1st Place – May 2018

Sharp Money

By JJ Rushmore

 

“Hit him again.”
The roundhouse blow exploded on my jawbone, cold pain radiating to my eye and neck. I hung my head, drool and blood dripping from swollen lips. Gasping and spitting, I probed teeth with my tongue, ensuring all were present. So far only one felt loose.
Borislav grabbed my hair and yanked my head up. “I want my money.”
I blinked the sweat from my eyes. “I told you I don’t have it. Tuesday. I’ll have it Tuesday.” I whined like Wimpy from a Popeye cartoon.
The rotund Russian let go, and waved at his henchman. The next punch landed in my gut. Spasms gripped my diaphragm, stealing my breath, and the room began to darken. A certain amount of pain was inherent in the role I played, but I didn’t have to like it. Finally I caught some air, wheezed a few short lungfuls, and the space around me came back into focus.
A bare bulb lit a small concrete room. Rough stairs punctured one wall, leading up into darkness. Wan light from a basement window dribbled down a blackened sheet metal chute. A mound of coal rested at the foot of the metal spillway. Fist-sized lumps of anthracite littered the dirt floor. My wallet, keys, and ballcap lay in a pile at my feet.
Borislav and his flunky had duct-taped me to a chair. I was bruised and bloody and had peed myself, but so far they hadn’t cut me. I had the Russian mobster just where I wanted him.
“Where’d you get the new goon, Boris— Thugs ‘R’ Us?” I said, nodding at his stooge. “May I call you Boris? I feel like we’ve gotten to know each other so much better these last couple of hours.” I spit out some more blood. “Say, whatever happened to Ratcliff and his toady sidekick, anyway? Now Rat could throw a punch—not like this lightweight.”
Boris glared at me. “Rat disappeared.”
“Oh, yeah? That’s too bad. What about the rest of your little army?”
The fat Russian scowled, and not for the first time. “Crew gone. All gone.”
I knew they were gone—I had seen to that a few days earlier. It hadn’t been easy, but they didn’t call me for the easy jobs.
Lightweight gut-punched me again. He was short, but muscular. If he hit me any harder I was going to reconsider his nickname.
Boris lifted my chin with his thumb and forefinger. “Who do you think you are, McGinn, blowing into town, taking my money, and not paying me back? I can’t have mudaks like you disrespecting me. I got to make an example.” Boris reached under his suitcoat and pulled out a shiny revolver.
“Hey, hey, hey, let’s not get hasty there, Borya.” The mobster stiffened at the use of his diminutive name. It was like calling Charles Bronson ‘Chucky.’ “Did I say Tuesday? What was I thinking? Of course I meant today, that’s right. I can have your money today.”
“How? You got no money.” He pointed his chin at my wallet.
“Look again. I got plastic. Expensive plastic.”
Lightweight picked up my wallet and extracted a wad of credit cards. He fanned them out like a multi-colored bridge hand and displayed them for his boss. I hoped he handled them carefully.
Boris sniffed and wrinkled his nose. “They’re not worth enough. You owe me ten large—fifteen with the vig.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. Those are gold and platinum. I can get two or three G’s cash advance on each one.”
Boris took the cards and peered at them closely. “They’re not yours. How’re you gonna cash’em?
“Of course they’re not mine. I’m a thief. I lifted them at the airport yesterday and bought the passwords on the dark web. I was saving them for a rainy day.” I eyeballed the revolver. “I see lightning on the horizon, so I guess today’s the rainy day.”
The corpulent loan shark stared at the credit cards in one hand, and twirled the revolver with the other.
“Why don’t you send your gorilla friend here to an ATM and get the cash?” I said, nudging him in the right direction while trying to sound desperate. “I’ll give him the passwords. There’s a machine over on Seventh.”
This is where it got sticky. My employers had squeezed the fat Russian for money, and he was anxious to collect my debt. I had eliminated Boris’ band of ruffians, and had counted on him being alone. I hadn’t figured on him hiring outside help. Lightweight was just one hoodlum, but he complicated matters.
What they call sharp money in Las Vegas is a side bet. My side bet was that Boris wouldn’t trust an underling with all that cash. Certainly not one he just hired, someone he didn’t know. He couldn’t take the slightest chance of losing the money. Not when he needed it so badly.
I needed Boris alone and unprotected. I prayed he would make the right choice.
The fat man gestured at me. “No. I’ll take you, and you’ll get me the money.” He  thrust the gun in my direction for emphasis. “And no tricks.” He spoke to Lightweight out the side of his mouth. “Cut him loose.”
Lightweight did as he was told, and Boris herded me with the revolver out the door and up the stairs. I grabbed my ballcap on the way out.
I squinted in the harsh sunlight as I drove the fat Russian’s Cadillac to the walk-up ATM on Seventh. The street held several boarded up stores, and the rest had bars on the windows. In that part of town I could depend upon deaf and blind witnesses, if there were any at all.
We exited the car. The gun barrel deformed Boris’ suitcoat pocket, but it wasn’t because he was happy.
I flipped my sweatshirt’s hood over my head and held up my hand.
“You might want to stay behind me.” I pointed to the small lens over the cash machine. “Camera.”
Boris pulled the brim of his fedora down and kept a half step to my rear.
I shuffled the credit cards until I had the order I wanted. I dutifully pumped the cards into the ATM and repeatedly withdrew money. Fifteen thousand in twenties is three hundred bills, too much to hold all at once. Twice I handed thick stacks of cash to Boris, and returned to the machine.
“Here’s the last of it.” I turned, and Boris reached for the remaining bills. I let one drop, and the overweight money lender instinctively bent to grab it. I swung my left arm in a sweeping arc, tightly grasping the last credit card, the special one I had prepared that morning.
The razor-sharp polystyrene corner sliced through the mobster’s neck with little resistance. He stood up abruptly, dropped the bills, and clamped his hand on his throat with a surprised look. Blood spurted and oozed through his fingers in unrelenting streams. He fell heavily to his knees, croaking and gasping, incapable of speech.
I sidestepped the blood and calmly plucked the handkerchief from his breast pocket, and wiped the ATM keyboard of any fingerprints.
“Next time don’t skim from the mob,” I said. “Oh, that’s right—there won’t be a next time.”
The life faded from his eyes, his skin sagged, and the body collapsed on the sidewalk. A rivulet of blood inched its way toward the gutter. An empty paper cup skittered across the otherwise silent street, pushed by a rogue gust of wind.
I walked away and dodged down the first alley I came to.
My employers would be pleased. I had completed the assignment in a short time, and it hadn’t cost them anything extra. I would give them the money I had borrowed from Boris. Since he worked for them, it was their money in the first place. They owed me my fee, which was substantial, but that was the cost of doing business.
The mob had wanted a public statement—steal from them, and pay the price. I had given them one. I had cut down Boris in broad daylight in front of an ATM, his pockets stuffed with cash, loose bills scattered around his body, soaking up his life’s blood.
Boris had placed a side bet, that the mob wouldn’t miss some skim off the top of his loan sharking. The sharp money had cut him. Actually it wasn’t money at all, only a credit card. But it had cut him dead just the same.

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