Simone was telling the story of Captain Soule and the HMS Winchester to a frustratingly indifferent group of cruise ship customers, who were more interested in the cheap postcards, souvenir spoons, and tea towels that Simone placed near the back of Simple Simon’s Authentique Antiques so that customers would have to walk the length of the shop, past the dusty cases of musket balls, silver trays, rings, old maps, and weathered planks from the sunken ship.
And her son Simon was late yet again.
“History is being rewritten,” Simone said conspiratorially, “many say the weather caused the ship to crash into the reef, but I know for a fact that the Captain, weakened by scurvy and strong drink—“
“Blasphemy!” boomed a loud voice from the front of the shop, causing Simone to jump, and her customers to start paying attention.
“Blasphemy?” she said in a small voice.
“Captain Soule did not sail the Winchester into a reef!” the man cried as he approached— a stout, florid man in wrinkled khaki trousers, a white shirt, and grey fedora, waving a book he held in one hand and a small, stained leather portfolio in the other.
“I beg your pardon, sir,” Simone said, gathering up courage as she pulled her shawl more tightly around her. “How dare you barge into my shop and call me a liar! Who are you?”
The cruise ship passengers now huddled in a group to one side, their heads bobbing from Simone to the man as they each spoke, back and forth as if they were watching a tennis match.
“Terrence Wetherall! Director of the Global Council of Antiquities.” His face was becoming blotchy and flushed, as if his health might be in immediate peril. “These wares are not to be sold. We have evidence that the HMS Winchester went down not from the reef or the vagaries of a fine captain, but by a pirate’s hand!”
Simone gasped, and the customers gasped too, in spontaneous sympathy.
“You have no proof— there is no reason I may not sell property I have salvaged at great expense!”
“Until our research is complete I demand that you cease your commerce!”
At that moment her son Simon appeared from a doorway behind the cash register. He went to his mother’s side and put his arm around her. “Get out!” he said to the man. “You are frightening my mother, who has done you no harm!”
“I will not!” And the man took a step forward.
Simon was a tall young man, and the Antiquities Director, though unsteady on his feet, was stocky and strong, so when Simon left his mother to take his arm and direct him out of the shop, a brief scuffle ensued.
“Stand back, I urge you!” Simone said, standing in front of her customers as if to protect them, despite her small stature.
Simon eventually forced the man out the shop door, then closed it and drew the bolt. “Are you ok, mother?” he called from the front of the shop.
“Yes, I think so,” said Simone, in a voice suddenly weaker.
“My friends,” she said to the customers, who were gazing around the shop, at Simone, and at Simon, as if coming out of a dream. “My friends, I’m afraid I can’t go against the wishes of a Director of the Global Antiquities Council. The items salvaged from the ship: the musket balls, cannon balls, cutlasses, maps and ships’ parts must remain safe, their value immeasurable, until the Council establishes the means by which the Winchester crashed: reef, or a band of pirates?”
“But mother,” Simon said quietly. “These people have travelled a great distance…”
Simone gazed at the customers, who were scattering, murmuring among themselves. and peering into cases. She sighed, and made an announcement. “Simon is right. I cannot deny serious collectors the opportunity to add such invaluable artifacts to their collection. Until Mr Wetherall returns with the the proper paperwork—“
“Tomorrow, he told me,” said Simon.
Simone nodded. “After today, I can not sell to anyone, no matter what their credentials. But if any of you are serious and dedicated collectors of authentic antiquities, please speak to me privately and we will come to an arrangement.”
They sold everything. There was no haggling. Simon unbolted the doors. When customers left with one-of-a-kind items, Simone discreetly replaced them from inventory, to be sold again. No one was denied the opportunity to purchase rare pieces from a sunken ship, or left the shop unhappy, or without a tale to tell.
“You were almost too late— again,” said Simone, as she counted out bills into neat piles by denomination, placing some in a legal sized envelope. Simon shrugged.
“Deliver this to Arthur,” she said, handing over the envelope. “Perhaps suggest he not shout quite so loudly next time? This isn’t the stage. Also, ask him for another delivery of the limited availability wooden stools he makes. One of them broke during your little entanglement. Why are you smiling?”
“That was fun,” said Simon. “I’ve never seen Arthur enjoy himself so much.”
“He should come out of his shell more often,” said Simone.