Late in the evening on Thursday, the door to the bar swung open too hard and the bells clattered as the heavy door bounced off the adjacent wall. Frau Guten tapped her husband on the arm when he failed to look up from serving a customer and when he saw Jürgen followed by two other suited thugs, he cursed under his breath as he affected a broad smile.
“Willkommen meine Freunde!”
(“Welcome, my friends!”) he said as he stepped around the side of the bar.
Arms outstretched, he approached Jürgen who merely sat at an empty table and struck a match to light the cigarette he had been pulling out. As Jürgen looked up sidelong at the mark, he leered and the bar owner dropped his arms from the aborted greeting.
“What can I bring to you good men?” he asked, hoping to gain a little favor before discussing the money situation.
Jürgen said “A Stout.” As he looked back down at the table, dismissing the older man, his two apprentices remained standing.
They were both physically larger than Jürgen, but neither of them had the mental fortitude to gain and keep the loyalty of their marks. This would be a learning experience for both of them. He did not acknowledge either of them and expected them to remain standing. This was an indication to the entire establishment that he was there to conduct business and the few customers who were talking at a table in the far corner of the bar downed their beers and gathered their coats, heading for the door. As the owner returned with the Stout beer, he saw the backs of the three men as the door swung closed behind them. This would not be a pleasant visit.
As he set the Stout down in front of Jürgen, the strongarm snatched his wrist and held it flat against the table. This put the man in a very uncomfortable position, especially due to his age. Bending over and not being able to stand or move, his back began to ache almost immediately, but he stayed still as Jürgen took up the Stout with the other hand and downed half of it in one gulp. He set the glass down on the table and the old man thought he would say something to move the situation along, but he just sat there holding his wrist in place against the table as the ache in his back continued to mount.
“Your payment is late.” Jürgen said, not moving or looking up.
“Yes. I am very sorry about that, but this week has been even worse than last week. I have last week’s payment for you but not all of this week’s yet. By Saturday afternoon, I should have the rest.”
Jürgen stayed very still for a long while. The bar owner, and his wife behind the bar who was listening but trying to look as if she were not, stood perfectly still…waiting. Jürgen then turned, throwing one leg over the bench so he could face the old man. Loosening his grip on the man’s wrist, the allowed his hand to slide down so that his palm was cradling the bar owner’s palm. As he did so, he placed his other hand on top of the other man’s hand so that his hand was between both of Jürgen’s hands. He then began to contract his grip, very gradually, as he spoke.
“You know how understanding I am with you and your wife and I am only too happy to be so. I want to take care of you both and make certain you can have a prosperous business here.” Jürgen’s grip ran out of room at this point and the pressure on the man’s fingers and knuckles began to increase. “You have my word that I will continue to keep you safe and make sure you always have a place to do business.
As the man’s restraint began to waiver, a grimace began to appear in fits and starts on his face. His wife across the room set the glass and cloth she was using down and put her hands flat on the bar, still trying not to look directly at what was transpiring. Jürgen’s grip continued to build pressure and one of the man’s knuckles popped. Neither of his henchmen moved at all, but stared straight ahead.
“I want you to know that my boss is very sympathetic and he has asked me to give you some extra time, but we know how expensive it is to provide protection for the community and we don’t want his faith in you to waiver, now do we?”
Through gritted teeth, the old man forced “No, sir.”
“I’m so glad to hear you say that.” The pressure ceased building, but Jürgen did not release it. “It is out of my way to come back here tomorrow so I will take what you have ready for me today and we can leave the rest for next week, but I don’t want to have to explain to my boss why you were late again, so we’ll just keep this between us and I will let him know that you are a trustworthy businessman. Would that be a good thing?”
The pain was getting to the old man and he answered too quickly “Yes, yes.”
Jürgen released the pressure, but not all at once. He very gradually relaxed his grip making the man wait for him to decide when to let go. Finally, as Jürgen ended the hand holding, he patted the back of the old man’s hand gently and looked into his eyes. “I’m so glad we agree.”
Warily, the old man retracted his hand and gestured for his wife with a too-fast wave. She immediately took up a paper bundle from under the bar and quick-stepped around the bar to stand behind her husband, handing him the bundle. He extended the bundle toward Jürgen, but the strongarm did not take it. As the man stood with the bundle extended, Jürgen took up his glass, downed the rest of the Stout, set it down enjoying the beverage, and without looking up, tapped with a flat palm against the table before withdrawing his hand. The old man set the bundle of Marks down where Jürgen had tapped and one of his henchmen reached for it, tucking it into his coat’s front pocket. He did this all without moving the point of his gaze against the far wall.
“I look forward to seeing you next week,” said Jürgen, rising and straightening his coat. Touching the brim of his hat, he nodded and the two younger men turned to exist before Jürgen.
The old woman came up behind her husband and cupped his aching hand in her own, resting her forehead against his shoulder while he patted her arm.
(Copyright 2020 by Phillip Johnson. Written and reproduced May 21, 2020 by Tom Loesch. All rights reserved.)