Recently I started cranking out flash fiction, just for fun. This kind of thing is how writers sometimes relax; pulling together a short piece, usually around 1,400-1,500 words. Mine are all going up on Reddit, because Reddit’s a major thing for me when it comes to the internet. Also, there’s a fairly vibrant sub for Writing Prompts that is a pretty steady flow of ideas to run with. Find something that sparks my fingers to start typing, and about half an hour later, poof; finished flash fiction piece. I call them flash fiction because, to me, even a “short story” is going to be at least three or four thousand words. Your mileage may vary. Anyway, enjoy.
This one’s called Retired Working. The prompt was “an experienced drug-dealer in New York opens a pizza place, and discovers a passion for pizza that outweighs running drugs.”
The idea I had with this one was, a mobbed up drug connection would be monitored by the FBI. What would they think of this new-leaf the dealer has apparently turned over?
“Don’t you ever get tired of hassling this guy?”
“No,” Evans said as he shut the car off.
“He’s clean. How many times are we gonna check him out?” Foster complained. Turning, Evans fixed his new partner with a look. The other man frowned, then held up a hand. “Whatever.”
Evans got out of the car and straightened his jacket and tie before walking around to the front of the building. He didn’t care if Foster followed or not. Senior man called the shots, and he’d spent too many years shooting where told by his seniors to even consider giving up the privilege now that he was in charge.
The bell above the door dinged as he pushed through. As usual, there were no open places at any of the tables packed into the seating area. And a line a dozen people deep snaked along the counter toward the register.
“Special Agent Evans,” a small, mousey looking man said as he came through the flap that divided the counter. It thumped behind him against the rubber stoppers, ignored by both men as Evans held his hand out. “How are you today?”
“Frankie, looks like you’re doing well.”
“Seems so. Still nosing around hoping to catch me being bad?”
Evans resisted the urge to scowl. “We both know this is a game you’re playing.”
“It’s no game,” Frankie said, gesturing around. “Why do you think they’re all coming?”
“They don’t know you like I do.”
“You eat my food too.”
“Investigation, not consumption.”
Frankie grinned like a little kid. “But you still keep eating it, yeah?”
“Yeah Frankie, I eat the food,” Evans admitted reluctantly.
“For you, I’ll make something special. You still like sausage and peppers?”
“I’ve only got half an hour. And it doesn’t look like there’s anywhere to sit.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Frankie said dismissively. He turned and gestured toward a guy, almost a kid judging by the patchiness of his beard, who was approaching the counter flap with an empty bus tub. “Johnny, when a table opens up, put my good friend here at it. Him and his partner.”
“Sure thing Mr. Butler.”
Evans watched as Frankie lifted the counter flap so Johnny could pass through, then went into the kitchen and nudged his way in between a couple of other employees at one of the prep counter. His expression was professional, but inwardly he was starting to wonder. Three months now, and for the last two it had been like this every day. The first month had been while word of mouth spread through the surrounding blocks, and now there were even people starting to come from further afield.
If it was a prank, or a cover, it was among the best he’d ever heard of. And he’d heard of a lot. Including the travel agency that had operated for nearly five years and even won awards for customer service and industry excellence … all while bringing powder and bricks back on every flight. This though … the only reason he didn’t have a full surveillance op running was he couldn’t convince his SAC what the exact angle was. It had taken him calling in a couple of favors to even have some taps set up to watch the pizzeria’s bank accounts for unusual activity.
Which there wasn’t. Everything was completely aboveboard as far as anyone could tell.
But he knew. He just knew this was a sham.
Turning, Evans saw Johnny wiping down an empty table with a cloth. He threaded his way through the other patrons, busy scarfing down slices and pies, and sat down.
“You want coffee? Or is today a Pepsi day for you?”
Evans frowned very slightly at Johnny, searching the kid’s expression for any sign of humor. But he just looked ready to take the order. Frankie didn’t offer waitresses, and Johnny was only the bus boy. But Evans was in a special category. “Coffee,” he said.
“Make that two,” Foster said, dropping into the other chair. The tables were small; to discourage loitering as much as to provide the maximum amount of eatery real estate.
“Two coffees,” Johnny said, picking up his bus tub and heading for the front counter.
Evans ignored Foster, who responded by pretending to be interested in looking through notes from the morning’s interviews on his phone. While his junior played the polite and respectful card semi-decently, Evans looked around. Trying to place the faces he saw. Some were regulars, but that wasn’t unusual.
Every restaurant in the city, hell every food cart in the city, had regulars or they’d be closed. He’d run license plates, he’d run credit card numbers gathered from shoulder surfing, he’d run names garnered from some casual interviews in the first week, and every single one was legit. Perfectly ordinary New Yorkers.
A couple with minor criminal incidents in their past, one guy who’d done ten years for aggravated assault, and another who had actually been busted for drug running; but no one seemed active. They were all clean, reformed citizens now. And the rest had apparently always been normal.
Every employee was clean, to a man and woman. Nothing worse than parking and speeding tickets. Not even any DUIs. None of them with any citizen or immigration or tax troubles. He was certain Frankie had hired a completely clean staff for his benefit. Which was the right move if Frankie actually was serious about this pizza thing; Evans would have jumped on any excuse to come down on him.
Coffee was there in less than a minute, and Frankie was back in ten. He brought a small pizza scattered with crumbled sausage, sliced red and yellow peppers, and a generous helping of extras. Chopped basil leaves, some finely diced mushroom, and what he suspected was a bit of spinach. “Here you go fellas,” he said, sliding the pan into the middle of the table and wedging a pair of white paper plates in on the corners near each man.
“That smells amazing,” Foster said, reaching immediately for a slice. He yanked it off and onto his plate in one quick motion, then sucked quickly on his fingers to cool them off. “Hot though.” He accepted the napkins Frankie offered him, wiping the hot grease off.
“Frankie, you know my offer’s still open,” Evans said. “But if you keep wasting my time like this, I’ll rescind it.”
“There’s nothing to find because I’ve got nothing to hide,” Frankie said with a shrug. “Just what you see. You’re welcome to look through the kitchen and store rooms again.”
“No one walks away from the Bonannos to start a pizzeria.”
“That’s the past. You’ve got nothing on me, because I’m not doing anything. This is my future.”
Frankie finally frowned. “Special Agent Evans. I have customers. Language, please.”
“Frankie, I can protect you. If you’re serious about this,” Evans said, waving his hand at the pan on the table, “then I’ll make sure the Marshals set you up with a joint wherever they settle you down. You can cook all you want. After you testify.”
“I don’t need protection, because I’m not running. So there’s no need to hide. New York’s my town, and I’m not leaving.”
The small man shook his head. “I like you Evans, but don’t push me. I’d hate to have start filing harassment complaints. Enjoy the pie.”
Evans watched as Frankie made his way back to the kitchen, stopping several times to shake hands and ask other diners how they liked their lunches.
“There’s no way that guy is playing you,” Foster said.
Turning, Evans fixed the rookie with a sharp look. For once, Foster didn’t shrink from the steely-eyed gaze the veteran agent shot at him. He just folded the slice he’d pulled off to his plate lengthwise and took a bite, returning Evans’ study with a calm expression.
“What, with your six months of experience, makes you say that?”
“No one who can make a slice this good is hiding anything except the recipe for the sauce,” Foster shrugged. “And that’s the one question he won’t answer, right?”
“Shut up,” Evans said, reaching for a slice of his own.