Keeper

Dain didn’t say a word. He just unwrapped the thing and put it on the bar and they both stared at it. Jeffie knew not to touch such a thing but his fingers reached out of their own doing; it just seemed to invite the touching. Yet he couldn’t find its surface, there was just a tingling in as his fingers slid off the side.

‘It’s an artefact,’ Dain said putting it away again. Then he was running on about money and plans and publicity. Same old Dain, full of plans. It was him that ploughed an outline of an Aboriginal hunter into forty kilometres of scrub out of town. Sure it put the town on the map for a day or so, even made the national papers—Mysterious Mara Man—but money? Not dollar one. The only one who made anything out of it was Jimmy who ran Inland Scenic Flights—half-an-hour in an old Cessna circling above the scrub for forty-five dollars. Flying reporters up to photograph Dain’s handiwork; work you could only see from a thousand feet up.

***

He should have walked away.

As soon as Ivory turned up he should have left them to it. But instead he sat and watched as a small man in an improbably white suit approached them through the desolation of Monday night at the Sports Bar.

‘Told you,’ said Dain out the side of his mouth, all eyes for the stranger.

‘How do you do and you are mister Dain?’ said the stranger extending a pink hand to Jeffie.

I’m Dain,’ Dain said reaching over and taking the still-offered hand. ‘An this here’s Jeffie.’

‘I’m very pleased to make your acquaintance,’ purred the man, ‘My name is Hugh Ivory and I’m—‘

‘Pleased to meet ya Hewww,’ Dain interrupted. ‘So what kind of accent’s that? European maybe?’ Dain always wanted to be in control where there was talk. First rule of negotiating: keep them off balance. He’d learned this selling cars down in Adelaide.

‘I think of myself as a man of the world,’ said Ivory perching on the bar stool his little legs swinging free. ‘So if I might take a moment—‘ Ivory began.

‘Well,’ Dain interrupted drolly. ‘As you can see we’re pretty busy this evening.’ He gestured across the bar—the torpid beat of the ceiling fan, the muted TV in the corner showing glossy horses racing on sweet green turf, the flap of the fly curtain and the desert’s darkness beyond.

Ivory began. ‘You have a certain…item which my employers are most interested in.’

Dain nudged Jeffie. ‘What’d I tell you?’ Turning back to the stranger. ‘And who are your employers?’

‘I represent a group of…let’s call them collectors,’ said Ivory. ‘Who are willing to pay handsomely.’

‘Well this thing here is pretty exceptional, ’ said Dain, leaning forward. He repeated the word exceptional just in case Ivory missed it.

The stranger’s eyes grew wide and his little pink tongue ran along a row of sharp white teeth. Jeffie thought he looked fierce, like a cat. ‘Do you have the item with you?’

Dain the master salesman was about to land this catch. He eased back on the stool. ‘Maybe we should discuss just what you mean when you say “pay handsomely” eh Jeffie?’

‘Wuh…wuh…why not just show him,’ Jeffie said trying to end all this. But Dain would have none of it.

‘We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves do we Hewww?’
‘I can assure you,’ said Ivory. ‘I have been given substantial latitude.’ He said substantial like he was spelling it out— sub-stan-shull—just so there’d be no misunderstanding.

Then Dain laughed and slapped his hand down on the bar. ‘Well that’s just fine,’ he said. ‘Ain’t it Jeffie?’

***

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