The early morning quiet of the antique shop was broken by the loud ringing of its large retro telephone. Swivelling around in her creaking chair, Rebecca reached across a desk on which items of bric-a brac were untidily scattered, and lifted its heavy red receiver. She knew who it would be – her accountant.
“Hi Mike. Yes, yes, I saw the post,” she said with a sigh, glancing down at the sheaf of bills on the desk – demands for rent, rates, phone and the electric. To top it all, the taxman was now chasing what was owed to him. She listened patiently to the lecture, that she needed to adopt a more business-like approach otherwise Butterfly Antiques, her beloved shop here in Victorian Southsea, was about to go under.
“It’s just a cash flow thing,” she said. “It will all be sorted next week, I assure you. Yes, I get how serious it is. Ok, bye.”
Dropping the receiver back in its 1970s cradle, she leaned back in the chair, clasping her hands behind her head and puffing out her cheeks. Cash flow thing – what a laugh. She had no idea what it meant – it was just something people said, and seemed to get away with, when they were in financial trouble. The truth was she had no head for business – her real love was the beautiful old ornaments, the war medals, and the classic childhood toys she encountered through running this shop – imagining where they had come from and dreaming what stories they could tell.
Beside her sat a large tea chest, its contents the product of a recent attic clearance at a house in nearby Duncan Street. One item immediately caught her eye – sitting atop some leather-bound books and a couple of brass candlesticks was an old teddy bear – brown fur a bit worn in places and a little saggy around the middle. However, there was no denying the cuddly warmth of his expression.
“My, aren’t you a cutie,” she said, picking him up and sitting him on top of the bills. Of course, the bills! “Mr Bear, I need you to do me a favour,” she said, experience telling her that an old bear in reasonable condition like this might fetch around £10 -£15. In Rebecca’s position, every little helped.
On the computer, she called up the Ebay shop that Mike had helped her set up for Butterfly Antiques. He’d said it was about time her business moved into the 21st century, and that shops like hers nowadays needed to have what he called an “on-line presence”. Whatever.
“Ok then, Mr Bear, let’s give you a try on here.” She took a photo on her phone and uploaded it, along with some details, asking for offers over £10.
Thirty minutes later, at a canalside pavement cafe in Antwerp, Belgium, a man with dark glasses sat sipping a latte macchiato. His Iphone rang.
“Yes, what is it?” he said.
“It’s turned up,” said a voice on the other end of the line. The man with dark glasses leaned forward, his face now fixing into a concentrated stare.
“It’s just been posted on Ebay.”
“Are you sure it’s the one?”
“There’s no doubt, it’s the bear.”
“But I thought it had been destroyed in the blaze. Is it, you know…..intact?”
“It looks to be so. It’s incredible, I know, but we have to move fast.”
“We must get it,” instructed the man in dark glasses. “Get it – at any cost!” He terminated the call.
Back in Southsea, at Butterfly Antiques, it was now a little later in the morning, and Rebecca paused from cataloguing the newly acquired stock to check her Ebay shop. The page refreshed. Her jaw dropped. An offer had been made for the teddy bear. It was in the sum of £100,000!
Was this for real, she wondered? It took a few moments to sink in, but having checked the terms on which offers were made, it all appeared genuine. Gosh, Mike will be pleased, she chuckled. And yet, her overwhelming feeling was one of great curiosity. She looked down at the little bear, still sat on the desk beside the computer screen. “Someone wants you,” she said. “Someone wants you very, very badly.” She turned to gaze dreamily out through the shop front window.