THE DEBT – PART I (Short story)

LB woke up slowly. His eyelids felt heavier than his overweight body. He opened them with great difficulty. He was sitting in his living room, facing the TV and the balcony was on his right. Able was smoking while he was talking on the phone. LB wanted to move his hands but he couldn’t. He was tied down. He could scream but no one would help him. By standing on the balcony in broad daylight, Able was making a statement. The whole neighborhood wouldn’t even think about calling the police.

LB let out a long sigh. Able turned around. Had he heard the sigh? How could he have done that? He was talking on the phone and standing on the balcony which absorbed every street noise from miles around. Able smiled, ended his phone call and walked inside the apartment.

“Look who’s back! How you doin’ LB?”, asked Able, who was always jovial and smiling.

“Can you not smoke in my apartment for crying out loud?”, snapped back LB. Surprised, Able looked at his cigarette and he threw it out.

“Oops! My bad LB. Do you have any Febreze?”

“What?”

“Febreze. You know, to rid your apartment of the cigarette smell.”

“Yes, I know what Febreze is.”

“I don’t doubt your knowledge of cheap home products. Do you have any?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Ok, where is it?”

LB was perplexed. He was tied down and he was having a conversation about Febreze. He simply couldn’t wrap his head around this unreal situation.

“It’s so kind of you to act like you care about the smell of my apartment”, said LB, with a tone filled with nothing but sarcasm.

“As a matter of fact, I care. I am only here on business. This isn’t personal. I really want you to understand that. So, the Febreze?”

“Underneath the kitchen sink.”

As soon as Able left, LB tried to get out his restraints which felt like zip ties, hence the reason they hurt so much.

“The more you fight with those zip ties, the more you’ll hurt yourself LB!”, screamed Able from the kitchen. How did he know what LB was doing? Able came back, with a smile on his face, used the Febreze excessively and he put the can on the round glass coffee table.

“Smell of cigarettes is gone, right?”

“Yes”. Surprisingly, the apartment smelled of Hawaiian Aloha. At least, the smell made LB’s day a bit better because so far, it was going to hell. LB looked at Able and he couldn’t help but admire the man. He was 6 foot 2, with a fantastically well-groomed beard and long auburn hair tied in a ponytail. A stainless-steel Rolex, the only expensive thing he ever wore, was sitting on his left wrist. He was wearing brown dress shoes, dark pants, and a light blue polo. The jacket was on LB’s couch, neatly folded. Able was sitting next to his jacket, legs crossed and busy texting on his phone. He looked comfortable, as if he were at home.

“So, why are you here?”, finally asked LB. Able paid him no mind and he continued texting.

“ABLE!”, this time LB screamed even louder.

“Jesus LB! I hear you! I am busy. Let me finish this thing and I’ll be with you! Try to stay quiet in the meantime!”

LB didn’t know what to do. Could he scream? He could but he knew the neighborhood had seen Able on his balcony, so no one would bother helping or even calling the police, especially not the police. LB knew Able went on the balcony on purpose. People had seen him, so word would get around and no one would dare to mess with Able. The half the neighborhood respected him, and the other half feared him. LB tried to fight with the restraints but he lost yet again. Able raised his eyes and watched LB fight with the restraints for a few seconds. He smiled and went back on his phone. Finally, after a few attempts, LB gave up. His wrists hurt and he was out of breath. Able finished with his phone, and he put it on the coffee table, with the screen down.

“So, how have you been?”, he casually asked. Able was tremendously likable and LB almost smiled at him.

“I have been better as you can see.”

“Well, it’s not like you’re gonna go anywhere…”, retorted Able and he got a small knife from his pocket. LB instinctively pushed himself back. “Relax”, said Able. He cut off the zip ties and he put the knife back in pocket.

“Thanks”, said LB.

“You are welcome, LB. Now, you know why I am here, and you know I really don’t want to be here, so, let’s get on with it, ok?”

LB scoffed, which intrigued Able.

“Well, did I offend you LB?”

“Look at you. Look at what you have become.”

“What? I was always like this”, retorted Able while looking at himself with curiosity. He also sounded genuinely perplexed.

“No, you weren’t.”

“I know what you want to do LB. You want to talk things out. That’s not what I am here for. I don’t talk things out. That’s not part of my job description.”

“Yeah? What is your job description?”

“Here we go.”

“What? Here we go? What does that mean?”

“It means you are trying to talk things out, as always. I told you I don’t do that.”

“What do you do Able?”

“I hurt people. And it works.”

LB didn’t know what to say to that blunt statement. He knew who Able was and what he did. A police siren went by and Able didn’t even flinch. He knew no one would come along to help or even ask what was going on.

“Yeah? That’s who you are?”, asked LB, trying to find a way to talk Able down. He didn’t know what to do but the longer he talked, the more chances he had of finding a way to resolve this peacefully.

“See? That’s your problem right there.  Well, frankly, at the moment, you got a few problems. First, you are at a disadvantage, physically that is. Second, you are trying to talk me down, which is futile, but I admire you trying. And most importantly…”

Able just started laughing, like a spectator at a comedy club who heard a hilarious joke. His laugh irritated LB but he couldn’t allow his annoyance to show.

“Well, most importantly…”

“You are one of those people who spend their time telling other people who they are. Listen, LB, I know who I am. Unlike you and most people, I am fully aware of who I am, and I am comfortable with me!

“Yeah?”

“Yes!”

“You are a bully.”

“I know that! Why are you wasting precious time stating the obvious? I don’t need you to tell me who I am.”

“So, you love hurting people?”

“I do. Hurting people is extremely effective, and you know me; I love efficiency. The violence doesn’t bother me actually. I love the obedience that follows the violence.”

“So, that’s it?”

“Yes, pretty much.”

“Doesn’t sound quite rewarding.”

Their eyes met and in a blink of a second, Able’s smile disappeared.

“I bend people to my fucking will. You go ahead and find something more rewarding.”

The bluntness, the truth emanating from that statement, the unflinching stare, the purpose that could be felt in the sentence, all those elements made LB shiver. The tension increased a millionfold. Able has shown his superiority. Silence followed. Able kept staring at LB who couldn’t help but think of how him and Able used to be close in high school. Able had always been prone to physical confrontation and he was good at it. He even protected the always overweight LB who was bullied often. Now, they were literally sitting on opposite sides.

“That’s what you think you are doing; bending people to your will. You are a bully, a small hurt little boy who can only use force and who believes people simply bend the knee out of submission”, said LB after a moment.

Able smiled. “Well, you shall find out soon enough.”

LB had never feared Able but he wasn’t so sure anymore. Then again, as soon as he had opened the door for him, Able had punched him and knocked him unconscious. The punch, being tied down, those actions weren’t necessary but Able had gone through with them. Perhaps it was time to fear Able, a little bit.

“You know what I have found out over the years? I like to think myself as a student of human psychology and human behavior. And I have conducted a few hundred experiments of my own. Bottom line? Some people end up thanking me for bending them to my will. Some people are so undisciplined that, weirdly enough, my ways end up giving them guidance. Some people need to be disciplined to get their shit together. I am that guide at times. Sometimes, some people just need a good beating and things fall into place.”

At least they were talking, for now. Hopefully, LB could keep the talk going and he might find a way out of this predicament. After that speech, LB was a little more scared of Able. How could he not? The man openly admitted to bending people to his will using violence. Maybe provoking Able wasn’t in LB’s best interest.

“I am not the comeliest person. I am not the most charming, but I am smarter than average”, continued Able.

“This should be interesting. What led you to that amazing discovery?”

Able smiled and he sat back on the sofa. He looked at LB, seizing him up, thinking. Able looked at LB the way kids look at an egg hatch, with a mix of curiosity, excitement, utter disbelief and indecisiveness. Finally, Able got up and walked towards LB. He stopped and as quick as lightning, he punched the middle of LB’s thigh. There was a cry or maybe there wasn’t. LB wasn’t sure. The pain his brain registered couldn’t be accurately described. Able put his hand on LB’s mouth, effectively, drowning the sound coming out of his mouth. Tears started coming down his face. Able made a fist with his other hand and looked down at LB’s other thigh. He raised his hand and terror seized LB. He wanted to move his body, but the pain wouldn’t allow him to think, move, scream, cry, plead for mercy. LB started mumbling but Able couldn’t understand him, even if he knew what he was saying. Able took his hand off LB’s mouth and looked him straight in the eyes.

“See? Violence works.”

LB couldn’t move his leg. He couldn’t talk, he couldn’t feel anything but the pain in his thigh. He hadn’t even realized he was crying. Able went back to the sofa, sat down and crossed his legs. LB was still on the chair, breathless, panting and disoriented. He felt his heart might explode. The pain shooting from his leg invaded his whole body and he could barely think, let alone speak.

“Take a few deep breaths, you’ll be fine. That was nothing.”

“This was nothing? Jesus Christ Able! I can’t feel my leg!”

“You’ll be dancing in a week, but you’ll be limping until then.”

LB started massaging his leg, hoping the pain would decrease as he rubbed his bruised leg. Yet, after a few rubs, the pain was still there, as intense as ever.

“You don’t listen, LB.”

“What do you mean?”

“I told you and you didn’t listen or believe me. I told you; I put terror in people’s souls. So, for your own sake, stop fucking with me!”

The last sentence was uttered with pure sincerity and might. A chill went down LB’s back. Now, he was officially scared. No more messing with Able. LB couldn’t bear another punch anywhere in his body.

“I won’t mess with you again. I promise!”

“Well, would you look at that? You are ready to work with me. I told you this is what I do. People fall in line pretty fast once they are terrified.”

“And what you just did to my knee? Is that terror as well? I am not sure I can get up.”

“Oh, for crying out loud. Would you stop crying you little pussy! I told you’ll be dancing in a week. And to answer your question, what I just did to you, that isn’t violence. That is nothing. If I wanted to hurt you, trust me, you wouldn’t be talking right now.”

“He who lives by the sword…”

“There aren’t any swords, buddy. There is only violence and fear. And I master both.”

“Someday, someone stronger and more evil and cunning than you, will come along.”

“Wow! Hold up there, bro! I am not evil.”

“Keep telling yourself that to sleep better at night.”

“I sleep great at night. I am a bad man, not an evil man”.

“Oh, we are doing semantics now.”

“I hurt people and it doesn’t bother me. But I never hurt anyone who hadn’t coming to them.”

“So, what? You are like Dexter? You are only hurting bad people?”

“Yes, absolutely.”

“Is that what you are doing here? I am a bad person, now?”

“Dude, you owe 100,000$ to Pool Paul! You are not a bad person; you just owe money to a bad person. I will say you are stupid too, since you owe money to Pool Paul. By the way, he sent me to get his money back. He also wants me to hurt you as well. Consider yourself lucky.”

“Not much luck going on right now, in case you haven’t noticed!”

“Better me than Eddie.” He sent me to hurt you and to get his money back. He was going to send Eddie.”

“Pool Paul was going to send Eddie?”, said LB while swallowing with difficulty. It was rumored that Eddie had killed at least 30 people and he was only 22 years old. He had entered the military at 16, quit at 19 and started doing hits for loan sharks, since then. A true freelancer, he never cared who you were and what you owed. He simply followed the instructions he was given. Suddenly, LB was glad he was dealing with Able.

“Yep, Eddie. You were lucky I was in Pool Paul’s office when he was asking Tom and Tim who he should sent to deal with you. Mind you, Tom and Tim, those mindless, severely idiotic twins, are worse than Pool Paul and Eddie. Yes, those are evil men. We are just lucky they haven’t gone international!”

LB didn’t know what to say. Pool Paul, who owed his nickname to the pool bar where he hustled as a young man, was Able’s uncle. Once a small-time hustler and crook, he made some savvy legit investments and today he was worth a fortune. Yet, like any criminal, he hated being crossed by others. He didn’t truly need the 100,000$, he just wanted to send a message to the rest of the neighborhood.

“What is this I hear you are late on a couple of payments on top of the principal you owe. What the hell LB? How can you owe Pool Paul this much money?”

“I got unlucky with a few business projects I invested in.”

“Everybody knew that stock wasn’t going to go up. Did you even read the FDA report? Did you do any research? Or you pick stocks randomly, based on their name or by guessing? I didn’t want to be here, for real. But it was either Eddie or me. And I owe you since that thing with my mother, so I took this assignment.”

LB took a deep breath and exhaled. He slouched his shoulders. He knew there was no way out.

“What now?”, he asked.

Able looked at his friend.

“Now? You’re going to help me with something. We are going to clear your debt and even come on top. But we’ll have to involve Netty.”

The name made LB open his mouth and eyes as wide as humanely possible. He started moving his head from left to right while saying no repeatedly.

“Stop that, LB!”, ordered Able and he did. LB took another long breath of oxygen and exhaled, while trying to muster all the strength he had in him.

“We cannot involve Netty and you know it!”

Able smiled.

“It was her idea.”

LB almost fell out of his chair and suddenly, even the pain in his leg was gone.

“This should be interesting”, said LB.

“Yes, it should be”, responded Able with a large smile.

To be continued.

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