March 30, 2020
"Controversy Makes Fools of Us All"

Uncle Jake's Odds and Ends Shoppe
by Dan Mulhollen (short, PG-13)
Cover image.
Image credit: Public Domain. More info.

Was it the only solution?

~~~

As far as anyone can tell, Jake Wilmer was never anyone's uncle. He lived alone in the apartments above his store which he rented from Cash-MacDougal Properties, who owned several old storefront apartment buildings in the area. Jake was a collector of many things. Art and antiques, books, phonograph records, board games, musical instruments, tarot decks, knives and swords just scratched the surface. All were in pristine condition, often never used. Jake simply liked to surround himself with interesting objects, as Jake was sometimes referred to as being.

His store had a good selection of all the aforementioned items as well as everything from all common types of batteries, light bulbs, sewing supplies, coffees and teas (including the hard to find Sumatra Gold brand), toiletries (including items from the very rare Princess Sassafras collection), C-90 cassette tapes, tapes from Minnesota -- not Scotland -- regardless what the brand name would make you think, 8-track tapes of various "Greatest Hits" collections and fully-functional 8-track players.

There was also a special "Members Only" room for people Jake knew long enough to trust. These included expensive spirits -- including the unfairly maligned absinthe, good cigars, including those unavailable in the US for inexplicable reasons, and another smoking item, legal in over half of the US, but legally, a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance.

"Where else can you find a reproduction of the Wycliffe New Testament, Great Prog Bands of the Seventies, and a good cognac all at one place?" One satisfied customer stated. "I always buy my swords, cologne, and Cohibas there," said another. The store did an uncrowded but steady business -- except for slightly busier times around the holidays, where Wilmer found rare Christmas DVDs including Machiste in Hell, a 1926 silent which managed to combine Dante and the Italian Hercules clone with a Christmas message, and We're No Angels, Humphrey Bogart's only comedy, set on during the Christmas season on Devil's Island.

And there were nearly a dozen takes on A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life, including a few not for kiddies -- a version of the Dickens' classic featuring very curvaceous "ghosts," all wearing only almost-sheer gowns; iridescent white for the Ghost of Christmas Present, ermine-trimmed red for Ghost of Christmas Past, and hooded black for the Ghost of Christmas Yet To ... err ... Come. The pornographic version of the Frank Capra classic had visibly over-aged "high school kids" doing a lot more than dancing by the light of the moon when the gym floor opened, exposing the swimming pool below, and that the actresses were unusually well-groomed for 1946 (the film was actually made in 1998, but shot in black and white and put through digital filters to give the illusion of being from the 1940s.)

The legal issues were settled in private. The police department viewed the store as a local asset, illegalities aside. Mayor Van der Linden claimed being swayed by rum and twenty-four dollars in trinkets was cosmic retribution for his culture's past dealings, not to mention his fondness for rum and trinkets.

Then one day in March, Jake was called downtown to the office of DCH Management. Karl Howe, the firm's junior partner met Jake in the outer office. The slim, well-dressed man, with a shaven head to hide male pattern baldness, took Jake into his office.

"As you know," he said as they sat down at Howe's desk, across from each other, "DCH has bought Cash-MacDougal and now owns its properties."

"I've heard," Jake said.

Howe slid a slip of paper over to Jake. "This will be your new rent."

Jake looked at the number. "Why," Jake said, stunned, "that's more than twice my present rent. I'm just a small store. There's no way I can afford that."

"The rent will be due the first of the month. Otherwise, I'll expect to find the building vacated."

"Just like Valentino's Market, Jerry's Catfish and Grits, and Basheer's Shawarma Shed," Jake said, mentioning three other stores, their buildings now owned by DCH, forced to close.

"Business is business," the man said, smugness dripping in his words. "New stores will take over all those places."

"And how long will that take? Basheer's have had newspapers over the windows for over two years."

"Mothballs do come in handy," Howe said. "Mr. Dewey says it's like fishing. Be patient, dangle a low rent and someone will take the bait. Then wait a year and double the rent. Otherwise we can always bring in the wrecking ball and sell the land to some chain."

"This town is over 200 years old," Jake said, growing angry. "A few stores date back to the late 1800s. The people here are proud of their history, the old architecture and all the memories. No one wants this to look like just another bland, soulless suburb."

"Sentimental nonsense," Howe said, yawning. "First of the month," he repeated, pointing toward the street. "You see those bricks outside? Either pay the rent or be ready to hit them."

Jake went home, called Doctor Christopher McIntyre, a radiologist at a nearby hospital and a regular customer. "Chris, remember that chat we had about a possible solution to the takeovers? I have one unopened box of Bolivars left. Trade? Yes, the proposition is risky? How about if I add a bottle of 18 year old Macallan Single Malt?"

In less than a half hour, Jake was holding a layered container -- wax-coated burlap, then lead, finally glass. After setting the glass inner-container next to another device, he prepared a glass of high-thujone absinthe and lit a Cuban H Uppmann. He pulled two books from his shelf; a historical novel, Sir Michael and Siege of Kamenyets 1672 and a how-to guide, What Happens When You Blow Yourself Up? He slowly read the final chapters; heroic Sir Michael, caught between a solemn oath he'd made to never surrender the town and a treaty the townsmen made to the Turkish invaders -- one that would have forced Sir Michael to violate his oath. The second was written by someone who seemed heavily into hallucinogens and ended with "Good luck."

Then, his drink and cigar finished, he called all of his neighbors. "It's time" he said, please leave the area -- you'll hear about it on the news. He sat there, giving his neighbors a good fifteen minutes to flee -- they all had an inkling and were prepared. Then, suitably inebriated, then he pressed the red button.

The radioactive material spewed over the ruins of the store meant the land would be unusable for decades. There would be no DCH; they filed for bankruptcy shortly after the explosion. There was just a lead-lined concrete quarter acre sarcophagus. There would be no strip malls, no fast food restaurants, no dollar stores. Dr. McIntyre covered his tracks well and the missing material was attributed to a clerical error. A newly-hired secretary was blamed and immediately fired, re-hired weeks later with generous compensation.

"This was an act of domestic terrorism," Karl Howe told the press, angry and half in tears. "A lucrative property taken from us. A madman with a dirty bomb. It's not fair, it's just not fair, I tell you!" He left sobbing and ranting, apparently having a nervous breakdown.

Locals considered Jake a hero, a martyr who gave his life for his community. Some considered his actions careless, but all agreed with his motives. Greedy DCH had been a blight on their easygoing way of life. Something had to be done. In the years that followed, many of the town's newborns were named Jake -- even a few girls. On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the event, Mayor Jake Ellen Basheer, shawarma maker's daughter turned politician, unveiled a statue. "Jake Wilmer," the inscription read, "Local Hero."







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