A bell tinkled above the door, announcing Kaylee’s entry to Georgiana’s tiny shop (Kaylee also features in the story “Opening Soon”). Counters with artistic displays lined the walls and pressed into the long aisle. The scent of jasmine and ginger floated on the air along with the soft strains of a Spanish guitar.
“With you in a minute, my dear,” a grandmotherly voice called from the rear counter. The stooped shopkeeper handed a palm-sized package to a smartly dressed, young man. Kaylee noted the iridescent green wrapping and fancy red bow and guessed it was something romantic.
The man thanked the elderly shopkeeper and passed Kaylee as he left, his treasure nestled in a small, cloth-handle bag. Georgiana wore a bright, frock dress, flower-printed with purple cloth buttons. Wisps of gray peeked from the edges of her white, lace cap.
The only other customer in the shop was a well-dressed, middle-aged man. His shifty movements caught Kaylee’s attention. He palmed a cinnamon candle without interest, sniffed it then set it down quickly and looked away when he saw Kaylee noticing.
The shopkeeper ambled toward the front smiling then turned to the suspicious man. “Ahh, Mr. Blighter. Everything is ready.” She looked back and called, “Todd, Mr. Blighter is here for pick up.” A spectacled young man, rail-thin, hastened down the steps from the back loft, a bolt of twill fabric under one arm, a tape measure draped down one shoulder.
Glancing about, Kaylee thought she must be in the wrong shop. The near wall had incense and burners, candles and candle paraphernalia. Fairy- and animal-themed mobiles hung from the ceiling. On the opposite wall and counters were greeting and note cards, small books with artistic covers, bauble key chains, colored pens and pencils, and small-framed watercolors. At the back were costume jewelry, porcelain and glass figurines, and materials for all manner of art projects, hobbies, and crafts.
The shopkeeper smiled at Kaylee, her gray eyes twinkling above her silver-rimmed bifocals. “How may I help you, young lady?”
“My manager sent me. He told me Georgiana’s carried a line of persuasive cajolery. But I don’t see—”
“Are you interested in light persuasion or something stronger?” The elderly woman gestured to the candle and incense wall. “Something to set the mood, for dinner perhaps, or,” she cleared her throat and dropped her voice, “a seduction?”
Kaylee matched the old shopkeeper’s whisper. “Yes. Something like that. I want people to believe me and trust me, hang on my every word and be drawn to me, but not hold me personally responsible if things don’t turn out exactly the way they want.”
“Oh, I see.” The old woman touched Kaylee’s arm. “You should have said that Tom sent you. We get a lot of his people.”
“Tom?” Kaylee’s eyebrows rose.
“Tom Parlous, Trusting Tom, the used car dealer at the corner of Smarting Place?”
When Kaylee winced a sardonic smile, the old woman blurted, “Well, I hope you’re not a prostitute, the requirements are similar,” then quickly covered her mouth.
“No, of course not,” Kaylee said, chuckling at the thought. “I’m a stage actress, and I have to be believable on stage. Our director sent me over. I’ll be staring in Life Goes On. We open at the Paramount in two weeks.
“I’m so sorry.” The red-faced shopkeeper pursed her wrinkled, gray lips. “We get so many different requests. What sort of role do you play, and how much are you willing to spend? We carry everything from duck calls and fulfillment transponders to heart renders and agent provocateurs.”
Kaylee looked confused, so Georgiana elaborated. “Everything from making every man in the audience want to father your child to sending him off to righteously defend your honor.”
“I would prefer something very short term,” Kaylee said, eyes wide. “The effect only has to last until the play ends, maybe after the audience goes home. I don’t want any stalkers or fights breaking out.”
Georgiana’s head turned toward the fitting room as Mr. Blighter stepped out. “Or until the voting polls close?”
Kaylee thought him very distinguished and intelligent looking, a true leader in his trim gray suit — quite unlike the sly schemer she had seen earlier.
Georgiana frowned. “Mr. Bilious Blighter is running for State Senate.”