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Come hell or high water – and both are not recommended in Amsterdam – if Helena does not have lunch any time soon, she will be sure to topple over. She returns to the sandwich shop, ready to replace her order. As soon as she enters the door, the shopkeeper slaps the counter and calls out. “There she is!” He turns to his associate who is busy putting butter on an alarming pile of buns. An unimpressed customer stands waiting for him in the shop, looking at his phone. “I knew she would be back.” The shopkeeper winks at her.
Helena smiles shyly back. “I am sorry to run away like that. I thought I saw someone I knew.”
“Must have been quite someone, if you’ll run off for them like this? Friend? Family?” he asks, “Old lover?” He laughs raucously and thumps his associate on the shoulder. The man continues to butter but gives a slight grin. “I hope we don’t have a stalker situation on our hands here, luv? We cannot approve of that sort of thing. Can we, Rien?”
Rien shakes his head while continuing to work on the buns.
“No, not a stalker,” Helena laughs, “and also not an ex-lover! He is my boss, kind of, and I thought he was supposed to be working today and so when I saw him here…” She shrugs. “Maybe it wasn’t him.”
“That is always a possibility. A lot of people look the same, especially when they’re walking by a window and you are not really paying attention. What does he look like?”
“True. The thing is, he usually wears a lot of green when I see him because he is a forester, a ranger, and works in a natural park. So I only ever see him dressed like that. But now he was dressed differently, with jeans on. Although he was still wearing his green jacket.” She sighs. “Never mind. I lost sight of him at the end of the street. He was going over the bridge but I was distracted by something that needed to be taken care of first, so I lost him.”
“You will see him at work, yeah? You can ask.”
“I guess. But the reason he is here today, is a bit of a mystery I don’t want to, like, explicitly ask him about.” She grins.
“Ah, I see.” The shopkeeper reaches over and thumps Rien on the arm again. “Hand me the take-away will you? It’s her lunch.”
“You still have it? That is wonderful, thank you!” Helena accepts her lunch and draws her card out of her pocket but the shopkeeper objects.
“You know what?” he grins at her, “this one’s on us. You are the story of the day for us, something to mull over. Buttering buns is a pretty boring job, otherwise, see?”
Rien nods passionately.
“Tell me about this Luc.”
Betty sighs. “He is a bit of a character.”
“Does he wear women’s evening wear?” Helena bites into her bread roll with cheese. It is surprisingly good to eat something and she feels her body relax a little. Hunger always makes her edgy.
Betty laughs. “Not that I am aware! Although it could very well be, you never can tell. Not the ones he buys here though, they wouldn’t fit him I am sure.”
“Who are they for then? His wife?”
“His lady friends, are we will euphemistically call them from now on. He comes in here with one of them and lets them pick out a dress and everything on the side, from underwear to purses and fans and the works. I am sure it is part of the, ah, arrangement for the night. The lady friends are always very polite and obliging. The man has taste – and good sources, apparently.”
Helena chews silently. All this is a world away from her giftshop and muddy holes with kittens in them.“Well anyway, Luc buys and sells antique jewellery in the Spiegelstraat, where else, and he specialises in what he calls ‘unusual pieces’. I have never fully understood what he means by ‘unusual’. I always thought it had something to do with, I don’t know, pornographic depictions on the necklaces or watches that tell the time on Jupiter or something like that, but now that I have seen this” – she points at the necklace that is still in the ceramic bowl on the table – “I am starting to see a bit more clearly what this ‘unusual’ entails.”
Helena begins to speak, swallows, and begins again: “Do you buy from him?” She indicates the rings and bangles that Betty wears.”
“Oh good heavens no!” Betty laughs again, “my shop does not yield that much! His stuff is expensive! Even within the jewellery market he is known for his high prices. Very high carat gold, extremely precious stones, exquisite designs and of course his name – he knows how to drive prices, that man.”
“Will he come here?”
“I don’t think so. He said he would call me back as soon as he could, but I am not really expecting him to. I will call him again in a bit. Or you can go to his shop!” Betty exclaims! “Oh you should! It is a marvellous place! Besides, it is probably quickest. He always drops by here on a whim, but to see him one needs to make an appointment a few days ahead.” She rolls her eyes.
“A few days! I don’t have time to spend another day in Amsterdam this week, I have to work and everything. It takes ages to get here and back.”
“Well then you better go to him. And tell him I sent you, or he won’t let you in.” She eyes her clothing. “Hm, he might still not, dressed like that. Let me put something acceptable on you.”
“If you think I am going to walk around Amsterdam in some of your evening wear…”
“You would still not be the weirdest looking person around! But there is no need, you can borrow something from my everyday wardrobe.”
With that she disappears in the back, beckoning her to follow her. Remembering that she has hardly ever seen Betty in anything other than silk gowns and kimonos, and her heart sinking as a result, Helena follows.
It is busy in the area around Spiegelstraat, as it usually is. High-spending travellers and tourists populate both the pavement and the road and are almost run over by passing bicycles who race in the direction of the Rijksmuseum. The street is lined with arts and antiques shops. The windows show a wide variety of works of different kinds, from shining clocks to pen drawings in elaborate frames. Helena likes the street, although she has never gone into any of the shops there, for the same reason as diving into an interesting wikipedia subject and getting lost in the backstories and explanations. You move from one window with upholstered furniture to the next that displays a high class design couch that is seemingly made of plastic but will probably cost you a family’s yearly grocery budget, and you cannot help but wonder. Especially since neither of these options are actually comfortable to sit on. It is a fascinating insight into the thoughts, logic and feelings of people who are so much richer than her.
Luc’s shop is one of the small ones on the historical side of the street. Its window looks out over a modern display from the neighbours across the street, but is filled with little old trinkets from at least a century back like watches, rings and bracelets, as well some silverware and china. An large antique clock is set a little higher than the rest and covers most of the back of the display. A jungle theme is carved into the wood surrounding the face, with palm trees, monkeys and snakes. As Helena is looking at it, a little door opens in the clock’s face. It is three o’clock and the clocks in the city begin to play and chime. A tiny metal panther slowly begins to sneak out of the clock. It ducks down along a track and makes a full round before ducking back in. When it does, a monkey pops up just over its head and with a little hammer rings the bell that is suspended from the wooden overhang over the clock face.
Helena stares at it, fascinated. Then she remembers herself and shakes her head briefly before pressing the bell next to the shop’s entrance. She cannot see very clearly inside and doesn’t want to be rude by pressing her face against the window for a better look so she waits, looking at the people passing by on the street. Nothing happens. As she glances through the window she sees movement but nobody comes to open the door. She presses the bell again, a little longer this time. Even if he is busy with a customer, it would be polite of him to pay her some mind and let her know. She is wearing heels for this! Her feet are already hurting. How does Betty wear these all day long? The movement behind the glass door becomes more pronounced. A man approaches the door from the inside. He is talking to someone in the shop and pauses with his hand on the handle, still talking. Helena waits, unsure. Should she ring again? She settles for a middle way and gently knocks on the window. The man jumps and looks at her indignantly. Helena smiles apologetically. She needs Luc to like her, and tell her what she needs to know! At the same time, she needs him to know that she will not be pushed around – or away.
The man in the shop finally reaches up and releases the catch on the door, then twists the key. The door opens but the man is not talking to Helena but continues to address the other person inside.
“I completely understand! There is no rush, I am sure. Let me know when you feel, ah, comfortable about continuing our conversation. I am sure we can come to an, ah, arrangement that will be mutually satisfactory.”
Helena steps aside to let the customer through as she steps outside. The elderly lady gives her a quick glance before walking in the direction of the museum. She looks vaguely familiar.
Luc is waiting in the door, looking at Helena and her borrowed clothes.
“I see Betty acknowledges that I adhere to certain standards in my establishment,” he says. His voice is slow and strangely high pitched. “So glad. At least this way I know where you come from.” He steps aside to let her through. Helena clutches the ball of wool in her pocket, containing the pendant, tightly as she steps over the threshold. The door is immediately locked behind her. She looks around.
tl;dr Helena goes to Luc’s antiques shop in order to find out more about the necklace. She steps into the shop, ready to start a conversation.
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