Chapter 6

A quick change of clothes and ten minutes found Conrad Birdie crossing the street and entering Hank's for the second time that day. Mr. Bergman had lent him a derby hat, which he pulled down over his eyes, and he carried the clothes he had gotten from the man at the pawn shop in a plastic bag slung over his left shoulder.

A bell chimed as Conrad entered the shop, and the man behind the counter looked up. Despite Mr. Bergman's derby hat, the man's eyes lit with recognition, "Well hello there Mr. Barry! What can I do for ya now?"

"It's Birdie," Conrad corrected, "And I need my belt buckle back."

"I see…"

"Oh, here," Conrad swung the bag of clothes off of his shoulder and plopped it on the counter, "Your clothes."

The man behind the counter looked down at the clothes and then back at Conrad, shaking his head. "Nope. Those are your clothes now son. We made a fair trade."

"Well, I need to trade back now!" Conrad tried hard to hide the uncertainty he felt over the situation.

"I'm afraid I can't do that Bartie." The man smiled.

Man, don't mess with me! This isn't funny. "Why not?"

"Well, I just don't really think it's a fair trade."

"That isn't what you thought when we made the trade earlier." Come on man, I need that buckle!

"Listen Berkie, you're the one who accepted the offer. To you, those old clothes were worth the trade." The man took a cigarette out of his pocket and lit it. "Now, I'm afraid I don't feel the same way. That buckle's worth a heck of a lot more to me than some dirty old clothes. So, no deal."

What am I gonna do? I gotta get that buckle back now! Conrad looked the man in the eye as he reached into his pocket for his wallet. "Okay, how much?"

A ring of smoke blew into Conrad's face and the man's expression brightened, "Alright, now you're speakin' my language."

Conrad only glared back at him, "Good, then speak mine and answer the question. How much?"

The man spoke slowly when he answered. "Well," he began, "I figure it's worth at least fifty dollars…"

"Done!" Conrad slapped a fifty dollar bill on the counter.

"Wait, wait, wait," The man pushed the money back toward Conrad. "Hold your horses boy, there's more to it than that."

Conrad gritted his teeth, "How much more?"

"Well, ya see," The man went on, "Seein' as how that belt buckle once belonged to a celebrity, I figure it's worth at least fifty percent more than that…So that would be about seventy-five dollars…"

"Seventy-five dollars?" Conrad stared at the man, open-mouthed.

"Yep. That's my price. You can take it or leave it. Oh, by the way, if you were plannin' on depriving me of them shiny gold shoes you left with the buckle…That'll cost ya another twenty-five dollars. Plus an autograph." The man crossed his arms, and stood back, a smug grin on his face.

Shoes? Conrad had forgotten he'd left those. "A hundred bucks? Man, that's highway robbery!"

"Now wait a second. I'm not robbin' anyone. No one's forcin' you to buy the stuff. You wanted me to name a price, and a hundred bucks plus an autograph is what I'm askin'. If that's too steep for you, then don't buy it. That's the way retail works kid."

For a moment, Conrad considered leaving without the belt buckle and shoes, but Mr. Bergman's words rang in his ears. Those clothes are part of your image! Without that image, you're a nobody… With a sign of resignation, Conrad reached into his wallet and pulled out another crisp fifty-dollar bill. Setting this bill beside the first on the table, he picked up a pen and looked up at the man behind the counter. "Alright, where do I sign?"

With a victorious smile on his face, the man took the money and disappeared into the backroom. When he reappeared, he was carrying a record album which he placed in front of Conrad. "Sign right here," he pointed, "Right below your face."

Conrad looked down at the album. His face smiled back at him from beneath the title, Honestly Sincere. Rolling his eyes, Conrad signed the album cover where the ma n had asked him to. "There. Now can I have my stuff back?"

The man grabbed the album and held it up to examine the autograph. "Beautiful! Now this lousy album will be worth ten times what I paid for it!" Turning, he carefully began tacking the album to a wall display behind the counter.

"Hey! Hey! Hello!" Conrad shouted to get the man's attention, "I need my stuff back. I didn't pay all that for nothin'!"

Turning, the man looked at Conrad, "You're still here? Oh! Just a second." Reaching under the counter, he grabbed Conrad's gold shoes and belt buckle, placing them on the counter. "There ya go. Have a nice day Bernie!"

Sure, a real nice day. Conrad grabbed his belongings from the counter and rushed out of the shop. When he got back to his hotel suite, Mr. Bergman was standing at the door, arms crossed, waiting for him. "Well?"

Conrad wordlessly held out the shoes and belt buckle for his manager to see.

"Good." Mr. Bergman put a hand on Conrad's shoulder and hurriedly ushered him into the suite. "Now quick, change into that and meet me back out here in the hall."

Conrad opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off.

"Hurry Conrad! We don't have a lot of time before the concert!"

With that, the door slammed shut in Conrad's face and he found himself alone in the hotel suite. Fighting the temptation to lock Mr. Bergman out of the suite and take a nap, Conrad walked into the bathroom to change and to run a comb through his hair. Man, this is going to be a long night.