Hap Callahan walked through the saloon doors of Cowboy Coffee, shaking his head at the lassos in the logo. Seemed every place he went these days tried to make you feel like you were at a theme park, not next door to a James Avery in yet another strip mall filling up suburban space and giving the local commuters a place to spend their money.
He eyed the caffeine cowboy that labored under a flimsy hat. “I’ll have a cappuccino.” He glanced down at the rows of trucked in sweets. “And that thing with the little marshmallows on top.”
“A cappuccino and a lolli, that’s eight bucks even.”
Hap handed over a ten. Waved off the change. He turned away. Scanned the room. Holding the treat on a stick in front of his face. Dumbest fucking way to meet someone. Ever. In the corner, a jittery little man made eye contact.
Hap walked among the tables and couches, past the bar with saddle seats and took the chair opposite “Pete. Looks like you’ve had too much coffee.”
“Fuck you. I’ve been waiting an hour.”
Hap checked his watch. A nice Tag he took off a guy who couldn’t dodge punches. “Did you remember to set your clock back, asshole?”
Pete shook his head. Not in response, more like a tick. “You got it?”
Two seconds and Hap was already tired of the guy. “Sure. You?”
“Yeah. I got the pics with me.”
“Memory too?” Digital pictures could be anywhere. Everywhere. Made his solution attractive to clients.
“Yeah. All of it. It’s right here.” He tapped his lap.
Hap took a sip. The drinks were always too damned hot. “Pete. I’m gonna tell you something.”
Pete shuttered. “Didn’t come for a lecture.”
“No. But you’re gonna listen anyway.” A small sip. “Blackmail’s a bad deal, Pete. People with enough money to make it worthwhile, usually have enough money to make problems go away.”
“Is that a threat?”
Hap rolled his eyes. “Just advice. My guess is you got lucky. Took some pics and thought you’d make a quick score.” He took another sip.
“So. Look at you. You’re a mess. The stress. The fear. Better for you if give it up. Walk away.” Hap fiddled with the ball on a stick.
“Yeah? Or what?”
“See, Pete. My client wants play along. Most of them do. Just want it to go away quietly. I do what I’m paid to do.” A long sip. “I’d rather hunt you down. Find you at night. Alone. Or with someone, I don’t care. End it all. No more threats, payments, worries. ”
Pete swallowed before trying to act tough. “Thanks for the advice. Now. The money.”
Hap pulled an envelope from his jacket. “This is the spot. The choice. You take the money, and it doesn’t go well from here. Give me the stuff. Leave now. No money. No pics. No trouble.”
Hap sighed. “Your choice. Here ya go.”
Pete started to open it.
Hap slapped his hand. “Not in here, moron. Take it out back. Count it there.”
“What if it’s not all there?”
Hap sat back. “Keep the pics until you count.” He spread his arms across the back of the booth. “Come back when you’re done.”
Pete furrowed his eyebrows. “What if I just run?”
“Then I’ll get to do things my way. Either way, I win.”
Pete stood and left out the back. Hap took another drink and twirled the frosted ball on a stick. “Weird shit.”
A man sat across from him. Handed him an envelope. “Thanks, Hap. Finding the guy made this a lot easier.”
Hap nodded. “Always does. Anonymity makes people brave. Being found makes them stupid.” He finished his drink and set it down before a sound like a car backfiring rang out from behind the mall. Hap grinned and placed the envelope in his jacket pocket.
“You’ll bring the pics by the office?”
“As soon as I make sure he didn’t have any copies anywhere else.”
“Thanks again, Hap. You really are the best.” The man left the shop.
Hap took a bite of the ball. “Piece of cake.”