Tuesday morning was overcast and cooler, confirming that summer was losing its strength. After Nervy awoke, she began reviewing and rehearsing for the pawnshop, excited to pull off the performance planned for today. She savored the prospect of the drive to Middleton too. A two-hour road trip, a chance to view the passing fields and rolling hills of north Missouri’s farmland through her windshield while the radio played a soundtrack of country music for her. It was the perfect preparation for arriving relaxed and refreshed. She planned to get there, get her money, and get back in plenty of time to have supper at home…. Nervy left her cell phone turned off on the kitchen counter but took her blue tooth earbud. She didn’t need a trail of cell phone towers tracking her travels. She had met at least two inmates in prison who had made that mistake. Having grabbed a diet Mountain Dew and one of Walter’s old ball caps off the coat hook, she was in the car and out of the driveway by 8:15 a.m. She and Griff hadn’t been on the road ten minutes before the Dew was being sipped and a tear was pooling in her eye from the country song she was enjoying. Walter had repeatedly joked with her that country music, with its sad themes of hard times, hard hearts, and hard liquor, was the best marketing a psychiatrist could ask for—even though he wouldn’t let her play it in the office waiting room….
She selected a parking lot that was two businesses away and behind a discount furniture and carpet store that was advertising a going-out-of-business sale. It was a quarter to eleven and the bargain furniture hunters had barely begun using the lot. Parking in the shade near a dumpster, she made sure that she was completely out of the pawnshop security camera’s view. She stuck a fresh piece of gum in her mouth, put in her blue tooth earbud for appearances, tucked her hair under the ball cap, and put the .38 Special in a convenience store bag. After popping the trunk open, she pushed the spare and the jack over to the side, pulled out the stashed jewelry, and transferred it from the pillowcase to a Walmart bag she had in the trunk. Nervy left the windows cracked for Griff and assured him she would be back in a while, despite his growled dissatisfaction.
Walking away from the car, she initiated a very animated and impassioned conversation through her earbud with her frustrating imaginary son Curtis, who was in deep trouble with a local girl’s parents and was needing mom’s help to withdraw from school and leave town as quickly as possible. She continued to talk much too loudly and gesture too emphatically as she turned the corner of the building next to the pawnshop and entered the view of the security cameras. She walked through the front door and into the shop, still gesturing and talking loudly.
“Curtis, I’m just now going into the pawn place, so I’m gonna be a few more minutes. Keep on packing. I’ll be back when I’m done!”
Now well inside the door, she paused and made eye contact with the man behind the counter, then shrugged, demonstrating her exasperation with her phone conversation.
“Put a sock in it! Goodbye!” She rolled her eyes and walked the rest of the way to the counter and put her two sacks on it. The counter guy had stringy hair and was about twenty-five. His overall appearance screamed video games, Cheetos, weed, and Mom’s basement. He’d been working here long enough, though, that he had picked up the required contemptuous facial expression with which to greet customers and prepare them to expect nothing from him but apathy and exploitation. Sitting on a folding chair at the end of the counter was a fat lump of a man who reminded Nervy of an iceberg. He was clearly on display as an imposing sign of security, but she thought he would probably move too slowly to catch anyone and only really represented danger if anyone were to crash into him.
“Do you all buy jewelry?” Nervy asked, trying a simple-ignorant approach.
“You got some?” the kid muttered, giving her an expressionless dull glance.
She dumped the Walmart bag upside down, creating a pile of bejeweled rings, necklaces, and bracelets on the dingy countertop. Basement boy looked down and never looked up.
“Mr. Brown,” he hollered.
Mr. Brown quickly emerged from behind the blanket that served as a door to the back office. He was well over six feet tall, with a white Kangol cap atop his shaved head and a Gold’s Gym T-shirt accenting his muscular shoulders and upper arms. Unlike the other two employees, he gave the appearance of intelligence, shrewdness, and danger.
He came to the counter, looked at Nervy, glanced at the pile of gold and gems, and then brought his gaze back to her, trying to fake disinterest.
“How may I help you?”
She took a breath to respond but then abruptly and repeatedly waved her hand and motioned toward her earbud that she had to deal with a call.
“Curtis, shut up.” Looking right through Mr. Brown, she angrily and slowly continued, “There you go thinking like your dad again and you know how that worked out for him. Don’t call me right now. I’ll call you as soon as I’m done in the pawnshop.” She focused her angry glare on Mr. Brown. Pausing and taking one more deliberate breath, she softened her glare and explained, “I’m managing an urgent problem for my kid today and I need to get as much money as I can really quick. I don’t want my ex or my boyfriend to know about this. These beautiful items have belonged to me for many years, but I need to get my son out of Middleton today . . . I mean today, Mr. Brown.”
Excerpt from WATERING WEEDS
By J. Calvin Harwood