Part of the Business

Fiction by Travis Cravey

Tommy had been going over invoices for two hours. His computer was getting warm and the heat made Tommy’s little office hot. His desk was just piles of paper and a keyboard, save one picture taped to his monitor of Tommy’s sister Katy and her baby. The picture was old now, the baby a toddler in a flowery dress, but it was the only photo Tommy had of the two of them. 

The dark screen of the accounting software served double duty as a mirror and Tommy saw Paco coming before he made it to the office door. Paco was young, less experienced. That’s why he opened. He wasn’t ready for nights at the bar, wasn’t ready for that crowd.

“What?” Tommy thought about paperwork that needed to be done and how little sleep he’d had and how Paco, even if inexperienced, had been here long enough to take care of his own shit without knocking on Tommy’s door two or three times a day.

“Yeah,” Paco looked back over his shoulder. “There’s a man here looking for his daughter.”

Tommy started to stand. “Is he a cop?”

Paco shook his head. “Doesn’t look like one.”

“Ok.” Tommy put his jacket on and began turning the computer off. “From now on you just say you don’t know her, ok? You never seen her.”

A man in his fifties standing at the bar with a photo in his hand. The man stiffened as he watched Tommy come around the corner, weaving between two elevated stages as a few women were listlessly grinding on poles as three men in suits stoically watched, their highballs untouched and beading sweat on the tables in front of them.

Now the man stepped towards Tommy, hand outstretched. “My name is Terry Greenwood. Are you the owner?”

“Manager,” Tommy corrected as he reluctantly took Greenwood’s hand. “What can I do for you?”

Greenwood held up a glossy 8×10. “This is my daughter, Roberta. I’m hoping you can help me find her.”

Tommy barely looked at the girl, a brunette, before looking back at Greenwood. “Yeah, sorry buddy, but I don’t know her.” He held out his hands, helpless. “Never seen her before.”

Greenwood’s eyes narrowed. “She was here as recently as two months ago. People saw her here.”

Tommy smiled. “That may well be, buddy. But these girls are independent contractors, so we don’t have a lot of information on them. They come and go.”

This wasn’t the first parent Tommy had dealt with. It was just a part of the business. Every few months another would come in, looking for a little girl that wasn’t little or even theirs anymore. The first few he met he had tried his best to help. He called staff, or girls he’d seen their daughters with, and never got anything useful. So he stopped. It wasn’t his job to monitor the lives of every girl who danced in his club. They came and went. And when they wanted to go, Tommy knew, no amount of begging them to stay would help. Besides, it’s a big city and a bigger world and some kids just don’t go back to Provo or Abilene or Shreveport. Now he went through his speech, apologized, offered the guy a beer, and went on his way. This was a business, after all.

“Sorry I couldn’t be of any help.” He turned to Paco, who had been listening and wiping down the same patch of bar the entire time. “Paco, get this man a beer.”

Paco nodded but Greenwood didn’t move. The man set his jaw, clench his fists. “I don’t want a goddamn beer. I want to know where my daughter is.”

Tommy slumped his shoulders, turned to a man sitting at the end of the bar nearest the dancers. “Cisco, this man is ready to leave.” The man being addressed stood and started down the bar. He was big, tattooed, bald. A classic look, Tommy thought. How long had he worked there? A year? Two? Tommy remembered hiring him but could not place the date. He knew it had been summer, because the HVAC was out.

Cisco came up to Greenwood and pointed towards the door. “Let’s go.” Tommy saw a flash go through the older man’s eyes. Had he been twenty years younger, Tommy thought, this guy would have gladly thrown a punch at Cisco. But he wasn’t a younger man anymore. The flash left and then so did he.

Tommy turned back towards his office, almost sad the man had not put up a fight. But life’s like that, he thought.

Travis Cravey

Travis Cravey is a maintenance man in Southeastern Pennsylvania as well as an editor with Malarkey Books. His first collection, Manifold, is available from ELJ Editions.