NaNoWriMo 2020: Episode 7

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(Read episode 6 here. Or start at the beginning here.)

The bell at the door of Betty’s shop jangles wildly when Helena throws the door open. She pulls her keys out of her pocket, ready to strike if necessary – and looks into a pair of very surprised and heavily made up eyes.
“Good gods, Lena! What are you up to?”
The man is standing behind her by the counter, about to pour himself a glass of wine.
“What?” Helena stares at him. Then something clicks. “You are Benny.”
“Indeed. Charmed, I am sure.” He nods with an amused grin on his face and tilts his glass towards her.
“Damn it!” Helena pulls the door open again. She runs outside and up the street towards the bridge, but there is no sign of Fred anywhere anymore. There is no chance of her following her now. She sighs. Better keep her eyes open today.

Betty locks the shop door behind Helena. Benny is already investigating the necklace. He has taken out a small magnifier that he put on top of his regular glasses, and checks out the pendant up close. Then he takes a bit of cloth out of his pocket and starts rubbing it.
“I am not saying that dirty wares are useless wares, but only that dirty wares are cheap. Use a bit of polish on this one, if you will” – he drops the pendant unceremoniously into Betty’s outstretched hand and fixes his focus on Helena – “while I deal with the other unpolished business here.” He smiles at her and winks impishly. He is wearing an old leather jacket that is cut slim, dark red trousers and shoes that are so pointy they could be from a fantasy novel. It would probably be considered stylish among the middle-aged boppers that used to haunt dinky clubs in the seventies.
“Be nice,” is all Betty says before disappearing into the dark recesses in the back of the shop.
“When am I ever not nice?” he calls after her with a flourish, “I am always nice!”
But his face does not reflect this at all. As soon as Betty has disappeared out of sight, he is looking at Helena with an angry scowl and his voice drops immediately to a threatening growl. “Where did you find this thing? Tell me!”
Helena almost takes a step back but remembers herself just in time. She steps forward instead. “What do you know about it?” she asks, and adds “Tell me!”

For a moment they stand there, locked in each other’s gaze. Then Benny points at the room in the back where Betty will be polishing the grime off the necklace now. “That thing is not yours” he hisses.
“It is not yours either.” Helena keeps her voice calm and level.
“That thing is more dangerous than you think! You don’t want to have that in your possession. Are you even aware? Do you even know what that thing can do?” He glances towards the back room, clearly afraid they’ll be overheard. Helena can hear Betty moving about.
“It can burn a hole in my pocket.” Helena keeps her gaze steady.
“It can do more than that,” Benny growls, “and you want to get that thing off your hands as soon as possible. Believe me!” 
Helena scoffs. “I am sure you would have a good proposition in that nature, wouldn’t you?”
His eyes widen immediately. “Me? Oh fuck me no! I wouldn’t want that thing anywhere near me. Shit, I am already sorry I came here!”
Helena is taken aback. “Why? I thought someone like you would be interested in something valuable like this.”
He laughs now but there is little humour in it. “Valuable! It is priceless! Literally because I cannot sell it anywhere, to anyone. I am not in that kind of market, and don’t even want to be. Can’t enjoy money without a life and that thing will have me dead before I can name a price.”
“Dead?”
“Yes, stone dead. And I am not ready yet to be dead.” He turns to the door. “Tell Betty I said bye. It was nice knowing her, but I am out!”

His intended dramatic exit, however, is shred to pieces as the door will not open, no matter how hard he pulls it.
“Sweetie, it’s locked” comes Betty’s velvety voice from the back room, and she emerges from the gloom like a silken-clad angel of rolling eyes. “I locked it, remember?” Helena notices that she is still casually holding the letter opener, almost carelessly like she has forgotten all about it and would be surprised if you pointed it out to her.
“Open this damn door!” He pulls at it but without result. Despite old-timey appearances, Betty has obviously made sure that the shop is well-secured.
“No Benny darling, I will not. Not before you explain a bit more, and I think you know that already so sit your cute little behind down and start talking because if you don’t I will get impatient with you.” She is using the sweetest tone of voice but Benny’s face goes white and he sits down immediately like a child in kindergarten whose teacher just turned very strict indeed.
“Now that is better, thank you.” She hands him his wine which he accepts without looking and takes a bit gulp.

As Benny sits there breathing in his wine, Betty hands the clean necklace to Helena. “Will you look at that?”
The metal is now shining, but Helena can not recognise its surface. It is not gold, nor silver. It is, as far as she can tell, also not platinum. The metal has a greenish golden sheen. The chain is made of a fine linked range of rings with an elegant small clasp. The pendant is oval but not entirely; there is an irregularity in its shape as it seems to be slightly off centre. There are markings it. Helena peers closer.
“Trees. Leaves” she starts, “and something like a… a stream?”
“I thought it was a snake, but it could be a stream” Betty concedes.
Helena turns the pendant over. “There is a bird! What kind of bird is it?” She turns it around in her hand. “It is not very well done is it though?” she asks. “I mean, I have seen better markings on the cheap stuff at the market” she continues, a little disappointed.
Benny snorts. “Well you would. The stuff they sell at the market is not made of septiron. That stuff is impossible to work. I am surprised they even managed to make it pretty at all.”
“Septiron. What the hell is that?”
“It is the only metal that can protect… whatever is in there. And I won’t say anything more because nowhere near is this wine good enough to serve as my last, thank you very much.”
“Don’t diss my wine, and just tell us what we need to know, Ben. Or you know I will have your balls on an anvil soon enough.”
“Shit woman, will you just… not do that?” Benny says exasperatedly and shifts in his seat, “I am fucking serious! For one thing, I am not telling you anything more because I don’t want to. And for another, I am not telling you because I can’t. I don’t even know for sure what is in there” he ends lamely. His shoulders sag.
“Then why did you…? God, you are as bad as ever, aren’t you?” Betty waves the letter opener around. Benny follows it with his eyes. Helena notices that his wineglass has begun to shake ever so slightly. Is it Helena’s barely-threats or something else?
“Benny,” Helena asks so softly that it makes both of them jump, “who do you think is going to kill you? Or me, or anyone in possession of this, for want of a better word, dangerous trinket?”
He takes his eyes off Betty’s letter opener for a brief moment to scowl at her. “No-one.”
“But you said…”
“I said that thing would have me dead. That thing, itself. It is dangerous and, for us, deadly. And I am not handling it anymore, or getting close to it, and I certainly do not want to stay any longer in this room than strictly necessary.”
“This necklace is going to kill us? How? Strangle you in your sleep? Or burn your house down? Because I know it can get very hot but with the right conditions that doesn’t have to be so dangerous. Right?”
He even laughs now even though there is nothing funny. “Look, I have never seen this thing or things like it ever before in my life…”
“Things like it?”
“… BUT I have heard about it. From what I have heard, this stuff is known to bring death and destruction to those who handle it.”
“Benny!” Betty is using her sweet voice again which probably means she is getting impatient. “You are becoming superstitious yet in your old age! I have not heard such things since that man Robertson predicted the end of the world a few years back in the United States. Was it Robertson? Whatever, some religious quack.” She shrugs. “You are not turning into a religious quack are you?”
Benny is silent.
“So own up.”
But Benny remains silent and only shakes his head slightly. They wait. Helena looks at her friend over the top of his head but Betty shrugs again. Apparently nothing more is coming out of this man about the mysterious properties of the pendant. Not now, anyway.
Betty leans closer to the fence’s ear and whispers softly: “Where do we go?”
Benny stares ahead stoically for a long time. Helena is about to say something but Betty shakes her head and puts her long red nail to her lips – the colours match perfectly of course. They wait.
“Luc. Try him. He is bound to know more than me. And he is never afraid of anything, or so it seems. Try him and find out, before you both die.”
Betty throws her hands into the air, almost stabbing the overhead lamp with the letter opener. “Luc! I know we should have tried him first!”
Helena frowns. “Then we didn’t you tell me to call him first?”
Betty’s smile is slow. “Because this is your story, darling, and you need to call the shots.”

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