Sustained unrewarded effort produces a hope-crushing effect. Years of exposure to it, coupled with an ingrained persistence courtesy of a family motto, had made Victor immune. So it was without the slightest discouragement that he strolled into a corner store following yet another afternoon of not making a sale. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and followed a rickety churning noise to the back of the shop. There, a weary air-conditioner exhaled a narrow, icy stream. Victor stood beneath it and refreshed himself. He took a bottle of orange juice from a nearby drinks fridge and made his way to the counter, where a tall, bearded gentleman wearing an apron conducted the transaction; he handed Victor twenty cents change.
“You’re the metronome guy,” said the gentleman.
“That’s right,” said Victor. “How did you…?”
“Oh, my wife called earlier—said a fella in a suit was goin’ round sellin’ clocks. Asked her what kind of clocks, and she told me. I said, ‘Nah, that’s not a clock, that’s a metronome. For music.'”
“That’s right. Are you a musician?”
“Me? Nah, I just learned about metronomes from a question in Trivial Pursuit. Couldn’t play an instrument to save my life. Used to sing a bit, just in the car. The missus reckoned I sound like a possessed cockatoo though, so I gave it up.”
“Ah, well… Thanks for the juice—” Victor read the gentleman’s name badge, “—Dave.”
“Hey, how about that?” said the gentleman. “It finally paid off.”
“The name badge. I bought it eleven years ago when we opened the store. Turned out I didn’t need it—everyone in Stork knew my name already. Missus said I should chuck it away, but I wasn’t gunna throw out a six-dollar name tag. Figured some out-of-towner might stop by who doesn’t know my name. And look—here you are.” Dave took the badge between his thumb and forefinger and looked at it with pride. “I’ve worn it every day, and it finally came in useful.”
Victor put down his briefcase and smiled. “Never give up, right?”
Dave reciprocated the smile. “Yeah. Exactly.”
“Listen, Dave,” said Victor. “I’m facing a bit of a dilemma—do you mind if I ask your advice?”
“Well, as you know, I’m a salesman. I’ve been to nearly every house in this town today and I haven’t sold a thing—fine. But there is one particular house I haven’t been to, and, being a thorough son-of-a-gun, I’d hate to miss the opportunity.”
“Well,” said Dave, “it’s only four-thirty. You’ve got time.”
“Uh, yeah. The thing is… well… I was kind of warned off it. By an old man. He said—and this might sound weird—that the place was cursed.”
“Oh, ha-ha—it sounds like you’ve met Anton. Ukrainian bloke? Walking stick?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Oh yeah,” said Dave. “That’s Anton. He’s a funny old fella. Always muttering away. Got a bomb shelter under his house. He’s always goin’ on about some conspiracy—reckons the government’s tryin’ to get him.”
“Oh really? Ha-ha. Yeah, well, he told me not to go near the big place on top of the hill.”
“That sounds like Anton.”
Victor and Dave laughed.
“He’s right though,” said Dave. “Stay away from that house.”
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