By Joseph Logsdon
Lionel Carter lived in a very poor neighborhood. Like so many ambitious young men, Lionel wanted to save his neighborhood, but, sadly, he didn't have the resources to fulfill his wish. Instead of leaving his hometown, Lionel stayed and married his girlfriend. It seemed, at least to Lionel, that his neighborhood was going to get better, but his dream was soon crushed. One tragic day, an old friend visited Lionel's humble home.
"Mr. Carter, it's nice to see you again," Elroy stated as he opened the front door.
"I don't have time, Elroy," Lionel replied as he sipped his coffee.
"I promise you, you'll have time for this," Elroy stated as he invited himself to breakfast.
"I doubt it," Lionel replied.
"As you know, I'm going to destroy this neighborhood in a few weeks," Elroy laughed.
"Yes, and I'll never let you forget it," Lionel huffed.
"Trust me, if things happen the way they should, I'll be rich, and you, hopefully, will be rich. Now, are you going to help me, or are you going to be against me?"
"I don't care about money, Elroy," Lionel replied.
"This isn't about money, it's about securing your future. Do you think I enjoy destroying an historical neighborhood? Listen, money, whether you like it or not, controls everyone, including you. Just because you live a modest life, doesn't mean that you are free of greed and corruption."
"What do you want?" Lionel asked.
"I want to give you money, that's all."
"What do you mean, give me money?"
"If you quit bothering my business, I'm willing to be generous, very generous!"
"Even if you had all the money in the world, I could never betray my neighborhood," Lionel replied.
"Come on, think of your wife. If I'm not mistaken, Amber's mother needs a new operation, doesn't she? What's going to happen when your kid is ready for college? Trust me, without a sufficient income, he'll never succeed."
"Get out of our house," Amber stated as she entered the kitchen.
"Amber, I thought you would never show," Elroy laughed.
"My husband already told you, we're not interested, period!"
"Surely, we can come to some kind of arrangement?"
"You heard her," Lionel laughed.
"You'll regret this, both of you!" Elroy shouted as he left the house.
"I thought he would never leave," Lionel stated.
"What did he want?" Amber asked.
"Weren't you listening?"
"I only heard shouting," Amber answered.
"He tried to bribe me."
"Bribe you, why?"
"He wants us out of the way," Lionel answered.
"Did he give you a number?"
"We never made it that far," Lionel answered.
"Look, I know that you hate Elroy, and I hate him too, but could you get something from him?"
"Honey, we just drove him out of the house!"
"Lie to him," Amber suggested.
"What do you mean, lie to him?"
"Even if he pays you, you don't have to obey him like a trained dog."
"I don't know, it sounds risky," Lionel stated.
"Trust me, it will work."
"It better work," Lionel replied.
The following morning, Lionel visited Elroy's office.
"Well, have you changed your mind?" Elroy asked.
"I don't like taking money from people," Lionel stated as he approached Elroy's desk.
"Relax, money is only a piece of paper," Elroy laughed.
"So, what do I have to do?"
"Don't protest against my company, understand?"
"I understand," Lionel reluctantly answered.
"And, if you go back on your word, I'll make you suffer," Elroy threatened.
"What do you mean?"
"After you receive the money, if you continue to protest, I'll tell everyone about your dirty secret," Elroy laughed.
"Secret? What secret?"
"Don't play dumb with me, Lionel!"
"It was years ago," Lionel stated.
"You loved me, admit it!"
"Just because we touched, doesn't mean that I loved you."
"Oh, come on, Lionel, we did more than that."
"Maybe we did, I can't remember," Lionel sighed.
"I remember," Elroy laughed.
"That's it, I'm out of here!"
"Don't you want your money?"
"Like I said before, you can't bribe me," Lionel stated as he punched the desk.
"Tell me, are you always this hysterical?"
"I won't be your slave! Just because you own most people, doesn't mean that you own me. You're right, Elroy, it's just a piece of paper. No matter what you do, I won't succumb. Do you think that I enjoy being poor? No one, despite what they say, enjoys being poor. This isn't about me, it's about my neighborhood. I've lived here all my life, and, as long as I'm breathing, it won't be destroyed."
"Good luck," Elroy laughed.
After returning home, Amber approached her troubled husband.
"So, did you get the money?" Amber asked.
"No," Lionel answered.
"He tried to blackmail me," Lionel sighed.
"What do you mean?"
"Honey, I need to tell you something."
"What is it?"
"I've known Elroy for many years," Lionel stated.
"You have to understand, I was very young," Lionel whimpered.
"What are you saying?"
"After my parents died, Elroy supported me. At first, I thought he was a good man, but, as time passed, I realized that he wanted more than friendship."
"What are you saying?"
"Elroy has taken everything from me. Well, at least I have you," Lionel exclaimed.
"I'm sorry," Amber replied.
"Thank you," Lionel sighed.
"I'm sorry that you let an old man take advantage of you," Amber hissed.
"Amber, what are you saying?"
"I'm sorry that you didn't get the money," Amber exclaimed as she walked towards the door.
"Where are you going?"
"I can't take it anymore, Lionel. You've failed as a husband, as a provider, and, sadly, as a man. You allowed a selfish old man to take advantage of you. That, in my book, is an embarrassment," Amber hissed as she left the room.
Several days later, Lionel visited Elroy's office.
"I'm done," Lionel stated as he approached the desk.
"You look awful," Elroy laughed.
"She left me," he whimpered.
"Who left you?"
"Amber," he cried.
"I'm not surprised."
"I failed her," he cried.
"Son, you didn't fail her, you failed yourself," Elroy stated.
"What do you mean?"
"You could've been so much more than what you currently are. Instead of leaving your pathetic neighborhood, you decided to fight for it, and that was a foolish mistake. Your selflessness has, ultimately, destroyed you. Now, you've returned to me, begging for forgiveness. It's too late, I'm afraid, for forgiveness."
"I don't care about forgiveness, I only care about my neighborhood!"
Suddenly and without warning, Lionel produced a gun from his pocket.
"Careful, Lionel, you wouldn't want to do anything stupid," Elroy stuttered.
"Everything is stupid," Lionel replied.
"Lionel, you know that I was only joking, right? You have to believe me, I would never destroy a perfectly good neighborhood. Look, just put the gun down."
"Sorry, it's too late!"
If Lionel had been sober, he would've killed Elroy, but, sadly, he was very drunk. The bullet, as if it were also intoxicated, passed through the wall.
"Even after all that pain, you still couldn't kill me," Elroy laughed.
"Fuck you," Lionel whispered as he collapsed.
"You know, for a moment, I really thought you were going to shoot me. Well, with any luck, prison will teach you how to succeed in this world. Until then, stay sober," Elroy laughed.