by Tony Noland
The fat man limped onto the stool next to the thin man, eliciting a crinkling noise from the almost new plastic. Everyone sitting at the counter made the same noises as they shifted and swiveled, eating and turning this way or that to face their companions. People spoke, silverware clinked, seats creaked. The thin man didn't turn to face the fat man.
Cup and saucer already in hand, the waitress asked the fat man if he wanted coffee. He said yes, he did want a cup of coffee, please. She poured it for him, refilled the thin man's cup, then left.
The fat man looked at the menu for a moment longer, then set it aside.
"I liked this place better before it was no smoking." said the thin man.
The fat man shrugged. He stirred his coffee, though he'd put neither cream nor sugar in it.
"Was a new owner made the change. I been comin' here a lot, last couple of years. If it wasn't for that, I'd have maybe said a different place." said the thin man.
The fat man sipped, said nothing.
"It's just..." the thin man said, "breakfast don't taste the same without a smoke afterwards, you know?" His fork and knife were crossed on top of the rye crusts, forming a perfect right angle in the middle of his plate. Traces of yolk spiraled around the edges, drying into a halo above. The thin man wiped his lips, set his paper napkin on the plate.
"So." said the fat man. "You called me. I came."
The thin man turned his cup, back and forth.
"It's been a long time, Michael. A long time."
"Cut it. What do you want?"
The thin man swallowed. "I was hoping that we could maybe work something out."
"We? Who exactly do you mean by 'we'? You and the boss?"
The thin man swallowed again, said, "Michael... I was hoping maybe you could talk to him. Kinda let him know I was sorry, you know? That I... well, you know what I mean."
"You want me to tell him that you want to come back to the family? That you want to come home?"
"Yeah, something like that."
The fat man sipped his coffee. The waitress returned and the fat man asked for eggs and ham, please, no toast. She took the order and left them.
"Forget it. I vouched for you when you ran away, remember? I stood before the boss and I vouched for you, you son of a bitch, because I thought all you'd done was steal. Anybody can make a mistake, I said. He got too full of himself but he's basically a decent guy, I said. Stupid ass fuckin' me. I didn't know you'd been makin' a power play, tryin' to overthrow the boss and get the big chair for yourself."
"Mikey, I'm sorry."
"Don't call me Mikey. Now you tell me, how do you think I looked when they told me what you'd done? There I am vouching for you, and I get that little piece of news. Tell me, genius, how do you think the boss was feeling on that day? Listening to me vouching for you, the favorite lieutenant, the one who was like another fuckin' son to him, who had just tried to cap him and take over. Tell me, whadda you think, good mood or bad mood for the boss? Whadda you think?"
"Not half as sorry as I was. It took me a long time to convince the boss that I was just a dumb ass who got taken in by you, you fuckin' snake. Care to guess what the boys were doin' to me as I was beggin' for my life? Me, the boss' go to guy, on the floor beggin' for my life, all because I vouched for you, for my good friend, you rotten piece of shit?"
"Michael, please, I'm sorry! You're my only hope! I want to come home!"
"Fuck you." The fat man stood and tossed a tenner onto the counter.
"Hey," the fat man said, turning back. "I got an idea. If you want to come home so bad, why don't you try going to see the boss directly? Tell him to his face that you're sorry?"
The thin man paled and shrank.
"Yeah, I didn't think so. You got no balls, you lyin' coward. You never did. If the boss wants to see you, he'll send some of the boys down to get you. He knows where you live."
The fat man picked up the thin man's mug and quietly spat into it.
"You made your own hell, Lucifer, now you can fuckin' well burn in it. Don't call me again."
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