By Allan Leverone
My brother slouched across an overstuffed easy chair in his sparsely decorated office, looking downcast. He wore loose-fitting jeans with holes in the knees and an “I Hate Peyton Manning” T-shirt, and if not for his rapidly thinning hair could have passed for some college kid, rather than a priest in charge of a good-sized Boston diocese.
“I’m telling ya,” he said dejectedly. “Sometimes life sucks. Christmas is coming up like your innards after a bender and we’ve got dozens of out-of-work families with young children who may not receive a single a present this year.”
“Thanks for the visual about the innards,” I answered, wondering for maybe the millionth time how we could actually be related. He was responsible, I was . . . not. He was movie star handsome and glib as a radio talk show host, and I was . . . not. He had gotten the calling to the priesthood after graduation and I had gotten the call from Jimmy “The Fist” Milligan to join his burgeoning organization. Weird.
I suppose it goes without saying we didn’t travel in the same circles, but Mikey might have been surprised to learn how many of his flock regularly partook of one of the most popular products Jimmy’s organization offered. It was an exclusive escort service, the biggest and best in the state, and I knew for a fact that more than one of Mikey’s most devout parishioners was also a loyal customer.
“Hang in there,” I told him, shrugging into my coat. “Things have a way of changing at a moment’s notice.”
“How can they possibly change?” he asked.
“I dunno. This is supposed to be the season of miracles, isn’t it?” I glanced back at him as I stepped out the rectory door and he was just staring off into space.
“You want me to do what?” Carole was our most popular escort and the organization’s single biggest moneymaker. She stared at me an unreadable expression as I explained the plight of the kids in my brother’s parish and how I thought we could help, eventually breaking into a dazzling smile when I finished. I had known she would go for it; Carole wasn’t just beautiful but she was also smart as a whip, with a sense of humor the size of the new Boston Garden.
“We’ll just have to be careful not to let Jimmy get wind of this,” I told her. “For one thing, he would demand a cut, and for another, well, he might see it as being bad for business.”
“Fine with me,” she shrugged. Her popularity made her bigger than Jimmy the Fist and she knew it. She could get away with things other girls might have found themselves floating face down in the Back Bay for.
The wind whipped off the ocean and straight across the city, scouring the grounds of the Public Gardens, forcing all but the hardiest of people indoors. Carole barely seemed to notice the freezing cold, striking a pose outside the Atlantic Insurance building like it was mid-July rather than mid-December. She was dressed in a red crushed-velvet Santa minidress complete with fluffy white cotton trim and matching red hat. I saw her every day but she still took my breath away.
We were positioned just outside the front entrance and as workers approached to begin their day she would begin vigorously ringing a brass bell, smiling at the marks, indicating the large basket set up under a sign reading, “Help Boston’s Homeless Children Get a Christmas Present!” It was remarkably effective, at least when directed at the male employees, and even though we had not received permission to be there, the security guards did nothing to interfere, preferring to stay inside the warm building and admire her curves.
“At this rate, we might get enough cash for your brother’s kids just by doing this,” she enthused. She was either flushed with success or the skin on her face was beginning to chap from the cold, I couldn’t be sure which.
“Probably,” I agreed, “but it’s too cold to stay out here that long and besides, here comes our target. This will be quicker and a lot more fun.”
A middle-aged man hurried between rows of cars, barreling toward the front entrance like an Olympic sprinter. He brushed past Carole, then froze in his tracks as she purred, “Hey, Harvey, what, no kiss?”
He did a double-take as the recognition dawned in his eyes and he glanced around to see if we were being observed. “C-Carole,” he said. “What the hell—I mean, why are you here?”
Harvey Singer was Atlantic’s CFO and a notoriously tight-fisted bastard. He was also one of Carole’s very best customers, “hiring” her several times a year for nearly a decade. He enjoyed getting rough with her, which was why I had picked him for this particular project. I cleared my throat. “Let me get right to the chase, Mr. Singer.”
He looked at me as if noticing a stain on his tie and I continued. “Saint Theresa’s Parish will receive an anonymous donation of $10,000 to benefit the homeless by three p.m., or Carole and I will pay a visit to your lovely wife and three kids before you leave your office tonight. You’ll lose everything. Your family will be gone by dinnertime. Any questions?”
He looked around bewilderedly. “Who the hell are you?” he finally asked in a whisper.
“Doesn’t matter,” I said, and picked up the donation bucket and sign. Carole blew him a kiss as we walked away.
“You’re not going to believe this,” Mikey said as we shared a scotch. “An anonymous donation came in today. Care to guess how much?”
“Hmm,” I said, pretending to think. “Ten grand?”
He stared at me for a long time, a quizzical look on his face. “Do I want to know?”
“Probably not,” I answered, and winked. “Merry Christmas, Mikey.”
Allan Leverone is a three-time Derringer Award Finalist, as well as a 2011 Pushcart Prize nominee whose short fiction has appeared in Needle: A Magazine of Noir, A Twist of Noir, Twisted Dreams, Shroud Magazine and many others. His debut thriller, FINAL VECTOR, will be released February 1 by Medallion Press. Learn more at www.allanleverone.com