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     Let me tell you something: This is the greatest country in the world. Better than all those other countries combined. Canada? Get out of here! Between Trudeau, snowstorms and moose droppings I'd rather be fly-fishing in the Antarctic. Australia, England? Are you kidding me? They don't have the Second-Amendment rights we have here, enshrined in our Constitution. Even the boot, where my great grandparents emigrated from to the United States, pales in comparison to the homeland. They tax you for everything there, they even got a television tax.




     But let me tell you something else: These United States of the Americas, they are one nation, under God! A land of true opportunity! Where every man, woman,  child and invalid can succeed, so long as he/she has the right attitude and a little bit of perseverance. 


     You can take inspiration from my life. I dropped out of Junior High School when I was 14 years old. Normally, in New York, you can't legally drop out of school until 16. But my Uncle Vitto, he gave that officious truant officer an offer he couldn't refuse -- he gave him a beating with a socket wrench. Nothing serious: Just a few broken bones here and there. But he got the message: I, Larry Spinoza, was not to be disturbed by the New York school system ever again. 


     Me, I'm an entrepreneur. I make my bread and butter, primarily speaking, by selling railroad ties. Would you believe that there is an actual market for these railroad ties? There is. Many cities in the glorious state of California pay me to haul away the old ties and discard them. Thing is: I never discard the ties. I keep them and sell them at my business: Larry's Lumberyard, out over on Sherman Street in downtown Perris, California. Who buys railroad ties, you might be thinking? Well, pal of mine I will tell you: The ties are mostly sold to consumers for landscaping purposes.


     Of course, I don't sell only railroad ties. I have a few side hustles. Most notably and lucratively, bookmaking. You would think that since we are approaching a recession, bookmaking wouldn't generate much dime. You would be mistaken. Even when real estate prices fall and the stock market and crypto industry is hanging on only by life support, the bookmaking community is still thriving handsomely and healthily. That's because, in part, there are many degenerate gamblers who refuse to stop betting. In addition to gamblers, there are other more legitimate reasons a person needs money -- hiked rent prices, layoffs from the job, and those two-bit loan offices on the side of town will no longer do business with them. These men and women have maxed out their credit and I'm the only entity left they can borrow from.


     One day I am out in the lumberyard, directing Giuseppe, my ever-present and extremely illegal Sicilian aide-de-camp, as he navigates the ties off the trailer of the Kenworth via tractor in front of me. "Hey, be careful there Joeyboy, to the left a little bit," I hollered, Android placed to my ear, I'm all the while chatting with a deadbeat customer, Marcus Farkas, "Forget about it, Marcus," I said. "You still owe me 5,000 for the principal and 5,000 interest." I paced about the lumberyard, trying to hear Farkas' voice over the loud John Deere roaring engine. "You're either paying the principal or interest, but either way you look at it, you've only paid me half."


     Then Farkas, the flat-faced squirmy-eyed history professor from Perris University, said something that really rankled my feathers. "You know Larry, I believe your interest rates are a bit exorbitant."


     "Exorbitant? Is that right?" I said over the Android.


     "That's right," he said. "And I won't be paying any of it." For a few seconds I was stunned. I was at a loss for words. There were many who thought they would get away with not paying, but they just avoided me. They never told me straight to my face--or the closest thing to that, over the phone--that they weren't going to honor our agreed-upon price. "Marcus, Marcus," I said soothingly. "You knew these were my rates going in. Nobody put a gun to your head, begging you to use my services. You did that on your own violation."


     "And I'm sorry to state nobody is putting a gun to my head to pay off the vig either," Farkas said soberly. "Because if you do, I have a sister-in-law who is an operator for the police. I will tell her all about what do you call it again -- illicit loan sharking operation -- and you will be taken out of business and imprisoned.


      "Hey, hey," I said. "Relax, relax. Nobody is going to put a gun to your head, my friend. I assure you."


"Have a good day, Pisan," Farkas said coldly before hanging up.




It was hard to think, as I stomped my foot on the accelerator of my 2021 Ford F-150. I was seeing red. Giuseppe sat beside me, peering outside the window all the while, mostly silent, except for some idle chit chat. I seethed as I thought of this punk--this Farkas. What kind of professor of the histories was he? My Uncle Vito used to have an expression: Never, under any circumstances whatsoever, trifle with a Spinoza. He understood the game going in. He knew what my fees were for tardy payments. He agreed beforehand going in. Now he threatens to call the cops on me. I banged my fist on the steering wheel a few times. Giuseppe seemed nervous. "Relax, my friend."


"Larry, I don't know why you want me to come along."


"I want you to make sure I don't get too carried away with this deadbeat," I said. "I don't know if you've noticed Giuseppe, I got me quite a temper. Make sure I don't go too far with this stolto. I just need to scare him a little bit, get my money back, then we'll be on our merry way." Silence for a moment as I watched the road. "Don't be nervous. There'll be a good bonus for you coming along."


"But I don't want to be arrested," he said feebly in broken English. "I'm making good money here to send back to my mother and sister. If I go to jail they will starve to death."


"You ain't going to jail pal. Don't worry."




The Professor Marcus Farkas lived on a cul-de-sac in Wofford Heights, the most upscale area of Perris, California. His house was, of course, the nicest house among beauties. I parked my car in the street in front of the massive two-story, five-bedroom place. The lawns were immaculately cut. The birds were singing and chirping as Giuseppe and I dismounted the Ford F-150. We made our way to Farkas’ door and Giuseppe pressed the doorbell. 


Soon enough there stood in the doorway Marcus Farkas. He wore a sweater so square and conservative-looking even Bill Cosby would have thumbed his nose at it. "Ah, it's you," he said, looking at me impassively. And then he looked at Giuseppe. "I see you have brought along your muscles."


"He ain't my muscle," I said.


"What is he then?" Farkas said, face inscrutable.


"He's here to stop me from killing you." Back hand slap, then front hand slap, across Farkas face. He stumbled to the sidewalk immediately. I pulled him over into the grass by the thick brown mane on his head. Then, by pure happenstance, the sprinklers came to life, watering both me and Farkas. Giuseppe stood over to the side. The history professor was now blubbering uncontrollably. "Stop, please! Please! I'll pay you."


I dropped him on the soggy grass. "You threaten me on a business transaction we agreed upon, you parasite! I ought to blow your brains all over your wife's begonias out here!"


"I'll pay you back," Farkas yelped. "I'll pay you seven thousand vig!"


Giuseppe touched my shoulder consolingly. "It's time to go, Larry."




Later that night I went home, anticipating a knock on my door from the police. But pleasantly enough, nothing came of it. This was a good sign. It meant Farkas probably wasn't going to snitch me out to the police, as he had threatened to do. I smiled as I sipped my espresso from the tiny porcelain cup my great-grandma Estelle brought here from the old country, about a hundred years ago. That Marcus Farkas, I thought to myself, downing the rest of the caffeinated drink. What a scoundrel. I hate snitches.


There was a buzz at my thighs. Looking down, I noticed the android lighting up with a blocked number.


"Hello Larry." It was my FBI handler, Duane Lippman.


"Hey Duane, how are you doing?"


"Fine, fine," Duane said. "How are things going with your new life?"


"I'm enjoying sunny California a lot," I said. "I would have preferred it if you guys would have stationed me in Malibu, but Perris isn't bad," I said. "It’s not very far from LA."


"Good, good," Agent Lippman said.


"How's my Uncle Vitto doing?"


"Your Uncle's doing well, fine," Lippman said. "As you can well imagine, he’s still upset about your testimony. They stationed him over at Marion State Pen. His health is good, my sources inform me. He's taking blood pressure pills. He got into one fight with another inmate--a jewel thief from Michigan--but neither he, nor the jewel thief, Walter Hillman, sustained any life-threatening injuries."


"That's good to know, I wish nothing but the best for my Uncle Vitto,” I said. "Have a great life, Duane." 


End of call.


Nothing else to do, I lit up a Havana Blend cigar, propping my feet on the coffee table in front of me, reflecting on my past, puffing away and never inhaling. I had been the Spinoza family's most trusted capo. I'd been involved in everything: Point-shaving schemes with college basketball games; protection services for business, which the district attorney, Heinz Hartman charged me with as extortion; bribes paid to corrupt cops, judges and jurors; and a few murders here and there--all within the confines of La Cosa Nostra protocol -- for good measure. 


And I didn't see one hour of prison time.


Like I said at the beginning: There ain't a place like The United States of America.


Jack Bristow's fiction can be read in The Saturday Evening Post, Mystery Tribune and Mystery Weekly Magazine. His non-fiction can be read in The Orange County Register, The Huffington Post, The Santa Fe New Mexican as well as several newspapers and blogs. This year you will be able to see Bristow in Elias Perez's horror pandemic film, "Mocos."


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