512 Words

A Different Kind of Careful

M. Stanley Bubien

"I'm a practical man," I said, lightly fingering the vodka-rocks our waitress had so lithely delivered. "The end-result: one very dead Mexican."

"Somebody owes," my associate chuckled, "so you come to me."

"Inevitably, Mr. Mike." He had demanded I call him that, "Michael," even though I knew his real name was Mario. Avenging-angel imagery, I figured; understandable for an assassin. Besides, we all have our eccentricities, so I went along. After all, why spoil the man's fun?

"Cash up front," he grinned. "Twenty-five thousand."

I lifted the briefcase ostentatiously onto the tabletop, angled it on-end, and tottered it into his awaiting grasp.

He scowled, darting eyes the only sign that he was casing the bar for onlookers.

"What's the matter... Mike?" I bit sarcastically into his name. "Paranoia doesn't bode well. Maybe I should..." I rapped the briefcase, but he snatched it away with both hands and pushed it beneath the table.

"Too"---his eyes darted again---"public for me."

"Not one for hiding in plain sight? It's a wonder you haven't been caught." I lifted my glass and winked. "Cheers."

"I'm careful," he pulled his own drink close. "A different kind of careful."

I smiled and raised my glass higher. Drawing it to my lips, I downed the vodka in one long swig. I replaced it in the ring of moisture it had originally occupied on the black table and scooted toward the edge of the booth. A cold, hard grasp fell across my knuckles.

"I don't mean to be rude."

I stared at his hand, but he refused to release me. Shrugging, I slid back into my seat.

"I did a little checking," he said, leaning near. "Learned a bit about you and your Mr. Rodriguez." I raised my eyebrows, and he flashed a brief, teeth-revealing grin. "The way I hear it, a shipment went bad."

"Coast Guard," I said, bringing my palm in front of his nose and dropping it deliberately like a sinking leaf.

He nodded slowly. "Here's the thing. I hear it's you who did the running for Rodriguez. Not the other way around."

"Add well-informed to your list of talents."

Tapping his glass, he got to the point. "Your deal went south, but you're after him?"

I inhaled. In the expanse it took my lungs to begin biting from lack of oxygen, I couldn't come up with a single reason to hide such information from the man---he had as much to lose now. "I dumped the load. So the Mexican wants me to pay for the whole lot."

"In that case, I'd usually be talking to him, not you."

"Ah, I'm a practical man. He wants more than twenty times what you're getting."

Michael shook his head and scowled.

Taking the opportunity for what it was, I scooted out of the booth, and, lighting to my feet, brushed my coat straight. "Twenty times," I mouthed silently at him before departing toward the entrance. Along the way, I made sure to bump three separate patrons and pay a noisy compliment our waitress. Can't be too careful.

Copyright ©2001 M. Stanley Bubien. All Rights Reserved.

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March, 2001
Issue #59

512 Words