The waitress brought pie, but Marcy brought trouble.
She slid into his booth without permission, head bowed low, loose jacket swallowing her whole. The old man sipped his coffee and put down the cup. It rattled into place.
“You drinkin’?” he asked.
Marcy glanced up at him.
“S-sorry?” she asked.
“They don’t like it if you don’t order.”
“Oh,” she said, flashing a smile. “Um. Yeah. Coffee.”
He nodded towards the waitress and picked up his fork, prodding the pie. His right hand was bent, twisted into a strangled fist, every action a jerking imitation of what it should be. Marcy couldn’t help but stare.
“You’re Mr Con… Constan…”
“Julius Constancz, right?”
He pulled a cherry out of the pie, spread red sauce around the plate like paint.
“May be,” he said finally.
“Teddy said…” she began, then leaned in closer, whispering the rest: “Teddy said you can help me.”
“Did he now.”
A cup of coffee and tent-topped bill slipped in front of her, and the waitress disappeared.
“Teddy said you protected the mayor. Said back in the day, you were somethin’ fearsome.”
He grunted, speared a cherry and popped it in his mouth. Marcy sipped her coffee, glancing nervously at table between them. There was a menu beneath a sheet of plastic. Nothing more than five bucks. One cup minimum.
“How long has it been?” she asked, glancing up. “I mean, how long since your—”
He broke off the crust, mashed it into smaller pieces, and shovelled one into his mouth. He had to be quick, his fork shook so much. She watched him work, mouth hanging open slightly.
“What’ve you been doing since then?” she asked.
“Eatin’ pie,” he said.
“Five hundred a day,” he said, still chewing. “A grand if there’s shooting. Medical bills extra. I choose the doc. What you need protecting from anyhow?”
“You know Ivan Rosetta?”
“Knew his father,” he nodded, chewing. “A grand a day, then. What’d you do to make little Ivy mad?”
She tipped her head down.
“He thinks I stole some money.”
“How much money?”
“A hundred grand.”
He put another forkful in his mouth, chewing slowly. Marcy watched him silently, watched the scar on the left side of his neck ripple every time he swallowed.
“Did I what?”
“Oh,” she said, returning her gaze to the menu. “Yeah. A bit by accident, but—”
“Ain’t no accident in stealin’,” he said. “You either do, or you don’t. Best come to terms with it.”
She nodded, said nothing.
“You got it somewhere safe?” he asked.
She rested a hand on her jacket pocket, nodded.
“Yes sir,” she said.
“That ain’t safe. Jesus. That ain’t safe at all. Only thing you got goin’ for you is nobody’d think you’d be so dumb.”
He motioned to the waitress again, and she flipped the store’s sign to “closed” and locked both dead bolts. The second one stuck.
“Ivan ain’t no slouch,” he said. “Saw a pair of Rosetta thugs outside just now. They’re hunting. You know their trademark? How they do things?”
“No sir,” she said quietly.
“Two gunmen, two shots each. They never miss, not one of ‘em. It’s all for show. Scare the neighbours.”
Marcy put her head in her hands, shaky breaths pushed down by sheer will. Mr Constancz took another bite.
“Calm down,” he said. “You hired me, didn’t you? Don’t go insultin’.”
She took her coffee in her hands and sipped some. It slowed her breathing. She nodded, smiled to him.
“Sorry,” she said. “And thank you.”
“Forgiven,” he said. “Now let me think.”
He started mashing the rest of the pie up, fork double-tapping the plate with every motion. An errant bone shifted in the back of his hand as he worked, sliding against the skin. His fingers never uncurled.
“Never been here before,” Marcy said. “Is it any good?”
“Best pie in town,” he said.
“Everything’s so cheap.”
“It adds up,” he said, and she met his eyes. “Come here every day, three times a day, and it adds up. You hungry?”
“I guess,” she said.
“Come on, then,” he said, pushing himself to his feet, limping along in his weathered shoes. Marcy began to follow, but stopped with a yelp at the sight of two men peering in the front door. She stumbled into a stack of plates.
Mr Constancz followed her stare, and tilted his head to the side like he was thinking hard. The watchers stepped away and disappeared into the night. Marcy stayed frozen.
“Yeah. Shorter one’s Charlie Denver. Knew his gramps.”
“Won’t they tell—”
“Nah,” he said, still watching out the windows. “They know you’re mine.”
She nodded, smiled weakly.
“Thanks,” she said. “What do you mean—”
His gnarled fist caught her chin and pushed, and made a wrenching crack her last memory. He lowered her gently to the ground, shut her eyes, and slid the envelope out of her coat. He pocketed five thousand with a shaky fist.
There was a rap at the window, and the two men stood there, huddling in the cold.
“Almost done?” asked the waitress, stepping around Marcy’s feet and wiping the counter with a browning rag.
“Yeah,” he said, and passed her the envelope. “Turns out she spent some before she got here.”
“Sounds good,” she nodded.
“Oh and Lexie? You think five grand’ll cover my tab?”
She smiled at him, shook her head.
“Can’t be sure, Jules,” she said. “But it’s a start.”
Here we have a totally random story based around a phrase I will not share, but you can guess at.