He handed his ticket stub to the girl with an uneasy smile.
“One moment please,” she said, disappearing behind a coat rack.
What the hell was he going to tell his wife? The kids?
“Here you are, sir.” She handed him his coat. He reached into his pocket, grabbed what change he had left and put it in the tip jar. It wouldn’t have made a difference to hang on to it anyway. That being said, the girl wasn’t too impressed with the clinking sound all those pennies made.
He slowly made his way to the exit. There was a half-full glass of something alcoholic sitting by a vacant slot machine. He needed a drink, badly. What the hell. He grabbed it and downed its contents in one continuous motion. He only noticed the cigarette butt in the drink when it touched up against his lips. Whatever. It’s not like he had any dignity left to lose. He put the glass down, turned and slowly made his way to the doors. He pushed them open and stepped out into the cold night air. It was snowing. Great. Having just lost his car, the snow was going to make his walk home that much more humiliating. He lifted his jacket collar in an attempt to block out some of the cold and started his long walk home.
Fifty thousand dollars. Where the hell am I going to get fifty thousand dollars? *And a car. How’s Maureen going to drive the kids to school in the morning? Man, I’m such a loser. My family deserves so much better than this. Maybe they’d be better off without me. Maybe I should just go away. Or just jump into traffic.*
He had miles to walk, and though the falling snowflakes were large and graceful, they weren’t helping his feet stay dry. After all, he’d driven to the casino so he wasn’t exactly in winter clothing. His socks were getting wet, his ears were frozen and all he could think about was how he was going to break the bad news to his family. He was thoroughly miserable.
He was about a mile out from where he’d started his trek when a car slowly pulled up next to him. It was a black, 2011 Mercedes-Benz M-Class. He knew because he loved cars. The passenger window lowered with that electric whirring sound they make. “Need a lift?” The driver asked. “Cold night to be taking a walk.”
He walked over to the car and opened the door, “Thanks buddy. I owe you one,” he said as he got in.
“Nah, think nothing of it. I’d hate to be walking in this weather,” he said in a perfect Philly accent, which was impressive since he was actually from Saint Petersburg, Russia. “So, you close by?”
“I’m off of Wellington, actually.”
The driver typed the street name into his dash-mounted GPS. “Wow, that’s kinda far. Glad I came along. Name’s Mike by the way,” he said, extending his hand.
“Jack. Thanks again buddy, you made my night just a bit more bearable.”
“Oh? What’s up?”
“Nah, don’t worry about it.”
“You sure? I love a good conversation. Guys don’t talk to each other enough. Good for the soul, I say.”
He hesitated a moment, “I lost a wad at the Taj tonight. And my car. That’s why I was walkin’.”
“How much you lose?”
Mike let out a whistle.
“I don’t know what I’m gonna do. Wife’s gonna kill me. Probably divorce me and take the kids.”
There was silence in the car for what seemed a long time.
“Listen, Jack. I think I could help you out. Buddy of mine, he’s a broker. Deals mostly in information. The kind of stuff one company would love to know about another? You know, to help them catch up on a couple of years of R&D. That kind of thing.”
“I’m listening,” said Jack. He was desperate. If there was a way out of this mess–short of killing someone–he’d take it. To hell with ethics.
“If you could get your hands on something interesting… I mean, it all depends on where you work… you know, never mind… I’ve overstepped my bounds. Forget I said anything.”
“No, no. It’s cool. I work for a defense contractor. I could get you lots of interesting stuff. What’s your buddy pay?”
Of course “Mike” had been staking Jack out for a month now. He’d frequent the casinos with an eye for regulars. The kind that didn’t do so well but kept coming back. He’d do a little research, which mostly involved tailing them home and to work, to see if they were potentially valuable target. Not for a “broker” friend of his, but for his country, the Russian Federation. Mike worked for the FSB, the Russian Federal Security Service or Federal’naya sluzhba bezopasnosti. His job was to compromise people just like Jack, and he was good at what he did.
“He pays well enough to get you back on your feet in no time.”
“Alright, what do I have to do?” Jack said, paying absolutely no attention to any warning signs. All he could think about was getting out of this mess.
“Okay, look. My friend’s authorized to make a down payment. You know, a gesture of good will.” He pulled out a stack of bills totaling ten thousand dollars and handed it to Jack.
“Wow, thanks buddy. Listen, whatever you need, I’ll get it for you,” he said, thumbing the cash.
“Great. Look, here’s my card. Give me a call and we’ll meet for coffee. We’ll set up a system to transfer the information and the payments. That’ll be the last time we speak directly though. Once the system’s in place, that’s all we’ll use. Alright?”
“Yeah, yeah, cool. Listen, how soon do you think I can get the next payment? I really need to get the life savings back to where it was before my wife takes a look at the banking.” He could tell her the car was in the shop for now, but an empty life savings account would be a big problem.
“As soon as you’re able to deliver something my friend will like,” he said with a smile. He slowed the car down, “I think this is your street, right?” It was.
“Yup. Thanks, Mike,” he said, opening the door. “You’re a godsend, my friend! You saved my ass, buddy! I’ll give you a call tomorrow!” He shook Mike’s hand and exited the car into a new life.
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