Mild-mannered magazine editor Daat Praen has just fallen into a treasure trove of stolen jewels. But rather than taking it to the police, he's running in the opposite direction, headed for a new life. With his three-legged dog Marv at his side, Daat heads to the seedier side of town, to try and cash his contraband in for goldquartz...
"You'll take care of anyone trying to cause me trouble, won't you?" I asked Marv. He smiled back at me as if to say of course he wouldn't. He knew his limitations. He was sure a good boy, but he was a leg short of a bodyguard.
Me, I had forgotten my usual limitations. My heart was racing, like there weren't any limitations at all to life anyways. How many times had I dreamed of adventure before, only to go home and listen to the radio by myself? This was excitement, let me tell you! But I still had one big obstacle in the way: no one was going to accept a handful of brit for a passenger fare or food. I needed to change the rocks into goldquartz bills. And I'd heard plenty of times about the pawn shops on the north-eastern side of town. They'd take anything, and give a fair price in return.
I stepped into one of the pawn shops and walked past what I felt was almost certainly the viewscreen that had been stolen from my house a month or two prior. I walked up to the counter and rapped on the protective glass separating the lobby from the office of the mean-faced woman owner.
"Excuse me?" I asked, knocking on the glass again. Was she ignoring me? I couldn't tell. "Hello?" I asked a bit louder. The woman behind the glass held up her hand lazily, with her palm to me. I guess it meant for me to wait. And so I did.
There was an impressive collection of quickshots behind the glass along the wall of the shop, and I fantasized for a moment about carrying one of the weapons in a hidden holster, like the anti-heroes from my favorite pulp comics. But I was certainly no killer. And my aim was terrible, too. Next to the firearms were some hats, which I decided were more my area of expertise. I had just the perfect one picked out when the brutish woman behind the counter hollered that she was ready for me.
I skipped over to a thin window she had opened in the glass, trying to seem as inoffensive and nonthreatening as possible.
"What you want, twinkle-toes?" the woman asked, punctuating it with a loud belch. The resultant blast of vapor from her spotted mouth fogged up the glass.
"I am hoping to exchange some of my grandmother's jewelry," I said, placing my sack on the counter.
"Your grandmother, sure," the woman said, scratching her backside. "Give it here," she said, reaching her grubby arm out from the hole in the glass and taking the purse. She dumped it out into a separating tray and then looked over at me with surprise. "Rich grandmother, eh?" she asked. She was suddenly a lot friendlier.
"Yes, bless her heart," I said, trying to look sad. I saw my reflection in the glass. Good think I didn't go into theater. "How much is it worth?"
"Well," the woman said, raking through the glittering pile with her fingers, "I'd say about... six thousand goldquartz." She said it with her eyebrows raised, testing the waters of my gullibility with a low-end figure. Little did she know it was more than I needed.
"Call it seven," I said. I wouldn't have believed my own air of authority myself, so it didn't surprise me that the woman laughed at my bartering.
"You got it, big-shot," she said. It must have been worth a lot more, because the woman floated on excitement from the jewelry over to her desk. There, she unlocked a succession of boxes, one inside the other, to get to her bank, from which she produced seven thousand bills worth of crisp goldquartz. I was nearly trembling as she came back to the glass.
"Thanks," I said with a trembling voice as I pulled the stack of money through the customer service hole. "Oh, could I see a hat?"
"A hat?" the woman asked, confused.
"Yes, the green one, with the yellow band?" I asked. "This one," I said, pointing to it, after striding over to the glass.
"I have no idea where you're pointing," the woman said.
"The green one. There. No, up. Over. Other way. Yes!" I said. "How much?"
"You can have it," the woman answered. She bent it out of shape pushing it through the safety glass. "Complimentary," she said with a big fake smile.
"Thanks!" I said cheerily as the woman was going back to her new pile of jewelry with hungry fingers.
Seven thousand in goldquartz! For those first few minutes, I tell you, I felt invincible. That was before I started to worry, started to want more. I'd give anything to get that feeling back again.
I put the hat on my head and checked myself in the dirty glass of the pawn shop. I looked pretty good, though I needed a coat and new shoes to match the hat.
As I headed for the brighter side of town, I noticed the hat was actually pretty itchy. I took it off a few times and tried to bend it into a more comfortable shape, but nothing seemed to work. It was the fourth time I tried to fix it, when I stopped to let Marv have a break, that I found what was wrong: there was a small business card lodged into the hat's inner lining. I pulled at the white corner of the business card until it came loose. I flipped it over and read a note scribbled across it: 1358 East Ertajj Street, blue door in back alley, knock three times. Ask for Elloise.
Tell me, how could I have avoided that invitation?
NEXT TIME: HIGH FRIENDS IN LOW PLACES