Monday, February 9, 2015

Merchant of South Texas, Part Two

Bass sat with the salty loan shark, drinking from an aged bottle of cheap scotch with the odorous man. Finally, Antonio’s eyes lit up and he raised a wrinkled hand up waving over someone behind Joe. The Thirsty Devil was a small bar, and as the night passed the people of the Riverwalk flowed in and out of the dimly-lit tavern in a never ending tide. Bass looked over the back of the tall booth, looking for whoever Antonio was waving at.

Standing in the doorway was a young man, his ear pierced several times over with tattoos trailing up and down his neck. He wore an orange shirt and a simple pair of jeans, with boots. His hands were enveloped in black gloves, with a strange looking star sewn into the back of them. The man walked over to the booth, holding a hand up in greeting.
“Ah, so he sent you, did he?” Antonio asked, laughing as he waved at Portia for another bottle of scotch. “I had a feeling he wouldn’t show up himself.”
“He called me up saying he wouldn’t be able to make it, and to offer a loan with the usual standards.” The man said his voice light and cheerful. The man looked over at Bass. “Hey, name’s Launce.”
Bass nodded to him, holding out a hand for the man to shake. The greeted each other while Portia brought over another bottle, setting it on the table. Antonio slid to the middle of the booth, allowing Launce a spot to sit. He refused the offer of a drink, though his eyes did drift to Portia as she walked away. Bass cleared his throat, catching the young man’s attention.
Launce looked back with a carefree smile. “I like this bar, has a certain air about it.”
Antonio poured another shot for Bass, sliding it across the lacquered wood of the table. “Let’s get to business then, shall we?”
Launce looked at Antonio for a moment before looking across the table. “Alright, so need a loan. That’s what everyone who comes to us needs. The question is, how much?”
Bass swallows his drink, closing his eyes for a moment as he forces himself to admit the amount again. “Three-thousand.”
“Three-thousand?” Launce repeated, before crossing his arms. “Are sure that’s all you need?”
“Three-thousand not enough of a request?” Bass said, slamming his fist on the table, his cheeks flushed. He lowered his voice, leaning into the table. “Look, I need the money just long enough to land a job. I’ll pay you back, don’t really care what the interest is, but I can manage it.”
Launce smiled, looking over at Antonio. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a roll of hundred dollar bills. He peels three crisp pills off the roll and hands them to Antonio, who pockets them, before he begins counting off three thousand for Bass. As he’s counting them off, he begins speaking to Bass slowly about the rules of the debt.
“This loan isn’t like other loans. There is no interest, set payment dates or late fees. Just a requirement that you stop by a blood bank that my boss owns. What’s your blood type?”
Bass looked a little shocked. “Um, A positive?”
Launce nodded as if this made sense. “I’ll give you a card with an address, and you stop by once a week to donate a pint of blood. My number will be on the card as well, and you can make payments on your loan to me whenever. But every seven days, you stop by this location and have your blood drawn.”
“Why?” Bass asked, looking over at the bar where Portia was working. Her grace wasn’t lost on his liquor addled mind.
“Because those are the terms of the loan. If you fail to meet those terms, then we come for what you owe.”
“Blood? Or the money?” Bass asked, slightly confused.
“No,” Launce said, “we come for a pound of flesh.”
“What?” Bass cried before lowering his voice. “What do you mean a pound of flesh?”
“It’s simple,” Launce said as if speaking to a child. “If you fail to donate your weekly tax of blood, we come for a pound of flesh. After we’ve taken it you’ll be free from any debt you owe us and won’t have to donate blood to us anymore.”
“Because I’ll be dead!” Bass cried. Antonio chuckled, shooting back a shot of scotch into his throat.
“You’d be surprised what you can live through boy,” Antonio said, smiling with his yellowed teeth.
Bass stopped and considered what was being discussed. He really did need the money or he’d be kicked out of his home, and left without food or childcare supplies for his daughter. He knew Portia had offered him a place to stay, but he couldn’t take her up on the offer. What kind of woman would want a man who couldn’t even support himself? Looking up and across the bar at Portia, he caught her eyes and smiled a smile which she returned with a wink.
That sealed the deal. “I’ll do it.”
Launce handed over the three-thousand dollars in hundred dollar bills. “I knew you would. Here is the card with the address for the blood donations, with my cell phone number on the back.”
“You made the right choice kiddo,” Antonio said, pouring Bass another glass of scotch. “You got to be able to pay the bills, and what Launce and his boss ask for is pretty cheap considering how much they’re willing to shell out.”
“Just remember, you need to donate once a week. Choose a day and make that the same day every week. Try and eat red meat, and take iron supplements; I don’t want to hear about you becoming anemic because of this.”
Launce sounded as if he’d given this speech often. Before Bass could ask any other questions, a shrill cry came from beneath the table. Bass jumped, alarmed at the sudden screech, but Antonio and Launce merely sat like lumps on a log. Launce pulled his cell phone from his pants, the screaming device announcing a text. He pressed a few keys on the device and entered a few texts before hitting the send button.
Launce slid the phone back into his pants before looking up, a smile gracing his features. “Well, I’m needed elsewhere. Another person has need of my services.”
“You mean another person needs a loan?” Bass asked.
Launce smiled. “Something like that,” he turned to Antonio and patted the raggedy man on the shoulder, “keep an ear out for anyone else in need of help, will you?”
“For the finder’s fee you offer, I’ve been doing my best to find you clientele.” Antonio burped, waving his hand in front of his face as he smiled.

Launce scooted out of the booth and smoothed out his shirt with his tattooed hands. He looked up at Bass. “A piece of advice: pay off the loan as soon as you can, and don’t you dare miss a blood donation. Like Antonio said, you’d be surprised what you can live through.”

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