I discovered that the shop had sat on the corner of Scott and King Streets for well over one hundred years. The panes of each simple window had been painted dark hunter green in at least half that amount. They now flaked with time and ill-repair. The canopy, I was sure, was once bright and friendly but now it revealed much fading and decay. Stitches made long ago had unwound allowing for small gaps of direct sunlight to pierce the inner sanctum. It leaked. Each window was tarnished from within. In places, the stain was so thick you could not see the display set up inside. The entrance, also caked with brittle disguise, met a cracked Frame and compromised base set in the same colour scheme. The Door was thick and heavy, bearing an old skeleton key lock and mail slot just beneath a sheet of beveled glass. Tiny white lilies and roses and hummingbirds danced around the edges like a ghostly scene. Dead centre, resting on the glass, the 'Yes, We're Open' sign welcomes inquiring minds. The post a jovial welcome indeed. Its standard appeal hidden just behind more camouflage. From a distance the place still holds a quaint appeal, but on careful study you could not help but wonder if it had been abandoned long ago. Looks can be deceiving.
In stark contrast to the fading storefront, right above the canopy, the signage hangs new and refreshed. Like some throwback to Victorian marketing, it dangles, cleverly jutting out over the ripped and frail rain catcher below. No rust has invaded the cast iron hold. Both sides of the hard wooden mass sit identical in nature. Both quite pristine, as if purchased and drawn the day before. In bright copper red, against a trim of hunter green and a background of white, The Little Extras names the place. Running under the width of the logo, in a thin black mark, the words "More than Collectibles" sits like a beacon, much more than just to let you know. It is subtle but worthy of note. Do not be deceived. This is not some failing precursor to the Good Will. Inside is a different world. There is much to be seen just past the front door. This dying fashion, still all the buzz. Customers from around the world came to purchase. The shop's commanding reputation would be quite pronounced throughout the world of Antiquing. What appears an ancient relic itself holds such grand and cherished things. Rumours abound of the wonders within its walls. Strangest thing about rumours. Rumours spread. The word gets out. Unfortunately, from what had been suggested, not every patron did.
Mr. Arthur Beasley lived above his shop just as his father's family did and his grandfather's family before that. The steep drop to the ground floor stood as a regular morning ritual for one very old man. Carefully, slowly, he would descend. You could watch his feet approach through the smoked glass that made up the upper half of the ground floor barrier. He would rest when he sank to the plateau. Quickly adjacent to the shop entrance, Mr. Beasley locked it tight every departure and stepped next door. From his left hand pocket he would proceed by removing the large passingkey and placing it clumsily into the hole. With one small turn, only this stood between safety and invasion. He was a short man, not more than five foot five. His grey hair fluttered from under his flat cap, just like it did every morning. Every day he possessed a different colour but every day the exact same style. His matching suit fit him well, I suppose, and his shoes looked polished to a tee. On rainy days he was unaffected, despite the ruin of his overhang. On sunny days he was unaffected, despite the sun and the heat and the humidity. It was repetitive, this back and forth from door to door. From my distance, he seemed like an overgrown elf, fidgeting between each space. You could not help but notice him and the briefest journey from exit to entrance. He would open the door, the same as every day, take the briefest look behind him, then scamper into The Little Extras. He would flip the open sign then simply shut the door behind him and disappear into his ill-secured domain.
I had watched him going on half the month. The chore felt like a demotion. The stakeout seemed quite cockamamie when I stopped to think of it. To imagine this frail old man, over eighty his file revealed, could somehow be a criminal, was tough for me to swallow. I had been assigned this tasteless duty after his business card turned up at three missing person's residences. The plain logo accompanied by only his name and the address and telephone number of his store called nothing to motive or intent but nonetheless. My assignment was my assignment whether I liked it or not. I sensed I was misused, as if a Detective had nothing better to do with his time and energy, not that I had much to offer. It didn't matter how ill I felt, three lost souls and one little extra seemed common ground for misgivings and intrigue. Silly if you asked me. These two weeks found customer after customer unabated by whatever monster lurked within those walls. Face after face would enter, then after a reasonable amount of time they would come out with their treasure. Young women, handsome men and even families would face an unknown fear and enter in. There was nothing suspicious or questionable about this formula. With each purchase, or so I assumed, he would wave to them 'good day' from the creaking threshold and return to his duties, perhaps even mischief. Not a soul came screaming out with warning. Even the children who would enter smiled, as if charmed, then leave through way of the same door. I found nothing to give me pause.
I called in my intent to enter and left my vehicle locked and secure. I placed my badge in my coat pocket and my firearm was hidden in the glove compartment. I was sure I would not need it. Jaywalking across
Scott St.was the only crime I would ignore that day. I adjusted myself, eager to get inside, and I pushed at the wooden frame of the door. It did not open. I almost walked into the pretty glass and all those white dainty things around its border. The handle was tougher still, and it ached with sweet relief. I held it open and I stepped inside. I was shocked at what lies within. This was no mere pawnshop or thrift store. It looked and felt more like the finest museum would. Antiquity swallowed the room. Gold and silver and bronze glimmered in what was left of the outside light. Egyptian sarcophagus, Oriental swords and Tiffany lamps called out for attention. The shop was spotless. For all the artwork, all the furniture, I could not find one patch of dust to disturb. Old books lined the walls, propped up on French Provincial or Colonial shelves. Display cases filled with the most beautiful of jewels met mahogany pieces layered with nic nacs and precious things. To the left, nearer to the back, was the counter, a hard walnut ledge with an archaic, but quite lovely, cash register. It was heavily layered, so it seemed, with copper and gold. The 'No Sale' tab had risen to this occasion. Arthur Beasley stood from behind with friendly greetings. Before I could say a word, he surprised me.
"Detective Hardy, I presume," the old fellow said with no hesitation. "Finally," he continued, "after fourteen days you have finally favoured me with your presence."
"Listen," I tried to deny. "I don't know who you think I am but ..."
"You are," he inserted, "Detective James Hardy of the 41stprecinct."
"How did you ..." I stumbled.
"You would be amazed at all the things I know," he patronized. "You, perhaps my soon to be friend, have come in search of three lost souls. Am I wrong?"
I was flabbergasted. I just stood there with nothing but an open mouth to guide me. He reached behind and grabbed a collection of keys so large it clunked instead of jingled.
"Would you care for a tour?" he gestured.
I did not know what to think let alone what to do. The old man's brazen approach took me back and then some. I watched as he rounded the counter and met me person to person. He shook my hand with a strong grip. He was smaller than I had originally presumed. His eyebrows were unkempt, with long threads of grey and dark, mixed to a point just above the far corners of his eyes. They seemed like tiny horns, fighting to stay in their place. His clean shaven face was friendly enough and the rest of him seemed pleasant, although one can never be quite sure. Despite his statement, I could not help but feel comfortable and at ease. Of course, he had seen me sitting in my car, day after day until this moment. A man of his wealth and reputation could easily uncover my identity. Perhaps he paid off a sergeant assigned to the front desk. Perhaps he knows the Chief of Police or some high ranking official on the police force. I concluded there was nothing devious within his knowledge.
The grand front room of the shop was so well organized, it struck me more as a library of pleasures than a den of deceit. Completely ignoring his own claims, he walked to the far rear end of the over-sized room and began to open two very well maintained and large antique doors. Nothing creaked, nothing clamored as both slid, without incident, into their hiding place. He reached just inside, past the empty space left by the doors and he flipped on a light by switch. The room was bright and well preserved. Hard wood accents ran along the wall tops and around the bottom into baseboards of the same dark stain. The walls were deep burgundy, painted not papered. I moved forward for a better look. Like puzzle pieces, each wall was coated with varying sizes of different framed pictures. These captured people I would not dare to recognize without closer, keener examination. Those three walls each looked more like a photo album or yearbook page than a display on a wall. The floor was hardwood, polished and shined. I couldn't see even one scuff or print on it. The center of the room struck me as purposeful and spectacular. An extra large Oriental rug ran by width and length to the outer middle, a testament to the size of the space. A ripple of copper red and hunter green dashed about a sea of burgundy and off-white. Each fringe seemed carefully laid, almost pulled in an appropriate direction. The ceiling was a simple white, with little decoration. A chandelier of reasonable size hung like ice after a warm day. A cascade of crystals flowed down at least three feet from the main stud. The height of the room was impressive. Resting firm beneath it was the most curious thing.
It was not the cherry wood table that drew my attention. Sitting like a masterpiece would, resting on a small ebony easel, an empty frame loomed like the Mona Lisa. The holder was obviously gold and inlaid with ivory lilies, roses and hummingbirds. Each delicately grazed the black satin backing where no picture was. Arthur moved deeper into the room eventually reaching the far wall. I was so dumbfounded I just stood there, like the mummy box up in the front room. He carefully reached up, took down a simple wooden frame that was carved in a way I could not make out. There was no dust for him to brush off the photo, but he pulled out a handkerchief from an inner pocket and he polished the glass to and fro. I just watched him, trying to listen should he give himself away. Thus far, I had seen nothing to implicate the man. That was all about to change.
"The Little Extras," he began, walking slowly along the outer wall. With each step he took, he touched the encased picture by the wooden frame. He seemed to tap on it as if following some distant drum that I could not hear. He continued, "offers itself as a humble shop filled with timeless treasures and things made of gold. We sell to anyone looking for the finer things in life."
He stopped, then removed a second picture from the end of the opposing wall and placed it on the other. He resumed the tapping on metal instead of wood. This frame was ornate, solid silver from what I could make out. As he crossed the room to the third wall, he revealed, "We even dabble in the taboo."
He stopped, placed a finger to his chin and seemed quite perplexed over something he did not voice. He grunted, moved forward a few feet, and removed another frame from its place on the wall. This frame seemed simpler but for the shine of polished gold. It was lesser in both weight and function. It wrapped around the photograph like a single bow of great value. He placed the third picture on top of the second and proceeded with his beat in the same manner.
"This shop offers anything your heart desires, anything you can dream of. We have unique and the rarest of things. These little extras are not our bread and butter."
He carefully walked to the middle of the room and placed all three frames down upon the deep stained round table, knocking three times on the surface.
He stood for a moment, finished the tapping, and began to speak once again. He seemed stern and oddly Shakespearian, as if Hamlet was about to place his soliloquy for an audience of one. "Some people come here looking for greater wealth. Some seek out an ancient totem in the hopes of better luck and a better life. Many customers come for mere pleasure, to have and to hold. They are somehow more in their own small minds because of a possession. All are welcome but our customer base varies depending on the need. Some come to collect, others are called."
"Called?" I inquired.
"We offer," he carried on, ignoring my question, "special services unlike any other." I started to smell a rat. "Take you for example, Detective Hardy."
"Me," I asked. "What do I have to do with any of this?"
"Did you think it was mere coincidence that you were assigned this case? It was fate, not chance, that finds you here with me."
"Look here, Mr. Beasley," I punctuated.
"Please," he interrupted. "Call me Arthur."
"Look here, Arthur," I reiterated. "You seem to know an awful lot about who I am. You also seem easily distracted from the real reason I am here today. Why don't you cut through all the crap and get to your point?"
"I assure you of my intentions," he added. "Regardless, I will make my point heard." He turned back to the table, picked up the three frames and laid each of them out, one beside the other. He touched his finger to each as he said, "Linda Hedges, Richard Grant and Malcolm Stern. How is that for my point?"
Adrenaline rushed from my toes to my nose and I practically ran over to the trio. I was astonished by his almost confession but much more by the three missing persons, each smiling grandly, captured in wood and silver and gold. I instantly thought about my gun that I had left in the car.
"There is no danger here," he claimed with his smile. "Occasionally, our patrons require something more than a mere ornament. Our specialized services are simply a way of helping people, like you, who readily need our help."
"Helping me?" I inserted. " Listen here, you are treading a fine line ... Mr. Beasley."
"No huff, no puff," he preached in a jovial manner, waving in dismissal from his midriff.
"Would you care to explain to me why you have photographs of three missing persons hanging on the wall of your place of business?"
"I did business with them," he explained.
"What kind of business?" I demanded.
"I ended their time here," he revealed.
"Are you telling me you murdered these three people?" I huffed.
"Oh no," he assured me. "No one was killed or harmed in any manner."
"Then where are Linda Hedges, Richard Grant and Malcolm Stern?" I puffed.
"In those picture frames," he said as a matter of fact.
I have seen the odd and strange and many things during my tenure on the police force. The nut balls I have arrested over the years range from sad to severe. I had never encountered anyone or anything like Arthur Beasley and The Little Extras. As I stood listening, I grew tired and weary from the stress. The chemo takes a lot out of you, especially first thing in the morning. I was overwhelmed and just wanted to lay down on that beautiful rug and sleep forever. Waves of nausea washed over me and the headache returned. I should have tried harder to mask my predicament.
"May I ask you a personal question, Detective?" he pondered.
"Why stop now?" I whimpered.
"Why are you still working when you have been given less than six months to live?"
"Okay," I perked up angrily. "How the hell do you know that? Nobody knows that but me and my doctor. What in God's name is going on here?"
The old man seemed startled, as if he believed bad decorum outranked murder and collusion. He begged for my consideration. If I just allowed him to explain, all would be well again. I was faint and excused myself to the water cooler in the front room. He followed like a puppy would. As I filled my second glass, he offered me a grand chair to rest in. I took to it before I ended up on the floor. It seemed to absorb me, a delicate mix of structure and comfort. I sank into it and suddenly I felt better. I somehow knew if I left its safety, the ill would return once again. I planted myself and bid him to continue.
"Linda Hedges came to me with one month left to live. Her heart was so damaged, so compromised that it took her longer to get through the front door than it does for me to descend the stairs next door every morning. Richard Grant's lung cancer was so advanced he should have been hospitalized. When he first appeared at my door, he was barely alive to begin with. Malcolm Stern was exposed to radiation when overseas with his company. It was literally eating him from the inside out. He begged me for help," he paused. "So I gave it to him."
"What do you mean by help?" I inquired.
"Do you believe in other dimensions, Detective Hardy?"
I replied as succinctly as I possibly could with a hard "No!!"
"What if I told you that you could avoid dying altogether?" He waited for my response.
"What makes you think I'm dying, Mr. Beasley?" I quipped.
"End stage pancreatic cancer is a death sentence," he forced at me. "Here at The Little Extras we offer a life sentence." I glanced over at him as if he was queer. "I can arrange for you to leave this reality and be placed at a new beginning. No pain, no cancer, nothing but the new life that you choose to live,"
"So you're telling me you sent these three," I scoffed, "these innocent people into some dimension where they could start a new life?" I searched for each portrait.
"Yes," he pointed at the round table. "Each one of these has left this plane of existence and started a new one. A new life without the terrible circumstance that brought them to me. They traded one finite existence for a never-ending one."
"You'll have to forgive me," I projected. "Don't you think you sound more than a little wacky suggesting such a thing?"
He gestured for me to follow him and I carefully made my way into the back room. Oddly enough, a new chair waited for me where one had not been before. It was identical to the one I had left, which I turned to spy in the same place it was before. I sat down just inside the doorway as he went from one random photo to another, addressing the name and reason for their 'departure.' Face after face flashed at me, name after name met with each unique and special frame. He randomly jumped from one to the next, like from a phone book, picking and choosing each example in the most deliberate of ways. As my sickness left me once again, I wondered to myself just who this strange old man really was. How did he know all the information about me? What kind of wack job tried to cover up his crimes with the excuse of inter-dimensional travel and a magical escape from ill health? Each one, he pointed out, met their fate in the same unbelievable manner. Hundreds of people, he made perfectly clear, had come to him and his special brand of renewal. Hundreds of people, each one, now someplace else, trapped inside each frame. I stood, pushed back the armchair, I forgot and reached for my sidearm. A flood of misery washed over me. My stomach turned and my head began to swell. I remembered where my gun faithfully rested. My intent remained the same.
"I need to get something from my car," I injected. "Arthur Beasley, I need to contact my station, so please remain where you are until I return."
"As you wish," he seemed to placate. "Are you sure you do not wish to take another path?"
I declined and turned back towards the front door. In spite of my condition, I walked as quickly as I could, leaving the shop and crossing towards my automobile.
I reached inside and grabbed my firearm, still unsure whether I would need it. I called for backup and a cruiser to take Mr. Beasley in. I closed the door then rested upon it.
It took over an hour for the Judge to issue a warrant. Eventually, I found myself sitting on the curb waiting. Waves of discomfort crashed throughout my body like tides on a shore. When Mr. Beasley's escort arrived, I tried to stand but had to cover my imbalance with a smile. I walked back to the front of The Little Extras and instructed the two Constables of my intentions. Just before we entered, I noticed something rather odd and out of place. The pristine signage that met me when I first arrived was missing. Even the cast iron holder had disappeared. I reached for the doorknob and it opened, swinging all the way back with a heavy squeak. I could not believe my eyes. The room was empty and in poor condition. Cobwebs and dust trails littered the crevices of each wall and across the old faded counter near the back. Not one item, small or large, remained in its place. The golden cash register was gone. The display cases, the antique shelves, had all vanished while I was outside. I was noticeably stunned.
"Is there a problem?" one of the officers asked.
"Its gone," I urged. "It's all gone!"
"What?" he inquired.
"The shop, the collectibles, they aren't where they were but an hour ago," I cringed. "Where the hell are all the little extras?"
"Warrant says this is an abandoned building," the Officer spoke.
I grabbed the warrant in disbelief. I could not comprehend how any of this was possible. I began to question my sanity. I turned over and over in my mind. I reached out for proof that I had not imagined it all. Had these two weeks been nothing but a dream? Was Arthur Beasley and his magical cure simply my imagination? The other Constable walked across the room towards the rear and stopped in front of the pair of large doors.
"Maybe there is something back here," he noted.
With a strong gesture, he pushed both doors open. One got stuck on a rail and he forced its completion. He fumbled for the light. The picture room was barren but it was not empty. The walls were faded, lacking the brightness they had held before. There were no images captured in a frame, not one rested on the walls. They could not be seen or noticed or found. Every part of the room looked abandoned, rather unwanted and unrefined. In the center, sitting as it had before, the dark circular table rested. From top to bottom it was covered in heavy amounts of dust. You could tell from the condition of it that the golden frame with ivory accents had waited for me. It was not streaked with webbing or covered by time. It sat all alone, middle of the table, and looked very much out of place. I walked towards it gently so as not to reveal my weakness. His face was clear. Without any question, Arthur Beasley looked at me.
He met me with the most friendly of smiles. I barely had the chance to absorb the spectacle of the room. I stood in front of a large wooden counter near the rear of the shop. What appeared as a gold and copper cash register glimmered in the artificial light. He reached out to her, shaking my hand like a gentleman would.
"Doctor Elizabeth Barrett, I presume," he professed in the most polite manner.
"How did you know my name?" she questioned, rather dumbfounded.
"You would be amazed at all the things I know," he grinned. "You, I would hazard to guess, have come in search of an ancient remedy."
She just stood there with her mouth half open. He reached back and took a rather burdened key chain from the wall behind him, then gestured towards two over-sized, but very shut, walnut doors. They were in immaculate condition.
"Would you care for a tour?" he asked.