The Coin Collector, p.1Michelle Proulx
THE COIN COLLECTOR
a short story by
Copyright 2013 by Michelle Proulx
Cover design by Michelle Proulx
Cover art by Janine Chance, via https://www.sxc.hu/
Discover other titles by Michelle Proulx at michelleproulx.com
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events, locations, people, or dragons, is entirely coincidental.
THE COIN COLLECTOR
It’s a funny sort of place for a person to live, thought Mr. Quimbly, peering curiously through his smudged spectacles at the large, dilapidated old warehouse near the docks. Quite out of the way for most respectable folks. If it weren’t for his job, Mr. Quimbly would never have ventured into this part of town alone. He was far more comfortable in his natural habitat—the dusty fiscal archives at the Tax and Revenue Agency. But when his boss had told him that morning to get down to the warehouse district or else, Mr. Quimbly went.
Mr. Quimbly had been flabbergasted that morning when his boss had handed him his first-ever field assignment without so much as a how-do-you-do. “Find this man,” Mr. Rogers had said, shoving a file into Mr. Quimbly’s ink-stained fingers. “Goes by the name of Green. We got an anonymous tip a few weeks back that Mr. Green’s done a bit of coin hoarding. Not the most illegal thing in the world, but still needs looking into.”
“Can’t you ask Bumford?” Mr. Quimbly had queried. “Isn’t this his case file?”
“Bumford’s gone. Disappeared last Friday, after I sent him out to chat with Mr. Green. Authorities think he had a mental break. Made a run for it. Wouldn’t be the first time in this department.”
“No matter. Check up on Mr. Green, write him up if need be, and for God’s sake try not to disappear off the face of the planet like Bumford. Think you can manage that, Quimbly?”
Mr. Quimbly had not felt entirely sure that he could, but knew better than to admit that to his boss. “And once I take care of this, sir?”
Mr. Rogers had laughed and clapped Mr. Quimbly hard on the shoulder. “Bright young fellow like yourself?” he had boomed, although he was at least ten years Mr. Quimbly’s junior. “Sky’s the limit!”
And that was how Mr. Quimbly now found himself in the wrong part of town, standing outside the door of a derelict warehouse, growing increasingly uncomfortable because he could not locate the doorbell.
“Hang it,” muttered Mr. Quimbly. He was determined to complete this assignment satisfactorily, and would not let the lack of a doorbell slow him down. Pounding his fist against the dented metal door, he shouted, “Anyone in?”
“Just a moment, if you please,” a voice rumbled from inside.
After a few seconds, the door squeaked open of its own accord. A huge, gleaming claw attached to a scaly green appendage nearly the size of Mr. Quimbly’s entire body reached out toward him. Mr. Quimbly yelped, stumbling back and nearly dropping his file.
“Forgive my rudeness,” said the same deep voice, and the claw retracted back through the doorway. “I didn’t mean to startle you, little manling. Do come inside. I’ll put the kettle on.”
“I—I’d rather not, if it’s all the same to you,” said Mr. Quimbly, preparing to run.
“It isn’t, actually.”
The claw shot back out, hooked around Mr. Quimbly’s waist, and yanked him inside.
Mr. Quimbly landed on the floor of the dimly-lit warehouse with a thud and a groan. As he shakily retrieved his fallen spectacles and pushed himself to his knees, he noticed a glint of gold near his left hand. Picking it up, he realized it was a Spanish doubloon. How curious, he thought.
Then he looked up, and found himself staring at the scaly snout of a massive green dragon. The resplendent beast towered over Mr. Quimbly’s head, its horns brushing the ceiling. Its jagged viridian scales contrasted magnificently with the small mountain of gleaming gold coins on which it was nestled.
“Good heavens,” said Mr. Quimbly, dropping the doubloon. “You’re a dragon.”
“Well spotted,” said the dragon.
“I wasn’t … erm … aware your sort existed,” Mr. Quimbly admitted, attempting not to hyperventilate. “I don’t suppose there’s any chance you’re not Mr. Green?”
“I am, in fact, Mr. Green.”
Mr. Quimbly felt his body start to quiver, and thought to himself, Pull it together, man! Dragon or not, you’re looking at a promotion if this goes well. Just keep your head and you’ll be home by supper. Staggering to his feet and taking a deep breath, Mr. Quimbly said, “Well then, g-good afternoon, Mr. Green. I’m Nigel Quimbly, with the T-tax and Revenue Agency.” He was proud to note that his voice only shook twice during his speech.
The dragon bowed his massive spiked head. “Charmed, I’m sure.”
Mr. Quimbly started to reach forward for a handshake, but then stole a second glance at Mr. Green’s formidable claws and thought better of it. “I’d like to ask you a few questions, if that would be … erm … palatable to you.”
“Certainly. But some tea first, perhaps?”
Mr. Quimbly peered around the cavernous warehouse, searching for a teapot amidst the heaping mounds of gold coins. He spotted several—an ornate silver teapot rimmed with rubies, a shiny bronze teapot surrounded by sapphires, and a glowing golden teapot encrusted with emeralds. Although his throat was quite parched, Mr. Quimbly thought it best not to prolong his visit. “Thanks very much, but I’ll have to pass.”
“A shame,” sighed Mr. Green. “I’ve got a lovely apple blend I’ve been eager for someone to sample.”
“Can’t you try it out yourself?”
“We dragons have rather delicate stomachs, I’m afraid. I’ve found it best to avoid herbal brews and stick to the classics, like the steaming heart-blood of my prey. Nevertheless, I find the smell of brewed tea quite invigorating.”
“So sorry,” said Mr. Quimbly uncomfortably. “I’m sure the tea is lovely, but I hope to only trouble you for a minute.”
“Everyone’s always in such a hurry nowadays,” lamented the dragon.
“Yes, well …” Clearing his throat and flipping open his file, Mr. Quimbly said, “My first question concerns the recent disappearance of my colleague, Mr. Bumford. He was dispatched to your place of residence a few days ago, but no one’s seen him since.”
“Not much of a question,” observed the dragon.
“Do you have any idea what happened to him?”
“Of course. I ate him.”
Mr. Quimbly was so shocked that he dropped his file, and had to hurriedly stoop down to retrieve it. “Good Lord! Are you quite certain?”
“Fairly certain, yes. He was a touch on the boney side, but I managed well enough. The police who came looking for him were much sweeter on the palate. One had an Indonesian taste, as I recall. Or possibly Malaysian? Geography was never my strong suit. Regardless, it’s not often you get that sort of delicacy around these parts.”
“Aren’t you being a bit callous toward these people you’re crunching?” Mr. Quimbly asked indignantly.
“Everyone has to eat.”
Feeling that he and Mr. Green were unlikely to see eye to eye on a subject like man-eating, Mr. Quimbly elected to move along with the investigation, so as to hasten his departure. “Very well,” he said. “Let’s get to the main purpose of my call, shall we?”
“If you like,” obliged Mr. Green.
“I’ve come to investigate a charge of coin hoarding.”
“On what grounds, might I ask?”
Mr. Quimbly glanced around the warehouse, filled as it was with small mountains of coins from floor to ceiling, interspersed with various objects mad
“No,” rumbled Mr. Green. “This is my hoard. All proper dragons have hoards.”
“Be that as it may, if the charge sticks you’re facing quite a hefty fine, not to mention they’ll confiscate the collection.”
For the first time, Mr. Green showed signs of displeasure. He lowered his great snout to human eye level and fixed Mr. Quimbly with his cold reptilian stare. “And what gives you the right to take my coins, manling?”
“Not me! The government!” Mr. Quimbly protested.
“And what gives them the right?”
“The right to what?”
“To confiscate my wealth! If I pay my dues and keep my nose clean, I ought to be permitted a few coins now and then. Maintaining a suitably-sized coin hoard happens to be my way of life, and they’re infringing on that. I’m a citizen of this country, same as you. I have rights!”
“I’m not sure mythological creatures count as citizens …” Mr. Quimbly mumbled.
Mr. Green shot an irritated puff of smoke from his huge, scaly nostrils. “I voted in the latest election, didn’t I? I’ve got a National Insurance number and everything. I’d say that qualifies me as a citizen.”
Mr. Quimbly cleared his throat delicately. “I suspect they wouldn’t have given you a National Insurance number if they’d known you were a dragon.”
“Are you discriminating against me based on my species?” the dragon demanded.
“Not at all,” Mr. Quimbly assured him, fluttering the file in a placatory manner. “I’m sure dragons have many … erm … useful skills to contribute to society. Anyway, you’re rather missing the point, aren’t you?”
“What point might that be?”
“That it doesn’t matter whether or not you like the law! It’s still the law, and we’ve got to follow it.”
“But who makes the law?” pressed Mr. Green. “We’ve got a democracy in this country, and that’s direct from the Greeks—power of the people. Aren’t I a person?”
“I suppose ... of a sort.”
“Then I should be allowed to make my own laws.”
But Mr. Quimbly had been to university, and he’d nearly passed a political science class. “Just the opposite,” he countered. “John Locke says that by living in a society, we agree to follow the laws set down by the government.”
“I’ve read Locke,” said Mr. Green. “And I think I might have eaten his sister-in-law. Anyway, you’ve missed the point.”
Mr. Quimbly often missed the point, but he didn’t think he was doing so now. “How so?” he demanded.
“Not all laws are necessarily good ones. Majority rule isn’t infallible, you know. Take this coin hoarding law—where’s the harm? Ever seen a coin collection commit fraud? Larceny? Treason?”
“Well, seeing as you’re talking about coins ...”
“And it’s not as if the treasury can’t make more! Do you really think I should be penalized just because I’ve got a predilection for shiny things?”
“I …” Mr. Quimbly trailed off, having completely lost track of the conversation. “No?”
The dragon settled back on his haunches, looking thoroughly pleased with himself. “There you go,” he rumbled. “It’s settled. The coins stay.”
Then something happened to Mr. Quimbly that hadn’t occurred in a very long time—he got an idea. “But you’ve forgotten one thing!” he exclaimed.
“I think I’ve got you right square backed into a corner, and you know it.”
“But you have!” insisted Mr. Quimbly. “Fact of the matter is, you choose to live in this society of your own free will. Therefore you’ve committed yourself to obeying the laws, whether you like them or not. No ifs, ands, or buts about it!”
Mr. Green regarded him for a long moment through twinkling reptilian eyes. Then he said, “Well, you’ve certainly put me in my place.”
Mr. Quimbly found himself grinning widely. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d won an argument. It was a heady feeling. He felt as if he could do anything—maybe even march back to his office and give his boss a piece of his mind for passing him over for promotion five years in a row.
Clearing his throat importantly, Mr. Quimbly said, “It appears our business is concluded, Mr. Green. The police should be around shortly to collect your coins. Have an excellent day.”
Mr. Quimbly bobbed his head to the dragon and then turned to exit the warehouse. But a wall of green scales crashed down in front of him, blocking the way. Mr. Quimbly jumped back, his shoes scattering coins in all directions. “I say!” he shouted indignantly. “What was that for? Scare a chap half to death!”
“I’m afraid you’ve forgotten something as well,” said Mr. Green. His scaly lips parted back in a wide grin, exposing razor-sharp teeth.
Mr. Quimbly mentally replayed their conversation, but couldn’t detect a single flaw in his argument. “You’ll have to illuminate me,” he admitted.
“I’m a dragon,” said Mr. Green, and he ate up Mr. Quimbly in one bite.
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Imminent Danger And How to Fly Straight into It
by Michelle Proulx
The Coin Collector by Michelle Proulx / Fantasy / Humor have rating 2.3 out of 5 / Based on36 votes