CHAPTER 3

NUCLEAR LOATHING


Harvey Mineral did not like women. He didn't like men either. And he couldn't tolerate children. He despised pets too, especially dogs. Originally from London, he was a San Fernando Valley dwarf and the owner of Pacoima Pawn and Loan, located in an L-shaped stucco strip mall on Glenoaks Boulevard near the corner of Van Nuys Boulevard in Pacoima, a working-class San Fernando Valley town of one hundred thousand predominantly Hispanic Los Angelenos, including a dozen Latino gangs.

He had a violent British mean streak and bad feelings for everyone except Omar Creech, the six-foot-six, two hundred eighty-pound brute he loved like a son. For everyone other than Omar, Harvey had impatience and anger and hostility and malice. For people who owed him money, Harvey had all that and more. For Dr. and Mrs. Donald Greenburg of Encino, he had nuclear loathing.

"Mrs. Greenburg, you and your husband owe me eighty-five thousand dollars in principal plus thirty-five percent interest, and your loan is past due," Harvey said, his beautiful British accent softening the ever-present contempt in his voice. "Your jewelry is worth three thousand to me, not even an interest payment."

Harvey charged interest in the thirty-five percent range, it was true, but he knew her jewelry was worth twelve grand straight up and that he could easily sell it for fifteen. He also knew she wasn't done begging, which is why he was still speaking to her.

"Screw you and your interest, Harvey. I need to walk out of here with fifteen thousand dollars," she said, taking the jade earrings out of her ears and putting them in the pile. "My husband paid ten thousand for those in Tokyo."

Carol Greenburg was a fifty-five-year-old junky. Her drugs were plastic surgery and vodka, and she was addicted to both. Since she had been borrowing money and pawning her possessions with Pacoima Pawn and Loan, she had undergone the following procedures for which she'd paid cash: liposuction, tummy tuck, body contour, breast augmentation, breast reduction, breast augmentation (again), breast lift, face lift (five times), chin reconstruction, nose reconstruction (three times), eyelid reconstruction, forehead lift (four times), buttock augmentation, chemical peels (seven times), lip enhancement, cheek augmentation, upper arm lift, laser skin rejuvenation, Radiance-Botox-Hylaform (dozens and dozens of times), and hair implants. She looked like a plasticized human Halloween doll-woman fabricated by German scientists during World War II to scare the Allies into surrender.

Harvey lifted a jade earring, examined it with the jeweler's loupe he wore around his neck, and said, "I'll give you three for the tennis bracelets, seven for the earrings, and loan you five, making your principal loan amount ninety thousand past-due dollars. Tell your plastic surgeon to send me a letter of thanks." He lowered the loupe and scooped the jewelry, worth twenty-five grand to him, into an envelope.

"Listen carefully, dwarf," Carol said. "The money is not for plastic surgery. I've never had plastic surgery in my life. Everything you see is real. The money is for the orphanage in Woodland Hills. I committed to funding their immediate need for cash, and I'm short of funds because I bought a commercial kitchen for a homeless shelter in Sun Valley, and..."

As she droned on about her charitable cash contributions, Harvey considered the Gabrielino Indians, who'd settled this land long before the first white pioneers arrived in 1769 and named it "Pacoima," which meant "Rushing Water" in Gabrielino-ese and signified the rushing water (of course) from nearby canyons in the Santa Susan Mountains to the west and Santa Monica Mountains to the south. Had the Gabrielinos known Carol Greenburg, Harvey thought, they would have named it Pukecoima after the rushing vomit from nearby Greenburg's mouth, stretched preternaturally from her left ear in the east to her right ear in the west.

"...and my husband has one of the largest dental practices in the Valley; he's good for the money," she said with a finishing flourish. "So give me fifteen thousand dollars in large bills, and make it snappy. I have an appointment in Beverly Hills."

Harvey gestured across the store to Omar, who was polishing a solid silver tea set that had been pawned not five minutes before Carol Greenburg's arrival. Omar nodded and followed the counter around the store to where Harvey and Carol were waiting.

Pacoima Pawn and Loan occupied a large double unit that took up most of the short end of the L-shaped strip mall. It's neighbors included a panaderia, a taqueria, a groceria, a zaparteria and a peluqueria. Only Harvey's sign was written in English.

The inside of the store featured a grand and gleaming U-shaped glass counter that stretched along one side of the store from front to back, made a ninety-degree right turn, spanned the entire width, then made another sharp right and ran all the way back to the front of the building. The case was filled to bursting with gold and silver and platinum rings and bracelets and necklaces and earrings and teeth (gold, of course) and watches and cell phones and digital cameras and lenses and CD players and DVD players and radios and laptops and tablets and coins and stamps and baseball cards and gloves and bats and fishing gear and knives and swords and brass knuckles and handguns galore.

Behind the glass counter were shelves displaying golf clubs and bicycles and flat-screen digital TVs and drills and sanders and air compressors and generators and fishing gear and enough shotguns and hunting rifles (all of them locked in gun racks) to arm a militia. At the rear end of the store, surrounded on both sides by the shelves, were double doors that led to Harvey's huge private office. There were security cameras in the ceiling. There were rollback bars on the front windows.

Also behind the counter, following it exactly around the pawnshop, was a two-foot-tall ramp, built for Harvey, who was three feet, ten inches tall when standing on the floor but was a five-foot-ten dapper dwarf when standing on the ramp behind his counter doing business. He was dapper indeed, favoring fine tailored suits, high-end jewelry, expensive haircuts, and manicures at a Japanese nail emporium in Studio City, where the girls who serviced him were as delicate as porcelain and just as easily broken.

Omar was massive and muscled, with coal-black eyes, a long black ponytail, pockmarked skin, and enormous hands and facial features that suggested a touch of Marfan's. He wore a shoulder holster under his sport jacket for his fully automatic Glock (as if anyone would anger the giant enough to make him pull his Glock). The truth was Omar didn't have to be angry to perform insane violence. He simply needed direction from Harvey. Whatever Harvey asked him to do, he did without hesitation.

The giant was devoted to the dwarf, who raised him like a son since Omar was twelve and nearly beaten to death by a gang in the alley behind Harvey's store. Harvey heard the commotion and came to Omar the Orphan's rescue with a shotgun, which he'd used to obliterate the kneecap of the gang leader. Harvey nursed Omar back to health, clothed him, fed him, educated him, and loved him. They were inseparable.

"Omar, please bring me one hundred and fifty hundred dollar bills from the safe for Mrs. Greenburg," Harvey said. He wanted to add and remove her right arm with your teeth, but knew that would come later, and later was fine. In the meantime, he thought as she exited the store with his money, I 'll dream about crushing her legs with my Range Rover.