They pretended to be customers. They did everything that a customer would do. He picked things up and looked at them. He asked her opinion and she did the same. There was nothing out of the ordinary about the way they acted. They were just like normal customers. But something was different. Something seemed not quite right.
Mrs Scott was talking to me about the butter dish she had found at the back of the shop. It was Claris Clift. Not a particular good example. There was a chip or two, and a bit of crazing under the lid, but it was a genuine Claris. Mrs Scott wanted to haggle the price down, but I was not really paying much attention. I was watching the other two. In my head I gave them names. Mr and Mrs Smith. Ordinary people, with ordinary names. I don’t know why I was obsessed with them, they were just browsing like all my other customers did.
I turned my attention back to Mrs Scott and the butter dish. It was marked up at £35.00, which was a good price, taking into account the condition. She wanted it for £5.00. She always started low. I knew I could get £20.00 for it, but we had to go through the routine.
The other two, were now no longer browsing. He was holding a small Portobello glass jug. He knows his stuff, I thought. It was the best piece in the shop. I had just marked it up that morning at £2725.00 but I would settle on £2000.00. Would make a decent profit too.
Mrs Scott had upped her bid to £15.00 when it happened. Mr Smith stepped forward until he was by the side of Mrs Scott. He leaned towards her, and without looking at her, he spoke. “Lady!” he said in what I imagined was some kind of deep south American accent, “Lady, either pay the guy or get the fuck outta here. This gentleman and myself have some serious business to conduct!”
Mrs Scott’s mouth dropped. My mouth dropped. The butter dish almost dropped.
“I beg your pardon?” spluttered Mrs Scott. “What … what … did … what? She was now struggling to string a sentence together. “Buy the fucking thing, then go” replied Mr Smith.
Mrs Smith had now moved to the other side of Mrs Scott and spoke to here in a similar accent, but softer. “Don’t upset my brother, lady. It’s not a cool thing to make him angry!”
Mrs Scott now resumed her normal composure and turned to me. She carefully placed the butter dish on the counter. Then looked me directly in the face before turning on her heels and walking towards the door. As she opened the door, she turned her head slightly and announced “I will not be back. The clientele here has gone to the dogs somewhat. I shall take my custom to Hadfields in Station Street in future.” With that, she left.
Mrs Smith then walked to the door, dropped the latch and stood at the side, facing out as if she was watching for something.
“Hi,” I said awkwardly. “So how can I help you?” I moved nearer to the till where the silent alarm button was. I had it fitted only a couple of weeks before and just hoped it worked when I needed it.
“That’s a very fine Portobello piece you’ve selected,” I said nervously. “Is it a present for someone?”
“No. It’s more of an insurance policy!” came the reply. Unbelievably, the American accent had vanished, only to be replaced with a mild Midlands accent.
“Insurance? I don’t understand. What kind of insurance?” I edged closer to the alarm button.
“You see,” said Mr Smith, “I happen to know, that this glass jug is worth a great deal more than the two and a half grand you’ve tagged it at. It would be a crying shame if it got ‘accidentally’ broken.”
My left hand was now stabbing at the silent alarm button.
“Open the till,” said the man. They were no longer ‘ordinary’ people and they no longer deserved names. “Open the till and take out all the cash you have in there and place it on the counter. Then open the wall safe and do the same with the cash in there.”
I slowly did as he said in full belief that the flashing red light above the door signified that the alarm was working, and help was on its way. I laid all the money out in neat piles, still slowly, watching both him the Portobello and the woman at the door.
“Hurry up. And by the way, if you think someone is going to respond to that silent alarm, I’ve got some bad news for you,” he said, with a grin on his face. “All that does is make the little red light above the door flash!”
The woman at the door laughed. “My brother is good at selling fake goods. It’s how we started,” she said.
I looked back to the man.
“Yeah, that was me!” His accent had changed again. “A Geordie accent is one of the easiest to mimic. There’s that many of the buggers on the telly, man! Now put all that money in here.” He threw an Aldi “Bag-for-Life” over the counter and I piled all the money in, all £60,000.
“Give it here,” he said, back in his American accent, “and then our business is complete.”
“What about the Portobello?” I asked.
“Oh, you can keep it. I could never sell anything like that. As I said, insurance!” he replied and placed it carefully on the counter.
He turned and walked towards the door. The woman unlocked it and they both left. I turned, grabbed my mobile phone and dialled the police. The door banged and I spun around, hoping that they had not returned. My free arm hit something and I stared incredulously as the Portobello glass jug, fell to the floor, shattering into thousands of pieces.