Conspiracy that goes to the top?
Robbery gone wrong?
All in a day’s work…
by Aaron Frale
Genre: Comedy Thriller
death? Conspiracy that goes to the top? Robbery gone wrong? All in a
F hired me to do a straightforward job, but there was a slight snag in the operation when what I stole was stolen from me. Three goons showed up at my door to not so politely tell me that I have 24 hours to deliver F’s goods or my body will never be recovered.
The real tragedy is that I haven't had my morning coffee...
Those punks better watch their back. Nothing comes between me and my coffee.
Three irritable looking goons stood in the hall outside my front door. I was tempted to go ahead and fix my sorely needed cup of coffee, but they’d force their way inside without a second thought as to the property damage they would cause in the process. My last three apartments didn’t give me my security deposit back. A check in the mail would be really nice for a change, so I opened the door.
The stooge in the middle was big. He probably bench-pressed pro-wrestlers and chewed rawhide bones. He wore an equally large suit that could be used to keep a nest of orphans warm on a cold winter night (1). I’m going to call the giant hunk of man-meat Bruno. Names are my thing. Everything has got to have a name. My Chemex coffee maker is Chase. My stove, Maude, and my toaster, Smite.
The thug in the back was the quiet one with an icy stare. Gutter punk meets godfather, and most likely non-binary, which means I should use they/them instead of she/he because it would be a shame to die for silly reasons like pronoun usage. They probably favored battle moves like punch, kick or slice. Yeah, Slice. They will henceforth be known as Slice.
The one in front was a little guy with curly brown hair, thinned out at the top on its way to bald. He had the leather jacket, button-up shirt, and gold chain combo that screamed toxic masculinity. I think it’s safe to assume that the biggest insult one could devise for such a man was claiming they have girl parts where there are boy parts, so his name had to be Jenny.
“Ladies, gentlemen, and non-binaries,” I proclaimed, while darting my eyes in the appropriate direction as I said each word. “Can I interest you in a cup of joe? I have a subscription service to top-of-the-line coffee, and let me tell you, it’s worth every penny.”
The odd squad signaled their desire not to partake in my offer when Bruno grabbed me by the neck and dragged me through my apartment toward the balcony, where he flipped me over and dangled me from my twenty-fourth-floor apartment with his hands gripped around my ankles. It was their loss. You haven’t lived until you’ve explored the bliss of independent roasters from across the world provided for a low monthly rate.
“Ferrazzuolo thinks you’re holding out,” Jenny said, as he leaned over the railing.
“Have you ever seen such a sunrise?!” I exclaimed. It was particularly stunning this morning. The sun peeked over the Atlantic, and the red hues stretched out like a postcard. The windows of the city glistened from the raw beauty of nature—whitecaps on the water.
The moment was even more special because I was seldom awake for it. My apartment costs about a third more for an ocean view, and I rarely take advantage of it. I should drink my coffee on the porch more often. New resolution – I’m going to drink more coffee on the balcony and enjoy a sunrise every now and then.
“I don’t think you understand your predicament here,” Jenny said. I could tell I was already getting under his skin. I have a tendency to do that to people. It’s why I don’t have any roommates, which has its advantages. Imagine if I shared the place with Frank, a graduate student in history or women studies, and he strolled out of bed and rubbed the sleep from his eyes while he went to brew a cup with Chase.
Which, of course, would be a source of endless irritation for me. Not because he would be drinking my fancy brew, since I’m what you'd call an excellent coffee evangelist. If I can leave the world a better place when I shuffle off this mortal coil, it would be to have everyone experience what I do daily with my roasted heaven. The reason Frank would end up pissing me off would be because he wouldn’t use the special brush made to scrub out the gold-plated filter I bought for Chase.
Sure, he’d rinse it off, but then there would be microscopic bits of stale grounds in the holes. If you don’t think it makes a difference, I will emphatically tell you that it most certainly does. Would you mix that wine sitting in your fridge that’s practically turned to vinegar with a fresh bottle? NO! Use the scrub brush, Frank! Use the scrub brush.
Oh, and I guess it’d also be pretty weird for him to see me dangled from our balcony by Bruno, a situation desperately in need of a solution. My legs were going numb from those cast-iron hands. “If Bruno would put me down, I can tell you about F’s delivery.” I know, F, not very creative, but what can you do with Ferrazzuolo? Z? Evokes zombies to me. Lo? Jay Lo, come on, too easy. Farrah? Like Farrah Fawcett? That would get confusing. F was a mob boss who employed more powerful women than any other mafia in the city. There is a very high chance that there are several Farrah’s under F’s employ.
“You really don’t get it, do you?” Jenny leaned in close to my face. “The time for talk is over. Ferrazzuolo wants you to hand it over.”
“I am fully aware of all twenty-four floors of my situation,” I said. “I also know that F won’t get anything if my brains are splattered on the pavement.”
“You bring up a fair point,” Jenny said, and nodded to Bruno, who lifted me back into the safety of the apartment. The beat stick held me down on my own IKEA chair while Jenny punched me in the kisser a few times. I could feel pins and needles in my legs, as they had fallen asleep during my brief cordless bungee jumping experience. Meanwhile, Slice just stood there with a blank expression between the front door and the goons bloodying my face. That non-binary really had a good death stare.
After my visage was a combination of Sylvester Stallone at the end of every Rocky movie and that kid from Cobra Kai, I couldn’t contain myself anymore and laughed.
“Okay, okay,” I could barely get out between guffaws. “I'll, haha! I'll do it. Hehe! Oh, my god."
"What is this guy's problem?" Jenny said to no one in particular, and wound up for another swing.
I was able to regain composure and decided to enlighten my sadist friends about my medical condition, which ultimately was the root of my career path, and the reason why people like the trio today had a tendency to ruin my mornings. "I suffer from a rare offshoot of algolagnia."
"Sadomasochism. You know...whips, chains. Did you know that my Dominatrix bill is more than my rent? And I've got an Oceanside view!"
"Let's cut off his finger," Jenny said, and Slice ejected a blade from their sleeve. Slice was so freaking cool!
"It’s not a sexual thing,” I said, as Bruno pulled my hand out, and Slice drew blood from my pinky. “It’s just a miswiring in my brain. Pain, to me, is more like going to a funny movie. You know, the kind where you can’t stop laughing.”
Slice dug deeper. I couldn’t believe it was really happening – Slice was slicing!
“Did you ever see Austin Powers, Airplane, Monty Python, Mel Brooks? Haha. If I experience too much pain, hehe, it’s like going to see one of those movies. Haha! Drunk…hoho! And high…with your fratboy friends. Hahahahaha—”
The pinky came off. I lost it with laughter. Waves of intense joy spread from the bloody stub of my finger and coursed to my brain. My gut spasmed with bellowing surges of bliss, and it was so infectious that even Bruno cracked a smile. It was all the opening I needed. Hopefully, the circulation was returning to my feet.
Bruno’s momentary lapse on my grip was enough for me to slip my hand free and pull the gun he had holstered under his arm in his jacket. I held it up to his chin and fired, spraying brain matter on my Henri Matisse Woman with a Hat reproduction, which was a shame because there was a story behind that forgery. Not that I ever had visitors who weren’t trying to kill me.
Before Jenny could pull his gun halfway out, I shot him in the man parts, which I suppose with some reconstructive surgery could now officially be lady parts. I’d even given him a transgender name. You’re welcome, Jenny. Toxic masculinity is so pre-MeToo anyway. Your time is over, buddy. Accept it.
Oh, my god, that felt good. Slice had stuffed the blade used on my pinky into my gut, and it was hilarious. I jumped from my chair, ready for a fistfight that would probably end up breaking Chase yet somehow leaving Smite without a scratch, when my legs gave out. A fresh wave of pins and needles rushed through them as the pinched nerves in my legs were still recovering.
The more pressing problem was that Slice had retrieved their blade and stomped on my hand until I let go of the gun. They kicked the firearm to the side of the room and knelt on my back with the bloodied weapon tickling my neck. Even though it felt like a cutesy puppy sniffing my skin, I knew that too much pleasure for a person like me could literally kill me.
I’m happy that I don’t have a particularly hedonistic personality. Otherwise, I would have skewered myself for fun long before Slice came into the picture. There was an awkward moment of silence between us where the only thing that could be heard was Jenny, lamenting the loss of his defining characteristic.
Then, after that moment, Slice held a phone up to my ear.
“Where’s my delivery?!” a voice came over from the other end. You’d think it was the husky goombah voice of a man whose entire weight came from consuming an endless supply of cannolis. Wait…was I just fat-shaming? Or worse, Italian-shaming? Is it okay to caricature the physical appearance and ethnic identity of mob bosses who have produced more cement shoes than Nike has made sneakers? Do criminal mob bosses deserve the same decency as my theoretical roommate, Frank? I visualize Frank as being plus-sized and Italian and not afraid of bathing suits because it’s not the body one is given, but how one struts it that counts.
I still don’t forgive Frank for not scrubbing out the coffee filter. Whoa! My neck really tickles.
“F. How are you? You sound like you are looking good. Slice, was the boss still a knockout the last time you were there? Are you getting enough sleep? I know that sleep was never your thing. Burning the candle at both ends. Did you know that getting enough sleep is essential for better job performance? Bwahahaha! Sorry, didn’t mean to laugh. That was a knee digging into my back.”
“You better have my delivery. I’m giving you twenty-four hours,” F demanded. I think it’s imperative to mention here that F was not a man at all, but a woman and my ex-girlfriend. The point I was trying to make earlier before I was derailed by Frank strutting around the beach in a bathing suit, was that you’d expect F to be a man who had eaten his fair share of pasta, when in reality, F was a woman who goes on juice cleanses and yoga retreats.
Seriously, the next time you are at a yoga retreat in the Colorado Rockies that costs as much as an economy car, look around at the men and women around you. Sure, some will be Steven bankers and Suzy lawyers, Debbie debutantes with nothing better to do than spend their parents’ money, even a guy named Chuck from the pork rind processing plant who won the trip on The Price is Right (2).
But there will be that one – you don’t know what she does. She’s quiet, maybe even stoic, but there is something in her eyes like she can see into the very recesses of your soul and dredge out secrets you are hiding even from yourself.
But you dare not say anything because you just know that people who cross her end up in the ground or worse. So, you continue your Sun Salutation, and every time you say “Namaste”, you are begging your deity that you never end up on the wrong side of her because you're sure she has swallowed more people whole than Cthulhu.
Oh, and with impeccable taste in clothes. You really want to ask her where she got her yoga pants, but you’re kinda scared to do it.
That’s F. When F tells you that you better have her delivery in twenty-four hours, she really means it.
“How about I give you a full refund on my services? In fact, I’ll pay you triple what you paid me, and I’ll even pay Bruno’s life insurance benefit. He did have life insurance, right? It’s ludicrous not to in this profession,” I offered feebly.
“I don’t want your money. I want what I paid you to get.” She predictably didn’t budge, which was the reason we broke up. We were always doing what she wanted to do: a charity event at City Hall, ribbon-cutting ceremonies at a new school, and boiling a Red Lobster cook named Tony alive when the sacks from his restaurant contained flour and not pure, uncut heroin. But would she even consider dressing up like Scarlet Johansson to my Paul Rudd while we went to the midnight release of Avengers: Endgame? No, she was too tired. We can see it on the weekend. I’ve witnessed her torture people for longer than that movie’s run time.
“There’s a slight problem with that,” I said. “I was robbed. I know, ironic. You can laugh it up. A thief, getting robbed. Only in a story.”
“I’m not laughing.”
“You will be when you hear the tale.”
“I don’t want to hear it. I want my delivery. You have twenty-four hours.”
“What’s that? You’re breaking up! The service in my apartment is terrible. I heard three weeks.”
“Twenty-four hours.” The line went dead.
The pressure on my neck loosened, and while I was sitting up, I said to Slice, “Hey, I don’t suppose you know anyone who could forge a passport? I’d ask F, but you know how that’d go. The knucklehead would think I’m trying to skip town or something. Really, it’s just that I got a trip to South America planned in a few weeks, and the passport office takes forever. Doesn’t Homeland Security know that the flights are nonrefundable?”
That last part was true. I was planning to take a little break from my career and go on a coffee tour of South America. It was the best idea I ever had, short of the time I bilked that auction house that defrauded their customers with forged paintings. Man, I am going to miss Woman with a Hat. She’s one of the few things in life I haven’t named. I mean, if Matisse couldn’t name her, who am I to provide her with one?
Slice didn’t even acknowledge me. They took their blade and thrust it into Jenny’s temple, and the whimpering was replaced with silence. That was hardcore. Slice has now been upgraded to Thrust. I also noticed that Thrust had an ornate gold box-shaped locket that had come out of their shirt when they had bent over to end Jenny’s death serenade.
“Nice locket,” I said.
The non-binary godfather gutter punk hitman stuffed the trinket back into their shirt and left my apartment without so much as a glance in my direction. I salute you, Thrust, for being so scary you don’t need any words. The ones you've got to be worried about are the ones who don’t say a thing. That’s why I always come off as non-threatening. I talk a lot. I mean, a lot. A lot.
There was the time the Bite Squad driver was stuck at my door.
“Do you get to keep that delivery fee? Or at least some of it? I mean, what if some jerk stiffs you for the tip? Did you just drive all the way to someone’s house for no money? Does that little icon on the map really show you where you are? Do people ever give you driving advice? Like, explain a better way to get to their house? I’m mean, you're probably only going to see them once in your life, so who cares what route you took? I figure you are only following the directions provided to you by the app.”
Or that time I had failed to pick up a girl at a hotel bar.
“You know, I’m thinking about writing a book. My life is really like a book. There was this one time I was at this auction house….”
Or, finally, when I had spoken with my next door neighbor, Abuela Martinez.
“Yes, ma'am, I’d love some fresh tortillas. I can smell them when I’m coming down the hall.”
“Oh, mijo,” she had said. “You can have some anytime. You don’t need to help my grandson take a couch up twenty-four flights of stairs to get a fresh meal. Don’t you think I don’t notice all those Bite Squad drivers coming to your door? You need some real food. You know, I taught my granddaughter everything she knows about cooking. She’s a lawyer, too busy for men. You are always so busy with all that consultant work, but you have to carve out time for family. You are not getting any younger, and trust me, I’ve had seven children. It’s much easier when you are younger.”
Okay, so maybe some people can outtalk me. Still, the point is that I am so good with words that I really should have been in Abuela Martinez’s granddaughter’s cohort at law school, but then there is that whole feeling-pain-as-if-it-were-pleasure thing. It made me ideal for an occupation where people like F are pretty good bosses when they aren’t trying to kill you.
She pays well above the going rate to everyone in her employ. Her loyalty rewards are better than what the Pope would get at the Vatican gift shop. She respects and values her underlings' opinions, and enacts swift, brutal revenge on anyone who double-crosses her. She was also the most effortless breakup that I’ve ever had.
I literally had told her that I thought we needed to go our separate ways because I view relationships more like a partnership. I was giving way more than I was receiving. Her response was, “Okay, if that’s how you feel, I’ll have my associate deliver your toothbrush in the morning.”
To which I had responded, “I don’t really need the toothbrush. I buy them at Costco. There are plenty in the package. But I am willing to talk about the break up if you need any more clarity.”
“Nope. Seems like you made your point perfectly. Now about that auction house job….”
Literally, every boss I’ve ever had before her was that Italian pasta-guzzling stereotype. I’ve worked for the Russo, Regio, Romano, Rizzo, Rossi, Reviello, Ricciolino, Rossetti, Rossetto, Rua and Rusiello crime families, and that’s just the letter R. Please don’t make me do the letter M. The point is that I have talents. I’m the guy that certain people know has those talents, so I collect a steady paycheck. Sure, every so often, I’m going to have to forfeit my deposit, buy bulk items at Costco, get a new apartment, change my name, or lose a pinky, but overall, I like my life. I work my own hours. Get highly paid contract work. I have more money stashed away in different bank accounts than a college campus of squirrels burying discarded burritos for the winter.
Who cares about the pinky anyway? It’s the most overrated appendage. It’s not like I’m going to have tea with the Queen any time soon. Speaking of which, I should probably put that thing on ice. I knew that Playmate cooler (3) was going to be good for something beyond when I had to disguise myself as a tailgater so I could steal back the Reviello family’s prized Super Bowl championship ring.
24 hours advanced notice of being murdered is more than most people got, glass half full?
Do orphans nest? Or do they form pickpocket gangs?
Can you believe that’s still on the air?
I named the cooler Wyoming because I figured one day it would be full of beers in the back of a pickup truck in a dry riverbed.
Aaron Frale writes Science Fiction, Horror, and Fantasy usually with a comedic twist. Time Burrito is the audience favorite. He also hosts the podcast Aaron’s Horror Show and screams and plays guitar for the prog/metal band Spiral. He lives with his wife, his son, and two cats in the mountains of Montana.