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The wire digging into my wrists and the punches to the gut and face were unnecessary. I would have given them the name based on mean looks and harsh language. Depending on the day, they could have just asked nicely.
After digging another upper cut into the extra padding around my mid-section, he said, “Give me a name.” I looked up with full intention of not only telling him a name, but spelling it. Only when I looked up, standing behind the steroid junkie beating me senseless was the asshole I was planning to rat out.
“He talk yet?” my former partner in crime asked.
“No,” the bruiser said, “but I’m really just getting started.”
“He’s an accountant, how hard can this be?”
“You telling me how to do my job?”
Alvin did not back down, which made me re-think the wisdom of ratting him out. “Move out of the way.”
To my surprise, the big man with my blood on his fists moved out of the way.
“Do you know why you are here?” Alvin asked.
I shook my head yes, thinking if I ever get out of this I’m going to kill the asshole who recommended Stiva hire me to look after his investments.
“Do you want to live?” he asked, casually removing a pistol from a shoulder rig under his sport coat.
“Yeah,” I told him.
“Can I trust you?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I told him.
‘I’m not sure I believe you.”
I tried to think of something to say to make myself more credible, nothing came to mind.
“My friend asked you for a name, did you give him one?”
“No,” I told him, he nodded his head like he believed me.
He raised the pistol and gave me a good view of the wrong end of it.
“Any last words?”
All I could think to say was, “Please, Alvin, don’t shoot me.”
Thankfully, my entire life did not flash before my eyes, just a few of the lowlights leading to this destination.
“Look, asshat, when it comes to my money I don’t like to fuck around.” With those words, an idea formed in my head.
The problem with my job is the vast majority of work takes place over the phone, so people feel free to be abusive. Most of my customers did not even live in the same state; even if I wanted to, there was nothing I could do about it. Even if I could do something, in my business, it is all about building long-term relationships, meaning if I do my job correctly, the verbally abusive asshole is going to call back. It turns out getting your ass kissed while treating somebody like dirt is addictive to a certain kind of person. I had learned to take some verbal abuse in the army, so I could handle it, but it didn’t mean I enjoyed it.
Most of my clients were nothing but cordial — they tended ask a question, get an answer, and then go on with their day. The others liked to keep the conversation going, and called with a much greater frequency.
Unfortunately, the others were often the same kind of person who has accumulated enough wealth to make giving them a dose of their own rude bullshit bad for the bank account, especially if one of these blowhards took their complaints to my boss, and I ended up unemployed.
Normally, when taking abuse from a client I had to satisfy myself with fantasies involving duct tape, needle nose pliers and rusty saws. Reminding myself that if the client treats the rest of the service industry with the same respect they treat me they have not had a meal at a restaurant for several decades without a dollop of snot and or saliva mixed in sometimes helped, but this day was different.
Alvin had planted an idea in my head.
I was sitting on my usual stool at the bar, drinking over-priced beer and munching on mediocre chicken wings, watching football on the place’s outdated big screens. I had a bigger, newer, television in my apartment, colder beer, and probably the same grocery store bought frozen wings I was eating here in my freezer, but since the divorce too much time sitting alone in the apartment had me thinking bad thoughts, so I spent my Sundays and Saturdays here. Given how often I actually conversed with anybody, it did not differ greatly from sitting by myself on the couch, but even the delusion of social interaction tamped down my darker impulses. I was checking my phone to confirm what I already knew, I was losing money betting on football, when Alvin walked in.
He slid up to the bar next to me, not to sit down. People rarely sat down near me, meaning when somebody wanted to try and circumvent the bad service provided by the girls in the short skirts roaming the tables, occasionally taking drink orders, by asking the bartender directly, they ended up standing next to me.
Alvin was signaling to the bartender, who was pretending not to see him, since the girls did not like it when they put on the halter-tops for nothing. The bartender would do this long enough to show he made an effort, then saunter over.
While he was waiting, Alvin turned his attention to the nearest television, “Fucking Raiders,” he said to no one in particular.
Since I was the only one within range I answered, “No shit, you would think they could cover a fourteen point spread at home.”
“You put money on that?”
Alvin sat down, taking him out of bar maid territory, causing the bartender to head our way. “I’m old enough to remember when they were good.”
“Me too, I used to hate them.”
“Me too, but now? It’s like picking on the kids who ride the short bus.”
The bartender arrived, and Alvin bought two of what I was drinking without asking.
“Thanks,” I told him.
“Think nothing of it, Raider hating alcoholics is my favorite charity.”
“Well lucky for me we ran into each other.”
“Well, James, it was not exactly luck,” he told me.
“Did you just call me James?”
“You prefer Jim?”
“No, I prefer James, I just don’t remember telling you my name.”
He gestured at my beer, “Maybe you did and don’t remember.”
“I’m not exactly new at this drinking thing,” I told him.
“No, I guess not.”
“So, how do you know my name?”
“The same way I know you lost two hundred bucks on pro football last Sunday, and dropped another seventy five on college games the day before.”
I took a moment to do the math, and he was spot on. I took another moment to think on how he could have known.
“I guess I’m taking my business to another on-line bookie.” I told him.
“Why?” he asked.
“They seem a little loose with their information.”
He shrugged, “They do their best.”
“You put these drinks on my credit card?”
“No, but in the interest of full disclosure, I did not put them on mine either.”
My free beer did not taste as good anymore. I took a big swig anyway.
“My name is Alvin, and I didn’t lose a dime last week,” he said sticking out his hand, “now you know as much about me as I do you.”
I shook his hand, saying, “I know as much about you as you told me you know about me.”
“That is one of the things I like about you James, you’re not stupid.”
“That’s not the same as saying I’m smart. I’m guessing this is not a chance meeting.”
“You would be correct.”
“So, how did I do two weeks ago?”
“You made a little more than I did, but I didn’t bet; three weeks ago, not so great. You want exact numbers?”
“No,” I told him, “either way, I always pay my debts. I’m a shitty gambler, but not a degenerate.”
“Did I say you were?”
“Do I look like some leg breaker?”
I looked him over as I finished my beer, “No, but I don’t get out much, so I’m not sure what a leg breaker looks like.”
The bartender saw we both had empty glasses in front of us; Alvin bought another pair of beers.
“How do you like your job?” he asked me.
“It sucks,” I told him, “but I’m good enough at it I can afford to lose a couple hundred betting on sports every weekend and still pay my alimony. I suppose you already know what I do.”
“In the interest of fairness, I suppose you should tell me what you do.”
“I’m an independent contractor.”
“Crack whores giving blow jobs for ten spots are technically independent contractors too, so be more specific.”
“I look like a crack whore to you?”
“Like I said, I don’t get out much.”
Alvin laughed, “I deal in information.”
“Information? Like other people’s social security numbers?”
“Among other things.”
“Did you know I had my identity stolen?”
“Have you ever had your identity stolen?”
“Well, it sucks. I would not wish it on anyone.”
“Anyone? Are you sure?”
“What do you mean, am I sure?”
“The world has no shortage of assholes.”
“Look Alvin, let me be clear, I’m not using my position at work to funnel information to you or anyone else.”
“It’s illegal, for one.”
“So is betting on football.”
“Not the same thing. Besides, Alvin, I’d say chances are high you are some mole working for the company trying to trip me up.”
“Would your company do that?”
“You’re right, they would, and if they ever get wind of your gambling and drinking habits no doubt will, but I don’t work for your company.”
“I’m not taking your word for it.”
“You like money, don’t you? Money your ex-wife and the IRS don’t know about?”
“I also like my job and living outside a prison cell.”
“You’re an investor; you know no one makes real money without risk.”
“I’m also a gambler, so I know not to bet more than I’m willing to pay.”
“Fair enough,” he told me, gulping down the rest of his second beer. “Maybe I’ll see you around.”
“Probably not,” I told him, which was a dumb thing to say since we both knew six days from now I’d be sitting on this same stool.
The Asshat Fund idea formed in my brain less than a week later, named after my first victim’s favorite phrase. While I was calmly explaining to him why high risk mutual funds were called high risk for a reason, and how this was a long term investment, so he should not worry about short-term market volatility, I was also hand writing his personal information in a notebook I bought for this occasion.
In case I had any regrets about pilfering his personal information, he responded to my calm reasonable explanation by saying, “You fucking asshat, you keep losing me money, and I’m going to find you and kick your ass.”
“Believe me sir,” I told him as I double-checked his information against what I had written, “the success of your investments is very important to me.”
Alvin was at the bar the next Sunday, but he didn’t approach me, and I didn’t approach him either; several days of not being threatened or called names had cooled my anger. A week later though, we were sitting together at a table in a back corner, counting on the poor service to keep our conversation confidential.
He gave me a price, it sounded good, but I asked for more, and he counter offered. Soon enough he was handing me an envelope stuffed with cash and I was handing him a folded up piece of paper with my client’s confidential information. We drank, talked football and ex-wives for the rest of the afternoon. He gave me a number to call if I ever wanted to sell him anyone else.
I had decided this was going to be a one-time thing. I could even up on my football losses and treat myself to a meal better than they serve at the bar, but a few weeks later a client was asking me, “Were you born retarded or have you suffered a head injury?” On behalf of special needs people everywhere, I began copying down all his vital information in my notebook.
After a few months of this, I was starting to look forward to a good verbal tongue lashing, since it was like getting a bonus. With the extra cash, I spent some time investing my own money, creating a solid safe mutual fund for myself.
I’m good enough at my job that having a prospective client tell me I come recommended highly was not too rare of an occurrence. So when Mr. Stiva called up and asked me to help him grow his cash, I did not think too much of it.
Mr. Stiva had very unrealistic expectations for his investments. If I could get investments to perform at the level he expected, I would have invested my own money and retired to my own private island a decade ago. Mr. Stiva was also the kind of client who like to let me know in very colorful terms just how incompetent I was.
The asshat fund had a three strikes rule: everybody has a bad day, and sometimes the market and the occasional bad call on my part really does screw a person over. It was tempting to waive it for Stiva, but I kept to the program. Stiva reached his third strike in record time. It was not Mr. Stiva’s only speed record.
My position as a financial advisor gave me a good idea when the information I sold had been used against a client. In some cases it had not happened yet, or was done subtly enough no one had caught on. Whoever ended up with the information was more about the slow bleed, except in the case of Stiva. They took everything they could get, and took it fast.
This should have been a red flag, but I just assumed it was a change of policy until somebody hit me with a Tazer and tossed me in the trunk of their car.
“Please, Alvin, don’t shoot me.”
“Sorry James, looks like you made a bad bet,” Alvin said.
“Wait,” the guy who did look like a leg breaker said.
“You have something to say Mick?” Alvin asked, still pointing the gun at me.
“How’d he know your name?”
“That’s one of the things I like about you Mick, you’re not stupid.”
“Thanks Alvin, but you didn’t answer my question.”
Alvin turned and put two in Mick’s chest.
Mick looked surprised he had been shot. I was pretty sure he was about to ask why, when Alvin put his third bullet between his eyes.
He turned back to me, “You shouldn’t have said my name.”
“I shouldn’t have done a lot of things.”
“Probably. So, the problem here is you’ve just witnessed me committing a murder, and there is nothing to be done to make you un-see it.”
I did not really have a counterpoint, so I just said, “Please don’t shoot me.”
“You know Stiva and another one of his goons are upstairs.”
“I was kind of preoccupied.”
“Well, they are, and while I’m a decent shot, I’m not very confident I can get them both before I take a bullet or two myself.”
“So what are you saying?”
“When it comes to murder, witnesses are a problem, but accomplices? Not so much.”
“You’ll need to untie me.”
“No shit. You ever fire a gun before?”
“Not at a person, but yeah.”
Alvin cut me loose and gave me Mick’s gun.
“Lucky for us, this basement has been soundproofed, so they won’t have any idea it isn’t just Mick and me coming up the stairs with a name. Stiva was sitting in a chair to the right of the basement door watching television when I got here, so chances are his fat ass is still there. You take him; he’s armed and faster than he looks, so don’t miss. His boy will be looking out the window or at least hanging around by it, since he’s not figuring any threats coming from inside. I’ll take him.”
“This basement really soundproof?” I asked.
I unloaded Mick’s clip into him.
Alvin was tough. Even lying on the floor with ten holes in his body, he was trying to raise his pistol. I stepped out of his line of fire and took his gun away.
Alvin tried to say something but all the holes in his chest made it difficult. I’m no lip reader but it looked like he was mouthing, “What the fuck?” so that was the question I answered.
“Well first, while Mick was using me as a punching bag I promised myself if I ever found out who recommended Stiva hire me, I would kill the bastard.”
He tried to say something else; I guessed he was claiming innocence.
“Who else knows me and Stiva?”
He managed to shake his head.
“You saying you didn’t?”
This time he shook his head, “No.”
“Besides, after I helped you get Stiva were you really going to let me walk away?”
He took deep breath and spit out some blood, before managing to actually verbalize, “That’s one of the things I like about you James, you’re not stupid.”
“Which isn’t the same as smart,” I told him as he bled out on the floor of Stiva’s torture chamber.
Mick carried an extra clip for his pistol, so I reloaded. I also discovered why Mick was still standing after taking two to the chest; under his shirt was a Kevlar vest. I put it on. For a moment I stood at the bottom of the steps with a pistol in each hand and considered going up the stairs and turning my last moments of life into a John Woo movie, then thought better of it. Instead, I used my phone to access Stiva’s account and found his phone number.
A confused Stiva answered, “Who is this?”
I figured his man was already headed for the basement, so I got right to the point, “Alvin ripped you off. I was his inside man.”
“Bullshit, he would not recommend I invest with an accountant on our grift.”
“Unless he wanted to rip you off.”
“Let me talk to Alvin.”
“I had to shoot him.”
“Alvin killed him.”
“So I have to take your word? The word of an incompetent asshat such as yourself?”
I realized a long time fantasy of mine had just come true, the person calling me names was not two states away. Unlike every other time, the person on the other end of the phone was a staircase away, and I did not see any reason to kiss his ass anymore. I put down the phone and picked up the other gun.
Stiva was on his way to the basement, still calling me names over the phone, when I burst through the door firing. Alvin was right, he was quicker than he looked, but I got lucky and put one in his throat. Alvin was right about the goon too, he was by the window. He went crashing through it as I pumped slugs into him.
“Who’s the asshat now?” I said to Stiva, avoiding the fountain of blood spraying from his jugular vein to get in his face. He looked too dead to hear me.
The other goon had a Kevlar vest under his shirt just like Mick. I walked into the yard and tried to give him a matching bullet to the head. I had used all the ammunition in both guns, so I stomped on his head until it felt like I was dancing on Jell-O. The lady across the street digging in her garden was too stunned to do anything but look at me. I put down the guns and gave her a friendly wave.
Since I had come here in the trunk of a sedan, I had no idea where I was. I did not recognize anything about the neighborhood. I was bleeding, but not profusely, the Kevlar had done its job. I picked a direction and started walking as the sound of sirens filled the air.
Upon graduating from Adams State College with a degree in fine art, Todd Morr decided if he was going to be a starving artist, he preferred playing music and writing. He lives in Salinas, California with his wife and children. He has had short stories published in Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter 8, Out of the Gutter Online, The Big Adios, and Death Throes Webzine. His first novel, Captain Cooker, was published by Snubnose Press and his second, Jesus Saves, Satan Invests, is out now from Spanking Pulp Press. He can be contacted on twitter at @ToddMorr1.