Modest Interest

It’s time for a Saturday Storyline. Unfortunately, I misplaced the initial handwritten draft of the next part of my Worldmender storyline. So… here’s a Word of the Day post, based on “vigorish,” which was not at all what I thought at a glance.

The Fourth Street Diner in Berkeley… probably NOT the setting for this story!

Jonas Budyenko’s hands quivered as he dried the last glass and set it on the Fourth Street Diner’s bar. It rattled on the plastic until Jonas let go.

“Vanessa, who’s on the phone?” Please god anybody but Vitoly.

She didn’t even look him in the eye as she walked by. “AT&T, boss. Courtesy call. They’re shutting off your service again. Twice this month. New record.”

Jonas wiped his brow with the dishtowel. One more bill to juggle. I need to get a hold of Sarah at college. But I can’t pay the bill until I talk to Vitoly or Dom.

Dom hadn’t been around to collect in a couple weeks. He’ll come soon. He’s a ‘regular.’

Jonas rehearsed his plan for the fourth time. It ain’t much, Dom, but I got three thousand together this week, and with school startin up again, Mister Vitoly knows I’m gonna be good for the rest real quick. I’m gonna pay, promise.

The bell above the front door jingled and Jonas startled. Two college girls took the first booth and Vanessa brought them menus. Three weeks now, where’s Dom been?

Jonas caught sight of Ted, the Greek who owned the corner store. Has a spring in his step today. What’s he smiling about? Vitoly’s been on his back for months.

“Two triple chocolate,” Vanessa mumbled as she walked by.

He grabbed the scoop and two chilled glasses. Come to think of it, all the shopkeeps have been up lately. I’da thought Vitoly was dead the way they’re acting. But I saw Dom at the pier the other day, picking up monthly payments from the Romanian with the fish market.

Jonas set the pair of frosty glasses on the bar for Vanessa when the bell jingled again. His heart froze colder than the shakes in his hands. He’s here.

A wall of muscle with slicked back grey hair, Dom stepped in and tucked Ray-Bans into his leather jacket. Too warm for that coat today, unless you’re hiding holsters. Sweat dripped under Jonas’s arms. Oh Lord I’m not that far behind, am I?

Ice blue eyes fixed on Jonas, and Dom’s lips parted, showing white teeth in an awkward smile. Jonas attempted to return the gesture, but his clenched jaw made it difficult. Dom moved to the bar and took a stool. Even seated, his shadow loomed over the counter.

“What’ll it be, Dom?” Jonas managed to say.

The mountain grumbled. “Hmmm… you know, I never stopped by for casual. Always business,” he said with a shrug. Believe me. I know.

“What’s your best? I’ll try one. Special occasion and all.”

Jonas stood, staring at the big man. What are you playing at? Trying to make it look like you’re not here to threaten me? Waiting until there are no witnesses?

“Do you got a best?” If Dom noticed the hesitation, he said nothing. “Ehh, I guess you can’t really call one good. Makes the others sound bad, right?”

He turned. “Hey, ‘Nessa! What’s your favorite?”

“Red Velvet Cake.”

Dom turned back to Jonas. “Bit pricey, ain’t it? I don’t got money to throw around.”

There it is. Jonas opened his mouth to speak, ready even to beg. But his throat felt full of ash and dust. Tell him! No one’s listening.Tell him like you practiced. “I’ll get the money.”

“But I’ll try that.” He glanced at the waitress again. “Nice girl. Reminds me of yours… what’sername, Sarah, right?”

The ice cream scoop clinked against the glass as Jonas worked. Oh god oh god, that’s your play? I need to call her. But, the phone-

Dom continued, chatting like an old friend. “She’s gotta be in high school by now, right?”

“She’s in college, Dom. Third year.” Please god let her be okay. Vitoly isn’t that cruel.

“Oh. Jeez, where’d the time go, right?”

Dom laughed, and Jonas cringed. His stomach churned. Oh god, I’m gonna vomit right here, all over the bar, all over Dom. Oh god, he’s gonna hurt Sarah, and the three grand isn’t gonna be enough, and he’ll come for me and take me out back and–

“I’ve got three thousand right now in the safe, more next week, please don’t hurt her,” he blurted in one breath.

Dom shrank back, hands raised in protest. “Jonas, what the–”

“She’s all I got, Dom!”

“Whoa, Jonas, what are you–you mean, you haven’t heard?”

Jonas leaned on the diner, arms shaking.

“Old Man Gino died a couple weeks ago, right?” Dom explained. “So he had a stash he been saving up for years I guess. Got no kids, wife died three years back, so he left it to you guys. All you Fourth Street shopkeeps that played chess with him? He left money to pay off everything you owed Mister Vitoly.”

“He did what?”

“Yeah, paid it all. The whole she-bang. Your loan, plus Mister Vitoly’s modest interest rate.”

Jonas struggled to remain standing. Gone? It’s all gone?

“You’re not here for a payment.”

“Nope.”

“You’re not threatening my daughter.”

Dom laughed. “Jonas, I would’ve been by three weeks ago, but I thought you heard. And your phone was out.”

“Oh my god, oh my god, I gotta call Sarah.”

“Tell her I said hi.”

Jonas ignored the comment as he headed for the door. Vanessa can handle the place for a minute. Ted will let me borrow his cell.

The bell almost broke loose as Jonas burst out of the diner to catch up to his friend. He shook off decades of age and anxiety and started a shuffling jog. There he is… gotta let Sarah know.

He never saw the speeding car.

Jonas awoke to the steady beep of the IV pump and the too-clean scent of a sterile hospital room. He felt numb on his left side, but he smiled when he heard Sarah’s voice.

“Dad, you’re awake?” She rushed to take his hand, careful to avoid the IV tubes.

“Yeah,” he whispered, and offered a weak smile.

She hugged him. “What were you doing running into the street?”

“Oh sweetie, I was so excited… wanted to tell you the news.”

He looked into her bright eyes, and his heart filled with joy. “You wouldn’t believe–”

Then he caught sight of Dom.

“What’s he doing here?”

Her face fell. “Dad, you had several broken bones,” she explained. “A few surgeries. We… my job doesn’t pay well enough for those kinds of bills.”

No.

“So I talked to Dom, and he talked to Mister Vitoly. Everything’s taken care of. I got a small loan, with modest interest.” She squeezed his shoulder. “Now, what were you saying?”

He felt the old crushing weight settle back down on his shoulders, and he tried to fake a smile.

“Nothing.”

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