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Grim

Caveat Emptor

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((This side-fiction is happening at the same time as ‘Doubling Up, Doubling Down’))

The chill of autumn was in the air, the weaker sunlight fighting a battle against the cold winds promising winter.  So far, the remnants of summer were winning, but sooner or later the first frosts would form.  Grim thrust his hands into the pockets of his too-large coat, feeling the warmth of the garment keeping the chill breeze at bay.  His fingers curled in the pocket, wishing for the reassuring solidity of the Heartwood Stave to lean on, but that was tucked under his bed back home for two reasons.  Firstly, carrying a length of black wood around town was not an action calculated to be inconspicuous.  And secondly, he needed to walk without aid if his ankle was to get stronger and his limp was going to get any better.

So it was that he’d walked downtown rather than hitching a ride, and though his leg was protesting somewhat it was able to bear his weight.  He’d focused on walking without limping as the coach had suggested, and had been mostly successful before the exertion started to tell on his damaged nerves, causing his limp to return as he walked the last couple of blocks to his destination.

From Dusk Till Pawn’, the sign read in black lettering.  The grill-covered window display showed a variety of electronics, jewelry, watches, and curios that the desperate or needy had traded in for cash.  Grim, however, was here to buy rather than sell.  Given his... limited means it was out of the question for the young man to buy a brand new smartphone or PC, but a second-hand laptop or early-generation touch-screen phone was within his meagre budget.

As the door swung shut behind him and the dim electric lighting replaced the weak Salem sunshine, the son of Odin slouched along the displays, hands in his pockets as he browsed.

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The pawn shop was worn, but well tended. If the industrial red and black carpet was faded and threadbare in places and the shelves aged and scratched, the floor was still swept clean and the tempered glass of the display cases was clear. The place was organized with just a hint of comfortable disarray, the commercial equivalent to a lived-in den.

Several wooden bins overflowed with books marked at a dollar a piece. Instruments hanging from the ceiling by one wall weren't quite arranged by size or type. A display of carved and blown glass figures only had a semi-sense of order to it. On the other hand, the small array of guns behind the sales counter was very neatly arranged in locked display cases.

The sales counter to the left of the entrance itself was raised by a pair of steps, giving anyone behind it a clear view over the entire shop floor. At the moment, sitting behind the counter was a middle-aged man,  a bit on the swarthy side with raven black hair peppered with grey and several days growth of salt and pepper stubble. His bright grey eyes were sharp and incisive, but bracketed by laugh lines. If not classically handsome, he had roguish good looks that might have belonged to a Star Wars freighter pilot or in a heist film.

He looked up at the ting-a-ling of the bell over the door then glanced at the rangy young man who entered. Not perceiving anything suspicious or duplicitous in Grim, László gave him a friendly a nod, but let him look around to his own content. If they boy needed any help, he would ask for it. László went back to sorting some rings and bits of jewelry in some fashion Grim couldn't determine off-hand. He noted the handle of what appeared to be a cane hanging on the edge of the counter.

Grim was browsing for while, dithering on making a decision with his limited funds when he caught the sound of footsteps coming down stairs from beyond the sales counter. A young woman backed through a doorway, gracefully carrying a tray that held a plate of sandwiches and a teapot in one hand, the other holding a large mug.

When she turned around, Grim realized it was Nadya... he thought. He'd never seen her looking so... domestic.

Her hair was held back by a red, white, and blue kerchief, save for a few wavy locks that dangled free to frame her face. She was wearing yoga pants and an oversized Boston Red Sox sweater that slouched off one shoulder, the sleeves long enough to have cover her hands. Her fingers were free of any rings, though a small one still pierced her brow and she had a small stud in her nose. And she wasn't wearing heels, but a pair of broken-in old slip-on Sketchers.

Nadya placed the tray on the counter by her father - side by side, Grim caught the family resemblance - and poured him a cup of tea. The two of them spoke him softly in a mix of at least two languages, neither of them English, before Nadya grabbed a triangular half of a sandwich and took a sip from her almost ludicrously big mug with Calvin and Hobbes on the side with the quote: 'If good things lasted forever, would we appreciate how precious they are?'

She took a bite of her sandwich when she realized there was someone in the pawn shop, her eyes widening slightly when she realized who it was. If she was embarrassed being caught at work, out of her usual fashion sense, Nadya gave no sign of it, though she quickly swallowed her bite of sandwich before offering Grim a grin that was between friendly and professional.

"Hiya, Grim. What brings you to From Dusk Till Pawn today?"

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For his part, if Grim was shocked at seeing Nadya dressed - well, normally - he gave no sign of it.  Unless the slight curving up of one corner of the serious young man's lips was a sign.  With Grim it was hard to say.  Was he amused?  Glad to see her?  Was the vestigial smile some phantom expression disconnected with what was really going on behind those odd eyes?

Of course, Grim knew he was pleased to see Nadya - and surprised at being pleased - and somewhat confused at the fact that she wasn't dressed Nadya-ishly.  For some reason he thought that she would dress the same at home as at school - after all, he did.  In many ways despite his intelligence and composure, Grim was very much a clueless young man.  He also realised he hadn't answered his perky bandmate yet.

"Looking for a phone and maybe a cheap laptop."  he answered, approaching the counter.  Though he wasn't smiling as such, there was a conversational warmth to his tone that Nadya recognised from yesterday after the chilly young man had opened up a little.  "I figured that I can't be depending on landlines and the school library computers every time I want to get something done.  Hello, sir."  He added with a nod to László, who clicked his tongue as he remembered something.

"Grim...  Grim...  You are being the boy who disappeared and returned, yes?"  László asked, his gaze keen as he studied the youth anew.  He was a worldly man, had seen a lot in his time, but this boy had the second oldest eyes he'd ever seen.  "I read it in the papers."  Grim forced a slight smile. nodding as his eyes met László's.

"Yes sir.  Though don't believe all you read.  I wasn't stolen away by aliens or Elvis."

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"Just so. It is being best not to believing half what you are reading, and little more what you are seeing," László agreed with amiably gruff amusement, a sage nod, and a twinkle in his eye.

Behind him, Nadya shook her head vehemently over her father's shoulder, trying to convey silently to Grim that her father wasn't in the know about Gods and Titans and Monsters, but Grim suspected László caught the motion, though he gave no sign of it beyond a slight curve of his mouth. The elder Lunălescu picked up his cane and swung it behind him without looking, giving Nadya a light swat on the thigh.

"My milaya doch', help the boy finding the things he is looking for," László to his daughter, hanging his cane off the edge of the counter once more. "Me, and am doing the sorting of the jewels for what to sell, and what is for the keeping, so that those they are meaning much may recover them." He gave Grim another scrutinizing glance, then looked over his shoulder at Nadya. "And you, Nadezhda, be a good host and be offering him a sandwich. You are being as skinny as the rail, boy."

Nadya rolled her eyes in exasperation, but when her father shifted, a demure expression came over face so quick, Grim began to doubt he had even seen the roll of eyes. She swiftly finished her sandwich, then picked up the tray.

"Of course, Tată," she said docilely, and her father snorted, clearly not fooled. She skipped down the two steps from the counter area, and offered the tray to Grim. "There's egg salad, tuna, and ham and swiss," Nadya said, indicating each lightly toasted sandwich with a nod. Only one half of the tuna sandwich remained on the wooden tray. "Grab one, oh Grim one, and let's see about getting you hooked up and online."

Grim hesitated for a moment then picked up the other half of the tuna sandwich and flashed the Lunălescus his reserved, understated smile. Nadya gave him a mock pout before she slid the tray back onto the counter, then beckoned him to follow her with a pair of waving fingers. "Someone has good taste. This way."

Nadya led Grim to a counter at the back of the shop, what passed for the electronics section, and took the two steps up in a hop. She glanced down the glass counter top, then gave a Grim a quick, considering look that almost made him want to check his pockets to find out what was missing. Then she pulled out two transparent trays of cellphones. Strips of masking tape indicated the price range, 40-99 dollars in one tray, 100-199 in the other.

Nadya walked further down the counter and leaned on it, the two steps up bringing her eyes up just a bit higher than Grim's. "What're looking for in a laptop, Grim? Video games or video editing, big screen, or just something for homework and wikipedia?"

"Research and homework mainly," Grim admitted. A shrug. "Entertainment secondary, I suppose. Why?"

"Dude, you are so wrong 'bout that, but I got you. I could get you a good deal on a gaming laptop. Great specs, 19 inch screen, whole buncha games on it still, but it's almost as thick as a phonebook and weighs as much as Wolf, with a battery life of about two minutes."

Nadya tapped on the glass counter pointing out the beastly laptop with a biohazard decal on the lid, then she pointed to two other smaller, slimmer models, one newer than the other. "But it sounds like what you want is a Chromebook. A hundred for this one. They're perfect for surfing the net and youtube. And homework, I guess. They're kinda between a tablet and a PC. Talk to Beth at school, and she get even get Netflix working on them, probably update the operating system on the older models,"

"I don't have an Netflix account."

"Pshaw! I don't either. Lotta people do though and don't even come close to their device limit. I can get you a password or two."

She pulled out the Chromebooks for him to look at then reached and slid the trays of cellphones over between them. "And these are probably our best deals on phones. The newest stuff is practically full price 'cuz fanboys are gonna iPhone, no matter the price. The Nokias might be old, but are nearly invincible. We actually have a pair of Blackberries left, if you want buttons, then a whole bunch of touchscreens."

She rifled through the cheaper tray and pushed one of the smartphones with a bigger screen to the side. "If you don't mind a crack on the screen than you can barely see unless you look at it at the right angle, we got a newer Samsung for under a hundred." Nadya tapped the wall behind her, at product hanging from pegs. "I'll even throw in an SD card for more storage. Give them a look over, I'll be right back."

Nadya scooted back to the cash counter, grabbing another half of sandwich, ham and swiss this time, and her mug of coffee, then sauntered back to the electronics counter and her newest Bandmate.

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By the time Nadya had returned the sandwich Grim had taken had disappeared as though inhaled, the lean youth absently chewing the last mouthful as he examined the phones with a careful eye.  The older and cheaper ones he quickly considered, then turned to the Samsung Nadya had pointed out.

"Can I check the screen, make sure it's responding okay?" he asked.  Nadya shrugged, nodding as she leaned one hip against the counter and watched him handle the phone, turning it on after a brief moment of examination.  His air of contemplation shifted focus as his odd-coloured eyes flicked up to regard her as he waited for the phone to boot up, examining her face with an intense, bold gaze that was likely very different from the surreptitious gawking the lovely girl was more used to from boys her age.

"What?"  she asked with a hint of challenge and a tilt of her chin.  Realising he was staring, Grim's lips twitched at one corner even as a hint of colour suffused his features, making the scar over his near-colourless left eye stand out faintly against the pale skin before he dropped his gaze once more to the phone as it chimed ready.  Without speaking he brushed his finger over the touch-screen, noting the lack of any problems before he nodded, turning the phone back off again.  

"It's a good deal."  he commented with an air of decision.  "I'll have to take the older cheaper Chromebook, but that'll do what I need it to."   He looked back at Nadya with a nod.  Plainly, the scion of Odin had the traditionally male approach to any kind of shopping: minimalist and far too practical.

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Nadya's lips twitched in a small smirk when Grim's eyes went back to the phone, but her pale gaze lingered on the pale scar over his eye, wondering again how it had happened. She opened her mouth to ask, but when Grim looked back up at her and nodded, proclaiming his satisfaction, she nodded back, mouth spreading in retail grin. She enjoyed browsing as much as the next girl, but the best customers were the ones who knew what they wanted and didn't dither of decision for a thousand years. You usually couldn't upsell them, but on the other hand, you could make ten sells for every dithering.

"Alright then, good choice," Nadya said. "Let me grab you some of the accessories and get you rung up."

Nadya disappeared behind the counter for a moment, then popped back up with a cardboard box full of electronic brick-a-brac. "Charger for the phone, phone case - do you want Minions or Bedazzled?" she said, holding up a case in either hand for his inspection, grin broad and eyes sparkling. Grim's stoic bland expression still seemed to radiate affront. "Nah, I'm kidding, I wouldn't wish these on Mercedes and her Pink Slip Amazons... well, yeah, I totally would. Here, black."

With practiced motions, she slipped on the textured rubber and plastic over the phone and handed back to Grim, then began digging in the box once more. "Power-cord for the Chromebook." She plugged it into the Chromebook to make sure it fit. "Oops, not that one, this one-"

She was interrupted by a rap at the cash counter. She and Grim both looked around to find László hanging his cane on the counter once more. "No, be giving the boy the newest Chromebook we are having. Same price. He is missing much, and is having much to catch up on."

Nadya raised her brows in surprise. "I swear, he has hearing like, um - I don't know who the Egyptian Heimdall is, so, like, Heimdall's," Nadya whispered. The shop was quiet save for the soft skirling of violins over the speakers, but they hadn't been speaking particularly loud. "He always knows everything going on in the shop."

Grim gave Nadya a muted shadow of a smile, then met László's gaze directly. "I appreciate the offer sir, but it isn't necessary. This one is sufficient."

"Bah!" László waved a dismissive hand. "I am expecting more than only sufficient from my daughter, and I am thinking you are expecting more from yourself, boy." He gave Nadya an assertive, pointed nod before his eyes shifted back to Grim. "Speaking of the sufficiency, my little daughter-"

"I'm not that short," Nadya huffed, putting away the two Chromebooks she had brought of for Grim's inspection and pulled out another, a little bigger than the others, and while clearly a newer model, the lid showed the scuffs of hard use or little care. She pulled out another box, slim, the corners beaten and opened it up, showing neatly arranged cords with twist ties, and styrofoam packing, leaving a perfect fit for the laptop.

"-is not being sufficient to be helping me with the shop, she being often busy with other... things." 

Nadya blew a raspberry.

"I am thinking I am needing more help. Are you being interested? You are being the growing boy still, I am seeing the signs, and I am thinking you can be using more of the money. Some of your wages, it would be going to make up the difference."

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He considered for a long moment, his gaze measuring László with the same weighing expression he had studied the phone with earlier.  Nadya also stared at her father, surprised at the offer to a relative stranger, though only for a moment.  Her dad was nothing if not sympathetic to underdogs, after all.  She glanced back at Grim, smiling mischievously.

"You get to be my minion.  I've always wanted a minion."  she teased, grinning as he shot her a wry look, quirking his left eyebrow challengingly.  Her father snorted, making plain his own thoughts on that.  Grim smiled slightly, then nodded to László.

"I do need money."  he admitted with a shrug of his shoulders inside the too-large coat.  "I'll take the job, sir.  And thank you."

"Muwhahahaha.  My minion!"  Nadya mock-cackled as she finished packing the laptop and accessories into a bag and slid it over to Grim.  He shook his head, still smiling a little.  

"Just don't let Nadya pick my uniform."  he deadpanned, making László chuckle.  "When do you want me to start?"

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