A Few Favors


carson_icon.gif constantine_icon.gif

Scene Title A Few Favors
Synopsis In a twist ending, Constantine ends up with hired help at the Old Apothecary.
Date February 24th, 2010

The Old Apothecary

One part traditional druggist's and one part antique shop, the Old Apothecary does not number among the brightly-lit boutiques that sell similar but more common items at an inflated cost. Lights are intentionally kept low, providing a subdued, intimate atmosphere and a warm glow designed to illuminate the store's wares without banishing the shadows to the far corners of the room. Just to the right of the entrance is a wooden counter with a sign hanging from it that reads: Cash Only. There is no digital register, no accompanying card reader. Apart from the electricity that powers the overhead lights, the most contemporary piece of equipment in the entire store is the French coffee press and unpolished steel carafe, though even this looks as though it could have come from a different era. Coffee is advertised at sixty cents per cup.

The walls - papered in dark green with widely spaced, thin vertical columns of tiny, deep red rosebuds - are lined with shelves made from wood stained a dark brown to match the floorboards, which are haphazardly covered by a collection of faded, Persian-patterned rugs. Many of these shelves are home to a variety of books spanning at least one and a half centuries, ranging from dusty old tomes to more modern reading material that includes a small selection of New Age titles published by respectable authors, all of it non-fiction. Others display glass bottles containing essential oils, jars with more exotic contents - snake wine, roasted crickets and dried tree lizards - as well as small tins of loose leaf teas, painted ceramic bowls, cups and pitchers, although there appears to be no particular ordering to any of it. Beneath these shelves are rows of apothecary cabinets, labeled but locked, their drawers acting as storage for herbs, seeds, roots and other ingredients that the shop's proprietor values enough to keep inaccessible to customers.

Most of the store's floor space is occupied by other goods that have either been specially imported or acquired from flea markets, the quality of which varies from very low to extremely high depending on the nature of the individual item. A selection of pocket watches, ladies' jewelry, fine silver and war medals stands behind glass. One corner features a stack of vibrantly-coloured rugs from Turkey and Iran, another a bin of glass plate negatives, old postcards and water-stained letters still in their envelopes, some dating back to the First World War and in languages other than English. Ornate oil paintings, antique swords, knives and firearms, perfume bottles and decanters of every shape and size imaginable, boxes of brass and silver keys that unlock nothing - the store's collection is constantly changing as new items are purchased and sold by the owner.

Behind the counter is a velvet curtain that divides the front of the store from the back, public from private, and in case anyone should be tempted to cross this barrier without permission, a small monkey skeleton standing on a bird's perch inside an iron cage keeps watch.

Carson pushes open the door to the place; it's just after the afternoon rush hour, and it's getting kind of cold out there for a guy with a coat in need of repair. It's only a handful of blocks until 'home', so he ducks in to the storefront for some warmth, and also intrigued by that 'cash only' sign. Once in, the shaggy young man keeps his coat pulled tight and moves away from the front area deeper into the store where it's warmer.

A bell of any sort would make a fine, and not at all out of place addition to the front door. As it stands, however, there is no such bell, and it is only after Carson has trekked partway into the shop that Constantine, sitting on a cushioned stool behind the counter occupied with a medical journal, takes notice of him. "Sir, good afternoon," he says, placing his reading material down on the countertop, still opened so he doesn't lose his place. "What strikes your fancy today? Something to drink? A snack, perhaps? Something for the aches and pain or maybe a conversation piece? There's a good chance I have what you want, or something close enough to it." He's picked up sales pitching easily enough, although no one who frequents his establishment would know it.

Carson pauses and opens his mouth, then closes it as the man continues his pitch, his expression showing curiosity at the 'aches and pain' part but otherwise he waits until the man is done. "Ah, um, some coffee, please?" he says, digging in an inside coat pocket for a crumpled dollar bill, showing at least one layer of newsprint inside the garment. He hands over the dollar, glancing at the coffee urn, then to the rest of the exotic goods. After a second, he wanders to the letters-and-postcards area. "You.. have a pretty varied, um, selection," he says, clearing his throat once. "Cash only, huh?"

"Credit machines are expensive to purchase and operate," Constantine replies. They also leave a paper trail. Constantine accepts the dollar and promptly punches the appropriate number on the register to open the till. A quarter, dime and nickel each are exchanged and passed back to Carson. Or it will be, when he chances to wander by again. "It's inconvenient for some, yes, but it allows me to keep my prices lower. And in any case, credit isn't the preferred method of purchase in recent times, so I've received no complaints."

"Oh, yeah, I can see that," the young man says as he scans the various letters and postcards, letting his gaze linger on the non-English ones until they start to make sense to him. His lips move a bit as he reads, adding a bit of vocabulary here and there. "Eh, anyone who complains I guess could go to Starbucks or something. I.." He pauses, frowning at one postcard's contents, then looks at some of the other items in the store, eye drawn by the eclectic collection of materials. "Um, thanks, sorry," he says when he realizes change is waiting for him, and he walks over to get it.

"Oh, not at all," replies the shopkeep with a smile, "Think of this as the room that time, is slow to do anything about. As you can see, I don't exactly have a line out the door. BY all means, take your time" Ah, what to make of this fellow. Constantine isn't quite sure. Not yet. "I've some sugar, if you take it with your coffee. No milk today, I'm afraid."

Carson shakes his head. "Sugar is fine, just a little. I like it black. Really, just as long as it's hot," he says with a wan smile. He glances to several of the other items, craning his neck to look at one or two things. "I know the answer, but don't suppose you have a job opening, huh?" he says, waiting on the coffee first before going back to 'looking' (ie, warming up).

Sugar from underneath the counter and onto it. "Well, I supposed that depends on who's asking me," Constantine replies, "And whether or not they're looking for work. A hand wouldn't hurt me in the least, really. It would free up time for my other projects, and that would admittedly be welcomed. I take it you're asking because you're looking for an opening to fill?"

Carson blinks once, then again. "Um, I'm askin', yes, yeah, I mean, yes," he says, suddenly fumble-tounged for a bit. "I am, that is, Yes," he says, and swallows.

"Alright, alright," Constantine says, clearly intending to try and calm the man down just a little bit. At least so he isn't as nervous. "There will still be a short interview for the position, of course, but a very informal one. A resume would, of course, be helpful.".
Carson quirks a smile. "I don't have one, but I've done, well, waitering and delivery as the most recent thing." (I can talk about) "And, um, I did some cash handling for that last of course."

Constantine nods as he considers this information for a few moments. On the one hand, it wouldn't be smart to hire without references. On the other, he didn't ask for them last time. "Some prior sales experience as part of waiting? Daily specials, that sort of thing? Any sales experience?"

Carson nods, sipping his coffee, almost burning himself. He shifts on his feet, suddenly self-conscious. "Um, yeah, yeah. I did some of that, yes. Did more deliveries, which is what saved my life, but the first, um.. two months I was there, I did all inhouse stuff."

"Mmhm. And, if I may ask, why are you are no longer there?" The tough question, and the one that, at the moment, Constantine is the most interested in.

"These are harsh times we live in." Constantine knows this all too well. Three years is a long time to have been doing nothing. For someone with prior experience waiting and delivering, things can't be that bad, however. Oh well. One of the rules of working at the Old Apothecary: Don't ask questions. "Obviously, you wouldn't be earning an ideal wage," he says, "But enough at least to afford a permanent address, and that is, of course, the key to everything else. And I do need the help. I should also like you to wear, at the least, a sweater without any logos on it. Knowing that, how soon would you be able to start?"

Carson almost freezes for a bit, then he stumbles. "Um, well, now.. if you want," he says. He looks to the door, a wry look in his features. "I don't own a sweater," he says. "Is that a problem? I can get one, soon, I would guess." He rubs the bridge of his nose. "You know anyone who rents for just cash, then? 'Cause I can't get credit."

Perhaps almost impossibly, Constantine again punches open the till. This time, however, he removes bills from it, several twenties totaling at least $100, before closing the drawer, folding the cash up, and then offering it to Carson. "This is a loan," he says, "Coming out of your first paycheck. There's a thrift shop just down the street. Not a great selection, but they have enough in the way of clothing. Nothing loud. Rent yourself a room in a hostel for the night, clean up as best you can.

"Give me your name, and I'll see what I can find about renting. I know a few people who might know something. You start tomorrow, twelve o'clock sharp. Got it?"
Carson stares at the money like it's a snake, then slowly takes it. "You are.. " Nuts? "Thank you," he says simply and licks his lips, downing the rest of the coffee before pulling his coat tighter. "Carson Brooks," the young man says. "Yessir, I'll be here." He rubs his eyes, and leans against a case for a second, then straightens up. "I'll be here."

"Make sure you are," Constantine says sternly. The last time his hired help was supposed to be in on the dot, well. "As strange as it sounds, I believe I will close early today. As it turns out, I suddenly have quite a few phone calls that I need to make."

Carson gives a quick nod at the old man's sudden change in tone. Not all that unlike the old Chinese lady who used to curse his ancestors when she thought he couldn't understand her. It's been three years since he thought about her, and the twinge it gives him is surprising. Still: "Thank you, sir, I won't be late," he says. He quickly takes his departure, and crosses to go into the thrift store down the street.

Closing shop is the next logical step, and while it consists of little more than locking the door and flipping a sign from "OPEN" to "CLOSED," an important step all the same. Alone in his shop, save for Ranger, still lazily taking a nap behind the counter, Constantine is free to dial a number on his cell phone.

"Miss Thatcher? This is Dr. Filatov. I need to ask you and the Ferrymen for a few favors…."

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