The Pawn Ticket
by C.K. Gurin

Sample: Chapter 1

"Good morning Barry," the elderly inventor greeted his neighborhood pawnbroker.

The heavy, bullet-proof glass pawnshop door swung shut with a resounding thunk behind him. The cowbell suspended from the inside handle jangled noisily as it slammed. The cowbell, once described by a visitor to Barry's shop as the cymbal's evil third cousin, was badly off-key.

"Come to pick up your pocket watch early this month, Mr. Liebowitcz?" the pawnbroker called over his shoulder as he headed for the battered old safe.

"Not today, my friend," the elderly man shook his head. "I've brought you something I'll need you to promise to take very good care of for me while it's here."

Barry nodded. "You know I will, Mr. Liebowitcz," he replied solemnly.

"What have you got there?" he inquired, nodding towards the compact, fabric draped rectangular item cradled carefully in his customer's arms. "I'm already up to my rear end in microwave ovens," he warned.

Barry liked Mr. Liebowitcz. The old man was a good customer. As regular as clockwork, if you'll pardon the pun, he would bring in his pocket watch, and pawn it to pay the bills that rather inconveniently tended to arrive prior to his monthly Social Security deposit.

Nevertheless, Barry groaned inwardly at the thought of loaning money on another stupid microwave oven.

"It's not a microwave oven, Barry," Liebowitcz assured him. "And this is very valuable."

"Okaaaaaaay," the pawnbroker replied hesitantly.

Liebowitcz gently set the object down on the pawnbroker's worn countertop. "Could you lock the door please, so that we're not interrupted?" he requested.

Curious, Barry nodded. "It's an automatic lock," he reassured Liebowitcz, who then gently removed the fabric cover.

"I thought you said it wasn't a microwave," Barry said with a weary sigh.

"It's not," the old man replied with an amused smile.

"Then what is it?" Barry asked, beginning to grow slightly impatient. The rectangular silver and black thing with a handle and a digital keypad on the front certainly looked like a compact microwave oven to him.

"It's a portal generator Barry," Liebowitcz confided softly. "There are people who would kill to get hold of this machine. I've known you for ten years. I trust you. I need you to promise to keep it safe for me."

Barry sighed again and looked into the old man's eyes. Dementia creeps up so stealthily as humans age, he thought sadly. There was no reason not to humor him.

"How much do you want to borrow on your "portal generator", Mr. Liebowitcz?" he inquired gently.

"I don't want to borrow any money, Barry," Liebowitcz replied. "I just need you to lock it up and promise to keep it safe for me for a little while."

Barry blinked.

"Mr Liebowitcz…" he began slowly, as if explaining to a small child... "I'm not allowed to have anything in the store that doesn't have a corresponding Sheriff's form filled out. I have to have a pawn ticket on file. The cops are in here all the time, checking my inventory for stolen goods. I've got a perfect record with them so far, and I can't risk screwing it up. If you want to leave it with me, fine, but I'll need to loan you something on it so that I have an accurate pawn ticket on file. Now if you need me to hold it for you for longer than a month, I can certainly cut you a deal…"

"No," the old man frowned thoughtfully then shook his head decidedly. "A month ought to be more than enough time, Barry. You can loan me what you'd typically loan on a used compact microwave. That way nobody will question the transaction. I'll also tell you how it works, just in case something should happen to me," he said. "There's…" he paused, and with a sigh, shook his head. "There's nobody else left to tell," he said frankly.

Barry narrowed his eyes slightly as he looked at Mr. Liebowitcz. If this is dementia, he thought with surprise, at least part of the old guy's brain was still working pretty damned well.

A tattered length of yellow crime scene tape clung to the pawnshop door. Friends of the owner were still trying to come to terms with it. One day Barry was there, laughing and joking with his customers, the next day he was dead.

It wasn't just the fact that Barry was dead that continued to trouble him, Jeremiah thought to himself. It was the way that it was handled. It continued to strike him as odd.

Apparently a potential customer had dropped by the pawnshop a little before 8:30 one morning and finding the door unlocked, simply walked in. He glanced around, didn't see what he had been looking for, and headed towards the rear of the store, calling out and asking if anybody was there. He saw the body lying on the floor behind the counter in a pool of blood. He screamed at the top of his lungs and ran for help, yanking the handle back and leaving the pawnshop door stuck in a wide-open position as he did.

The thoroughly spooked customer all but ambushed a startled Vietnamese nail salon owner, yelling that a guy had been shot in the pawnshop next door, and telling him to call the cops.

According to the nail salon owner, the customer, who was badly rattled and shaking like a leaf, had babbled on about not having been able to find a sales clerk and then seeing the body. When the sound of sirens drew close, the customer had simply shaken his head and high-tailed it out of there. On the face of it, that wasn't the unusual part.

The news through the police grapevine was that Barry had been standing in front of the open cash register with his back to the counter, and somebody had put a bullet through his brain at point blank range. That also wasn't the unusual part.

There had been money scattered on the floor next to him, as though perhaps he had been counting it. The safe was wide open, but there didn't seem to be anything missing.

The shop wasn't normally supposed to open until 9AM. The call had come in a little after 8:30AM. His part time employee hadn't even been due to arrive for another half hour yet, and the guy had an airtight alibi. Not only did the employee have a time stamp debit card receipt for his breakfast at a neighborhood diner, the restaurant's security tape even showed him having breakfast while reading the morning paper.

So this was the weird part…

The front door was the only way in, and Barry was extremely security conscious. It was a pawnshop after all. His exterior polycarbonate display windows were indistinguishable from glass, but they'd take a shotgun blast, a sledge hammer, or even a .44 Magnum bullet without yielding an inch to a smash and grab robber. His transparent bulletproof door was similarly protected. It was fabricated from ballistic glass, and mounted in a bullet resistant frame with both a standard bolt lock and an automatic magnetic locking system.

Barry eyeballed and mentally screened everybody when they first approached the bullet-proof glass door before hitting the under-counter button that released the magnetic door lock.

There wasn't even a way for anybody to get behind the counter once they were inside. One literally had to back up to the chest high counter, put his hands on the edge, hoist himself up, spin around on his butt and then hop down on the other side.

There was no way in hell that Barry, even though he was in his sixties, wouldn't have sensed that kind of movement. Barry still had the reflexes of a cat. He'd have instantly spun around and confronted an attacker, yet the police report had attributed his death to a single gunshot wound, fired at point blank range into the back of his head.

For some reason the cops who responded to the call had also made no attempt to preserve or recover fingerprint evidence either from the front door or from the counter top.

Barry's ex-wife, with whom he had still been on good terms, hadn't been asked to identify the body. It appeared that nobody had. No autopsy had been ordered, which Jeremiah thought particularly strange, and bizarrely, the body had immediately been cremated, without the family's permission. They had simply been handed a white cardboard box full of ashes.

Jeremiah had attended the small funeral service. The part-time employee hadn't.

There was no money missing and the front door was always kept locked. So how did the guy who said he accidentally discovered the body manage to get in if Barry was already dead? If Barry had buzzed in somebody he knew before the shop was officially open, at the very least there should have been fingerprints on the inside of the door from when the murderer left. But if the guy who found him was instead the murderer, what would have been the point of his going to a neighboring business to ask somebody to call the cops?

How is it that nobody in the adjoining shops had heard a gunshot at that hour, Jeremiah wondered. Do run of the mill robbers use silencers? And why would a robber leave money lying all over the floor? For that matter, since when do cops not try to preserve fingerprint evidence of a murder? Why no autopsy? And what was with that immediate cremation? Absolutely nothing about this case made any sense to him.

A simple case of Robbery / Murder the newspaper article had said. No witnesses. No evidence. The security camera had mysteriously malfunctioned. Case closed. Well, after all, people thought, it was a pawnshop, and of course, these things happened.

Except that they didn't. Not like this anyway.



“Detailed information about Jeremiah’s biological father had never been forthcoming from his biological mother, but for the sake of the adoption proceedings, a notarized statement from the mother had been provided, stating that Jeremiah’s father had also been an American citizen.

There was no way of knowing whether this was actually true or not.

She confided to Jeremiah’s adoptive parents that she had never told Jeremiah’s biological father that she was pregnant. The only other tidbit volunteered, was that Jeremiah’s father had been a married man, highly respected in Paris, with a successful career and a very high IQ.

Jeremiah’s biological mother had been a very bright, and very pretty, blue-eyed blonde. She died in an automobile accident in London, a mere six weeks after his birth.

As to Jeremiah’s actual heritage, it was anybody’s guess. He had an exotic look about him. He was 6’4”, weighed 220, and worked out on a regular basis. His skin tone was bronze, his hair was jet black with loose waves, and he had inherited his mother’s striking, cornflower blue eyes. His IQ was literally off the charts. From a biological standpoint, the child of that amorous union in Paris had basically won the genetic lottery.

Jeremiah also lucked out with his adoptive parents. They had simply adored him.

After college, having achieved advanced degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Physics, Jeremiah earned his pilot's license and then spent a few years in the military, doing some covert work and learning to fly things that most people on this planet firmly believed were just science fiction. He had also traveled to places that few people imagined even existed.

After leaving active military service, Jeremiah had become a private consultant to several of the nation’s most powerful aerospace firms. He held a Top Secret security clearance, which, along with his specialized knowledge, experience and expertise, allowed him to charge his clients accordingly. Financially speaking, Jeremiah was, as they say, extremely comfortable.

Up until a year ago, Jeremiah had been in a long-term, and what he had naively assumed was a happy relationship. He and his fiancé had shared his spacious home on the water in Palm Beach.

Jeremiah had come home from a business trip one day, to find the joint bank accounts empty, the house newly devoid of all its expensive furnishings, and a six week old black and white tuxedo kitten, who had apparently wandered in through a door left ajar by the movers, sitting in the middle of the cavernous living room.

He had taken a deep breath, christened the kitten F.U.B.A.R., a name aptly reflective of the day’s events, put the house on the market, and moved to another county in Florida.

Jeremiah actually counted himself lucky. He had been just about to suggest to his fiancé that they set a wedding date.”



Back to The Quantum Cat by C.K. Gurin
C.K. Gurin is represented by the Virginia Kidd Literary Agency, inquiries may be directed to William Reeve. (WmReeve (AT)
The Virginia Kidd Literary Agency is one of the longest established science fiction specialized literary agencies in the world. VKA embodies half a century of rich experience in the top end of the science fiction and fantasy genres. Their client list reads like a top notch "who's-who" of science fiction: Beth Bernobich, Gene Wolfe, Anne McCaffrey, Ted Chiang, Alan Dean Foster and others set the bar very high indeed. Their authors have won Hugos, Nebulas, World Fantasy, Tiptree, National Book Award, PEN Malamud, SFWA Grandmaster, Gandalf, Locus Award, Margaret Edwards Award, IAMTW Lifetime Achievement Award (Grand Master), Rhysling Award, Author Emeritus SFWA, BSFA Award and more. They represent the best of the best. C.K. Gurin is honored to be represented by VKA.

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