Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Fishbottom Antique and Pawn

(a fragment from my novel-in-progress, 'Dumb Dicks.')

“Why ain’t that fella wearin no shirt?” A grizzled old man sat behind a low desk. Its surface, like every other surface in the store, was strewn with what he referred to as ‘trinkets,’ but which were more accurately called ‘shit.’ The Irregulars search had turned up only two shops approaching anything near a typewriter repair shop. The first was a secondhand electronics/electronics repair shop on the west side of Bakersville. It sounded like the more likely of the two businesses to deal in broken typewriter keys, but unfortunately, the Irregulars arrived to find it had burned to the ground some six months prior.

The process of elimination, therefore, led them to a tin shack on Route 6 halfway between the Moonside Motel and Bakersville. A hand-painted plank nailed to the storefront announced it as ‘Fishbottom Antique and Pawn.’ This was a case of extreme false advertising, as no one in their right mind would label anything inside the shack as ‘antique’ and it seemed everything was picked from garbage piles rather than pawned. Inside it smelled like moldy books and mothballs, a hundred clocks ticking syncopated time. Guitars, violins and brass horns hung on the walls, with glass-fronted curios housing all manner of ill-matched menageries: fountain pens and shot glasses, fur hats and pocket knives. An engraved brass plaque before the old man announced, ‘Arthur J. Fishbottom, Jr.—Prop.’

Sid shrugged in response to the old man’s question. “He scraped his arm and we don’t have any bandages.” There was no way in hell Sid planned to tell the truth and say Liam was shot.

The old man adjusted his glasses and squinted, placing a half smoked cigarette atop the pile of 3 ½ by 5 floppies serving as his ashtray.

“I dunno…,”he rumbled. “I don’t sell if you’re not properly attired.”

“We just have a quick question, then, sir.” Sid smiled, attempting to put on a charm nearing Liam’s. It was an akward stance at best. “You see, we’re the Bakersville Chapter of the National Typewriter Appreciation Society—you can call us the En-TAS—and we’re tyring to track down a specific typewritist so we can award him our Golden Inktape Award.”

Arthur J. Fishbottom, Jr. tipped back his short billed cap, running knobby hands over his unshaven cheeks. “What does this have to do with me, sonny?”

Harris stepped forward. “We only have his typewriting samples to go by, you see. It looks like his typewriter is very old, from the 50’s perhaps?—and we think he’s probably gone through a whole set of strikes with a few extra t’s and e’s.”

Fishbottom sat straight in his chair. With precision beguiling the tremor in his hands, he took the cigarette, tucked it in the corner of his mouth and sucked a red ember to its tip. Smoke puffed from his nostrils as he nodded, his gaze shifting up over Sid’s head.

“I see what yer sayin’,” he said, suppressing a cough. With an emphysmatic hiss he exhaled a jet of blue smoke. “The thing is… my memory ain’t so great anymore. Comes and goes, you know.”

“Does it?” Liam said, narrowing his eyes.

“Yessir it does,” Fishbottom drawled. “I’d wager, though, it’d come straight back if maybe some this fine merchandise found a loving home.”

Sid scoffed. “You’re kidding.”

“Oh, when it comes to my memory, I never kid.” He turned to sneer at Harris, “especially if it means some customer of mine can win the ‘Golden Inktape.’”

Sid reached to the nearest counter and grasped a stoneware beer stein. An eagle on its face was swooping, beak open for prey, its wingspan breaking from the cup to form a feathery handle.

“Okay,” Sid said, plopping the stein on Fishbottom’s desk. “Let’s see if this purchase helps.” Sid pulled out his wallet and dropped a 20 before the old man. Fishbottom pushed the glasses down his nose and peered at the bill.

“I can feel something coming to mind,” he said, crossing his hands over a pot belly, “but that’s not really a rememberin’-type object.”

Sid reached for the twenty but the old man swiped it from his grasp.

“Thanks kindly, though, for your purchase, young man. A mighty fine mug, that one.”

“Well what the bloody hell is a ‘rememberin’-type object?’” Liam asked.

Again, Fishbottom’s gaze shifted up over Sid’s head. The Irregulars followed his gaze to see a Fender Stratocaster angled above the entry door. It had seen better days, its enamel finish gouged and most of the hardware missing. Sid reached for his wallet again.

“Fine. Fifty bucks.”

“Oh… No, no.” The old man clucked, rocking in his chair with delight. “That there gee-tar was sold me personally be the great Eric Clap-tone. I don’t think I could ever part with it.”

“Of course,” Liam sneered. “Who hasn’t heard of the great Eric Clap-tone?”

Sid pulled two more bills to accompany the fifty. “Alright, old man. One fifty is our last offer.”

Fishbottom removed his cap and scratched his bald scalp, fingernails like yellow knives.

“I don’t know…such an important piece of personal history—I couldn’t let it go for anything less than…,” Fishbottom looked to Sid, his gaze hard. “Six hundred?”

“Six hundred? For that natty old thing?” Liam yelled.

“Eric Clap-tone,” Fishbottom reminded them, his finger held aloft.

“Two hundred,” Harris offered the old man more of Sid’s money. Fishbottom again put on the theatrics of indecision, his head shaking with great woe.

“I don’t know…”

“Fine,” Sid spat. “Two fifty.”

“Sold.” Fishbottom smiled, his teeth a mismatched menagerie much like the junk filling his store.

Sid pulled a card from his wallet. “You take plastic?”

The old man reached over his desk and nudged forward a digital credit-card reader. “One must be modern,” he said. “Just let me ring this up…two seventy-five…”

“We agreed on two fifty!” Sid protested. Fishbottom looked from the device with eyes wide, bushy eyebrows arched.

“Surcharges and Taxes, you know. Plus, I’ve already typed two-seve-five…unless that is you’d like to re-negotiate our agreement?”

With a scowl, Sid handed over his credit card. Fishbottom smiled as he swiped the plastic. The machine beeped and screeched as it connected to the aether via whatever antiquated cables Fishbottom had snaking through his store. After a brief pause, it spit out two receipts. Fishbottom tore them free and bundled with Sid’s card, handed them over.

“Sign the top, the bottom is yours.”

Sid fished his G2 from a pants pocket and scribbled his name. No sooner had pen left paper than Fishbottom swiped the receipt. He looked at it and frowned.

“No tip?”

“Tell us about the typewriter,” Liam ordered.

“If you insist,” Fishbottom shrugged as he secreted the slip of paper to a drawer before him. “The guy you’re after for your ‘award’ calls himself ‘The Admiral.’ Has an ancient clunker of an electric typewriter he just won’t junk. I even offered him fifty for it but he won’t sell. Just keeps replacing the parts as they break.”

“What’s he look like?” Harris asked.

Fishbottom held his hand out beside him at shoulder level. “Little fella. Napoleon type. Always wears a wool pea-coat, even in the hellfire of summer.”

“His face?” Sid asked.

“Average, I ‘spose. Brown eyes. Thin nose.”

“What about his real name?” Liam stepped to the desk, the adrenaline of new information overpowering his uneasiness borne of the clutter.

“You’re outta luck there, Brit. He pays cash, comes in alone and only refers to himself as The Admiral.”

“And when was the last time he was here?” Sid asked.

Fishbottom stopped to think, bounced the cigarette up with his lip to take another drag. Opening the opposite side of his mouth with the cigarette still perched upright, he puffed a stream of smoke. “Today’s what—Thursday? Hm. Must’ve been a week ago Tuesday? Bought hisself a new drum for the typewriter. Asked after a battery powered AC pack for the thing, but I don’t carry nothing as fancy as that.”

“Is there anything else you recall? Any little thing? How he smelled or the way he walks? It’s dead important to us,” Liam said.

Fishbottom shrugged. “Looked a little gaunt, maybe. Hadn’t shaved—usually a clean cut guy, the Admiral. That’s about it.”

“You’re sure there’s nothing else?” Harris asked.

Fishbottom looked from man to man and shook his head. “Nope. That’s all I got on the ol’ Admiral. Good luck givin’ him whatever award it is he earned.”

The Irregulars thanked Arthur J. Fishbottom, Jr. (honestly, thankful to be done with the old coot) and walked to the exit.

“Boys,” Fishbottom called from his desk. The Irregulars turned and saw his bony hand pointing over their heads to the door frame. “Don’ forget to take your gee-tar. I sure as hell don’t want that hunk of junk.”

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