By Slapstick Collins
You can do this, Denny said to himself. You’re fifteen minutes away from a life of luxury. Keep yourself calm and that life is yours to keep. Denny steadied his hand and held his breath as he carefully slid the gold Malbery watch from his pocket. He felt like a soldier handling a live grenade. One false move and…
“May I hold it?” interrupted Bainbridge firmly, through what he hoped was a smile.
“Uh… I guess,” said Denny, hesitating. Which was his first false move.
Bainbridge, who’d been waiting 33 years for this moment, was in no mood for hesitation. In a flash he was right beside Denny, so close he could bite off an ear. “You listen to me, lad”, said Bainbridge, in a terrifyingly measured tone. “I didn’t bring you here on the promise of a ‘guess’, so I’ll rephrase the question: Give me the watch”.
At that, Denny suddenly found himself surrounded by four hulking bodyguards who seemed to have been summoned from the shadows either by the creepy tones of Bainbridge’s voice or by the shaking of Denny’s own kneecaps. Whichever the case, one thing was clear: the watch was now in Bainbridge’s incongruously tiny hands. What wasn’t clear, to Denny at least, was the way in which the Fat Man now reacted to his newest acquisition. Glassy-eyed and practically giggling, Bainbridge ogled the watch; he caressed it, he even sniffed it. Okay, this is some weird ‘Lord of the Rings’ shit right here, thought Denny, who was genuinely expecting Bainbridge to at any moment start coughing and hissing and moaning on about his Precious, his Precious…
At that, Bainbridge spun around and glared straight at Denny. It was as if he’d somehow read Denny’s mind and overheard the insult. Denny gulped as Bainbridge sized him up and down and then right back up again, taking keen note of the young man’s dirty shoes, the jagged fingernails and Denny’s lazy, half-hearted attempt at a close shave.
“How did someone like you come by this watch?” asked Bainbridge, making no attempt to veil his disgust.
“Someone like me has his ways,” Denny replied, keeping his anger in check. He wanted to say: “How dare you judge me; you don’t even have a chin. I have a sodding eight-pack, you fat prick.” But instead he said: “Why does someone like you want it?”
“Do you know what the Malbery watch is?” Bainbridge asked, swaggering forth.
Denny said nothing.
“Of course you don’t. You’ve probably got holes in your head to match the ones in your socks, so how could you possibly know about such a thing?”
It was true. Denny did have holes in his socks and he hadn’t the slightest idea what the watch was or what it meant or why anyone would be willing to pay a fortune for it. Suddenly, Denny felt stupid; suddenly, all he wanted to do was take back the watch, and with it the smug smile Bainbridge now wore on his stupid little face. Sod a life of luxury, thought Denny. Luxury was for pompous twits like Bainbridge.
Pompous twit Bainbridge now walked to the darkest corner of the very dark basement and dramatically flicked a switch. The room was awash with bright yellow light. Denny squinted and when his eyes adjusted to the glare, he was treated to one of the strangest sights he’d ever seen: on a makeshift stage was a colorful tableau of carefully arranged objets d’art. An alabaster obelisk and stuffed ostrich were the obvious standouts, along with a black velvet bucket hat, which proudly sprouted a hot pink feather. However, what stood at the center of all these curiosities was what grabbed Denny’s attention the most: a wooden easel, covered with an enormous painter’s cloth. With the dramatic flair of a bullfighter, Bainbridge removed the cloth with a single swoosh, sending clouds of dust swirling around the room and its inhabitants. When the dust settled and the coughing subsided, Denny found himself staring at an oil painting – a strange one, depicting a tiny man (half cherub, perhaps?) saddling an ostrich and riding it past an alabaster obelisk. The teeny jockey was completely naked except for a moustache, one well-placed fig leaf and a black velvet bucket hat, which sprouted a hot pink feather. But there was something else dangling from one of his tiny hands. It was a pocket watch. A beautiful gold one.
It took a second for the gist to dawn on Denny, but dawn it did. “You’re reassembling a painting. Like a puzzle?” There was a pause and then Denny laughed out loud. “Big freakin’ deal! My 90-year-old gran does that in her nappies during playtime at the home!” Denny shouted. “That’s what this is about? That’s why I’m sitting in your underground lair? Because you wanted to recreate some old painting of a pervy midget riding an ostrich? Jesus! I thought at least MI-5 would be involved. Or crooked cops. You know, something not idiotic! God, you’re a disappointment, Golem. Shame on you.”
The fat man turned red. “This painting is not ‘old’; it’s seventeenth century. There’s a difference,” Bainbridge seethed. “And this ‘pervy midget’ is Oliver Bainbridge. He’s my ancestor, you brainless miracle. Which makes the watch in his hands The Bainbridge Watch not The Malbery watch. It makes this my watch! Mine.”
“Oh, yeah? Then why did I have it?,” Denny taunted, trying to get the last laugh, trying one last time to steal that smile from that bastard Bainbridge’s smug little mouth.
But Bainbridge wasn’t listening to Denny; he was too busy smiling at himself. In fact, everything about Bainbridge was now smiling as his eyes darted from the watch to the painting then back to the watch, his mind barely comprehending that after 33 years of searching and hoping and scheming, he was not only staring at but actually holding…
“That’s not the watch you were looking for… is it?” interrupted Denny.
But there was silence. Bainbridge said nothing. He didn’t have to. The smug smile on his face was gone. It was Denny who wore it now.