The collection

“PROFIT,” he reminded himself, “is in the buying, not the selling.”

Buy cheap and sell dear. That was his way of business, and what was wrong with that? The sellers would never realise they had been hoodwinked; the buyers always gave him high ratings on Ebay – and not all the praise was written by himself.

Everyone was happy, especially Mr Graham Roscoe.

                                              His advertisement in the philatelic press said all the usual things best prices paid and a                                                    friendly service. The first part may have been debatable but Roscoe could certainly turn                                                  on the charm when necessary. Indeed, when he  really got going he could nearly bring                                                     a  tear to a glass eye.

                                           The reassuring words and pictures had attracted another pigeon ready to be plucked.

                                              As usual it was an older client, a widow, a Mrs Almery, whose late husband had collected                                              and, nearly five years on from his death, she had decided to dispose of his collections.

                                     Roscoe was sitting in her lounge, surrounded by expensive albums. He turned the neatly          written-up album pages. All the star items were there in dazzling quality but his poker face showed nothing. He knew not to let his enthusiasm run away with him, but not even he could not

stop the spider of excitement crept up the back of his neck and made him shudder.

The two thick volumes of Great Britain had beautiful line engraved plates, the classic

Victoria high values, including £1 values with frame breaks. They were followed by rare

shades  of Edward VII and George V which Roscoe just knew were right. The very last

GB page featured the Silver Jubilee Prussian Blue, in a block of four.

                                        The Commonwealth volumes were equally impressive, starting with Aden Dhows, Australian                                          States and Roos, ending with Zululand postage dues on ordinary paper, on chalky and with                                             Specimen overprints.

                                        But did Mrs Almery know what she had? She did not seem too knowledgeable but Roscoe                                                had to play this one carefully. It would be tragic, for him, if he left without the albums but                                                he  had no intention of   offering anything like a decent price for them. He reminded                                                        himself: ‘the profit is in the buying, not the selling’.

                                                     

                                        He started his negations by testing the water. “Do you collect yourself?” was, as usual, his                                                opening gambit. If yes, he would have to tread carefully, if no he could fill his boots.

“Oh, no, well, not stamps anyway,” was Mrs Almery’s reassuring answer. Roscoe knew he was in with a chance of really hooking a big one, so long as he played this one carefully. He had always believed in the survival of the slickest and fake sycophancy started to pour out of him.

He praised what he could see of the garden. He knew nothing about gardens and It was a dull day but could see someone working in it so Mrs Almery must have been proud of it.

He even heaped approval on the tea, though it was very ordinary, and the cake, though it tasted strongly of almonds which he did not particularly like.

Having laid the groundwork, he started on the subject in hand: “It is a very good collection,” he began, “but” and there was always a ‘but with Roscoe, “but I am not sure if some of the better items are, well, to be blunt, quite right,” he lied.

“Oh, my husband was a very careful collector, and so I am I. I am always looking for the outstanding specimens, so did he as far as I know,” the gentle Mrs Almery replied.

This could be harder for Roscoe than he expected.

“Oh, I am sure he did,” he suggested, backtracking slightly while wondering what she collected. He tried to open up the conversation, move it away from the immediate here and now to try softening her up again before the talk of money. He chose his favourite subject, himself.

He started saying how long he had been in the business, adding an extra decade, how much he had paid for collections, though forgetting to say how much he had sold them for, ending with “incidentally, why did you choose me?”

That last one was always a killer. The stooges’ replies inevitably quoted lines from his

advert. As his victims voiced them their own mouths were convincing their brains.

“Well,” she said, “a few years ago you bought a collection from Nigel Minty a good

friend of ours…”.

“Good,” thought Roscoe, she is acting on a recommendation. He ate another slice of

cake, noticing for the first time that Mrs Almery had not touched hers.

His legs started to feel numb which he put down to the sofa he was sinking into. Before he could speak, Mrs Almery added: “… and last year you bought a collection from Mrs Chitrat. It was her husband’s, Chris. Do you remember that? Mrs Chitrat’s husband, as well as mine and Mr Minty were members of the same club.

“Mrs Chitrat’s husband told her he had a very good collection but you said it was almost worthless. She was hoping                                                                         for a nest egg to live out her days on, but ended up having to move to a s                                                                             small flat. Do you remember?” Roscoe started to feel a little uneasy. He did                                                                         remember them, but dishonesty was his default position so before he knew                                                              what he was saying words started coming out of his mouth: “Well, I deal                                                                             with so many ….”.

                                                                      The insensibility in his legs started to spread up his body, and he could not                                                                           finish the sentence                                          

                                                                       Then he noticed two characters staring in though the French windows. One l                                                                     looked to be carrying a spade, but they were hazy, he found it hard to focus                                                                        on them. It was like being dunk and hung-over at the same time.

Mrs Amery went over to the door and let them in. Roscoe could just about hear something about cyanide and cake.

The last thing he ever heard was Mrs Amery confirming to him that she did collect fine examples, prime specimens indeed. She amassed crooked cheating dealers; and soon she would have a garden full of them.