Thursday, September 17, 2015


He skirted the perimeter of the gymnasium. Half the equipment was in use, at only three-thirty on a Wednesday afternoon. Pride in his business mixed with relief to raise his first real smile of the day. Gold Tone Gym was doing better than he had hoped when he decided four years ago to put together the kind of gym he would want to use. Yes, he could imagine other gymnasiums being jealous and fearful. It had been a smart move to convert the old armory building, just a block away from the center of Tabor. They had more than enough traffic from the various businesspeople, store owners, doctors from the hospital three miles away, and the professors and students at Butler-Williams University. Not to mention all the young families and yuppies who chose Tabor Heights because of its proximity to the bus lines, the Rapid Transit station and Cleveland-Hopkins Airport.

Next to the storage room for towels, tools, and supplies for the latest vitamin and health-food craze, another room hummed and clicked behind its ajar door. Vic always felt a moment of pride when he thought of that room. He had provided it; a safe haven for the nerdy little kid who had helped him with his homework in middle school -- the pal he had been ordered to kill seven years ago.

Vic didn't bother tapping on the door before he opened it. Baxter wouldn't hear if he was up to his elbows in assembling a computer for the business he ran out of the back of the gym. Or if he was engrossed in some new avenue on the Internet.

Sure enough, the 'jumbotron' screen glowed, silhouetting Baxter's elegant, shaven head and pointed goatee. His muscled shoulders hunched slightly and he seemed a statue but for the long-fingered hand manipulating his mouse with tiny, deft movements that always amazed Vic. Compared to his almost elfin black friend, Vic felt like a clumsy giant. Baxter had been the genius escaping his ghetto neighborhood on a scholarship, protected on the first day of school by the boy who was destined to grow up to be "muscle" for one of the Families who ruled the city. Just like his father and grandfather before him.

Back when they both had different names, different futures, different lives. Back before Baxter became a Christian and refused to calculate odds or hack into target businesses for the Family. Before Vic had been ordered to "remove" his best friend, once he became a liability.

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