"Sure. Always. With Joey, the big score was just around the bend. And that night was no different. He was jumpy, you know, bouncing around, telling everyone that he was onto something."
"Did he say what?"
"Nah, and truth -- no one cared. It wasn't like we hadn't heard it all a hundred times before, him and his pipe dreams. And it didn't look so promising, him coming in with that mouse on his eye. I asked him about it, he just said it was a wake-up call."
"A wake-up call?"
"Yeah." Ganz looked both ways, lowered his voice. "So he's in here, drinking and talking, telling everyone he was getting ready to pay thems all off, when he gets the phone call?"
I looked at Beth. "Phone call?"
"From the woman who was always calling him here. Some dame never set foot in the place."
"Nah, she don't call here. Every time she sees me she spits between her fingers, like I'm giving her the evil eye. First I was getting free meat and then, when I got enough to buy this place, Joey Senior spent more time here than at home, not that you can blame him, her and her knives. But this other dame was always calling here and Joey, he was always this little sheep on the phone, baaing out yes, yes, yes."
"Sounds to me," I said, "like he was falling for a girl just like the girl that terrorized dear old dad."
"Don't it though. That last night, same call, same yes, yes, yes, and then he's slapping the bar, hiking up his jacket, shooting his cuffs on his way out the door."
"He say where?"
"He said he had a meet."
"He say with who?"
"He said with money. Like that was ever a possibility with Joey. Poor kid. You know, he wasn't a bad kid, but he never had a clue of what was what."
I had a sudden thought. "Beside me, who did he owe the most?"
Earl leaned close. "What I heard, he was deeper than he ought to have been with Teddy."
"Teddy Big Tits."
"Why was Joey borrowing money from some big breasted loan shark?"
"Maybe for the wolf on the phone," said Earl. "He was stupid enough, wasn't he?"
"Where does Teddy drink?"
"The Seven Out, on Fourth Street. You know Victor, them drinks you was making, us all remembering Joey, the toasts, it was almost nice."
"Yes, it almost was," said Beth.
"What do you think, Earl?" I said. "You got yourself a new specialty of the house?"
"Fugettabout it," said Earl. "Guys don't come in here for the fancy cocktails. They come in here to get blurry fast and cheap. Tomorrow it'll be back to the wits."
"Does that mean no ferns?" said Beth.
Earl snorted, took his rag to wipe the far side of the bar.
"Who was Joey meeting?" said Beth, softly.
"I don't know, but it doesn't sound right. That morning he's scared witless and by nine-thirty that night he's all gussied up for a big money meet."
"Maybe he wasn't as scared as he let on."
"Or someone changed his mind. I'd sure like to meet that new girl of his. Maybe baby needed a new pair of shoes. And maybe Joey got a line on the suitcase. Whatever it was, it had something to do with the man Joey killed twenty years ago, I'm certain of it."
"Who was he? Do you have any idea at all?"
"His name was Tommy," I said, "and his initials were probably T.G."
"How do you know that?"
"It has a ring to it, is all. But as to who he really was, I don't have a clue."
Except I was lying when I said that last little bit. Because I did have another clue. I had the envelope. And inside the envelope was something that would come to haunt my very dreams.
The foregoing is excerpted from Past Due by William Lashner. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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