My mind focused on the multiplying beads of sweat running down my forehead, each one trying to reach to my chin first. Sal was going to come any minute, too soon to conjure up some excuse as to why I had to leave without making a payment toward what I already owed him, a measly $500.
This was his fault. Why the hell would he have me come here! He knew I would not be able to resist a touch and pull of the arm, or the sounds and flashing of lights. He knew that would lead me to the tables, where even he had banished me from going near! Not really banished, but he urged me with that all-knowing and mockery-driven sneer that made his sagging jowls and baggy eyes jiggle to the point where they looked to be laughing at me. Nothing about him would be laughing once he heard about the $50,000 I lost tonight.
This time I did too much. Sal would kill me. I had to use my silver tongue like I’d never done before. I’d have to talk with a golden voice. I would convince Sal that this was his fault, and it won’t seem like I was shirking my responsibility.
As Sal walked up, I drew my soaking napkin across my forehead one more time, and I did it. My tongue was smooth, with just the right amount of silkiness and whine. The words I spoke were like they came directly from God, and I saw Sal’s eyes soften. Instead of the two pistols pointing at me from his beady eyes like before my eloquent monologue, his eyes looked milky and glossed over with emotion.
When I finished, I swore he was silent for nearly an hour. Then he grumbled out, not in anger, not with mockery, but with an air of mercy, “I see what you’re saying. You’re right, I shouldn’t have had you come here. To tell you the truth, I don’t know why I did. Guess I was busy, not thinking.”
He placed his hands over his paunch, which wasn’t that big, but had a suitable ledge for him to rest his hands when he didn’t want them hanging to his sides uselessly. “I’m thinking now,” he said. “This is what I’ll do for you, and you’ve got exactly one minute to decide. My youngest daughter is looking to marry. She’s got the perfect guy picked out and can’t wait. But I’m from the old school and will not marry her off until her older sister is married first.”
I felt my legs wobble and saw my body begin to sink toward the ground. Sal looked to his stooges, who lifted me straight. Everyone knew Sal’s oldest daughter. Notorious Natalie was what most called her. Notorious Natalie was supposed to have been married five years ago, but when the unlucky bastard talked too long to one of the beautiful patronages at the roulette table, Natalie beat him to unconsciousness with her hefty size eleven spiked shoes. Sal waited until he woke up, before tossing his no longer conscious body into a ditch. That was the first. There had been two others since then.
“Marry her tomorrow and all is forgiven. Otherwise you have to pay me by tonight.” Seeing the fear and near delirium in my eyes, he added, “The wedding will happen, and you will be safe.”
Maybe the wedding would happen, but I’d never be safe again. I began to list in my head the names of towns and banks outside of Sal’s domain. I knew I could do a bank job and pay Sal my $50,500 debt well before . Or I’d die trying.