The presenter turned away from the camera to greet the next contributor. Her smile was broad and her eyes twinkled – she could fake sincerity along with the best of them.
“Hello, and welcome to the Antiques Show and Tell. What’s your name and what have you brought to show us?”
The punter – an elderly man in a fez that was incongruous with his tweed jacket – grinned back. “Hello, Catriona; I’m Al and I’ve brung this here lamp.”
“Let’s take a look.” Catriona picked up the object. It was dark, the metal tarnished from age. “A lamp, you say?”
“That’s right. You filled it with oil and lit a taper that came out the spout, you see?”
“Oh, right. It’s like something out of a pantomime.”
“Oh, no, it isn’t. This is your genuine article. From Persia.”
Catriona tipped the lamp over. “I can’t see any hallmarks.”
“You won’t,” said Al. “It’s eighth century.”
“And how do you know that?”
“Because,” Al leant closer over the table, “I was there.” He grinned again, more broadly this time.
Catriona backed away. Her eyes darted nervously to camera. Got a right one here, she thought.
“That’s interesting, Al. Thank you.” She put the lamp on the table and turned away, making a quick chopping gesture to her throat. This old nutter could be dropped in the edit. Time-wasters! They turned up every week without fail.
“Oho!” came a hearty cry behind her. It was Nigel, one of the experts. His pudgy hands seized on the lamp. He inspected it with an admiring glint in his eye. “Ooh. Persian, I’d say. Ninth century?”
“Eighth,” said Al.
“Proper Arabian Nights stuff!” Nigel enthused. “And if memory serves…” He pulled the cuff of his bright blazer over the heel of his hand to give the tarnished metal a rub.
“No!” cried Catriona, reaching for the lamp.
But it was too late. The lamp jerked and shuddered in Nigel’s grasp. The lid flew off like a champagne cork and green and purple smoke billowed from the interior. The smoke coalesced in the sky to form the shape of a man from the torso up to the topknot of hair on the crown of his skull. The smoky figure folded his arms and bellowed.
“I am the slave of the lamp; what is your bidding?”
Nigel pouted. “I don’t know. Get us renewed for another series? With me as the lead presenter?”
“Your wish is my command,” the genie bowed.
“Good one,” said Al. He doffed his fez and snatched the lamp back. “I never liked her. Now, how much do you think it’s worth?”