The entry of the store was a typical pawn shop. One wall with a wire mesh cage contained numerous firearms ranging from lever action 30/30 with highly intricate scrollwork to modern high impact plastic designs.
"Welcome to Wyoming." Jim said to himself with a chuckle.
He had a child holding each hand, Abigail looked up to him, then at the guns.
"That's a lot of guns." She said with a knowing nod.
"Don't I know it." Jim said.
He made a short laugh, then began to look around then got down to his children's level.
"OK, here's how it goes. You can look, but you can't touch. If you find something you like, come get me and we'll look at it," he said, letting go of their hands, "Got it?"
They both looked up at him shaking their heads, eyes wide.
"And, Daniel, I'm watching! The limit is five dollars for each of you." He called to them as they began to look through the long building.
A tall, whiplike man watched the exchange with a craggy smile. He leaned forward on the counter and looked up at Jim.
"Does that work?"
"Surprisingly well, actually. Set expectations, the rest will follow." Jim said, shrugging.
"It's an enterprising idea. Wish we all got here with a similar set of instructions. Maybe we'd do as well." The man said with a fatherly smile.
A moment passed and Jim watched the children track separately for a second then Abigail called out to Daniel and they both ooo'd and ahh'd at her discovery. I was suddenly wary, and gave the man a sidelong look.
The man waved his hand dismissively. He had long gray hair capped with white fringes. It looked like he wore a hat often, but now his hair just looked hat shaped. His eyebrows and mustache matched the long feathered hair, but his chin was bare and he had a button of a dimple right in the middle.
He was, quite possibly, the most manly looking man he'd seen in a very long time.
"I take it you aren't here for a gun." He said.
Without waiting for an answer, he moved from behind the gun counter and set across the store. Sweat dampened the shirt between his shoulder blades. The store was using cooled using an evaporative fan and was doing a passable job, but certain areas were warmer than others.
They reached the other counter, further back in the store. He beckoned Jim with a wave of his hand and moved to a glass case. He settled into the same forward lean, his hands on the metal edge of the display case.
"You just have that look about you." He said thoughtfully, then added, "And you looked at those guns with wonder, not need."
"Many people come in here needing a gun?" Jim asked.
"Not often, but sometimes. I have had most of those guns for a very long time and people usually work in trade, not cash." He said, nodding at the caged case, "I've had some of those guns before."
"Huh," Jim said, with a smile, "Like a library for guns?"
The man nodded, pointing a finger of agreement at Jim and said, "Exactly."
"Now these," he pointed at the case, "These are unique. No stone is the same."
Jim looked at the arranged stones. There were pebble sized rounded stones of turquoise, smooth cut agates, highly polished crystals, palm sized geodes that sparkled with purple and white. The display case was absolutely full of stunning treasures. Each price tag had Jim gulp slightly. The palm sized geodes, had a small tag showing one hundred and fifteen.
Abigail said something that set Daniel to giggling. I stood up and watched them for a moment. then turned back to the display case.
"Is that a bloodstone, right there?" Jim said, pointing to a polished green stone with flashes of red, "I don't usually see them with the red. I guess that's why they call them bloodstones?"
"Especially if you're color blind." The man said dryly.
Jim let out a surprise laugh. Then put his hand to his mouth, subduing his own mirth.
"This is an odd side business you have, here." Jim said, looking at the grizzled man, "A tad schizophrenic."
"You do what you know, then you do what you love. If you can do them both, you'll be a happy man." He said.
"And you love rocks."
He cringed a bit at the words.
"You can get rocks over at the gravel pit. These are stones." He said, "Pawn and Stone, after all. We just made the 'and' really small. The wife said it would be clever."
"And you agreed, I'm sure." Jim said with a smile.
"Oh yes, and you'd know why." He said, looking at my wedding ring.
A pang hit Jim's heart and stomach at the same time. The man looked at his eyes and saw the shift, but he didn't turn away or change the subject. He regarded Jim for a moment, then nodded.
The children giggled again, and it gave Jim an opportunity to seek them out. He felt vulnerable.
"What are you guys doing?"
They still giggled. Daniel was looking incredibly shy, but Abigail was pointing at a Zippo lighter with a topless girl on it. Then she looked up at him and silently mouthed the word, "Boobs!"
Jim ran his hand over his face, suppressing a laugh, then rolled his eyes.
"Come on, you need to see this." He said, "They have stones here."
They both followed him over and he positioned them in front of the counter. They were his own little counter-adult shields. He began to focus them in on the various stones in the case.
"See, that's a bloodstone." Jim said to Abigail, then turned to the man, "Sir?"
The man looked at Jim, incredulous.
"Name's Adam." He said, waving his hand in front of him, then chuckled to himself, "Heh. Sir."
"Hello Adam, anything you can tell me about this stone?" Jim said.
He lifted the jeweled necklace from Abigail and she yelped and grabbed at it. Her eyes were wide with panic.
"Honey, I'm just... letting him see it." He was fending of her hands snatching at the necklace, "Hey, stop, it's just..."
She howled, infuriated and thrashing. He got an arm around her and held her close until she stopped struggling. Her heart was racing under his grasp, and she panted, eyes fixed on it. He put the necklace on the counter out of reach of Abigail and nodded to Adam.
"He's just going to tell us what it is, honey," Jim said, exasperated and still holding her fast, "What's gotten into you?"
"Very pretty, very even coloring. It doesn't look like a stone, though. It looks organic, like amber, but, ya know, more red." He said.
Adam lifted a magnifying glass and slid a piece of white paper under it allowing the light to reflect through the stone. After looking at the edges and focusing on the core of it, he touched the stone.
In a heartbeat, the man drew his hand back with a jerk and let the magnifying glass clatter to the display case. He sat up, gulping for air and rubbing his hand where he'd touched Abigail's stone. He stared at it, beads of sweat springing up on his forehead. Jim's grip loosened on Abigail and she darted forward, snatching the stone from the counter and bolted to the front door. Daniel looked confused and called after her, then quickly followed her.
Jim watched his children leaving and looked to the shaken man. He could hear the door open and slam as Abigail ran out to the car.
"Wait, I need to talk to you. I need to..." Jim said, his head bobbed between his children and the man, then he bolted toward the exit.
He burst from the shop and ran out to the car. Abigail was wearing the necklace again, shaking, and then turned, scowling at her father. He felt his heart shudder with the look. Daniel made his way to the opposite door and got settled in his booster seat. Jim opened the driver side door, started the car, and cranked the air conditioner.
"Stay here," He said, gulping with a mounting fear, "Please, don't ... don't touch anything."
He ran back to the store. Adam had made his way to the front of the store. He stood by the door. Keys were in his hand. Jim pushed the door and the man held up his hand.
"I'm going to close up." He said.
Jim was dumbfounded.
"But I need to understand what's going on!" Jim shouted, then quickly backtracked, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I don't mean to yell."
The man shook his head slowly for a moment, looking introspective. He took a deep breath and checked his pulse briefly.
"Stones have power. You could say that each stone has a specialty." He said slowly, "Stones can pick up certain vibrations and patterns, some would even say that can store energy, or catch thoughts."
"What does any of that mean?" Jim said, his brow furrowed.
"Well, stones pick up the energy around it, but that doesn't only apply to stones. It can apply to old buildings, books, containers, things that have a certain structure, a place for energy to reside. While that isn't a stone, it's something with structure that I ... hadn't experienced before. Not sure what it is. But whatever it is, it's not for you, and definitely not for me. It's hers." He bobbed his head toward Abigail in the car.
Jim's shoulders slumped.
"I have a heart condition." Adam replied, "It isn't in the best shape, and that did a number on me. I know you have questions, but, son, I wouldn't have any good answers."
Jim slipped through the door.
"Good luck." Adam said, that melancholy touched his face again and he nodded.
The lock slid into place.