It was just after eight, when the chauffeur stopped the Rolls at the end of a quiet tree-lined street. Elliott Price looked at the two shops opposite and was suddenly more interested in the conversation.
“That’s them,” Purvis said indicating to the shops, which made up the two halves of a semi-detached retail premises on the corner of the street.” The owners haven’t been approached yet, didn’t want to give ’em any warning.”
“Probably very wise,” Price murmured half to himself as he surveyed the double storey building.
Built during the 1920’s by a local landlord, the building had originally contained a butcher’s shop and general store. Thousands of similar corner shops could once be found throughout the suburbs before cars became commonplace and super markets began to rule the retailing world. Once the focal point of a community, supplying the daily sustenance and local gossip for those in the area, corner shops have now all but disappeared. The buildings knocked down or converted into fashionable inner-city homes with wavey glass-brick front windows.
Somehow the building opposite had survived and still contained two shops, each with a residence for the shop keeper; kitchen and lounge behind the shop on the ground floor and three bedrooms upstairs.
Despite their common heritage, the contrast in appearance of the two shops was stark. An incongruous clash of the old and the new never destined to win a town planning award for the best preserved street scape in the retailing category.
The shop nearest the corner, owned by Dean and Madge Thomas, looked immaculate in a ‘Ye olde England’ kind of way. It’s beautifully decorated plate glass front window with the words THOMAS DELICATESSEN AND FINE FOODS carefully painted in Gothic gold bold lettering said as much about the proprietors as it did about their line of business.
Prior to them buying the shop five years earlier, Dean Thomas had been a watchmaker, working in the back room of a large jewellery store in the city. An obsessive man, self-trained and with an eye for detail, he had always insisted on doing things his own way, often to the annoyance of those who worked with him. While Dean provided the flare and fastidiousness necessary for a good gourmet deli his unforgiving, nit-picking nature often alienated their customers and suppliers.
Madge Thomas was a perfect balance for her husband. She had worked for many years behind the counter of a city pharmacy. Years of selling cough drops and headache tablets to the permanently unwell, condoms to embarrassed young men with more hope than chance, and ‘something appropriate, whatever you suggest’ to rushing businessmen with missed wedding anniversaries or expectant mistresses, had paid off. Madge Thomas knew exactly what it took to run a successful retailing business.
The men in the yellow Rolls Royce watched as Dean Thomas, dressed in a bib style apron, put the finishing touches to the window display. He then stepped out onto the pavement, stood with his hands on his hips and carefully scrutinised his daily artistic indulgence. The general ambience was one of old world gentility.
The facade of the shop next door, with its resonance of ‘Height-Ashbury’ decay, could also be said to capture the essence of the enterprise and its owner, Sky Crystal.Painted three years earlier in ecologically correct paint that Sky had prepared to a Swedish recipe the effect had been stunning. “The vibrant colours of the dawn sky”, was how she described the colour scheme at the time; and for the next year or so.
Unfortunately, while the Swedish paint might have been good for the gloom of the sub-arctic, it had no chance in the harsh Australian sun and soon faded to murky mixture of blue, purple and orange. “Not made for Australian conditions”, an undaunted Sky now explained to those customers curious and impolite enough to ask.
A large sign in the window, proclaimed the shop’s merchandise of crystals, incense and mediation bells. “New age” and rather tatty, there was certainly nothing old worldly about this establishment.
“I’m going to need about forty mill, Elliott.” Purvis said with enticing casualness. “It’ll be my tenth you know.”
“I do.” Price grunted, as he felt increasingly constrained in the back of the Rolls Royce. “I think Fleece Industrial has financed most of them. That’s the problem; some of the board are getting a bit nervous. The older members are really only comfortable with wheat and sheep.”
“Sure, the comfort of the past, I can understand that.” Purvis quietly replied.“But Elliott, you and I both know it is not like that any more.Money’s now the main game in town. The only game really if you want to win that is.”
Barely acknowledging the comment Elliott Price turned his attention back to the shops.
Ray flopped back into the soft leather of the Roller. “Financial de-regulation, more banks less rules. What could be better?” He added with a cheeky smirk. “No floods or droughts or any of that farming shit to worry about.”
The two men watched as a weasel faced man in a suit, too tight around the chest and too short in the legs, knocked on the door of the deli. Purvis smiled, “I thought a little softening up visit from the Health Inspector might be useful.”
In the next episode, “Meet Merlin”, Dean Thomas cuts his way into the food store wielding a large knife as the weasel-faced Health Inspector arrives …