“What a disaster, this is a career killer.” Sondra Thanatos grumbled under her breath and rubbed her temples as she sat alone in her corner office on the twenty fifth floor of the fifty story high-rise. On her desk a copy of Sotheby’s upcoming auction catalog was opened to a photograph of a small gold orb, intricately carved and pierced which was described as an early Hellenic incense burner. It wasn't of course, but that didn't change the fact that it was up for auction. She returned to the photo and studied it carefully; to her relief it appeared as though the seal was intact- at least that was still in her favor. How one of the junior associates in her branch lost possession of the orb a few months earlier was still a mystery. New York City was an incredibly busy market with a huge branch she was responsible for, but she'd never considered it might turn up at an auction house.
Thanatos had worked hard to get where she was, starting in Atlanta as a junior associate where she worked endless hours for nonexistent pay to earn her wings and make partner, doing so in less than five years. A transfer to Tokyo gave her a sense of what business on the Pacific Rim entailed. It was there she decided she wanted her own branch and not one in a far flung corner of the world, but a city- a major city, so when the Big Apple opened up, she jumped at the chance. Eighteen months later the orb went missing and she became embroiled with the bosses upstairs. The only thing they were interested in was her finding it and delivering it to the rightful owner. Anything less would be grounds for demotion or dismissal, neither of which appealed to her. The picture of her missing orb in the catalog flashed “FAILURE” brighter than any Las Vegas casino marquee could ever do and it was enough to spurn her into action. She couldn't waltz in and demand the orb; she had no proof of ownership. Neither could she cajole or coerce someone in the auction house to give it to her- it was against the rules. She had to develop a strategy and quickly, the auction was the following night.
The black Lincoln Continental pulled up to the curb outside Sotheby’s and the driver quickly moved to open the rear door to assist Sonia and two of her associates from the vehicle. It was an Indian summer night and she wore her favorite outfit, a strapless black cocktail dress which hugged her curves as if painted on and a pair of very expensive Jimmy Choo’s. Her associates, dressed in black Armani suits, each offered an arm and escorted her in. After signing in and receiving her bidding card the three mingled with the other guests before the announcement was made that the auction would begin shortly. Within minutes the first item was up for bid and sold. Before long their lot was up on the table.
“We next present lot thirty four, an early Hellenic incense holder dating from between four hundred and five hundred BCE,” the auctioneer began before going deeper into a description of the artifact. “We will begin the bidding at ten-thousand dollars. Do I have anyone at ten-thousand?”
Sonia immediately raised her card. “I have ten thousand from the lady in black, do I hear twelve?”
“Twenty-thousand.” A voice, male and clear came back of the room and a collective gasp erupted from the gallery. Sonia turned to face the new bidder. The man was asian and appeared to be in his early 30’s with shoulder length black hair pulled back into a ponytail. He wore an expensive suit, sunglasses and a cell phone was pressed to his ear, no doubt talking to his client. Sonia could just make out the edges of a tattoo at his wrist. She glared at him for a moment before the auctioneer’s call regained her attention.
“Excellent! I have twenty-thousand with the gentleman in the back, do I hear twenty-five? Twenty-five thousand thank you ma’am.” Once again Sonia placed her bid and leaned over to one of her men.
“Find out who he is… right now.” Her assistant got up, fishing his phone from his pocket as he did.
“Forty-thousand,” the asian called out, a smirk just forming in the corner of his mouth. Sonia hated this man and secretly plotted to pay him a visit for the trouble he was causing her. Just as she was finishing her curse he ran his free hand over the top of his head smoothing his hair and revealing tattooed flames rising from his wrist. In that instant Sonia knew exactly who she was dealing with and who the asian worked for.
“FIFTY-thousand,” her bid surprised herself and she quickly did a mental calculation on how much she would be able to afford without assistance from Charon. The numbers weren’t in her favor, and she could imagine the headline article in next month’s employee newsletter and the inevitable quote, ‘Death was last seen in the auction room, looking worried.’ The orb and more importantly the soul contained within, was intended to go to the boss upstairs and if she lost it- especially to the demon in the back, it would be disastrous not only for her career, but for reapers the world over. There was enough bad press already over her associate reaper losing the damned thing in the first place. To lose it again wasn’t an option- she had to win it at any cost.
The auctioneer couldn’t believe his luck. The bid price was already well over two and a half times its appraised value, had already set the high value record for items of a similar type and the sky seemed the limit. It was going to be a good day after all, so he called out again, “sixty-thousand, do I have sixty thousand from the gentleman in the back?”
The minion held up a finger as he conferred over the phone. He nodded and the bidding went spiraling ever upward. This was high drama for the spectators in the room as they watched the dueling bidders, all eyes now trained on Sonia to see if she’d go on.
Her limit was fast approaching and she was going to need additional funds to be sure she could secure the orb. She turned to her remaining associate. “Call Charon, quickly explain the situation and see if he’ll extend a line of credit.” She knew it was a long shot as the boatman rarely released a coin given him, but options were few and the stakes were high. Turning back to the auctioneer she offered a bid of sixty five thousand dollars.
The demon chuckled, seeing that his boss had the reaper on the ropes and passed along the current high bid. Before the auctioneer had the chance to ask the asian spoke up, “seventy-thousand.”
Sonia hesitated, she needed to buy time. She glanced towards the associate speaking with Charon, hoping for some good news, but his expression said otherwise.
“Seventy-five thousand to the woman in black.” The auctioneer called, his hand extended towards her. She looked for her other associate who was nowhere to be seen. “Seventy-five thousand dollars going once,” he paused, “going twice”
“Seventy-five thousand,” Sonia nodded; a tinge of desperation in her voice. She was going to lose the soul and the realization was beginning to sink in.
“Eighty-thousand,” came the persistent voice from the back of the room.
“The bid is eighty-five thousand dollars to you ma’am.” The bidding was coming to an end and like a vulture circling a dying antelope, the auctioneer hovered waiting for the inevitable.
Sonia looked again as her associate hung up the phone. He shook his head, Charon wasn’t an option.
She scanned the room again and spotted her wayward associate leaning against the wall a few yards from the demon with one hand in his trouser pocket. He smiled at her, winked and motioned towards their adversary.
The demon had pulled his phone from his ear and was looking at it confused. He shook it, looked at it again, pushed away at the keypad and then held it up at arm’s length away as if he were looking for signal. Sonia quickly looked back at her man against the wall who was now grinning ear to ear. He shot her a thumbs up.
“Fair warning at eighty-thousand dollars to the gentleman in the back.” The gentleman in the back was no longer paying attention to the auctioneer as he focused on his mobile phone, cursing in an unintelligible tongue.
“EIGHTY-FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS!” Sonia burst out of her seat and onto her feet as she called out her bid.
On the drive back to the office she guarded her treasure jealously, a smile on her face. It would be immediately delivered and hopefully the bosses would see beyond this and things would return to normal. She wanted to celebrate, but this wasn’t the time.
“What went on back there Dex?” she asked the junior reaper who'd been at the back of the room. “We got lucky.”
Dex smiled again, fished a small plastic box with a single switch and light from his pocket. “It was lucky I saw an electronics shop on Seventy-third and Second maybe.” He handed it to her. “It’s a cell jammer, about forty-five bucks. Sorry I couldn’t get back here sooner, I ran as fast as I could, but these shoes,” he pointed to the dress shoes he had on, “they got no traction.”
Now it was Sonia’s turn to laugh. A cheap piece of electronic hardware had saved the day. The demon couldn’t make a decision without his master’s approval; he had been there after all to do his bidding. The pun nearly doubled her over with laughter and she had to share it with the others. Maybe everything would work out fine after all.