Ring of Fire

Image of Short Story
A young, brunette woman carried her blonde infant to the local Realtor. In her purse she kept a small stack of money.
“Lady, what do you want this time?” the man asked, his voice harsh.
“I have it. I have everything,” she said. She shoved her purse towards the Realtor. He looked inside and raised his eyebrows.
“How’d you get all this?” he asked, insinuating. Suggestive.
“Never you mind,” she said. He handed her the keys to a building just off the highway, outside of town. She turned on her heel and walked towards the door, baby swaying on her hip.
“It’ll never work,” he said, leering. “You’re no man.”
She paused.
Then she walked out.

The sandwich shop was a cover for a gambling ring, she realized.
A large man in clothes tattered almost to the point of suspicion looked around, clutching a small bag to his chest. He crossed the street, his great head on bouncing on his fat neck, his sausage fingers wiggling around his small pouch. He rushed into the store, ragged threads trailed behind him.
She walked towards the store with determination, eyes blazing. She threw open the door, marched towards the register, and slapped the counter. Elliot winced.
“What, exactly, is going on here?” she asked, calm and quiet.
“Nothing, Ma’am. Same as last time you visited,” Elliot said, teeth chattering. She smiled.
“Why are your teeth chattering, Elliot? Is it cold?” she asked. Her chipped finger nails taped rhythmically on the wood, and her chin sat in her other hand. Her gaze was cat-like.
“Yes, that’s it. It’s cold. You should turn the heater up; you might be saving money, but I’m freezing in here!” Elliot said, grasping for an explanation.
She walked towards the back room, her old shoes clicking on the dilapidated tile floor. Elliot vaulted over the counter. “Miss, it’s dirty in there!”
She kept walking. Through the door, she could hear the faint sound of voices, and smell a whisper of cigarette smoke.
“The keys.” She said. Before he could refuse, she jammed her fist into his pocket and ripped out his keychain.
The door unlocked and creaked open, and an eerie silence is all that she could hear. Through the door, however, was a bustle of activity, halted in its tracks.
About fifty men in clothes at different states of deterioration stared back at her, and all of them held cards in their meaty fists. Five dealers sat in the room. One of them dropped their deck, and the sound of fluttering paper rang out.
“Well, well, well,” she whispered. She prowled forward. “This is what my shop has come to,” she said. Her eyes took in the small room crammed with sweaty people. No one spoke.
“I suppose none of you might like to give me a cut?” she asked, her voice low and smooth and amused.
“Well, I guess you men thought that little ol’ me wouldn’t be able to tell, right?” her eyelashes fluttered. “That, every time I visit my small shop, my pride and joy, I wouldn’t notice all you men with ragged clothes, pretending to beg?”
She stopped walking, then. She stood right behind the center dealer. All eyes were on her, and her torn jeans, and her perfect, cornsilk hair.
“I’m just a dumb blonde, aren’t I?” she asked. She leant down, and trailed her fingers over the dealer’s shoulders. She squeezed, hard.
“You were wrong,” she said quietly, the most silent she’d been.
Then, “I know all of you. I know your wives, and your children. Your jobs.”
She smiled. “This is my ring now.”

“Welcome to Patty’s, how can I help you?” The cashier said, his smile wide and his eyes bright.
“I’d like a pastrami sandwich with extra Jalapenos,” the man said. His suit glistened, and his moustache was groomed.
“White, wheat, or Rye?”
“On a bagel, please.”
The cashier nodded, and moved from behind the counter. “Right this way, sir,” he said.
The man followed him. A cane supported his fat belly, and his steps were eager to the back of the shop. The cashier opened the door, and the man stepped inside.
A hundred men in perfect suits were shouting, smoking, drinking. Gambling. The man grinned.
“Just how I like it,” he said. The cashier nodded, and closed the door.
Twenty miles away, Patty sat in her bed. Her old, withered hands held up her blanket. Her breath rattled.
“Mama,” a young, blonde woman said. Her hands clutched at Patty’s sleeve.
“Mama, we did it,” she said. A stack of one hundred dollar bills sat next to her. Patty smiled.
And then, the young, manicured woman sat back, and counted her money.
They were expanding.