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There Will Be Porcelain

by J.T. Kelleher 9 months ago in fiction
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Crime and Retribution in NY, NY

There Will Be Porcelain
Photo by Kevin Matos on Unsplash

"Like a bull in a china shop!"

I overhear the conversation of two passing strangers. I wonder if this had ever actually happened. Had a bull ever been in a china shop? Who let it in? In what time and place were there shops dedicated to just china, and in which of these situations were there also so many bulls wandering around that they were ending up in people's shops?

In any case, today, I am that bull. In a sun bleached Jets cap, I pound the sidewalk's pavement in New York city, on the way to work. The big apple is alive with the drama of everyday life.

My kingdom, my domain, is a pawn shop. We have all kinds of stuff, sectioned, organized. A section of electronics, a section of jewelry, as one might expect. A section of expensive shoes, a few stray suits. These were brought here by those men who were once so successful that they invested in this image of success with their not-too-hard-earned dollars, and became subsequently so unsuccessful as to shamefully bring these success-garnishes back here to rest. These trophies of salaries and corner cubicles were plastic bagged and then bounced around down crowded streets for the kind of money that makes one end meet another. Makes a paycheck meet a heat bill, a savings account meet a rent check.

I always pictured these men walking back in gartered socks and embarrassing underwear, with hairy soft bellies, to apartments that were still too big for their new situations. Empty top-floor manhattan palaces, which once were so full with beautiful women and red-cheeked coworkers wearing loosened ties. One divorce or firing or financial-sector layoff later, and this apartment was decorated with paper plates and a stack of oily pizza boxes on a mirrored coffee table. Shame to think, how many lines of good cocaine were snorted off that coffee table. Seems so long ago.

I empathize with these men because I was one. A financial titan, a raging bull, I lost my ass on speculative real estate trades. Lost my ass, lost my job, my wife. Lost my little red sports-car and my big-ass salary.

The pawn shop was my fathers, and is now my brothers. My big brother inherited this slice of heaven after my dad died, and so graciously brought me into the picture after the cocaine train derailed. Here's to him. He's given me a fresh start, and like I imagine a cat might in a second or third or fourth life, I live my new life with much thankfulness and fresh commitment.

Two weeks ago, a man came in with a gun and a mask and a leather jacket, and an empty leather bag. Not to pawn, these items were still in use by the guy. And he wasn't here for all the money in the register. No, this wouldn't be that simple.

"Put your hands up old man!"

The (apparently) younger man said to me. Offended, I started,

"How old exactly do you think I a-"

"Shut the fuck up!"

I obliged. The man pointed his gun at the porcelain section, and then back at me.

"You want the fucking porcelain?"

"Not all of it. The bull."

To this point a bit unperturbed, and so slightly proud of my brazenness in the face of a loaded gun, in light of this new information my blood ran cold, so to speak. The bull in reference was a porcelain figurine that happened to command quite a bit of emotional attachment, and quite a bit of value both sentimental and otherwise.

"What for?"

I couldn't believe that this is what I was getting robbed for. He didn't respond, so I went on.

"Listen buddy, we got a lot of nice things here. I got gold, music instruments, stereos, whateve-"

He interrupted me with a brisk cocking of his polished Wesson 0.45. I wonder if he got a deal on this thing, nice little piece. I got out bubble wrap, and even considered the gift bows.

___________________________

A CAFE

"What the hell would he want our porcelain bull for?"

"He knew us, he knew the story. This ain't no regular no-body thief guy. This guy knows somebody who knows us, and came to fuck us!"

While the outside of this particular bull was in fact porcelain, it was certainly no ordinary porcelain bull, and in fact to call it a porcelain bull was a sort of semantical bit of deceit. As you, dear reader, have surely figured out, this particular figurine has a backstory, and is not the type of item me and my brother are going to be quick to let go of.

During that same slap-happy housing-loan-default-driven financial crisis that was the undoing of your beloved narrator, our father in his infinite and accidental wisdom just so happened to accidentally do with his money something 10-times smarter than anything yours truly, Mr. financial professional, did, which is to melt it into gold. He walked out of a flagging financial institution with $457,399.00 in a cheap suitcase, and walked 5 blocks to a gold-man he knew. Not bad for an immigrant owner of a downtown pawn shop.

And regular gold bricks wouldn't do. As our dad saw it, he didn't need to spend good money on a safe. He had a better idea. He had the gold-guy somehow make this gold into the shape of a bull. Dad had a plan.

"You know it's not even the fucking money, damnit."

I held back tears, embarrassed, and looked around the place, a cafe where we knew many and were known by them too. I pawed moisture away from my under-eye.

"Makes me want to cry, you know."

"Dad made the bull for you because he loved you! He never blamed you for losing your job."

Dad had made the gold bull, containing his life's work, his whole life's value, for two reasons. One, to make a figurine that would blend in with the other porcelain in the shop. Porcelain sold the worst, so he figured he'd barely ever have to shake anyone off buying this item. And two, to show how proud he was of his big-time Wall street son. And that part always killed me.

"Don't cry- oh come on man, you're like a fucking baby. Listen, if Dad was still around, he'd care about one thing, and it starts with a "5" and ends with five zeros."

I pulled my cap down to my eyes and fingered the chipped rim of the coffee mug.

"So how're we getting it back?"

___________________________

We departed my tan sedan and looked around as we shut the doors. A light rain lubricated everything. Like two leopards we moved, turned our heads and eyeballs smooth like the predatory cats, or at least we thought. A couple of regular special services agents, we fancied ourselves. Japanese steel door clasps clicked. Good old Lexus, now that's a quality door. In response my brother clicked a bit of steel himself. American, a cold Colt 0.22 flashed as it slid across a zipper and into his vest.

"Jesus, Mitch, what the hell is that for. This guy is 85 years old."

He pulled it back out, as though that was necessary for the discussion.

"Hey, this is my security blanket. I don't go anywhere without it."

"Can you leave the gun in the fuckin' car?"

"It's not loaded alright? Let's just go, we're already late"

Now slick with rain, he fumbled the gun, bobbled it and finally caught it. I almost swallowed my tongue watching this. I opened my mouth to berate him, and then closed it. What could be said to a guy like this?

And so we went. We had a little lead on this bull-stealer. The great news was that only a few living souls knew about the gold bull, and the only one that wasn't us was the gold man. We figured he had told some people about the bull, a nephew, who knows. We weren't here to rough the guy up, we just needed a good place to start. We hadn't seen him in years. During Dads time he would come around for cards, a beer. He was a family friend. We had called ahead, said we wanted to catch up. We hoped this was true. That's all we'd be doing, as long as he had some info for us and wasn't acting any kind of suspicious.

A small, blue-eyed man with a sleeveless sweater vest opened the door. He had an accent like our fathers.

"Come in! I haven't seen you two boys in about 15 years, look at you, two men now."

We shook hands and exchanged niceties. The guy even poured us some tea. Mench. Stand-up. Good folk, this guy. The apartment was various shades of brown. Brown wood accent, brown polyester shag carpet. Even the light seemed some kind of tan here.

I needed to take a leak, so I asked about the bathroom.

"Down there". He pointed down the hall.

"Alright, thank you. You two catch up, don't wait for me, ok?" I sent a threatening look to my brother. Mr. trigger finger here always sketches me out when he's got the gun.

I pause to look around the bathroom. Faded pink and tan tiles lined everything waist-down. Waist-up, white wallpaper. These kind of things really tell a story about a person, as dumb as that is. I was just contemplating this bit of philosophy, wondering what story was being told to me about our family friend, when wouldn't you know it, I am interrupted by the sound of breaking glass.

Back in the living room, the place is a mess. My brother has been rifling through various cabinets, apparently, or so I figure, him having left all the doors ajar and swinging. As my aghast gaze finishes the room and travels up his shins and to his greedy little hands, I gasp. My brother holds the porcelain bull. It seems he has kicked in a glass coffee table for dramatic effect, or so I figure.

"What the hel-...where did you- and what the hell are you doing with our bull!"

The old man cowers, still standing behind his now broken coffee table. He shakes with fear, and his voice shakes.

"I haven't seen that since I made it! I swear! My nephew comes to visit, he must have stored it there. I have no idea where he might have got it! Please, boys, I didn't even know you guys were missing it, did you pawn it?"

"No we didn't fucking pawn it!"

My brother didn't take kindly to this suggestion. I step in to mediate.

"Listen, I believe you, but we need to talk to your nephew. Where does he stay?"

"Oh he lives...in Pennsylvania! I don't even know the address".

At once, my brothers once-athletic frame sprung into a kind of violence that I didn't know a 45 year old man had, especially not at the expense of an 85 year old man. Mitch had drawn his little pea-shooter to emphasize my questioning, and apparently not satisfied with the whole "lives in Pennsylvania" story, brought a polished wood handle to our elderly friends temple. Like a bag of laundry, the man fell sweater first onto polyester shag.

"What the hell is wrong with you!"

I give one shove to my already-ashamed brother.

After taking the mans pulse, and generally verifying that we hadn't killed the guy, we placed him on the couch and got out of dodge.

Outside drizzle had turned to rain and we talked loudly to overpower the sound of the storm.

"Put that thing in the trunk!"

My brother held the bull under his right arm like a Jets running back. I looked at the bull, now glistening with rain. I swelled with pride, suddenly emotional, and thought through all the work that my father had done, and how proud he must have felt when I was making all that money. I wiped a tear away. I guess I was just happy to have the bull back.

As I opened the trunk, I looked over and noticed the stupid gun falling out of Mitch's jacket again. He realized too, and in a swift move to catch it, dislodged the bull.

Impervious to rain, the bull charged down, horns first, then rotated upwards. Perhaps he was taking a last look at the two of us. Finally, rotated a bit more, he landed on his back. An explosion of porcelain revealed metal, that we had always imagined, but never actually seen.

Two idiots standing in the rain, we stared dumbly at the now metal bull. Mitch bent down first, and I shoved him back. Now kneeling I touched the metal with just the tips of my fingers. To two pawn shop men, there could be no denying.

"It's fucking lead!"

fiction

About the author

J.T. Kelleher

Los Angeles based writer, specializing in American idioms, tropes, and pig latin.

I wish we all still had regional accents.

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