“You don’t see many pawn shops around anymore, do you?” It was part question and part statement of fact, as the detective picked up an interesting piece of Clarence Cliff pottery: a teapot with an angular handle like a schoolboy’s set square. “Is this worth anything?” he asked.
“Three grand,” I told him.
“For a tea pot?” He stared at it and gently placed it back on the table from which he had taken it. “You’ve got to drink a lot of tea to justify a three grand tea pot.” The detective smiled and displayed his expensive dental work. You had to work a lot of extra shifts to afford teeth like that.
I smiled in agreement. If I had acquired any wisdom with age it was that the less said at times like this, the better.
“People collect them,” I told him.
“What kind of people?” he asked.
“People who collect tea pots, I guess.”
“Did you buy it?” he asked.
“House clearance, I think.”
“Somebody didn’t bring it in to the shop to sell it to you?”
“No. Fairly sure it was a house clearance. eBay and Facebook have pretty much put an end to walk-ins. Everyone thinks they can get rich buying and selling on the Internet.”
“Times change,” said the detective. He glanced at his watch as if checking that times really did change. I wondered if anyone ever asked him how he afforded a ten grand Rolex.
“Tell me about it,” I said. “There’s no respect for the past.”
“I know. It’s all ‘cyber this’ and ‘cyber that.’ Nobody chases criminals anymore; they just trace IP addresses. Good old-fashioned coppering is obsolete now.”
I nodded as if I knew what he was talking about. The detective was, as I was, of the old school, right down to the rubber soled brown brogues, grey overcoat, and matching homburg. He was, the epitome of a gumshoe, only more expensively accessorised.
“You’ve got plenty of stock though.” He gestured at the packed shelves.
“Such as it is,” I said. “Nobody’s going to get rich selling nineteen fifties tea pots. They’re obsolete too.”
“And yet here you are,” said the detective.
“Old school,” I told him.
There was no money in most of it anymore, but every now and then, something worthwhile would come along. In my case it was nine hundred and seventy-two uncut diamonds. Relatively easy to move at the right time, completely untraceable, and worth at least thirty million.
He was silent as he continued his inspection of the contents of the shop. I hoped he didn’t have anything in particular he was hoping to find. Diamonds, for example. eBay and Facebook had done one good thing for me, which was to provide another option for the type of criminals none of us liked to deal with. If you were dealing with professionals, you could have a certain amount of confidence in the quality of the merchandise, and, more importantly, that there was no danger of being called as a witness in a murder trial or finding your stock featured as part of a ‘House of Horror’ story on the front page of the tabloids. It was the unprofessional chancers who had migrated their operation online. They had never really understood the role of a good fence. The decent crooks still liked to deal with people, and they knew that a good fence did more than just sell the goods. We are a barrier between the secretive act of stealing and the necessarily more public act of converting stolen goods into cash. I was once described as a condom for stolen goods, which sounds insulting, but actually shows I prevent all kinds of potential problems.
I followed the detective as he walked towards the back of the store.
“You seen Freddie the Frog recently?” He turned towards me to watch my response.
“That’s a name I haven’t heard for a long time.” I tried to sound as if I was telling the truth and wondered if the detective was wearing a wire.
“Why do they call him that?”
“Call him what?”