Parker found the pawn shop easily enough. It wasn’t as though there was much town to search. It was three blocks down from the bar, sandwiched between a small diner and a hardware store. He shuffled down the street towards it, shivering in the cold wind that had just begun to blow. Clouds were rolling in overhead, covering up the moon and the stars. The air was damp and clammy, thick with the smell of rain.
At first glance the pawn shop seemed to be empty, but a light glimmering from the back counter spoke otherwise. Parker checked his watch. Eleven PM. Rather late for a business to be open in a town like this. At this hour most folk were already sound asleep, or chasing oblivion in the bar.
As Parker approached the building, he caught a glimpse of its interior through the dusty windows on either side of the door. The shop was all one room, cluttered with shelves and racks of secondhand items. Old toasters, used silverware and china, cheap jewelry, and all other kinds of things were piled into stacks and towers leaning crazily to either side. A single lightbulb shone from above a worn oaken counter at the back of the store, barely illuminating the pair of men arguing there. One was seated behind the counter and the other, a brawny barrel-chested man, leaned over him aggressively, jabbing a finger at his face like a weapon as he spoke.
Parker brushed some dirt from the window and peered inside. The big man seemed to be wearing a uniform of some kind, but he couldn’t see him well enough to tell what kind. As he watched, the big man said something else, a single sentence that infuriated the other man. He sprang to his feat and shouted, clenching his fists and gesturing towards the door, the universal language for “get the hell out of my store.”
The big man stumbled back, startled by the vehemence of the outcry. Recovering, he turned and strode through the shop toward the door, still bellowing at the other man over his shoulder. Parker ducked off to the side as the big man blew through the door, shouting back inside as he did so.
“Don’t be a idiot, Griffins! This is your last warning!” Parker noticed that he wore a police uniform. Well now. This was interesting.
“You can shove your warnings where the sun don’t shine!” The second man followed him out, brandishing a broom with surprising ferocity. The police officer ducked as he swung it at his head. He started to say something, then thought better of it as the other man drew back the broom again. Deciding that whatever he had to say wasn’t worth the risk, he turned on his heels and marched down the street, mumbling profanities just quiet enough to be unintelligible.
“And don’t come back until you’ve got something worth coming for!” The man with the broom stopped at the edge of the street. He was smaller than the police officer and walked with a slight limp. Grey hair and beard notwithstanding, his grip on the broom was firm and the look on his face suggested he was ready to use it again. Horn-rimmed glasses sat on a nose mottled red with fury. Giving the broom one last shake, he turned and started back into the shop when he caught sight of Parker.
“Oh. Didn’t see you there, sir. I’m Jimmy Griffons, owner of the shop here. ” His face reddened even more.
“Bit of trouble with the police?” Parker put on an worried, but sympathetic expression. What was going on here? He needed information, and this man was his only source.
“Humph!” Griffon’s derisive snort took Parker by surprise. He would have expected people in a town like this to respect authority instinctively. Sort of a sheep mentality, blindly following a shepherd.
“Ain’t no trouble ‘cept what they’re making. I pay my rent on time, always have, and that’s that.” Griffons snorted again.
“Then why would they be coming to bother you?” Parker smelled a rat somewhere in this. And after more than twenty year living on the road, he had a very good nose.
Griffons’ eyes narrowed. He peered over his glasses at Parker, taking in the ripped and dirty suit. It was a very sharp gaze. Parker fought the urge to squirm.
“You’re not from around here, are you?” The suspicion in his voice was frank. The broom, which had lowered to rest on the ground began to swing back up.
Not good, not good at all. Time to try a little flattery. Parker put on his best smile and tried to sound innocent. He was very good at it. He’d had practice.
“I’m a traveler, sir, on my way to visit my niece.” A good piece of advice for any con was never to lie more than was necessary. “I thought I might find a gift for her in your fine establishment here.”
Griffons raised an eyebrow. “Fine establishment, eh? A little less brown nosing and a little more cash might get you somewhere.” He lowered the broom slowly, but kept it in his hand.
Parker was impressed. This one was sharper than he looked. Time for a calculated risk. “I suppose if I were to purchase something from your store, we might converse while I do so?”
“We might.” The broom lowered a fraction.
“And perhaps our conversation would include what a respectable business like yours is doing open at such a late hour and why it is being accosted by the police?”
“Perhaps.” The beginning of a smile played over the Griffon’s face.
Pulling out his stolen wallet, Parker passes over the rest of the cash. “In that case, show me whatever this can buy.”
“Be glad to!” Grinning broadly, Griffons swung the broom onto his shoulder and beckoned Parker into the shop. “Welcome, Mr...?”
“Smith. John Smith.”
Griffons gave him a look that said, seriously?
Parker replied with one that said, really, what did you expect?
Griffons relented. “Well then Mr. Smith, let me show you our selection.” He limped back inside the shop and Parker followed him, praising his good luck. Finally, progress. And it hadn’t required personal injury. Splendid.
The interior of the shop was surprisingly well-maintained, despite the clutter. Shelves were labeled, stacks of items were organized, and dust was nowhere to be found. It was a kind of organized chaos; a highly structured form of mess. Griffons probably knew exactly where every item was. The old man was sharp. Parker pitied anyone who tried to shoplift.
“So, such a warm welcome at this hour seems unusual,” said Parker, browsing through a rack of stuffed toys.
“Paying customers are always welcome.” Griffons limped back to the rear counter and sank into an old swivel chair behind it.
“Even those with, shall we say, questionable appearances?”
“Their money’s just as green as everyone else’s. I don’t ask questions. That just makes trouble.”
“How often do you buy things from such men? Is that why the police are after you?”
Griffons gave Parker a long look over the edge of his glasses. “I don’t believe you paid quite enough for that answer.”
“My apologies.” A fuzzy grey elephant with a pink bow around its caught Parker’s eye. Amanda would love it.
“In case you’re getting any ideas, you should know that there ain’t nothing to be had from threatening me. I keep records. Insurance, you could call it. If the thieves and flimflam men around here make trouble for me, I make sure I have a way to make trouble for them.” Griffons leaned forward and lit a cigarette. “Business goes smoothly and everyone’s happy.”
Parker picked up the elephant and examined it. Not too worn, still in good shape. “Then I assume that the police harassment is unrelated to your underground business?”
“I don’t rightly know, to tell you the truth.” Griffons took a long drag on his cigarette and sighed. “Don’t make no sense. They ain’t got nothing to charge me with, but they’re getting in my face, blowing hot air, all that strong arm stuff. Want me to move to the next town over.
“Why don’t you go?”
Griffons looked taken aback that Parker had even suggested it. “What, leave just because some monkey with a badge tells me to? Listen to the police like a good little boy? This is my little patch of nowhere and I ain’t going nowhere. Just because someone bigger says so don’t mean you have to listen.”
“Well, I wish you luck then.” Parker held up the elephant. “How much for this?”
“Ehh? Oh, you paid enough already. Take it.” Griffon looked slightly confused. “You’re welcome back, anytime you got stuff to unload.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you.” Parker tucked the elephant under his arm and left the shop. His head was spinning even more now than it had after the bar fight. If the police didn’t have enough evidence to arrest Griffon, why did they bother harassing him? And why were Frank and Big Joe meeting here, when Griffon made it clear that he only allowed business in his shop? And who was this boss character? The elephant under his arm would make a wonderful gift for Amanda, but at this rate he was never going to make it to her birthday.
Lights winked out across town as Parker walked, the night deepening into a somber velvet. Questions swam through the dark all around him, but answers would have to wait until morning.