…but you have to think sometimes.
Names are weird things.
There’s a shoe store in the mall that contains Atwater metro, called Alibi. (I hesitated over whether to say “shop” or “store” there. That there are two different words for places where stuff gets sold reflects the fact that having places specifically to sell stuff came rather late in the development of our language. “Shop” comes from workshop, and “store” from storehouse, and British English settled on one and NorAm English on the other, but the places where we buy stuff aren’t really either.)
Anyway, we walk past Alibi all the time, because it’s between the metro and the bus stop. It’s open until ten o’clock at night, but there’s never anyone in there. Never. The place is deserted. It’s having a 70% off sale today, and still, no customers. We would wonder how they keep going, but in fact we figured it out from the name. The place is a front. “Where were you when the jewels were stolen?” “Buying shoes, officer, here’s the receipt and I’m sure the clerk will remember me…” Zorinth and I reckon they get ten per cent, and the back of the store is full of jewel thieves playing cards. It may even have bathrooms labelled “pointers” and “setters”, but we’re not sure about that, because it might clue the police in, if the police read Dortmunder, and there’s no saying that they don’t.
Across the road from Alibi, there’s another store called BDO. Rysmiel likes to think that you can order Big Dumb Objects in there, like Rama and Eos and possibly Arnold Swartzeneggar. We’ve never been in either of these places, of course. That would spoil them. The best part of them only exists in imagination, after all.
I’m digressing. I was going to talk about Art. I only have one Art story. (I did say I didn’t know much about him.) His name is Art Questor, and if you think that sounds made up, well, I can’t promise it was the name on his birth certificate, but it was the name everyone called him when I was introduced to him. He’s a real person, and this is the true story as I was told it at the time. He’s a friend of a friend of mine, which makes him a friend of a friend of a friend of yours, so if you repeat this story, nobody’s likely to believe it. I’m just warning you. (And if you found your name here in Google and you’re reading this, Art, how are you doing this long time! I hope everything’s wonderful for you.)
Art Questor lived in Lancaster, and one day he decided to sell all his worldly goods and travel the world. He held yard sales and auctions and parties and turned everything that wouldn’t fit into one backpack into cash, and set off to fulfil his dreams, starting in Egypt.
When he got to Egypt, almost straight off the plane he saw someone selling papyrus pictures, the kind you can find in ethnic shops in Lancaster. (They also have them in ethnic stores here. I saw some this morning, which is what reminded me of this story.) The papyrus sellers in Egypt were selling them for almost exactly half what the shops in Lancaster sold them for, and Art realized that he could literally double the money he’d raised from selling everything he owned, the money that was to take him around the world, if he could buy papyri in Egypt and sell them in Lancaster. So he bought as many as he could afford, and sent them off to my friend in Lancaster, asking him to sell them there for him.
The problem turned out to be twofold. Firstly, the shops might sell them for twice the Egyptian price, but that was retail, they bought them at wholesale prices, which were lower. Secondly, they didn’t actually sell all that much of the stuff, so the market was soon glutted. The rolls of papyrus sat in my friend’s attic, getting dusty.
Art came back to Lancaster somehow, after a few weeks in Egypt. My friend ran into him having breakfast at the Whale Tail. He was getting ready to do it all again, differently, better, making it work this time.
Art’s like that sometimes. You can take risks and set off with your hopes high, and maybe all you’ll end up with is a crashed dream and a pile of rubbish in someone’s attic. And then you start all over again and see what you can make of it this time. Art… or maybe I’m thinking about life.
I don’t know much about life, but I know what I like.