"Does it play good?" asked the round man as he turned the instrument in appraisal under the tobacco-ladened fan. The amber glow of the street lamp glinted off the smooth curves, briefly lighting up the two men's faces.
"Nah, I'm the best around and I could never make it sing. It just too soft, too malleable. Makes it sound dull. And you feel how heavy the thing is. I'll be damned if I can't make it through a whole jig with that thing. But it sure is pretty, huh?" The young man leaned over the desk and deftly plucked the fiddle from the other's hands.
"And the bow?"
With a quick flash of his teeth, the young man produced the rosined violin bow. "Same as the fiddle, Bill. Pure gold," he said.
Bill's leather chair creaked when he sat back. "I'm not convinced. It's not that I don't trust you, Johnny, but word gets around. I heard you tried to sell it before."
The confident smile faded from Johnny's lips. "Yeah, I had to try. It ain't worth keeping if I can't make it sound good. I tried the banks, but the ones that would listen would only accept it as collateral for a business loan." He set one end of the fiddle down on the desk and started to rub at the gold finish with a dirty cloth, trying to bring back its shine. "The jewelers wanted to melt it, but I don't want her to end up like that. The pawn shops thought I was lying."
"So you bring it to me outta desperation?" Bill asked, bringing his steepled fingers to his lips.
"That's not it at all, Bill! I… I didn't want to burden ya."
"With a gold fiddle?"
Johnny nodded and put a violin case down on the desk. "Are you a superstitious man?"
Bill folded his hands in his lap. "I can't say that I am. You know that, Johnny."
"Well I am. Ever since I got this fiddle I've had a hard time finding gigs to play at. And those I did find never paid well. I didn't want to bring you any bad luck. You've never steered me wrong before. And now I'm in hard straights, Bill. I need some money."
"How do I know it's not hot? Something like this a man don't just come by."
"Well, that's the funny thing. I won it in a contest., fair and square. Some guy comes up to me and wagers I can't outplay him. It's his fiddle against my soul. I knew I could do it, so I agreed. I mean, what's a soul, anyway? I laid him down, Bill. I laid him down good."
"Sounds like the Father of Lies was trying to pull a fast one on ya, Johnny."
"It's all true, I swear! He just gives me the fiddle and disappears. Haven't seen him since. Besides, I'm a musician, not a thief. I haven't stolen a thing in my life."
Bill grunted as he stood up to walk around his desk just as Johnny was putting the fiddle in its case. "Hell, if you say you won it square, I believe ya. But are you sure you wanna do this? Everyone knows you've been struggling with the vice."
"I been sober and straight for a year, Bill!"
"Don't think I haven't heard that before."
"Well, so what if I pay for a few drinks and a girl? Maybe I'll get a dime bag while I'm at it! Don't you think I've earned it? Shouldn't be your business what I do with the money anyway, so long as I pay you back, right? You know I'm good for it."
With a heavy sigh, Bill patted Johnny on the back and pulled the violin case across the desk over to him. "You're like family to me, Johnny. I don't want to see you get in over your head with this."
"I'm fine, Bill. I can handle myself. Once I get the money, I’ll be alright. I'll clean up, play a few gigs again. I mean, I am the best fiddler around." That charming, self-assured smile slowly crept back to Johnny's face.
"Alright. Alright! I'll lend you the green. But I'm gonna get this thing tested, and if I find out this isn't pure gold, or that it's hot, there'll be Hell to pay."
Johnny looked relieved when he heard he'd be getting the money. "I've gotten out of Hell before, Bill."