Disclaimer: The following excerpt is a work in progress. Nothing is final until it’s printed on paper and sold in stores.
From the blood soaked, bullet riddled mountains of Mexico to the graffiti tagged dilapidated neighborhoods surrounding New York City, the DeMarco’s Cartel set its gold teeth on taking a bite out of the big apple. The New York gangs that had once defended their turf from the influence of international cartels were wiped out by a lone woman with a vengeance. Without the criminal underworld to serve as a barrier against the more powerful criminal syndicates, the DeMarco’s Cartel had free reign to leech from the lifeblood of the city. The small business owners.
Emilio Santana was the owner of a small bodega on the lower east side. His store was a mini warehouse of eclectic goods, a general store that provided whatever any New Yorker needed: lottery tickets, cleaning supplies, ethnic food, junk food, or a delicious sandwich made from the man himself. He never dreamt of owning a store or serving as mentor to kids at risk of joining gangs. His dreams were of playing professional baseball for the New York Liberty’s or their eternal rivals the Gotham Empires.
He had all the requirements to join the major leagues except for one thing, skill. He loved the game but his terrible batting average held him back from achieving glory. Although he never ended up signing homerun balls for fans, he was glad to have worked his thousands of odd jobs which gave him the knowledge needed to own a store. With his glasses perched on the tip of his nose, Emilio sorted yesterday’s mail into a keep and trash pile. The first envelope was a notice saying that the rent was due. The second envelope was a notice saying that the rent was going to increase by one-hundred dollars at the end of the month.
“Coño, siempre más dinero.” Always more money. The third letter was a notice from the city. A new regulation passed by the city council will require all small businesses to provide ten paid vacation days to their employees. Failure to provide paid vacation will result in a fine of up to ten thousand dollars per employee. The rest were medical bills and a ticket from the city due to his delivery van causing congestion between nine and eleven am. Emilio stacked the envelopes together like a deck of cards and threw them all in the trash. “Fucking bullshit, man.”
He grabbed a piece of pink chalk and climbed onto his trusty step ladder. He scratched an additional ninety nine cents onto all of his deli items. As he finished raising the price of his egg sandwich from five dollars to five ninety-nine, the bell above the front door jingled like Santa’s Christmas bells. A short, sturdy woman walked through the door with dark hazel eyes and wavy brown hair that went slightly past her shoulders. I.E. his favorite customer. Not only because she was pretty but because she was polite, kept her orders simple, and never made a fuss.
“Buenos Días, Mami,” he said. “I haven’t seen you in a hot minute. Started to think you were cheating on me with that new deli that opened up down the street.”
The woman flashed her trademark magnetic smile. “Buenos Días, Emilio. You know I would never cheat on you. No one makes my breakfast like you do.”
Emilio came down his step ladder and pointed at her. “And don’t you forget it.”
The woman looked up at the chalkboard. “I guess the cost of cheese went up.”
Emilio put on a pair of plastic food prep gloves. “Yeah you know how it is. Rent and bullshit.” He walked over to the grill and fired it up. “My mom had to get her hip replaced and Medicare’s only going to cover half the cost of the surgery. So now I gotta increase my prices to pay for something they already took out of my taxes. It ain’t easy owning a small business in this town. You either gotta be rich or a crook. And I ain’t no crook.”
“Sorry about your mom.” The woman took out fifty dollars from her wallet and placed it on the counter.
Emilio glanced at her, “You want me to break that?”
“No, for your mom.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“It’s crazy how expensive these sandwiches are getting, isn’t it? Fifty dollars for eggs on some bread. Toasted and with two slices of cheese.” She smiled.
Emilio smirked and poured some eggs on the grill. “I knew there was a reason I liked you.” As the yolk sizzled, the front door bell chimed again. Two men swaggered into the store. One had a cowboy hat and complementary camel colored jacket with fringes. His plaid mauve shirt was tucked behind a giant belt buckle. The second man was a pitbull in human form with a neck so thick you’d need a chainsaw to cut through. He lumbered from side to side with his arms swinging like that of a gorilla. His head was shaved bald and a tear drop tattoo marked the corner of his eye. He turned and twisted the lock of the front door. The cowboy approached the counter with a disarming smile on his lips. As for the female customer, she was nowhere to be seen, most likely in the back picking out her drink.
“I’ll be right with you,” Emilio said.
“No soy un cliente, compa. We talk . . . now.” He essentially said, he wasn’t a customer.
Emilio let out a deep sigh. He ripped off his gloves and placed his hands on the counter. His faux gold watch clacked against the wood. “What do you want?”
The man smiled. “You’re very tense, friend. Relax. Mi patrón wants his pay now. So, we are here to collect.” The man spoke slowly and with an unnerving, cheerful, calm demeanor.
Emilio pursed his lips. “I already paid this month.”
“You have to pay again. But lucky for you, mi patrón tiene una ofrecita para ti. An offer you would be very interesting to hear.”
Emilio didn’t bother correcting the man on his grammar. He knew that one wrong word would be his last. “What’s that?”
“Mi patrón is a very nice guy, a good guy. He is willing to forgive your debt in exchange for a very small favor. He wants your store to accept some packages from him. You don’t have to open them, you don’t have to see them. Someone will come to leave it and take it. All you do is give space. Sound good?”
“What’s in the package?”
“Why does it matter? You don’t open it. You don’t see it. For you, the package no exist.”
“But it’s going to sit in my store.”
“If you don’t want the packages, then you have to pay.”
“I’ll pay the thirteen hundred then.”
“No my friend, four thousand if you don’t want the packages. And you will have to pay every two weeks.”