“You lookin’ to buy or sell, kid?”
The man’s gritty voice demanded an answer. He had both feet propped up on the folding table, a toothpick dangling from the corner of his mouth. His collection of cards weren’t as eye-catching as some of the other displays at the convention. Smaller, less variety, but there was something there, something underneath, some hidden secret.
What was that?
“Well, what’s it gonna be? Buyin’ or sellin’?” The man nodded at the book under Scott’s arm. “You need something taken off your hands, I’m the guy for ya.” Callused hands tapped the table. “Just lay out whatcha got and I’ll make ya a fair deal.”
The book changed hands, pages flipped through with the occasional grunt.
“I’ll give you a hundred for this one,” the man said, pointing at one of the cards.
No, not that one. That one was his favorite. More importantly, that one was his dad’s favorite.
“No, eh? Alright,” the man grunted and flipped the page. “Well, whaddya know… I’ll give you twenty for this one. Won’t go a penny higher. You’re not gonna get a better deal. Truth to tell, it ain’t in that great condition anyways.”
Yeah, that one. The other half of the matched set. The lesser half. The unwanted half. He didn’t even really like it all that much, but it was part of a pair and he’d never wanted to be the one to break up the band.
Not that it mattered. Not like it’d done him much good lately.
The past couple years, he’d watched in dismay as the value on the card dropped. Five years from now, what would it be worth? Ten, maybe fifteen if he was lucky. It’d only ever brought him grief.
Money was passed into his hand and he found himself being turned away, the man grinning, toothpick bobbing in his mouth, saying, “Pleasure doin’ business with ya.”
Half an hour later, book in hand and money in his pocket, Scott walked past the man’s display again with a bounce in his step. Less to worry him, profit made – it was a good day. He nodded at the man with the toothpick and the unimpressive collection, barely suppressing his grin. The albatross wasn’t his to bear anymore.
When he overheard the man’s phone call, he dismissed it as a pipe dream.
“Hey, Chris, got myself a real doozy of a fixer upper here. You interested?”
The call itself wasn’t that memorable, the man’s reined in excitement smelling of foolishness and… what was that again? Oh, yeah. Opportunity. Good luck, buddy – you’re gonna need it.
When his phone rang a year later, he remembered the man’s phone call in a different light.
“Well, you see, we can’t use those characters. No – I mean, they’re…I sold them…” Scott winced.
The sinking feeling in his gut crystallized that moment. He remembered the man with the toothpick bobbing in his mouth because his grin was too wide to keep it steady, balancing it precariously on the edge of falling, somehow making it dance and cut and extend every expression into a wheeling deal.
That man now held the card he wanted to play, but couldn’t because he’d sold it thinking it was better to jump ship before it sank. He hadn't known the man was going to turn around and start bailing water. And frankly, it had never occurred to him to try. Too many years of letting the water seep in and drag him down.
Yeah. Opportunity lost.
Dad sure wasn’t happy about that.