The shop was small, dank, and dimly lit. The air hung still and dusty. No one else was in sight. The bare counter he faced from the doorway stood unattended. Harris scanned the room for some indication of what kind of business was transacted here.
The place was wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling shelves crammed to their edges with junk. An old chrome toaster stood next to a battered teddy bear, which leaned precariously over an antique shaving mirror. Beside them stood a jumble of shabby jewelry boxes, their fabric hinges frayed to uselessness, and a matryoshka doll whose painted surfaces were more chips than paint. There were tarnished candleholders of rococo design, and decorative candles in fanciful shapes, some that had been lit, some that had not. Ancient clocks and watches abounded. Commemorative plates and mugs were everywhere, proclaiming the glories of places no one in his right mind would ever visit. Over all of it hung an odor of mildew and decay.
The driftwood of innumerable lives had washed up on this lower Manhattan beach. It was a junk shop, not even a pawn shop, and there was nothing more unpleasant for a retail inspector.
People bring objects of value to a pawn shop.
He'd take little or nothing from this place. The owner wouldn't have a cent to spare. Likely, he did this only to stay busy.
Harris might have pretended he'd walked through the wrong door and backed out, but a short, portly old man in faded coveralls emerged from the corridor behind the counter, noticed his uniform and approached him, smiling gently.
"May I help you with something, Officer?"
Harris deployed his badge folder with a practiced flick: long enough to let his intended victim glimpse something official-looking, but not long enough to read his name. "Retail Establishments division," he growled. "This address isn't on the city's retail registry, nor on the tax rolls. What's going on here?"