By Ben Sumner
They sat in the diner in the corner stall, furthest from the entrance in the non-smoking section.
“How much change you need?”
“Two-hundred.” Ed replied.
“When can you pay me back?”
“Two weeks. Friday.” That’s when Ed’s paycheck would come.
“You live on Hallow Lane, right?”
“How’d you know?” Ed asked, but realized it didn’t matter.
“You know this’ll cost you $50?”
“I can handle that. Do you have the money now?”
“Right here.” He handed it over. Four fifties right out of his black leather wallet.
“Thanks a lot, man.” Ed stuffed the money in his back pocket and stood.
“How’d you find out about me?”
“Bill Sawyer told me.”
“Okay. I’ll be meeting you two weeks from today, right here. Six o’clock. Come no matter what.”
“Right.” Ed stuck his hand out. They shook limply.
Ed left the diner and walked over to the bus stop. His friend Bill waited on the bench, smoking a cigarette.
“Did you get the money?” Bill asked between drags.
“Yeah. I should’ve asked for more. That idiot would’ve given me anything I wanted. But thanks for telling me about him.”
“How much did you get?” Bill wondered.
“Damn. That’s a lot of money.”
“That’s because you don’t got a job,” Ed replied.
“Yeah, but you do, so I still don’t know what you need it for.”
“I ain’t paying him back. What’s he gonna do?”
“He might have collectors,” Bill suggested.
“He didn’t have any friends back in high school and he doesn’t have any now. I used to mess with him in science class, and now he’s dumb enough to loan me money. There ain’t nothing he’s gonna be able to do to me.”
“Be careful. People get paid to beat the shit out of other people. With the amount of money he has, he probably has a few boys.”
“Like who?” Ed pulled a cigarette from his pocket, stuck it in the corner of his mouth, cupped his hands over the match and lit it.
“I dunno,” Bill shrugged.
“Even if he does have someone bigger than me, I got you and Chad to back me up.” Bill stood 6 foot 4 and weighed 250 pounds of weight-trained muscle.
“I got your back,” Bill replied. “But I still think you should pay him.” Bill stood, seeing the bus down the street.
“You wanna go to Big Steve’s tonight for fireworks? He’s having a party. I’m catching a ride with Chad.”
“I’m going out with Kathy.”
The bus pulled up.
They stomped on their unfinished cigarettes, got on the bus, paid their fee and sat in the back.
“Why’re you wussing out?” Ed asked.
“I told you I’m going out with Kathy.”
“You won’t be getting any. Straight edge women aren’t cool. You’ve been seeing Kathy for four months and she hasn’t given you nothing.”
“She’s getting closer, and I like her.” Bill smirked. “Chad’s taking you tonight?”
“Yeah. Paged him this morning and he called me on his cell phone from his car.”
Bill smirked, but Ed did not care to ask why.
Ed looked at his gold watch. Fifteen passed six. “I’ll be over Big Steve’s around ten if you change your mind. You and Kathy should stop by.”
“Kathy won’t want to. Everyone’s gonna be drinking and shit, and she doesn’t like that.”
“What about you? You shouldn’t let her spoil your fun.”
“I’ve had a lot of fun with her. The best thing about it is I don’t have to wake up with a hangover.”
“Yeah, but doesn’t it suck not being able to drink?”
“I still drink, just not to get drunk like I used to.”
The bus ride lasted ten minutes before it came to Ed’s stop.
“See you later. Page me tomorrow sometimes.” Ed got off and walked home. Bill’s stop was another ten minutes away.
. . .
Lewis Shaiman, the loan shark, got up and left the diner, notebook in hand, money in his wallet. He got in his Honda Accord and drove home.
That day, he had collected $500 from $400 in loans, none late. He also handed out another $400 in loans, so he made $100, more to come. Some of the diner workers had borrowed from him, so they never got on his case for loitering.
Lewis was going into his senior year of college at Boston University where he was majoring in business. He had another two months to loaf around and make money before school started. He loaned money during the school year, too, but not as much since he concentrated more on his studies. Now, he would sleep until noon, play on the computer, go to the diner around 5:00, stay until 6:15 or so, go home, log onto his modem, watch a movie, and go to bed around three. He had gotten ripped off a total of $200, $100 by two different people. Actually, that was meager compared to the thousands that he spent on the operation. All of it came from years of saving, mowing lawns, brief part time jobs, birthdays, his Bar-Mitzvah, his high school graduation and his top of the middle-class parents who supported him.
Lewis sort of had a girlfriend throughout high school. Then again, they were more like good friends because they never kissed passionately, nor did Lewis ever try. She was one of the high school valedictorians, Miss Straight A’s, low profile in the social scene like Lewis, and got a full scholarship to Carnegie Mellon. The last Lewis heard of her, she became a pot head in a sorority. Lewis thought she did it to get into the social scene, have more fun than she did in high school and make many more friends. It worked.
Lewis met plenty of people, but didn’t befriend any of them. Sometimes he made enemies. But most of the people became mere acquaintances. They thought Lewis was cool for getting them a loan so they could pay their rent or fix their car or whatever, but they went their separate ways. Lewis thought he had nothing in common with any of them. Most semi-intelligent people, the type that he considered himself to have more in common with, would not go for his excessive interest rates. He thought his frequent customers were stupid because if they had any common sense, they would save money themselves rather than spend more than they had to, then come back for more. However, his frequent costumers were also his more trusted because they paid on time.
After a year of loaning, Lewis still could not figure out why he did it. He would have the same mental conversation every night. Why am I doing this? he would ask. Because I have the money, and I’m making more money, he would answer. I don’t care about the money. I got money. I don’t need to get it this way… The conversation would end when he fell asleep.
Lewis arrived at his house, went to his computer, logged in, and surfed the movie previews on the web.
. . .
Around 10 p.m., Ed walked through the neighborhood to Chad’s place.
“What’s up, Chad?” Ed walked up to the porch, where Chad sat, smoking a cigarette.
“Hey man. You getting weeded tonight?” Chad asked.
“Hell yeah. As long as you’re driving,” Ed smirked. “Why’re you wearing sunglasses?”
“Fell and busted my eye.” Chad pulled the shades off to reveal a bruise around his left eye.
“Holy shit. What’d you fall on?” Ed looked closely, seeing how black it shined.
“Down the stairs. It’s embarrassing as shit.”
“You getting smashed tonight?” Ed asked.
“You paying? I don’t have any money,” Chad replied.
“I got some money. I’ll cover you.” Ed felt to make sure the money was still in his pocket.
“Thanks, man. I’ll pay you back.”
“Don’t worry about it. I got lots of cash.” Ed sat on the porch and pulled a cigarette from his pocket. Chad lit it for him with his Harley-Davidson zippo.
“You got money from that sub shop?” Chad asked.
“Yeah. I’m making $6 an hour. I’m due for a raise next month, so I’ll probably be making $6.50.” Ed didn’t want to tell Chad that he got money from Lewis. He had money from the sub shop, too, but usually blew it on bills and beer, then smoked the rest of it.
“How many hours you work?”
“About 35 a week. Depends on how busy it is.” Ed took a drag, then flicked it into the dirt with about a hundred other butts lying in ash. “How’s Kim?”
“I broke up with her last week.” Chad stood.
“She was being a bitch. Couldn’t stand her anymore.”
“Too bad. She was hot.” Ed liked Kim, but was not very close to her.
“Lets get going.”
They got into Chad’s red Ford Probe which sat in the driveway, turned up White Zombie and sped off to Steve’s house.
Steve’s place was about ten minutes away. They parked down the street, got out of the car and walked to the house. About 20 people already showed up. It was only 10:15.
“What’s up, Big Steve?” Chad saw Steve greeting people at the front door.
“Hey dude, glad you all came. I got a keg out back. Three bucks to drink.” Steve stood 6 foot 5 and very thin. His hair was dyed red and he had a new ring in his eyebrow.
“I’ll cover that.” Ed said, pulling out a 50. “You got change?”
Steve pulled out a wad of cash, counted $44, and they exchanged.
“Almost there,” Steve mumbled to himself.
Ed heard him. “You have enough to pay for the keg?”
“Just about,” Steve said.
“Where’d you get it?” Chad asked.
“Harvey’s Liquor. I tore the tag off the keg because I’m sure there’s gonna be underage drinkers coming in, and if the police come, they don’t need to know where I got the keg from. Otherwise Harvey’s would get busted and I would’ve ruined every party around here.”
“Nice of you to cover the liquor store’s ass,” Chad said.
Ed and Chad went to the backyard, waited in line for the beer, pumped it up, and sat on lawn chairs. They knew about half of the people there. Some sat in the kitchen playing drinking games through a funnel. A few girls swam in the swimming pool in the backyard.
“Hey Keith,” Ed saw a buddy of his that he hadn’t been hanging out with lately.
“Hey man, I gotta ask you a favor.” Keith had a grim look on his face and spoke in his usual whacked-out tone. They stepped to the side where no one could hear them.
“What’s up?” Ed asked, seeing Keith’s bloodshot eyes.
“Can I borrow $175?”
“What for?” Ed wished he had said no right then.
“I just need it. It’s kind of important. I can pay you back next week.”
Ed thought for a minute. He was cool with Keith but didn’t trust him completely. There was no way he’d pay him back next week. Maybe next month. Or not at all.
“Sorry man. I don’t got any to spare. I just borrowed some myself.” Ed half-lied.
“Shit. Do you know anyone that I could get it from?” Keith pleaded.
“No, not really,” Ed lied again. He wasn’t going to tell him to borrow it from Lewis. He probably owed it to Lewis. He doesn’t have the balls to keep the money for himself, Ed thought.
“Are you sure?”
“If I can find someone that can loan you the money, I’ll tell you. Give me your pager number.” Keith was really getting on Ed’s nerves. Hold your breath until I call you, Ed thought.
Keith went inside looking for a pen and paper.
Chad was talking to some girl outside. Ed walked over.
“What’s up?” he asked Chad, who was still wearing his sun glasses.
“Not much,” Chad replied, hiding his thumb so only Ed could see it, pointing to the girl.
“What happened to your eye?” The girl asked, seeing the bruise on the open side of the sunglasses.
“Got in a fight and I busted some kid’s ass. He had a cheap shot on me…”
Ed chuckled as he heard Chad’s lie, then walked inside and asked to get into the drinking game. Then he saw Kim, Chad’s ex-girlfriend, sitting at the table, already looking drunk as a bum. “Hey Kim.”
“Hi, Ed.” She laughed, brushing her long blonde hair out of her face.
“Chad’s outside.” Ed wondered how many beers she had.
Kim rolled her eyes. “I broke up with him. I don’t even wanna speak with him.” She had a different facial expression with each slurred word.
Ed eyeballed Kim during the drinking game. Damn I want her. However, Ed decided not to hit on her because Chad would probably be pissed at him if he did. Chad was still outside talking to that brunette girl.
They sat and played the drinking game for a while. Kim went to the funnel, then went stumbling to the bathroom. That clinched it for Ed. Now he really didn’t want her. You gotta get a girl drunk enough to put out, not puke out, he thought. Actually, most of the girls Ed was ever with were drunk, as was he. His buzz kicked in after a few beers.
Steve lit a bunch of fireworks in the backyard for all the drunken and doped-up youth. He lit bottle rockets, twirlers, m-80s, and all kinds of colorful flying fireworks. A few girls got pushed in the pool. Others sat in a drunken haze, watching the twirling pretty colors while holding their ears because the noise seemed ten times louder in their intoxicated state.
After the fireworks, Ed approached Chad again. The girl he was talking to had left.
“Hey, man. You ready to go?” Chad asked.
“Have you been drinking?” Ed did not feel like going home dead that night, just drunk.
“Not for a half hour. I’m fine now. I got that girl’s pager number.”
Chad and Ed said bye to Steve and they left. It was just past midnight. Early for their standards.
. . .
The same night, Lewis played solitaire and Mindsweep, then stared at the shooting-star screen saver on his computer. His parents went to a fireworks show in downtown Boston, but he told them he didn’t want to.
Lewis looked at the password-protected file of his business transactions. He calculated the amount of money he would make when all his loans came back. Then he shrugged, not really caring. What am I going to do with the money? he wondered. He did not know. Probably keep it in the bank, use it as a down payment for a house or put it in the stock market when he got a real job after college. Once he got a real job, he would have much more money, and wouldn’t have to engage in this loan sharking scheme, not that he needed to now.
The shooting star screen saver came back on as Lewis stared at the numbers and dollar signs. He turned off the computer, realizing that there was nothing left to do. He thought of his parents and wondered if they were having fun watching the fireworks. His parents were not the most social people, but they did a lot together. Lewis loved his parents, unlike many of the people he knew. He financed many down payments on apartments for people who got kicked out of their parents’ house. Regardless, Lewis’s father was making money, having fun and going out a lot with his mother, even in his early fifties.
Lewis’s father told him that when he was growing up during the sixties, he faced a lot of peer pressure. As a result of staying away from the hippies, he had fewer friends. He said he was depressed in his twenties because he wasn’t having much fun, had few friends and didn’t have a girlfriend. It wasn’t until his late twenties when his father met his mother and he started enjoying life. Lewis felt a little better about himself then, knowing that this loneliness would be temporary because he already showed signs of being like his father.
However, Lewis also realized that his father spent some of the potential best years of his life in loneliness. Lewis was 20, and had no intention of spending the next ten years in loneliness like his father, even if it meant there was a reward at the end.
His parents knew that Lewis was lonely, so they tried convincing him to join clubs at school, get a job or go out and meet new people. Lewis met lots of people, many his age, but there was just no connection between them. He originally thought that he could make friends and money at the same time, but he only made money.
Lewis stood from the desk chair and sat on the couch in the dark basement. He looked at the empty seat next to himself, wondering and knowing why he was alone. The only girls he knew were good-looking-high-school-drop-out-pot-heads who would not give him the time of day unless they were borrowing money. Every party he went to, he fit in like a sane person in a mental ward. Everyone would pass around a blunt, a bowl or a bong, drink lots of beer and liquor and act stupid. He even financed the kegs, and got the money back the next day from what they party host made in drink sales.
Lewis sat on the couch, watching the clock tick by, watching the days tick by, and not caring much about his bank account going up. This isn’t doing me any good. I gotta get out of this.
He knew the reason he loaned. He wanted attention, and it backfired. No one cared about him. They just wanted his money, and if they were honest, whom many of them fortunately were, they would pay him back.
Lewis went to bed at 10:30, asking more questions. Eventually, the tears came. The only reason he didn’t want to kill himself right then and there was because he wanted to get his money back first. It was a matter of principal.
. . .
Kim woke up at 2 the next afternoon. She was dizzy and had a pounding headache. She couldn’t even remember how she got home. At least she did not feel violated.
Her mother banged on her door. “Kim, wake up! You have a hangover, don’t you?”
“Just a minute, mom,” she mumbled.
She got up, showered, ate a bowl of cereal, and went back to bed.
I’m never gonna get that drunk again, she promised herself. Kim had gotten drunk more times than she could remember. It was Chad and other guys like him that got her into drinking and drugs. She did it to impress them, though she didn’t really like it at first. Then when she dumped each guy, she went out to parties and found herself doing it again with a different guy. Last night, she did it alone.
Why is it the only guys I can find are so into drinking and drugs and why is it that I’m into it even though I don’t like it? she asked herself, tears rolling out of her eyes. This isn’t doing me any good.
Some of Kim’s friends had checked into Alcoholics Anonymous. Kim had lost contact with them since she went the opposite way.
Without hesitation, she went searching for her address/phone book.
“Hello?” a female voice asked on the other line.
“Kathy? This is Kim.”
“Hi Kim! I haven’t heard from you in a while.”
“Listen. Are you still going to those A.A. meetings?”
“Do you think I could join you?” Kim knew the answer would be yes.
. . .
Two weeks later…
“Hello?” Bill picked up the phone at 9 a.m.
“Hey, Ed. What’s up?”
“I’m going to the beach this weekend with Chad. He said I can bring someone else. You wanna go?”
“I’m broke.” Bill was always broke.
“Get a loan from that dude at the diner,” Ed suggested.
“Won’t be able to pay him back. He won’t loan to me, anyway. I couldn’t pay him back on time last time so he jacked up the interest. It took me a while to pay him back all of it. The rate went up to 75% on the original loan.”
“You shouldn’t have paid him back at all.”
“I don’t pull stuff like that, and neither should you.” Bill’s voice raised a little at the end, almost like he was threatening him.
“When are you leaving?” Bill continued.
“Tomorrow morning. Chad’s driving us down. His new girlfriend is meeting us down there with some of her friends. I’m trying to hook up with one.”
“Sorry I can’t go. Sounds like fun. I gotta get going now.” Bill didn’t sound the least bit disappointed, but Ed hardly noticed.
“No problem. Take it easy.”
. . .
Lewis waited in the diner. Six o’clock came, then 6:30. His last appointment was supposed to be Ed. Ditched again. He was still far ahead. Two-hundred bucks down, not including the interest.
. . .
Ed had just gotten home from work and the bank. It was 7 p.m., and he was beginning to pack for the beach. His parents were out of town so they weren’t there to yell at him about anything. Later, he was going to bunk at Chad’s so they could leave early.
The doorbell rang. Ed stopped packing and went to answer it.
He looked through the window, seeing Bill. He opened the door. “Hey, Bill. Changed your mind about the beach?” Bill stepped inside, speechless and expressionless.
“How much money do you have?” Bill asked.
“Three-hundred. I need it all for the beach, though.”
“Give me that money you owe Lewis.”
“Give me the fucking money before I kick your ass!” Ed had never seen Bill like this around him.
“I need it for the beach,” Ed spoke nervously.
Bill’s right knuckles smashed into Ed’s left temple, wrenching his head around.
Double-vision blurred Ed’s eyes. “What the hell are you doing?” he screamed. Bill could kick his ass so easily, and Ed knew it. “Fuck you, man!”
Bill slugged Ed in the stomach, knocking the wind out of him. Ed took a moment to catch his breath, hoping that Bill would not hit him any more.
“Now, give me the money you owe Lewis, plus an extra $50. I warned you about this before. You’re so damn stupid!”
Ed opened his wallet and pulled out every last dollar. Three hundred ten bucks, more than what he owed. He really didn’t feel like counting it then.
Bill counted it, then flipped the extra ten back to him. Bill was no thief.
Still hurting and crying, Ed managed to speak. “You changed, man.” Ed thought about how he was going to explain to Chad that he would have to cancel going to the beach. Chad would be pissed, but he would have those girls to himself.
“I didn’t change any,” Bill said. “I told you to pay the money back but you didn’t listen. Don’t take it personally. It’s business.”
Bill walked out, flipping through the money. He got into the passenger side of a Honda Accord, which was parked on the street, engine running.
“Got it,” Bill said. Lewis hit the gas.
. . .
As they drove…
“I’m getting out.”
“No more loaning, huh?” Bill understood instantly. Lewis lived near Bill all his life. They were always friends, but Bill went with a different crowd, and they had little in common. They just had trust from knowing each other for so long.
“The money is good, but I just can’t do it any more. It’s gotten me no where.”
“You made plenty of money, though.”
“The money was never an issue.”
Bill did not even bother to ask how the money was not an issue. Lewis probably made over five grand, but he never disclosed anything.
“What’s wrong, man?” Bill asked.
“Think about it. Where has this gotten me? I’ve only made enemies, I’ve made no new friends, I could get busted, you could get busted and we both could get jumped.”
“You don’t need any of these people as your friends. They’re a bunch of fuck-ups.” Where does that leave me? Bill thought. Kathy told him he was honest to an honest friend, and that’s more important than being honest to a dishonest friend like Ed. However, Bill also realized he was going no where with this other than making a few bucks.
“We should get a real job. Even if it’s flipping burgers it’s still more honest than loan sharking.”
“You can look at it other ways. You’re helping people out and they do you a favor in return. If they decide to rip you off, they get what they deserve.”
“I’m not in this to help people out. You think I care about those freaks?”
“So the question remains. Why are you in this?”
“I’m not any more. I’ll collect the last few loans and keep you nearby in case they try to rip me off.”
“I got you’re back.”
“And I’ll pay you your 10 percent of the principal as usual.”
“You know what you need?” Bill asked.
“I know plenty of things I need and I’ve been trying my whole life to get them but it just doesn’t work out.”
“Things will change, man. Don’t worry about it. You came out ahead in this and now you’re out, so everything should be all right.”
“Then I’m back where I started.”
Bill caught onto Lewis’s drift, but neither dared to speak of it. Lewis needed a life that he liked.
“No, you’re not back where you started. You got yourself some bad-ass credentials.”
“What good does that do me? I’m no mob boss.”
“If this whole thing was a mistake, learn from your mistakes and take a different route.”
Lewis sighed. “I’ll try, but I really don’t see me changing any.”
“You will. You just gotta try harder. I got your back.”
. . .
A week later…
Lewis sat at the diner reading People magazine. That weekend, Lewis was going to his parents’ beach house, and invited Bill and Kathy to come with him. His parents were grateful that Lewis finally decided to go there and bring friends with him.
A girl walked into the diner, saw Lewis, and sat down in front of him.
“May I help you?” Lewis asked like a clerk as he had many times before.
The girl smiled. “Hi. I think I went to high school with you.”
She continued. “You were in my Freshman P.E. class. I remember playing softball with you.”
“Your name is Kim, right?” Lewis remembered everything about her. Her boyfriend tried to stiff him on some money. He was one of the few people who had no intentions of paying the money back. Often, people didn’t have all of the money, if any, but still had the nerve to show up and tell him. The interest rate usually went up, but their ass was safe.
“Yeah. You’re Lewis, right?”
“You’ve changed a lot since high school. I heard you loan money now.”
“Not anymore. I’m just here to collect what I’m owed.”
“I don’t need any money. You’re the one who got Chad and Ed beat up, weren’t you?”
“That’s the power I have.” Lewis said with a smile, and Kim seemed to like that with the smile she continued to shoot back at him.
“Cool. Those punks deserved it. I heard it was Bill Sawyer who did it. My friend Kathy is dating him. She’s making him get a real job, though. She told me he applied for a job at a sub shop.”
“I’m going to the beach with them this weekend.” Lewis was glad she wanted to keep this conversation going. She seemed to be more in control of which direction it went.
“That’s cool. I was wondering who was taking her. Anyway, why are you quitting?” She continued.
“I’ve been making too many enemies, not that they were my friends in the first place. I also got ripped off twice.” Lewis really liked this girl. No one else came in and asked these questions out of pure interest. “It’s really not doing me any good. Sure, I’m making money, but I really don’t care about that as much as the morals of it.”
“I’m also quitting things that I shouldn’t be doing,” she said. Bill told her she’d like him. Of course, Lewis did not need to know that.
Lewis never really had the guts to ask a girl out, unless there was a specific purpose like homecoming or prom. He went to homecoming and prom with that girl who became a pot head in college.
“If you’re not busy now, you wanna go somewhere and talk?” he asked. “I’m sick of this place.”
“Okay,” she answered without hesitation.