This piece is by Elizabeth Nettleton.
“Are you ready to laugh?”
An amplifier screeched in response, and the comedian cleared his throat. Curly brown hair stuck to the sweat that glistened across his forehead. “I said, are you ready to laugh?”
A woman rattled the ice cubes in her glass and sighed. “Yes, we’re ready to laugh!” she called out.
The comedian bobbed his head in her direction and twirled on the spot. His shoes slid out from beneath him, and he barely avoided spilling his beer as he regained his balance.
“Right. Um, well, my name is Andy, and I’ll be your comedian tonight. We’re gonna have a lot of fun. Um…”
“Wait, that’s Andy? Our Andy?” Roy hissed.
Billy frowned. “I guess so. All Uncle Mike said is that his name is Andy.”
Roy watched Andy fumble with the microphone cord. “He’s a bit…is he really our guy?”
“As I said before,” Billy said, biting down on his lip until his annoyance became pain, “all I know is that his name is Andy.” And that he doesn’t like to get his hands dirty, he added to himself.
Andy’s set was short, much to Billy’s relief. He never really understood the appeal of comedy shows, and Roy was always laughing a little bit too late, and a little bit too loudly. As the stage lights dimmed, Billy nudged his brother.
“He wasn’t all that bad, not really,” Roy said as he rose from his seat. Billy shrugged and pushed Roy towards the steps where Andy was blotting his forehead with a towel.
“Hey, man! Great show!” Roy said.
Andy smiled. “Thanks, guys! Tough crowd though, eh? They really need to do a two-drink minimum here or something. Sober people don’t make a good audience.”
Billy glanced at the pile of empty shot glasses on the table beside him but decided against commenting. Andy licked the foam from his lips. “So yeah, thanks again. Um, can I help you guys find something?”
“I’m Billy, and this is Roy.”
“Nice to meet you.”
“No,” Roy said, running a hand through his dirty hair. “He’s Billy, and I’m Roy.”
“No!” Billy said. He clenched his jaw. The few remaining patrons had huddled together around the greasy bar, sipping whiskey through missing teeth. This place is as bleak as it gets, he thought. The sooner we’re out of here, the better.
“We have an…appointment,” Roy said.
“Oh, Jerry and Anthony are away tonight, sorry. Some business trip upstate, I think.”
The vein in Roy’s neck began to throb. “We know. We’re here to see you. We’ve come to fix the safe.” He forced an exaggerated wink.
Andy’s eyes bounced between the two men. “Oh, okay. Yeah, just follow me.”
He led Billy and Roy to a faded wooden door behind the stage. It opened for them with a loud creak.
“The safe is in the bottom drawer,” Andy said, pointing at the desk. He pulled a set of keys from his jacket, and Roy accepted them eagerly.
“How much do you reckon is in there? A thou?” Roy whispered to Billy as they crouched by the drawer.
Billy grinned. “Maybe. I’ve got a good feeling about this.”
Roy slipped a key into the lock and pulled the drawer open. He ran his hand along the cool steel box inside, cocking his head slightly when it moved. “It’s not bolted down,” he said.
“No, this is good. Saves us some time.” Roy gestured at Andy. “Do you have a bag we can put this in? Ours isn’t big enough.”
“Oh yeah, um…” Andy’s gaze fell on one of the cracked leather bags leaning against the desk. “That one should be OK. Try that.”
Billy grabbed the bag and threw the safe inside. Its corners nestled awkwardly against the stiff leather. “You comin’ with us?”
“Yeah, that’s fine with me. I can return the safe when you’re done,” Andy said.
They wandered out of the club and along a rain-drenched sidewalk until they reached Billy and Roy’s apartment.
“Is this your office?” Andy asked. His brow knotted as he took in the peeling paint and broken bricks.
Billy barked out a laugh. “I guess you could call it that for tonight.”
Roy chuckled and directed Andy into the living room. “Make yourself comfortable, man. This should only take a second.”
Andy took a seat and Roy eased the safe out of the bag. He pulled the set of keys out of his pocket and tried each one in the lock, whooping quietly when a small silver key finally popped the door open. “Here we go, guys,” he murmured. He peered inside and was silent for a moment. “Uh, Billy…” he said, his voice low.
“What is it?” Billy said. He pushed Roy aside and felt his mouth go dry.
The safe was filled with stacks of hundred-dollar bills.
“Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?” Roy said. He pulled out one of the bundles and ran a finger through the notes. Each bill was crisp and clean, unmarked except for the fingerprints he now left on them.
“I think we need to toast this one!” Billy declared. He went to the kitchen and returned with a bottle of whiskey. The brothers poured shots down their throats until they were dancing around the money, singing a song neither of them knew.
“OK, OK, time to get serious now,” Roy said, his cheeks flushed.
“Yeah, guys” Andy said. “It’s fun to goof around, but you’d better put that back and start fixing the safe.”
“What?” Roy asked. He covered a hiccup with his hand.
“Don’t worry, Andy,” Billy said, thumbing through a stack. “We’ll give you the safe as soon as we’ve taken our share.”
“Wait, I thought you were just going to fix it,” Andy said. He raised his hands, alarmed.
Billy froze. “What did you say?”
“Um, are you robbing us?”
“Please tell me you’re joking. The comedian is just joking,” Billy said.
“Your name is Andy, right?” Roy asked slowly.
Andy bit his lip. “Well, yes, but there’s…um, the bartender is also named…named Andy…”
Roy stood up, knocking over the tower of money he had made. “Alright, this is a hostage situation. We’re taking you hostage.”
Billy lurched forward and grabbed Andy’s arms. Andy flailed wildly.
“No! I’m making a citizen’s arrest!” Andy twisted his body and held onto Billy’s wrists. The men stared at each other.
“Um, you have the right to remain silent,” Andy said.
“I already invoked that right while you were doing your set,” Billy shot back.
Hurt flashed across Andy’s face. “Ouch.”
“Yeah man, that was too far,” Roy said. “You were really good up there, Andy. I couldn’t do that.”
“Thanks,” Andy said. He tightened his grip and pretended not to notice Billy’s face twisting in pain
“Anyway, we, uh, we have another problem,” Roy said. He gnawed on one of his fingernails.
“What is it?” Billy asked.
“The money…there’s more in here than we anticipated. A lot more.”
“How much more?”
“Fifty-five thousand dollars.”
“Oh no. No, no, no, no,” Billy groaned.
“What? Aren’t you guys thieves? Isn’t more money a good thing?” Andy asked. He let go of Billy’s wrists and rubbed his own.
“In New York, if you steal over fifty thousand dollars, your crime becomes grand larceny,” Billy said. His voice dropped to a whisper. “In the second degree.”
Roy carefully placed the money onto the coffee table and backed away. “Why does your club have that much money in the office?”
“How do I know? I barely work there! I show up every now and then, smile at the cameras…the cameras.” Andy’s face paled. “The club, it’s full of cameras. They saw me taking you to the safe. They saw me leaving with you.” He bent over his knees and began to hyperventilate.
“Why would a run-down comedy club have fifty thousand dollars in a removeable safe and cameras everywhere?” Billy asked.
“It’s the mob,” Roy said. He clutched at his chest. “They’re gonna get us now. They’ve seen us, and they’re gonna get us.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. That’s a big leap. I mean, the mafia? Maybe these guys are just…laundering money…” Billy said.
“Because that makes them safer,” Roy said sarcastically.
“I don’t mean to play into stereotypes here, but the owners are Italian. At least, I’m pretty sure they are. They have Italian names. Is Jerry an Italian name?” Andy wheezed.
“It’s not not an Italian name,” Roy confirmed.
“They eat spaghetti subs all the time, too. Every day, spaghetti subs,” Andy said.
“I knew it. I knew it! Come on, Billy. The cameras. The money. The subs.” Roy pounded on the wall. “It’s the mafia. What do we do, man?”
“Laurel.” Andy clapped his hands together. “My ex. She works at a cosmetic surgeon’s office. We go in there and get a new face. Fifty grand is more than enough for that.” He pointed at Roy. “Then we go to Panama. Start a new life. From now on, my name is…Thomas.”
“I’ll be David,” Roy declared. He turned to Billy. “You be…why is it so hard to think of names? I know a hundred people, can’t think of a single name.”
“We stay ourselves for now. When we get to Panama, we can become someone else,” Billy said.
“Good. That’s good thinking,” Andy said, pacing the room.
Roy shuddered. “I signed up for a bit of petty theft, that’s all. I never wanted to be a serious criminal. Never!” He paused. “When does the surgery open?”
“I don’t know, eight or something. Can I stay here tonight? Now that we’re in this together, we need to keep each other safe.” Andy stared up at the brothers, his blue eyes glistening with tears.
Billy looked at Roy and sighed.
The pink bubble hung in the air for a few seconds, then burst with a loud pop. The receptionist licked the gum from her chin and resumed chewing, her lips smacking loudly against one another.
Billy curled his hand into a fist. “If she does that one more time…” he muttered. He rubbed his throbbing temples.
“Laurel will be out soon,” the receptionist told them, smiling at her phone.
Andy tapped Billy on the shoulder. “I’m thinking a nose job and cheek fillers should do the trick,” he whispered. “Maybe some lip fillers, too. Can they do that in one day or will we have to come back?”
“I’m pretty sure they can do that in one day. Wasn’t there that celebrity who had, like, twenty surgeries in one day? Who was she? Name’s on the tip of my tongue.” Roy said.
“Well, look who it is,” a shrill voice interrupted. A slim woman with long blonde hair leaned against the door frame.
“Laurel!” Andy said, smiling. “Am I glad to see you.”
“Hmm…” Laurel replied. She cast a disapproving eye over her former boyfriend. “What do you want?”
“We need some surgery, Laurel. It’s urgent. Can you fit us in today?”
Laurel frowned. “What kind of surgery?”
“Um, I was thinking some work on my face…”
“Why? You didn’t seem to care much about your appearance while we were dating. Who are you trying to look better for? Rosie?”
“What? No! Laurel, I haven’t seen Rosie since…”
“Since we were dating?” Giant teardrops fell onto Laurel’s cheeks. The receptionist shook her head slowly at Andy.
“Um, Laurel, perhaps we could speak in private…doctor/patient confidentiality and all that…”
“I ain’t no doctor, and I haven’t decided if you’re gonna be a patient yet,” Laurel said. She crossed her arms over her chest. “And you know what? After what you did with Rosie, I think it’s best if someone’s here to watch out for me. My mom says you’re very manipulative.”
“So tell us, what do you want done, Andy?” the receptionist asked coldly.
Andy’s eyes darted between Laurel and the bag of cash sitting at Roy’s feet.
“Um, you see…we kind of need…um, want…”
“Spit it out,” Laurel said.
“It’s a funny story really…”
“I bet it is.”
Andy’s face flushed beneath a sheen of sweat. A policeman strolled by outside, glancing at the men as he passed.
“We’re here for Botox!” Andy blurted out. “We heard it can help people stop sweating! And I sweat so damn much!”
Laurel narrowed her tear-filled eyes. “Botox?”
“Yeah. Uh, we’re from the club. Andy’s sweat is…distracting the audience. It’s unseemly. And the way it drips onto the floor, it’s becoming a safety hazard,” Billy said. The lie tumbled awkwardly from his mouth, but Roy bobbed his head in enthusiastic agreement.
“That’s disgusting,” Laurel said. She paused. “I guess we could squeeze you in this morning…”
“Thanks, Laurel,” Andy rasped.
Laurel handed Andy some paperwork and motioned for him to follow her into one of the rooms behind the desk. Andy’s eyes pleaded with Billy as he walked past, then he dropped his head to his chest and disappeared behind the door. Billy sat down on one of the metal chairs and fiddled with his shirt cuff.
“This isn’t going well, is it?”
Roy cracked his knuckles. “What if we just…gave it back?” he asked.
“Huh? What are you going on about?”
“What if we just gave the money back? There’s no law that says we have to keep it.”
“I’m pretty sure the law says we’re not allowed to keep it.”
Roy rolled his eyes. “So, we get Andy to open the office for us again and we give it back! The mob can’t come after us if we haven’t actually done anything, right?”
“I’m not sure that’s how it works…”
“Well, it’s a better idea than shipping our shiny, Botoxed selves off to Panama. It’s only been a few hours, maybe they don’t even know it’s gone yet. Didn’t Uncle Mike say the owners weren’t even there last night?”
“Yeah…yeah, actually, he did. What about the security cameras though?”
“Maybe Andy could get rid of those?”
“Huh. Maybe he could.”
“All I’m sayin’ is…we might have panicked a bit prematurely.”
“Panicked a bit drunkenly, you mean.”
The door swung open and Andy emerged, his face pink and swollen. Laurel followed him, almost skipping.
“You did well for someone who hates needles, babe,” she chirped.
“Yeah, yeah. How much do I owe you?” Andy said with a wince. He was about to reach into the bag when Roy slapped his hand away.
“No. We have an idea. Keep your mitts off it.”
Andy’s eyes widened. “You’re kidding. I didn’t even want the stupid Botox!” he hissed. He stared at them in disbelief, then pulled out his wallet.
“That will be five hundred and fifty dollars, babe,” Laurel said. The receptionist smirked.
“I’d better look amazing tomorrow,” Andy growled. He passed his credit card over to Laurel.
“I might be the only criminal who has lost money committing a theft,” Andy said as they placed the safe back into the drawer. The desk’s lock clicked into place, but Roy pulled at the handle just to be sure.
“Couldn’t I have just kept some money to pay for the Botox?”
“No! We’re washing our hands clean of this,” Billy said. “Have you wiped the tapes?”
“Yes,” Andy sighed. “I replaced yesterday and today’s tapes with some from a couple of years ago. No one will notice. Probably.”
“Good. And the real Andy?”
“He thinks we just stood him up. I checked with Uncle Mike,” Roy said.
Billy smiled tightly. “Excellent.”
“Now if you boys will excuse me, I have a set to perform,” Andy said. He steered them to a free table near the bar and took his place on stage.
“Call me crazy, but I think the Botox did make him less sweaty,” Roy said.
Andy wrapped the microphone’s cord around his hand a few times. “Good evening! My name is Andy.”
A couple sitting nearby clapped politely. Andy inclined his head towards them in thanks.
“So,” he began, beaming at the crowd. “Two criminals walked into a comedy club…”
Billy’s hand tightened on his knee. “I’m gonna kill him.”