He had to evict Griffons?  How on earth was he going to manage that?  The old man had made it clear before that he wasn’t going to leave.  His head was spinning so fast he barely made it out of the car before Maurice revved the engine and sped off down the dusty road.  A fresh spray of mud, kicked up by the spinning tires, splattered onto Parker’s already filthy suit.  He sighed in exasperation.  Wonderful.  Just wonderful. 
    Frank sniggered at him from the sidewalk.  “Ain’t looking so good now are you, fancy man?  I’m so sorry the boss had to go and get your hopes up like that, but you just don’t have what it takes.”  He smirked, relishing his perceived triumph.  “Don’t you worry about it now, I’m sure there’s plenty of small-time crooks out there who’d love your help.”
    Parker raised an eyebrow.  Small time, was he?  The statement was not without a grain of truth, and it hurt his pride to hear it out loud.  It had been a long time since he had any job worth bragging about.  But all the same, this little rat was not going to stand there and insult him.  He had standards, after all.
    “I’m afraid that’s not the case, Frank.  I’ll be taking charge here now, and I’m going to need the list of those business’ you two have failed to evict.”
    The speed at which the smile dropped off of Frank’s face made Parker feel a little better.  “What?  How’d you find out about that?”
    “That is strictly on a need-to-know basis.  The list, please?”  Parker held out a hand.  Always be polite, even when rubbing a man’s face in the metaphorical dirt.  It was one of his rules. 
    Frank’s voice cracked.  “You can go and...”
    Parker cut him off.  “Now now, don’t go saying anything you’ll regret later.  I would just hate to have to report this little bit of insubordination to Boss Anderson.”  He wagged a finger.  This was too easy, really.
    “He told you his name?  Already?”  Frank’s voice squeaked even higher as he grabbed at his greasy hair.  “Impossible!”  Parker could almost see his blood pressure jump.
    “The list, please.” 
    Storm clouds roiled over Frank’s face as he plucked a sheet of paper from an inside pocket of his leather jacket.  He slapped it into Parker’s outstretched hand, much harder than was necessary. 
    “Thank you.”  Parker gave Frank a serene little smile and scanned the list briskly.  Sure enough, Griffon’s Pawn Shop was the first entry, followed by a diner, a hardware store, and a barbershop.  All four were small and locally owned.  According to the addresses listed, they wee spread out fairly evenly across Three Oaks.  Nothing to suggest the reason why they had been chosen.  Just a job to be done.  Do the work, get the money, don’t think about why.  It wasn’t your business to ask.  But the question was still there, twisting around in the back of Parker’s mind and prodding at him.  Why these four?
      “So, you got a plan, fancy man?”  Frank scowled at Parker as he sulked against a lamp post.  Next to him, Big Joe idly kicked at a tin can, looking unusually thoughtful.  Parker was surprised his facial muscles could pull it off. 
    “Yes.  I will go talk to the nice man in the shop, and you will stay out here.”
    “Did I stutter?”  Parker threw open the door and walked into the pawn shop, leaving Frank spluttering on the sidewalk.  Behind him, he thought he heard Big Joe chuckle. 
    Griffons looked up from his desk as the bell above the door chimed.  His eyes traced over Parker, then to Frank and Big Joe outside, then back to Parker again.  A curtain seemed to drop over his face, cutting of the spark of recognition that had flickered there.  Slowly, intentionally, he turned his back and began polishing a piece of antique wood behind the counter.  The short distance between the two of them suddenly seemed very far.  
    Parker stepped forward.  “Look, Griffons, just listen to me.”
    “If you don’t have anything to sell, then get out of my shop.”  Griffons didn’t turn around.
    “I need to know what is going on here.”
    “What’s going on here is that you are running with Boss Anderson and his cronies.  Get out of my shop.”
    Parker thought hard.  How was he going to do this?  Griffons was far too smart to fall for any of his usual ploys.  The man was used to dealing with criminals and obviously wasn’t scared of any of them.  But perhaps he didn’t have to be.
    “This isn’t anything personal, Griffons, I just...”
    Griffons spun around suddenly, eyes flashing through the lenses of his glasses.  “You just need me to leave, like all the rest of Anderson’s lackeys!”  His voice was thick with barely suppressed fury.  “They’ve been at me for weeks, the rat and his pet ape, even most of the cops.”
    Parker allowed a flicker of surprise to cross his face.  The fact that the police were working for Anderson did not surprise him in the least.  But Griffons didn’t have to know that. 
    The old man saw.  “Surprised?  You don’t know the first thing about this town, do you?  Everyone here knows that all of them are in Anderson’s pocket, except for Joyce.”
    Ah.  There was something.  But an honest cop didn’t help him right now, he still needed to convince Griffons to leave.  Perhaps honesty was worth a try.  As strange as that was for him, he had no other viable option.     
    He raised his hands in a mollifying gesture.  “I don’t know why he’s doing this, but I have no choice.  Please, for both of our sakes.”  And for Amanda’s, he added silently.
    Griffons snorted.  “Choice?  You always have a choice; everyone always does.  You’re just giving it up.”  He jabbed a finger at Parker.  “You don’t know why Anderson is doing all this, but you didn’t ask, now did you?  You’re just following orders, doing what the boss says like a lapdog begging for a treat.”  He spat on the floor, contempt rising off of him like steam.  “Now get out of my shop.”  There was steel in his voice.
    The reply died on Parker’s tongue.  He stood stock still for a long moment, then slowly turned and walked delicately out of the store.
    Frank and Big Joe were standing where he had left them.  The latter still seemed oddly reserved.  At any other time, Parker would have said something.  But right now he just kept walked.
    Frank flicked back his greasy mane.  “Didn’t work, did it,” he asked, glee dancing on his face.  “Well, don’t you worry, I got another plan I been working on.”
    “Shut up.”  Parker felt the words leave his mouth without really hearing them.  Glancing at the list, he picked the nearest address and started plodding towards it, trying as hard as he could not to show how shaken he was.  Griffons’ accusations had gotten in somewhere deep, somewhere he thought he had boarded up a long time ago.  It was like being six years old again, being chastised for staying up past bedtime.  He didn’t like it.
    Frank squeaked something in reply, and Big Joe muttered something under his breath, but all Parker could hear was Griffons diatribe, the words echoing over and over and over again in his mind, still refusing to fade.

The End

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