“John Budecki? Sure I know him, he works right in this here dog track.”
“Yeah, I know he does, so do you know where he is?”
“Shoot, I remember him when he first moved in here.”
“That’s great, now could you just tell me where he works?”
“Ok son, don’t throw a fit there. Just head up those stairs until you reach the fourth floor, make a right and his office is on the left hand side, third door.”
Mark scanned the janitor's face for any hint of sarcasm. He had a gift of telling if a person was lying. This old guy may be crazy, but he knew his way around.
“Thanks mister,” Mark replied, maneuvering around the scraggly man in the tattered blue jumpsuit, and made his way up the stairs.
“No problem son!” The old man’s voice echoed up the empty stairwell.
Twenty thousand dollars. How was he gonna get twenty thousand dollars? Mark’s head swam as he clutched his side. A stitch began to come up.
Mark’s kid Brandt had been diagnosed with a rare blood infection and the doctors said he had less then three months to live. Mark had insurance, but they wouldn’t cover him. They sent him a letter of regret.
Mark set it on fire.
John Budecki was a man famous for all the wrong reasons. He had been snatching up poor saps who came to work for him for years. He could get any bet placed, as long as you got him the money. Mark had heard rumors of what happened to those who chose not to pay, but at this stage, nothing mattered.
Mark had asked for loans, sold his car, worked double shifts, and still to no avail. He couldn’t get the money. So when his friend Tommy told him about this rich bookie, he decided to take his chance.
Mark considered himself somewhat lucky, he had his good days, but he had never been much of a gambler. His father had taken him to the tracks when he was ten years old. He remembered kneeling on the fence, watching their dog cross the finish line.
They didn’t win, of course. Mark’s father always said that if luck were a hooker, he would always be out of cash. Mark’s mother didn’t like this saying, but his dad didn’t use it much, only when they went to the track after school.
Mark’s parents were long gone however, they both died when he was young. But even still, Mark wished his father was around to help him out, especially now, as he reached the fourth floor. Turning right, Mark made his way down the hall to the outside of John’s office.
Mark knocked twice on the door. A few seconds later a slot in the top of the door opened and a pair of dark, beady eyes looked out.
“What do you want?”
“I’m here to see Mr.Budecki.”
“I want to make a substantial bet.”
“That so? Hold on. Please take a seat. Mr. Budecki will be with you in a few minutes.”
The slot closed with a sharp snap, leaving Mark alone. It took Mark a few minutes to realize that a small array of leather chairs were lined against the back of the hall. He took his seat, slumping down.
Mark sat, hearing nothing in the room but the sound of his own heart beat, pulsing in his ears. He began to close his eyes. Suddenly he heard it.
Clunk, Clunk, Clunk, Clunk.
Mark stood quickly, startled by the sharp taps that echoed off the sides of the wall. Mark turned to see a man approaching, leaning in on a large, Oakwood cane, beautifully carved and decorated at the hilt with a bright, yellow gem.
Although donning a cane that looked as if it could belong to the Queen of England herself, the man’s clothes were ragged, torn, and looked strangely loose around his frame. In his left hand he held onto a large, brown suitcase, sharing the same worn look.
He wasn’t much older than Mark and looked like a man not far into his thirties. His shock-dyed blonde hair fell back and forth, swaying as he limped his way to Mark’s side.
He paused, his brilliant blue eyes bore into Mark like a drill. They were dark and fierce, but what scared Mark the most was that his eyes seemed to be almost empty, almost...desolate.
“May I take a seat?” the man asked.
“Uh, sure, of course,” Mark stuttered, moving to the side so the man could sit.
The man took his seat slowly, bending his crippled legs, and setting aside the large briefcase. He sighed with relief and leaned back, turning his head in Mark’s direction.
“You here to see John?” he asked.
“I asked if you were here to see John.”
“Oh, yeah I am. What about you?”
“What about me?” the man countered.
“Are you here to see John?”
“No, I don’t gamble. Not anymore.”
“Do you work for him then?”
“No, I haven’t worked for anyone for a long time.”
“Then why are you here?”
The man didn’t answer. Mark thought it best not to press the issue. His dad taught him that bothering people never ended well, for either party. ‘Just look at the Irish.’ He’d used to say, and belt out a hearty laugh. Mark never got the joke. He still didn’t.
“You got kids?” the man asked, finally breaking the awkward silence.
“Yeah. One, a boy.”
“Yeah, a wife to?”
“Yeah, we’ve been married for six years.”
“Then I have a story to tell you.”
Mark looked at the man, puzzled.
“I have a story to tell you.”
“Eh, why not? It’ll help to pass the time.”
The old man nodded, quietly pulling himself upright.
Mark wasn't used to complete stranger telling him stories out of the blue, but at the moment he felt like he could use the company.
“This story begins back a few years ago. Its main character went by the name of Frank. A long time ago Frank got into a problem, his wife got real sick. And she was dying, see? But his wife didn’t want him to worry. Of course, Frank knows what’s gonna happen, and so does his wife. So he calls in a favor of an old friend of his. And this old friend tells him about a fixed race, right in this here dog track. He tells Frank that the dog was pumped full of some imported ‘muscle enhancing’ drug.”
The man paused for a second, wiping his face.
“So Frank, knowing that his good friend isn't going to duke him, takes out a sizable loan, from a young Mr. Budecki. The amount is fifty grand. And when Budecki asks if he can back this up, Frank tells him he can. But you and I both know that was a lie.”
“So the day of the race finally comes, and his son wants to come with him. Now, Frank loves his kid, so he takes him along. But when they get there the kid asks if he can come down, and Frank tells him-
‘No way sport, you’re to young to be out on this track. If your mother knows when I've been out here, then she’ll definitely know when you’re out.’
“But what Frank does do is he gives his kid his old man’s lucky coin. It’s a big, green, half dollar-like coin, and he tells the kid to just hold on to that, and he’ll be back in a flash.”
“So he heads to the race, and he gets his ticket, the one with fifty thousand riding on it. And he goes to the stands. The race starts. And his veins are pumping, his adrenaline's flowing, faster then any of the dogs out there. The fixed dog makes its way up from the back. Seven, six, five, until finally its neck and neck with the leader. And in a quick boost his dog rushes past. And just as soon as Frank begins to celebrate, the worst happens.”
The old man paused, his head down.
“What? What happened?” Mark asked.
“The dog fell, heart attack, those drugs killed it right there. And Frank knew, right then, right at that moment, that he was a dead man. When he left the track his car was gone, his kid to. Three men showed up to take him to Mr. Budecki. When Budecki found out that he didn't have the money he’s furious. He takes a bat, and he breaks both of Frank’s legs.”
“But Frank doesn’t care. The only thing he wants to know is where his son is. And he screams that question, over and over until he finds out.”
“Mr. Budecki is not a man to be trifled with. His men show up at Frank’s home, and they break through the door and find his wife in bed, too weak to move. They shoot her, pointblank, three times in the chest, with a sawed off shotgun. At the same time, they blow his kid's brains out.”
“But they don’t kill Frank, oh no. Budecki’s too smart to just let the guy die. So they let him live, his legs ruined and his family gone. And that’s that.”
The man stood up, balancing himself on the cane, and set his briefcase on the chair.
“Jesus," Mark whispered, his hands over his mouth.
“Jesus is right. Now look at me boy.”
Mark looks right into the man’s eyes.
“Now you listen to me, and you listen good. I don’t care how bad you need this money, nothing, and I mean nothing, is worth placing a bet with this man.”
“But mister you don’t understand.”
“Oh I understand. I don’t want you to end up like Frank.”
“Who’s Frank!? Some guy in a story! How do I know he’s even real?!”
Mark couldn't understand. For some reason he couldn't tell if this guy was lying! That had never happened to him before.
The man smiled, chuckling to himself. He picked up his briefcase and set it at Mark’s feet.
“Trust me boy.”
Reaching into his pocket, the old man pulled out a small box, tied with a red ribbon, setting it on the chair.
“Whatever you need is right here.”
The old man turned and began to limp his way across the hall. Mark picked up the box, turning it around in his hands and looked down. The man’s briefcase was still at his feet.
“Hey you forgot your-” Mark began, looking up. The man was gone.
Mark picked up the case and clicked off the small, side lock. He paused as he felt it’s weight. He opened the case to reveal the stacks of hundred dollar bills that lined the case.
“Oh my god,” Mark whispered, his eyes filling with tears. He set the case aside and reached for the box, pulling out the small ribbon around it. As he opened the box he shook his head in wild disbelief.
In the case was a large, green coin, about the size of a fifty cent piece.
---Frank made his way across the street, hobbling on the cane, and smiled at what he’d done.
| "fixed dog makes his its way from the back"|
I think you can figure out what is wrong with that yourself. Overall, I thought it was fairly good. I thought it was a little bit predictable once the man walked in, it kind of went downhill on surprises. But I guess overa ll it was okay.
|| Posted on 2006-10-10 00:00:00 | by Caotic_Disaster | [ Reply to This ] |