“This way,” I whispered.
Robby had never set foot inside the secondhand store until that night. I’d told him about it enough times.
“This is rather scary,” Robby said.
Now Robby was speaking like a non-Ealingite.
“Do you want to get out?”
Robby put his hand on my shoulder so he wouldn’t trip on anything. I led him out around the back counter, which was a rectangular glass case where Johnny McKeon displayed watches, jewelry, cameras, guns, and three framed insect collections.
There were only a few things in From Attic to Seller that I favored. The insects were among my most appreciated abandoned items.
One of the frames contained only butterflies. For some reason, I always found the butterflies to be boring. But the other two frames were wonders: One displayed forty-one beetles. I counted them. There were all kinds of oddities in the frame, including beetles with horns and some nearly as large as my clenched fist. The beetles in the center were posed so their shells were open and their glassine wings spread wide.
The last frame had fifteen bugs in it. An enormous centipede curled around the bend at one corner, and a glossy black scorpion raised its stinging tail in the other. Centered against the white backing board was a vampire bat with little beaded eyes, frozen with its
mouth snarled open.
“Isn’t that the coolest shit?” I asked.
Robby said, “No.”
Robby remained attached to my shoulder and I took him along the circular path around the main floor of the store.
Johnny McKeon arranged From Attic to Seller Consignment Store so that shoppers, or even people coming in to inquire about using the toilet, would have to walk a serpentine path from the front door to the back counter. His path led past every stack of clutter Johnny offered up for sale. Tipsy Cricket was different. At the liquor store, the counter was right up front, a deterrent to booze and cigarette thieves.
Johnny McKeon was a good marketer.
“I’ve never seen so much shit in my life,” Robby said.
There were nightstands on top of end tables stacked perilously on dinner tables. And every flat surface of every item of furniture was covered in figurines, place settings, ashtrays, silverware, toys, picture frames, clocks, crucifixes, candles, rock collections, pocketknives, and too many other things for me to list.
I put the price tags on almost every one of them for Johnny, too.
Johnny McKeon made a lot of money.
As soon as one corner of the shop would empty out, it quickly filled back up again. A lot of the things came from realtors and loan agents. Some people in Ealing left behind what they couldn’t fit in the trunks and backseats of their cars when the banks took their homes.
Abandoned stuff from defeated Iowans had a way of migrating into Johnny McKeon’s hands.
Robby’s hand slipped from my shoulder.
He said, “Oops.”
Objects clinked together in the dark. Figurines fell.
“Be careful,” I said.
“Where are we going?”
“I want to see what Johnny’s hiding,” I said.
That scared Robby.
Robby grabbed my hand.
“Don’t be such a baby,” I said. “You wanted to come down here. I know where I’m going.”
Robby started to let go of my hand.
“It’s okay,” I said. I pulled Robby along by the hand like a little kid.
Johnny McKeon kept things in his private office. He never let me go in there. Johnny never let anyone go in there.
There were things Johnny wouldn’t sell. One of them was a sealed glass globe he kept on a shelf beside the office door. I was fascinated by the globe. It had been made by some of the scientists in the lab at McKeon Industries, and contained a perfectly balanced universe.
There was water, land, plants, bacteria, a species of tiny shrimp, worms, and even some translucent fish in there.
It was perfect.
It was sealed and self-sustaining.
Nothing got in and nothing got out.
My hand was wet and hot.
“You’re sweating all over me,” I said to Robby.
I turned the knob to Johnny’s office.
Of course, it was locked.
Robby bumped into me. He wasn’t paying attention and he pinned me flat against the office door with his chest.
“No go,” Robby said. “I guess we should get out of here.”
“I know where Johnny keeps the key. It isn’t very smart,” I said.
Despite his creativity at naming businesses, and his eye for marketing strategies, Johnny McKeon wasn’t that careful when it came to trusting teenage boys.
History lesson: Teenage boys watch you, even when they pretend they don’t give a shit about your life.
Johnny kept the key resting flat on the lip of the molding at the top of the door.
I pulled it down and unlocked our way into Johnny McKeon’s office, where he kept his secrets.
Robby said, “I really need a cigarette.”