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A small bare wooden table stands in the middle of the shop with the two chairs positioned tightly under the table as much as possible, probably to discourage customers to sit down until Luc has invited them to.
Luc remains at the door, looking Helena up and down. He doesn’t seem very satisfied with what he sees. Helena decides to return the favour and notices that the knees on his corduroy trousers are starting to wear thin. His vest is also well worn. His hair and face, as well as his shoes, however, are immaculate and very well taken care of. The man clearly has his priorities.
“Well then,” Luc starts, “welcome to my humble little enterprise.” He spreads his arms to indicate the shelves and cabinets that line the shop. “I am afraid I must ask you not to touch anything unnecessarily. Not only does it play havoc with my displays, some of which are over two hundred years old, but I have had to fit most of them with alarms. These will summon police officers who will require my time and attention much to the detriment of our own conversation. Besides, they are for the most part immensely loud, the alarms that is, and I am too old for that sort of thing.”
Seemingly to contradict his own last statement, he then jumps vividly and claps his hands. “Wine?”
Gods, do these people just drink wine all day long? Helena wonders, but she nods regardless. Might as well make him at his ease as much as possible.
“I simply adore beautiful things! Which is why I take a regular interest in Betty’s wares, as you probably understand. The woman knows silk like no other, and always knows how to accessorise like a demon!” He chuckles and raises his glass to his lips. Helena sees he is wearing a big and rather ugly ring on his pinky finger. “How do you know our Betty?” Luc asks her, “You don’t seem like her usual crowd?” He raises his eyebrows, inquiringly.
Of course not, no surprise there. “We are old friends from university. We both read history here in Amsterdam.”
“Ah yes, you get all sorts there! Of course, I went to Leiden myself.” He smiles smugly.
“She decided to concentrate on the history of Eastern Europe and the orient. I focused on folk culture in England and Wales. But our paths crossed frequently enough to build a friendship that still lasts.” She smiles. “We have always moved in very different circles, yet I guess we both appreciate at least one odd voice in our choir.”
“How about you? How did you find her shop?”
“Oh that is quite easily explained. I am afraid I was only walking around in her area, looking for something to entertain myself, and found her beautiful dresses seducing me from the window. I was simply enthralled! And have been consuming them from then on.”
“Consuming? That is an odd way to talk about a garment?”
“Aha! But then they are never worn more than once after I purchase them, so I would think the description apt, wouldn’t you?” He winks at her but Helena feels a shiver down her spine. Did Betty ever see the same ‘lady friend’ twice in her shop? She decides not to pursue the matter further and reaches into her pocket.
“There is something I would like to ask you to look at, please.”
“Very well, put it in here.” He reaches around and puts a shallow dish lined with felt on the table.
Helena takes the wool out of her pocket and pulls the necklace out. Luc gasps before it reaches the table surface.
“Where in the world did you get that?”
Helena keeps quiet while Luc examines the pendant and chain, then puts on a pair of white gloves while keeping his eyes on the jewellery. He reaches down and unclasps the chain in order to pull it from the pendant. He puts it aside. “This does not belong” he mutters softly, as if he has forgotten that Helena is there at all. The turns the pendant over and over and uses a magnifying glass like the one Benny had to look at the markings up close.
“We thought it looked like a bird of some sort,” Helena says, and Luc jumps at the sound of her voice.
“Yes” he says, annoyed at the interruption of his concentrated investigation, “obviously.”
“Do you know what kind of bird? Is it a crow?” Helena persists.
Helena nods. So it probably wasn’t a coincidence that she found it near the mill where crows have lived for generations.
“What can you tell me about this? Please?” she adds.
Luc looks up at long last.
“Who has seen this?” he asks, ignoring her question.
“Betty. Benny. You. Me.” She thinks. “And Marina. That is it, I think.”
“Benny? Oh good god, why Benny?”
“Betty told me that he could be a source of information.”
“I bet. And was he?”
“More or less,” Helena says vaguely. She doesn’t want to share what Benny has told her, for some reason. She would like to hear what this man in front of her has to say about it, not his reaction to someone else. “So what can you tell me?”
“I can tell you that this is a type of metal that is extremely rare on earth. It is called…”
“Septiron.” Helena finishes his sentence. “Sorry,” she says as he scowls at her.
“Indeed. Septiron. It is excessively hard to work, and finer pieces of metalwork like these are almost never seen. This is priceless. Or it would be if…”
“If someone would want to buy it?”
“Please don’t interrupt me any further. I was going to say it would be priceless if it were ever put on the market.” He fixes his gaze on her now and a strange intensity burns in his eyes. “But this you must not do!”
“I had no intention to do so!” Helena objects, a little startled. “But this thing is not even mine, by rights. I found it on land that is not mine, anyway” she finishes lamely. She had not thought of this before. She had no right to take this necklace without asking the trust’s permission. Now that she thinks of it, this makes it particularly strange that she never told Fred about what she has found. As the ranger and therefore one of the keepers of the grounds, wouldn’t he be entitled to know this immediately? Yet his strange behaviour had thrown up such a red flag that Helena had decided to keep it secret without even giving it a thought. And now she is here in Amsterdam showing it to this very creepy man. Who also doesn’t divulge any information, by the way. She is getting fed up. It is like Hermione storming off to the library every bloody time instead of just sensibly telling Ron and Harry to use a mirror because there might be a massive petrifying snake… Anyway. Something like that. No time for geekery. She takes a deep breath.
“Mr… Luc,” she starts, “tell me about this thing, and why everyone is so secretive about it. I brought it here, and I am taking it away from here again, I think I have a right to know what all this is about. Don’t you?” Her voice is icy now, and laced with impatience.
He notices and puts the pendant and his magnifying glass down but does not take his gloves off. Instead he reaches around again and opens a drawer right behind him. He pulls out a short oyster knife with a silver handle. Unwittingly, Helena takes a step back. But Luc does not even look at her. He studies the pendant again for a brief moment, than with one swift movement picks it up, inserts the knife at a certain point in the middle of the oval, and twists. The pendant comes apart into two pieces that fall soundlessly onto the table. And from the middle, a little dark blue stone.
Helena almost laughs. This little stone! It looks like one of those semi-precious stones you can buy in a new age shop, the kind with healing properties because of vibrations and all that. Hardly the kind of thing that can kill a person.
But Luc does not laugh. He is handing a pair of gloves to Helena. “Put these on.”
“Why? It is just a little stone!”
“Put them on! I am not having a dead body in my establishment! I am good friends with the officers, even though they come in here all the time to look for stolen wares” – he rolls his eyes and Helena knows how he knows Benny – “and I am not having Mrs. Mayor turn this into a crime scene.”
“Okay okay, I am putting them on. But now you have to tell me how this little thing is ever going to kill anyone, from a mere touch.”
“This is no ordinary stone…”
“I gathered as much.”
He glares and remains silent until Helena whispers “sorry”.
“It is not an ordinary piece of rock. Nobody knows how this works but it is only ever found in places where septiron is also found.”
“Where is that?”
“In the Andes somewhere, just below the tree line. Which is a strange place for metal to be found. There is no successful mining for septiron, nor are there things like seams in the rocks, like you would find with ordinary gold and silver. No, septiron is only ever found in streams but since there is so little of it, no villager has ever been able to make a career of searching for it. Finding it would be a one in a million chance. And then for this!” he points at the blue stone “this would even be more rare.” His face seems to be shining and Helena sees that a bright red flame has appeared in the pupils of his eyes. She backs away. It is only a few seconds before she realises that the red glow does not in fact burn in his eyes, but that the stone in the felt bowl has begun to smoulder. She yelps and grabs her wineglass.
“What are you doing?” yells Luc, but she pours the wine quickly over the burning bowl. A hiss and the shop fills with a cloud of steam.
“I am trying to save your shop from burning to the ground!” She picks up the bowl and looks around. “We need to put this thing under water!”
Luc looks at her wide-eyed, then nods. He leads the way to a small kitchen in the back where a pile of dishes is waiting in the sink. Cursing, he begins to take the dishes out but Helena tuts. “That takes too long, just fill that jug with water or something, will you?”
He nods and does as she says. A few moments later they are looking at the small blue stone on the bottom of a glass jug. Little bubbles appear on its service, like it is causing the water around it to boil ever so slightly.
“Okay. So we have a little exotic water boiler pebble that apparently also kills people.” Helena’s smile is wide and bright. “What do we do now?”
tl;dr Antique dealer Luc manages to open the pendant and a little blue stone rolls out. Apparently it is an extremely rare kind of gem that should not be touched. When it starts to heat up again, Luc and Helena need to decide what to do next.
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