Part 2 of Clayton Cobb’s story. -Enjoy!
A pleasing click rang through the air. The door opened and revealed the apartment behind. Clayton stepped into the apartment, inhaled sharply and took in the musky smell. Bruno said it hadn’t been used for a while, but the place seemed solid.
A simple wooden desk sat in the hallway, he had been warned about that. He slipped his hand underneath and felt the cool steel of a pistol. Insurance in case trouble showed.
Clayton hated guns, but found himself glad to have it there. If someone knew he stayed in the flat, it would be the only thing that kept him alive.
The phone on the desk rang abruptly, startling Clayton. His head cracked against the sturdy desk as he stood. The phone rang a second time.
He scooped up the receiver and pinched his lips together tightly.
“Operator here, I have a call from a Mr. Bruneli. Is this a Mr. Cobb?”
“Yeah.” Clayton licked his lips. “I’ll take it, put him through.”
“Please hold.” The operator’s voice dwindled a series of clicks.
Clayton tensed, he hadn’t even settled in yet and Brunelli had already called? For work?
“Clayton.” The raspy voice on the other end had been unmistakable. Ronald Brunelli, the guy who effectively owned him until Clayton had done enough work to justify laundering his money for him. “I have a favor to ask.”
“Sure Ronnie. For you, anything.” Clayton forced a smile. These mob types made his skin prickle, Clayton had to keep it friendly and casual but at the same time maintain respect.
“It’s a little thing. One of the shops down the street from your flat is behind on payment. I just need you to offer a friendly reminder.” Ronnie paused. “…a friendly reminder.”
“Right. People forget things I get it.” Clayton nodded, forgetting it had been a phone conversation. Usually this sort of thing happened in person. No need to get firm yet right? I’m just giving em’ a warning right?”
“A third warning.” Ronnie said flatly.
“Oh.” Clayton stiffened. A broken limb then… a few teeth… something like that. “Yeah. I got it. Loud and clear.”
“Good. Once it’s done I’ll send you half the rubes. For that prize fight you won a few weeks back. Good hits on that one, did us proud,” Ronnie said.
“Yeah. Thanks.” Clayton flinched at the click of the phone. Ronnie had hung up.
Clayton hung up the phone slow and deliberate. Day one, and they were expecting this. He’d have rather gone five rounds with a pro boxer than dive in this early. He wiped his mouth, dry from stress and the stale air.
He made a quick inspection of the apartment, clean, furnished, but he’d have to set up sheets and check the mattress for traps. Mob types didn’t take kind to squatters and set them up to make sure who settled in were supposed to be there.
Clayton hadn’t been warned the first time he took a bed from the mob and ended up with a nail in the back from it. A quick inspection netted some broken glass. It only took a few minutes to pluck out the shards with his switchblade. He flipped the mattress for good measure. As soon as he got his hands on some cash, he’d buy a new one.
The rest of the house had been clean. No weapons, no drugs, only a bloodstain under a night table. Better than his old apartment in the slums actually. Place had a view too. Ten stories up and a ladies boutique across the way. Plenty of nice looking dames in and out in the three minutes he watched. Once summer hit, this would be the place to be.
Clayton didn’t plan on sticking around that long though. The real fights were up north. That’s where he could fight some negroes. Southern sentiments aside, the colored population had real talent in music and scrapping alike.
Clayton slipped out of his apartment after putting on a sleeveless shirt. He had to shake the unfortunate slobs up first, something he had no qualms doing. He had been in the best shape for this sort of work, lifting more than fighting. Brute force less than finesse. Hell, he could do work and the warehouse district and get paid at the same time.
Might be worth doing that since I’m not on the lam. Yet.
The joint was just down the road. Clayton knew it as soon as he laid eyes on it. The owner fell to hard times and took out a loan. A common song from the everyman.
“Hey.” Clayton stepped in, eyeing the bare shelves. Some sort of curio shop.
“Hello sir… can I help you?” A weasel of china man rubbed his hands nervously.
“Yeah. Mr. Brunelli sent me.” Clayton frowned pointedly. “For this dump? I think he’s sent me for the right reasons.”
“Ah.. I see…” The man shrunk back. “I have his money… here actually….”
Clayton stepped closer, he knew this dance too well. Three warnings? He hadn’t been sent as a bill collector. “All right. Hand it over.”
“It’s right…. here!” The man behind the counter drew out a street sweeper. A real nice piece. Drum barrel, expensive looking. Clayton’s hands went up. He stayed calm. Not the first time had a gun pointed at him.
“Hey now. Nothing hasty. I’m not here to collect. I’m here to talk.” Clayton calmly slipped off his hat and coat. The muscle shirt under it had the desired effect. No way he could hide a piece under that thing.
“But you said…” The man pointed the gun again, finger braced on the trigger.
“Yeah. I said I’m here from Brunelli. But He didn’t say nothing about me collecting payment. I think he wanted me to talk too ya. Weigh your options.” Clayton cracked his knuckles quietly. Three steps, no, four…
“I see. W…well you can tell Brunelli I’m no longer in need of his services. Mr. Toscani is watching over this shop now.”
Toscani? Ronnie would want to hear this. But more than that…
“Oh. See that’s a problem.” Clayton winced. “I’ve been sent here to beat some sense into you. And here I find it’s the worst case scenario.”
“What?!” The man aimed again.
“Yeah. See. I wasn’t expectin’ to get shot over this… and now I know you’re a reasonable man and all. You wouldn’t aim a dangerous weapon at me. Sides… you left the polishin’ rod in your barrel.”
Panic hit the man’s eyes, he reached forward to verify.
A bluff. All the time Clayton needed. Three wide steps, a juke to the left, a roll and is right straight went flying. The shop owner folded like a bad hand, head over feet and slammed into a nearby shelf. His sweeper clattered uselessly to the ground with a heavy clank.
Didn’t fire… Clayton glanced down at the gun, likely the safety had still been engaged
Clayton stood and shook his hand. Not a bruise or scratch, but did it more for effect.
“Just here to talk.” Clayton smirked. “But if you have the money, I won’t complain about that either.”
The owner had been knocked out like a light. His face ruined by the punch, with at least two shattered teeth. Clayton wound up and kicked him for good measure. A cracked rib would go nicely with it. More than enough for Ronnie.
Clayton mashed the no sale button on the ancient looking register and found a couple of bills. Chump change, that went in the pocket. Clayton patted down the owner and found a key. Ended up opening a safe in the back with a hundred or so. He had to move fast, or the cops would start snooping. If what the owner said rang true… the cops were the least of his worries.
Right in the middle of a war. Golden.
Clayton threw on his coat, worked his way out of the shop, and waltzed out into the streets outside. Just in time to run into a fine looking dame four steps away.
“Hey you alright there fella?” she spoke placing a bold hand in the center of his chest.
“Me? Yeah. Why?” Clayton grinned. He wasn’t much for the current fashions, but he knew a dish when he saw one.
“You’re hand is bleeding.” She grabbed him by the hand and gave it a shake.
“Oh? This? No worries doll. This ain’t my blood.” Clayton flicked his hand free from her grip.
“A tough guy huh?” She pursed her lips at him. “Is this tough guy busy today?”
“A little…” Clayton felt conscious of the bulge of bills in his jacket. “How about you… miss…”
“Shirley.” She grinned and gave the street a cordial glance.
“Clayton.” He relaxed a bit. “Say, I’m in a bit of a hurry but, what say we catch a drink later?”
“Somethin’ tells me you aren’t talking about punch fella,” Shirley said, “You ain’t doin’ anything improper are you?”
“Maybe…” Clayton smirked. “Tell you what. You meet me at the lady shop down the street, an hour before it closes. We can… talk more then.”
“Sounds like a date.” Shirley gave him a pat on the wrist. “Try to clean up a little first, yeah?”
Clayton gave her a nod and slipped his hand in his pocket. He stepped away quick and quiet. He could feel her gaze at least five steps away, but calmed when he heard her footsteps resume.
I should probably blow her off. Never mix work and pleasure Clay…
Dropping the money off had been easy. He played it safe and told the fence about the pocket change. He had been told to keep it. Clayton took a walk around the block before settling back into his place. No one followed him, he felt sure of it.
When he opened the door to his flat, he nearly tripped on a package that had been pushed through the mail slot. In black ink “Welcome to the Family.” stared back at him.
Ronnie knew all to well. This had been a test of loyalty, one he hoped he had passed.