We continue on with the story of Jack and how he turned out the way he did.
The man that owned the voice stepped out of the dark corner. Jack turned his head to see who a face. As he squinted to focus his vision, a large hand slapped him across the back of his head knock him forward. A hiss came from behind, “You don’t look at him unless he tells you to.” The hand turned from an open palm to a claw as it grabbed what felt like half of Jack’s hair. Since it was long and curly, the fingers had plenty of which to hold. He pulled Jack’s head back to the point that he was staring up at the ceiling. Jack noticed that one of the overhead beams had a large crack in it. The man, still holding his hair at the roots, leaned in close enough that Jack could feel his breath. “Listen you little shit, you’re lucky he doesn’t let me kill you right here and now. I would keep my mouth shut and just listen.” As the last word came hissing into the ear, he slapped Jack’s head again. This time using the back of his hand. A ring on his finger sliced the back of Jack’s head. Jack let his head droop and sat still as he felt the blood trickle down his neck.
"Like I said,” the man in control started, “you are lucky to still be breathing.” The others grunted in agreement. “I promised your father two things. I wouldn’t kill you, and I would take you under my wing.” Jack started to lift his head only to have it smacked back down.
“Look at me,” the man commanded. Jack feared shifting his head in any direction. “I said…LOOK AT ME!” A hand from behind grabbed more hair and yanked his head up. “Starting tomorrow, you will be working for me. You will stop this petty crap of breaking into hard working people’s homes. You will do as I say.” He leaned in so the two were eye to eye. “I don’t trust you. I am only doing this to pay off a debt I owe your father. You slip up once and I won’t be there to stop them from killing you. Do you understand?”
Jack stared back at the man. He knew not to show any sign of fear though internally he wanted to cry like a little baby. He thought it was a good thing that he had already wet himself because he would have done it again had there been anything left. He calmed himself as best as he could before replying, “Fine.” The only word he could muster at this point.
“You will show up at the bar tomorrow. Corner of 7th and Maple. Don’t tell any one. Get a hair cut; I don’t let hippies work for me.” He turned towards the door, the others moved to leave with one jumping in front of the boss to open the door. The man turned back to Jack. “And take a shower. You smell like piss. Nobody who works for Tony smells like piss.” The men left.
Jack sat still afraid to move for a good 30 minutes. When enough time had passed, he attempted to stand. Every muscle screamed. To add insult to injury, the edge of his boxers that hung off the edge of the chair had frozen to the seat. It took a good hour for him to move from the garage to the house and up the stairs. He tried to take a shower, but while attempting to step into the tub Jack fell forward and ended up sprawled in the tub. He felt it best just to turn on the water and soak his damaged body. The whole time he soaked he kept mumbling that Tony would be sorry that he had left Jack alive.
By evening, Jack finally had gotten to the point that he could move again. It didn’t help that he fell asleep in the tub and awoke in cold water. Now that he could lift his arms enough, he took a razor and started shaving off his hair. If he could have, he would have gone for a proper haircut. Since it would have taken the rest of the day just to get there, he thought a self-cut would suffice. With each swipe of the razor, Jack planned a different end for Tony and each of his men. He didn’t know when it would happen, but Jack knew that it would.
The next day, as ordered, Jack showed up at the bar. He expected to see Tony holding court and giving out orders. Instead one of the goons was sitting waiting for him. He laughed as he saw Jack walk into the establishment. His face was bruised on both sides, his arms were moving ever so gingerly, and he had a s bit of a limp as he walked. “Glad to see you survived.” He laughed even harder as Jack tried to take a seat. This was the first time he had tried to sit in a chair since yesterday. Once he had gotten out of the tub, he spent the afternoon on the couch. He crawled up the stairs to bed before his mother came home – not that she would have noticed. He now sat in a chair in the dark bar. The man stared at the boy who tried to be a man.
“Listen little man,” the man finally broke the silence. “You will be working with me. We will travel and make pick-ups.” He paused to check that Jack was listening. The young man just stared at him. “You will do as you are told and you will keep your trap shut. Do you understand?” Jack gave the slightest of nods. The lack of response ticked off his new partner. “Listen you little shit.” He reached out and squeezed Jacks bicep. Hus thumb pushed in as deep as he could force it. “You will do everything as told. You will work when are told. You will eat, shit, and sleep when told. And you will stop dreaming about how to kill me – or I WILL kill you.” Jack maintained the stare. “Now get up. We have work to do.” As they stood, the man added, “Nice haircut.”
Jack spent the next six months being a silent partner. It took two weeks before he was allowed to call the man by name, Steve. The expectation was for Jack to stand in the background and look tough. For the most part, Steve would walk in to a business and the owner had the package ready to be picked up. On the rare occasion that the package wasn’t ready, the owner would be given a message that such things were not acceptable. Jack watched as Steve would either deliver a few reminders to the owner’s midriff or destroy merchandise worth much more than that month’s payment. Eventually Jack was given the task of the message deliverer. He learned fast, and soon became better than the teacher. Jack’s presence in the doorway soon caused business owners to tremble. He was still not considered an adult by legal standards, but he caused fear more than any man ever did.
The day Jack moved out of his mother’s sty, he took the bag that contained all of his belongings and moved above Tony’s bar. He shared the room with another “member” of Tony’s family, Peter. Peter was also a thug in training though not as great of a student. The room contained two beds, a couple of broken bar chairs, and a television. Other than a bathroom, it contained a closet and two dressers. Jack cared less about the lack of space; he didn’t own anything. As for food, all Jack had to do was walk into any one of the restaurants on his beat. He ordered whatever he wanted and walked out with the same amount of money in his pocket. In the year since meeting Tony, Jack’s life had taken a turn for the better. He no longer had to worry about anything. He had a place to live, a job that provided good money, and he had what he considered to be respect. He walked down the street and people moved out of his way. This was what he had wanted for years.
Steve turned more and more of the responsibilities over to Jack. He learned quickly that his young apprentice could handle the job. At first Steve was an awe of Jack’s ability to get people to fear him. Then Steve even started to fear what Jack would do to somebody holding back on a payment. He went to Tony about it, but Tony scoffed at him. Why should Tony stop the young man from doing his best. Payments were up and problems were down. Soon the older partner started to appreciate the work of the young man. In the end, it meant he could sit in a car all day and let Jack do all of the work. He sat around watching movies on his phone all day long. As long as Tony was happy with the way things were going, Steve knew enough to let it happen.
It took a year for Jack to truly feel as if he was trusted and accepted by Tony and his men. They even took the time to check in on Jack when his father was released once again. Tony, at Jack’s request, offered Ron a position. Jack hoped to repay his father for taking the fall for him. Ron managed to work a week for Tony before letting alcohol take control of his life. He didn’t end up back in the pen, but he couldn’t stay on with Tony. Just the same Jack went to Tony and offered his thanks. His gratitude was offered in a way of protecting Tony and his money. Jack approached Tony carefully.
“Tony?” Jack approached after the bar closed one night. The protection was checking the outside leaving Jack the opportunity to speak with Tony alone. Tony looked up from his books. “I thank you for what you did for my dad,” Jack lowered his head almost bowing to the man. Tony waved him off. “No sir,” Jack continued, “you did me a favor, and I feel I owe you.” Tony closed the books. He stopped one of his men from entering into the room.
“I can’t believe I am going to say this,” Jack tried to add some sadness to his tone. “I really like Steve. He has taught me everything.” Tony sat up straight. “I think,” he hesitated long enough for Tony to lean in. “I think he is skimming from the packets.” Jack paused letting silence go between the two men.
“I bring the packets to the car, and then I leave him while going into the next place.” Jack could see Tony’s face changing color.
“Stop!” Tony’s anger came through in his voice. “Steve has been like a son to me. He is my Godson!” Jack feared he had not thought his plan through well enough. “You better have something more than your little piss-ant thoughts.”
“Peter” Jack offered up his roommate. “He is the one I turn everything into.” He paused. “Ask him.”
Peter was summoned upstairs. Months earlier, Tony had realized that this young man did not have it in him to be mean, but he did have a way with money and numbers. He had been moved into the accountant’s pool. Two weeks earlier, Jack had dropped his “suspicions” concerning Steve one night. Peter took it upon himself to take control of Jack and Steve’s packets. He had tracked that each day money was missing. Different businesses were short each day. He had been preparing to talk with Tony only to be surprised by a summoning to the bar. Two men busted through his door and grabbed him from bed. They dragged him down the stairs to see Tony. The irony of seeing his roommate dragged into the room wearing only boxers was not lost on Jack. No beating this time.
Peter confirmed everything Jack had already mentioned. The note on the packets indicated that Jack had counted the money in front of the owner. Each day the amount turned in versus the amount collected was different. The amounts were in the thousands and climbing every day. Sensing trouble for not reporting it, Peter differed back to Jack. He told Tony that Jack asked him to hold off until he had proof.
Tony could not accept the news. His anger turned to Jack. “He has been with me for 17 years with no problems. Why should he start now?” Jack had an answer.
“I think he is in debt because of his gambling. He is always carrying around racing forms. He listens to the games and races whenever they are driving. “I think he is in deep.” Jack failed to mention that he was actually the one who turned Steve on to gambling. Even so, the most Steve would do was a few bucks here or there. Jack had to take it upon himself to, using Steve’s name, start a few large accounts.
Jack also failed to mention that he had been running a sale on his protection accounts. Knowing that the owners were more afraid of him than Tony, he used this to his advantage. Each day he handed money back to the owners saying he felt sorry for them. They could go light on a round or two. He then pulled them in close and threatened not them but their children if they ever mentioned it to anybody.
Wanting to appear willing to be wrong, Jack offered up a plan. He and Steve would do their rounds the next day. He would do everything the same as in the past. After a few stops, Tony could have a couple of people, who would be following them, ask Steve and Jack out of the car. The outsiders could see where the money was going. Tony agreed.
The next morning the rounds proceeded as planned. Not taking any chances with the shop keepers, Jack canceled his sale. Everyone paid full price. Jack counted the money and signed. As he tucked the packet away, he slipped a couple of bills out of it. As he walked out the door, he saw a homeless person with a can, the extra money made its way through the opening in the top. The packet was tossed to Steve who was busy reading the daily information. He put it in his coat along with others. Jack tried to track how much money he had removed. It had to match.
After the fifth stop, it happened. The car pulled up behind them and honked. Steve reached under his left shoulder. A sigh of relief came past his lips when he realized that it was George and Dan; his buddies. The men approached on either side of the car. Steve let go of his revolver and opened the door. The two men, unlike the night Jack first met them, seemed sad and apprehensive about what they were about to do. They quietly explained that Tony had asked them to come check on “things.” They asked the two men to step out of the car and raise their hands.
Jack did as commanded, trying to hide any hint of pleasure. Steve, looking totally confused, complied with the request. He had nothing to hide. Both men came up clean on the frisk. Dan took controls of the packets and counted. There was $600 missing. George looked at both men, neither Dan nor George had been told about the conversation the night prior. Jack looked shock; Steve still looked confused. George started looking through the car. The longer it took the more Jack became disgusted with the two of them. “How stupid can they be,” he whispered to himself. Then it dawned on him that they were trying not to find it. Just as Jack was wanting to tell them where to look, George came out from under the driver seat with the white envelope. $600. Jack had prepped it the night before; he hated losing that much money, but it would be worth it. When the Dan had honked the horn, Steve’s eyes moved to the mirror and then over his shoulder. Jack took the advantage and delivered the envelope. The same envelope he had borrowed from Steve two weeks earlier.
Tony soon had the two men standing before him. Both pleading ignorance to the envelope. The final nail came when Peter delivered the numbers from the past two days, $3000 missing. Tony just looked at them.
“Tony,” Steve had a whine in his voice, “you are my Godfather. I have never worked for anyone else. You know me.”
“I know. I know, Stevie.” Tony’s voice softened. Jack thought he saw some tears collecting in his eyes. “Don’t worry about it, my boy.” He glanced at Jack; his eyes narrowed. “Leave us,” he said to Steve.
Steve’s mood instantly changed. He went to leave the room. A skip could be seen in his step, and a whistle came from his lips. As soon as the door closed, Tony concentrated on Jack. Externally Jack was a stone; internally Jack was starting to think he screwed up.
“I want you to handle it,” Tony’s voice cracked. “I don’t want the other men to know why or when. You have been a good friend to him. He often talked about how you were the best thing to happen to him.” Tony looked at his desk. “Take him out of town and do it. I want to know only when it is done.” Jack bowed his head as an acknowledgement. He had to; he couldn’t contain his smile any longer.
Two days later, Jack picked up Steve. “Tony wants us to go to Newton to take care of some business. I guess we still have his trust.” Steve sunk into the passenger seat and cried. After letting out all of his emotions, he explained that his tears were due to the relief of still being in Tony’s good graces. Jack just grunted and drove. Steve asked Jack if he would be alright with his catching some sleep. He told Jack that he hadn’t slept well since that night. Now that he knew all was well, he felt as if he could sleep a week.
Steve woke to find that they had parked at the local dump. He looked around to find that he was alone in the car. As he stepped out of the car, he stretched and looked around for Jack. He found him sitting on the trunk. Steve walked around looking for whomever they were meeting. Jack held a revolver in his hand.
“Expecting trouble?” Steve asked.
“Nope.” Jack looked at him; his eyes narrowed. “Do you remember when we met?”
“At the bar when Tony told me to take you on,” Steve searched to make sure he had the right answer.
Steve thought again but ended up shrugging his shoulders.
“You beat the crap out of me in my garage.” Steve’s face showed that the memory was returning. “I was just 17 and you and your three friends took me out of my house with hardly anything on and beat me to a pulp.”
“Oh yeah.” Steve smiled. “You’re right. I’m glad we got past that.” Jack did not return the smile. “Oh come on. Look at how well we’ve done together in the last year. No hard feelings, right?” Steve put his hand out. Jack raised his gun and shot Steve right through the left eye. His body fell backwards, twitching. Jack rolled him off the hill into the trash. He stayed to watch as three trucks came in and dumped their loads right where Steve rested for eternity.
“One down. Three idiots and one asshole to go.” Jack got back in his car and drove home.