Arboran held open his storefront door and wiggled his toes in the water streaming from up the road. He squinted in the dawn’s first light, relishing the first five minutes of the day when trouble seemed to remain at ease. The water carried a few fallen leaves and twigs, but not much else from the typically clean sidewalks along Crenshaw.
Up in front of Magg’s Flower Shop, Magg herself sprayed her sidewalk clean, as she had every morning for the past five years, and nodded down to Arboran before shutting off the hose and turning inside her shop. Magg was not one of Arboran’s favorites on this block, but for these five minutes each morning, his toes soaking in the cool water that trickled from her shop, he felt that an amiable peace was possible.
A pickup truck rolled past, the engine sputtering and fighting through its’ last remaining days, and then the quiet of the street returned. For years now, Arboran slept on the second floor above his brother’s shop, finally moving up to the third floor when Felix passed away, and in all that time he had not once felt the inclination to close his window because of outside noise.
So quiet was the scene that when Arboran moved to re-enter his shop and the hairs on the back of his neck suddenly raised, he knew that there was a disturbance in the air, a fluttering, soundless body across the street that would bother the last remaining peace for a good long time. He waited, for any sound, any indication of movement, but there was only the quiet trickling of water, the slow breeze of the early morning, and the occasional honking horn from two blocks down on Arlington.
The sound of fabric, shaking loose caught dust, sparked Arboran to blink and look around. He found himself behind the counter of his shop, tending to a customer.
“Forty dollars and not a penny less.” The man across from Arboran wore a dark coat and fedora, his face was tied into a knot of serious, but the old man sounded regretful. Around his neck was a white strip, and his shirt was black. He held out a chain, at the end of which dangled a locket for tiny photographs. Arboran took the locket but didn’t bother looking at the pictures.
“Forty is too steep, Old Man — ”
“I am a Reverend. You know how to offer respect when it is commanded, don’t you?”
Arboran gathered himself, still unsure what time of day it was. If a man could cover confusion with assured authority faster than Arboran, the world would never know. Years spent behind this very counter in this pawn shop, watching first his brother Felix, then owning up to the run of the place, and Arboran could smell a liar and a street rat from far away, a distance enough to pull out his shotgun and send the riff-raff ten blocks away before lunch.
He’d been swindled once before, because he thought he’d been doing the right thing. Back then, a malnourished teen meant hard life more often than drug addict. This particular kid was red around the eyes, sweat in his hair and sounded out of breath, like he’d been running for miles. He’d traded in a pair of golf clubs, looking only for a ten dollar bill. “To feed my wife. She’s pregnant, bigger than a Guinness World Record watermelon.” Arboran felt pity for the kid, and handed over a twenty. Felix was there, in the waning days of his ownership, and had only given Arboran a stern look before snatching up the clubs and attempting to chase the kid down for the money.
That afternoon, in the hospital, Arboran watched as Felix, just beaten in a police chase, was first brought up on charges for the theft of a city councilman’s golf clubs, and was then later released by the very same councilman — a man who had frequented their shop often to exchange his wife’s earrings in exchange for money to treat his many mistresses. Their business relationship ended after that day.
But that was a lifetime ago.
Now, still standing across from Arboran, the Reverend crossed his arms and gave him that same stern look that Arboran remembered from Felix. “You’ll give me forty dollars, or else I will make this day your last behind that counter.”
“A man of God would not make such threats.”
“You don’t know God like I do.”
“You don’t strike me as the type.” Arboran placed the necklace on the counter, and as he did so he caught the clock in the corner of his eye: ten minutes past eleven. He’d lost track of three hours time since wetting his feet in the runoff from Magg’s hose. Scanning the shelves, he began to take a mental inventory when another set of eyes met his, suddenly and fiercely close. They were bloodshot, sleepless and mad with weariness.
“This man will do.” The voice was deep and pained.
And then Arboran found himself sitting at his coffee table, on which his mug from the morning’s brew rested, now cold and devoid of taste. In front of him sat the Reverend, and another man, eyes now calm, sweat still beading on his face. He was a black man, spoke with a hint of a southern twang, and Arboran could smell fresh grass and fields. When he closed his eyes, Arboran felt safe just by the very presence of this man. But opening them again, his eyes caught blood stains, and anger deep behind the look of the man. This was going to be a very long week for Arboran.