Still a Good Man


By Peter DiChellis



"I do business with two kinds of people, Mr. Deadbeat," the loan shark told Dabir. "The kind who pay what they owe, and the kind who die screaming. Have you got my money?"

The next day, blood flowed from a gash in Dabir's scalp, spattered the yellow floor in his little hardware store, soaked his shirt. On top of everything else, he thought. Dabir owned just four shirts good enough to wear to work. Just three now.

He'd made a mistake, two really, and was about to make another.

"You okay?" the tall man asked. "What happened?"

"I am fine," Dabir said. His voice still carried an accent from his home country. "I have...I have been robbed. My store, it has been robbed."

Mistake, Dabir thought. I should have said I slipped and fell, or something dropped from a shelf onto my head.

"Sit down. I'm calling 911."

"No, please don't. It is okay."

When the cops arrived, Dabir told them the lie he intended to tell the loan shark, due again today. A robber, Dabir told the police, had stolen his money, taken it all. The cut on his head proved it, right? Later, he planned to tell the loan shark the money had been ready, waiting for collection. Dabir was prepared to pay his debt, he'd say. Then the robber took everything!

But Dabir, trying to fashion a wound, had banged his head too hard against a metal shelf, cutting his scalp on a sharp edge. And then the tall man entered the store, a customer, rare these days, and at exactly the wrong time.

"So you said the robber came to this counter," the police detective probed. "Pretending to look at the power drills?"

Dabir felt dizzy. Too many lies, too much to remember.

"Yes."

"So you got a good look at him, but you said you can't describe him."

"Pardon?"

"Well, the robber stood right here. You stood there. And if he pretended to be a customer, he wouldn't cover his face, wear a mask. And then he hit you. So you saw him up close, got a good look at him."

"I guess. My head right now..."

"I understand. Take your time. What did he look like?"

Dabir thought about Amun, his childhood friend from the old country. He recalled what Amun looked like as a young man.

"I do remember more," Dabir said. He described the young Amun, who'd grown years older now and lived half a world away.

* * *

The loan shark came again, laughed at Dabir's robbery story, punched him hard in the stomach, and told Dabir to get the money in two days or he'd kill him. Maybe use one of those power drills, he said. Make it hurt. Make Dabir beg.

He held up two fingers. "Two days," he told Dabir.

* * *

Two days later, the phone rang. It was the police detective.

"We caught the robber, Mr. Dabir. Exactly the guy you described. And we recovered the money he stole from you."

At the police station, Dabir peered through the viewing glass at the young man the police had arrested. He resembled a young Amun. But he was not Amun, of course.

"We got lucky," the detective said. "Routine traffic stop. But the guy acted evasive, lied about an unpaid ticket. The traffic officer searched his car, found the cash hidden under the seat. She called it in and matched him to the description you gave. This is the robber, this is the guy."

"I am unsure," Dabir said. "Maybe he is the wrong man. Could the money be his?"

"You sound like him. Says it's his money, earned it at odd jobs. Expired visa, no work permit, lives in his car. Saving the money to get his paperwork cleared up, then go to school, he told us. Learn a trade, maybe start a business."

Rather than Amun, Dabir now saw himself in the young man. Saw his own struggles and ambitions, so many years ago.

"Maybe what he says is true," Dabir told the detective.

"No. This is the guy. Believe me, I've heard every excuse, every lie, every hard-luck story these hustlers can invent."

The detective stared at Dabir.

"We need your cooperation, Mr. Dabir. Then you can get your money back. You do want your money back, right?"

"I need the money, very much. When?"

"After the trial."

"I am unsure."

"Look, this is the robber. With your cooperation, he goes to prison. Without it, he takes the money and walks away. Do what's right."

"That is what I must do."

* * *

Dabir drifted back to his store, thinking.

He wanted to be a good man...he was a good man, he knew. A good man trying to take care of his family. But when he needed money for his business, the banks had refused. They said a small, isolated shop, and so old — thirty years Dabir had owned it — could not survive against the new competition, the big discount stores. To secure a loan, he'd offered the banks his store and his life insurance policy. Not enough, they told him. Dabir was a good man, a family man, but that meant nothing to the banks.

And it meant nothing to the man who'd finally lent Dabir the money. And kept collecting and collecting, already taking more than he'd lent, but never satisfied, always demanding another payment.

Dabir unlocked his store, went in. He savored the scent of old wood and light oils, the shiny assortment of metal tools. The loan shark arrived fifteen minutes after Dabir, went into the store, and re-locked the door from the inside. He left three hours later.

Behind the tiny customer service counter, Dabir lay sprawled on the floor, dying. His life insurance would take care of his family, he thought. And the young man would not go to prison.

"I am still a good man," he whispered.


Peter DiChellis is new to mystery-suspense writing. His recently published stories include a crime-horror genre-bender at YELLOW MAMA and a private eye mystery in The Shamus Sampler anthology. He is a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. He lives and loafs in a small beach city in Southern California.

To read more of his published work, visit his Wordpress site Murder and Fries.


Copyright 2013 Peter DiChellis. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!


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