Willis Pickney stood in the back of his new store, Pickney Pawn and Fine Jewelry, tapping his foot and looking at his watch. Twenty minutes! His silent store alarm had gone off twenty minutes ago, and the police still hadn't arrived.
Up front, Frieda Harris, his only employee, waited on a young male customer. Another loser pawning his wedding ring or his wife's family heirlooms, Willis thought derisively. Just a week in this business and he was already sick of it.
Finally, a blue-and-white squad car pulled to the curb, lights flashing. A uniformed police officer rushed in, bringing with him a blast of frosty winter air. Willis pasted a surprised look on his face. "Don't tell me the alarm went off again! That's the third time this week."
The officer sighed and holstered his gun. "Yep. Another false alarm?"
Willis shrugged. "Apparently. When I first got the system, I thought we might accidentally set it off. But I didn't expect anything like this!"
The officer frowned and made a note on his pad. "Sometimes you have to work the bugs out, I guess. I've never seen one like this, though. I suggest you have it checked for a short circuit right away." The young officer was polite, but his tone was unmistakable--he wasn't happy with Willis and his false alarms.
After Willis walked the policeman to the door, he went to the counter. Frieda gawked. "It wasn't my fault, Mr. Pickney. I didn't go anywhere near that button."
Willis looked at Frieda thoughtfully. He knew she hadn't touched the alarm, because he himself had gently tapped the foot switch while Frieda was busy with the customer. The system was designed specifically for high-risk businesses like pawnshops. Rather than ringing an audible alarm, which might frighten a nervous armed robber, when a person behind the counter stepped on a special button, an alarm rang straight into the police station. At night, when it was armed, there was a motion detector in the rear of the store which would also set off the alarm, and the windows were rigged to ring it if they got broken. It was a good system, and perfect for Willis' plan.
"However it happened," he said, "we must be more careful. The police are going to get tired of coming out here, and if we really need them, we'll regret it."
At that moment, Esther Pickney walked into the store, carrying a huge balloon bouquet. "Good Luck!" and "Best Wishes!" the cheerful balloons proclaimed. She set them on the counter and kissed Willis' cheek with her withered lips. He shuddered to himself.
"I just came to wish you a happy grand opening, dear! Good morning, Miss Harris," she said crisply to Frieda. "I hope you're enjoying your job."
Frieda nodded then busied herself behind the counter. Willis could tell Esther intimidated her. Well, he wasn't intimidated by his elderly aunt--money or no money!
With a look at Frieda, Esther pulled Willis aside. "Willis, dear," she said, her voice low and confidential. "You know I was happy to loan you the money to buy this shop." A mist of tears came to the old lady's eyes. "You're my only nephew--my only relative, really, since I disinherited your cousin Franklin after he went to prison. I want you to succeed." She squeezed his arm to emphasize her point.
Willis nodded. These were his dues for taking her money. He'd have to listen to her gloat about it. For a while, anyway. Hopefully a very short while.
"But, after what happened last time..." Esther said. Willis pulled away from her and fixed a hurt look on his face. "I don't gamble anymore, Auntie," he whispered fiercely. He was aware of Frieda's curious eyes on them. "I told you that."
She patted his arm. "I know, dear. I just worry about you. I want this business to be a success. I'm afraid it'll be your last chance."
Willis stared at her. "What do you mean, 'last chance?'" "I just mean I won't loan you any more, if this fails. I hate to do it, but I must be honest with you," she said firmly.
"Don't worry about me," Willis hissed through gritted teeth. "I intend to be a very wealthy man, you'll see!"
Several hours after closing, Willis entered the back alley-door of the store and quickly keyed in the code on the wall panel to disarm the alarm. The store was dimly lit with security lights--just enough for him to see what he was doing. He went to the jewelry counter up front and briefly admired the shining gold and silver. Some of it was junk, true, but there were some good pieces. Fortunately, he'd bought the shop from its previous owner fully stocked.