Another week, another Friday Flash Fiction challenge. I'm going out of town for a convention next wee, so I probably won't be able to comment on anyone else's stories right away. Rest assured, I'll read them all when I get back. Without further ado...
As with juggling, the key to life is to keep the procession moving steady and don’t look down. That's what Joe would always say. Fact of the matter is, I'd rather be juggling right now.
Instead, I'm in the trunk of a dark green 1972 Comet with my hands tied behind my back. The road is bumpy and I bounce off the roof each time we hit another hole. The car either needs new shocks or this is their way of softening me up.
We turn off the main road onto gravel and the car comes to a stop. The car's engine keeps running and I hear both doors open and shut. Keys jingle by my right ear and the lid of the trunk flies open. Four hands come in and drag me out.
I'm in some kind of quarry. A dump truck is on my left and a pile of gravel to my right as the two goons march me to the middle of a clearing. I call them Mike & Ike because I can't think of better names right now. Mike is the taller one. His punches felt like a bag of hammers and he probably had the same amount of brains. Ike is two inches shorter with a perfectly shaved head and he holds a gun on me. He says, "That's far enough" when he thinks I'd gone far enough.
"On your knees."
"Listen, fellas," I say. "It's all a misunderstanding."
Ike hits the base of my skull with the gun and I fall to my knees. Out of the shadows in front of me, steps a man in a jet black suit with a purple silk tie held in place by a diamond pin. The pin catches the light from the overhead lamps as he steps toward me.
"You have something that belongs to me."
I look at him and say, "I've been trying to explain to your boys, you got the wrong guy."
Mike punches me in the temple and I pitch forward. I suck in a lungful of dust and dirt and start to cough. Mike grabs me by the shoulders and returns me to my upright and locked position. Tie Man says, "Let's try this again."
I blink the floaties out of my eyes and concentrate hard. I know exactly what they're looking for, but I'm not ready to give it up. I work at a bar down by the pier and money's always tight. A couple days ago on my way home from a shift, I hail a cab because it's raining. In the back of the cab is a satchel. I was about to tell the cabbie someone lost their bag when I get a glimpse of what's inside and shut my mouth. Back in my apartment, I count it. Close to a quarter million dollars.
"Whatever you lost," I say, "I can help you find. I've got some connections. I know some guys."
Tie Man raises an eyebrow at Mike and the big lug hits me again. He picks me up and keeps hitting me until the world goes swimmy. This time when I cough, I cough blood.
"You stole something from me," says Tie Man. "Nobody steals from me and gets away with it."
"Look," I say. "I didn't steal anything. I found it, OK? There was this bag in the back of a cab. No names on it. No tags. What was I supposed to do?"
"You took something that didn't belong to you." Tie Man is the kind of guy who doesn't get loud when he gets angry, he gets quiet. And his voice is so very quiet. It chills me to my bones. "When you take something that doesn't belong to you, that's called stealing."
Yeah, I kept the money. Wouldn't you? As a bartender in his late twenties, any free money is good money. I was on top of the world for a a full day. Then on the TV at the bar, I saw a news report saying a cabbie had been brutally murdered. I recognized the picture as the guy who picked me up in the rain. I asked my boss for the rest of the shift off and headed home to find my apartment on fire. Mike and Ike were waiting for me when I went to look for Joe.
"OK," I say. "I've got your money. Look, it was an honest mistake. You can have it back and I'll repay you what I spent. That sound fair?"
"Where is it?"
"In a locker at the bus station. The key's in my shoe."
Tie Man nods to Mike who rips off my shoe. I see the key and the little orange keychain fly through the air toward Tie Man. "You have what you want. Can I go now?"
Tie Man strokes his chin. "You see, with every decision there is a consequence. You decided to take my money and the consequence...."
His voice trails off, but I know what he's implying. Ike steps behind me and I hear the hammer of the gun being pulled back.
I squeeze my eyes shut as tight as I can and grit my teeth.