THE GALLERY CASES OF THE ODDITIES EMPORIUM
CASE NO. 63: SCARAB IN AMBER
Two years before Jakob Mercer took over the Oddities Emporium, he made a trip to Cairo to wander through the markets looking for items to feature in the shop. Frankly, he’d been at home for too long and needed a trip out of town. His latest relationship had fizzled. While he was disappointed, his mother had declared it to be a national emergency. He assured her that his sperm would be viable for many more years. To which she informed him that she wouldn’t live that long. The woman wanted grandchildren. So, Jakob did what a good son should, he ran away for a couple of weeks.
He hadn’t found anything extremely interesting in the markets. A few trinkets and some hand-carved statues of the Egyptian gods. But, on his last day in the country, he stumbled upon an artifact that would need its own glass box in the gallery.
The small shop hadn’t seemed like anything promising from the outside. In fact, he’d already passed it a number of times while wandering through the bazaar. For some reason, he felt drawn to the place on this day.
He ambled in, greeted the shop owner with the little Egyptian that he knew, and began to look around at the brass bowls and hookahs that were stacked neatly on wooden shelves. He was surprised to find a selection of insects encased in amber. After looking over the selection, he determined that the times were man-made and not natural.
“You no want?” the shop owner asked.
“No, sir. These are fine replicas, but I do not deal in fakes. I’m sorry to have wasted your time,” Jakob replied in a friendly way as not to offend the shop owner.
“You want the real? I have one. Very expensive,” the man said.
“A real insect in amber?” Jakob clarified.
“Not just insect. Scarab.”
The scarab was a symbol of immortality, transformation, and resurrection in Ancient Egypt. Finding one in amber seemed like an impossibility. In fact, Jakob prepared himself to be presented with another fake item. The store owner reached down behind the counter and produced a piece of soft burlap. Carefully, he unfolded the flaps to reveal the perfectly preserved specimen. The man stepped away from it.
That didn’t deter Jakob. Many of the items his family-owned were the kinds of things you wanted to give a little space. He leaned in to observe the piece without touching it. If it was a man-made piece, it had been expertly done. He’d almost convinced himself that he wasn’t interested when something strange happened.
The scarab twitched.
Jakob raised up abruptly and eyed the shop owner.
“It is alive,” he said, nodding his head at the piece of amber.
“Certainly not. It is impossible,” Jakob replied.
“No, it is. Powerful object,” the shop owner explained.
“Powerful? How?” Jakob believed in the supernatural powers of the world, but he was also the biggest skeptic when it came to artifacts in the wild, as it were.
“Death curse. Family that owns it will most certainly face tragedy,” the shop owner said.
“You own it. Did something happen to you or your family?” Jakob asked.
“I do not own it. I sell it for a friend. He lost his whole family to that thing. Despite its darkness, it is an expensive item.”
Jakob couldn’t verify the shop owner's claims. However, as he studied the specimen, he saw it twitch several other times.
“Why would I buy it from you? I don’t want anyone in my family to die,” Jakob reasoned with the man.
“No, price to pay is different.”
“What do you mean?”
“I have it here to sell for a friend. You take and sell for me. It’s not yours or mine,” he explained. Jakob picked up on the desperate tone of the man. He wanted to be rid of this item. He was genuinely afraid of it.
“I would never sell this. I have a place where I keep items like this. They do not belong out in the world to harm unknowing people,” Jakob replied with some disdain.
The shop owner shook his head, then nodded it. “No, no, no. Yes, yes. You take?”
Jakob considered the piece. If it were fake, someone had gone to great lengths to preserve the insect and to give it a tiny motor to make it move. Then, Jakob realized as the bug twitched again, the stone did not move or vibrate. Only the insect inside. His gut told him to leave the shop and walk away. But part of him wanted to take the item just so that he could study it. Even if it was a fake, it would be an interesting piece to have in the shop. Not everything in his shop was authentic. The stuffed jackalope, for example. Everyone knew that bunnies don’t grow antlers, but it was an item that would sell and pull a nice price.
“If I took it to my shop to keep safe, do you or your client ever want it back?” Jakob asked.
“No. I never want to see it again.”
Jakob narrowed his eyes at the man. “Why now? How long have you had it? Why do you want to give it to me now?”
The man’s nostrils flared. He looked back and forth in the room as if he were being watched. “It has begun to move more often. I believe that the curse is itching for a kill. I cannot keep it here. No more. You take it.”
“Why me?” Jakob said, leaning over the counter.
“People say you like this thing.” The man tapped beside the item, then jerked away. “People say you look for unique. You buy deadly.”
“I buy a lot of things. I wouldn’t call the papyrus and Bastet statues in my bag deadly. I have been known to procure and safely tuck away things that could do great harm,” Jakob admitted.
He knew the potential for death and destruction contained in one little room in the French Quarter of Charleston, South Carolina. What was one more bug?
“Yes, keep safe. Take it away, please.” The man’s eyes widened with fear as Jakob remained stoic. He knew that he was going to take the scarab, but he hadn’t clued the man in on it yet.
He folded the cloth back around the scarab and pointed to a wooden box with mother-of-pearl inlaid into a floral design on the top. If he were to guess, the box probably cost anywhere from one hundred dollars to one and a half.
“Put it in that,” Jakob said.
“This box is expensive. You pay for it. I will give you a good deal,” the man said, lifting the intricate box.
“Nope,” Jakob said, turning his back on the man. He began to walk away with the man mumbled under his breath and shuffled his feet.
“Wait! Wait! I give you box. Beautiful box,” the man said, holding it up. He’d already placed the scarab inside it. Jakob lifted the lid, just to be sure. Jakob nodded without speaking and took the box from the man.
As he walked toward the door, the man behind him said. “You no come back here.”
“Glady,” Jakob replied, tucked the box under his arm, and made his way back to his hotel.
Once he arrived home, he prepared the glass case for the scarab. His mother and father had no interest in looking at it, much less touching the box. After logging the information into their case files, he placed the wooden box with the scarab inside into the glass case.
The item hadn’t made him feel uneasy, nor did he get the normal supernatural vibe from it.
“Jakob, the phone is for you,” his mother called from the office of the store.
Jakob secured the lock on the case and met his mother in the office. “Who is it?” he asked.
“Dunno, but he asked for you,” she said, giving him a smile.
He took the phone, cleared his throat, and then answered. “Oddities Emporium, this is Jakob Mercer speaking.”
The line crackled with a suspect connection. “Mr. Mercer, my name is Masuda Saaed. I am the chief of the Egyptian National Police in Cairo. Recently, you left our city after spending a few days here shopping in the market.”
“Yes, Sir. I’ve only been home for a few hours. Is something wrong?” Jakob asked.
“Perhaps. Did you speak to Zahur Salah in his shop while you were here?” the man asked.
“I spoke to many men in shops, but only a few of them gave me their names. I do not recognize this name,” Jakob admitted.
“We believe he gave you an item. You didn’t purchase it from him. You left the store with a wooden box and the item inside,” the chief explained.
Jakob’s heart began to pound. “Ah, yes. I was given an item by a man. I’m not sure of its authenticity, though. I assure you that it was claimed at customs both in your country and in mine.”
“Yes, that is how we found you. Shortly after you left Mr. Salah's shop, he was murdered. His shop was tossed and the men who did it left without anything. We believe they were looking for the scarab in the amber.”
“Murdered? How do you know this?” Jakob asked.
“It’s all on tap. Mr. Salah had a very advanced security system. We know that you did not kill him, but we wondered if you might have any information that might help us find his murderer?”
Jakob sat down in the squeaky chair at the desk and ran his fingers through his hair. “No. He had some items in his shop that were not up to my expectations. He offered me the scarab and told me a far-fetched tale about it. He did seem on edge and eager to get rid of the item. He knew that I had been buying such items in the bazaar. Other than that, I can’t remember anything else that might help.”
Jakob thought the man may have hung up, or the call had gotten disconnected due to the silence from the other end of the call. Finally, the man spoke. “The item you have is not a fake. I suggest you don’t give it to anyone. I also suggest that you never tell anyone that you have that item. Your life may depend on your silence.” The man disconnected the call.
Jakob leaned back in the chair and sighed. He needed to do some more research on this scarab. If it was going to sit in his gallery, he needed to know everything about it. But for now, it was tucked away safely in the gallery.
COME BACK NEXT WEEK FOR A NEW STORY ABOUT THE ODD, CURIOUS, AND DEADLY ITEMS IN JAKOB MERCER'S VAULT.