The 350-Pound Deal
Ralph was nervous. Salerno had called him in to talk about his gambling debt.
"I'll get you the money," Ralph said. "I swear I will."
Salerno leaned forward, lips stretched tight in his thin face. "I've heard that one before!"
"Friday night. I'll have it then."
"Look, I want it all. Every last nickel, not just the vig."
Ralph nodded. "No problem," he said as casually as he could, but he'd begun to sweat.
"You gonna hit her up for it again?"
Both of them knew "her" referred to Catherine, an older but well-heeled socialite with a crush on Ralph. But then who didn't find Ralph attractive with his lean build and dark wavy hair? "I'll get you your money," Ralph assured the skinny loanshark, as he glanced over his shoulder at Salerno's bodyguard. Bruno folded his arms. He had shoulders that could take out a door in minutes and probably kept in condition disciplining recalcitrant sportsmen like Ralph.
Catherine chased the maid away and let Ralph in herself. "So, how much is it this time?" she asked cynically.
"Honey, don't talk like that. You know..."
"Cut the bull!" He winced. Obviously Catherine wasn't in the best of moods, but he knew how to win her over. He had a little boy quality that was endearing, especially when he was in need of her help. Besides, five figures wasn't that much to someone with her bank account. She leaned against him, giving in. He could tell.
"All right, Ralph," she said somberly, "only this time we're doing it my way." He kissed her, not at all sure what her way actually was.
Salerno called him back in a day later. "Have a seat," he told Ralph. "I think we can work something out here. Kind of a deal, you might say."
Perched on the edge of his chair, Ralph listened nervously. Something was up.
Salerno smiled. He was so thin his face appeared skull-like. "I want you to gain a little weight."
Ralph wasn't sure he heard right. "What?"
"Yeah, like 175 or 200 pounds or so - until you weigh at least 350 pounds."
"No, just business."
"Catherine put you up to it! She's behind this!"
Salerno laughed and laughed, then all at once grew somber. "I got no more time to chit chat. You accept or not?"
Ralph glanced over at the lumbering bodyguard. "It's nutty but, yeah, okay."
"You want me fat so no other women will look at me!" Ralph yelled at Catherine. "You're paying off Salerno but you'll send him after me unless I eat! I'm right!"
Catherine only smiled. "I made some homemade lasagna just for you, honey."
Ralph ate his usual amount until the phone rang. It was Salerno. "In case you think this is a joke, buddy boy, if you ain't at least two sizes bigger by next month, you'll be wearing a plaster cast for a suit."
Ralph polished off the entire tray of rich pasta. What else could he do? No one ever ran out on Salerno and stayed alive. Besides, when he thought about it, gaining some weight to keep Catherine happy and willing to pay off his debts wasn't such a bad idea. And he could always diet later.
Catherine went all out to help Ralph gain weight. She read recipes and prepared fattening foods: hotcakes dripping with syrup and butter, hot creamy gravies, rich French pastries filled with custard, heavily breaded pork chops and tons and tons of mashed potatoes and pasta.
"You really enjoy watching me eat, don't you?" Ralph said, swallowing down another caloric concoction.
Catherine ladled more gravy over his food and kissed his chubby cheek. "It's the only way, honey," she said.
Ralph laughed ruefully. Actually, what could he do but eat? Each time he'd secretly plan to diet the phone would ring. "How much did you gain this week?" Salerno would ask. "Bruno wants to know."
Ralph kept eating. By the end of the second month he was noticeably fatter. He nibbled constantly on salted cashews or potato chips. Before bed he'd stuff himself with rich pie or chocolate cake and guzzle a thick malted. If he had to be fat, he was determined to get that way in a hurry so he could relax.
At first he made attempts to see old girlfriends, but, after he'd burped a few times in their faces, they lost interest. Oddly enough, as time passed, he began to feel a perverse pleasure in eating. He liked feeling packed full of macaroni and cheese, chocolate cream pie and, his newly discovered favorite, thick pastrami sandwiches with a huge serving of potato salad heavy with real mayonnaise on the side.
"It's not taking long at all," Catherine said as, perched on his ever-dwindling lap, she nuzzled his hanging chins and ran her hands over his expanding belly.
Ralph gave her a squeeze. His initial anger over her manipulative deal with Salerno had faded. Not only did his weight isolate him from the gambling world because he had to sleep after big meals, but it had become a gigantic security blanket. Grinning, he asked Catherine to bring him another malted.
"And a piece of pie a la mode," he called out as she scurried happily into the kitchen. "I got to check on the food orders for the club," he added.
"You're really happy to be managing that place I bought you!" she said, poking her head around the door.
She handed him apple pie heaped with whipped cream and Hagen Daaz double-chocolate ice cream and watched with delight as he wolfed it down.
"You're really something!" Catherine said, in awe of her masterpiece.
Ralph grinned, and kept on eating.
The nightclub's profits had waxed fat, too. People liked working for Ralph. His huge size gave him authority. Big Ralphie, they called him. An idea glimmered in his mind.
At last the 350-pound deal, and then some, was complete. Ralph's collar was caught by rings of flesh, his belly bulged far out in front, and his thighs rubbed against each other as he walked. Enormous from his shoulders down, his features blurred by fat, Ralph was absolved of his debts with Salerno.
"I can't believe it!" Salerno said. "I can't believe it's you."
Ralph grinned. "You should put on a few pounds yourself. Make you look less dead."
"Ain't you the one with quips? Months ago at this time..."
Ralph cut him off. His vast bulk gave him a sense of power. "That was then; this is now. I'm running a club that's making money hand over fist."
Salerno nodded. "I know. The dough's been growing along with your belly."
Ralph patted his huge stomach and smiled. "Let's talk business. Instead of you taking a cut, we work together. Put some money on the street."
Salerno looked up tentatively. Much as he hated to admit it, a 350-pound-plus Ralph was a bit overwhelming. Even Bruno was dwarfed by him.
"Okay," he agreed, intimidated. "Bruno," he muttered, "say hello to my new partner."