“Dad, you’re embarrassing me.” Maev hissed at her father, whose body still trembled in fright. “This is my friend, he’s not trying to rob us.”
The thin man seemed to relax, his shoulders sinking and hands dropping to his sides, but not entirely. His narrow eyes still focused warily on Owen’s face through the round spectacles balancing on the tip of his nose.
“But you don’t have friends.” He said. “Only that loner you told me-“
“This is Owen.” Maev interrupted.
“Oh right, of course. How nice to meet you.”
Reassured that Owen was not about to assault him with his pocket watch, however that had become an issue, Maev’s father held out a slender hand. The ‘loner’ took it in his and they shook.
Their awkward greeting was interrupted by a tinkling sound ringing out from the cramped hallway. For a second, it looked like the man would raise his arms above his head again. But his hands only twitched upwards then settled on his hips.
“Maev, you and your friend can wait in the back.” He said.
She led Owen behind a threadbare curtain into a storeroom behind the shop. There was nothing in particular which marked it out as being used for storage. Every surface was cluttered with dusty ornaments and small curiosities, but the same was true of the hallway and shop they had passed through.
Owen lifted a wide stretch of canvas to inspect the landscape painted on it and discovered a small oven. Maev was carefully avoiding eye-contact, a red hue blossoming on her narrow cheeks.
“Is this your kitchen?” Owen whispered.
Before she could answer, they heard voices from beyond the partition. One was a stranger’s, thick-tongued and drawling. The other was Maev’s father who spoke in frantic, hurried tones.
“Come now, Tom, if anyone knows where an artefact like this can be found it’s you. Have you seen it or not?” The stranger asked.
“No, I haven’t seen anything like it in my life. That’s a promise. Take my word for it.”
“What’s that, Tom? A lie? You sold us the thing in the first place.”
They heard Maev’s father’s feet shuffling against the musty carpet. Something brittle dropped from its shelf and shattered as he edged towards the back room. Owen heard a second, heavier pair of footsteps but the stranger’s voice had not moved. There was a third person in the shop.
“Are you going somewhere, Tom? Where’s the pocket watch? You’ve seen it haven’t you?”
“Never, I haven’t seen it.” The frail antiques dealer stammered. “Not since I sold it. Do you know I’d forgotten about that?”
“No you hadn’t.”
The stranger bit off each word and spat it out, making the abrupt sentence into a towering accusation.
Owen had heard enough. He could guess which pocket watch they were talking about. It was the one that the escaped prisoner had left on the train, the one he now held in his hand.
He pulled aside the curtain and stepped into the cluttered shop. Immediately, a pair of rough hands seized the lapels of his coat and shook him until his teeth rattled. Owen saw brown eyes glaring at him from beneath thick black brows.
Then the pocket watch clicked open, it made a whirring sound as the hands spun around and Owen felt an icy shiver run up his arm. He reached out his hand to push the burly man away and a plume of smoke shot out of his palm.
The stranger recoiled and fell to the floor clutching his chest, an antique mahogany coffee table splintering beneath his bulk. The stranger’s face, ice-blue eyes beneath a shock of steely grey hair, shot him a venomous look.
He turned and swept out through the dark hallway, leaving Owen, Maev and her father alone in the dust-filled room with the dead man lying between them.
You can find the first Warlock short story here.
Read another fantasy short story series, Worldkiller, here.