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              Grafting Class  

                             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 ways.”
     “What’s questionable about it? They either pay up or we kills them.”
     “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 when……..”
     “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, Vinny?”
     “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 right?”
     “Sure, Boss.”
     “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.



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