“Get the hell outa here!” A boot sailed across the room, bouncing off the wall when the scraggly tabby cat dodged hastily. “Bloody hell. Man can’t even grab a few winks without you wailing for something.” He ran a grimy hand through his greasy, sleep-do hair and staggered over to the mirror to squint at his reflection in the foggy glass.
“Jesus. Jeremy, how could it possibly get any better than this?” Scratching under his arm, he reached for the baggy dungarees hanging over the chair and pulled them over his bony legs, yanked on the socks from last night, and cursed when he realized he’d have to chase his boot over to its resting place against the wall. A few handsful of water from the stained sink, a hasty straight-back comb and a stained, threadbare shirt over the thin, stooped shoulders.
The yellowed, buzzing fridge grudgingly offered green bread, a bag of potatoes, and an apple with one brown spot. Teeth sank into the apple while eyes swept over his kingdom. A sagging mattress and box spring sans frame, one floor lamp with a crooked shade, a dresser with one drawer missing, and three books: Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”, John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”, and a King James version of the Holy Bible. The last was a nuisance. He hadn’t read a page of it, but it had been a gift from Mum, and every time his hand had poised over the dumpster out back, a vision of her pitiful face during his last visit to her hospital room came to mind. So it stayed and gathered dust. Even had a couple nibbles out of one corner from a scuttling tenant who lived in that hole behind the fridge.
He yanked open the top drawer of the dresser. A wallet, two watches, a purse, and best of all, an IPod he’d managed to snatch from some brat at the mall. The kid had sounded like an air-raid siren as he pelted away, and he had been so scared he’d not stopped running for 3 blocks. Damn near killed him, but it would be worth it. Ernie would pay good money for this baby – ohhhh yeah. Going to hold that one for awhile, though. Save it for when he needed some smack real bad. The wallet held a MasterCard and 15 bucks. Not much, and the MasterCard was useless, but he’d eat today. Use the MC and get your mug on a camera – can’t have that. Needed to get a fix, though, so what’s in the purse? Yeaaaaah. A whopping 37 bucks grinned back at him, might as well be saying ‘shoot that stuff in, baby’.
“Come to Papa, my lovelies,” he whooped. He stuffed the bills into the front pocket of his trousers, thought better of it, removed the ID from the wallet, and loaded it up instead. He slid on a watch and something about it yanked him back. Jesus. He’d scored a Rolex. A genuine, honest to God Rolly. He’d almost decided not to fleece the pudgy guy on 45th, but it had been a slow night, and one stinking purse wasn’t gonna pay the rent. So, he’d stuck his .22 in the guy’s ribs and told him to give everything over or he’d be decorating the sidewalk with his supper. The guy was shakin’ so bad he could barely get his wallet out. Damned slick. Not one of them had the sack to live like Jeremy did, but they got all the breaks. So now he had a Rolly too – and that would pay the rent.
He pulled the door closed behind him, ducked into the common bathroom down the hall and took a quick whiz, stomping a roach or two in pure joy.
Shuffling down the sidewalk, well-dressed folks kinda circling him warily, some turning their noses up, others just looking the other way. Better that way – easier to snatch stuff or pick it out of loose pockets. Freakin’ snobs. So comfy cozy in their little worlds. He ducked into a dark door, a sign declaring “Tri-County Pawn and Gold” hanging crooked over it. Ernie was in the back, coming out when he heard the jing-a-ling of the bell. “Again? Hell, you were just here. I can’t keep buying your junk, Jeremy. None of it sells, and I had to throw some of it out. I’m in business to make money, not support your damned habits.”
“Calm down, my man. Got a nice watch here for ya. A gen-u-ine Rolex, yeaaaaaah. Whacha think of this baby?”
Warily taking the timepiece, Ernie eyeballed it with a frown. “Where’d you get this?”
“I inherited it.”
“Sure you did. Some cop comes in here looking for it, I’m up the creek and my doors get closed. Not interested.”
“What the hell you mean? That’s a Rolex. First you gripe ‘cause I bring in junk, I tote in a Rolex, and you bitch at me some more. What’s your deal?”
“I’ll tell you what my deal is, you lame-brain. You snatch someone’s Timex, they shrug and go to Wal-Mart. You yank someone’s Rolly and they start lookin’. Guess where they start?”
“So keep it under the counter for awhile until you’re sure no one is looking. Ernie, you can make a load on this thing.”
“I can end up in the can, too.”
“Fuck, you know what? I’ll take my business elsewhere.”
“Door’s that way.”
Emerging back out on the street, he spotted a phone booth and started checking the listings for pawn shops. On the second page. John’s Pawn and Jewelry – we give a Fair price for your merchandise. Specializing in fine jewelry and blah blah fucking blah. Ripping the page out, Jeremy checked out the address. Twelve blocks. Crap. Well, time to start hoofin’ it. Cab would cost more than he had.
The sign wasn’t any of the neon stuff every other shyster on the street used to suck someone in. It was wood and stained and beautiful. He kinda slid inside because it was almost like he shouldn’t be here, it was so spotless and shiny. Those other holes – the ones with the neon – everyone expected you to be a little ragged. That was life on the street. Here was different – here was class.
He sidled up to the counter, and immediately a guy came over, white shirt, silk tie and tasseled loafers striding oh so confidant. “May I help you, sir?”
Okay. Time to bring out the big guns. “Yes, I believe you may,” he started in a perfect Cornish accent, “I have here a watch that I inherited from my father, and it’s really of no use to me. I wonder if you might be interested.”
Guy looked a little stunned at that one, and Jeremy smiled to himself. Betcha didn’t think a street dog could talk right up there with ya, didja Slick? He handed the Rolly over the counter and watched as even more disbelief registered on the guy’s face. Glancing up doubtfully, the slick frowned for a second and went to examining the piece. Looking up again now. “Would you excuse me for a moment, sir?”
The slick disappeared behind a door, and a few moments later, another even bigger slick came out. Tall, razor-cut hair, three-piece, and a tie that could buy 50 Big Mac’s. “Good morning, sir. How may we be of assistance?”
“Good morning. As I told your man there, I inherited this watch, and I’d like to sell it. Are you interested?”
“Well, it’s a fine Rolex, indeed, but not one of the more expensive lines. It’s an Air King, and it has a few small scratches and such. Do you mind if I take off the back?”
“Not at all.”
The king slick had the back off in seconds, “See, this serial number inside tells me this watch is a bit old. Rolex stopped doing this in 1970. In fact…let me see…this Arabic number is…69. Yes, this watch was manufactured in 1969. May I ask how much you had in mind?”
“I think one thousand dollars would suffice.”
Nodding his head slowly now, the slick’s eyes got hard as a sly look came over his smoothly shaven face. Leaning over the counter, he waggled one finger to draw Jeremy close. “Look. Let’s get this straight, and no mistake. You’re a street hood and your name is Jeremy, a.k.a. ‘The Limey’. You think I do business in this piss hole without knowing every rat that scurries around out there? I’m just surprised you came in here. A little out of your league, aren’t you? So, let’s see – what’s the deal– ahhhhh, I know. The thugs that normally take your merchandise are scared to handle a Rolex – they figure someone will come looking, right? I’ll bet this little pretty is still a bit warm from the heat of the real owner’s skin. I run a reputable place here, but I’ll tell you what. It’s rough out there, and I’ll give you a break. Two hundred bucks.”
Done with the accent now, fuck me. “Two hundred? Are you serious? That thing probably lists for 2 grand!”
“List price is hardly a concern. What concerns me is what I can sell it for. What concerns you is how much you can sell it for. Out there,” he nodded toward the door, “you can get 50 bucks, max. In here you can get 200. Your choice.”
He was staring hard now, taking in the asshole’s cocky stance, the smirky half grin, and then deciding. Deciding more than one thing. “Alright, you know what? You’re right. Couple hundred will do just fine. Write it up. By the way, do you have a business card? I may have more…merchandise…come my way, time to time.”
Pulling a card from his jacket pocket, the head stiff gestured his lackey over, telling him the price in a low voice. Glancing once more over his shoulder at Jeremy, he nodded and disappeared back into his office to count his damned money.
Hitting the sidewalk again, Jeremy stood a minute to clear his head a bit before letting the anger take him. Just another fucking slick, thought he was better than everyone else. Better than the street, better than his lackey, hell better than his wife, probably. Pulling the card out, he looked at the name. John Fair. You fuckin’ kidding me? John Fair? Looking back at the sign: “a Fair price”. Real slick you are. Okay, Fair. Sliding down the street, a phone booth came into view. Ducking in, riffling the pages to “F”, and oh by damn, there he was. John Fair. Even listed himself as a pawnbroker and yeaaaah, he lives out in Emerald Woods, out in Oz, where the grass is always green and the shit don’t stink. Okay, Mr. Fair, you and me, Big Man. Too right. Another page joined the first one in his pocket.