Here’s I’m going to post old short stories from my locked cabinet drawers. They’ve gotten old and wrinkled, and I hope they still carry some power of emotion.
Lucky Numbers Have Blind Eyes
“You owe me money, Clive. You’re going to settle your debts with me right here and now, or else …”
The sentence hung in mid air as it came out of Mr. Blackwell’s mouth; his cold eyes of steel bore into mine, as if wanting to see if I had any other petty excuse to indulge him with this time around. I sat slumped in a chair across from his desk, sweating under my clothes, waiting for him to lay down punishment on me. An itch came upon my purple-bruised right eye, and I took out a handkerchief from my pocket and dabbed at it.
My name is Clive, and I owe Mr. Blackwell, a bald-headed, malicious loan shark, money—a lot of money. I’m a chronic gambler, and I’m prone to laying bets on just about anything that’s worth betting on. Twice I have tried to seek help, but in the end I have fallen back to my self-destructive ways. For the past couple of months, Mr. Blackwell has indulged me with an extended line of credit. That credit, it seems, had come to an end this morning when two of his goons came to my pad and dragged me out of bed—but not before they’d given me a thorough work over—and brought me here to answer for it.
“But, Mr. Blackwell, you gave me until August to start clearing up my debts with you. That’s three months away—”
“I don’t have till August to wait for your pathetic ass to come up with my dough, you idiot,” he snapped. “I want it right here and right now. Either you’ve got it right here with you, or maybe you want my two men who brought you here to break an arm and leg of your body.”
That would be a really bad idea; he saw the look on my face and grinned at me.
“I thought so,” he leered. “Now, you can either pay me right here and now … or you could do a job for me. What will it be, Clive?”
Dejectedly, I became submissive. “What’s the job about?”
He laughed. “I knew you’d see reason.” He pulled out a drawer and took out a cloth-wrapped package, which he dropped on the desk in front of me. I sat there dumbly staring at it. “Well, don’t be bashful, Clive. Go ahead and open it.”
I unwrapped the cloth to take a peek at what was inside. I pushed myself backward in my chair when I realized what it held; this elicited harsh laughter from Blackwell.
“Stop being such a baby will you, and pick it up,” Blackwell said, still wheezing with laughter, as if he figured it was funny. He opened a brown case that was beside his desk blotter and took out a fat cigar, which he then lit.
I licked my lips and came forward and picked up the pistol that had been hiding inside the wrapped cloth. My hand felt along its cold steel body, and right away, a feeling of death crawled through the back of my neck.
“No,” I muttered, letting the gun drop from my hand.
“No?” Blackwell spat smoke in my direction, his face creased into a frown. “What do you mean by no? You haven’t even heard me say what the job’s about, and you’re already telling me no?”
“Whatever it’s going to be, I don’t want any part in it.” I maintained a straight face when I said it, but even then, I was shaking underneath my clothes.
Blackwell’s hand fell on an intercom button on his desk and, without preamble, barked, “Mo and Jones, both of you get in here now.”
He glared at me as he stuck the cigar to his lips just as the door behind me came open. I jumped in my seat and turned my head, and my jaw must have dropped an inch or two as Mo and Jones, the same two goons who’d dragged me out of bed a while ago, stepped in. They were two giant black gorillas, both wearing dark suits that seemed to want to come apart because of whatever muscles it was that were bulging underneath them. Their heads were bald, and they stared at me in much the same way as a lion would view a helpless zebra in the jungle right before it pounced.
“Why don’t you sit down, Clive,” Blackwell said to me. “Sit down, shut up, and listen.”
I obeyed all three commands at once. Mo and Jones came and flanked me; at that moment, the two of them looked more like marble columns in ancient Greek temples.
“Here’s what’s going to happen, Clive.” Blackwell took a puff of his cigar and blew rich smoke into my face; his eyes glowed red at mine. “You’re going to pick up that gun and you’re going to do a job for me, like the good boy that you are. You’re going to do it because it’s what I want you to do. If you say one more word that so much as resembles a ‘no,’ Mo and Jones here are going to take you downstairs to the basement and use you for workout practice the entire day. I’d make sure they rearrange your face so well that you’ll look like a Picasso painting by the time they’re through with you. Do we have an agreement, or would you like to go ahead and make their day for them? The choice is yours.”
I could feel my heart beating against my Adam’s apple as I glanced at the two gorillas, both of them grinning at me, just praying, it seemed, for the boss to give them the order to start ripping me apart. Having no other choice, I capitulated.
“What’s this job you want me to do?”
* * *
His name was Fernando, and that was all most people knew him to be. Fernando was an old man who lived in a downtrodden part of town. He lived alone in a two-bedroom shack, and it was amazing that he got along well, because he was not only old but blind. It was past midnight as I sat concealed in the shadow of an alley across the street from the compound where the old man resided. I’d watched as the old man returned home from wherever he’d been, braving the stench of atrocious piles of refuse that assaulted my nostrils, while still waiting for the evening pulse of the neighborhood to die off into the night. My hand reached to my waistband, feeling the butt of the pistol tucked into my jeans, reassuring me that it was real, that all of this was happening for real, even though a part of my mind so much wished I was asleep right now. No, not just asleep, but that I was hundreds of miles away from this place, away from this current predicament I’d allowed myself to jump into. It was like drowning and being unable to float to the surface.
In my mind, I reviewed the details of my last conversation with Blackwell:
“There’s an old man—an old blind fart of a man—who resides near the docks over in HarborTown; his name is Fernando. I’ve done some checking on him, and as it turns out, this old drink of water has been playing the lottery right from when he first starting wearing jimmies, no doubt, and the funny thing is that this old man’s such a superstitious bugger. Every week, he plays the same old lucky number of his, and week after week after every week, he never turns lucky. But that changed last night. A couple of days ago, I heard the old man went and laid a sum on his lucky number again, and last night when they called out the numbers, right after the evening news, guess who turned out lucky? That old fart’s sitting on a nest egg of a hundred and twenty million bucks. By tomorrow when the clearing house opens, he’s going to slap that ticket in front of them and walk out of there a rich, blind bastard. But that’s not going to happen, and I’m going to see to it that it doesn’t happen … which is why I’ve got you.”
“What do you want me to do?” I had to ask the question, even though somehow, I already knew what the answer was going to be.
Blackwell glared at me as if I’d gone senile to all that he’d just said. “Sometimes Clive, I marvel at your stupidity. What could you ever possibly think that I want you to do. I want you to get into his shack and get that goddamned ticket for me, that’s what I want you to do, you dumb ass.” He puffed on his cigar. “The pistol is for insurance in case necessary—if the old bastard tries to do anything funny … you’ll know what to do. Mo will hand you some ammo before you leave. The next time I lay eyes on you, you’d better have that ticket in your hand, or else you’re in for one long and horrible nightmare, my friend. And don’t even think about leaving town or hiding, ’cause I’ll find you. And when I do, I’ll make sure you stay alive long enough to regret it. Now, get the hell out of my sight.”
Thus here I was, sitting in the midst of garbage bins with rats and roaches scurrying across my feet, waiting for the chance to rob a helpless blind old man. My best option would have been to flee the city, except I had next to no place else to hide out, and Blackwell was quite candid about my running away. He would find me out, of that I was certain. And the mere thought of what he’d do to me was scary to think of. I only prayed the old man wouldn’t in any way try to put up a fight—God knows I’d hate to make use of the gun.
Midnight came and went. Already, I was starting to doze off when the alarm in my watch brought me awake. Wiping traces of sleep from my eyes, I stepped out of the alley and found that the neighborhood had long ago gone to bed. That was good, I thought to myself, as with quick feet, I went across the street to the compound where the old man lived.
Through the back door, I sneaked into his home—there wasn’t a lock on his door. My guess was it was because of his being blind. His home was sparse yet neat. Carefully, I made my way into the living room where I noticed the bright light of a lamp was coming from. I looked inside and saw the old man seated with his back toward me, facing a table; the lamp stood at arm’s length from his arm. I quietly withdrew the gun from my waistband and took a step into the room.
“If you’re here to rob me,” the old man said calmly, still with his back toward me, “you’ve come to the wrong place. I have nothing here that would be worthy of you having.”
To say that I was caught with my pants down was far from the truth. I must have stood there, just at the threshold of his tiny living room, not moving, with an idiotic O on my face. I still didn’t move even as the old man stood up, his hands feeling the edge of his table as he turned around to face me. He was wearing a purple-colored robe dress that was faded and heavily patched; a pair of dark sunglasses covered his eyes and half of his face, though his posture was more than enough to tell that he really was blind.
“You’re not from this neighborhood,” the old man said to me, sniffing the air.
“How can you tell?” I finally found my voice.
“You smell different from most people around here. What do you want from me?”
“I want your winning lottery ticket. Just hand it over to me, and I’ll leave you alone.”
The side of his lips curled into what could only be a smirk. “So that’s it, eh? I strike a lucky number, and just when I thought the whole world hasn’t gone insane enough, here you come, sneaking into my house, wanting to steal from me—from an old, blind bat like me.”
This wasn’t what I wanted to hear; I was already getting anxious about not spending another minute, let alone another second, in his crappy-looking home. My feet kept dancing from one step to the other, desperately wishing for my body to obey what my mind was screaming at me, which was to get the hell away from there and fast, before he got the inclination to scream and wake up the entire neighborhood.
“Look, it doesn’t have to be like this,” I said unconvincingly, waving the gun before him. “Normally, I wouldn’t be here to do this to you, but I have no choice. Just give me the ticket, and I’ll be on my way.”
“But you do have a choice; don’t say you don’t. Whoever it was that sent you—you had a choice not to come here. You had a choice not to come and sneak into my home, wanting to rob me. You do have a choice not to point that gun you have at me.”
I looked at him, stunned; his smile curled up again. “I may be blind, yes. But sometimes, you can see a whole lot better even without eyes.”
I gritted my teeth and introduced some firmness into my voice. “Look, old man, just give me the bloody ticket and let me be off.”
He stood there, silent, for a moment. Then with his left hand, he felt for something behind him on his table, and when he showed it to me, I saw it was his winning ticket. But instead of handing it over to me, he rolled it up and tucked it into a corner of his mouth, and then his hand groped for his chair, turned it around to face me, and then sat down on it.
“You want my ticket, then here’s another choice for you: go ahead and shoot me, because that’s the only way you’re getting it.”
Now, he was starting to piss me off. I cocked the gun, came forward, and pressed the mouth on the skin of his brow; he didn’t even flinch or pretend to show any hint of fear. Right at that moment, all I could think about was Blackwell’s goons’ fists slamming into my face if by some chance I was unable to convince this old, blind bugger to give me the ticket.
“You’ve got to the count of three,” I said to him. “Either take that ticket out of your mouth, or I’m going to pull this trigger and splatter your brains all over your room. Is that what you want, old man?”
He didn’t say anything. My patience was now at a hair-trigger; my finger caressed the trigger of the gun.
“One …” I announced. The old man said nothing, nor did he make any move.
Sweat rolled down my face like the Niagara waterfall. An eternity passed, and then I said, “Three!”
I pulled the trigger.
* * *
The following night, I was at Mr. Blackwell’s office. One of his gorillas, Mo, I guess, let me in, while the other nearly slammed my face into the wall and gave my body a thorough search. When they felt justified, that was when they let me in. There he was behind his desk, a fat cigar in his hand. He roared with merriment the second I walked into the room.
“Hey, hey, hey there, Clive. How’s life been cooking up with you?”
Not deigning to an answer him, I reached into my shirt pocket and took out the blind old man’s ticket and gave it to one of his goons to pass on to him. Blackwell sat there puffing on his cigar, appraising the ticket as if trying to see if by any chance I’d gone and bought him a fake instead of the real thing. Finally when he was satisfied, he beamed a hearty smile at me, got up from his chair, and came around and hugged me, like we were family.
“Excellent work, Clive. Just pure excellent work—well done. Whatever happened to the old bastard anyway?”
“Nothing you’d like to know about,” I muttered sullenly at him. “All you should know is that he’s dead, and that’s that. So now, are you going to let me go?”
“Sure, sure, sure, Clive. You and I, we’re all right.” He slapped my shoulder as if we were life-long pals and, at the same time, burst into laughter. “Maybe you should come and work for me, Clive. I can always make use of someone who’s got balls.”
I didn’t say anything because there really was nothing left to be said. I was only glad that I’d gotten my life back, though at such a heavy price. I knew that from that day onward, I’d never be able to sleep peacefully anymore. Even as I made my way out of Blackwell’s office building, stepping out into the street with the sky slowly turning into dusk, as I stood there staring up at the face of the full moon, I could still make out the old man’s face before and after I shot him. I could still see myself forcing his mouth open and taking out the saliva-wet lottery ticket he’d tucked in a corner of his mouth; I could still see myself tearing out from his house and from his compound just as the neighborhood instantly came awake at the loud report of the gun shot. I could still see myself dumping the gun in a sewage pipe on my way back to my pad, and shaking in bed, half expecting the police to come knocking down my door and then seeing myself break down into confession.
No longer will my life be worth anything anymore.
As I crossed the street, I kept hoping in my mind that some vehicle would hurtle down the lane and take my life away.