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Home > Needful Things(10)

Needful Things(10)
Author: Stephen King

He produced a narrow black leather notebook from the pocket of the blue blazer he wore and gravely noted down each name she mentioned

She looked down at her plate and saw that she had finished all of her cake. Her hands still hurt, but they felt better than they had when she arrived. She recalled that she had almost decided against coming by, because they were so miserable. Now she was glad she'd done it, anyway

"I have to go," she said, looking at her watch. "Rosalie will think I died."

They had eaten standing up. Now Gaunt stacked their plates neatly, put the forks on top, and replaced the top on the cake container. "I'll return this as soon as the cake is gone," he said

"Is that all right?"

"Perfectly."

"You'll probably have it by mid-afternoon, then," he said gravely

"You don't have to be that prompt," she said as Gaunt walked her to the door. "It's been very nice to meet you."

"Thanks for coming by," he said. For a moment she thought he meant to take her arm, and she felt a sense of dismay at the thought of his touch-silly, of course-but he didn't. "You've made what I expected to be a scary day something of a treat instead."

"You'll be fine." Polly opened the door, then paused. She had asked him nothing at all about himself, but she was curious about one thing, too curious to leave without asking. "You've got all sorts of interesting things-"

"Thank you. "-but nothing is priced. Why is that?"

He smiled. "That's a little eccentricity of mine, Polly. I've always believed that a sale worth making is worth dickering over a little

I think I must have been a Middle Eastern rug merchant in my last incarnation. Probably from Iraq, although I probably shouldn't say so these days."

"So you charge whatever the market will bear?" she asked, teasing just a little

"You could say so," he agreed seriously, and again she was struck by how deep his hazel eyes were-how oddly beautiful. "I'd rather think of it as defining worth by need."

"I see."

"Do you really?"

"Well... I think so. It explains the name of the shop."

He smiled. "It might," he said. "I suppose it might, at that."

"Well, I'll wish you a very good day, Mr. Gaunt-"

"Leland, please. Or just Lee."

"Leland, then. And you're not to worry about customers. I think by Friday, you'll have to hire a security guard to shoo them out at the end of the day."

"Do you? That would be lovely."

"Goodbye."

"Ciao," he said, and closed the door after her

He stood there a moment, watching as Polly Chalmers walked down the street, smoothing her gloves over her hands, so misshapen and in such startling contrast to the rest of her, which was trim and pretty, if not terribly remarkable. Gaunt's smile grew. As his lips drew back, exposing his uneven teeth, it became unpleasantly predatory

"You'll do," he said softly in the empty shop. "You'll do just fine."

5

Polly's prediction proved quite correct. By closing time that day, almost all of the women in Castle Rock-those who mattered, anyway-and several men had stopped by Needful Things for a quick browse. Almost all of them were at some pains to assure Gaunt that they had only a moment, because they were on their way to someplace else

Stephanie Bonsaint, Cynthia Rose Martin, Barbara Miller, and Francine Pelletier were the first; Steffie, Cyndi Rose, Babs, and Francie arrived in a protective bunch not ten minutes after Polly was observed leaving the new shop (the news of her departure spread quickly and thoroughly by telephone and the efficient bush telegraph which runs through New England back yards)

Steffie and her friends looked. They ooohed and ahhhed. They assured Gaunt they could not stay long because this was their bridge day (neglecting to tell him that the weekly rubber usually did not start until about two in the afternoon). Francae asked him where he came from. Gaunt told her Akron, Ohio. Steffie asked him if he had been in the antiques business for long. Gaunt told her he did not consider it to be the antiques business... exactly. Cyndi wanted to know if Mr. Gaunt had been in New England.long

Awhile, Gaunt replied; awhile

All four agreed later that the shop was many odd things!-but it had been a very unsuccessful interview. The man was as close-mouthed as Polly Chalmers, perhaps more. Babs then pointed out what they all knew (or thought they knew): that Polly had been the first person in town to actually enter the new shop, and that she had brought a cake

Perhaps, Babs speculated, she knew Mr. Gaunt... from that Time Before, that time she had spent Away

Cyndi Rose expressed interest in a Lalique vase, and asked Mr

Gaunt (who was nearby but did not hover, all noted with approval) how much it was

"How much do you think?" he asked, smiling

She smiled back at him, rather coquettishly. "Oh," she said. "Is that the way you do things, Mr. Gaunt?"

"That's the way I do them," he agreed

"Well, you're apt to lose more than you gain, dickering with Yankees," Cyndi Rose said, while her friends looked on with the bright interest of spectators at a Wimbledon Championship match

"That," he said, "remains to be seen." His voice was still friendly, but now it was mildly challenging, as well

Cyndi Rose looked more closely at the vase this time. Steffie Bonsaint whispered something in her ear. Cyndi Rose nodded

"Seventeen dollars," she said. The vase actually looked as if it might be worth fifty, and she guessed that in a Boston antiques shop, it would be priced at one hundred and eighty

Gaunt steepled his fingers under his chin in a gesture Brian Rusk would have recognized. "I think I'd have to have at least forty-five," he said with some regret

Cyndi Rose's eyes brightened; there were possibilities here. She had originally seen the Lalique vase as something only mildly interesting, really not much more than another conversational crowbar to use on the mysterious Mr. Gaunt. Now she looked at it more closely and saw that it really was a nice piece of work, one which would look right at home in her living room. The border of flowers around the long neck of the vase was the exact color of her wallpaper. Until Gaunt had responded to her suggestion with a price which was only a finger's length out of her reach, she hadn't realized that she wanted the vase as badly as she now felt she did

She consulted with her friends

Gaunt watched them, smiling gently

The bell over the door rang and two more ladies came in

At Needful Things, the first full day of business had begun.

6

When the Ash Street Bridge Club left Needful Things ten minutes later, Cyndi Rose Martin carried a shopping bag by the handles

Inside was the Lalique vase, wrapped in tissue paper. She had purchased it for thirty-one dollars plus tax, almost all of her pin money, but she was so delighted with it that she was almost purring

Usually she felt doubtful and a little ashamed of herself after such an impulse buy, certain that she had been cozened a little if not cheated outright, but not today. This was one deal where she had come out on top. Mr. Gaunt had even asked her to come back, saying he had the twin of this vase, and it would be arriving in a shipment later in the week-perhaps even tomorrow! This one would look lovely on the little table in her living room, but if she had two, she could put one on each end of the mantel, and that would be smashing

Her three friends also felt that she had done well, and although they were a little frustrated at having gotten so little of Mr

Gaunt's background, their opinion of him was, on the whole, quite high

"He's got the most beautiful green eyes," Francie Pelletier said, a little dreamily

"Were they green?" Cyndi Rose asked, a little startled. She herself had thought they were gray. "I didn't notice."

7

Late that afternoon, Rosalie Drake from You Sew and Sew stopped in Needful Things on her coffee break, accompanied by Polly's housekeeper, Nettle Cobb. There were several women browsing in the store, and in the rear corner two boys from Castle County High were leafing through a cardboard carton of comic books and muttering excitedly to each other-it was amazing, they both agreed, how many of the items they needed to fill their respective collections were here. They only hoped the prices would not prove too high. It was impossible to tell without asking, because there were no price-stickers on the plastic bags which held the comics

Rosalie and Nettle said hello to Mr. Gaunt, and Gaunt asked Rosalie to thank Polly again for the cake. His eyes followed Nettle, who had wandered away after the introductions and was looking rather wistfully at a small collection of carnival glass. He left Rosalie studying the picture of Elvis next to the splinter of PETRIFIED WOOD FROM THE HOLY LAND and walked over to Nettle

"Do you like carnival glass, Ms. Cobb?" he asked softly

She jumped a little-Nettle Cobb had the face and almost painfully shy manner of a woman made to jump at voices, no matter how soft and friendly, when they spoke from the general area of her elbow-and smiled at him nervously

"It's Missus Cobb, Mr. Gaunt, although my husband's been passed on for some time now."

"I'm sorry to hear it."

"No need to be. It's been fourteen years. A long time. Yes, I have a little collection of carnival glass." She seemed almost to quiver, as a mouse might quiver at the approach of a cat. "Not that I could afford anything so nice as these pieces. Lovely, they are

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