The Shark Tank by Bethany Maines

     Twenty-year-old Shark Santoyo was thinking he might have to kill someone for a couch.
     For the past few months he’d been relishing in the glory of finally moving into his own apartment. He’d worked hard. He’d suffered through the indignities of foster care, lived in condemned flophouses and eventually earned a spot in the tenement building owned by Geier, head of The Organization. He’d slept crammed in a room with all the other low-rent muscle for hire, hating the sonorous sound of snores and coughs and shifting bodies throughout the room. Eventually he’d clawed his way into an apprenticeship with a leg-breaker named Fuzz and spent a year on his couch. But that had come with its own risks. Fuzz liked to drink and fight and watch things bleed and he didn’t particularly care who did the bleeding. A shared apartment with two other guys had ended when one had gone to prison and Shark had shot the other one — not that the douchebag hadn’t earned it. And now, finally, gloriously, he had his own place with a door that locked and nothing but the sound of his own breathing at the end of the night.
     But in all the time he’d been dreaming of his own place, it had never once occurred to him that he would have to furnish it.
     Currently all his apartment contained was a sound system, a mattress and a growing pile of books. Now that there was no one to make fun of his reading, his book collection had expanded at an exponential rate. Since he no longer had to sneak Washington Post articles while buying coffee, or flip The Autobiography of Malcolm X to porn on his phone when one of the guys walked by, he could luxuriate in actual paper books. But books were hard to sit on.
     The last place that had a sort of acceptable couch had been staffed by a sales clerk who reeked of superiority and Marc Jacobs Men, which was a bit of an overstatement in terms of masculinity but was probably accurate as to his dating habits. Shark was giving serious consideration to killing the clerk and taking the couch.
     Shark had gone into ThomasHAUSMAN based on the strength of the sofa in the window. It was low, sleek and modern-looking, with a subtle pattern on dark navy. It reminded him of a really expensive suit: stylish without being obvious, relying on the form and construction to show off. Everyone he knew except for Geier wore designer-logo wear and gold chains. When they owned couches, if they owned couches, they were overstuffed monstrosities. He wanted a couch that made him look like an architect — His was that kind of couch. He knew the second he entered the store he didn’t belong there. Not because he couldn’t afford the large numbers on the tiny price tags, but because he didn’t know how to not care about them. He persevered, finding his way to the window to scrutinize the couch in question.
     “Gorgeous, isn’t it?”
     Shark turned to find himself being addressed by a slender, black-haired girl with pale-blue eyes, high cheekbones and a red-carpet way of standing.
     “But is it comfortable?” he asked.
     “I doubt it,” she said. “We only put the furniture that wants to be modern art in the windows.”
     “Is there any place that has furniture that’s meant to be used as furniture and doesn’t look like a beanbag on legs?” asked Shark in exasperation.
     “Yes, it was called the Sixties. If you like that look but actually want to sit down, we do have a Le Corbusier on the floor.” Having spent his fair share of time at strip clubs, Shark had no illusions about what was a sales pitch and what was flirting, and from salespeople he expected both. But this girl spoke in a monotone, as if she didn’t care if Shark bought anything. He liked her approach — It felt honest. Shark shrugged and gestured for her to lead the way.
     A Le Corbusier turned out to be a low, black-leather couch with a silver-metal frame. It was more masculine than the first couch and felt clearly designed without being overwrought. Shark down into it, waiting for the cardboard box feeling. It did not arrive.
     “This is actually comfortable,” he said, already picturing it in his apartment. It would look substantial and respectable and more than a little bit sexy. “How much is it?”
     “Nine thousand, nine hundred and eighty-one dollars,” she said. “Plus tax.”
     “Ten thousand,” he repeated. “That’s ridiculous. I would be annoyed every time I sat on it. Paying that much money for a couch is an exercise in stupidity. I’d be a better human being if I stole it.”
     “Well, you’d be a smarter human being if you stole an entire shipment and sold it to our clients,” she said, her voice maintaining the flatline quality.
     Shark stared at her, trying to decide if she was fucking with him.
     “I’d need someone on the inside and a client list,” said Shark.
     “Yeah,” she drawled, picking at an imaginary split end.
     Everything she was wearing was expensive, but her Louboutins were a bit worn at the heel. Her upper-crust accent and knowledge of furniture said educated and smart, but her job as a salesclerk said she couldn’t afford to shop at her own store.
     “Want to get coffee later?” he asked.
     She looked amused. “I think I’m out of your league.”
     He grinned. Out of his league was what he liked. “I have a table reserved tonight at The Rosco.”
     He didn’t. But he could get one. The maîître d’ at The Rosco was behind on his vig and Fuzz was due to pay him a visit this week. If Shark could keep Fuzz from breaking anything, up to and including the maître d’s legs, said maître d’ would give Shark whatever he wanted.
     She looked him over and apparently decided he was worth a table at The Rosco. “I’m Francesca,” she said. “You can pick me up here at six.”
     When he picked Francesca up, she had changed into something both shorter and lower, and actually seemed somewhat impressed with his car. Which was good, because it was fucking expensive as hell, and only partially stolen.
     The Rosco was the place to see and be seen, and he watched her revel in having a booth table where all the high rollers sat. She was hard to figure out. She had the aura of a rich kid but the greed of someone who didn’t have money.
     “So,” she said, after they ordered. “What kind of name is Shark?”
     “The kind that I answer to.”
     “I think it’s a criminal kind of name,” she said, sipping her wine and leaning back in the booth. “The kind of nickname that thugs give other thugs because they think it makes them sound scary.”
     She wasn’t totally wrong.
     “Or maybe you just like to bite things,” she added as an afterthought, and Shark laughed.
     “Maybe I just watched too many PBS documentaries as a kid,” he suggested.
     “At least you can spell PBS. That’s better than most of the assholes in this room who’ve been coasting on daddy’s money their entire lives.” Resentment and anger dripped from every syllable as she looked around the room.
     “Doesn’t your daddy have any money?”
     “He has fuck tons of it,” she said, bitterly. “But he thinks that if he pays for more than the necessities that it will spoil me.”
     “And what does he consider a necessity?”
     For the first time since sitting he felt her blue eyes focus only on him. It was like being hit by a sapphire laser beam. She wasn’t naturally pretty — too skinny and angry to be merely pretty — but she was incredibly sexy. If a table at The Rosco had bought him a date, he wondered what it would take to get her in bed.
     “Necessities are everything I don’t give a shit about,” she said.
     Shark suspected that necessities were everything that he wanted.
     Over dinner he learned Francesca de Corvo was in school for interior design. He nodded as she babbled about space planning and lighting maps. She also preferred coke, and thought E was for people who liked hugging. He asked what was wrong with hugging and was immediately sorry he had. She launched into a diatribe about enforced social conventions that somehow ended with hugging being patriarchal bondage designed to show the subjugation of women.
     “What if someone just wants a hug?” he asked.
     “Then go see your mother,” she said coldly. “Stop forcing random acquaintances to touch you.”
     Shark shrugged. He didn’t have much opinion on that. People in his line of work didn’t do a lot of hugging. He steered the conversation to her work and found more openings there. She hated ThomasHAUSMAN. Their furniture was pretentious, their management idiotic and their staff one IQ point away from riding the short bus. Only slightly less hate-worthy were the customers: mostly interior designers and industry insiders.
     “I guess that’s why you’ve thought about stealing entire shipments of couches from them,” suggested Shark.
     “I guess.” She shrugged. “I mean, it’s not like I’ve got a plan or anything.”
     “But what if you did? You know you’re smarter than them. Wouldn’t it be fun to rub it in their faces just a bit?”
     She laughed. “It would be kind of fun,” she admitted.
     He didn’t push it any further, backing off and letting dinner take its course. They finished dessert and he could tell Francesca was half-buzzed, but apparently she’d apprenticed with hardcore drinkers because she neither slurred nor wavered in her walk. She only got more verbal and slightly louder. They finished and went out to the valet.
     “Hey, Shark,” said Cecily, taking his ticket.
     “Hey, Cec,” he said, keeping his eyes firmly on the valet’s face. Francesca didn’t bother — Her eyes were locked on the other girl’s breasts.
     “Her eyes were up here,” said Shark as they got in the car.
     “Who gives a shit about her eyes?” retorted Francesca. “Did you see the size of those things? It was like one of those paintings where the eyes follow you around the room. I think they were moving independently. She should be in porn. What a waste of talent.”
     Shark was sure it wasn’t the first time someone had made the suggestion to the naturally endowed valet, but a girl who custom-tailored her valet jacket and worked three jobs obviously wasn’t into that kind of thing. Why be a dick and point it out?
     “Can you go up to 81st and Fairview?” Francesca asked, changing the topic.
     “Why?” asked Shark, as if he didn’t know. There was only one reason to go up there.
     She gave him an annoyed look. “Because I want to buy drugs. Is that a problem for you?”
     Shark shook his head and pointed the car uptown. He turned onto 81st and then slowed to cruise the block.
     “Up ahead on the right,” she said.
     He pulled over and rolled her window down. Kofi stopped holding up the wall and approached the car. He leaned down and looked in.
     “S’up, Kofi,” Shark said.
     Kofi laughed. “Shark and Francesca. This ought to be fun. What can I get you, Francesca — the usual?”
     “Yes,” she said, looking suspiciously from Kofi to Shark.
     Kofi looked past Francesca to address Shark. “Put it on your account?”
     “Yeah, that’s fine,” agreed Shark.
     Kofi slipped Francesca a few baggies and then tapped the top of Shark’s car. Shark pulled away, weaving into traffic.
     “You have an account?” breathed Francesca, her eyes wide. He was pretty sure he’d just hit the panty-drop button. “I didn’t even know you could get an account.”
     “You can’t,” said Shark, choosing not to illuminate his working relationship with Kofi, Geier and The Organization. “So am I taking you back to your place?”
     “How about yours?” she suggested.
     “We could,” he said, “but all I have is a sound system and a mattress.”
     “I wasn’t planning on using anything else,” she said.
     Sexy as hell didn’t begin to cover Francesca’s bedroom technique. Creative and athletic were the words that sprang to mind. They had made it past round one and were lying naked on his mattress when she paused to do a line off of his chest.
     “The problem,” she said, sitting up, “is storage.”
     “What?” asked Shark, who’d been thinking about how to bring up the couches.
     She looked at him through the coke haze, her pupils dilated to enormity.
     “The Le Corbusier shipment that comes in next month. Usually there are about thirty in a truck.” She paused and he waited for her to circle back around to a coherent thought. “They come off a ship and get loaded on a truck and delivered around the city. They retail for about ten grand, so I think I could sell at dealer cost for about five. Maybe more, depending on the person.”
     Shark’s brain produced the minimum total of $150,000.
     “But you can’t take them at the port. I think there’s too many people around,” she continued.
     “It’s a locked-down territory anyway,” said Shark. “Don’t fuck with anything at the port unless you want to die. It would be better to take them off the truck.”
     She nodded. “That’s what I thought. I don’t know anyone who can do that, but that’s what I thought. But even if I can get pre-orders, I don’t know that I can sell that many all at once. So the problem becomes &hellip ”
     “Storage,” said Shark. “Don’t worry about it. I can get a crew, a truck and storage. We’ll lose about 20 K to put that together and another thirty percent to Geier. Sadly, that’s off the top. We’ll split the net. It ought to be about 40 K apiece and some change.”
     She blinked at him as if she was having trouble focusing. “It was just an idea,” she said.
     “A good idea,” he countered.
     “Are you serious about this?” she asked.
     “Aren’t you?” he asked, sitting up. “Wouldn’t you like to buy something that isn’t a necessity?” There was more staring. “Just think about it,” he said pulling on his underwear and going into the kitchen. She’d had her fix and he really needed his — He was starting to get a headache. He set the water boiling and got out the French press. He looked back into the living room, which is where he’d put the mattress. If they managed this, he’d probably have to move it into the bedroom. She was lying on the rumpled sheets, her bra in one hand, staring at the ceiling. As he watched she began to whirl it around her finger by the strap. It went pinwheeling off across the room, but she made no move to retrieve it. That seemed like a good sign.
     He had just poured the water into the press when he heard a slight click at the apartment door. He turned and watched a hand reach through the now-unlocked door and unlatch the chain. Shark waited until the man was all the way in the apartment and hit him with the kettle. The man staggered back and then charged in a messy tackle. Shark grunted as the man slammed him into the handle of the fridge. Shark elbowed his attacker in the ear, which cleared enough space for him to begin punching. It didn’t take long. It never did. When the man was bleeding on the floor, Shark stood and grabbed the spare piece out of the fridge.
     “Um,” said Francesca from the doorway. He looked back at her. She was wearing nothing but panties and an awkward expression.
     “Please tell me he’s not your boyfriend,” said Shark.
     “No, he works for my father,” she said. “He’s supposed to keep me out of trouble.”
     He looked down at the guy on the floor, who was eyeing the gun in Shark’s hand nervously. “How’s that working out for you?”
     “Not too good,” replied the guy, wiping blood away from his broken nose.
     “Why don’t you take the night off?” suggested Shark.
     “I’m not supposed to leave her anywhere,” said the guy. Shark gave him a look. The man gulped nervously. “Right,” he said, scrambling for the door.
     Shark locked the door behind him and replaced the chain. He was going to have to find something more difficult to get through.
     “You made him leave,” she said. Her eyes were still huge from the coke. “He was scared of you.”
     “Yeah,” he agreed. “Why do you think they call me Shark?”
     She giggled, putting her hand up to her mouth to cover the laugh. “Are you trying to get me to be your girlfriend?”
     “Not really,” he replied. “I’m trying to get a couch.”

Bethany Maines lives in Tacoma, where she works as a graphic designer for an architectural firm. She graduated from Western Washington University, traveled a bit, received her second-degree black belt in karate, ran a marathon and was recently married.