There came a knock on the door at Jimmy's house. His mother went to get it. As she approached the door, she called out, "Don't tell me you actually forgot your key!" She couldn't quite believe that. And of course, she'd never open the door without first checking the peep-hole. When she did, she saw it wasn't her son returning from the evening's adventures, after all.
She now forced her voice to take on a harder tone, and one loud enough for her husband to hear in the other room. "Oh. You're not Jimmy. Who are you and what do you want?"
"My name is Armande Tarantino." Had this been a few years later, he might have added, 'No relation.' But it wasn't and he didn't. And as it would later turn out, he'd never get the chance. But that's another story. Instead, he continued. "I have some business to discuss with Michael. Do you mind if my associates and I come in for a few minutes?"
By this time, Mick was at the door with his wife. He looked through the hole at the men standing in the hallway. He sighed and said, "It's all right, Tara." He took the key from her, unlocked and opened the door. Tarantino came in, followed by his three associates.
"What's this all about, Mick?" Tara asked.
Tarantino feigned a shocked expression. "Michael, I'm hurt! Haven't you ever mentioned me to your lovely wife?"
Mick looked a little nervous, but tried to hide it by chuckling. It didn't work very well. "Mr. Tarantino, I... well... Um, so, what brings you here tonight?" He didn't ask, 'And how did you find out where I live?'
"I come bearing good news, my friend! As much as it pains me to lose you, I realize you've been looking forward to the end of our little arrangement. It was, after all, meant to be only temporary, from the very start. May we sit?"
"Um... sure." Nick gestured toward the two couches, which formed a broken angle, with a coffee table in the middle, both couches arranged to slantedly face a television which sat against the left-hand wall from the door. Each couch could seat three people. Tarantino and two of his associates sat on the couch nearest the far wall, facing the door. His third associate sat on the couch nearest (and with its back to) the door. "Can I offer you anything? Tara, maybe you could fix some coffee or something?"
Tara stood where she was for a moment, then started hesitantly toward the kitchen.
"No, no," said Tarantino. "We're fine. Aren't we, boys?" His associates all agreed. "Please, I'd prefer if the two of you sat down and joined us."
So, Mick took Tara's hand, and led her to the couch. Mick sat down in the middle of the couch. Tarantino's associate was on his left, and Tara on his right. She took her hand back when they were seated, folded her hands on her lap, and after just one more glance at her husband, moved her gaze to her folded hands and kept it there for awhile.
"So... it's a pleasure to see you, of course, Mr. Tarantino. So... now, what were you saying?"
"Your final task for me. I'll give you your instructions, you go do it tonight. We'll keep your wife company. You should be back within an hour. You show me the... receipt... proving you've successfully completed your task. Then you get your final payment. After that, you never need see me again. Quite simple."
Tara looked up at her husband again for a moment, wanting to ask any number of questions. But she felt this was not the proper time. So she looked back down at her hands. She considered twiddling her thumbs, but found she couldn't move them, she was so tense.
"Um... um, maybe we should discuss this in private?" Mick asked hopefully.
"What, are you saying you keep secrets from your wife? That's no way to conduct a marriage! You should be open and honest in all things. If you can't do that, it isn't meant to be in the first place, wouldn't you agree?" His associates all seemed to agree.
"I... I guess you're right about that, Mr. Tarantino." He sighed deeply. "Very well, what is it you want me to do?"
Tarantino handed Mick a photograph of a man sitting in a diner. "Who's this?" asked Mick.
"You don't need to know his name. I just want you to deliver something to him. You'll find him in that very same diner from the picture. The address is on the back."
Mick flipped over the photo and read the address. He knew the place. It probably wouldn't take him more than fifteen minutes to drive there. Ten, if traffic was good. Which it was bound to be practically non-existant, this time of night. "So what's the delivery?"
"I want you to walk into the diner, sit down in the chair opposite him, and tell him Armande sent you. You will hand him this packet," which Tarantino now produced from his overcoat pocket and handed to Mick.
"What is it?"
"You'll tell him it's the chocolate powder he asked for."
"I'm delivering chocolate powder?"
Tarantino shrugged. "Hey, the diner's always out of the stuff. The guy's doctor tells him he needs to drink more milk, on account of his bones aren't what they used to be. But he can't stand the stuff plain. And hey, that diner may not be the best place, especially if you want a glass of chocolate milk; but it's the only place he's found that makes sandwiches just how he likes them."
"But why... why doesn't he just bring in his own powder?"
"His bones aren't the only thing that are gettin' past their prime. For another thing, his memory isn't so great anymore. So he asks me to send someone with the stuff now and then, in case he forgets."
"Why can't you bring it to him yourself?"
"Mick, Mick, Mick! I'm a busy man! Do you think I have time to be delivering chocolate powder myself?"
"Well, you have time to ask me to do it. And obviously you have others you could send to do it. And this just doesn't seem... I mean, the amount we'd agreed to for my services, I mean my final service... this just doesn't seem like it'd be worth that much."
Tarantino was silent for a few moments. Finally, he said, "You ask alot of questions, Mick. When we first began our arrangement, didn't you say you didn't want to know too much?"
"Well, yeah, but... I mean, the other things I've done, it's just, they seemed kinda different."
"You deliver things. You've made a little extra money so far. Nothing much, but every little bit helps, right?" At this point, Tarantino glanced around the small apartment. "I'm sure every little bit is important. Anyway, how is this different? I'm just asking you to make another delivery."
"Yes, but for alot more money than you've been paying me so far. And before, it all seemed so...." He trailed off, not sure what to say.
"Well, it's not like I'd ever say you'd do anything, or ask anyone to do anything... that might make anyone feel guilty... about anything...."
Tarantino nodded. "Of course not. So what's your worry?"
Tara's hands suddenly unfroze, and she squeezed Mick's arm. "Honey, I don't know if-"
Mick put his hand over hers, removed it from his arm, and squeezed it, he hoped reassuringly. "Nothing to worry about, dear..."
"Certainly not," said Tarantino. "My dear lady, please know I'd never ask your husband to do anything which would be in any way unethical."
"Oh... I know... it's just...." She tried to think what to say. She considered mentioning that Jimmy should be home soon, but decided against it. Quickly, she decided not to say anything.
"Look... Mr. Tarantino... if you say it's chocolate powder, I have no reason to doubt you," Mick said. He stood up, looked down at his wife, and said, "Don't worry, honey. Like he said, I'll be back within the hour."
She looked up at him, her eyes pleading with him not to leave her with these men. He wished desparately that he had a choice. But, he walked to the closet, got out his coat and gloves, and put them on. He stuffed the packet into his coat pocket. "I'll be back soon, dear," he said as he opened the door. He stood in the doorway looking at everyone sitting on the couches, then he closed the door and left.
"Well," said Tarantino to Tara. "I suppose if we're going to be here awhile, we might as well have a little coffee, after all."
She continued to sit and stare at Tarantino for a few seconds before rising. "Of course," she said, heading for the kitchen. "How do you all take it?"