"You can't do this to me, Murphy!" Snyder screamed, struggling frantically against the mismatched scraps of rope and twine that inexpertly but effectively bound him to the chair. The sweat dripped from his flushed, fat face, spotting the gray sharkskin vest spanning his fatter belly.
"Do what?" the scrawny old man asked, gingerly testing the blade of the cleaver against his thumb as he paced unsteadily back and forth in the shabby apartment, empty except for the two men and the solid chair beside a battered wooden table. "I can't do what to you?"
The fat man tried in vain to drag his bulging eyes from the glistening edge of the blade as it glittered wickedly in the weak winter sun that snuck through the gaps in the ancient masking tape bandaging cracked window panes. "Anything. You can't do anything to me," he insisted with words far more confident than his cracking voice. "It was completely legal – you all signed the power of attorney."
"We only signed that so you could save our homes, not sell the damn building out from under us!" Murphy yelled, then took a deep breath to control his anger before continuing, "Should have known better than to trust any lousy lawyer, but figured it would be OK this time with your aunt living here: didn't think even a shyster would screw his own kin like that. You suckered us all pretty good, Jim, I've got to give you that."
A bit of bravado crept back into the lawyer's voice, "The judge said it was legal – you heard him. Ain't my fault you crazy old buzzards don't read what you sign."
"Judge, my ass! Just another goddamn lying lawyer hiding under that black robe," the old man snorted. "So where are we supposed to live now? Almost two hundred of us, all trying to scrape by on social security – where can we go?"
"Move to Florida, go live with your kids, whatever; that ain't my problem. You authorized me to make the best deal I could for everybody. Now you don't like the deal? Tough."
"Yeah, and I suppose it's pure coincidence the same contractor gave your cousin that big contract out on the island, right?"
"It's none of your business, that's what it is. And you can't prove I got a dime outta that. Besides, you got your settlement money."
"Oh sure. Less than half what they offered before you said you could get us a better deal."
"Hey," the fat man shrugged as much as possible while tied, "I'm a lousy negotiator. So sue me! Oh, I forgot: you already tried that."
Thud! Murphy slammed the cleaver into the table, "You think it's funny? Just a bunch of old people, can't even afford to move – that's a joke to you?" He jerked the cleaver free and took a menacing step toward the chair.
"You... you ain't really gonna kill me, are you, Murphy?" the lawyer whined, blanching again and shrinking back into the chair, straining against the restraints to raise his arms protectively in front of his head and neck.
"Oh, I've dreamed about this," Murphy exclaimed, "I've pictured myself killing you, in more ways than you can possibly imagine." With strength belying his feeble appearance, he grabbed the bindings and twisted hard, jerking Snyder's left hand away from the horrified face as the cleaver slashed through the air before slicing through flesh and bone.
The scream echoed through the building, then gradually faded into gurgling sobs. Murphy avoided looking at the fingertip lying on the table as he pulled the twine tighter around the stub of Snyder's little finger and tied it, mildly surprised there was so little blood. He stared down at the shaking man whimpering and cringing in the chair, then shook his head and turned toward the door.
"That's it?" Snyder asked in a voice quivering with a tentative resurgence of hope. "That's all you're gonna do to me?"
The old man looked around reluctantly. "Yeah, Jim," he replied, "That's all I'm gonna do to you. In the grand scheme of things, I suppose what you did to me personally rates as a minor injury, so I'll settle for a minor revenge: only a half-ounce of flesh instead of a pound." He watched the relief wash across that bloated, hated face.
The relief quickly turned into a sneer. "You gutless bastard, you couldn't do it, could you?" the lawyer spat with all the venom that pain and receding terror had left, "I knew it! Even with me all tied up, you don't have the balls to kill me, you useless old coward."
"No, I guess I don't," Murphy said as he limped slowly to the door, then paused a moment before he opened it wide.
He knew Snyder could see past him into the hall. He didn't even glance back when the piercing screech erupted but simply gave the cleaver to the nearest weathered hand reaching out eagerly. The door slammed behind him but the shriek continued unabated as he shambled past the long line of impatient old people that stretched the length of the hallway and down the stairs.