This story is by Robert Ochart and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I couldn’t stop touching the Glock tucked in my pants. It’s not every day I pointed a lethal object at my privates, especially since I’d only fired it once. But I’d rather risk becoming a eunuch than the alternative. I sipped my Chivas, to calm my nerves, and kept my eyes on the mirror behind the bar.
“I don’t want any trouble.” said the bartender as he wiped peanut shells off the countertop.
“You’ve sat there for the last hour like you’re expecting someone, and you keep touching whatever you have under your shirt.”
But I didn’t know if that was true. I’d ducked into the bar to flush out my pursuer and who knows what would happen if he showed up?
“We’re a cop bar.”
“The pictures of you posing with police officers were a dead giveaway. I worked for Treasury. IRS.”
“You don’t look like an accountant.”
“I worked collections.”
“Meet any crooks?”
“Mainly honest people involved in crappy situations.”
What about the good people who paid for their mistakes? The ones I bullied. Are they the ones following me? Or is it the Cubans?
The kid leaned on the bar. “What was your toughest case?”
They always wanted to hear the war stories.
I usually used the confidentiality clause to avoid answering questions, but his were innocent.
“I seized a widow’s house, and she threatened to kill herself.”
“Did she do it?”
I took a sip and let the drink coat my scratchy throat. “Not sure.”
The kid’s eyes opened wide. “What happened?”
“It’s a long story and you don’t have the time.”
The kid laughed. “You’re the only one here and I’m closing tonight. Don’t mind my cleaning while you talk. I’m Brock.”
We fist-bumped, but I missed handshakes.
You could tell a lot about a man by his handshake.
I tossed two twenties on the bar to pay for my drinks, but he only took one and pushed the other back at me. He then placed a fresh drink on the bar.
As I thanked my new friend for the free drink, the hairs on my arms rose when a gust of warm air blew by as a gentleman in his late fifties, early sixties, entered the bar. He was wiry, but solid, and the height marker by the front door showed he was six feet tall. He wore chocolate brown pants and matching Italian leather sitting shoes, topped off with a beige guayabera. The stranger surveyed the bar and nodded at me before sitting on the stool to my right. He ordered an Absolut neat and lit a cigar.
Why next to me and not at the other end of the bar? Is he the one?
The stranger stared at me with one blue eye and one brown one. I felt the weight of his stare, as if he tried to intimidate me, but I had my security blanket in my pants. I stared back, and he smiled through the smoke, showcasing a gold tooth in the middle of his perfect white teeth.
Goldy’s arrival had interrupted the conversation, so he raised his glass, encouraging me to continue. But I almost spit out my drink when I noticed the crossed black roses tattooed on the back of his left hand; the same tattoo worn by assassins in the Cuban gang, Las Rosas Negras. Before he lowered his glass, I counted six thorns on the stems, with each thorn rumored to represent a kill.
I locked in on his every move and prepared to reach for my Glock. The spicy aroma of the cigar was intoxicating, and while Goldy didn’t say a word, his unmatched eyes bored through me, like he could read my mind.
“You guys know each other? asked Brock.
We both shook our heads. Brock then placed a fresh drink in front of me and tilted his head in my neighbor’s direction, indicating Goldy ordered the drink. The sneaky bastard never spoke, so he must have pointed while ordering. I suspected he wanted to lull me into a false sense of security, but I didn’t want him knowing I was on to him, so I acknowledged his gift with the obligatory head nod.
Brock let out a sigh, and asked, “Are you telling the story?”
Against my better judgment, I proceeded.
“As my partner and I approached the widow’s home, the house looked abandoned with overgrown weeds and dead flowers on both sides of the walkway. ‘You sure you want to do this?’ he asked.”
“It’s not my problem.”
“Sounds like she didn’t have the money to pay. Did she qualify for an installment agreement?” asked Brock.
“She’d ignored demands for payment for months. She only owed eight thousand and owned the house outright. I suggested she borrow against the house.”
“You took her house for eight thousand dollars?”
I sipped my drink and took a deep breath. “That, and I needed a sixth seizure for the day to break the seizure record.”
“Unbelievable. So, this was about a damn record?”
“In my business, that’s how legends are made.”
Brock looked at Goldy. “What do you think?”
Goldy drew on his cigar and shrugged.
Certain Brock would object to the seizure for such a small sum, and my reasons for doing it; not my finest moment, I considered ending the story, but free drinks are free drinks. “Should I continue?” I asked.
Brock rolled his eyes and nodded.
“She saw us coming and cracked open the door and stood there with her stringy hair and missing teeth. After I identified myself, she said, ‘You’re the bastard who closed my business. Leave me alone.’”
“Remember what we spoke about last time?”
“‘I said leave me alone!’”
“She tried to close the door, but I wedged my foot in the doorway and pushed my way into the house. She backed away, clutching her bathrobe. The house was poorly lit and had that sour-unwashed-clothes-old-people smell that made me want to puke.”
“‘Please leave me alone,’” she said.
I looked up and saw Brock’s squinty eyes and pursed lips, and I figured that was the end of the free drinks. But Goldy had a smirk plastered on his face as if he had experienced tough times. I sipped my drink and brushed my hand against the Glock, confirming its presence.
“Are you prepared to pay the eight thousand dollars? I asked.”
“‘I’m not borrowing the money.’”
“Did you discuss the situation with your attorney?”
“‘I’m not talking to him.’”
“She left me no choice, so I taped a Notice of Seizure to her front door and handed her the seizure documents. I advised her to speak with her attorney.”
“‘You can’t do that,’ she said. ‘My husband and I have lived here for forty-two years. This is our home. We don’t have anywhere to go.’”
“She talked about her husband as if he were in the next room, forgetting he had died. I’ll admit, I took no pleasure in telling her I would sell the house at auction, but that was my job.”
“She asked, ‘What if I sign the house over to the IRS and you keep it when I die?’”
“Wouldn’t that work?” asked Brock.
“The IRS won’t wait to get paid if the taxpayer has enough equity to satisfy the liability at once, and I told her as much.”
“That’s why everyone hates the IRS,” said Brock, as he threw a cloth wipe under the bar.
“I wanted to get out of there as fast as possible, but she asked me to follow her to the kitchen. She walked to the refrigerator and opened the door. I looked inside and a chill ran down my back as I stared at the only item in the fridge.”
“‘IRS closed our business. Now you’re taking our home.’ She contorted her face, exposing seventy-five years of wrinkles and screeched, ‘I will kill myself and make sure everyone knows it was because of you!’”
“That evening after work, I left three bags of groceries on her front porch and took off before she saw me. Her attorney left a voice mail two weeks later informing me she had died.”
“Was the record worth it? Did she kill herself?” asked Brock.
I stared at Goldy and said, “Don’t know. Court records show she quitclaimed the house to her Cuban attorney before she died.”
“Sounds shady,” said Brock.
Goldy glared at me, got up, and went to the restroom.
“He looked pissed. Who is he?”
“I’ve got to go.”
“Wait. What was in the fridge?”
“You’ll never guess.”
“It can be anything.”
I gulped the last of my drink, wiped the sweat from my face, and hightailed it out the bar before the assassin returned.