BY LUIS PAREDES
VINCENT CAVALIERI SLOWLY WIPED a smear of ketchup from his lips. He didn’t want to scare the greasy brown cockroach scuttling between wedges of home fries on his plate. It paused on a large chunk and burrowed its tiny, triangular-shaped head through the crisp, golden skin.
Enjoy it while you can you disgusting, little freeloader, Vincent thought.
His amber-coloured eyes tracked the insect as it made its way off the plate and onto the diner’s white, Formica counter.
It froze in place, as if suddenly realizing it made a fatal mistake, exposing itself on such a visible surface. The bug’s long, whisker-thin antenna sniffed the air and stiffened.
Vincent slammed his palm onto the counter.
Silverware and ceramic coffee cups clattered from the percussive force. The geezer next to him leapt off his red, vinyl stool, sputtering coffee from his mouth and nostrils.
The line cook poked his head out from the kitchen pass-through. His sweaty, dark hair dangled over his forehead like limp octopus tentacles. “Porca miseria! Cosa stai facendo?”
“What am I doing?” Vincent glared at the cook. “I’m playing pattycake! What’s it look like I’m doing, Massimo?”
Vincent focused his attention back toward the counter. Half the cockroach squirmed within the meaty curve of his thumb and stubby forefinger. Three of its thorny, segmented legs paddled the air as a low hiss escaped its lolling head.
The lines around Vincent’s deep set eyes crinkled into deep furrows as his lips widened.
“Vincenzo!” Massimo said. “Why are you smiling?”
“I was just thinking about the last man I stabbed.”
Massimo’s jaw slackened.
“Relax, it was back in France. On my last trench raid, I killed a German officer with his own sword—put the pointy end right through that sausage eater’s ribs.” Vincent lifted his palm—strings of yellow goo stretched between his skin and the counter. He wiped the mess off with a cloth napkin. “The Kraut hissed at the end, just like this roach.”
A young, bespectacled waiter walking by doubled over and gagged.
Vincent shook his head. “Marone! If this is the calibre of soldier we’re sending to fight Hitler, we’re in trouble.” He tossed the napkin onto the counter and picked up his suitcase leaning against the stool. “I ain’t paying for breakfast, by the way.”
Not that he would ever have to pay.
Vincent worked for the Company, and today was collection day. Debtors in Yonkers, New York—especially line cooks with wives in the red—bent over backwards to stay on his good side.
Vincent shouldered through the diner’s frosted, double glass doors. His size twelve Oxfords crunched against the first fall leaves fluttering on the concrete. The commuters walking along Warburton Avenue flowed around him as if he was a granite slab dumped in the middle of a river.
Tall, muscular, and broad shouldered, Vincent did resemble a human mountain wrapped in a dark grey Brooks Brothers suit, topped with a dollop of slicked back, grey hair at his rounded peak.
A few men tipped their fedoras toward Vincent as they sped by, but mostly everyone tried to avoid his gaze. That was fine by him. His “presence” as his boss, Mr. Gladstone, liked to call it, helped him speed through the collections process each month.
Most of Vincent’s marks owed one dollar, but he would tack on an extra quarter—the Cavalieri tax—on any fool that gave him a hard time and pocket that well-earned coinage.
Of course, he wouldn’t be able to do that today, not with Mr. Gladstone sending a trainee out with Vincent. It was some kind of family favour.
“Show the kid the ropes,” Mr. Gladstone said, in between cigar puffs. “Give him a taste of that Cavalieri can-do attitude.”
He wondered if the poor mook being sent over even knew what he was getting into. Vincent didn’t when he started working for the Company.
His knuckles turned white as he gripped the suitcase’s handle tighter. Vincent hated working with a partner, but how could he say no to the boss?
No one said no to the boss.
Vincent rubbed his hands together.
His Cadillac’s heater was on the fritz again. He’d have to take it to the mechanic soon, but first he had to pick up… what was his name again?
He lifted the cocktail napkin pinched between his thumb and forefinger closer to his eyes and focused on the squiggles that spelled out the trainee’s name—Joe Caruso.
Besides that, all the boss’s secretary had written down was the time Joe’s train arrived and that he had brown hair. Vincent crumpled the napkin and tossed it out the window.
He stared at the station’s red-brick facade and admired how the October sun gleamed off the rectangular windows set within the entrance’s stone archway.
He imagined himself waiting on one of the tracks. Where would he even go if he had a ticket?
Vincent sighed as the scent of sea salt and the sound of palm leaves sashaying in the wind tickled his mind. He shook the phantom sensations away.
Forget about it, he told himself. As far as he knew, the New York Central Railroad didn’t make stops in Florida. Besides, who would he share the trip with? He was single and almost all of his family in Westchester and back in Italy were dead and gone.
“Fucking war,” he mumbled.
A steam train, one of those new Mercury locomotives, slowed to a crawl on the elevated platform snapping his attention back. The train’s chimney and whistle were all hidden beneath a smooth, metal cowl. It resembled an elongated bullet with decorative chrome piping, and an enormous faceted headlight at the centre of its rounded nose.
“That’s the future, I guess,” Vincent said, lighting a cigarette. He smoked it halfway down and flicked it toward the street as the station’s doors opened.
Commuters poured onto the street or hopped into waiting cabs, eager to get out of the chilly air. A young man towered over the crowd, hugging a canvas satchel to his chest. The ends of his frizzled, mousy-brown hair danced in the air as he hopped up and down.
Vincent sucked at his teeth. Kid’s cold. Serves him right for wearing a summer suit and no coat.
He leaned out the window. “You Joe?”
The young man nodded and hustled over.
“You can call me Vincent.” He nodded toward the passenger side door. “Get in, kid. We’ve got to make the rounds today and clear out our deck.”
Joe slid onto the cloth seat and closed the door. He sat and stared out the window, fingers tapping his satchel. “What’s a deck by the way?”
Vincent steepled his hands together and rocked them back and forth. “Minchia! Didn’t anyone tell you what you’re doing today?”
Joe’s eyes widened. “No, not really. Something about going door to door. My cousin’s Dad said that he talked to Mr. Gladstone and that I should show up to meet you here at the train station.”
Vincent waved his hands. “Okay, enough. Do me a favour and open the glove compartment there.”
“What am I looking for?”
Vincent jabbed his finger toward a small, leather-bound notebook. “That’s our deck. See that bookmark? Open it up.”
Joe’s jaw dropped. “There are so many names here!”
“Don’t worry, kid. I’ll ease you in with two stops this morning. We’ll break for lunch, and then…” Vincent cracked his knuckles. “We clear out our deck.”
“Oh, come on.” Joe narrowed his eyes. “All these names in one afternoon?”
Vincent killed the engine and stared out onto the road. “Do you want to tell the boss that we couldn’t get his money today?”
Joe shook his head.
“Good, because it’s this or you join up and start parachuting into Europe, kid.”
“No, I need a job.” Joe coughed. “This job, I mean. I really need it.”
Vincent looked at the worn patches keeping the boy’s suit together. “Yeah, sure looks like it. Alright, kid. Read off the first name on our list.”
Vincent shrugged his shoulders and started the car. “Gotta start somewhere.”
Ethel Bainbridge, the eighty-year-old grandmother as tough as a fried cheese pierogi. Vincent shook his head. What the kid really needed to experience on his first visit was a ball breaker like Ezekiel Tooms or a runner like Tony the Nose to get the blood pumping on a chilly morning.
“It is what it is,” Vincent mumbled, as he walked toward Ethel’s front door.
“What was that?”
He glanced back at Joe. “Nothing. Just follow my lead and you’ll be ok.”
The door creaked opened. Thin, gnarled fingers curled around the edges. Vincent could see Ethel shivering through the crack.
“Mrs. Bainbridge. I’m here for our monthly meeting.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Cavalieri. We just don’t have the money today,” she said, closing the door. Vincent shouldered his way in, sending Ethel stumbling backwards, clutching at her nightgown.
Ethel’s husband, a shrivelled golden raisin with arms and legs, puttered through the hallway, waving a cane. Vincent raised his palm. The old man stopped.
“Where’s she keep it?”
Vincent punched the wall. The Bainbridge’s framed family photographs rattled against the plaster.
“The savings tin, dummy!”
The old man trembled. His rheumy eyes darted toward the kitchen. Vincent turned, focusing his gaze on a white enamel refrigerator.
“Vincent? Mr. Cavalieri?” Joe squeaked. “Sir. I don’t think we’re allowed to do this. Isn’t this breaking and entering?”
“This is how it works on the streets,” he said, opening the freezer. Tendrils of cold, white vapor slithered toward the linoleum floor.
Vincent spotted the black and yellow banding of a Chock Full o'Nuts coffee can hiding behind a stack of frozen steaks.
“Jackpot!” Vincent held the can and shook it at Ethel who stood at the kitchen’s threshold.
“You can’t do this!” She said, shuffling towards the phone in the living room. “I’m calling the police.”
“You’re not going to do that,” Vincent said.
“Well, two reasons. First and most important, you signed a contract with the Company. One dollar is due on the fifteenth of every month. And number two—” Vincent tapped his suitcase. “I brought my Bible. I’m sure you’ve already heard what happens during my readings, right?”
Tears welled in Ethel’s eyes.
Vincent grinned. He loved this part of his job, watching a mark’s anger, defiance, and strength drain from their bodies only to be replaced by fear and, if they pissed themselves, shame.
Ethel’s head dropped to her neck. “Go on. Take it.”
Vincent opened the tin. The smell of coffee grounds and musty dollar bills wafted into the air. He picked a buck out of a pinkie-thin money roll and dropped the meagre savings back into the can. He arranged the steaks just as he found them and closed the freezer.
“See? We’re only taking what’s owed. Nothin’ more,” he said, turning towards Joe. “Come on, let’s go.”
Vincent saw Joe mouth, I’m sorry to Ethel as they left the kitchen.
Vincent flinched as Joe slapped his hands on the car’s dash.
“What the hell was that about?”
“Jesus, kid! You scared me. You’re lucky I wasn’t driving.”
“I’m serious. Why’d you... why did we hustle that old lady? She looked just like my nonna.”
Vincent drew a line through Ethel’s name with a red pencil. He closed the deck and handed the book to Joe. “Listen, we didn’t hustle anyone. We took back what was owed. That’s it. Don’t make this personal.”
“So, we’re leg breakers? That’s what this job’s about? I didn’t sign up for—”
Vincent squeezed Joe’s shoulder. “Listen, all that matters is that you agreed to work a day for the Company. You’re going to see this through or—”
Joe glanced at the suitcase on the car floor. “Or what? You’ll read me a passage from the Bible?”
Vincent narrowed his eyes. “Pray it doesn’t come to that, ok?”
“Good. Here’s what we’re doing next: we’re finishing up with all the rubes on this side of Riverdale Avenue, grabbing lunch, and then we hit the apartment buildings by Getty Square.”
“And kid...” Vincent glared at Joe. “Don’t you ever hit my car again.”
“Sorry about that.”
Vincent nodded and rubbed his knee. It was already starting to ache.
“What’s the next name on our list?”
“Tony... Tony the Nose?”
Vincent laughed. “I hope you brought your running shoes.”
Tony the Nose didn’t get far.
He twisted himself into a human pretzel running into a jungle gym. Vincent laughed as he rummaged through the small man’s pockets.
“Jesus, I didn’t mean to chase the guy into the playground,” Joe said, clutching his knees.
“Don’t worry about it. You did good.”
“Is he alright?”
“Yeah, he’ll be fine. One dollar lighter, but he’ll be fine.”
Joe retched onto the wood chips covering the playground. “I’m not sure I’m cut out for this.”
Vincent glanced at the young man. To be honest, he looked more like a typewriter repair man than a Collector, but he didn’t want to discourage him, not yet.
“Listen, when I first started out, I had to pull money out of a dirty diaper.” He pinched his fingers together and waved them in the air in mock display. “I threw up and was queasy all freakin’ day.”
Joe winced as if the smell of shit still clung to Vincent’s skin.
“Sometimes your hands get dirty. That reminds me—” He clapped Joe on the shoulders. “It’s time for lunch!”
Vincent settled his aching body onto the booth. The cushion moaned and air hissed from a fluttering strip of tape on the vinyl. The morning’s rounds went smoothly, but they had done more walking—and running—than he expected. His knees throbbed.
Joe held up his menu, creating a shiny, plastic wall between himself and Vincent. The kid’s probably still sore about Ethel, Vincent thought. He caught a glimpse of the young man’s dark eyes.
“Order what you want. Lunch is on the Company.”
Joe nodded just as a tall, redheaded waitress sauntered over to their table. “Hey, Vincenzo. You training a new guy?”
Vincent smiled. He loved it when she said his name. The vowels flowed from her lips like thick Sicilian honey. To be thirty years younger, he thought to himself.
“Hi, Ruby. Yeah. This is Joe and we’ll see if he sticks around.”
She faced the young man and winked. “Ciao, Giuseppe. I’m sure you’ll do just fine. Now, what’ll it be?”
Vincent smiled as Joe blushed.
“I’ll have a cheeseburger deluxe and a vanilla egg cream,” Joe said.
Vincent snapped his fingers. “That sounds delicious! I’ll have the same, Ruby.”
She scribbled into her pad and walked back toward the counter.
Without the menu, Joe’s eyes fluttered between his hands and the other customers. Vincent felt the silence grow between them like a cloud of viscous gas absorbing the sound of silverware clattering against ceramic plates, burbling coffee, and the sizzling flashes of sputtering grease in the kitchen just a few feet away.
The kid obviously had a lot on his mind. Vincent pulled a brass cigarette case from his suit pocket and set it on the table.
Vincent noticed Joe’s eyes following his hand as he drew out a slender cigarette. He twirled it between his fingers.
“You want one?”
Joe held up his palms.
“You’re missing out,” he said, lighting up.
“How’d you get into collections?” Joe asked.
Vincent arched an eyebrow. “We never talk about how we got in.”
Joe’s shoulders drooped. “Oh, I’m sorry. I-I didn’t know.”
Vincent struggled to keep his grimace from turning into a smile, but he couldn’t help himself. “I’m just fucking with you, kid.”
Vincent took a long drag. “Got my start in sales, actually. The boss said I was the best salesman that he ever had. The most aggressive salesman. But I never had any repeat customers.”
Vincent leaned over, loosened his tie, and shook out his hair. He loved impersonating Mr. Gladstone when no one was looking.
“Vinny, my boy. You’re scaring the pants off of our regular clients, but I think you have a future in collections!” he said, imitating Gladstone’s high-pitched voice.
He coughed and settled back into the booth.
“That was what? Twenty years ago? The Company’s been in the black ever since then, at least on this side of the Hudson,” Vincent said. “Not even this fucking war has kept me from hitting my numbers.”
Joe looked away. He seemed... pained. Vincent had seen that look before. Hell, he’s lived that look the past few years.
“You know someone serving?”
“Yeah.” Joe met Vincent’s stare. “I mean, I did. My brother, Charlie.”
“Damn. I’m sorry, kid.” Vincent lowered his voice. “I didn’t mean to bring it up.”
“No. It’s ok,” Joe said, rubbing his temples.
Vincent handed Joe the cigarette. “Go on. Try it.”
Joe pinched it and took a long drag. He turned his head up and blew out a series of smoke rings.
“Hey, I thought you said you didn’t smoke,” Vincent said.
“I never said that.” Joe smiled. “Every once in a while, I’d have a smoke with Charlie.” He blew out another smoke ring. “That was before he left. Now, I can’t light up without thinking about him. You know how it is.”
“Yeah, I know. Fucking war.”
Ruby set their burgers and egg creams on the table and dropped a few extra napkins. Vincent wolfed through his food within minutes. To his surprise, Joe had finished first.
“That was damn good,” Joe said.
Vincent glanced at his wrist watch. “Time to punch back in.”
“Where we going?” Joe asked, slurping down the last of his egg cream.
“An apartment block near Getty Square,” Vincent said, placing a salt shaker on a dollar bill.
“That’s a big tip,” Joe said.
“Ruby’s a good egg.” Vincent winked at the waitress as she talked to a customer in a nearby booth. “She goes to night school, you know?”
“You’re a big softy, aren’t you?”
“Fuck you,” Vincent said, tousling Joe’s hair. “Let’s see if you can make it out of Alcatraz.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
Vincent’s lips curled into a devilish grin. “That’s what I call 241 Riverdale Avenue.”
Vincent stomped out of the elevator and stopped in front of apartment 3B, happy to be done with the first two floors. He waited until Joe caught up and knocked on the door.
“Who lives here?” Joe asked.
Vincent grabbed his crotch and spit on the floor. “Ezekiel Tooms, a lowlife rompipalle.”
“Don’t like him much?”
Vincent shook his head. The only thing he hated more than debtors were wife beaters like Ezekiel.
“This fucking guy’s a pain in the ass,” Vincent said, knocking again.
“Who is it?” growled a voice from behind the door.
“It’s the fifteenth of the month, Ezekiel. You know who it is. Where’s my money?”
“Fuck you, Vincent. You can’t come in here.”
“Like hell I can’t!” Vincent yelled. “Article 10 of our contract clearly states that the Company has the right to collect our funds, or our property, wherever and whenever on the day it’s due.”
“Ezekiel!” Vincent shouted.
“I brought my Bible.” Vincent raised the suitcase up to the door’s peep hole.
The locks and chains clicked and slid aside. The door opened. Vincent faced Ezekiel, a tall, middle-aged man in a white t-shirt holding a cigar in one hand and a beer bottle in the other.
They were about the same height, and had the man kept in shape, he would have been more than a match for Vincent. But all the booze had rendered Ezekiel a chubby drunk.
“You know it’s my wife that took out this stupid loan, right?” Ezekiel said.
“Yeah, but it’s your name on the contract, EK,” Vincent said.
“Only my friends call me that and you’re—”
“Just give me the money.”
Ezekiel grinned. “How’s that kid of yours? The sailor?”
Fucking hell. Here we go, thought Vincent. He stepped forward until his nose almost touched Ezekiel’s.
“Yeah, I heard it was a U-boat that—”
“How’s that kid of yours, EK? Is Charles still talking to his imaginary friends? When are you going to put him in that special school for stunads?”
“Calm down, Tooms.” Vincent jabbed Ezekiel in the belly with the edge of his suitcase. “Don’t forget what I’m carrying in here.”
Ezekiel flicked the cigar nub into the hallway and pulled out a wrinkled dollar bill from his back pocket.
“Pleasure doing business with you.” Vincent said, swiping the cash and herding his partner back toward the elevator.
“Your son died?” Joe asked, as they crossed the hallway.
“Yeah, it's a long story—I told him not to join the Navy. He joined anyway. Then the Huns, before they became Nazis, sunk my boy’s cruiser. The end.”
“I’m so sorry.”
Vincent closed his eyes. “God, I miss him.”
“I shouldn’t have said anything,” Joe said.
“No, it’s ok. I made peace with my loss a long time ago, but Ezekiel always brings it up. That man puts me in a foul mood.” Vincent patted Joe on the shoulders. “Forget about it. We still have a job to do.”
The next few names went just as quickly, with Vincent walking away from each door with a smile and cash in hand.
By the time the sun was making its way down over the Hudson River, they were on their last name—Ava Schutte.
“What? What’s wrong?”
“It’s Ava. She’s a tough customer. I forgot that she was still on the list.”
“Should I do anything?” Joe asked, puffing out his chest.
“How’s your Leviticus?”
“Never mind. Just watch me work.”
Vincent pressed an arm against his nose.
“What’s that smell?” Joe asked.
“Ava’s cooking, I guess,” Vincent said, knocking on the door.
“It’s unlocked,” a woman yelled.
Vincent stepped through with Joe in tow. He followed the smell of cabbage toward the kitchen where a squat old woman with curlers in her hair stood facing a stove.
“I’ve been expecting you, Vincenzo,” Ava said. She turned and smacked a wooden spoon onto the palm of her hand.
Despite Ava’s comical attempt at intimidation and short stature, sweat beaded on Vincent’s forehead. He glanced at the small table on his right. Sitting at the far end, by the window, was a babbling two-year-old girl. Her curly blonde hair jiggled as she bounced in the high chair.
“That’s my granddaughter, Melanie. I haven’t had a chance to change her, so you’ll have to suffer the smell while we talk.”
“Fine by me,” Vincent said.
“Fine,” Ava said, turning her attention back to the roiling pot.
She wasn’t lying. The room smelled like a sewer. The simmering borscht added a thick, acidic aroma to the small apartment.
“Mind if we sit?” Vincent asked.
Joe turned. He looked surprised. Who could blame him? Not once on their outings did Vincent ever ask a mark for permission to do anything.
“Hand me the cayenne pepper first,” Ava said.
“It’s right next to you,” Vincent said, through clenched teeth.
Ava held out her hand.
Vincent glared at her back. Ava wasn’t like other debtors. She had coolant running through her veins. Just take it slow with this one, he thought to himself. He placed the spice tin in her hand as Joe watched, dumbfounded.
“Joe, you’re wondering why I’m being so nice?” Vincent asked, settling in the chair closest to Melanie.
The young man nodded.
“She almost knocked me out with a frying pan last month.”
Vincent jutted his chin toward the stool on the opposite side of the table. “Sit down, Joe. Let’s get this over with.”
The last rays of the sun pierced through the window and showered the table and kitchen in a warm, relaxing glow.
Vincent placed his suitcase on the table “I’m here for the dollar you owe, Ava.”
“Well, I ain’t paying today,” Ava said.
Vincent’s fingers flipped open the silver locks and opened the case. Joe craned his neck for a glimpse of what was inside.
“The contract says—”
“I don’t give a shit what the contract says,” Ava said, keeping her attention on her cooking.
Vincent lifted a leather-bound Bible from the suitcase and dropped it on table. Melanie started crying.
“I know what you keep in there,” Ava said.
Vincent opened the Bible and flipped through the pages, stopping halfway through.
“Christ, no.” Joe hissed, shaking his head.
“You can’t threaten me with that,” Ava said, adding a dash of pepper to the pot.
Vincent stood and stepped behind the high chair. He didn’t want the child to see what was in his hand.
“I’m not threatening you.”
Ava slowly turned around. Her jerky, mechanical motion reminded Vincent of the wooden figurines circling fancy grandfather clocks.
Vincent pressed the barrel of a snub nose revolver against the back of Melanie’s tiny head. Her skull felt as rigid as a hardboiled egg.
“You bastard!” Ava buried her hands in the tangle of grey hair erupting from her scalp. Tears streamed down her ruddy cheeks. “You wouldn’t—”
Vincent pulled back the hammer with his thumb. It clicked into place. Joe leapt to his feet and stacked his hands over his mouth.
“Stop! Please, stop!” Ava fumbled in her bra and scooped out a dollar bill. It tumbled through the air like a fall leaf. “Take it and get the hell out! Both of you!”
Vincent nodded, placed the gun back into the notch cut into the Bible, and pocketed the cash. Ava nearly toppled the table over as she scooped Melanie into her arms.
“Come on, kid. We’re leaving.” Vincent packed the Bible back into the suitcase. “Time for dinner. My treat.”
The ride back to the diner was quiet. Joe fidgeted in his seat, clenching and unclenching his fists. Without saying a word, he followed Vincent and sat down at the booth they ate lunch earlier that day.
“What the fuck was that?” Joe asked.
“What?” Vincent asked, in mock horror.
“You know what!” Joe’s head swivelled, making sure no one was in ear’s reach. He leaned forward. “You pointed a gun at a baby!”
“Oh, come on. She was a toddler.”
“You’re insane, Vincent! A buck! You threatened a baby over one dollar!” Joe said, spit flying out of his mouth.
“Jesus, kid. I told you. The boss gets his money. What? You want to face Mr. Gladstone after your first day with a light ledger? You know what he’s capable of, right?” Vincent said, drawing a forefinger across his throat.
Joe slumped into the vinyl booth.
“Here, have a cigarette,” Vincent said, sliding the brass case towards Joe.
Joe stared at the brass container. For the first time, Vincent realized that it was slightly tombstone-shaped.
“Were you going to do it?” Joe asked.
“Were you going to kill the kid?”
Vincent smiled. He reached down and set the briefcase on the table. He flipped the lid open, pulled out the gun, and pointed it at Joe’s face.
Diners jumped out of their seats. Ruby gasped from behind the counter while utensils and plates crashed onto the tiled, checkerboard floor.
Joe stared at the gun, placed the cigarette between his lips, and closed his eyes.
The hammer snapped forward and the revolver sizzled.
Joe slowly opened his eyes.
“What the hell?” he said, staring at a sharp, blue flame dancing at the end of the gun’s barrel.
Customers laughed and Ruby turned her attention back towards the kitchen.
“Relax, it’s just a gag. The marks don’t know it’s a fake and it always motivates them to cough up the dough,” Vincent said.
Joe burst into tears and laughter.
“What? Did you think I was some kind of gangster?”
“Yeah, I did,” Joe said, wiping tears away with the back of his hand.
“Christ, kid. A dollar monthly payment for a sewing machine isn’t something you kill for.” Vincent scoffed. “We get what’s due, but we’re not animals.”
Ruby walked to the side of their booth and smiled at the two. “What do you boys do for a living, exactly?”
“We collect overdue bills from folks who’ve put one of the Company’s machines on a payment plan.”
“Oh! I hear Woolworth’s doing that now.” Ruby cocked her head to the side. “But what’s the toy gun for?”
Joe snatched the revolver and held it in his palm. Vincent’s eyes narrowed. The kid seemed to be gauging the replica for more than its weight.
“Well?” Ruby asked.
Joe smiled and pointed the revolver at the waitress. “For motivation, what else?”
Vincent cackled and slammed his fists on the table.
“Joe, my boy. I think you’ve got a future in collections!”
© Forgive Us Our Debts, 2023, Luis Parades
Luis Paredes is a horror, fantasy, and weird fiction writer living in New York. When not crafting strange tales, you can find Luis tinkering with old typewriters, drawing, or pursuing his other passion—running. Find Luis on Instagram @luisparedeswrites or on Twitter @Luis_Writes