The Roman’s man put a gun to my right temple and held it there.
Chester Roman…known rather unimaginatively on the street as ”The Roman”… sat staring impassively from a plush leather chair that was quite incongruous in the abandoned warehouse. “We’ve been here for over an hour now and I’m done with this shit. You’re gonna tell me what I want to know or you’re gonna die in the next ten seconds. It’s your choice, Richie.”
I swallowed hard. The ropes binding my wrists behind my back were cutting into my flesh and, oddly enough, the pain from that made me feel more alive than I had in a long, long time. “We all die, Mr. Roman…that’s part of the deal. Threatening to kill me is meaningless since I know from your boy here that that’s exactly what you’re going to do anyway no matter what I tell you. I can’t choose how I’m going to die…you’ve got the guns and shit…but I can choose how I’m going to live. And I’m not going out on my knees and I’m going out a rat. Do what you gotta do…”
I hoped I sounded more cocky and confident than I felt…my heart was beating so fast that I thought it was going to literally burst…I really did not want to die that night in that dank warehouse.
The Roman glared at his man. “What the hell did'ya say to him, Bobby,” he demanded.
Bobby swallowed harder than I had. “Nothin’, boss,” he lied, “I was just bustin’ his balls a bit is all…”
“Idiot,” Roman snarled, “how many times I gotta tell you not to overplay your hand?!” He turned his attention back to me. “And you, smart guy, there are worse things than death…Bobby here is a jackass but he does know a lot about those things if you catch my drift…”
It occurred to me that my employer…Mr. Charles Robinson…didn’t really deserve the level of loyalty that he demanded. But it didn’t matter…I was a man of my word to the end…my Daddy didn’t give me much but he did beat into me the need to be a stand up guy no matter what. “I understand, Mr. Roman,” I said softly. “But I still got nothing to say.”
The Roman hauled his girth out of the chair with an almost bestial grunt and came across the floor and stood face to face with me. His breath smelled like chicken, garlic, and beer. “Those are some big balls you got on you, son,” he said with a wry smile. “You really gonna die to protect somebody who wouldn’t spit on you if you were on fire?”
I sighed softly, wondering when my life was supposed to flash before my eyes, and pushed back the urge to chuckle ruefully. “Looks that way, Mr. Roman,” I said barely believing that I had said it out loud…and stunned that it was indeed true.
The Roman stared at me for a long moment…I held my breath waiting for him to give Bobby the order to blow my brains out…and then, quite suddenly, he laughed heartily. “Jesus H. Christ, Richie, you just cost me a thousand bucks!” he said walking away. “Charlie told me that you wouldn’t break…I should’ve believed him, I guess.” He continued to laugh as he picked up his hat. “Cut ‘im loose, Bobby, and let’s get the hell outta here.”
Bobby used a pocket knife to cut my bonds. “Had you goin’ there, didn’t we?” he said with a chuckle as I rubbed my sore wrists.”
“This was some kind of test?” I asked the Roman.
“Kinda, I guess,” the Roman said as Bobby helped him put on his suede overcoat. “Mostly it was bet…me and Charlie get bored sometimes now that the war is over and nobody’s fighting over territory.”
“And Mr. Robinson won this…bet…?”
“Yeah,” the Roman said as he turned to walk away, “that sonofabitch knows his guys.” He paused and then said, “You’re a good man, Richie,” he said, without looking back, as he disappeared through the doorway, “if you get tired of workin’ for Charlie look me up.”
The door slammed shut and I stood there in the darkness thinking about how this craziness was my life. I stumbled over and sat in the chair the Roman had left behind…I lit a cigarette and laughed for a long time before I went out into the night again.