“Lot Number F-13!” boomed the auctioneer as his gavel struck the block. At last! Her lot was up.
She listened as attendees shifted, considering whether to raise their paddles. This auction, an annual event to clear out warehouse space, was hotly anticipated in certain circles. She felt confident that the auction would succeed. It must. It was her last chance.
“You’re bidding on a rare selection of funereal artifacts: headstones, a large stone sarcophagus with intact lid, and sundry statuary from the now defunct antique stone mason, Lacrides of New Orleans. Bid increments of 5,000, please. A minimum reserve has been set.”
For the first time she was questioning her minimum reserve decision. Now, all she cared about was a successful bid. She could deal with a loss. She could deal with anything but failure of the lot.
“Bidding begins at 10,000 dollars.”
She breathed in the musty smell of antiquity. To quell her rising anxiety, she cast her mind back. This auction was her baby, the first time the house had put her in charge. Thirty-nine lots in all, and she knew each piece intimately. She’d scrupulously culled their inventory to create a compelling catalog, working with photographers to show each item to its best advantage. She’d cajoled persnickety historians to pen enticing catalog descriptions, harangued the printer on deadlines, overseen the invitation list, and secured a top auctioneer. Today was to be both a test and her triumph. Her life hung in the balance.
“10,000 to number 209!”
Last night she’d worked late preparing the lots for the morning preview. The auction drew a varied crowd, from the moneyed set to hobbyists and even shadier sorts. Each bidder hoped to score a rare find or a strike a bargain. As she’d wandered through a pottery display from a prominent artist’s estate, her trouble radar had gone off.
“15,000 to 98.”
The pottery display had been tampered with. She’d set up the display to highlight a particularly valuable vase, but it had been rearranged, presumably so the piece would be overlooked. The hair on her neck stood on end. Someone else was there. The security guard was just outside the door. She’d grab him right after she looked around to see if anything else was amiss. It was a fatal decision.
“20,000 to 172.”
She blew a breath through her nose, praying the bidding picked up in order to hit the minimum reserve of $50,000. When she’d set the minimum, she’d thought about pushing it even higher; $50,000 was a steal for these rarities. Now, she was glad she hadn’t. Unless it hit the minimum, the lot would fail and be returned to the warehouse to await another day. This was her only chance.
“25,000 to 36.”
Her ears pricked up. There was a disturbance in the room. Her heart raced. Not now in the middle of the auction! She couldn’t afford to lose momentum. Oh God!
“Ladies and gentlemen, one moment please.” She heard footsteps approach the podium and step to the microphone.
“Please pardon the interruption. I’m Inspector Harrison with the police. I’m investigating a missing person’s report. In connection with that investigation, we’ll need a statement from each of you before you leave this afternoon. The auction can proceed through this lot, but then we’ll have to cancel the remainder.”
No! She would have groaned if she could. The room was alive with rustles and murmurs as the crowd took in the announcement.
“Ladies and Gentlemen. Quiet please! Let’s resume. Our last bid was 25,000 to number 36. 25,000 dollars. Do I hear another?”
Silence. Her panic escalated.
“Going once. Ah! 30,000 to 172.”
In vain, she struggled to wiggle or shift, but even if she hadn’t been lashed down tight with duct tape, whatever had been in the syringe administered after they’d hit her over the head left her aware but paralyzed.
“35,000 to 39.”
They’d thrown her in the stone coffin and dropped the heavy lid into place. She could breathe, but couldn’t move to signal her distress or her whereabouts. She could only wait and listen.
“35,000 going once,” the auctioneer paused.
“Going twice … and Done!” The gavel banged, “Thank you all. I’m sorry, but your bids do not meet the minimum reserve today. This lot reverts, unsold.”
She heard chairs scrape as patrons rose. Listened, immobile, as the police shepherded the crowd for statements. She felt them wheel the sarcophagus back to the warehouse, and knew this was her final tomb.
Christy Kunin is working on writing fiction and getting her words out into the world. She lives near Seattle, near a lot of wine. This is usually a good thing. She’s married with two kids. This also is usually a good thing. She had another career as a legal executive in the tech industry and now writes for fun and pleasure. This is definitely a good thing. Cheers to all.