“Caleb… I had wondering where you went. Have you decided to forfeit your life?” The loanshark had shot Caleb a glare, hoping to shake him.
Caleb shrugged. “I’m an opportunist. I always take the best option, always.”
The loan shark narrowed his eyes, but he didn’t say anything. Whether he convinced himself I was his best option at a better life or not wasn’t important. I wasn’t worried about him converting Caleb. After all, Caleb had a collar on his neck, and if betrayed me his head would explode like a fountain.
The loan shark finally turned back at me. “What is your intention?”
“Intention?” I raised an eyebrow. “Why, naturally, it is to pay back my debt. Have you brought it, Caleb?”
“Yes, boss… I brought everything you asked.” Caleb hastily pulled out an envelope and handed it to me.
As soon as it left his hands, he let out a breath. It wasn’t surprising. Opening up the envelope, I saw $10,000 in cash. It wasn’t the most money Caleb had ever held, but such a thing was a bit different when you have a bomb attached to your neck. Had he lost the money, he could have ended up dead. Given the situation, I trusted that all the money was there.
“What is this?” The loan shark asked suspiciously.
“I assumed you’d give me trouble regarding taking the card, so I went ahead and sent Caleb here to take out the money.”
It was a lot more difficult than it sounded. I had to wire him the money, trusting that he could pick it up and bring it here instantly. I had naturally made sure to sufficiently threaten him as well. As for how I accomplished this in a few moments and a handful of texts, it was because I had relied on Cecelia as well. I allowed her the first taste of the internet, giving her strict instructions on what I needed done. It all worked out since they arrive on time with the money. The other thugs weren’t part of the orders, but they were a nice touch so I only rolled with it.
I started to pull money out of the envelope. My mother’s eyes widened while Hazel’s mouth fell open. The loan shark looked at me counting at money hungrily, greed flashing in his eyes. I carefully counted $6,720 out on the table. The loan shark’s expression was somewhat complicated. On the one hand, it was a payday. On the other hand, he was losing a client that he had hoped to continue to torture. With a sigh, he reached out for the money. I snatched it first, picking it up, and then plopping down the remainder of the $10,000… which if my math didn’t fail me, came out to $3,280.
The man looked at the smaller stack in confusion. “What is this?”
“That’s the $3000 we owed you, plus far more interest than you had any right to take.”
“Th-three thousand…” His face turned into a snarl. “I said the debt was six thousand!”
“Six thousand, seven hundred, and give or take twenty.” I correct, flicking just that mount in my hand. “However, I say the debt was less.”
“You bastard! Do you value your life?”
“That’s the wrong question,” I responded, handing the money over to Caleb. “Here, that’s your cut. You can decide how much your cronies get.”
The loan shark stood up from his chair, but five muscular men immediately surrounded him. Two for each guard. Caleb was shocked at first, but then a smile formed on his face and he pocketed the money. He walked behind the loan shark and put his hands on the man’s shoulders.
“Sit down for a bit. Let’s talk.”
The loan shark’s face turned white, and he had no choice but to sit back down. His eyes drifted back to the pile.
“I know what you’re thinking. You won’t accept this.” I responded, pulling out a chair and sitting down. “But I assure you, you will accept it. These men will make sure that you accept it and don’t cause any trouble, and when they do, there is a lot more where that came from.”
This time, it was the guys that came with Caleb whose eyes flashed with greed and excitement. They cracked their knuckles, particularly motivated with the sudden promise of such a big payday. The loanshark remained silent for another minute, but he finally sighed and reached out for the money. He stopped with his hand hovering over it, and then looked up at me.
“It’s fine, it’s yours. However, once you take it, we’re done here.”
The man’s face turned bitter, and he snatched the money. Slowly standing up with a slightly defeated look, the two men who had joined him had looks of relief. If he had decided to fight, they probably would have run. Bullying women and children were one thing, but they weren’t paid enough to go two on one against similarly built guys.
As they headed to the door, the loan shark stopped, and without looking back, he spoke. “Why?”
“You mean, I could have given you the full amount you wanted, and you would have left just the same, but instead I spent even more?” I stated it blatantly. “Well, it’s arguable whether you would have left my family alone even if we did square the debt away, but that’s ultimately not why I did it.”
He looked back, a little bit of interest. “I don’t get it, it’s all about maximizing money. You did something that cost you more money, not to mention more effort. Even if you pay them, I’m still someone who will never be on your side. At some point, it might bite you in the ass.”
“Some things aren’t about the money,” I responded. “Some things… I value more.”
The loan shark’s face was twisted. He had lived his life chasing after every penny. It wasn’t something he understood. I expected as much. He couldn’t see the big picture. That’s why he was a small-time kind of guy. He would never become more than he was. That’s why I wasn’t afraid of him. I knew what a killer looked like, and he wasn’t one. He was just a bully who gave up when it became convenient. I just made it too inconvenient to stay.
He finally turned away and left the apartment. Bringing his men with him. Caleb had brought out the money and was thumbing through it excitedly. For a guy like him even if he split it with the rest evenly, was still a remarkably good payday. I cleared my throat, and he glanced up at me. His eyes had subtly changed. Before, he had only helped because he feared for his life. He had even scoffed at the idea of me giving him money, claiming he didn’t need my lunch money.
He was probably quite shocked when I suddenly wanted him to deliver ten grand, and this was only the start. He was no looking at me a bit eagerly.
“That doesn’t come free,” I said. “The other things?”
Caleb blinked and then nodded. “R-right! I did as you asked. The papers are also in the envelope!”
“Oh?” I looked inside and there were indeed several papers and even an ID for myself. “Good.”
“Is there anything else, boss?”
“No. I’ll contact you if I need something,” I responded, pulling out one of the sheets of paper and reading it to myself until I realized he was still standing there. “Get lost.”
“Yes, boss!” He all but saluted before grabbing the other men and scattering from our apartment.
The door shut and our apartment returned to normal. I didn’t get far before realizing there were other eyes on me. I put the paper away to look at later, and instead looked up at my mother and Hazel, who were both staring at me with wide eyes. I had done very little to hide things from them at that moment. Then again, there was a lot I had been hiding from them lately. I knew it bothered them, but I also didn’t have any answers that would satisfy them.
“What?” I asked anyway.
“Sweetie,” Mom spoke up, looking uncertain. “Please, tell me the truth. Are you dealing drugs?”
“Mom!” Hazel shot her a horrified look before I could say anything.
“Well… there was that pill he gave me, and now all those rough men. Where did he get the money?”
“Even so…” Hazel responded pouty, although she gave me an uncertain side look.
I was in a rough spot. The only way I would be able to get out of this was to come up with a brilliant explanation. It’d need to explain the odd behavior, the sudden access to money, and the street toughs. I thought long and hard about it before finally opening my mouth and explaining.
“It’s all because of the apprenticeship thing.”
“I… oh…” Mom’s mouth closed.
I coughed, standing up. “Speaking of which, I have some other things to get done.”
“Mom… you don’t need to worry too much. Things are going well. Pretty soon, I might be able to take care of you instead of the other way around.” I leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead before turning to the door.
“Ah!” Hazel cried out, causing me to stop and look back. “Wh-where are you going?”
“I need to see a girl about a dinosaur.”
It seems when I spoke the truth, they were less convinced than when I spoke lies.