Being late should be a sin, Bruno thought between bites. Some things just were not done, even in the underworld, and making a man wait on his pay check was criminal, even among criminals. If you ask someone to bump someone else off, the delivery boy better be Johnny on-the-spot with the money. Bruno had explained after the last late payment that it was unwise to anger people who killed for a living. Not with words; he found words lacked a lasting impact.
But, that had been five or six years ago. No one had been late to pay Bruno since then. He had made his point, and as an apologetic gesture, he made sure that a percentage went to the kid's family. "Severance pay for blaming the waiter for the kitchen's cock up," he had joked. People didn't like Bruno's jokes, but they laughed anyway.
He checked his watch, waiting as the second hand ticked around. He heard the door open with twenty seconds to spare. He relaxed and tipped his imaginary hat to the ragged delivery boy. Who, he realized, as she got closer was a delivery girl. Scraggly, maybe sixteen. Wearing a checkered newsie cap and matching fleece jacket over her jeans. She held a small package, wrapped in nondescript brown paper.
Her limbs flopped around as she slid across the floor to his table.
"I'm sorry if I kept you waiting."
"You're on time," Bruno said. "Barely."
She handed him the package; the owners of the diner made sure to be looking the other way. If anyone asked, they'd say that they couldn't remember. They also had received a good monthly allotment to remove their security cameras. Besides, they had been told, people like Bruno were better protection than the law. No one had bothered the diner since shady armed men started coming round to receive mysterious packages.
The man who everyone was pretty sure was not there ripped open the package that no one saw delivered to count the phantom money. He peeked at his calculator and counted again.
"Tell your boss it is short."
"I can't," the girl said. "I just pick it up and deliver it. Don't know the sender."
"Well, it is short," Bruno said. This was a new problem. People always paid, and in full. He shifted the bills around and counted again, just in case he was wrong. He made neat stacks and found that, yes, two 100 dollar stacks were missing. The sealed envelope, however, was there. The next job was coming early.
He looked at the delivery girl, who was nervously eying the money, willing it to not be short. He pulled out his wallet, drew out a ten, then tucked it back in and pulled a clean fifty. He held it out to the girl, who looked at it.
"I thought you were mad that it was short," she said.
"Not your fault. You did your job. Buy yourself something nice," Bruno said. Then he added: "Not safe for a pretty young woman to do this kind of work at night. Find a new gig, kitten."
"Thank you, sir," she said, taking the bill and sticking it in her jeans pocket. She was half turned to walk away when he tapped the table.
"There's another fifty in this for you if you tell me where you did the pick up," Bruno said.
"We're not supposed to tell anyone that."
"It is easy money, be reasonable." She took the bill. "Good kid. What's your name?"
There was a momentary pause, which Bruno recognized as the liar's pause. Conversation has a flow to it, and liars break the rhythm. "Kristy." Then: "What's your name?"
Without a beat, he responded: "Saint Bruno. Patron saint of fair dealing."