Evil vs. the Angels of Stony Island
by Jim Heaney

“Renters Assistance Center. This is Ruby, may I help you? yes, we have apartments everywhere and all it costs for a listing is ten dollars. Yes, we have apartments on the west side and all over the city. Please come in and ask for Ruby Tennessee.” She hung up the phone and waved for my job application.
“you didn’t fill out the job history section,” she said after quickly scanning it. “I don’t have any. How much business you doing a day here?” She sat back in her chair.
“Why do you ask?” “What would the boss say if I knew how to increase it?” She pondered the question for a few seconds.
“He’d probably give you a job.” A short, square, well-dressed and well-muscled guy strolled out from the rear office and stopped ten feet away.
“Ruby, I’ll handle this. Can I help you, kid? I’m Bob.” “I’d like a job.” “We only have phone sales positions available, and we’re not conducting interviews today. Come back some other time.”
“I’m a phone expert and I need the job now because the rent’s due Monday. And if I left, we’d all be missing out on some fast cash today. you have an open desk with a phone right there. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll pitch the phones now for nothing. If I don’t produce, don’t pay me. But if I earn, give me a job and an advance of two hundred. One President to pay my rent and the other for expenses.”
“you couldn’t bring in enough sales today to justify it,” he said. By this time we’d drifted out of earshot of Miss Ruby and the beauty queen. “Sure I can. First off, I know you’re running some kind of apartment scam because I can hear your crew phoning landlords. I’m betting you don’t have enough apartments or you wouldn’t be frantically calling the landlords. Also, your employees look frustrated, so I’m guessing they’re not having much success.
“The second part is, you’re charging a small fee. When you catch some suckers, you give them the same list of vacancies only you’re short on fish so bucks are small. It’s all bad news because you can’t see the score. you’re close, but no cigar!”
The speaker crackled again and a voice said,
“Bob, bring him back.” Bob turned and I followed him to the other rear office. The door opened from inside and in we went. On a couch sat a stocky guy with hair so black it was obviously dyed. Strands of gray on top of his head indicated he had either overpaid the barber or was so cheap he’d done it himself. Otherwise, he was impeccable: purple silk shirt, black pants and shoes, gold chain with a star of David pendant visible through his open collar. He looked me up and down.
“Say, kid, a person could get hurt suggesting how to improve my take. But you interest me, so we’ll talk.” There was something in his delivery that made it sound like he was from out of town. Bob moved behind me, closing the door. “Hey, nothing for free,” I said. His eyes pierced slightly and then relaxed. “Okay, we’ll talk, but before we do, what do you say you run down and buy us some drinks.” He was speaking to me, but I turned to Bob and said, “Make it one. I’m not thirsty.” I turned back to the guy in the purple shirt. “I’m Jimmy The Kid. And you are…?” “Alex,” he said. “And what makes you think you know what we’re doing?” “It’s pretty obvious. you’re selling the same thing over and over again. Apartment search is the flavor of the month, but you’ll go broke trying to make it work since everyone here’s into shortcuts and fast dough. So let it be what it is—and increase your numbers.” “And how would you do that?” Alex asked. “The two hundred please.” “He said he’d work for it,” Bob interjected. “I am working for it. And I thought you were going for some whiskey.” Bob’s eyes flashed in anger. Alex raised his hand to hush him.
“If it’s so good, why only two hundred?” “I don’t need much. I’ll work long enough so you’ll make your profit. After that, I disappear like a ghost into fog.”
“Why is that?” “I don’t like hanging around places. But I promise it’s going to get real busy, real fast, like you’re serving free beer to the Irish. And all you’ll have to do is pay for a small amount of advertising.” “Advertising?” Alex asked. “Advertising’s essential and pays for itself by way of the score. What’s important is you track the percentage of sales cost.”
“Sales cost?” “Say you spend one hundred dollars on advertising. you calculate how much gross business you do based on the one hundred dollars spent. you divide money spent onto gross sales and that gives you a cost percentage. you spend one hundred on advertising and gather ten thousand in gross sales, your percentage cost is one percent. It’s simple cause and effect—the advertising you buy is the cause, and the money you bring in is the effect.” Alex looked a little confused but his happy meter swung over far to the right. “The ten thousand. Is that in a month?”
“A day,” I replied “Is your father an accountant, kid?” Bob demanded.
“Nope.” “Go on,” Alex said.
“The two hundred, please.” Slowly Alex reached into his pocket and pulled out a short stack. He peeled off ten twenties and handed them to me.
“This better be good or you’re going to get a beating, just because!” Normally when someone threatened me like this, I’d push to find out what they’re made of. However, because of the flash cash, it would have been rude. I reached out and accepted the money, then told the two to follow me. I walked over to the four phone jockeys at the table.

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