Let the Buyer Beware
Shelby sat at the table with her cup of coffee and stared at the object in front of her. It hadn't changed since she picked it up...well, that wasn't exactly true. It had taken on quite a different meaning and now she didn't know what to do with it.
It started this afternoon. She had been out shopping for new and interesting things for her apartment. Before she even got to The Strip, which was where, rumor had it, everything could be found, she spotted signs for a yard sale in a neighboring apartment complex.
Intrigued, she went to check it out. Getting something unique was worth more to her than getting something plastic and new right out of the box looked exactly like so many others.
She had bi-passed most of the clothes so that she wouldn't be tempted to bring an entire car load of potential fixer-uppers home with her and went for the knick- knack section. After playing with the view finder for a while, she moved on to other things. The 'holy toast' miracle bread stamper was tempting, you know for those days when you needed a little something divine in your life, but it would just be something she only used once or twice for its short lived humor factor.
Shelby couldn't pass up the four set of mugs that were plain white on the sides but each one had a different animal mouth painted on the bottom. There was a monkey, rabbit, tiger and pig. They would go nicely with her collection.
Then she found an amazing piece that she absolutely had to have. It was a beautiful Grecian styled urn. Most of its surface was a lovely cream with darker cracks in the glaze. Intricate scenes in copper, bronze and green covered its surface. It would be perfect in some place of honor. Shelby couldn't believe the owners didn't want it.
The lady had given it to her for a mere eight dollars.
Shelby had placed her finds in the car and then gone on to the famed shopping mecca of Nachton. After a long day of hunting for home goods, she was ready to put away the last of her purchases and find something to eat.
It was when she was moving the vase over to allow some room for some nice decorative pillows that the lid was knocked off. Shelby leaned over the seat and fumbled down in the floorboard until she found it. It was then that she noticed that her new decorative treasure of the day was not empty.
Nor was it entirely decorative.
From what she could tell it was the final resting place of someone. And now it was sitting on the table in front of her while she drank her latte and tried to figure out what a person did when they accidentally bought someone's final remains for the bargain basement price of under ten dollars.
(OOC: Shelby is currently sporting a sholder length dark brown wig that is mostly straight at the crown and long bangs and then full of springy curls the rest of the way down. The bangs are swept slightly to the side otherwise they would be in her eyes. She is wearing a pair of black cats eyes glasses. For clothing she has on a red baby doll styled dress with a pair of black tights, dark brown ankle boots. Her coat is grey with a faux fox fur collar. It is only slightly shorter than her dress. ))
Tonight he had finally returned to practice at the Symphony, after a week of physical therapy on his shoulder. It was incredibly sore and he'd had to stop playing at several points during the rehearsal to rest it. Fortunately most of his fellow musicians, as well as their conductor, seemed to understand.
His black eye had faded and was barely noticeable now. He still had stitches in his scalp but with a winter hat on over them they were hidden. They didn't really bother him; they were on the side of his body that was already scarred. What did a few more battle wounds matter? Once they healed they'd be hidden under his hair and maybe he could just forget about them. He didn't have a lot of scarring on his face, just some very small, thin ones that criss-crossed on his cheek, jaw, and ear.
The cafe was reasonably quiet tonight, which was nice. He glanced around, looking briefly at the people in there. Julian admitted to himself that he was looking for someone who might resemble his attacker and he knew he was being paranoid, but he had reason to be. The guy could come back. And probably would, in spite of police reassurance that they were doing everything they could to find him.
A young woman sat with an urn on the table in front of her. Julian assumed that's what it was; having lost his sister in the last few years he well recalled looking through a catalogue to try to determine the best container for her ashes. He and his parents had seen many like this. The little lid on top was the giveaway.
He approached the counter, ordered his coffee, and when it was made, went over to one of the computer booths not far from the brunette with the urn. Julian bit his lip, feeling compelled to say something. Obviously it must mean something to her if she had it with her. She might just want to be alone with her thoughts, but Julian had always been the social type. Leaving his violin case and his coffee at the computer table he walked over to where the woman sat, waited until she looked at him and then, with just a slight hesitation, said, "I just wanted to say I'm sorry."
He gestured to the urn. "For your loss."
Maybe the sentiment was unwelcome, but Julian knew from firsthand experience that sometimes it was comforting to know someone else knew how you felt, even if there was nothing they could do about it. With a little smile and a shrug, he returned to his computer booth and swiped his card.
"What? My...â€ She looked at the curly haired man blankly for a moment before what he said and why he said it sank in.
Looking at the urn, she shook her head. "Oh, no, not my loss actually.â€ She looked over to where he had moved back to one of the computer desks and tried to explain.
Shelby gestured to the urn with her mug and sighed. "I got it at a yard sale thinking it was a nice decorative piece.â€ She sighed softly at the object on the table. "And then I found out someone's dear uncle Bob was inside it. So I guess you could say its my gain actually. I am just not sure if that's a good thing.â€
Shelby patted the urn softly. "No offense, Bob.â€
Glancing over at the guy who had spoken to her, she smiled. "Thank you for the kind words though. I just don't know what I am going to do with it now. I mean obviously I can't just display someone's ashes as a piece of art but they aren't something you would throw away either.â€
"Who puts handles on a funeral urn anyway?â€ It had delicate handles on either side that connected the slender neck of the vase to the rounder portion of the body.
"Oh my God," he said, torn between shock, horror, embarrassment, and amusement. "That's awful. I mean... it has a nice decorative appeal, you're right. I wouldn't have guessed it was an urn in that case."
It wasn't exactly true; he had known what it was... but the way she'd seen it, at a garage sale, yeah. He could see how it just looked like a nice little accent piece. "I've seen some with handles myself but they seemed weird to us. Like trophies or something. Not what you'd want to store a family member in."
He looked at the urn again. "Can't you bring it back to the house the yard sale was at? Surely they made a mistake in selling it. I mean, you don't even know who it is."
What did you do with a stranger's ashes? Scattering them would seem the rational thing, or interring them, but it just wasn't a stranger's place to do that for someone else. Shaking his head, not knowing what more advice to offer, Julian sipped at his coffee.
At least she wasn't crazy or stupid. The stranger seemed to agree with her that it just didn't look like a traditional urn. To avoid confusion one should keep their loved ones in a nice acceptable piece of pottery that was easily recognized for what it was.
"Yeah, I was thinking I would go back there but I have a feeling they didn't know what was in it.â€ Shelby had been considering why a person would sale a relative for eight dollars and couldn't come up with one other than they really didn't like Uncle Bob. However, if that were the case then they could have just flushed him down a toilet and then sold his urn instead of selling it with him in it. Unless they were squeamish about disturbing the dead and wanted someone else to do it. All kinds of theories had entered her head while she sat drinking her coffee.
"My current theory.â€ She watched him to see if this made sense. " that they didn't know either is based on them placing the urn with other knickknacks and assorted pottery. They sold "Bobâ€ here for eight dollars. That seems rather odd even if he was your least favorite uncle or something.â€
Patting poor 'Bob' on the urn again after all the talk of not liking him, Shelby considered her options. "I think I will go back there and see how the owner ended up with it. If they didn't know who it was or even that there were ashes in there then maybe they remember where they got it from.â€ She hoped that they knew something. Shelby was now determined to figure out who this was, if possible, and get them back to their family.
"That's what I was going to suggest," he said. "Maybe they got it from someone, or maybe it's some kind of 'always been in the family' thing. Who knows."
He thought for a second. "Maybe they'd be motivated more if they thought it was worth something. Human nature, I guess."
People always worked harder when there might be a monetary reward. Julian took another look at Bob's urn. "Is there a mark on the bottom? These things get produced by small companies and there are a bunch out there. This one's pretty unique. We could Google the company and possibly find out how many of these were purchased and when. I can't imagine the number is in the hundreds. Then maybe you wouldn't have to go back to the previous owners and explain that they sold you a corpse."
He was sitting at a computer, after all. It could take them seconds to figure out the company that manufactured this urn. He paused with his hands over the keyboard, waiting for her answer. Then he thought of something else.
"Uh. Are we even sure Uncle Bob isn't Fido, Rex, Spot, Mr. Whiskers, or Bubbles the Goldfish?"
Stranger things had happened.
Shelby smacked herself in the forehead and then, still shaking her head, carefully picked up the urn and checked the bottom. "I should have done that from the start." She sighed softly. "Would you believe I make and sale pottery?" She had her own mark and could tell the year and batch she made a particular piece by the markings on the item.
"Elysian Art according to the bottom." She looked over at him hopefully.
Her helper then asked if they were entirely sure that there was a set of human remains in the vase instead of someone's beloved pet. Shelby shook her head. "Nope, could be a Fido I suppose. I doubt it is a cat. I mean there seems to be a lot of ashes in there..." Her voice trailed off into uncertain silence. How often did the average person see remains in the form of ashes? Urns were made at least a certain size for a reason and these seem to do a good job of filling up the space. A cat couldn't possibly make that much. At least she wouldn't think so.
This was a very strange conversation to be having with a complete stranger.
"I am Shelby, by the way. Thank you for helping."
Returning his thoughts to the current conversation he heard the woman say she made and sold pottery. "Really?" he said. "That's cool." He always respected when someone went against the grain and did what they loved rather than getting a 9 to 5 at the nearest large company or office building. It took guts to strike out on your own; he knew. His parents had often expressed worry over his choice of profession. Getting into Juliard had quelled their fears somewhat but they still seemed anxious to make sure he was making ends meet.
"Elysian art," he said, turning to the keyboard and typing it in. One or two pages popped up first; a glass company, an art community, and then below those, a very small company stating they made funereal monuments, memorials, urns, and the like. He clicked the link and looked at the page.
"This might be them," he said, leaning back so his companion could see the monitor. "Is their logo like the mark on the urn? This is... huh. It's a local business."
That might not be the way they marked their pottery but it seemed like it would be a sensible thing to do to Julian.
When the amount of ashes in the urn arose, he smiled a little sadly. "They seem like a lot, but never as much as they should."
He had seen Andrea's ashes. It had been part of the healing process, the therapists all said. Look at what's left of your sister and then go on your merry way with a sense of closure. That was what Julian had thought but, truth be told, it actually had helped a little to see her in the simple, pretty box they'd chosen for her. It had driven home a sense of finality, if not the closure they all sought. That had come much later on in the process.
Shelby introduced herself and Julian smiled, laughed softly, and nodded. "Not the usual 'hi how are you' is it? My name is Julian. I'm a musician in the Symphony here in Nachton."
He patted his violin case where it leaned up against the computer terminal by way of demonstration. He didn't expect her to know or recognize him, although more and more often people did so. The longer he stayed in the city as a prominent soloist the more acclaim he received and that was what he wanted. It was a perfect start to his career. What was really helping, though, was the fiddling at the Long Bar and the very unique sounds he produced when he played for Jan. It was attracting the attention of a much younger crowd and, to Julian's amusement, he'd seen many of their 'groupies' at the Symphony.
He looked up the pottery maker and found a place that was local. "That is most likely it.â€ No doubt that was the same conclusion her partner in this mystery had come up with as well. The odds were just too great that someone local commissioned a piece for whoever Uncle Bob really was.
"I suppose I can go down to the place, toting my friend here with me and tell them that I would like to see it back to its family.â€ Shelby frowned and sipped more of her coffee. "I am sure they have a non-disclosure policy or something but perhaps they would be willing to pass my number on to their client. I can vouch for being willing to speak with them...â€ If they weren't willing to give her a name then perhaps someone would be willing to pass her's on. After all someone probably spent quite a bit of money on this urn and exemplary customer service as well as excellent craftsmanship is what got you remembered.
"It is a pleasure to meet you, Julian.â€ She smiled and held out her hand. "Really, despite the strange circumstance.â€ Shelby looked over at the violin case and nodded. "That is pretty awesome and I bet it pays better than odd art jobs.â€
"I haven't been in Nachton all that long. I just started some courses here at the college but I will definitely have to go see the symphony.â€ She knew just the person to accompany her too. "My step-mother probably already has season tickets and I am sure she would occasionally like some company.â€ Amrit did not strike her as the social event type of person though Akahana assured her that he was more willing to engage in such interactions than he appeared. At least Amrit seemed very civilized, if someone hermit-like, some of his employees, or whatever one might call them, were down right barbaric.
He released her hand and then considered for a moment. "If you want company when you go... I'd be happy to. I mean, you know... it's kind of a mystery to solve."
He shrugged sheepishly. It wasn't his mystery, of course, and normally he wasn't nosy or obnoxious but he couldn't help wanting to know how this turned out. And if Bob was, in fact, someone's long-lost relative. Besides, Shelby seemed like a nice normal woman - not the kind who would be mixed up in any Irish Mafia crap. Julian thought he might be able to accompany her someplace without any of her friends showing up and beating him senseless.
Well, they'd only just met. Too early to make assumptions.
He was getting kind of paranoid, though. Julian inwardly sighed at himself and reminded himself to give it some time. It had only been a week. He'd seek out Jan and Evgeni later maybe and see if they wanted to do anything. They stayed up all night sometimes, so they tended to be good for Julian's insomnia. His rehearsals weren't usually until the afternoons so he could often sleep in through the morning.
Turning his attention back to Shelby he smiled and lifted a shoulder modestly when she mentioned his salary. "It pays the bills, but it's mostly luck I landed here. I have something unique that they wanted and a piece of paper from a good college that says my violin playing won't sound like a neighborhood of cats in heat."
He nodded when she said she was taking classes at the college. "I hear it's a good school," he said. "I know they have a nice theater; I played there a few months back. I've only been here for a year or so but I like it so far. They say New York is the city the never sleeps but I'm pretty sure Nachton has it beat. Where are you from originally?"
When she said she'd have to attend the symphony he just smiled and nodded again. Most people said that when he brought it up as his place of employment. Sometimes they came, sometimes they didn't. He'd learned to take the statement with a grain of salt; he didn't actually expect attendance.
"That's a shame." Shelby murmured mournfully when he explained how he had gotten his current position with the symphony, and then smiled at him. " I hear that cats in heat styled music is making a come back." The violin when played wrong was a terrible thing to hear. The guitar, while not normally allowed in the fine company of a symphony orchestra, was a little more forgiving.
He mentioned her school and she nodded.[i] "Yeah, it was on the keep list so when the folks decided to park here for a bit that really sealed the deal."[i] She emptied the last of her coffee. "They travel a lot so its nice to all be in the same place for a change." Her family was unconventional to say the least. None of them were the same nationality; they didn't have blood ties and they hadn't lived in the same house together for very long, ever. Shelby thought the city was close enough to enjoy their company and still give them, and her, whatever space they were used to.
Julian asked her where she was from. Shelby smiled. "Oneonta, Alabama. Bet ya never heard of it." She drawled out her words with true southern flair. "Its not terribly far from Birmingham. I saw the symphony once there with my mom." Her real mom. The civic center had seemed so huge. They were doing a charity event for the hospital and some of the staff were given tickets. Shelby's mom had thought that it would be the perfect opportunity to introduce her daughter to some culture.
Shelby had liked it and had felt very important all dressed up and seated with a bunch of adults. There weren't very many other children there at all. The music was amazing and they had played some abstract moving art and lights on the screen behind the symphony. Together it had been enough to keep her entertained.
The first time Akahana had taken her to the symphony she had cried like a baby. People thought she had been especially moved by the music. After a piece or so, she had settled down and began to listen, eventually enjoying the experience for what it was.
"What about you?" His accent wasn't thick or very easily identified for a specific region. He was American and probably not from the west coast. That was as far as her speech sleuth skills had gotten her.
"Early afternoon works best," he said. "I do have a rehearsal tomorrow evening but it doesn't start until 6."
When she mentioned the cat in heat comeback Julian laughed. "Well in that case I have an electric violin I can arrange to play poorly for select audiences. It doesn't get much worse than that."
They spoke of family and Julian smiled, nodding when she said she wanted to stay close to her folks. It was good to know she got along with them; to him, a strong family bond meant a great deal. Sure, he'd wanted a little space from his own parents but he loved them very much and he knew they loved him. Space did not equal estrangement. They spoke all the time and he'd visited them several times since moving to Nachton and vice versa.
"No, I've never heard of it, but that's probably not a surprise huh?" Otherwise she wouldn't have asked him the way she did. "Is it a small town?"
Shelby asked where he was from and he jerked his thumb North. "New York," he said. "Little mountain town called Catskill. Most people recognize the name of the mountains, but have no idea about the town. It's pretty tiny. We have an Oneonta, too, but it's north and west of Catskill."
Julian's hometown was small and by most standards, impoverished. His family was one of the wealthier in the area and he was one of the few students from his school who'd gone to a prestigious college, or any college at all.
Julian claimed to have a way to handle the need for screeching music if it ever became a necessary skill. "Oh well good. You have diversity then.â€ Shelby thought, all kidding aside, that it was necessary in any field but especially creative ones. Today's hit thing wouldn't be worth much tomorrow and you had to be on top of what was new and exciting otherwise you were considered obsolete and got left behind.
The talk of family places brought up Oneonta. "Yeah, its pretty small.â€ He said he was from New York and she raised her eyebrows at him. Perhaps that was why she thought he had no accent; he sounded like many of the people he was used to hearing for most of her life. Shelby smiled and nodded about Oneonta and Catskill. "I haven't been to Catskill but I have seen it on a map. When I was little people told me about Oneonta, New York because of the similar name so I looked it up.â€ She explained why. "I went to a boarding school in Lake Placid.â€ Smiling, she waved at him. She had lived longer in New York than she had in Alabama. "So, hi, neighbor.â€ Actually they lived pretty far away from each other in New York but still there was a sort of common ground, especially since neither of them had lived in the city of New York but in the much larger portion of the state that most people outside of New York seemed to forget existed.
"Am I keeping you from something?â€ Shelby gestured with her cup toward the computer monitor that he was sitting in front of. If not then she was going to get another cup of coffee so that they could continue their chat.
He was glad she had included him in the whole process, and happy to have a lunch companion. Shelby was sensible and easy to talk to. On top of that she was kind of cute. That was a bonus.
That she was from New York was a pleasant surprise. Not that he didn't run across people who'd been there; Nachton was only five or six hours away by car. He frequently met people who had at least visited but it was nice to meet someone who'd actually lived there.
"I love Lake Placid," he said. "We went on vacation there many times."
It brought back good memories, from before Andrea had died. They had so many pictures of the cabin they'd all rented. Dad grilling steaks, or hot dogs and hamburgers. Mom pouring sodas, the two of them fooling around in some way. Julian even had one such picture framed, a photo of himself and Andrea silhouetted on the rickety dock outside the cabin at sunset, fishing lines lazily drifting in the water, feet dangling over the side of the wooden planks. You couldn't see their faces but they both looked happy. He and his sister had always gotten along well. Some small sibling rivalries here and there but they were trivial.
Julian shook himself out of his reverie. "Sorry," he said. "Lake Placid reminds me of my sister. And family vacations. That kind of thing."
He shook his head at Shelby, glancing at the computer. "No, no. It's fine. I don't have a computer of my own so I hang out here every few nights and let the folks know I'm all right, haven't managed to caterwaul my way into unemployment, haven't burned down my apartment making gourmet ramen, haven't been hit by a bus. You know, the usual things."
He grinned at Shelby. He didn't know if her own parents were overprotective but his certainly were. He suspected it wouldn't matter if he were fourteen or forty. They would be parents whatever his age. As much as he resented it sometimes, he loved that they loved him.