The hall creaked with each step under the brown carpet as I followed Mr. Bilson into the depths of the house. It smelled like old man in there, like hairless skin and arthritis cream and dentures. He asked if I wanted a cup of coffee and I said yes, partly because I wasn’t allowed to drink coffee and partly because I wanted to bury my nose in the cup. He went in the kitchen, where he disappeared like a chameleon against the yellow-and-brown color scheme. I turned back to the wall and forgot about the smell.
There were all kinds of knives. The card underneath each knife said what kind of knife it was, who made it, and the year it was made. Some cards also had names of places and years next to those. There were some really old ones. The oldest one was also the biggest. It said it was an Argentine Modelo short sword from 1909. It had a pretty long blade, but it was old and nicked. It wasn’t rusty, though, like a couple of them were.
“Which one’s your favorite?” Mr. Bilson was back. He handed me the coffee. It was in a Denny’s mug, and I wondered if he’d stolen it. I took a sip and tried not to make a face. Even I could tell it wasn’t good coffee, and I’d never had any before.
He was still looking at me, waiting for me to answer. I studied the wall. I pointed to a dagger, all open ends and decoration, with a ridged, rusty blade. It looked like it would fit in my pocket, and if Mr. Bilson didn’t have those watchful eyes I might have tried.
“The Indian Katar dagger, hmmm?” He plucked it from the wall and thoughtfully felt its blade. “It isn’t dated, but it’s an old one.” He handed it to me.
I felt uncomfortable with the knife in my hand. He just kept looking at me, and I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with it. I felt the blade like he’d done, nodding a couple times awkwardly as if I knew what a good knife should feel like. I handed it back to him when I thought the right amount of time had passed.
“You’re one of those boys doesn’t speak much, huh?” he said, placing the knife back on the wall. “Too busy playing your computer games, I suppose. Forgot how to use your voice.”
“I talk.” My voice sounded rusty, like the blade. I took another swallow of coffee. “How did you know I played computer games?”
“That was my job, to get close to people. To notice things. It’s the height of summer, and you’re white as a fish. When I handed you the cup, I saw the callous on your index finger from clicking that mouse button all the time. It wasn’t too hard to figure out.”
“What was your job?” I asked, but he didn’t answer. He just looked at the wall of knives, so I looked too. How come it was okay for him not to talk?