Where do stories come from?

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Story one:

My wife sold a book on Amazon with a crease in the cover. In the description, she said there was a crease. The woman who bought it gave her a zero rating and said she was dishonest.

Story two:

The first time it happened was an accident. He sold a clock to a certain Denis Treboulay, who lived in the Périgord, an hour or so from Toulouse. The clock was 19th Century, its round face wedged into a delicate porcelain stand about eight centimetres high. He sold it for 65 euros, which he thought was cheap, given the craftsmanship of the hands and the fine enamel colours of the stand.

Denis Treboulay complained. At that point David had been selling products for almost 18 months and this was his first complaint. He took great care in his business, not just in the packaging and the speed with which he sent out the goods, but also in the descriptions he gave. Any slight blemish or crack was mentioned. He didn’t want anyone to think they’d been ripped off. Quick, meticulous and honest. He had to be. If you let your standards slip, you put your whole business at risk. Until Treboulay complained, he had 100% positive feedback.

Was it dishonest to omit to mention that the clock didn’t actually work? He hadn’t tried to give the impression that it did. You wouldn’t expect something that old, with such a fine, sophisticated mechanism, to be ticking as it did the day it was made. Not unless you were Denis Treboulay, that is.

Misleading descriptions and lies! Avoid this seller at all costs!

If you slashed a painting with a razor blade, you couldn’t do more damage than Treboulay did to David’s feelings. And the score. Zero. Round as a noose, with Treboulay pulling it taut. And David found it difficult to breathe.

He had an appointment in Montauban. A collector interested in an eighteenth century map of Asia Minor. He wasn’t prepared to buy it over the internet. He wanted to see it. Deal or no deal, he offered to pay the expenses.

It was only the following morning, with the map successfully sold, that David realised he wasn’t that far from Treboulay. He’d thought at first he might call on his brother, Cyril, who wasn’t that far away either. But Cyril, as always, would only manage to make him feel inferior. Only natural, really – what does a brilliant engineer with Airbus have to say to a small-time dealer on eBay?

He had no plan other than to ask Treboulay why he’d been so unfair, get him to admit he’d overstepped the mark. These things happen, perhaps when you’ve had a glass too many, and something you at first found mildly irritating gets blown up out of proportion.

Treboulay lived in a solid, well-kept manor that exuded wealth and tradition, one of those places that seemed unaffected by the passing of time. As he approached it up a tree-lined drive, David felt he was going back two centuries into the past.

Treboulay himself was less well-kept than his house, opening the door in a jacket that was frayed at the elbows, but David saw straightaway that this was not a man accustomed to compromise.

‘What do you want?’

‘I’m David Solenn. Soleno. I sold you the clock on eBay.’

Treboulay took a moment to register. Then the eyes narrowed and he said again, ‘What do you want?’

‘I was passing by. If you have a minute, I thought we could talk it over.’

‘What’s there to talk about?’ demanded Treboulay. But then he turned and shuffled down the corridor. ‘I’ll show you what a clock is.’

He led David into a drawing room filled with enough antiques to stock an entire shop. He opened a glass-fronted cabinet and took out two clocks similar to the one that David had sold. Except they were both, if anything, even more finely made. And both were gently ticking.

He let David hold one for a few seconds before taking it back. ‘Second Empire, from Besançon. Pieces of art, these are. In perfect working order. I wind them up on a Sunday and at the end of the week they’re less than a minute out.’ He returned the clocks to the cabinet. ‘What you sold me was a piece of crap.’

David knew that the clock he’d just been holding could fetch up to 800 euros, maybe more. ‘I sold you my clock for sixty-five euros.’

‘So?’

‘You thought I was just some ignorant eBay trader who was flogging off a family treasure for peanuts. You were the one who was trying to rip me off.’

Treboulay turned to him, a sneer of contempt curling his lip. ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about. You have no right to be in this business at all.’

‘I know what’s fair and what isn’t.’ David could hear the tremble of anger in his own voice, the fury that was close to breaking out. ‘I want an apology.’

Treboulay drew his head back, eyes wide in astonishment. Then he let out a disdainful puff, waved a hand dismissively and muttered, ‘Get out.’ As if his visitor was a bothersome little boy, not even worth getting angry about.

David pushed him. Not that hard, but enough for him to stumble backwards, trip over the coffee table and fall. The back of his head came down upon an iron firedog in the hearth. He lay still.

David thought he was shamming. He prodded him and shook him, confident he would react. Then with a rush of horror, he realised Treboulay was dead.

Story one is true; story two, you’ll be reassured to know, is fiction, an excerpt from One Green Bottle. I don’t think I’ll ever do what David did, given that (a) I don’t sell clocks on eBay and (b) the last time I got into a fight was in the playground at primary school. I do get angry though; unfair criticism stings. ‘Doesn’t it make your blood boil?’ I said to my wife. She stayed pretty cool. ‘Nothing we can do about it,’ she said, which of course was true.

What I did do, though, was give the matter some thought. And then a bit more thought. And finally, what emerged was a serial killer. So there you have the ingredients of One Green Bottle: a pinch of anger, a dollop of imagination, and a few dozen gallons of hard work.

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