like that for some, never raising its head much above the water line, a constant struggle not to drown until.. you know, you drown.
The apartment block across the road was one of those places you aspire to if you are poor but can’t wait to get out if you’re not. Most were investment properties, so a constant stream of unlikely types moved in and out like an army of ants searching for their queen.
A van pulled up, a large nondescript white one. Two men and I think, a woman jumped out and scurried up the low entrance staircase leading to the ground floor units. I say think because it was bitterly cold and all three wore heavy full length coats with their collars turned up in a vain attempt to keep warm. One of the figures, much more diminutive than the other two, was bent over slightly with a hand on the stomach like you see when someone wants to vomit but can’t. I couldn’t see their faces; they were in such a hurry.
The action only lasted a few seconds and my thoughts and sight returned to that spider and its constructive life.
A day or two later my wife in an unexpected burst of civility drew my attention to a newspaper article about a spate of missing teenager girls. Four had gone missing the previous six months. Not that it’s uncommon with teenagers to run away, but these were well adjusted reliable kids that had never been in trouble and from all accounts came from stable homes. The police were becoming concerned and asked the public for help.
Photos of the four filled most of the page. Innocent faces frozen to a time and place, not knowing what the future had in store for them. My wife muttered something about how terrible it was and hoped they would be found soon safe and well. I wasn’t listening.
My thoughts went back to the day I saw that van.
The bell on the door broke the spell. In front of me stood a burly man, some 6 foot tall, thick necked with strong masculine hands, sporting a ridiculous handlebar moustache and a sort of pointed goatee which made absolutely no sense together. His clothes were baggy and dishevelled, though clean. He gave the impression of an oddity rejected from the Moscow circus.
” Can I h-help?” I stuttered.
He stood there for a moment, eyes surveying, in deep thought. When he finally spoke, it came as a surprise. An unexpected soft cultured voice enunciated.
“Good afternoon, my good Sir,” I was wondering whether you could help me. My colleague and I are conducting a little business in the apartment block across the road and we require a few odds and sods, props that sort of thing to liven the place up. Is it all right to browse?”
“Certainly!” I said.
He walked around the shop muttering to himself, inaudible to me. Returning to the counter often, he collected an eclectic assortment of items. Curtain stays, a set of candle sticks with candles, a roll of packing tape, an old make up artist case, a paint brush, a large brown leather strap, the type you secure a travelling trunk with and an ornate 19 th century Persian ceremonial dagger.
All in all it came to well over 200 dollars, the best sale I’d had in weeks. I was pleased. When finished he paid promptly, gathered his purchases and scurried across the road.
Just as he was about to disappear into the apartment block, a white van pulled up in front. He walked over to it, and after a short conversation with the driver, jumped in and they sped away towards the city.
“Argh, so he was one of the characters I saw that day,” I thought to myself.
A week or two later, I happened to catch sight of the same white van pulling up out front. Two men got out, one I recognised as the man that came to my shop earlier and to my utter astonishment, a young girl with long flowing chestnut hair. My heart missed a beat as my thoughts focused on the missing girls.
“Get a hold of yourself,” I said aloud.
They walked up the flight of stairs to enter the building. She seemed perfectly at ease, laughing and chatting with both men. The other man was not as large as his friend, but like his friend, he wouldn’t have seemed out of place in a foreign circus. Bald as a bagger, wearing a strange peaked Robin hood like felt hat that made him look like a court jester from a medieval castle. He did a kind of a skip and a hop gig as he circled his companions, exuding an abundance of excess energy.
I wasn’t sure what to make of it . The puzzle in my mind was coming together. Why would such a young girl be hanging around with ageing men? She being so pretty and they so strange. He bought that odd collection of items from me. It just didn’t add up.
I stared at the shop wall. My spider was sitting in the middle of the web waiting for its next victim.
I was fighting with myself, my head was telling me I was reading too much into this. My gut told me there was a room full of young girls – dead or alive! They were up to no good, I was sure or was I ?
A cold sweat engulfed my forehead. I can’t just do nothing, but that was just what I did. I slumped into my office chair.
Deep down I’m a coward, scared of my own shadow; bad things happened to others, not me. I’m a runner, not a fighter.
Betty walked into the room and stared at me.
“Whats wrong with you? You look more miserable than usual.”
” I’m ok, just tired,” I snapped back.
“Suit yourself. I’m going home to eat. By the way, a white van is blocking our drive. Go tell the owner to move it. Stupid place to park, trying to shove a rolled up carpet square into the back that obviously doesn’t fit.”
The blood drained from my face, rolled carpet, body inside being disposed of.
I was sure now. How am I going to deal with it…
My spider was examining a fresh victim tangled up in fine gossamer threads as I made my way to the front door.
Gone! Nowhere to be seen. There was an immediate sense of relief not having to confront them, my hands wouldn’t stop shaking. Ohh what a yellow bellied snivelling coward I am. Do something.
Call the police, that’s what I’ll do.
No wait, it’s none of my business. Not my fault they’re over there. They could have been anywhere in this city. Why did they have to be across the road?
Stop it right now, you have a public duty to tell the police. Think of the girls, the poor girls.
No hang on a minute I don’t have any proof, the police will think I’m a trouble maker, trying to get my name in the paper.
Headlines – Read all about it. SECOND HAND SHOPKEEPER FOILS SERIAL KILLER MURDER GANG, SAVES MANY LIVES.
Ridiculous, I’m deluding myself or maybe this will make me a hero.
“TOO MUCH!” I cried out loud.
My head was pounding I was frozen into inaction. Wait until tomorrow now. Another night won’t make a difference. It’s too late for that poor girl in the carpet anyway. I soothed my nerves with these thoughts.
Always been a procrastinator ever since I was knee high to a grasshopper. My dad used to say that boy would take a life time to make up his mind, has a permanent indentation on his backside by spending too much time sitting on the fence.
I showed him though. I made a snap decision to ask Betty to marry me and, well… we all know how that turned out.
I had a dreadful night’s sleep and arrived at the shop early.
My spider was now devouring its victim bit by bit.
The van arrived about nine and to my unbelieving eyes, two young women jumped out with those brutal beasties of depravity, laughing and giggling without a care in the world. The smaller of the two men wearing another farcical hat escorted the two women inside while the other parked his van around the back.
Two more entering the spiders den. I was dizzy with indecision.
This is it. I need to do something now.
Plucking up all the courage I could muster ( almost none), I dashed outside. Seeing a policeman on his passing bike, I frantically flapped my arms like a duck who had been shot in its final death throes to gain his attention.
“Officer, officer I think…I know… I don’t really know but I think there has been a great injustice committed in that apartment building.”
He looked at me with eyes that said, “Here we go, another nutter.” And was about to say something to me when his radio crackled to life.
“All active units need to proceed to 32 Baker Street New Town immediately. Re missing teenagers, suspected multiple homicides in house, suspects detained.”
Without further ado, he gunned his bike and disappeared down the road.
I stood there with my jaw dropped and in shock.
Before I could gather my wits, the burly man with the ridiculous hand bar moustache and goatee that looked out of place walked from behind the building.
“Hello, my good sir,” hand outstretched “ Aren’t you the shop owner from across the road?”
I feebly nodded
“Oh good oh. Those props I bought off you the other day worked like a treat. Pity we have to rehearse here and not in the theatre but those bloody renovations aren’t finished yet,” he cackled. “Beggars can’t be choosers as they say and we actors are surely beggars, ha ha.”
“Actors?” I sputtered out.
“Yes old boy, the girls were having a ripe old giggle about having to rehearse in a flat. Not enough room you see. Had to remove that old Indian carpet because they all kept sneezing due to the dust or cat’s hair or something. Ha, Ha, what a hoot. Every time we killed our victim he’d start sneezing. Ended up in hospital, poor chat with asthma.”
“Murder?” I chocked.
“Hang on my old boy, Just had a thought. We need a new murder victim. You would fit the bill perfectly. Can you play dead? ha ha”
With that, I let out an almighty scream of “Noooooooooo” and ran across the road slamming the shop door behind me.
Old Handle bars looked perplexed, “What a strange fellow. Takes all types I suppose.”
On the dirty dusty floor of an old nondescript run down secondhand shop, lies a dead spider.