Madison cursed to herself softly. She hated the walk from the parking lot to the shop. It was a short walk, but she had to go past a number of trash containers full of spoiling watermelons, cantaloupe and grapes. The Vietnamese who had a shop nearby made things unpleasant for the rest of them. On the other hand, a lot of people who came for the cheap vegetables and fruit invariably stopped out of curiosity to visit her store as well. The City Market had been good to her, her parents and her husband up until now. The place was flooded with rich people from the adjoining wealthy suburbs during the weekend, looking for good deals. There were none, of course. They had cleverly learned how to repackage the fruit from California and nearby states. They could pile three peaches on a cardboard box to look like there were ten more inside; when what you saw was all there was.
People loved to walk their expensive dogs around the outdoor market. Young couples who lived in apartments or condos nearby didn't have yard work or car repair to do.
The River Quay City Market was a revitalization of old warehouses and buildings along the Missouri river where merchants of past centuries stopped to trade, exchange merchandise with other traders. It was now a trendy place to buy unusual antiques and fruit.
Madison had gone as a child with her father, and sometimes with her mother to many small towns across the country looking for oddities to resale. When her parents had died, she had reluctantly inherited the small shop. Her father had stocked it with museum quality wall clocks, hand made furniture from early American craftsmen and even vintage French furniture.
It was through her buying and trading she had come to meet her husband, Joe Swallow, who was a skilled furniture refinisher. He was a professor of English at the local University. She had been a student in one of his journalism classes. He had been an older divorced man who refinished furniture at home as a hobby.
Her father had first used him occasionally. It was somewhat of a coincidence when she ran into him as her professor in one of her classes. He didn't recognize her right away. She had been so shabbily dressed when she went in with her dad, and now in the first day of class she was differently dressed.
She had high heels, a light green summer dress and her long reddish brown hair hung down to her waist behind her. He was so focused on the way her dress rode up, he never looked at her spectacular face. When he read the attendance roll and saw her name he was startled and confused: "Was the skinny little "Maddy" that he had been used to seeing the same "Madison Will" that was sitting in the front row all dressed and grown up?
"Maddy?" he said as he put his thumb on the roster and looked up over the top of his reading glasses.
"Here sir." She said, trying to act like they had never met.
Joe caught on, and read off the rest of the names for attendance.
Joe was a good twenty years older, and it was not really romance when they first met. Over a period of time, they had spent time together because of her classes, and her father's interest in furniture.
They had married when she was in her mid twenties. She had never really been overwhelmed with his romantic skills. "She would grow to love him." She told herself.
She was forty now, childless and a little disillusioned with life. She had taken her fathers business: "The Peddler's Daughter," and modified it a little from its heyday. Where it had been totally antique furniture, she had more of an interest in clothing.
She had collected period dresses from her trips to France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. She had immaculate lace from Belgium and Burano, Spain.
To say things had not been going well was an understatement. Her husband had taken an early retirement he did not want because of the drop in enrollment during the recent recession. He had started his own refinishing business a few years before that, but it too had been a victim of the recession.
He was struggling to make rent payments on his refinishing shop, which was in a space just next to hers. When they first got married, it was handy to be so close together. On the other hand he was usually in class until the evening or weekend, so she had lots of time to herself. When they were busy, they would help each other out.
Their sex life had never been grate; now it was getting progressively worse. She was never an adventurous or uninhibited when it came to sex. She had been told it was a wifely duty, but it was for procreation only. This had become a sore point with her husband. Needless to say, she refused to give up her name when they married. She absolutely was not going to be called: Madison Will Swallow. She didn't get it at first, but her bridesmaids were aghast at the new name.
Joe had continually brought up the issue their long-term leases on their spaces. He was not making anything on his business; certainly not enough to cover the rent now that he was retired. He had been pressing Maddy to sell some of her top end collection.
One day, Santana Battle, a man constantly in the news, showed up in her shop to look around. He had several other men just the same size as him close by. Maddy did not like the look of these men.
Santana was a big black man; probably 6'-6" his hair on the sides was cut close to his head. There were streaks cut in it like it had been corn rowed. The top was cut in a Mohawk. It was a thick curly Mohawk that had been braided so that the braid was about an inch high and braided down to the base of his neck. He had a leather vest that wasn't buttoned. His Levis had a wide leather belt and the cuffs were a boot cut that fit over his lizard skin boots. The boots made him a couple of inches higher. From a visual standpoint, the unbuttoned vest, with no shirt, made him look even taller. His dark Dolce and Gabanna sunglasses made his expression impossible to read. His smile was like the Mona Lisa; you could interpret it to mean whatever you wanted to.
Joe was in her shop to help out. He knew who the man was. He walked briskly over to the man and introduced himself to the sinister looking man and his friends. He turned to look in the direction of his wife. "Mr. Battle, I would like to have you meet my lovely wife, Madison. Madison, honey this is Mr. Santana Battle. He is a businessman here in town."
Businessman was a gracious term for what he did. Most law officials knew he was importing drugs and women. "Nice to meet you Mr. Battle." She said from across the room. She waived graciously to the sinister man.
He tipped his Dolce and Gabanna glasses down to get a better look at her. He could see her fine; he just wanted to let Joe and his wife he found her interesting. He walked around the shop and looked at all of the stuff.
Joe walked with him, explaining the history of many of the items. Santana was especially interested in the walnut
Armoire. It was about 11'-0" tall. It was about 8'-0" wide and 32" deep. The double doors opened from the center. It was heavily carved with figures, flowers and all kinds of decorations. The carving was not applied to the thin wood panels. The wood had started out about 8" thick and the figures were carved to stand out from the main panels.
The drawers, mirrors, and hidden secret drawers were a work of art. All kinds of expensive jewelry could be hidden inside of secret panels. "What do you want for this Armoire?" Santana asked.
"There is only one more that we know of that was carved by the same artist. It was sold at Sotheby's about ten years ago for $250,000.00. I don't think we could take less than $300,000.00 for it now. You are welcome to have it appraised. You can email a picture to any appraiser you want. We have a sheet of its history you can send with it."
"I'll think about it." He said as he turned to get a closer look at Madison.
Maddy was standing near the display window, adjusting a black lace dress on a mannequin. That is one fine looking dress. I bet it would look spectacular on you." He said in an obvious flirt with the forty-year old married woman.
"I got this in Burano as a part of a collection I bought many years ago. I have refused to sell it. My husband is putting pressure on me to consider selling it." She said wistfully as she brushed some wrinkles from the length of it.
Santana turned to look at another object. "What the fuck is this?" he said, almost in shock.
It is Achille Gaggia's patented espresso machine. This is the first one he made.
Madison went on to tell how her affinity for good coffee began when she went with her father as a young child on late night forays to the coffee houses in Harvard Square on Boston's North End. He found this gorgeous machine in a defunct restaurant. After years of haggling on a price, he became the owner this large brass and copper coffee machine. They spent months restoring the machine. The coffee press consists of a tall stack of filter paper sheets that act as a gasket/piston. The press had dried out from disuse and the fittings were corroded. The machine was a vintage design made by Achille Gaggia.
One of the aspects that defined the coffee produced by Achille Gaggia's patented espresso machine was the thick crema produced by the pressure brewing process. Rich crema has since become a desirable aspect among modern espresso drinkers, but what exactly is crema? In truth, crema is foam, created by suspended solids and CO2 in a phenomenon that only occurs in espresso, which was originally dubbed "caffa crema" (cream coffee).
The whole machine was sitting on an elegant Hepplewhite Mahogany Sideboard Buffet Original Brass hardware. This was another museum quality piece that was as good as anything Santana had seen in Sotheby's.
Joe was quick to walk along the black giant and explain the history and value of all the pieces that he had help refinish. From there, he took the man and his guards next door to see other projects still being refinished.
When Joe returned, he was alone. "They've gone. I think you could have been a little more hospitable to the man while he was here, Joe complained. Madison had done nothing unusual. She was like most women she knew. She was all lovey-dovey with the women she knew, but extremely standoffish to men she had not known long.
"I didn't do anything wrong." She insisted as they closed up for the night. When they got home that evening, she and Joe went over the bills.
The rent on both units had come due. Their house payment was due. Joe's bill for materials he had used that month was due. They were on the verge of loosing both leases and the house if they didn't do something soon.
Joe was getting increasingly frustrated for many different reasons. Getting behind in all the payments was very unsettling. If he still had his job, he could have paid it out of his salary. They had already borrowed against his retirement and maxed out their credit cards. His frustration with his sex life was compounding his frustrations more than he cared to admit.
His cell phone went off. "Yes Mr. Santana. I will talk to her about it. I hope I can convince her to sell. Yes we can meet you then to talk about it." He hung up.
That was Santana Battle. He is curious about buying the Espresso Machine and the Armoire. He does not want to pay what you and I know it is worth. We clearly need more than that for it. I think you can be a little more accommodating than you were.
"First of all, I'm not sure I'm willing to sell it. It is a museum quality piece. If he won't meet our price, I would be just giving it away." Madison thought about the memories it held. She thought about all the time she and her father spent trying to find something like that and the effort that went into restoring it.
"Look, Maddy; we absolutely need the money. Everything is going to collapse if we don't do it. I think you need to try a little harder to be nice to him."
"What does that mean?" she said with her hands on her hips.
"That means you need to do whatever you need to do to make him willing to pay more than it's worth or we are ruined."
"What are you saying?" she asked. "You saw the way he was looking at me in there." She said with alarm and concern that maybe she was misunderstanding her husband.
"I'm saying we have to have that money. It is time to sell what we have. If not, we'll lose it all anyway. You have to do whatever it takes to make the sale. He's interested in you. As a business person, you have to use whatever you have to make the sale. You know how to batt those eyes when you need or want something. I know you used to do it to me before we were married. You have some georgeous dresses in the store. Use them to hold his attention. Use them to close the deal."
Madison thought about it. She knew he was right. His losing his job compounded all of their problems. She had lost her awe of him, as a partner. She had lost her financial pillar when he lost his job. With her hobby as their only means of support, they were struggling. If not for all the museum quality collections her father had found and restored, they would be in real trouble. She would have to try to get all she could for them.
Many of the regular collectors she had grown up knowing through her father were long since dead, or no longer collectors because of the new economy. She was nervous as they drove into work the next morning. She would have to find something within herself to close this sale. Who knows? Maybe he would be a link into a new clientele that she wasn't interested in catering to, but could help them out.
Madison was on pins and needles from the time they opened. The anticipation of what was going to happen after the shop closed was killing her. Her conversation with customers was a blur to her. When the last customers filtered out, she got more and more nervous. She could hardly walk when she went over to the front door and turned the cardboard sign from "Open," to "Closed."
Her husband was walking down through the mannequins and clothes racks with the vintage dresses, looking for something. Madison walked over to the Espresso machine and made sure it was ready to make new coffee. She had to demonstrate that it worked. She dusted off the Sidebar Buffet Table it was mounted on.
She wasn't going to sell the Espresso for a penny less than $100,000.00. If he wanted the antique buffet table, she wasn't about to let it go for less than $8,000.00. She would be giving it away for that. The combination was the centerpiece and focal point of any customer that came in.
The Amoire was not going for any less than the $300,000.00 that the museum curators were hinting at. "You only get to sell something once." She remembered her father saying when people questioned the price.
Her husband stopped at "Victoria," the mannequin in the display window. He took the black lace Victorian dress off of it. Her father had bought the thing at a shop from an antique dealer in St. Marks Plaza in Venice. It had cost a fortune at the time, but in hindsight, was pennies now. She marveled at the insight he seemed to have on the future value of an item.
It was as though he knew he was going to die, and this was the collection of items he wanted to leave her for an inheritance. Sadly, she was reluctant beyond words to sell any of this. Her eyes welled up when her husband said: "Here, put this on. Santana will be here soon. You need to look the part."
"I can't wear this. It will show my panties and bra through the front." She said in total humiliation.
"Leave the fucking garments off. I told you you have to make this sale. You need to make an impression. You need to make him want to buy." He said.
"You are going to have to reach down and do whatever it takes to make this sale. We have to have this sale."
She sensed the urgency in his voice; but there was more to it than that. What she either didn't get or refused to get was the built up bitterness within him about their sex lives. Maybe even he didn't get it or was consciously aware of it.
He didn't even give a rat's ass if she had to fuck him for it. "Maddy was crushed. How could the man she had shared a bed with for the last twenty years talk to her like this? What was he implying? How far was he willing to see her go to make this sale? Madison could hardly make her feet move as she headed for the dressing room.
Even the dressing room was first class. It was about ten feet square. It was painted all white. It had a free-standing oval mirror in a carved walnut frame that tilted up or down. It had a white velvet backless love seat across from the mirror. It had another chair at a 90° axis with the love seat. There were hooks along a side wall, and a white shelf just above it.
There was a white oak vanity table against one wall. It was about sixteen inches deep, with a tall, oval mirror in a carved frame. The front was curved so the edge was about 24" from the back. A slender satin padded chair with thin tapered legs and back sat in front of it.
Madison stood in front of the freestanding mirror and removed her clothes. She lay each garment daintily across the backless sofa as though she may never see them again. She tried not to look at herself when she was naked. She tried not to look at herself as she slipped the garment over her head and let the cool silk slip over her. Once she had it on, she managed to look at the hussy in the mirror. She struggled to tighten the backless garment. It had a completely bare back that was held in place with lacings through eyelets almost at her sides. The dress had a low scooped bodice, but not outrageously low.
The front had a band of black silk lace pattern that went just inside of her nipples to her feet. The intricate lace band was exquisitely hand stitched. It was such a fine fabric that it was hopelessly transparent. It hid nothing. Madison was devastated at her image in the mirror. Her reddish brown curls were plainly the center of attention at the middle of her dress.
Her heart almost stopped when she heard her husband knocking on the door and say: "They're here."
Maddy grabbed her small clutch purse for what cover it offered. The purse had been one of the last presents her father had given her before he died. He had come back from a trip to New York. He had gone to the gift store in the Metropolitan Opera. They had cut up Beverly Sill's black velvet dress she wore in the last scene of Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor and made purses out of it. It was small, but she told herself she could hold it in front of her for some cover.
When the door opened, Santana and his guards were astonished at what they saw. This forty year old woman was stunning beyond whatever his perception of even younger women was. Her long reddish brown hair had been combed back into a french braid, to imitate or match his own savage image. Her wire rimmed steel spectacles gave her the look of a very dignified professor, which contrasted to the dress. Her six inch platform heels made her look a foot taller than she really was.
What almost knocked the giant black man over was her dress. The black silk dress fit like a glove. There were no wrinkles. The strapless back was laced like a shoe, which pulled any looseness out of it. The front was transparent through the fine black lace. He could see that her abdominal muscles and legs had no fat on them; tanned and toned like a runner that had spent the summer running hills in the sun. Her skin had a slight sheen from her nervousness over the situation.
She tried to present a smile she did not feel as she extended one hand to greet him. She tried to discreetly keep her small clutch purse over her reddish brown curls. It worked to some extent, but Santana and his guards had seen it. The image which only lasted a fraction of a second between steps was frozen in their minds. Those red curls were the highlight of the dress; centered in the alabaster area hidden by a bikini worn on the weekends; framed doubly by the suntan above and below and the dark panels on each side of the transparent black lace.
Santana reached out to accept her hand and kiss it. He would not let go. She tried to discreetly pull back, but he wouldn't allow it. Instead, he reached down to grasp her other hand and whistled as he spread both of her arms to her sides at shoulder level. Maddy stared daggers at her husband for a second, before she managed to fake a soft smile in her embarrassed face. "I've got to get through this." She told herself as he stared at her dress.
Madison was humiliated and embarrassed at what she knew they were staring at.
"My husband says that you are interested in the Espresso Machine we have." She said as she walked over to the large formation of couches that formed a "U" in front of the sidebar that held the machine. She extended her hand, indicating an invitation for them to sit. She had to put her purse down to make the cups of coffee. It seemed to be a ridiculous exercise to prepare the espresso in such little cups for these gigantic savages.