Last week we published the opening scene of Deep Ellum Pawn, a novelette, © 2019 by G. S. Norwood. This week we offer Scene Two. Next week we’ll post a third glimpse, and you may now order the Kindle edition any time. We hope you enjoy it!
Deliberations in Deep Ellum
A brisk wind kicked a shower of red-gold leaves down the street as he disappeared into the swirl of hipsters and hucksters who called Deep Ellum home.
At two o’clock on a cool fall afternoon, the lunch crowd had pretty much disappeared from my little pocket of Dallas. The pub-crawlers had yet to show up, but the natives were out in their usual force. A steady parade of beards, body-piercings, green hair, and tattoo sleeves surged past my pawnshop windows.
I looked tame in comparison. These days I wore my hair longer, without a hint of purple or pink, and favored trim jeans and loose flannel shirts to the flamboyantly patterned leggings and mini-skirts the Deep Ellum fashionistas preferred. No makeup, so anyone who cared to look could see the full, rich blend of black, native American, and anglo written boldly across my face.
It was a face that reflected the neighborhood. A century ago Deep Ellum had been the heart of Dallas’ black business community, and pawnshops had lined every block. Today, mine was the only pawnshop left, wedged in amongst the pizza parlors, leather shops, and music clubs. The people were a more diverse mix, but Deep Ellum was still a place you could find just about any type of trouble you wanted to get into.
The legendary bluesman, Robert Johnson, had recorded his song about Hell Hounds on his trail just a few blocks west of here. I looked down at the ragged violin case on my counter. “What kind of song are you trying to sing?” I asked the fiddle softly.
Rather than speculate, I dug my utility knife out of my back pocket and got to work. Duct tape all but mummified the case. Its former owner had used far more than was necessary if he just wanted to keep the case from falling open. No. He’d wanted to make sure the thing stayed shut.
With a little effort, I peeled back enough layers of tape to get a look at the case itself. It was made of wood, covered by leather, and there were scorch marks along the seam where the top met the bottom, as if there had once been a fire inside.
“Great,” I muttered as I pried it open. I should have worn gloves. My fingers were already sticking together.
But there it was, just as I remembered it. The fiddle was heartbreakingly beautiful and light as a feather, despite being made of solid gold. As I lifted it out of the case, a stray afternoon sunbeam broke through the burglar bars on my front window to dance along the silver strings.
There was a matching bow, perfectly balanced, that seemed to adjust itself to my hand as I held it over the strings. Ripples of energy passed between the two, all but begging me to touch bow to fiddle and make some music. Any music. Irish jigs, bluegrass breakdowns, classical sonatas, Iron Maiden covers; whatever I chose, it would be glorious.
“Fat chance, fiddle freak.” I said the words aloud, with a snarl of contempt, just in case anyone was listening. Nobody needed to know how strongly I was tempted.
I put bow and fiddle back in the case and closed the lid, then stepped away. Took a deep breath and let it out slowly as my gaze wandered over my pawnshop. It was kind of a jumble, as pawnshops get to be. Everything from gas-powered weed eaters to old videotapes— even a prosthetic leg—filled the shelves in the center of the room. A dozen guitars and a couple of fiddles hung from the wall to my right, with amps, drums, and a symphonic gong arranged neatly underneath.
Two glass cases of jewelry—mostly wedding rings—stood against the wall to my left. I kept some guns in a display case on the end wall, with the rest locked in a safe behind it.
You’d think anyone who wanted to rob a pawnshop would go for the guns or the jewelry, but the only thing ever stolen from my place was this damn golden fiddle. Three times, in fact. And the hell of it was, people just kept bringing it back.
Something brushed against my leg and I looked down into the green eyes of a small black cat.
“Hey, Tid,” I greeted her. “Where you been? The fiddle is back.”
I’d rescued Tidbit, along with her brother, Morsel, from the dumpster behind the 7- Eleven several years back. They were full-time residents of the pawnshop, just like me. Morsel spent his days roaming the alleys and wasting his charm on the girls from the charter school over on Elm. Tid stayed closer to home, focusing her efforts on keeping my shop free of rats and mice. I liked that in a cat.
She leapt up onto the counter with the easy grace of one who wastes no time on nonsense like golden violins. Butted her head into my hand. This meant that she loved me, but her bowl was empty, and if I loved her, I’d attend to it right away.
I did love her, so I stretched my arms above my head, rolled my shoulders to work out the tension, then followed Tid back to the kitchen in the private part of the shop. I left the violin case on the counter—a straight shot in from the door. No way you could miss it if you happened to glance in from the street. Maybe someone else would steal it.
I should be so lucky.
IMAGE CREDITS: The header image and the violin-and-bow inset are both details from the cover of Deep Ellum Pawn, © 2019 by Chaz Kemp.