When Zach opened his eyes that morning, the curtains were closed tight, and the room was dark. His head was throbbing from all the whiskey he drank. He sat up, rubbed his eyes, and then checked his watch. It was six o’clock. He glanced over at Charlie’s bed to see if he had returned. He was glad to see Charlie in bed. He was awake, staring at the ceiling.
Zach never saw Charlie behave like that before and knew he was going through a tough time. He felt as though Charlie needed to accept what had happened and move on. I don’t understand, Zach thought. The man killed his dog for Christ sake. Who wouldn’t feel satisfaction in hurting someone like that? It’s only natural ... I’d be okay with it. Then he rolled out of bed and walked over to the window. He drew the curtain open and immediately the sunlight burst into the room. Zach covered his eyes with his hand and waited for them to adjust to the light. He glanced at Charlie, wondering how he was feeling. “Morning, Charlie.”
“Morning,” Charlie said. He could barely be heard.
Zach removed some clothes from his dresser and started to change. “Boy, I can sure go for some coffee. Maybe some eggs and toast too.” He thought talking about food would get a response from Charlie, but he didn’t respond and just stared at the ceiling. “Ain’t ya gonna get ready for breakfast?”
“Don’t feel like no breakfast,” Charlie said.
Charlie never turned food away. Zach realized this was much more serious than he thought. He understood why Charlie was upset, but thought he was being too hard on himself. “Ya sure ya don’t want no breakfast?”
Charlie rolled onto his side and faced the wall.
“C’mon, Charlie. How long ya gonna be like this? Ya can’t be carrying on this way. Ya gotta eat. Ya gotta keep your strength up. How ya gonna fight this way?”
“I ain’t fighting no more,” Charlie said.
“Ain’t fighting no more?” Zach said. He wanted to ensure that he heard him correctly, but Charlie didn’t respond. “Okay, then ya go tell Mr. Graziano that ya ain’t fighting no more. See how he takes the news.”
Charlie finally looked at Zach. His eyes were beet red and he looked exhausted.
“Did ya hear him last night?” Zach said. “What do ya think happened to Huck and his men? Ya know what kinda man Mr. Graziano is. Ya can’t just quit because ya don’t feel like fighting no more. We have an agreement with him. Ya remember what Smitty said don’t ya? He said don’t ever cross Mr. Graziano. Well, I have news for ya, Charlie, by not fighting no more you’re crossing him!”
“Ya don’t have to remind me, I remember what Smitty said. Mr. Graziano makes a lot of money, he won’t miss it.”
“Ya think so, huh? We made a deal with him, Charlie. Yeah, he has money, but you’re forgetting, this whole thing is about money. And let me tell ya, people can do some bad things when it comes to money. It’s also about principle and keeping your word. So far he’s been a man of his word and ya should be too. I’m sorry, but it’s the truth.”
“Can’t we just go?” Charlie asked. “We’ve been here over six weeks now. We were supposed to go to the World’s Fair, and see some baseball games in New York, and travel the country. What about our deal?” Then Charlie broke down sobbing. It was heart-wrenching for Zach to watch. “I just can’t do it no more, Zach, I just can’t! I don’t wanna fight no more, please don’t make me!”
Zach walked over to Charlie and put his hand on his shoulder. “It ain’t up to me, Charlie. I wish it was.”
“I know, you’re right,” Charlie said trying to compose himself. “Those men were bad, and they deserved what they had comin to them, but I just can’t fight no more. I can’t go on hurtin’ people for money. I just can’t, it ain’t right. What if I hurt someone that isn’t a bad person? Someone that has a family to feed? I just can’t. Please, Zach, help me!”
Zach was almost in tears himself. He thought for a moment. “Okay, I have an idea. I’ll talk to Mr. Graziano for you.”
“Really? Ya mean it?”
“Sure,” Zach said. “I can see what this is doing to ya. I don’t like seein’ ya this way. It ain’t worth it.”
“Oh, thank you, Zach. Ya don’t know what this means to me.”
Zach watched Charlie as he got out of bed and changed his clothes. He saw how relieved he looked. Zach, on the other hand, wore the look of doom, wondering what he was going to say to Mr. Graziano.
“Them eggs sound pretty good now,” Charlie said. “What ya say we go down for breakfast?”
“Sure,” Zach said with an uncertain smile. Now I don’t feel like no breakfast.
Later that day, Smitty was waiting outside of Clyde’s Bar and Grill when Zach’s taxi pulled up. He flung his cigarette onto the ground and got in the car. He sat beside Zach, removed an envelope from his pocket, and handed it to him.
“How much we make?” Zach asked.
“Twenty-one hundred,” Smitty replied. “Not too shabby for a few side bets.”
Zach removed a hundred from the stack and handed it to Smitty. “Here, this is for you.”
“Ya don’t have to do that.”
“Ya did us a big favor.”
“Okay, thanks,” Smitty said. He took the hundred and slid it in his pocket. “How’s Charlie doing?”
“Not good, it’s the other reason why I’m here.”
“Well, if the other reason is for what I think it is, good luck, you’re gonna need it.”
“Is he in a good mood today?” Zach asked.
“Hard to say. If he is, he won’t be for long.
“Gee, thanks for the encouragement,” Zach said. He followed Smitty out of the taxi and asked the driver to wait for him. When they entered the tavern, Smitty led him to Mr. Graziano’s booth. He was sitting alone looking dapper as always, wearing one of his white suits. He was reading the newspaper while smoking a cigar. There was a tall Bloody Mary on the table before him.
Smitty cleared his throat to get his attention and then sat on an empty stool at the bar.
Graziano folded up the newspaper neatly and set it aside. “Have a seat, Zach. How are you today? Smitty tells me that you need to speak to me about something important?”
“I’m doing well, thanks ... and you?”
“No complaints,” Graziano said.
Zach could tell that he wanted him to get straight to the point. “I know your a busy man, so thanks for taking the time to see me.”
“It’s my pleasure,” Graziano said. “How’s Charlie?”
“Well, that’s what I wanted to talk to ya about.”
“He isn’t ill or anything?”
“No, no, nothing like that,” Zach said. He tried easing into the subject. He was nervous and sweating profusely.
Graziano picked up his Bloody Mary and took a sip. “Would you care for one?”
“No, thank you anyway,” Zach said. He removed a handkerchief from his pocket and patted his forehead.
Graziano sensed that Zach had something on his mind and was struggling with it. “So, what can I do for you, Zach?”
“Well, the thing is Mr. Graziano, Charlie is really upset about last night.”
“Go on,” Graziano said, “I’m listening.” He puffed on his cigar making thick clouds of smoke above them.
“He um ... he’s having a hard time dealing with the fact that he...” Zach leaned forward and lowered his voice, “...killed that man.”
“I see, so how can I help?” Graziano said as he puffed on his cigar.
Zach wiped the back of his neck with his handkerchief. He couldn’t stop sweating.
“What’s the matter, Zach? You seem a bit nervous,” Graziano said. “If something’s wrong just tell me.”
Zach cleared his throat before he spoke. “Well, ya see, Charlie never killed anyone before, and he, um ... he don’t wanna fight no more.”
Graziano took another puff from his cigar. He tilted his head back and blew the smoke up above them. After a few seconds, he lowered his head. His dark piercing eyes stared directly into Zach’s eyes. “Let me get this straight. Charlie doesn’t want to fight anymore. Is that what you’re telling me?”
“He, um ... he thinks he’s a bad person now,” Zach said as he wiped the sweat from his brow.
“This better be a joke!” Graziano’s voice rumbled like thunder while his eyes fixated intensely on Zach. “You’re serious aren’t you?
Zach sat quietly, he didn’t know what else to say.
“I’ve been paying him good money to fight for me!” Graziano said. “I arranged it so that the both of you could live comfortably at that hotel away from the rats and cockroaches, and this is the gratitude I get?”
“I realize you’re upset.”
“Upset?” Graziano shouted. He slammed his fist hard on the table causing his drink to nearly topple over. The entire tavern became silent. Nobody dared made a sound. Even Smitty turned around on his bar stool to see what was going on. Graziano took a moment to compose himself. He straightened his neck tie and leaned forward. “Now you listen to me. I cleaned up that fucking mess last night. Not just the dead guy ... but all of that shit!" He clenched his teeth. “Now what the hell do you expect me to do about this? Just let Charlie walk away?”
“Look, if it’s about the money,” Zach said. “I have a way that ya can make even more money, and there wouldn’t be any extra expenses. Just let me explain.”
Graziano didn’t look interested. Smitty gestured for Zach to leave. His assumption was correct—if Mr. Graziano wasn’t in a bad mood before he certainly was now. “C’mon on Zach, I think ya better get going,” Smitty said. He wanted to save Zach’s ass before Graziano really lost his temper.
However, Zach was persistent and didn’t budge. “Mr. Graziano, when we first met ya said ya were a business man. Well, I have an opportunity that can make ya a lot of money ... a whole lot if ya just hear me out.”
Graziano admired Zach’s determination. He may have been small, but he had a lot of nerve. Smitty softly touched Zach’s shoulder, ready to escort him out of the booth when Graziano held his hand up. “Hold on Smitty, let’s hear what he has to say. How much is a lot and what’s the opportunity? Oh, and this better be good, Zachary.”
Zach’s throat suddenly became dry. He leaned forward and began his pitch as Graziano and Smitty listened. “Okay, have ya been following the news about the civil war in Spain? Italy, Germany, and Russia are supplying aid and troops, see. How long do ya think it will take for us to get involved like we did with the Great War? I don’t trust that Hitler and I don’t think Roosevelt does either.”
“Go on, I’m listening,” Graziano said.
Zach continued. “I’ve been following the Stock Market and—”
“The Stock Market?” Graziano said.
“Wait, wait, listen, listen,” Zach said. “I’ve been following the Copper Industry’s stocks quotes. Right now gold is soaring, but copper is low. Do ya know what copper is used for?” There was a moment of silence before anyone said anything. Zach felt he needed their participation, otherwise his idea would be shot down for sure.
“Pennies,” Smitty said.
“Yes, but I’m thinking more in the line of bullets and wire,” Zach said.
“Bullets and wire?” Smitty asked.
“Go on,” Graziano said. He leaned forward slightly.
“We could invest in copper, see,” Zach said. “President Roosevelt just passed into law the Rural Electrification Act, which means every home and barn in the Tennessee Valley will be connected by copper wires for electricity and telephones. Can ya see the opportunity we have here? Copper will be in demand for bullets and wire, and we’ll already have shares that we bought low. Ya see?”
Graziano sat back and took another puff from his cigar. He mulled over everything Zach had said.
Zach watched Graziano silently. It all came down to this. He thought he presented his pitch well, but was it good enough to make another deal with Mr. Graziano and let Charlie go.
“The Stock Market is risky,” Graziano said. “Do I need to remind you of Black Tuesday?”
“Black Tuesday?” Smitty asked.
“The New York Stock Exchange collapsed on Tuesday, October 29, 1929,” Graziano said. “It caused the Great Depression and everything we’ve been dealing with since, hence the name Black Tuesday.”
“Charlie and I are willing to invest all the money we’ve made so far in buying shares of copper.”
“Fine, I appreciate your commitment, but what about my money?” Graziano said. “What if I lose money? What do I get for my losses? What insurance do I have?”
“Well, what do ya want?”
Graziano took a moment to consider his options. He took a sip from his drink and puffed on his cigar. He slowly spun his drink around and around creating rings of condensation on the table. Then he gazed directly into Zach’s eyes. “I want Charlie to fight for me indefinitely. If the stock goes south and I lose money, Charlie fights for me until I say so.”
Zach was stunned, this was a huge gamble. He knew the stock market was risky. They could lose everything, and if they did, Charlie will have no other choice but to continue fighting.
“So, Zach, you still excited about your plan? Because if Charlie wants out, this is the only way my friend.” Graziano’s eyes peered down on Zach without so much of a blink.
Zach reached into his pocket, removed the envelope of cash that Smitty gave him earlier, and slammed it on the table. He stared straight back into Graziano’s eyes. “That’s two thousand ... no offense, you’re a generous man, but I gotta do this for Charlie.”
“Well, I see your side bet paid off,” Graziano said.
Zach looked at Smitty. He felt betrayed and disappointed. He thought the side bet was just between them.
“Smitty tells me everything, it’s his job,” Graziano said. “Don’t worry, I’m not upset. It was smart putting money on Charlie. That’s why I don’t want to let him go. Charlie is a moneymaker. Let me ask this ... why are you going through all this trouble for him? I understand that you two are friends, but why get yourself involved in all this, you’re free to walk away.”
“Because he saved my life ... twice, and that’s what friends do for each other.”
“I’ll tell you what, Zach. I was going to say, no. But now I think I’ll go along with you on this little business venture. I like you, Zach, you have moxie and you have brains ... I admire that. However, if your plan doesn’t turn a profit, not only will Charlie work for me until he’s old and gray, but so will you. Now Zach, do you still want the deal?”