Loretta fanned herself with her entrance tickets to the Antiques Across America Extravaganza. The morning sun baked the long, snaking line to enter the county fairgrounds exhibit hall where the show would film. Her scalp itched terribly, but she couldn’t scratch through her thick mat of hair.

To pass the time, she eyed the antiquities around her. She prided herself on her good eye. About ten feet ahead, a man toted a chair with hairy bear-claw carved feet. Another woman carried a stained cardboard box with a palm-shaded Tiffany lamp rattling back and forth. Every time the woman took a step, Loretta winced.

Loretta’s thickset husband Samuel carried their artifact of choice: a Georgian card table with clean, straight lines. She knew it originated in the Philadelphia area around 1800.

The entrance to the hall was flanked by carved wooden pillars. Runes circled the smooth surface. Enchantment detectors. She expected as much after the fuss on a show last season. A dim-witted appraiser read aloud microscopic print on the underside of a Victorian brazier, triggering a fire spell that torched the table, the appraiser’s pants, and caused an evacuation stampede. Several lawsuits were still pending, but the show’s cable audience had quadrupled. The incident had certainly caught Loretta’s eye.

A gust of conditioned air welcomed them inside the hall. A suited man with a tablet computer smiled at their approach. “Welcome to Antiques Across America!” he said. “Tickets, please?”

Loretta handed them over. The man clucked his tongue and nodded. “You can head towards the furniture area, back by the yellow flags.”

They wove through the thick crowds, Samuel’s steps heavy in her shadow. The only woman ahead in this new line carried a folk pinewood bench that was obviously a modern reproduction. Loretta wrinkled her nose.

She studied the other people. A few familiar faces had blended with the crowd, but no one met her eye. The man with the hairy bear-claw table stood in the middle of the hall not far from the illuminated stage. His item had been found worthy of the camera crew, but that was no guarantee of authenticity. Each broadcast included a few suckers.

“Well, hello there.” Their appraiser was an older woman with a body like a chest of drawers, stout thickness from scalp to ankles. Her tight silver perm radiated hairspray within a three-foot radius. “You are…?”

“I’m Loretta, and this is my husband, Samuel.”

“I’m Carol Smith, of Smith Antiquities.”

Loretta had recognized her from the television show. This woman was an efficient and scrutinizing appraiser, just as Loretta needed. Samuel set the table atop a larger table, and Mrs. Smith began her examination.

“My goodness,” she murmured. “This is a beauty. A semi-circular Georgian table. Nice, tapered legs. Are you aware of what this was used for?”

“It’s a card table,” said Loretta.

“Indeed it is. Can you help me flip it over?”

Samuel reached forward and flipped the table upside-down with a single twist of a meaty arm. Loretta bit her lip. This was where things would get interesting. She met Samuel’s steady gaze and then glanced at the crowd beyond.

“Oh my.” There was a long pause. “I think this table would be phenomenal on our broadcast. Would you mind waiting around a while more?”

Loretta hid her disappointment with a nod and smile. Waiting longer wouldn’t be that bad, and standing in the center of the hall would make it easier to observe more fascinating items as they came in.

They were guided towards the stage. Filming was wrapping up for the hairy bear-claw chair.

“…and I estimate the value to be around $100,000,” said the appraiser.

The chair’s owner, with his pear-shaped gut and faded t-shirt, play-acted a heart attack. “Are you serious? Oh, gosh.”

It was their turn next. Loretta stood on stage. Samuel paced off set near the previous guest, who seemed immobile in shock. The producer signaled the cameraman.

Mrs. Smith went through the usual background information for the ignorant: that card tables were popular in the 18th and 19th century, and Loretta had brought a fine example. Then she asked to turn the table over.

“But this is very unusual here,” said Mrs. Smith. “It looks to be a drawer built into the base.”

“Really?” Loretta feigned surprise, a hand to her chest.

“If I just pull a little here—oh.” Mrs. Smith tugged the cigarette box-sized drawer loose, and then the ghosts poured out.

Most ghosts were benign. These were not.

The specter of a slender man shrieked in Mrs. Smith’s face, his hands reaching for her throat. The appraiser cried and stumbled backward as his translucent hands seared red welts across her neck. Screams echoed in the hall around them as people fled for the exits.

Loretta watched patiently as she had all morning. It had taken months to gather the spirits of twelve deranged murderers, and shoving them in that little drawer only strengthened their rage. The wards on the hall wouldn’t detect spirits, after all.

“Move it,” she said to Samuel. He hauled up their table. Loretta motioned to the rest of their crew as they emerged from the chaos. “You, grab that bear-claw chair. That painting—yes. You, to the linens. You know what to look for.”

Any remaining people cowered on the ground as ghosts howled around them, feeding on their fear. Loretta swatted a female specter away like a fly. They had all drugged themselves to stay cool and passive so as not to attract the ghosts. Loretta scooped the Tiffany lamp from its box and flung a Navajo blanket over her shoulder.

She cast one final glance over the place as she walked towards an emergency door. Next season they’d undoubtedly add mediums at the entrance along with their ward pillars, if the show still existed at all. Sweat itching beneath her wig, Loretta nodded approval at her people’s finds. Like her, the entire heist crew had an excellent eye.


# # #

A Good Eye by Beth Cato
originally published in the Summer 2012 print edition



Beth Cato resides in Arizona with her husband and son. She’s an active member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, with work appearing in The Pedestal Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, and the Mountain Magic and Stories from the Hearth anthologies from Woodland Press. For information on her latest projects, please visit www.bethcato.com.

For more of Beth's work,
visit her Big Pulp author page


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