by Don Urbanus
Vinny sat at the table polishing his brass knuckles
while scanning through the local Buy & Sell. Every once in a while he would make
a comment about something being overpriced or possibly stolen. He snorted and
stifled a chuckle.
His boss, Big Lou, short for Luigi, glanced over at
Vinny and rolled his eyes. Big Lou was a small time crook but big on ambition.
“Hey, Vinny, why you waste your time lookin’ through
that rag, huh?”
“Take it easy, Boss. Sometimes you get good ideas. Look
right here. This nursery here, Rising Sun Nursery, is givin’ a class in graft.
See here? It says: Learn How to Graft. And get this, it’s free!”
Big Lou frowned, “What’s the catch? Maybe those nursery
guys mean somethin’ else.”
“Nah, Boss. Look right here. Websta’s Dictionary says
graft is, and I quote: the acquisition of gain in dishonest or questionable
“What’s questionable about it? They either pay up or we
“Boss, I think we should go down to that nursery. Maybe
they is trying to cut into our territory.”
“Now yous talkin’, Vinny. Get my hat. We is going to
have a little chat with Mr. Rising Sun Nursery Guy. Nobody cuts in on Big Lou.”
Down at the nursery, there were a dozen green plastic
chairs arranged in a semi-circle. The weather was crisp, but not too cold
considering it was winter. Don, the owner, had some 1 gallon trees on a cart
with some grafting compound. Some multi-colored handouts were arranged on a
small table. A half dozen people were already sitting. Some were reading the
handouts about grafting or talking quietly among themselves.
Big Lou and Vinny, wearing pinstriped suits and
fedoras, strutted up to the class sizing up the people and casing the nursery in
general. Vinnie pulled out a handkerchief and brushed it over one of the chairs.
Big Lou grunted at Vinnie and sat heavily down on the chair. Vinny kept
standing, his legs spread wide and hands in his pockets. Occasionally he would
look suspiciously around.
Don was about to welcome everyone to the class when Big Lou interrupted him.
“Hey, Mr. Bigshot Nurseryman. How long you been doin’
this graft thing?
Don paused, looking at the unusual characters at his
class. They didn’t look like your typical nursery customers, but hey, who was he
to exclude anyone? “It’s been quite a few years now. I started doing it
“Is that so?” Big Lou glanced back at Vinny who nodded in agreement, “And if you
don’t minding me bein’ so bold, are you doing it right now?”
“Well,” Don answered, “I do it this time of the year
because that’s when you do it. Things are slow and……”
Big Lou held up his stubby hand, “Hey, yous a business
man. Ya gots to do what ya gots to do. Big Lou understands business. Don’t I,
“Yes you do, Boss,” Vinny said slowly and ominously.
“And, if you don’t mind me asking, as one businessman
to anotha, what exactly is your territory and how does ya do it.”
“My territory?” Don asked, “You mean by customers?”
Big Lou grinned, “Sure, if you wanta call ‘em that.”
Don shrugged, “I guess mostly the tri-county area but
we do have customers from all over. Stockton, Sacramento, the Bay Area.”
“I see,” said Big Lou, tapping this fingers together
rhythmically, “And your method?”
“Well, I use a knife like this one here. You can use
any knife as long as it is very sharp.”
“A knife,” Big Lou repeated, “Hear that, Vinny? No
noise. Leaves no trace.” Vinnie shook his head, impressed.
“Yes. And after a few years, you can’t even tell where
the cut was made. It heals over,” Don agreed, smiling.
“You don’t kill them?” Big Lou asked, frowning.
“Well, you might lose a few here and there, but most
are just fine. You can make more money if they live, of course. And, I can save
a lot of money doing it myself too.”
“Doing it myself,” Big Lou echoed. With the last sentence you
could tell that the wheels were turning in Big Lou’s head. He had a far away
look and then suddenly focused hard on Don. He stood abruptly and snapped his
fingers. Vinny straightened up and stuck his hand inside his suit. Big Lou
nodded his head at Don in respect.
“I’m sure we’ll meet again, Mr. Rising Sun Guy. You
gotta nice establishment here. Come on, Vinny. I seen enough.”
On the way back to their car Vinny could hardly contain himself. “Say, Boss, you
wants me to rub ‘em out?”
Big Lou stopped at the car and gave Vinny a kiss on the cheek. “Vinny, Vinny.
You gotta understand business, right? There’s no hard feelings in business, am I
“Vinny, let’s take a ride down to the far side of Hogan
Lake, way in the back. There’s a special spot I wants to show ya.” Hey, Big Lou
thought, it’s only business. That Mr. Bigshot Nurseryman showed him that.