Monday, 28 February 2011
PREY by J. R. Lindermuth
They came out of the dark, circling him like vultures honing on the scent of a carcass.
Stan waited, not saying a word, knowing there was naught he could say to dissuade them. He was in their territory. He was outnumbered. He was prey.
The leader approached now, coming so close Stan smelled the man’s sour breath. “You got any money?” the man asked.
Stan shook his head. “I got a proposition.”
“We don’t deal in propositions,” one of the others said with a coarse laugh. “We like money better.”
“Money is what I’m talking about,” Stan told them.
“Whyncha say so? Spit it out, bitch.”
Stan took a deep breath and swallowed. “I want you to…” He hesitated. Could he really do this? The leader leaned closer. He took the lapel of Stan’s jacket between thumb and forefinger. “Nice cloth. Must have cost a bundle.”
“Yeah, he even smells rich,” the other said, sidling up. Whyn’t we just take his wallet? Should be plenty of money. Some nice credit cards. And look at that watch. Who knows what else. Whadya say, Jimmy? Shall we…”
“No, wait,” Stan pleaded. “Let me tell you my proposition. I’ll pay you—much more than what I’m carrying tonight.”
“Go on,” the leader said, interested.
Stan pointed. “See that building. The tall one over there?”
“Yeah. We sees it everyday. So what?”
“The owner—he’s my, uh, competition.”
“Ol’ Ray? You want we should pop Ray?”
“Well, not exactly. You see…”
“So come on, chump. What exactly is it you’re proposin’?”
Stan swallowed. He wished he still smoked. Maybe that would take the edge off his fear. He seldom came down here. Usually he got his rents in the mail. He’d only come down once in the past year. “Like I said, Ray is my competition. I own another building. The one back there—behind you.”
Some of the others turned and looked at his building. The leader kept his gaze fixed on Stan. “So you’re a slum lord, just like Ray. You gouge folks for rent and don’t fix nothin’. Why should we help you?”
The comment irked Stan. He didn’t consider himself a slum lord. He was a landlord. They didn’t understand what it cost to operate a building. They didn’t understand how people complained constantly but were often late with their rent. But he held his tongue. He needed their help. “I’ll pay you,” he said.
“Yeah. You said. So you don’t want us to pop Ray what you want us to do?”
“I want the old bastard dead. But it has to look like an accident. If it looks like he was murdered the cops will be coming down on me. Because we’re in competition… you get what I’m talking about?”
The leader grinned. “I ain’t stupid. So what’s the deal? How much are you offerin’ for us doin’ the deed?”
“Uh, maybe three?”
“Thousand. Three thousand. That’s what I meant.”
“Make it five.”
Stan nibbled his lip. “That’s a lot of money.”
“Take it or leave it. You don’t wanna pay, do ol’ Ray youself.”
Stan didn’t answer right away. The punk called Jimmy turned and slouched off down the street followed by his retinue.
“Wait!” Stan called.
Jimmy came back, grinning. “Thought you’d see it my way.”
More than a week passed before he saw the obit in the paper. Stan had almost given up, thinking they’d taken his down payment of half the money and weren’t going to do the job. He smiled, reading how Ray had apparently fallen down a flight of stairs in his building and suffered fatal injuries. Stan rubbed his hands together in delight. Ray had no family. The building would go up for sale soon. Stan doubted anyone else would want to put in an offer. It would be his. He’d have two buildings. A little adjustment in the rents and he’d have back his money in no time.
There was only one flaw in the situation. He’d promised to go down as soon as he had proof the deed was done and pay off the contract. The thought of it made him queasy in the stomach. But it had to be done. No way he was going to take a chance on cheating them out of their money.
They met in the parking lot behind his building. Jimmy and his crew were just as scary as before. But Stan had a little insurance this time. He had the money for them. He also had a .25 automatic in his jacket pocket.
Jimmy took his time counting the money, taking it from the carrier bag and counting it out on the hood of Stan’s car.
“We good?” Stan asked as Jimmy tallied the last bills and stuffed the money back in the bag.
Jimmy handed the bag to one of his crew and grinned at Stan. “We good.”
Stan stepped around him, going for his car.
“What’s your hurry?” Jimmy said, laying a hand on his shoulder.
“I-uh-gotta back up town.”
“Yeah, yeah. You’re a busy man. But first we gotta show you somethin’.”
“In the building?”
“I…” Stan fidgeted.
“Come on, dog,” Jimmy said, throwing an arm across his shoulders. “It won’t take long.” They herded him along with them into the building. Stan’s mouth went dry. What were they up to?
The foyer smelled of decay, mildew and unwashed bodies. Stan sweating all the way, they went up, up in the old elevator until they reached the top floor.
“What are you doing? Why did you bring me up here?” He reached in his pocket for the comfort of the gun. It wasn’t there. When had they taken it?
“This is your building, right? You been in here before.”
“Of course I have.”
“Well, we wanna show you somethin’. Come on.” They maneuvered him to the staircase leading up to the roof.
“I don’t understand. What’s this all about?” Stan asked as they came out on the roof. The night air was cold and clammy on his face.
“Look over there. See that?”
Ray’s building. There was enough light from the moon and surrounding structures for him to make it out clearly. “Yeah. What about it?”
“Before ol’ Ray had his accident we had us a discussion and came to an agreement. He signed his building over to us.”
“Figgered we’d give you a chance to do the same.” Jimmy drew a document from his jacket and waved it in front of Stan’s face. “Give ol’ Stan a pen, Tony.”
“I don’t understand…”
“Yeah. You said that before. Just take the pen and sign where the X is. It says you’re givin’ the building to us for a buck.”
“A buck! Are you crazy?”
“Not the last I looked. Just sign, bitch. I got your dollar right here.” He held up the bill.
Stan took a deep breath and accepted the pen. “I sign if you’ll let me go?”
“Sure. You can fly right out of here.”
This was crazy. These chumps didn’t know anything about real estate or the law. He was being coerced. His lawyer would sort it out. Stan signed and handed the paper and pen back to Jimmy.
“That’s a good man,” Jimmy said. “Now we got us two buildings, boys.” He folded the paper and put it in his pocket.
“I can go now?”
“Sure,” Jimmy said with a grin. “Said you could. Help him out boys.”
Two of them seized him by the arms. “W-what are you doing?”
“Said you could fly, man.”
And they flung Stan off the roof.
J. R. Lindermuth is the author of eight novels, including four in the Sticks Hetrick mystery series. His short stories have appeared in a variety of magazines, both print and on line.
Being Someone Else (July 2010), Whiskey Creek Press
Watch The Hour (April 2009), Whiskey Creek Press