Chapter 7

Daylatch closed the door behind Ari and Uncle Ellery.
“So why are you here?” he said bluntly, even though Ari was sure he actually did know why.

“Why are you calling my loan due?” said Uncle Ellery. “I have ten years left on it according to the contract we signed when the bank lent us the money.”

“I’m so sorry,” said Daylatch, in a voice that didn’t sound sorry at all. “What an inconvenience for you. It was a business decision. Pure and simple. As the new owner of DiRosa Savings and Loan, I feel I must eliminate any loans which I consider risky.”

“My loan isn’t risky,” replied Uncle Ellery. “I always pay on time, every month, and business is good.”

There was a sound in Uncle Ellery’s voice, and a look on his face that troubled Ari, and he didn’t want to see Uncle Ellery afraid. So instead, he looked at the room. Wilton Daylatch’s office. It was dominated by a tall, black desk where Daylatch perched on a stool, glaring down like a spindly vulture. There were pictures on the walls–most seemed old–and an unpleasant collection of mounted animal heads.

“But a deli?” said Daylatch shaking his head as if scolding a child. “Food service is a highly risky proposition. Are you aware of the percentage of restaurants that fail in their first year? And now, without your brother’s help…”

“It’s not a restaurant,” said Uncle Ellery slowly, as if trying to keep his true feelings reined in. “It’s a deli, we’ve been open eight years, and we’re doing well.”

Ari noticed that with every word Uncle Ellery spoke his left fist was very discreetly pounding his right hand, and he suddenly realized what his Uncle was afraid of and it wasn’t Wilton Daylatch. It was himself. He was afraid of what he might do to Wilton Daylatch and he was working very hard to keep his temper.

It seemed that Daylatch noticed too.
“Still a fighter Ellery? Still the tough guy, still the scrappy kid I taught at the academy, aren’t you? You still like to work it out with your fists, don’t you? And now, letting your impressive skills go completely to waste slicing lunch meat?”

“I don’t fight anymore Mr. Daylatch.”

“Oh…” said Daylatch with frown. “I miss how you used to have to call me ‘sir.’ You would have said ‘I don’t fight anymore Sir.”

Uncle Ellery didn’t blink. “I don’t fight anymore Daylatch,” he said.

“Well then,” said Daylatch, as if he considered the conversation over. “If you don’t have the money, I guess you’ll lose your deli.” He shook his head in a creepy attempt to look sympathetic and looked at Ari. “But at least when you’re evicted there will be a home here for your nephew.”

“I’m not living here,” said Ari bluntly.

“Perhaps not,” replied Daylatch. “And perhaps that’s up to your uncle. Which reminds me…there’s someone I’d like you to meet.” Daylatch fingered the intercom box on his desk.

“Yes sir?” said the toad lady.

“Helga,” said Daylatch. “Has Dudge arrived?”

“He’s at the gate sir,” said Helga.

“When he gets here,” said Daylatch, “bring him in.”

Then he turned to the Soffits. “You may have heard,” said Daylatch, “that the Daylatch family has joined forces with Hunker Incorporated, manufacturers of Hunka-Vites vitamins. It’s a perfect arrangement. They have a well-known product, and we have an ready-made workforce.”

“Kids?” said Uncle Ellery. “You’re going to make kids work in a vitamin factory?”

“You have a problem with that Ellery?” snarled Daylatch. “Just because you had it easy here. But my father, like your brother, alas, is gone…and now I’m in charge.”

“Your father?” said Ari. “Dewey?”

“Dewey?” said Daylatch. “Did you say Dewey?” He laughed derisively and turned to the photographs on the wall behind him.
“That,” he said pointing to a photo of a stern looking man with a gray beard, “was my father, Fitzroy Daylatch. He was headmaster when your uncle was a student.”

“And not such a bad guy,” said Uncle Ellery glaring at Daylatch.

“Soft,” replied Daylatch. “Easy to manipulate. But not as soft as Dewey!” He gestured dismissively at the most mangled of the photographs, near the corner of the room. Ari recognized the befuddled, bespectacled face immediately.

“Dewey Daylatch,” said Wilton Daylatch. “My great-grandfather, and founder of this institution. Though how he managed to found anything is a profound mystery. They say he took that flea-bitten little mutt with him everywhere, because at least the dog could find its way home. They used to say Dewey couldn’t find his way out of bed without a compass. He’d stand in the middle of the room and say ‘forty-five degrees northeast’ before he could find his way to the toilet. Hid things for fun, and lost most of it. Crazy. Crazy old man.”

The door opened suddenly and Helga the stubby secretary waddled in importantly. “Mr. Hunker is here sir,” she said, but she’d barely finished speaking before someone else barged into the room behind her.

Ari could not help but stare. He’d seen this man before. A huge man. Enormous. Uncle Ellery was tall, but this man towered over him. He looked like a bald gorilla. His ruddy red cheeks next to his short white-blond hair were the features that Ari recognized instantly.
“You’re the guy in the Hunka-Vites tv ads,” said Ari.

“Yes,” said Daylatch. “Dudge is the son of my new business partner, Leonard Hunker, and he’s well known as the kid who grew up on Hunka-Vites.” Daylatch climbed off his perch, and stood by Dudge, looking utterly dwarfed. “Dudge, this young man is Ari Soffit. And over here is your opponent, his uncle, Ellery Soffit.”

“His Uncle?” growled Dudge in a voice that sounded like a foghorn. “That’s good. Don’t wanna pound nobody’s Pa.”

“Opponent?” said Uncle Ellery. “What are you talking about Daylatch?”

“Just a little thought I had,” said Daylatch. “A sporting way to resolve this nasty loan problem that could help you…or me, depending on which way things go.”

“What?” Uncle Ellery demanded flatly.

Daylatch climbed back onto his perch and smiled cleverly.
“You had quite a reputation back in your days at Daylatch Academy. And how well I remember the last punch you threw.” At this his gaze narrowed and a scowl flitted briefly across his face before the oily smile returned. “Surely you’re not completely out of shape? What I’m thinking of is a prize fight, of sorts, eh?”

“That sounds like a really bad idea,” said Ari, eyeing Dudge Hunker.

“What’s the prize?” asked Uncle Ellery.

“If you win, you’re released from your loan. You’ll owe me no money whatsoever. If Dudge wins, well…we won’t dwell on that…let’s just say my wife gets to open her baubles store next to the bank. Oh, and I keep the admission proceeds regardless, for organizing the event.”

“Why would anyone pay to see this?” asked Uncle Ellery.

“Why?” asked Daylatch. “Why not? Who wouldn’t pay to see the local deli man versus the Hunka-Vites Body? Helga, would you pay to see that kind of fight?”

Helga snorted, and looked at Uncle Ellery appraisingly.
“Pay? To see him,” (she pointed at Dudge Hunker,) “pulverize you?” (she pointed at Uncle Ellery.) “He’ll mash your potatoes! He’ll scramble your eggs! Yeah, I’d pay.”

“Daylatch,” said Uncle Ellery. “I regret every time that I ever called you ‘sir’.”

“No need to decide right away,” said Daylatch as if he hadn’t heard Uncle Ellery’s comment. He climbed down from his stool and opened the door with a dismissive gesture. “Think it through, let me know. After all, your loan isn’t due for another month. Maybe you’ll think of another way to come up with the money by then, but I doubt it.”

Daylatch held the door as Ari followed Uncle Ellery.

“And don’t worry!” said Daylatch. “If worse comes to worse, I’m sure we can see that your nephew gets your old bunk…and there may even be an opening in the Fight Club!”

Uncle Ellery stopped abruptly.
“Ari,” he said pointing to the glass room, “please wait for me out there.”

Ari looked uncertainly at Uncle Ellery, then shrugged and left the office. He didn’t know what Uncle Ellery had to say to Daylatch, but he supposed it was something like “leave my nephew out of this,” and he didn’t feel like listening to that anyway.
“One-hundred and eighty degrees south,” Ari said, thinking about Dewey and his compass as he turned himself toward the exit.

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