Carlos was leaning on a desk giving him the hairy eyeball and Artie knew how things were going to go down, but he had no choice. If he hadn’t shown for the meet they’d have come for him, and kept on coming. There was nowhere to hide. This had to play out here and now. He walked to the middle of the room and looked at each of them in turn.
Ben wouldn’t return his gaze. Harry was smirking at him, the bastard. That was Harry through and through. He’d really enjoy the evening. For a while, anyway. Artie smiled and didn’t say a word.
Carlos gave him the evils for a minute longer, then spoke.
“Still got that nice ride, I see. Did you put the 350 Holley in it like you said you were gonna do?”
Artie smiled. “Sure did. Runs like a bandit. Maybe I’ll let you spin it some time.”
Carlos cocked his head. “Damn white of you, Artie. You know why you’re here?”
“You called because you missed me?”
Carlos lost his grin. “Listen, asshole, this ain’t no party. Me and the boys ain’t happy about that last batch you cooked up for us. Word on the street is that it isn’t up to standard. What’s up with that?”
“That’s bullshit, is what that is, Carlos. My guess is its Frankie putting the bad word in people’s ears. He’s got a problem with me, that’s all.”
Carlos moved around the table and put his arm around Artie’s shoulder. “Artie, Artie, Artie. You wouldn’t be trying to blow smoke up my ass, now would you?” He shifted and put both hands on Artie’s shoulders and looked him the eyes.
“No, Carlos, I…”
Carlos head-butted him with all his might. Artie hit the floor like a 200-pound barbell. Walking around him in circles, Carlos went on. “You see Artie, I can’t have my reputation getting all dirtied up, now can I?”
Artie groaned and rubbed his forehead. “Damn, Carlos, what the hell!”
Carlos reached down and pulled him to his feet. Harry came from behind and pinned him as Carlos rabbit punched him in the breadbasket hard and fast a couple of times. Artie could feel something tear, but he didn’t make a sound. Ben stood to the side awaiting instructions.
“You see, Artie, you’re costing me here. It’s not like you’re the only cook around. You’ve got a reputation, sure, but I can’t help thinking you screwed me here. I don’t like thinking somebody’s screwed me, Artie.
Seeing the next punch coming, Artie rolled with it, feeling a couple of teeth loosening. He spit out blood.
“Ouch. That don’t look so good, Artie. How you feelin’?” Artie smiled at Ben as best he could.
“Like a million dollars, Ben. Your girlfriend was real good to me last night.”
Ben was faster than Artie had ever seen him. His fists were a blur. When he was done Artie was barely conscious. Carlos went to the desk for a glass of water and threw it in his face.
“Stay with me, sunshine. We’re not through here. I want to know where the stuff is you made the last batch with. I need to see this with my own eyes.”
Artie shook his head and looked up. “Sure, Carlos. It’s all at my place. You remember how to get there?”
Carlos nodded. “Harry, Ben, tie him to that chair. We’re gonna go for a ride.”
Artie reached in his pocket and threw his keys to Carlos. “There’s my house key, right next to the ignition key.”
Carlos looked the keys over. “You know, I think we’ll take that spin you offered, Artie. You won’t be needing the car now, will you?”
Artie didn’t say a word as they tied him up, he just glared at Carlos. They were laughing as they left, locking the door behind them, so they didn’t see or hear Artie doing the same.
Five seconds later as Carlos turned the key in the ignition the blast blew out the windows and knocked the chair Artie was tied to across the room, smashing it and loosening the rope.
Artie got up painfully and headed for the back door. It was going to be a long walk back to town.