"Is Fanaka here?"
Alfred looked up from his laptop where he was balancing his shop's books. Before him was a thirty-ish white man in a camouflage jacket over a t-shirt, who spoke in an accent Alfred couldn't place. "Today's Fanaka's day off," he said. "If you need a watch repaired, you can leave it with me and I'll give it to him tomorrow."
The man scratched his head. This gesture caused his jacket to fall open, so Alfred could see his t-shirt more clearly. It showed what looked like a feathered velociraptor in a pickelhaube helmet, one tiny arm held up in a Roman salute. This image was framed by a circle, and featured a line through the middle.
"No… no… I just need a clock," the man said. "Thought I'd say hi while I'm here."
"A clock? Well, you've certainly come to the right place, ha ha. What sort of clock?"
The stranger's brow furrowed in concentration. "Certainly not for a time bomb," he said.
"No, I should hope not," Alfred replied.
"Nothing untoward at all, in fact."
Alfred rubbed his moustache. "So what is it for?"
"I have an employment job," the man said. "For work. I need an inexpensive battery powered alarm clock. It should run on a minimum of five milliamps. Oh, and the alarm needs to be worked by a green wire and a red wire. Very important."
Alfred squinted. "Are you sure you don't need this for a time bomb?"
"Oh, most definitely."
"Because I can't help but notice the smell of diesel fuel and fertiliser that…"
"My stench is not on trial, here!" the customer said. "I have no time for these wild accusations. Good day, sir!"
With that, the stranger swept out of the shop. Alfred considered calling the police, but he remembered what Stavros had said. Keep your head down, Alfred. Alfred hadn't been sure about a lot of things that had been discussed at the kebab store, but that had made the most sense. Keep your head down.
Around lunchtime, another stranger came by. He was a pale young man of medium height in a BBQ Imperium apron. Alfred had seen him around the Super Centre before, and had always been stung by a pang of jealously when he'd seen the handsome young fellow strutting about. Now, the fellow walked with the more cautious step of a man in a long term relationship, which honestly didn't make Alfred much less jealous.
"Hey, mate," the young man said. "I'm looking for a…"
The man took a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket and smoothed it out. "An orichalcum clock?"
Alfred scratched at the little wisp of hair at the top of his bald head. "Don't believe I know that brand."
"It's not a brand, I guess," the BBQ man said. "It's more like a mineral. It's like a how a quartz clock keeps time off the natural vibration frequency of quartz. Only this one runs off of an occult mineral that vibrates at the speed of magic. We need it to correctly time an exorcism. "
Alfred ran his tongue over his teeth, while he tried to decide just how much of what he'd just heard should be allowed to penetrate his brain.
"I see," he said. "Well, as I say, I don't think I have one of those."
The young man examined his paper. "A mithril or unobtanium clock will do in a pinch," he said.
"Well I don't know what to… Wait, an unobtanium clock?"
"Oh, I think I might have one of those."
Alfred unlocked a drawer behind his counter and took out a cardboard box. "Got this as part of a job lot from an importer that closed down."
As Alfred opened the box and the shop's fluorescent lights buzzed and dimmed. "I don't display this anymore," he said. He reached into the box and took out a grey-green plastic object in the shape of a misshapen male figure with the head of a monkfish. It had a clock in its disdended belly, with weird Gothic numerals around the edge. The man in the BBQ apron recoiled at the sight of it, as Alfred gave it a quick wipe with a microfiber cloth.
"I had it on the shelf by the door for a while, but no one wanted it. In fact, it seemed to be turning some customers away. Don't quite know why. I mean, I'm not over partial to novelty clocks myself, but I think that's overreacting a bit."
"Doesn't it bother you at all?" the BBQ man whispered, his eyes fixed on the clock.
"Not as much as that thing," Alfred said, gesturing at a cat-shaped clock with a tail-shaped pendulum. "Brrrrrrr."
The BBQ man looked from the unobtanium clock to the cat clock, then back to the unobtanium clock. He glanced pointedly at the thin trail of green smoke that rose from the microfiber cloth that was gently melting on the counter. "Whatever, mate," he said. "How much for the clock of doom?"
The young man paid for the clock, and made Alfred put it back in the box himself, before departing. Alfred watched him go. Exorcism. That was weird. Like one of those stupid ghost hunter shows his daughter insisted on watching.
He shrugged. It didn't matter. Just keep your head down, Alfred. Get through the day.
Just before Alfred left, the door swung open one final time, and in strode Nalda. Alfred swallowed hard. Nalda Teheintausant was a tall, solidly built woman who habitually wore sunglasses a leather jacket, and carried a cricket bag that clanked ominously when she walked. She worked at the disposals store where a substantial fraction of the customers were in love with her and a substantial fraction wanted to beat her in a fight and there was a considerable crossover between these two fractions. She glared at Alfred from behind her shades, and his bowels began to quake.
"Are you Alfred ?"
"You know I am, Nalda," Alfred said. "We've met several times."
"Identity acknowledged. You are an associate of Stavros Theopoulos being?"
"Well, I know the man."
Nalda crossed the floor and stood directly in front of him. Alfred looked up into her shaded eyes.
"Vat do you know about time?" she said.
"Nothing. I just sell clocks. Your boyfriend is the temporal physicist."
Nalda glared at him. How can you glare at someone who can't see your eyes? What sense does that make? With a blur of motion, she grabbed hold of Alfred's upper arms and lifted him to her eye level.
The door opened. "HowareyouohokayI'llcomabacklater," said a customer, leaving as quickly as she had arrived.
Alfred barely breathed as Nalda turned him left and right, examining him closely. After what felt like forever, she lowered him gently down.
"Nein. She is wrong. What she needs… You are not up to it. You do not have the stomach."
She turned and walked from the shop, leaving Alfred staring at the door. His heart was racing, his breath was quick. As the fear slowly left him, he became conscious that his cheeks were flushing as the blood returned to his face. Carefully… carefully… he reached a hand around to the back of his trousers for a gentle feel. To his relief, everything was okay at that end.
"Right," he said, and began packing up. Fanaka would be in the next day. Alfred pondered telling the man, then thought better of it.
"Just one of those things," he said.
"Just let it pass," he added.
If Nalda had heard him say that, she would have known that she had been completely right about him.