The pawnbroker will suffer a heart attack if he didn’t stop clogging his arteries with fast food. The veins in his neck stood out prominently beneath the folds of fat under his chin. Or maybe I was just hungry and my senses were being thrown into overdrive. Even junk food smelled appetizing.
My friend Cale was struggling to keep his head up. He was trying to go for an easygoing pose with his head perched on his palm to eschew suspicion. It looked like it took every ounce of concentration to keep up the pretense, his head occasionally falling to one side when his muscles were worn out by the strain. He kept the sleeve of his other hand close to his nose because of the frothy bleeds he’s been getting lately.
The pawnbroker held the watch up the light with scrutiny. It was real gold studded with small diamonds around the clock face. Probably thought it was fake. I read it in his curved brow and sucked-in lip. When we produced the valuable, he rolled his eyes as he snatched it from us.
Customer service at its finest.
He looked up suddenly and caught my gaze. Something in his expression changed. His watery eyes narrowed, continually switching between us and the watch.
I tried to play it off by looking around the dusty shop. Its walls were overflowing with antiques and odd miscellaneous personal items from similar people fixing for cash. The most interesting were sharp carving knives beautifully hung in straight lines along the walls, S & M costumes tucked behind an oversized gorilla costume, and a banged up dryer swaddled in the French flag. I found myself locking eyes with a wooden puppet perched high on the side wall. Its painted eyes and slack jaw swallowed the scene. We were both astounded by the freakiness of this side of town.
The pawnbroker cleared his throat. “Where did you get this from again?”
“Does it matter?”
He set the watch on the counter with shaking fingers. His heart was picking up speed. The traffic noise in his bloodstream was almost deafening.
“I need to be sure you ain’t trying to plant something on me.”
I huffed. “Trust me. The person who owns it has no use for it now.”
Cale quickly stepped in. “It was my grandmother’s. She passed away a month ago and left me it in her will.”
“You’d think you keep something like that. Has sentimental value.”
“So does food,” Cale deadpanned.
“Hmm.” He sniffed the air. “Something stinks.”
Cale shrank away a little and the broker noticed. His brows becoming an ever increasing line.
I rolled my eyes. “You would too buddy if you didn’t believe in personal hygiene. Cale here hasn’t showered in two weeks.”
Cale weakly shoved me beneath the counter. I didn’t care. It was a much more tolerable excuse than the actual one.
“I need to confer with some people in the back.”
“Sure,” Cale said.
The pawnbroker backed away slowly before disappearing into the dingy red curtains that separated the store from the back rooms.
I sighed. “He’s going to fetch the cross.”
“Well, the way you were leering, James, I wouldn’t blame him,” Cale tutted as he leaned more onto the counter.
“Like your rot had nothing to do with?” I huffed. “We could’ve done this the easy way and robbed some schlub. It would’ve also helped me get my fix.”
“You can do all the neck sucking you want in the club. Do it in the streets and the police would’ve been on our asses,” Cale started playing a little with his jaw. “Besides this is more humane.”
“Graverobbing’s humane now?”
Cale picked out the plot himself. He noticed the jewelry the family was sporting when they laid their old man in the ground during the morning service. It was easy work digging the rich bastard out of the dirt and taking a few choice pieces. If there was any credence to an afterlife, he entered the gates of hell naked as the day he was born.
But I must have been insane to let Cale decide what to do with the spoils. He suggested that we actually buy our way into a club with the money but exchanging any goods and services with the normies rarely worked out. They can see you coming a mile away and those who didn’t were easy pickings.
The pawnbroker walked out with a comically sized bejeweled cross around his neck.
I laughed out loud and pointed. “What is that supposed to be?!”
“I don’t want no trouble. Your kind ain’t welcomed here.”
“Your point is extremely undercut by the prop. Did you get that at some Party City?”
He looked the type to try out being a sexy priest on Halloween. He probably sported the latex costume in the corner underneath some off-white sheets to add character.
The pawnbroker brought out a ring of garlic which did force me back. I covered my nose as the place filled with the stench of it. It wasn’t actually effective on vampires. I just personally hated the smell.
“Back, demon, back!”
“Alright. Alright,” I said as I slumped off the counter and walked to the door.
The pawnbroker jabbed a finger at Cale. “You get out of here too, you rotting corpse.”
“So are the bugs you’re attracting to the counter,” He said swiping at the offenders. “Now get out before I roast you.”
Cale let his hand fall on the counter with a hard thump. The broker started back, holding the cross up high for protection. In his moment of terror, he must have forgotten who he was dealing it.
Cale’s fingers dragged his arm towards the watch. With the gingerness of a ballerina, he pinched the strap and dropped it in his pocket.
“You’ve lost yourself a valued customer, sir.”
Cale tried to turn on his heel to accentuate his exit but he stumbled. I could hear the sound of something popping as he caught himself on a random clown suit hanging on the wall.
The pawnbroker bared his teeth at us. I smiled and blew him a kiss as a small bell announced our exit.
Sirens careened down the street as we stepped on the concrete. The air at night always managed to smell like piss and gasoline. Crowds of people traveled through the steam rising in thick clouds from grates in the sidewalks. Some were obnoxiously loud as they hugged on each other. It was Friday after all.
I sighed. “Ready to do it my way yet?”
“Man, I’m not even in the mood anymore.”
“What? No clubbing?”
He picked at his graying palm. “I wouldn’t make it through the front door at this stage.”
“I think you look good for a week old corpse.”
Cale side-eyed him. He wasn’t too comfortable in his own skin. It didn’t help that it was rotting off of him. I think it was a bit silly getting sensitive about the whole dead thing. He couldn’t really change it and yet he kept up the pretense of decorum and humanity. Then again, I had a good three years to get over my situation.
A chorus of car horns sounded. My eyes wandered to the intersection up the street where a stumbling idiot was giving the bird to a few drivers in the middle of a crosswalk. He even kicked the hood of one gray Honda. He retreated into an alleyway as the owner kicked his door open to rightfully beat his ass.
It was around that time that my thirst started acting up again. It was a tingling in the back of my throat that would grow into a hungry fire in a few hours time. Regardless of what we did tonight, I needed my fix.
“Go ahead,” Cale said.
“I’m going back to my headstone,” Cale said with a stilted wave. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He then stalked–no, stumbled away. Looked like his left leg was giving him trouble again. It dragged uselessly behind him.
Now, what was I to do with myself? I put my hands on my hips as I debated this conundrum. I obviously needed food and there were a bunch of easy targets. It would be nothing to lure one inebriated sheep from the rest of its herd.
I did a heel turn and was embraced by the tinkling of bells.
Perhaps I was in the mood for junk food.