SHORT STORY FOR THE WEEKEND: The Bargain by Mike Gaines

Here's the latest in the series of short stories written by members of the 390-strong Portsmouth Writers' Hub

Friday, 31st March 2017, 5:00 pm
Updated Tuesday, 9th May 2017, 7:02 pm
Forlorn and at the centre of a police investigation...

The Teddy Bear looked very forlorn and in need of someone to love him. My wife Margaret and I were at an antiques and collectors fair and she had spotted it behind a cluster of collectables on one of the many stalls.

Margaret liked Teddy Bears. ‘It looks quite old, I wonder how much it is,’ she said.

We looked around but there was no sign of the stall holder and we were about to move on when suddenly a man appeared behind us and asked if he could help.

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He was a short, dark-haired, tubby man who apologised saying he had just answered an urgent call of nature. ‘I would like to have a look at that Teddy Bear,’ said my wife.

The man handed it to her and we both examined it closely.

‘It’s had a hard life, how much is it?’ asked Margaret.

‘I’m looking for fifty quid but I’d take forty-five’ said the man. ‘It’s quite old, it was bought in a house clearance.’

Margaret turned and spoke to me softly as if asking my advice.

‘It’s a Steiff bear,’ she murmured, ‘I can feel the button behind the ear, it must be worth at least double.’

‘If you like it buy it, and don’t quibble,’ I whispered.

‘I love it, he just needs some tender loving care, said Margaret to the man and paid him the 45 pounds. Cuddling the 20-inch Teddy Bear under her arm she could hardly believe her luck at getting such a bargain.

We wandered around among the hundreds of people looking at the many stalls, pausing occasionally to look at items of interest. At one stall the stallholder noticed the Teddy Bear under Margaret’s arm and asked if it was it for sale. Margaret showed it to him saying she had only just bought it herself.

The stallholder, who had other Teddy Bears for sale, told her it was quite a rare Steiff Teddy Bear and would she take an offer for it. She asked him how much and was staggered when he suggested ‘two hundred pounds cash’.

I took her to one side and suggested that his offer meant it was worth quite a lot more than that and, unless she really wanted to keep it, to bargain with the stallholder.

After some serious haggling Margaret agreed on £300.

We browsed around for another hour, then stopped for a cup of tea before making our way towards the exit, £255 richer than when we came in.

Approaching the exit I noticed a police officer scrutinising people as they left the fair, he was accompanied by a man who I recognised as the one who had bought the Steiff Bear from Margaret.

The man then pointed us out to the police officer who stopped us, saying that he was investigating the theft of a valuable Teddy Bear from one of the stalls.

‘But what has that got to do with us?’ I asked the police officer.

‘Did you sell a Teddy Bear to this man and if so where did you get it from?’ said the officer, pointing to the man I had already recognised.

I was flabbergasted. ‘Yes we did sell him a Teddy Bear but we bought it from another stall in the fair. I will show you the stall if you don’t believe me.’

We all walked back to the stall where we had bought the Teddy Bear.

A middle-aged woman was sitting on a chair at the back of the stall but stood up as we approached.

‘Did you buy the Teddy Bear from this lady, the owner of the stall?’ asked the police officer. ‘No we didn’t’ I replied, ‘it was a man we bought it from. He was short, dark-haired and rather tubby, who said he had just returned from an urgent call of nature. He also said the Teddy Bear was bought in a house clearance.’

I listened in disbelief as the police officer said: ‘The stall holder admits she left her stall unattended for a few minutes earlier today, but no-one had permission to sell goods from her stall in her absence, so either an impostor sold you the Teddy Bear and kept the money for themselves, or it was stolen.’

Taking a notebook from his pocket he added: ‘But until further inquiries prove otherwise I am arresting you both on suspicion of theft and of selling-on stolen goods.’

Both Margaret and I were stunned. What had been a dream start to the day had turned into a nightmare.

The lady stall holder then spoke to the police officer.

‘I have heard what has been said and now I know what must have happened. The description of the man who sold the Teddy Bear to these people is my former husband.

‘I have been divorced for more than a year, and this type of incident has happened before.

‘He finds out where I am working and hopes that by helping me like this I will take him back.

‘I have just checked my cash box and the £45 that these people said they paid has been put in there for me.

‘Please don’t arrest them, they are telling the truth.’

The police officer then spoke to us all. ‘It is apparent to me now that no offence has been committed, so unless any of you wish to make a complaint I will leave you to sort this out between your good selves.’

I spoke up first, just wanting an end to this bizarre incident.

I told the dealers I was prepared to pay back the £300 if a deal between the two of them could be agreed, and I would get my original £45.

The two dealers huddled together and agreed on a deal, so I handed back the £300 and the lady dealer handed me my £45.

She thanked us for being so honest and asked if there was anything on her stall we particularly liked, and if so she was prepared to offer a generous discount. Margaret said she had noticed a pair of rather nice green brocade full-length curtains that would go very nicely in our sitting room that we had just decorated.

The dealer told us that they had come from an auction at a local manor house, and although they were quite old they were of a very high quality and in excellent condition. She had them priced at £100, but for us she would accept £40 for the pair, a bargain which we willingly accepted.

The next day Margaret measured the curtains against the sitting room window and discovered that the width was perfect but they were much too long. ‘I will have to shorten them,’ she told me. But I will enjoy doing that.’

Leaving her to her sewing I went into the garden to mow the lawn.

I was just going to start when Margaret suddenly appeared holding her clasped hands in front of her.

Fearing she had injured herself while sewing I ran up to her, but I stopped dead in my tracks as she opened her hands.

What I saw was astonishing.

Her shaking hands were holding a large cluster of solid gold sovereigns. She looked at me her face flushed with shock.

‘These were used as the weights for the curtains,’ she explained breathlessly.

‘It must have been a very secure way of hiding money in times gone by.

‘There are lots more indoors, and this is just one curtain.’

We went back indoors where I could see dozens of gold sovereigns spilt across Margaret’s sewing table.

I looked at Margaret with a huge smile as I exclaimed: ‘Wow! Now that’s what I call a real bargain.’

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