Lou’s, by Gregory Lynch Weller

Kid says we need to try a different approach, he’s looking at the figures and something doesn’t add up. Big town, small figures, he says, and remember it’s not like how it was in the old days. Times are changing, quicker than you think. Okay. Ace is about to pipe up, explain the figures and the pressure points and where we need to hit them, but the old man waves him away, little grimace on his face that’s either frustration or pain. Some things can’t change fast enough. Anyway, room’s keeping quiet and Kid’s going off on how sometimes it’s the smaller details that matter, it’s the smaller details that can make a difference. Smaller things have more space to stick in the mind, he says. And people remember. They notice your tie isn’t covering your collar button or you’ve got a spot of dirt on your shoe, they file it away and act accordingly. Like anyone, he says. Like a woman. Well, that sort of made sense, or at least the guys are nodding like they mean it, pushing up the knots of their ties. A lot of them are thinking of their first date, probably. That’s what the old man’s good at, turning words into something that matters, on a personal level. In a way it reminds me of my mother.

Ace doesn’t normally go to these things but Kid had a word with him once he was done with the rest of us and they’d been cooped up in the office for a good ten, fifteen minutes. Difficult to say if it was a pep talk or a down talk because his face isn’t giving anything away. Not that Ace is a difficult man to read. Two types of quiet. This is Diego who said this. Two types of quiet. Cautious and tragic. Well, Ace sure as hell isn’t tragic, so it must be the other one. Difficult to like, difficult to hate, like most of the world. Ace just is. Came in one time with a tooth knocked out and the side of his face banged up. That was it, we thought, time to go, but he says no, just some punk kid and don’t tell the other kid. I’m looking at Diego and Diego’s looking at me, but then we notice his hand and it was in worse shape than his face. That was enough. Cruising now, you couldn’t tell it by his expression, and maybe that’s the point. Maybe that’s why the old man likes keeping him around.

Diego’s behind the wheel, Ace riding shotgun and guess who’s in the backseat like some kind of kid? Someone’s talking about pressure points and someone’s talking about where we need to hit them, and there’s nothing to make anyone think this time will be different from the last. Diego lights up and the smell of it fills the car. I hate the smell and don’t like the smoke in my face, but I’m not saying. Broad daylight beyond the windows, same as ever. No sunset vistas for us here. Fella steps off the curb and Diego has to hit the brakes last second. Swears at him, something racist, and the guy doesn’t even turn to look, at him or the car that almost killed him. Next time. I’m thinking there’s another kind of quiet, Diego’s kind, not like Ace’s because it’s not planned and doesn’t serve a purpose. He speaks when he wants to, which isn’t often, and that’s it. But even when he’s not speaking, you don’t get the impression he’s quiet. That’s the kind of quietness I’m talking about. It’s not the dominant part of his personality.

We stop outside Lou’s, nothing going but it’s still bright outside. Quiet too, like everyone woke up today and figured they had better things to do than window shopping or real shopping. Side mirror shows me something I don’t want to see. I spent my first twenty years thinking I was handsome. Funny how things change. Hard to believe, harder to accept, but I never went in for anything else. Ace, maybe, or tried to. Diego and me, forget about it. Kid once told us that you are who others make you. There’s a lot of truth in that. No others, no you. Mirror doesn’t care what else you have to say. Problem is the reflection starts to look the same. But we’ve been here before, so I won’t push it.

Lou’s the first. Won’t be the last. We do the hardest first, work our way down. Three more stops after this. Then we see if people have clocked the trend. Normally a day is all it takes. Big town, small minds. Diego lights another smoke. Ace and me are silent. For a second I think I hear music but I must be imagining it because the car radio’s off, engine too. Someone leaves the building and we all step out. I’m surprised at Ace, no questions or doubts, but I shouldn’t be. He’s done this before, lots of times, same as the rest of us. A million ways to do it. There’s variety in some things. The old man says there’s two ways to gain power, through respect or through fear. Walking into Lou’s with Ace and Diego, I’m wondering to myself which old man said it first.

Memento in a box in the glove compartment. Diego’s idea, and it’s his car as well so no one complains. Sunset now but no vista. We’re done for the day. Everything’s done, just the way it always goes. You get to prefer it that way after a time, comes with the job and age. Anyway, we’re waiting at a red light and I realise none of us have said anything since we stepped out of the last place. What’s the plan, I ask. I know only Ace is going to answer. See how the others take it, he says, see what the boss says. The boss. No, I say, what’s the plan now. As in tonight. I’m thinking bars, bistros. I’d even settle for a movie. But it’s not happening. I already know this. Drop me off at the subway, Ace says to Diego, who gives a slight nod, nothing more. When Ace is gone it’s just me and Diego left, although I don’t bother to change seats. From the back I look at his hands on the steering wheel. They’re big hands, flecked with red, the bone white of the knuckles telling me that somewhere there’s a kind of tenderness.

Let me tell you something another old man said. He said the difference between boys and men was looking at the world for what it is, not what you want it to be. He who makes out the world makes out the person, and vice versa. I forget who said it.

Gregory Lynch Weller is a recovering lawyer. He now works in marketing for consumer goods and services, and dabbles in fiction writing to keep himself sane.