Saturday, 31 December 2011

One Man's Treasure

Illustration by Mark Satchwill
A lot of his customers had told Gillis Montgomery he looked like Jack Palance and it was true. But when they said it they were thinking of the laughing psycho bad guy character in Shane, not the haunted boxer of Requiem for a Heavyweight. That was okay with Gillis. If his customers felt like they needed to score points off him, so be it. They were the ones in his store, giving away bits and pieces of their lives for a pittance. They always seemed stunned to find out how little their precious engagement ring or designer watch was worth. They always checked the price of gold before they came in and they always had two prices in their heads—the one they really wanted and the one they’d take. Both were always much, much higher than what he was willing to offer.
Gillis blamed movies.
In movies someone would walk into a pawn shop with a silver chain and a string of pearls and walk out with five hundred dollars.
That just wasn’t going to happen at Mongomery Pawn.
The people who watched Pawn Stars were the worse. They’d always want to argue the price, telling him they’d seen the exact same item on the show.
Gillis’ standard answer was that if they thought they could get a better price, they should head for Las Vegas and try their luck.
Pawn Stars.
The show’s producers had originally approached him with the idea of starring in their reality show. They’d heard about his little North Hollywood empire and they’d heard about his movie-star looks. They’d been disappointed when he turned them down.
Disappointed and surprised.
Do I look like a Kardashian? he’d asked them, amused by their dismay.

He didn’t need their money and he had no interest in the notoriety they were passing off as fame.
The last thing he wanted was his customers knowing anything about him.
They heard his accent and smirked. Redneck, they’d think and they’d feel superior as they pawned the guitar they’d beggared themselves to buy so they could learn how to play the first few chords of “Stairway to Heaven” to impress some girl who wanted to fuck a rock star.
Sometimes they’d try to guess the origin of his accent.
What part of Texas you from?
You from Georgia Gillis?
You remind me of a guy I knew in Alabama.
They never got it right.
Gillis blamed it on TV.
People were so used to actors doing a generic “southern accent” that when they heard the real thing, it threw them.
Your accent is so sexy, a customer had once said to him.
“My wife thinks so,” he’d replied.
The customer, who’d been trying to pass off a fake Rolex as the real thing, left in a huff, annoyed that he’d rebuffed her advances.
Orla had been amused.
She knew she had nothing to worry about.
They’d met in school and married a week after graduation.
It had been Orla who suggested moving to California. She saw opportunities there, she told Gillis and she’d been right.
She’d been the one to suggest opening a pawn shop. She’d been the one to draw up the business plan, choosing the location, renting extra storage space, getting the seed money.
They’d started off with one store in a strip mall that also contained a Laundromat, a bail bondsman’s office and a store selling medical supplies.
Within a year, they had three stores. In five years they had ten, all of them in North Hollywood, all of them earners.
Especially at Christmas.
The last couple of years, Gillis and Orla had made bank at Christmas. They’d kept the stores open late on Christmas Eve, playing jolly holiday music and setting out coffee and cheap cookies for the customers.
The jewelry flew out the door but so did the bigger ticket items, the computer game systems and the electronics. All ten stores sold out their entire stock of Wii games, priced to sell at $3 each, a tenth of what they sold for in the mall stores.
A lot of the Christmas customers had returned after the holiday to recoup some of their spending by pawning presents they’d gotten.
Montgomery Pawn had a stringent policy of what they’d accept in new and used merchandise, and a lot of what they brought in was crap.
He hated to do it, but sometimes he just had to tell would-be customers that they’d be better off holding a yard sale.
They always went away in a huff, thinking he was being an asshole.
If that’s what they need to think, so be it.
Orla was one who worried about their clients. She managed the stores’ database of customers and sent out a little newsletter to them once a month, offering coupons and discount deals, and easy financial tips on how to deal with their money.
Orla had worked in a bank while going to school and she knew how easy it was for people to get screwed just by keeping their money in the wrong bank.
The local efforts to duplicate Occupy Wall Street had been a big disappointment to her.
“More people showed up to see the new Twilight movie than to protest big banking,” she’d complained in disgust.
“Bankers aren’t sexy,” he’d said and cheered her up by making a batch of angel biscuits.
Gillis loved puttering around in their kitchen. The minute he’d seen it, he knew they had to buy the house. The one room was bigger than their apartment back in Durham, and had a six-burner stove and Sub-Zero fridge and a huge butler’s pantry.
“I love this kitchen,” he’d said to her, not caring that the realtor could hear him.
“We’re going to need some more pots,” she’d said, eying the stove.
They ate the biscuits with unsalted butter and apricot preserves they’d bought from Bristol Farms. Afterwards they’d cuddled and watched Love, Actually, which was Orla’s favorite movie. As a holiday movie, Gillis preferred it to It’s a Wonderful Life, but didn’t like it as much as A Christmas Story.
Four people had come into the store with an armful of holiday dvds on the day after Christmas; all of them with A Christmas Story.
“Look,” they’d all said, “it’s the special, super-duper edition.”
“Have a yard sale,” he’d advised them.
“Your sign’s misspelled,” they’d all pointed out to him. “It’s our not are.”
Gillis had looked at the hand-lettered “Happy New Year” greeting behind the counter.
“Damn,” he’d said each time. “Spelling isn’t my strong suit.”
Each of the customers had smirked and gone away feeling superior.
The misspelling had been Orla’s idea.
The woman is a genius.
But he’d known that from the moment he met her on the Duke campus where they were both enrolled in the Fuqua School of Business.


  1. Kept my attention and loved the characters!


  2. I signed up for a newsletter put out by a pawnbroker in Tennessee. We'll definitely see more of Gillis and Orla. Glad you liked it.

  3. Wonderful story telling, very nicely done. The movie references were great too.