Len turns the tin cup restlessly in his hands and slams it to the pavement. It’s been five hours this morning and he has barely enough to buy a cup of coffee, maybe a newspaper.
Hardly the beginnings of another empire.
He scratches at the back of his grimy neck with jagged fingernails cracked and splintering from scraping change off the pavement. Casts baleful eyes up at the pedestrians walking past him.
“Spare a dollar?”
They walk past with nary a glance down at his unwashed Armani overcoat.
To hell with this small change, he thinks.
Approaching him is a guy in a suit. Pinstripes. Glaring yellow tie. Len owned a tie like that once. Never wore it. Couldn’t stomach the color. Now he’s positively salivating at the sight of it. He gets a wild idea. Smooths down his wild hair, spits in his hand and wipes his face as much as he can. Impressions matter.
He hops to his feet and falls in step with the suit, avoiding his notice for the moment thanks to the cell phone glued to the guy’s other hand.
“I’ve got a proposition for you,” he says in his best business school voice.
The suit turns and grimaces. Says nothing. Doesn’t have to.
Len starts to protest, grabbing at the man’s arm. Reflexively, like a squid shooting ink, the man throws a small handful of change at Len: “Just leave me alone!” The coins bounce off Len’s chest and he stares, dumbfounded. Looks at the spinning nickels and dimes tinkling onto the sidewalk. Kicks them away.
Len looks up, catching his reflection in a storefront window. Behind his reflection float rows upon rows of oak-colored liquor in gleaming glass bottles. He steps to the side, craning his neck; a scruffy guy with glasses sits half-reading, half-nodding over a newspaper behind the counter. How much cash does a liquor store keep to hand? A couple hundred, at least, he figures.
He shoves his hand into his pocket, makes a gun with index and thumb, and eases into the store.
He pretends to shop for a minute before approaching the attendant. He steps up airily, looking around, as if he’s about to ask for the time.
“Is that an Armani?” the keeper asks.
Len, flummoxed, mumbles, “yeah.”
“The hell did you get that?”
“It’s mine. I used to run a Fortune 500 Company.” Len can’t help but straightening a little, assuming some of his old posture.
The guy studies him hard, chewing on his lip. Then his eyes light up. “You’re Len Fitcher, CEO of Narrington Pharmaceuticals!”
The man blinks. “Well, shit, man. Do you want a job?”
“Do I want a …” Len is too flabbergasted to finish the sentence. His teeth grind, and his throat tightens in a growl. He thrusts his gun-hand in his pocket toward the man’s face. “I don’t want a goddamn job. I want your fucking money.”
I’ve been working on a handful of shorts — 500 words or fewer apiece, a real challenge for me — for the past several weeks in lieu of working on novels or other such large-scale projects. This is one of them. Not sure yet what I’m doing with the rest. We’ll see. In the meantime, hope you enjoy!