Cornucopia Of Excellent Goods At Low Prices
The smell of must fills the air. Piles of what can only be described as junk form a couple of rough aisles, and there's more of what is described in numerous notices as "Quality Merchandise" and "Barginz" on shelving against the walls. One display, relatively well kept, has an array of "Wolf Woods National Park" merchandise - mugs, plates, postcards, ceramic wolves, snow globes. Another advertises "Souvenirs Of St. Clair", but is empty.
At the opposite side of the shop from the front door is a counter, behind which stands a huge man - perhaps 6'5" tall, with little beady eyes sunken beneath a jutting forehead. A nametag pinned lopsidedly to his shirt says "Hello, My Name is Dave". Behind the counter is a normal door leading to a room at the back of the shop, and a sign that reads "Cash Advances Given With Appropriate Security".
Late night St. Claire, and the Cornucopia of Excellent Goods at Low Prices is still open, as can be witnessed by the sixty-watt lightbulb casting a meagre light through the dirty window onto the street. Harry has just finished his latest sign - a small notice advertising "Discrete Investygation Services. Lost things found.", and is placing it in the window. A dapper man wearing an outmoded pinstripe suit, he whistles a jaunty tune as he works.
Eleanor is risking an awful lot, sneaking away from her group to dart into this little shop. She looks around, a little bewildered. She peers at the sign and then peers at the man placing it. She looks like she'd like to stay something, but instead she heads over to the display of merchandise for Wolf Woods National Park, picking up a snow globe carefully and giving it a shake.
"Good Evening, young madam!" Harry greets with a happy smile. "That snow globe looks very fetching in your hand, if I may be so bold. Harry Hall's the name, Quality Merchandise - and now Investergation Services - is the game. Have you considered the uses you could put one of these delightful collectable wolves to?" He indicates one of the, frankly cheap-looking, ceramic wolves.
"Uhm..." The girl chews on her lip nervously, tucking an errant blonde curl behind one ear. "I was actually curious about the investigation.. thing. What sorts of lost things do you find, Mister Hall?"
"Anything!" Harry says, waving expansively. "Anything and anyone. Or a nearly as good as new replacement - or your money back." A wide smile. "And for a lovely lady such as yourself, there will be only a minimal retainer! And no other fee until you are have reached your guaranteed satisfaction."
"I... I'd like you to find my sister," Eleanor says quietly, setting the snow globe oh-so-carefully back on the shelf. "She's been missing for over a week now..."
Harry suddenly drops the patter. "Sister?" he asks. "Why don't we have a cup of tea and a sit down, and you tell me all about it, and then I'll see what I can do to help." He turns to the big man behind the counter. "Dave, pot of tea? Remember to let the water boil this time?" Then he looks back at Eleanor, and pulls out two decrepit folding chairs - mismatched. "Have a throne," he says, setting it up. He sits in the other one, which creaks worryingly, but just about stays up.
Eleanor parks herself down on the chair. She's sat on more makeshift furniture than this. "We've been separated, you see. She's been living in Seattle and I'm living here. She calls me every single week and we write letters regularly." The girl reaches into the pocket of her sweatshirt, but doesn't withdraw her hand just yet. "She didn't call me last week..." Which is about how long it looks since the girl's slept. "My sister tells me /everything/. She wouldn't leave and not tell me."
"Oh dear," Harry says, "Sounds fairly kosher. Speaking of which, have you contacted the old bill?" He's paying close attention, his brow creased.
"The what?" Eleanor's own brow creases with confusion. "The old bill? Wh... what's that?"
"The fuzz, the pigs," Harry expands, perhaps not that helpfully. "The rozzers." A pause. "The cops? It's useful to know."
"You had me at fuzz," Eleanor says with the ghost of a smile. Even then she still looks troubled. "Yeah, I'm told they're aware of it. But... A girl like my sister? They probably aren't looking that hard."
Harry nods solemly. "Sounds like there's a story there," he says as Dave returns with a steaming teapot and what appear to be hastily wiped mugs. They're mostly clean. "Cuppa?" he asks. "And why don't you tel me all about her. And you, for that matter. As much as you think could be relevant." As Dave pours the tea, Harry gets out a scruffy little leather-bound book with "2002" in gold leaf on the front, and a pencil stub.
"I don't know what much there is to tell... Abigail and I have been separated for the better part of a year now. Neither of us are happy about it. She's always been feisty. She's stubborn. She put some girl in the hospital for calling me a- Well, I'm too polite to say. But that's why I think people aren't looking real hard for her. She isn't exactly Miss Congeniality."
"Yeah, and I ain't the pinup of the Chamber of Commerce." Harry grins. "Nothing wrong with being feisty. I'm going to need names and addresses, y'know. Not to mention my retainer."
Eleanor is silent for a long, long moment. "How much do you need?"
"Hmm," Harry says. "How about ten bucks?" He pauses. "And you buy a ceramic wolf for another buck fifty?" He looks hopefully at the teenager.
"I.. I can give you five now and the rest next week, when I get more pocket money." Eleanor shuffles her feet nervously. "Or I can do chores for you, if you like. I can work it off. I'll do anything ya ask!"
"Five now, and an unspecified future favour?" Harry says. "And I'll throw in the little wolf for you to sweeten the deal." He grins widely. "We have a deal?" He spits on his palm and offers it to Eleanor.
Eleanor doesn't hesitate to spit into her own palm. She doesn't take his hand just yet, though. "Make it the pretty snow globe and we 'ave an accord!"
"You're robbing me blind! Look at Dave! Does that look like a man who's cheap to feed?" Harry protests. He pauses. "Oh, all right. The snow globe. But if anyone asks where you got it, tsend them here. Unless they look horribly official, hey?"
"Promise." Eleanor slaps her hand into Harry's and shakes firmly. "I don't think my sister's dead, Mister Hall. Everyone says she is, but I know she ain't. I'd know if she was. I would /know/."
"Course you would," Harry agrees reassuringly, breaking the handshake. He stands and fetches the snow globe, packing it carefully into a little box. "I'll need a way to contact you?" His palm is outstreched, the snow globe held ready in his other hand.
Wiping her hand on her pants, Eleanor retrieves an envelope from her sweatshirt. "Here. It's got my name and address on here," she shows off the front and then points to the corner, "And that's my sister there. A. Bell. Abigail. I'm Eleanor." Though the letter is addressed to Nellie Bell. "This is the last letter she sent me." She pulls it out and shows that off as well. It reads 'I have not forgotten you.'
Harry gravely takes the letter, and leaves his palm outstretched. "If you want an update at any point, come to the shop. If I ain't in, ask Dave. If the shop's closed leave a note. If the place is covered in the scum, scarper. Particularly tell me kif you hear anything!"
Eleanor nods and hands over her five dollar bill and then takes the snow globe. "Thank you, Mister Hall. I..." She shakes her blonde head quickly. "Thanks."
Harry pockets the money smoothly. "Just Harry, love," he says. "'ere - don't suppose you've got a photo? Graven images may be blasphemous, but they are helpful."
"You're lookin' at a mirror image, Mist- Harry." Eleanor smiles grimly. "Abigail's my identical twin."
Harry studies her for a few moments, and grins. "Got it," he says. "Well, another heartbreaker like you shouldn't be too hard to track down."
Eleanor blushes faintly. "She's all I've got in this world, Harry... I have to know what happened to her. One way or the other."
The Bone Gnawer nods. "And now for more important matters. Have you any need for a *car radio*?" He looks winsomely hopeful. In a dodgy-old-guy kind of way.
"I don't have a car." Eleanor shakes her head. "Unless that's slang for something."
Harry looks crestfallen. "Oh well," he says. "Is there perhaps something else in my vast empire of unbelievable bargains that tempts you?"
"I don't have any more money right now," Eleanor reiterates. "But I bet if I did, I'd find somethin' real good." Her nod is enthusiastic, though she's still not looking what anyone would call happy.
"Don't worry too much," Harry reassures, not entirely convincingly. "I'm like a bloodhound when I'm on a scent. Unshakeable. Grrr." He mimes being a cat. For no obviously discernible reason.
Eleanor smiles at that, even giggling softly. "Could I ask you a question, Harry?"
"Sure, love," Harry says. "And I *guarantee* to an answer it. That's the truth." His eyes screw up in amusement.
"Why d'ya like wolves s'much?" Eleanor holds her boxed up snow globe against her stomach almost protectively.
"Natural affinity, love," Harry answers. "Wolves are a family, and Dave and me are part of a family." He shrugs. "Read Whikte Fang? Impossible to read that book and not love wolves."
"I like wolves, too." Eleanor's smile is back, even reaching her blue-green eyes. "When I was little, I used to dream about being a wolf and being free. I think most kids dream about being birds and flying and junk. But I must have thought wolves were cooler, even when I was asleep."
"Wolves are cool. Birds are stupid and fragile," Harry nods firmly. "Still, have you read White Fang? I got a copy around here somewhere." He starts digging through a pile of stuff.
"I don't think I have. I don't do much readin' in school. And I haven't got a library card..." Eleanor trails off for a moment. "But I do /like/ to read. I like it very much."
Harry grins, and then continues digging. "Aha!" He cries, triumphantly, pulling a copy of "COBOL Programming on the AS/400" from the pile. "Bugger. That's not it." Back to digging. "Aha!" he says again. "This time for real!" He hands over a beaten-up and faded copy of White Fang by Jack London.
Eleanor takes the book carefully and peers down at it. "Thank you. I'll have it read by the time I come in again."
"Yer welcome," Harry says. "Now, as delightful as every second spent in yer company is, it ain't feeding me or finding yer sister. So, unless you've suddenly discovered some more money, and an astonishing hunger and burning desire for..." He grabs something from a pile. "A Dukes Of Hazzard Fondue set, I'll bid yer good day."
Eleanor nods quickly and clutches her newfound spoils against her body tightly. "Thank you, Harry. Good luck. Send me a note if you find anything before I see you again." She climbs to her feet and quickly starts heading for the door.
"Good fortune go with yer," Harry bids her. "Now, Dave, can we discuss how much tea is normal to put in the pot." Dave mutters something back to him to which Harry replies. "I don't care how pretty you think she is, she probably doesn't want tea so strong it burns the back of your throat."