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Authors: Ellie Danes,Lily Knight

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BOOK: The Windfall
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“Honey,” I emphasized it the way she had. “You have always thought you were better than us,” I said casually, her words bouncing off me. I didn’t care what she thought any more now than I had when she’d mocked my shoes. “Looks like the shoe is on the other foot now.”

She lunged for me, but then snapped back, an angry Felix hanging onto her arm as she fought to release herself from his grasp.

“Whoa,” he said, a grin spread across his face. “Who forgot to go home after their walk of shame this morning?”

She gasped and wrenched her arm away from Felix. “You ain’t nothing either, Felix. A wannabe banger who I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.”

“And thank God for that,” Felix replied, shoving her to the door. “Now, let these people eat without hearing you jabber on. Get on out of here.”

She gave all of us a go-to-hell look before storming off through the door, the hostile air along with her. Felix shrugged at the rapt attention of the restaurant before sliding into the booth. “Hey, Harold, you’re looking pretty darn good.”

“Hey, Felix, what’s shaking?” Harold replied, giving Felix an odd look.

Felix shook his head and leaned back, the smell of weed wafting through the air. He was dressed in colors associated with one of the local gangs. “It’s F-bomb now.”

Harold almost spit his water out as he looked at Felix, surprise in his eyes. “Excuse me?”

“My name.” Felix grinned. “It’s F-bomb. Get it?”

“It’s a dumbass name,” Harold laughed.

Felix gave Harold the middle finger before turning his attention toward me. I immediately noticed the redness of his eyes, a new scar cut across his cheek, the thin line nearly cutting his cheek in half.

“What happened to you?” I asked, pointing at the scar. It hadn’t been there when I saw him just a few weeks before.

He shrugged, and a grin appeared on his face. “It’s nothing, just a misunderstanding. I don’t even know it’s there anymore.” He then slapped me on the back. “Dude, congrats on the money. Word on the street is that you’ve moved out of this dump and uptown. I’ve been looking for you everywhere. I’m glad to see you back on your home turf.”

“I had to take some precautions,” I said slowly, glad that I’d gotten Mom out when I did. If Felix had been looking for me, everyone else probably had as well. There was no way I could have protected either of us. “You know, for Mom.”

Felix nodded in agreement. “I’d do the same thing. I don’t think anyone blames you for abandoning the neighborhood. I’d have gotten me one of those mega mansions on the river myself. You know, a party palace with all the booze and women I wanted.”

I shook my head, thinking that those words were definitely coming out of Felix’s mouth. If he’d have taken that ticket, I would have predicted that his money would be gone in no time.

Felix slapped me on the back. “I’m just joshing with you. I wouldn’t blow it all on women and booze, but a sweet ride would be in my near future, no doubt. It’s good to see you, man.”

I grinned back, thinking of how much I had missed Felix, even dressed as he was. We had been through a lot, and I felt like I could trust him a little. Harold’s words floated through my mind and I shook them off. I could trust Felix, right?

“You know, you and me, Cooper, we go way back,” Felix continued, drumming his fingers on his knee. It was a nervous habit of his, and I couldn’t help but wonder what he was nervous about. “Way back. I think of you as a brother, I really do. I got your back, you know. Whatever you need. Ain’t nobody gonna mess with my boy here.”

“Well, I appreciate that, Felix,” I replied, taken aback by his sudden loyalty to me. “It means a lot to hear you say that.” And it did, even if there was some ulterior motive going on.

“You see,” Felix continued, oblivious that I was even talking. “You can’t trust all of them people out there, Cooper. You can only trust me, your friend. We are like family, you know, you and me.”

He then leaned over, tapping me on the shoulder. “I need some money, Cooper. Like forty Gs. It’s a small amount, considering the amount of money you got in your bankroll now. You won’t even miss it.”

Harold snorted and turned to his lunch that had just arrived on the table. His words were becoming achingly true right before his eyes.

I laughed, though, waiting for his tagline or a grin to say he was joking. He didn’t sound like Felix at the moment, and I was nervous to know why. “Forty thousand? For what?”

Felix’s grin slid just a little and he looked away, unable to meet my eyes. “You know, I just need it for something, Cooper. Trust me, you won’t miss that drop in the bucket. Just a little something for your buddy here.”

I thought back to the last time I had given him money. I had just gotten my tax refund back and had some cash that I was planning on spending to stock up the pantry. Felix had approached me and had told me that he couldn’t pay the rent on his tiny apartment. He had been so insistent that he was going to get evicted that, hearing the desperation in his voice, I couldn’t turn him down. I gave him the money. I had helped out a friend in his time of need, or so I thought.

Later, I found out that he’d spent the money on bullets and ammo for some of his friends. I confronted him about it, but he had just shrugged me off. “Bigger priorities, my main man,” he’d said, slapping my back just like he had done today. “Bigger priorities.” I had decided right then and there I would never give him money again. I would help him out if he absolutely needed it, but it wasn’t going to be in the form of cash, not after he’d lied to my face about it. This wasn’t going to be the outcome he was hoping for either. Especially with that kind of cash.

“Are you going to be buying ammo again?” I asked, casually picking up my fork to dig into my spaghetti.

Felix’s eyes dilated. He’d obviously hoped that I hadn’t remembered that burn. “Nah, man, nah. I need something else. Just give me the money and I will take care of it. You won’t have to even lift a finger, Cooper. Let old Felix take care of it all.”

“Well, just tell me what you need it for and I will buy it for you,” I offered instead, taking another bite of my food. That way, I could make sure he didn’t spend the money on anything else that was going to dig this hole he had gotten himself into any deeper.

Felix’s easy-going attitude changed and he began to look desperate, surprising me. “Come on, man,” he said, his voice on edge. “Just give me the money, Cooper.”

“I can’t do that, Felix,” I said softly, my senses on high alert. Something was wrong with him, and I knew he wasn’t going to tell me what trouble he was getting into. “You’re acting very suspicious. This doesn’t seem like you. I’ll be more than willing to go with you and get whatever you need, but I can’t just give you that kind of cash.”

“Cooper,” he started, looking a bit panicked now. “Come on, dude, don’t do this.” He pushed out of the booth angrily. “If you had just given me the money, everything would have been just fine. I can’t believe you are doing this to me, Cooper. I was trying to help out, get your name out of this, but now, well, I can’t be responsible for this, man. If you had just played along.” He stalked away, his hands shoved in his pockets. I stared after him, the veiled threat making me a little nervous. Not Felix, too. Surely not.

“See, you can’t even trust your own friends anymore,” Harold said softly, drawing my attention back to him. “You gotta be careful, son. Don’t turn your back for one second. Someone is going to take advantage of you. Someone is going to want to corrupt what you know is right and moral. Stick to your guns and you just might survive this.”

He then leaned over and winked at me. “If all else fails, go buy yourself a damn island and get the hell away from here. That way, they can’t bother you at all. It’s what I would do.”

* * * * *

Three days later, I shut off the water to the sink and threw the bar towel into it, thinking I would just grab them all up and wash them at home tomorrow. Tonight had been a good night, just like the last two at the bar. I was really enjoying being the owner of the place. Word had gotten out, of course, but after a few awkward selfies and some even worse questions, people had largely ignored me and enjoyed themselves, which was all that mattered. I didn’t care if they treated me as an oddity, as long as they continued to frequent the place. The employees seemed to be good with the change as well, and after just a few questions, they had gone to work with no problems.

With a yawn, I stepped from behind the bar and grabbed a wet rag, heading toward the tables to wipe them down and set them up for tomorrow. My bartender, Jane, had been awesome tonight, handling the crowd like a pro. I had really just hung back and watched her work her magic. Then I’d given her an extra tip before she left. It was important that I tried to retain the employees right now and try to get the bar to run like it normally would. Then, once I felt comfortable in my situation, I would see about some changes. Not big changes, just little things, like an online calendar for schedules. I unplugged the TV and wiped down the first table, smirking as I thought about Harold balking at the fact that I was going to get rid of his calendar. Maybe I’d mail it to him as a keepsake.

The door chimed, and I turned to tell whoever it was that we were closed. Three men stepped inside and shut the door, the masks on their faces making me a bit nervous. They were all wearing the same colors as Felix had been, and I wondered if any of them were my supposed friend or if this had anything to do with his veiled threat at lunch the other day. I had been waiting for something to happen as a result of my refusal to give him the money and apparently the time was up on that. “Hey, guys,” I started, giving them all a hard smile, ignoring the masks as best I could. “We’re closed for the night.”

“I say you’re open,” one of them said, his voice muffled. “Ain’t that right?” He nodded to the other two guys and shuffled toward the table I had just wiped down, brushing past me along the way. One of them grabbed the cord to the TV and plugged it in before stretching out in the chair. They made themselves right at home as the sound of the late night show filled the air.

The leader leaned against the counter, crossing his arms over his chest as he stared at me, no doubt sizing me up for whatever they had in store. I forced myself to stand tall, making a show of walking past him and throwing the rag in the sink angrily. They were just trying to intimidate me for some reason and I suspected it was largely due to money and to Felix. I wasn’t going to deal with this myself. I fully intended to call the police and let them deal with it. I wasn’t scared of them, and there was no one they could hurt to make me comply. Mom was safe, Harold was gone, and if they trashed the place, well, I’d just pick up the pieces and soldier on. I wasn’t scared.

I reached for the phone on the wall suddenly, trying to catch them off guard. The leader moved behind the counter quicker than I expected and pulled it off the wall with one hard yank, the entire thing clamoring to the floor as the sheetrock gave way under his strength, a gaping hole left where the phone had been.

“You ain’t calling no one,” he leered, pushing me against the bar.

“I’m not giving you any money either,” I said, my voice shaking a little. I didn’t know if they had weapons and with three of them there, I didn’t stand a chance of walking out of here alive if they decided to pounce on me. My best chance was either to intimidate them or fake them out on what I was going to do. “I already told Felix that I wasn’t giving out handouts.”

His fist landed on the bar counter right beside me, the loud bang echoing in the space. “I don’t care about no Felix or what you told him,” he shouted. “You gone give us some money and you are going to do it with a smile on your face before I have to carve it on.”

He then pointed at my chest with his finger, twirling it around slowly. “So I suggest you find it.”

I swallowed hard, trying to quickly think of what I could do to get out of this. An idea started to form, and I pounced on it. Reaching under the bar, I pretended to press a button, inwardly smiling as his eyes traveled to my arm. “I just alerted the police,” I said, not even having to fake the shakiness of my voice. If he looked, he would see I was lying and then I didn’t know what he would do. “If you leave now, I will call them and tell them it was a false alarm.”

“Shit, man, we gotta get out of here!” one of the others announced, pushing his chair back in a hurry. “I ain’t going to jail tonight.”

The leader looked at me, and I hoped that he didn’t see anything in my eyes that would make him think I was bluffing. He stared at me for a hard moment then backed off, keeping his gaze on me. “A’ight, you win this round, but let me tell you, we will be back and next time we won’t walk out empty-handed.”

I waited until they had disappeared from the glass window before walking over and flipping the locks, angrily turning each one until I was finished. Rage flowed through my veins at what had just happened. I wasn’t scared of them by any means, more like pissed and angry that they would target me and try to scare me into giving them money. It wasn’t going to happen. I wasn’t going to be bullied into funding a gang.

With a sigh, I ran a hand through my hair roughly, methodically unplugging the TV and pushing the chairs back under the table, wiping it down again, undoing everything they had done to the bar. This was my bar, not theirs. They didn’t run this neighborhood. But I didn’t doubt they’d be back the next night, and then the night after that until they got what they wanted. I’d been right to move out of the neighborhood and get my mom away from the violence as well. I hadn’t caused any trouble before, keeping largely to myself, but after my run in with Felix earlier in the week and then the visit from the masked marauders, it was clear I was a target. There was no way I could stay now. I had to get the hell out of Dodge.

Chapter Seven


“Here’s your water to go and your check. You let me know if you need anything else.”

I smiled at the older woman as I walked away. Today had been a good day. The customers had been more than friendly and the tips had been extremely good. My pockets were going to be happy when I clocked out.

BOOK: The Windfall
4.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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