“Come, sit.” Mrs. Z proffered the lone empty chair. “Then we start.”
Molly settled into the close-knit circle and couldn’t help rubbing shoulders with the man on her left. Was he the crackpot or the doofus? His dark hair was pulled back in a straggly ponytail and he wore a T-shirt extolling the virtues of Kentucky bourbon. The ripped-out sleeves gave him an excuse to expose Mr. Universe-sized toned muscles. He could probably dismantle the entire building if he wanted to. She pegged him as Duncan, the intimidator.
“Okay, I make agenda.” Mrs. Z held aloft a piece of lined paper. “First thing we do — ”
“I won’t settle for no twenty-five grand.”
The speaker was one of the two other men in the room. He’d been to the clinic twice over the past year. Hemorrhoids.
“Me neither.” A woman Molly recognized as having arthritic knees chimed in.
“What are we? Suckers?”
“No shittin’ way.”
“I say we get a lawyer.”
“Yeah, and who’s gonna pay ’im?”
Mrs. Z, who’d either run out of chairs or didn’t want one, stood over her little flock and waved her agenda.
“We can discuss … ”
“Screw ’im … ”
“ … ten ways to Sunday.”
Molly’s head swiveled from person to person. This might be the time to introduce her Parliament, as Mrs. Z referred to it. She cleared her throat.
“ … arrange a little accident.”
The man sitting beside her, who’d made the threat, could add thug to his resume. Molly frowned. “That’s not a very good idea.”
Nine pairs of eyes latched onto hers, their gaze so intense it made her feel as if she crashed a local coven.
“What’s your stake in this here thing?” Her seatmate, who looked more than capable of arranging an accident, spoke directly into her face. It didn’t help that he’d eaten something garlicky for dinner.
Molly twisted away from him. “Mrs. Z invited me to attend.” She addressed the other members of the group. “I’m only here to keep the meeting on track.” As if it bore any resemblance to a meeting and not a free-for-all. “It would help if, before you spoke, you raised your hand so the chair can recognize you.” Was it possible they had any clue as to what “chair,” in the context of a meeting, meant, other than somewhere to park their rear ends? “Just don’t all speak at the same time.”
“Thank you, dear.” A woman, who only last week limped into the clinic for a follow-up visit for a severe case of gout, nodded. She always insisted on paying five dollars.
“I hear your frustration.” Molly almost choked on the understatement. “There are more productive ways to address your situation than engaging in a physical … ah … encounter with Mr. Mancini.” It felt strange to defend Nick when she agreed with the tenants about not accepting his niggling offer. However, bodily harm? To be fair, he had the law on his side. Legally, he wasn’t compelled to make an offer. The whole thing had become way too complicated.
“Mr … ” Molly craned her neck so she could look at the nemesis to her left without actually having to move any closer to him.
“Serk. Why don’t you call me Duncan?” By way of invitation, he made a clicking sound with his tongue.
“Mr. Serk, it might help your cause if you adopted a more conciliatory attitude. If you showed a willingness to negotiate in good faith, perhaps Mr. Mancini might show more generosity.” Nick hadn’t seemed receptive to bumping up his offer, but it might rein in Mr. Serk if he thought it possible. Was there some way to warn Nick about Serk’s threats and that trouble might be headed toward him — maybe even violence — without admitting she’d met with his tenants?
“I knew Molly would understand,” Mrs. Z announced. “She can teach us all about negotiate.”
“There’s really not much to learn. Just present your side in a calm, clear manner and let Mr. Mancini present his. Perhaps you should consider inviting him to your next meeting.”
“No damn way.” Duncan Serk stamped his foot so hard the whole apartment seemed to shudder.
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