Barliman gazed at the statue of the cat, and then out the polished window, not seeing the passersby. His eyes turned back to the stylishly dressed thief who stood before him. “It’s a nice enough statue, well-made. What makes it worth the amount you are asking?”
Scuttle smiled. “It’s more than merely well-made. It’s brilliant. Look at it—have you ever seen such detail rendered in marble?” Thin, with a face slightly resembling that of a pleasant, well-favored weasel, he kept his desperation tightly tamped beneath a business-like demeanor.
Scuttle’s lady, Mari, was so ill that an ordinary herb doctor wouldn’t do. Their landlady believed she had contracted river fever and insisted only a healer from the Church could resolve it. But the Church never healed the poor; only the wealthy could afford a Church Healer. For that reason, Scuttle had to have those coins. He put on his most persuasive voice. “This is a miracle of art, created in marble. The hand of a master freed this cat from the stone.”
“I agree it’s beautiful, but I doubt you came by it honestly. I will be limited in who I can resell it to. Who made it? If I can at least tell a prospective purchaser whose hand created it, I will understand its value, and be better able to get a fair price for it.”
Scuttle snorted. “A fair price…usury has no concept of ‘fair.’ But all right, I’ll tell you who I believe to have made it. Benevolio.” Raising his hand, he forestalled Barliman’s comment. “I have no proof, and there is no maker’s mark on it anywhere.” Picking up the statue he held it to the light, turning it to reveal the remarkable craftsmanship. “Look at the face. Each hair, each whisker, every feature is there in the most minute detail, as if a cat had turned to stone as it sat there. Even soles of the paws which can’t be seen unless one picks the statue up–only Benevolio himself could have created such a masterpiece.”
Silence reigned in the shop as Barliman digested that comment. He pulled his magnifier from his pocket and examined the life-sized statue inch by inch. Scuttle had expected he would, and occupied himself with calculating the value of the objects displayed in the shop. Silver tea services, gold-handled cutlery, delicate jewelry set with precious stones—all rested on dark velvet in glass cases, gleaming in the light cast by wide diamond-paned windows. The fact they were on display meant those items had been purchased from more reputable sources.
The thief had come to Barliman because the jeweler sometimes supplied the wealthier class with things they could acquire nowhere else. Scuttle was a discreet thief, a man who ordinarily only stole on commission. However, the cat had been liberated from the house of a prosperous merchant newly in town, something he had only done because of Mari’s illness. The fact he was there in person to sell the statue indicated to the jeweler that this had been a private matter, making Scuttle’s bargaining position perilous. The jeweler was his only resort–no one else would have given him a copper for the statue, much less what he needed.
What Mari needed.
Barliman set the cat back down on the counter. He replaced the magnifier in the pocket of his vest. “With no maker’s mark, I can’t guarantee authenticity. That will substantially lower the price I can get for it. Therefore, I can’t give six golds coins. Three is my offer–consider, it please. It comes to three months wages for an ordinary man.”
“Five would be less than fair for a statue of this quality, and you would still make an absurd profit. If you can’t offer five, I must withdraw it.” Scuttle had no idea what he would do if Barliman refused. He didn’t dare take the time to go all the way to Westerberg. Three days there and back—Mari would be dead before he returned.
Barliman pursed his lips, deliberating. “Five golds, then.”
Though he felt like dancing, Scuttle comported himself with dignity as the coins were handed over. Barliman placed the cat statue beneath the counter and bowing, the thief departed the shop.
As the door closed behind the thief, the curtain behind the jeweler whisked open. Cardinal Valente stood framed in the doorway. “Good.” The Cardinal’s acidic tones fell like lead in the shop. “Here is your five golds, plus fifteen more for your trouble.”
Barliman handed Valente the heavy, marble statue. “Whose hand created this cat?” he asked. “Even Benevolio could never have done such fine work.”
Instead of answering, the Cardinal set the statue on the counter. “Observe.” He muttered some incomprehensible words, passing his hands over the cat.
To Barliman’s surprise, the statue stretched and yawned, then stood up and jumped down. Twining about the Cardinal’s ankles, the cat purred.
“God’s hand created this cat. A spell turned it to stone, and I placed it in the home of my concubine. Then I allowed rumors of its existence to come to Scuttle’s ears.”
Barliman could not conceal his dismay. “Why? Was it to trap him? He has…skills. He’s useful, and not only to me. Imprisoning him would be bad for my business.”
“He is indeed useful. However, a personal matter interfered with my thief’s ability to gain an artifact I must have. He needs coins to resolve the issue but he is not a man to ask for charity, and I am not known for my generosity. Hence, I devised a way for him to help himself.” The Cardinal laughed, a grating sound. “By the day after tomorrow at the latest, my thief will resume the important task I have set before him, and soon I will have my artifact.” A sly smirk lit his bony features. “And now I know what matters most in the world to my thief, and where to lay my hands on it if I should ever need a bargaining chip. That knowledge alone was worth twenty golds. Never forget this: knowledge is power, Barliman. It’s good to be the one with the knowledge.”
The Cat, the Jeweler, and the Thief © Connie J. Jasperson 2016 All Rights Reserved