A fictional story about two friends that find themselves in illicit business together.
Steve stacked money into two piles on the table. He slid the smaller one across the cold surface to Lance, a dark skinned giant with close cropped hair. He and Steve were good friends. Their friendship dated back to the time when they both worked legitimate jobs.
Both men had short hair, Steve’s would be brown and straight if he let it grow more than a fraction of an inch. But he didn’t. And the clothing of both men was neither sloppy nor remarkable. Slacks and button down shirts that could accommodate a tie and jacket if need be. This suited most situations either might find themselves in.
The two were little alike, physically at least. The smaller man had pale caucasian skin and was by no means the behemoth that Lance was.
Friends like Steve and Lance weren’t so common. But it had come to pass long ago. And now that they were in business together they each brought unique qualities to the table that made their business that much easier, qualities such as raw power and guile.
Lance was as clever as the next man— perhaps more, but the difference was that Steve had to be shrewd. He didn’t have a man-mountain of a body to fall back on if things got ugly. No one would fear him or even respect him as they would Lance. Still, this could be a boon. Steve could blend in where Lance could not. Approaching unnoticed— not Lance’s specialty.
The friends often joked about the their mutual difference in size. Most often it was initiated by Lance and ended with one of the giant man’s hallmark, high pitched giggles that Steve had grown fond of. In the end they respected one another. Although Lance was frighteningly powerful, it had little effect on their bond. And both learned quickly from their enterprise that there was always a bigger fish. And how big that fish was could sometimes be figurative, often having to do with influences beyond simple muscle— influences that both Steve and Lance had quickly learned to respect.
Steve was a union man or at least he had been, not so long ago. And although most of his ties with the union proper had long since been severed, it was his ties with darker parts of the organization that he not only still maintained, but depended upon. Without these connections any attempt at Steve’s current occupation would be more than unsuccessful. Without the authorization that his connections provided— it could be fatal.
Steve pulled the larger pile of money to himself. Each man earned a fair and equal percent of the take, with the promise of a greater cut from the boss if they proved valuable as collectors.
Steve was still officially a member of the labor union. Lance was also a member, though the big man’s affiliation was worth no more than the card it was printed on. He paid no dues and certainly didn’t go to meetings. It was a fraudulent product of a well-placed bribe, nothing more. Still, union membership whether legit or bogus eased their access to the jobsites they frequently worked. But though members they were, the two men found manual labor uncivilized and not suited to them. There was money to be made, but they were compelled to make it off of the blood, sweat and— pain of other men.
“What’s up, Steve?” joked Lance. “Your pile is bigger.”
“What the hell are you talking about? You know I have to—” Steve cut his reply short, feeling foolish for missing the jest. He was absorbed in the process of counting cash allowing Lance to catch him off guard. Steve forgave himself for letting Lance through. A mistake in the boss’s share would be a problem. The money— the boss’s money was a big deal.
“How come you don’t take out your cut when I get mine?”
The men had been at this for just a few months. It was a still a new enterprise for them both, an enterprise it seemed they were both well suited for.
Steve retired early to pursue this new and lucrative career. He brought Lance in right away knowing that someone with his particular talents would be useful.
Lance was the kind who flew by the seat of his pants. Money was money and only today mattered. What came tomorrow he would deal with then. It seemed, though, that the question of money had to come up sooner or later. Trust was fine; Verifying that the trust was deserved— that was better.
“We collect as much of the debt as we can. We don’t have to get it all at once, but if we don’t get enough, I don’t get a whole cut.”
Steve dreaded the moment. Would Lance take his answer as generosity or condescension? Would he even believe him?
“What if your cut isn’t enough to cover it?”
Steve had no plan for that. It hadn’t yet happened. In fact only once was it necessary for him to dip into his cut to make good on the bosses take. Steve being the founding member of the crew, and it being his idea to go into business with his friend he originally didn’t feel right about asking Lance to risk his cut.
The fact of the matter was that dealing with the boss was no simple transaction. Once Steve accepted a job, he was expected to collect. Forgiveness and understanding weren’t traits the boss was prone to exhibit. As Steve learned straight away, such traits had little value in his world.
“That hasn’t come up yet. If it does I guess— I guess I’ll ask if I can make it up next time.”
Lance sat in silence a moment and sipped from his enormous quick shop fountain soda. He brought it into the diner when they’d entered and no one dared ask the behemoth man not to bring an outside product inside.
Steve knew that he could replace Lance if he had to. But he also knew that he too could be replaced. He valued Lance’s might. Without it, the job would be much more difficult. Things like guns and other tools of violence might be necessary.
Lance, though a thug by trade, brought an elegance to their team turning cruder violence into the backup plan rather than the primary strategy. And Lance’s trust and reliability wouldn’t be so easy to replace.
Steve often felt like he was less important to the partnership than Lance. After all, Lance might be able to collect debts on his own. Was Steve even necessary?
After a moment Lance put his drink down and said, “We’re partners right?” He waited for Steve to nod. Then he pushed his pile of money back toward the larger pile. “We split the money that’s left after you pay the boss. Fifty-fifty no matter what it is.”
It was a generous gesture by Lance. Steve would have been touched had being touched not been a fault unbecoming of a business man such as him. Besides that, refusing Lance’s offer at that tender moment would certainly be regarded as condescension or worse yet be thought of with suspicion. It might leave Lance wondering just what Steve’s cut really was.
Steve pulled all the money together and shuffled it into one pile. “Ok,” he said, and then he snatched up the pile secreting it away as two policemen entered the diner. Shady things happened everywhere in this part of town, but forcing the hand of the cops wouldn’t be a good move.
Steve’s phone rang. It was the original ringtone of his cheap, taped together flip phone. Lance giggled when he pulled it from the pocket of his pants, and one of the cops looked at it and half grinned. Steve’s faced warmed at that, but he thought it better that he impress the cops as an out of touch loser than what he really was.
“Hello— yeah—” Steve fumbled for a pen that belonged in his pocket. He discovered it in his lap and snatched a napkin from the table. “Ok— ” he said writing a name and location on the fragile serviette.” He flipped his phone shut and sneered at his accomplice who was by then poking at his modern smart phone with mocking pleasure.
Steve offered him a smirk. “Are you ready to make some money?”
“Damn,” said Steve. “There are only addresses on a few of the lots. How do delivery guys find their way around?”
The only answer that came was Lance’s hallmark giggle from the passenger seat.
“There it is.” It was Lance who found it, which was no surprise to his partner. He was big but smart and would let no opportunity pass to show up his small friend.
Steve pulled into the construction site passing a security shack that appeared to have no function other than to shelter a sleeping guard. Steve wondered who he might be connected to, as he plainly had no fear of being fired.
An unofficial parking area unfurled before them as Steve navigated a turn onto gravel. He seized an opportunity and rushed into the only empty space. Steve checked the time on his phone, ignoring another of Lance’s giggles, and noted that it was eleven in the morning. No one would return from lunch to find Steve’s sedan in their self-entitled parking space. It would not do to have any unplanned confrontations, though with Lance in his company, Steve was not concerned. They wouldn’t be long anyway.
The two men exited Steve’s vehicle and donned hard hats so as not to violate any union rules. There were official rules to be followed on a union job site. Violating them had consequences. Causing every worker on the site to walk off the job in some melodramatic protest would not benefit the team’s cause. Should such a thing make it to the boss’s ears it would end badly for Steve.
Steve touched the door handle of his Chrysler 300 prompting the doors to lock. The sedan looked odd parked among so many pickups. Steve would have preferred buying a Toyota Avalon, but business was business, and he learned long ago what happens to foreign vehicles parked on union sites. And he certainly wasn’t going to buy a pick-up truck and expect to be taken seriously. The 300 was a good compromise.
As always, Lance hung back, to make the two look as much as possible like they were not there together. Their physical differences made any affiliation seem even more unlikely.
“Excuse me,” Steve said signaling to a man in a white hard hat. The man made a sour face. “I’m looking for Vic McCormack. Can you help me out?”
“Try over there,” he said with impertinence. The man gestured toward the skeleton of a partially constructed building with large spools of wire situated around it. Then he paid them no more attention and walked away.
Steve looked back at Lance who had stopped to wait out the conversation. The partners then headed toward the big spools and asked the first person who passed where he might find McCormack. The man was an overweight, quintessential construction worker in a yellow hat and much nicer than the last man. He pointed at a man, no larger than Steve, who was pulling items out of a gray, metal lunchbox and situating them amid a collection of tools, all on top of one of the great, wooden spools. This one was lying on its side, doubling as workspace and lunch table.
Steve thanked the man and offered a subtle point of his finger toward the man with the lunchbox for Lance to see. This was their mark.
Now, it was Steve who hung back while his partner took up a position that would prevent their mark from easily escaping. If he tried, he would be focused on the raw power of Steve’s partner and never see the smaller man coming should he have to impede their target until Lance could arrive. The team had other strategies, but for a mark so mundane this one was best. Showing a gun in this place this would seriously strain the unofficial rules they were expected to follow.
The mark was so engrossed in his lunch preparation that Steve approached without notice. He took up a position behind the man but favoring one side to herd him toward Lance if he tried to run.
With a glance around to make sure they had not gathered anyone’s interest, Steve announced himself. “Vic, ol’ buddy— you owe my boss some money, and your debt is way overdue.”
The mark reacted as if a gun barrel was pressed to his head. His reaction didn’t surprise Steve. He had to know someone would come for him sooner or later.
The man eased his head toward Steve. His eyes tracked to Lance. The hulk of a man was positioned an equal distance from McCormack. He was there to keep the mark in and everyone else out.
“Turn around, McCormack. Have you got the money you owe?”
“Uh, yeah— yeah. I got it, just not on me, ya know. I was gonna pay it back, I swear.”
“Yeah well, you shouldn’t swear, Vic,” said Steve drawing a giggle from Lance. The clarion giggle startled the man.
It wasn’t long before he trembled in waves, fidgeting with his hands. “P-please— I’ll pay. Don’t do anything to me. I need to work. I can’t pay if I don’t work”
Lance and Steve shared a smile. The partners knew that this was Steve’s part of the show. Perhaps there was a reason he was there.
“Vic, Vic— relax. We’re nice guys. Aren’t we nice guys?” Steve asked looking toward his accomplice. Lance stood stock still, his face now an expressionless mask of stone. It even made Steve uneasy. “But listen, Vic,” Steve continued turning back. “ I can’t just let you off the hook and expect the next guy to make good. You understand?”
Vic stood shaking and said nothing. He had done his begging and with pain or worse looming over him he likely decided that there was little more to say.
“I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do for you, Vic. You help me put on a little show for anyone who might be watching. I’m gonna pretend to break your hand and when I do you yell real loud so everyone thinks I really did it. Can you do that, Vic?”
The man was sweating and shaking; he looked from Lance to Steve and back. This was exactly the state of mind Steve was hoping to instill. Some guys thought that a show of toughness was beneficial, even in the presence of the mighty Lance. It always took longer when they acted tough. But, Vic started to nod his head agreeing to Steve’s terms— as if it were a choice.
Steve looked at Lance who took the cue and advanced grabbing Vic’s arm. The mark panicked and resisted, but Lance’s strength was enough that it didn’t matter. Steve knew first hand that Lance could make a grown man feel like a small child in his powerful grip.
“Shh, shh— relax, Vic. It’s just an act. I promise.” Lance pushed Vic’s forearm against the top of the wooden spool. Steve found a small sledge hammer among the tools Vic had lying about. “Now remember, Vic. Yell real loud like it really hurts, ok.”
Vic nodded his head again, and Steve brought the hammer down. The head of the sledge struck Vic’s hand dead center shattering bones and spewing blood across the wooden surface. The now wounded Vic screamed out and tried to pull away, but Lance held him fast with one hand.
“Now see— see, Vic? It doesn’t feel good when someone breaks a promise does it. And, you promised to pay back the money you borrowed. Didn’t you?”
Some men angled toward the commotion but the man in the white hard hat from earlier waved them away shaking his head.
Lance kept Vic’s arm pinned but repositioned himself in front of the potential intrusion. No one came. Vic was all alone.
“Put his other hand up there,” said Steve.
“No— please don’t. I can pay,” said Vic stammering.
“Where’s the money?” intoned Steve showing irritation that the event was taking so long.
“At my house, I can go get it for you. Just wait here. I’ll get it right now.”
“Really, Vic?” scoffed Steve as Lance forced Vic’s other arm onto the spool. “You think I’m going to just let you leave?”
“Listen! I can pay extra. You can have it all. I swear.”
“Vic, Vic, Vic,” said Steve shaking his head. “You swear too much.” Vic’s gaze snapped to Lance when another silly giggle erupted. The big man’s nonchalance about maiming him was patently troubling to Vic.
Steve sent the sledge clattering across the wooden spool. “Wrap up your hand, Vic,” he said. “We’re going for a ride.”