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The Price of Doing Business

No matter how big and nasty you might think you are, just remember: there is always someone bigger and nastier...

Mike Monson's back in the Gutter showing cruel what cruel really is...

The Price of Doing Business by Mike Monson

An hour before opening, this big biker-looking guy strode right through the door of my joint, came right at me, and nearly knocked me out with a booming blow to my head before dragging me behind the bar and forcing me down onto my back.

Keeping a boot on my neck, he grabbed a bottle of Bombay gin. He then straddled me, pinning my arms to the floor with his big knees.

He must have weighed 300 pounds. I couldn’t move.

“Hello, Mr. Crane,” he said.

He forced my right eye open and poured about three ounces onto my exposed eyeball. The pain was unimaginable.

“How’s it going, Mr. Crane?” he said, switching hands and eyes and serving another couple of shots to my left eyeball.

“Hurts, don’t it?” he asked, roughly rubbing the gin into my eyes. I managed not to scream.

He pulled me up and took me over to a table.

“Stay,” he said, and grabbed a bottle of Makers Mark and two glasses from the bar.

Even though I was still groggy from the head shot, I knew what was happening. I couldn’t believe I’d moved all the way across the country to face the same kind of crap I’d left behind.

He poured us each a shot.

“Let’s drink to your good fortune,” he said.

We drank. I waited for the inevitable pitch.

“My name is Otis Peele,” he said, “and today is your lucky day.”

He poured us another. We drank.

“I am a very cruel man,” he said. “I enjoyed hurting you just then and I am willing to do much worse.”

I was being shaken down, gangster-style. But this wasn’t Brooklyn or Little Italy. We were sitting in a nice little neighborhood bar I’d just opened in Modesto, California. This kind of shit was not supposed to happen here. That’s why I’d picked Modesto for crissake.

“I have lots of friends that are just as cruel as me,” he said. “People who would just love to fuck you up. However, now that we are partners, I can ensure that you will stay healthy and safe. Isn’t that a relief?”

This was my bar. I was the one who had saved for twenty years to buy it; I was the one who had turned what used to be a hideous dive into this perfect neighborhood watering hole. I’d been open for three weeks and the place was packed every night.

“Sure, you could call the police, Mr. Crane,” he said. “And, yes, they would arrest me and maybe put me away for a while. However, if you do that I guarantee that my friends will hurt you very badly and very often. Think about that.”

I thought about it. I already knew some of the local cops, and they seemed like good people. But I understood I was on my own.

I wondered what he saw when he looked at me. I was a couple of inches under six feet and I barely weighed 150. I was forty-five and looked it. I bet I looked like a nice guy too—easy pickings. I could see that he hadn’t bothered to bring a gun.

“You see, Mr. Crane,” he said, “you made the same mistake a lot of small business owners make starting out.”

“What mistake is that?”

“You thought that all you had to do to make money was work hard,” Otis Peele said, “that that was the only price to be paid for all that cash that is coming your way. Well, I’m here to let you know that the price is much higher.”

“It’s like you are doing me a favor,” I said, “schooling me on the ways of the world.”

"Exactly,” Otis Peele replied with a big friendly smile. “I can see that we are going to be great partners. What I need you to do right now,” he said, his expression turning serious, “is to go and get all the money in your floor safe, bring it all here, and give me half.”

I didn’t blame Otis Peele for not suspecting I had a gun in the safe. I’d almost not put it there. Who the hell besides the gangbangers and meth cooks need a gun in Modesto ?

He tried to look amused rather than concerned when he saw that I had a pistol rather than a bag of cash in my hand as I walked back and locked the front door behind him.

I almost felt sorry for Otis Peele; he clearly hadn’t done his due diligence.

I sat down and pointed the gun at Otis Peele’s face.

"Mr. Peele, for the last twenty years I was NYPD, working as a detective in organized crime for fifteen. I've seen a lot of horrible things, a lot worse things than you, you piece of shit. And, I’ve done lot of horrible things, which was why I had to retire early. The facts aren’t hard to find. Most of my transgressions were covered by the Times and the Post. Lucky for me my little side jobs for the mob never came to light."

I cocked the trigger. Mr. Peele finally looked concerned.

“My friends know I’m here,” he said.

I leaned over so that his face was in profile to me and shot him in the mouth. I aimed it perfectly so that half of his teeth were broken and his tongue was nearly severed off—but without damaging any vital areas. He wouldn’t lose too much blood.

I didn’t want him to die; I just wanted him to shut up.

I got a couple of towels from the bar and handed them to him.

“Press these hard against your mouth Mr. Peele,” I said, “I need to stop the bleeding so you don’t mess up my beautiful place.”

He did as he was told. He was about to go into shock. I’d seen it all before.

Mr. Peele had no idea about cruel.

Mike Monson works as a paralegal in downtown San Francisco and lives in Modesto, CA. He's had stories published in Literary Orphans and Shotgun Honey, with more due in Yellow Mama as well as upcoming anthologies from All Due Respect, Out of the Gutter, and Near to the Knuckle. Visit him at