Dumped and laid off in one week. It was a bad time to be Marv Stinson. He walked out of work with a heavy toolbox in his right hand and burdens on his mind. He thought of unpaid bills and back rent. He already owed $10,000 in student loans and about $7,000 in credit card debt. A crappy unemployment check wouldn’t pay that off, and in this economy, who knew how long it would take to find a job?
As he walked, thinking of constant phone calls from bill collectors and eviction notices sliding under his door, a black leather case plopped in front of him. He looked up, wondering what kind of moron threw stuff from windows. He concluded it was probably some angry girlfriend who had found out her man had cheated on her, and she had chucked his possessions out the window as revenge. He knew that routine. Hell, he had received it in heated arguments with his ex, Barbara. He wondered if chicks even looked out the window before they launched things. When he looked up, he saw no open windows, heard no arguing, and saw no more falling items.
He picked up the case and took it to the closest residence. After a minute and no answer, he moved to the next door. He stood there waiting for an answer, feeling like someone had asked him to hold her baby then run away.
He put down the polished leather case, observing its chrome clips. What was in there? He fiddled with the clips, thinking it was filled with toiletries or jewelry. He was wrong. Benjamin Franklin—scattered, overlapping Benjamin Franklins looked up at him, and he rifled through the bag, which contained what he surmised to be about $500,000.
He looked around, and there still wasn’t a soul within the vicinity. He closed the bag and shot up into a standing position. He rubbed his chin, tangling the hair of his beard, and he immediately thought that it was a joke, a prank. Someone was watching him; he knew it, but he also knew he’d never forgive himself if he let this pass.
He’d wait. He had nothing but time, so he’d wait for someone to grab the bag. A half-hour—he’d give it a half-hour, and if no one took the bag, he’d take it. He watched from the nearest alleyway, and occasionally, people walked by the bag. Someone stopped and studied it but soon moved on. Anytime Marv saw someone notice the bag, he prayed they’d keep walking. He looked at his watch, and only ten minutes had passed.
“Oh screw it! A half-hour, ten minutes, who’s counting?” he whispered.
He snatched the bag and hustled down the block.
Marv burst through his apartment door with the leather bag clutched in his underarm. Sweat poured down his face and neck, the result of hauling ass down the block, chasing the nearest bus, and zipping up four flights of stairs to his apartment. His rapid breath slowed down to normal, yet his heart pounded like it wanted out of his chest.
“This has to be a joke,” he said.
He remembered a Political Science class (one of three classes he took before he realized he wasn’t college material) where the professor posed a question: “If you found a bag full of money, do you take it or leave it?”
Marv, nineteen, fresh out of high school, only taking a class at college because his parents told him to, sat back and listened to opinionated peers confess that they’d take it while one claimed he’d leave it. “There’s no such thing as easy money,” he said. Marv knew he’d take the money. He was nineteen, lived at home, didn’t know where his life was headed.
He stood there, staring at the leather bag that had plopped in front of him an hour ago, changing his life, for the better or worse was yet to be seen. He’d lie low, undetected like anyone who just lost their job would. He’d watch the news, keep an ear out, but no matter what, the thought lingered in the back of his mind: there’s no such thing as easy money.
Marv chilled in his newly furnished apartment with a state of the art sound system. He rested in his leather recliner, watching channel after channel zip by on his 48″ flat screen. He figured he’d hang there and channel surf until he caught a movie. If he fell asleep, he fell asleep. What did it matter? Not only did he have time, he had money, tons of money. His worries consisted of what game he’d play next on the Xbox and whether or not he’d stay in the recliner or lie on the leather couch. He had it made, or so he thought, and the gravy train was about to make a stop.
As he emerged from a Quantum Leap marathon, there was a knock at the door. He opened it, and a skinny guy, about 5’3″, maybe about 45-50, stood in the hall. He wore a black suit with a white shirt and red tie.
“Marvin? Marvin Stinson?” he asked.
“Yeah, I’m Marv.”
“Do you know who I am?” the man asked.
“No, sir, I’ve never seen you before,” Marv replied, but his throat dried out, and his stomach twisted.
The money—this guy owned it, and he had come to collect. He was going to bust his kneecaps, break his fingers, pull his teeth out with pliers. His heart raced, but he knew he had to keep cool. There was the possibility he could get out of this.
“Are you sure you don’t know me, Marv?” his bug eyes squinted, and as Marv stared at his appearance—his large, pointy nose, skinny face, the thinning, dark hair on top of his head—he thought he knew the guy from somewhere, but he couldn’t place his face. He had seen the guy before, and it dawned on him. He looked like the creepy guy on Lost, Ben Linus.
“No, sorry, pal, never saw you,” Marv said as he closed the door, but the guy’s hand stopped it from closing completely.
“You know who I am, Mr. Stinson, because I’m the reason you’re one million dollars richer.”
The guy attempted a pass through Marv, but he stepped in the way. No way was anyone getting into his apartment. He heard a crackle and felt a shock through his body. He hit the ground, stunned, trying to figure out what had happened and where he was. His thoughts cleared, but his body shook as if it had been left in the cold.
“Let’s cut the charade, Mr. Stinson. About three days ago, you picked up a black leather bag right outside 1118 Harvard Street around 5:15 pm. You wore a blue hat, a red, white and blue muscle shirt, and navy blue Dickies pants. You had just gotten laid off from Strauss Incorporated when you found the bag with a million dollars in cash inside it. I saw you take it, Mr. Stinson, and if I haven’t convinced you thus far, a day after you found the money, you purchased this brand new living room set from Raymour & Flanigan for $2,500. The saleswoman’s name was Julie Campbell, and she was pale, had pulled back blonde hair, and dark eyes. You flirted with her, but she only feigned interest for the sake of the sale. Then you—”
Marv sat up holding his head. “Whoa, whoa, whoa! What are you, some kind of stalker? Yeah, you’re right. I got laid off from my job and made those purchases with a hefty severance pay. Yeah, you got all those details correct except there was no leather bag, and she wasn’t feigning interest in me. She really liked me. I could’ve gotten her number.”
“Way to prioritize, Mr. Stinson, but you’re lying.” He paced around the apartment like some drug-sniffing dog, and he pulled out a cell phone. He held it out and scanned the apartment like he was Egon from Ghostbusters. He hovered over the table, then went to the couch. He lifted up the cushions, and Marv winced.
He picked up a stack of cash and threw it back down. “Under the cushions? Really? You amateur.”
He sauntered around the room by the windows and the bathroom. He took a step into the bathroom, then stepped out into the living room. He hovered over the litter box, and Marv figured he’d miss the money. He nudged the litter box, looked behind it, around it, and he finally took the scooper and dug out some money stored in plastic bags.
“Better,” he said, “Much more creative than under the couch cushions. So where is the little kitty? Pss! Pss! Pss! Here kitty kitty,” he summonsed in a high-pitched voice.
He was wasting his time. Barbara had taken the cat. Left the litter box but taken the cat.
“Sit down, Mr. Stinson,” he said, putting one of the couch cushions back in place.
Marv plunged into the couch.
“Alright, Mr. Stinson, first let me introduce myself. I’m Silas Lapham, and I’m not going to hurt you or turn you in to the police,” he assured.
For a second, Marv felt relief, but he knew well enough that there was a catch, and it was going to hit him like a bag full of cash.
Lapham continued, “The money’s yours. You can keep it. It was meant for you anyway.”
There it was! There was the catch! “Meant for me? Why?”
“That doesn’t matter, Mr. Stinson. What matters is what you’re going to do with it and how fast.”
Marv squinted. “I’m sorry, Mr. Lapham. I’m confused.”
“Well, let me simplify it for you. You have exactly one week to spend every cent of the one million dollars.” He looked at the TV, the Xbox, and the furniture. “It seems you can do that well.”
“So let me get this straight,” Marv said, “You’re giving me the money to spend, but the challenge is to spend it in one week?”
“And if I don’t?” Marv asked.
“I take everything,” he said in an acrid tone. “Not just all the stuff you got, but everything you already had. If you don’t spend this money, I’ll only leave you with one pair of clothes. I’ll even take the $3,515.47 you have in the bank.”
That number disturbed Marv. Lapham didn’t even round it off; he had given an exact figure.
“Alright, what if I spend the money in the allotted time?”
“That’s a good question. If you spend the money, not only will you have a lot to show for it, but you’ll be rewarded with a hundred million dollars.”
Marv raised his eyebrows. Did he just hear one hundred million dollars? That was a win-win. Marv knew he had it in the bag. He felt the overwhelming urge to smile, and he thought of cruises, cars, a big house, nice clothes.
“Don’t get so excited, Mr. Stinson,” Lapham said. “There are rules.”
“Of course,” Marv moaned. “What are they?”
“You ready? You might want to write this down.”
Marv grabbed the nearest pen and paper.
“The rules are as follows: One—you can’t spend it all in one place. Two—you can’t spend it in the same place twice. Three—no stocks or money markets. Four—you can’t just throw the money out the window and let people scrounge for it. You have to have a specific purpose in mind. Five—you can pick two charities. Six—you can’t pass it off to friends and family for spending nor can you spend it on them. Seven—you can’t exceed $500,000 in one day. Eight—you can’t exceed five places in one day.”
Marv waited for the next instruction. “That’s it?”
“That’s it.” He checked his watch. “Okay, it’s 3:30 pm on August 6th, and you have exactly one week starting,” he prolonged that last syllable, “now.”
Lapham stood up and walked toward the door.
Marv rushed up from the couch. “Wait a minute. You still have questions to answer.”
“‘Art is long, and time is fleeting.'” Lapham reached for his pocket and pulled out a card with his contact info. “You won’t really need it, Mr. Stinson. Wherever you go, I’ll be five steps behind you.”
He exited the apartment.
Marv’s mind raced. A couple days ago, the money had felt like a blessing, a happy accident. It had become a curse. He remembered the first time seeing that case and wished he had kept walking. He thought of that kid saying “There’s no such thing as easy money.” With no money, there was stress. With too much money, there was stress. He sat down and planned everything out. Every second counted, and he couldn’t waste time. He felt like Lapham had assigned him some college thesis, and he had a week to hand it in. He considered his student loans, his credit card debt, and he felt the advantage of having the money. The feeling only lasted a second.
Gus, the manager of Tech Paradise, scanned the last box. “Your total is $30,104.73.”
All the feeling of accomplishment drained from him. He looked at the six carts of merchandise—mounds of every model of computer, laptop, printer, camera, and accessories for each, complete with warranties. He looked around, rubbing his chin, thinking of getting a washer and dryer, maybe another TV.
“Sir? $30,104.73,” Gus repeated.
“Oh, right.” Marv said as he placed some money on the counter. “Can you have some of your employees take that stuff to my truck? It’s the brand new F-150 out there.”
Gus picked up a stack of cash, and scrutinized it like he had never seen money before. “Oh yeah, right away.”
Marv went down the nearest aisle as he heard Gus call six names over the intercom.
He saw DVDs, Blu-rays and CDs, but he knew he had to think big. Even if he wiped out their whole collection, it would only make a dent in his required spending. His inner-Marv stepped in. “Who cares what you spend it on; just spend it!”
He grabbed DVDs, putting aside logic, and under the growing tower of plastic cases, he felt his palms sweat. With about 20 DVDs, he doubted that what he did affected the outcome, but he figured he had to keep going. With that, the DVDs slipped from his hands.
He burrowed his fingertips into his forehead. He took deep breaths and tried to erase the possibility of Lapham taking everything he owned. He knelt in the middle of the aisle among the scattered DVDs and knew he had lost momentum. He headed to the register, annoyed, knowing that he wouldn’t accomplish anything else.
The next aisle over, he heard a kid’s voice. “Mom, can I get Battlefield 4, too?”
“I can’t afford two videogames, and we still have your birthday dinner tonight.”
Marv rounded the corner and saw the mom guide her son down the aisle. “Excuse me.” The woman looked puzzled. “I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. Why don’t you let me buy the second videogame?”
The woman’s look turned into one of trepidation. “Um, no thank you. I don’t need help buying games for my son.”
“Look, miss, I know how this must sound, and I know it’s none of my business, but I want to do something good. It’s hard to explain, but that’s as simple as I can put it.”
In the awkward moment of silence, the woman’s look of trepidation morphed into what looked like impending anger. Marv thought she’d slap him in the face or worse, kick him in the nuts. He felt the urge to run but reconsidered.
“Jack, go look at some more videogames, and I’ll be with you in a second.”
Jack walked away with an expression that said, “You’re in for it, mister.”
She looked over her shoulder until Jack left the aisle. She swung her head around, and her brown ponytail whipped her neck. “Is this some creepy way you pick up women?” She stepped up to Marv and wagged her finger in his face. “Let me tell you, me and my husband are more than capable of providing for our son. That’s right, pal. I have a husband, and he’d chew you up and spit you out like a steak dinner.”
Marv noticed that her left hand—the one that shook—had no wedding ring on it.
He took a step back. “There are no strings attached, and I wasn’t questioning your parenting.” He had to think fast. Finding a million dollars in the street and a threatening pipsqueak wasn’t going to win her over. “I got an inheritance from my grandfather, and he was a great man, a giving man. I’ll never be as good as him, but I could try. He would do this, so I’m taking the opportunity to follow his example. That’s all.”
She lowered her head, and that look of trepidation returned. As she stared at him, Marv saw that she was weighing if he was lying or telling the truth.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Marv,” he answered.
“Jack, come here.” He ran to his mother’s side. “This is Marv, and he’s generously offered to buy you your extra videogame. I want you to thank him.”
Jack extended his hand. “Thank you, Marv.”
“You’re welcome, pal. Enjoy it. Happy birthday.”
Jack ran off to get the game.
“I’m sorry I was—” Jack’s mom said.
“You don’t have to apologize. I get it.”
A look of wonder formed on her face. “Why are you really doing this?”
“I told you. I have money to burn and no one to burn it on.”
His butt hadn’t even planted itself in the cushion when he felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. “Hello?”
“You sound tired, Mr. Stinson. You had a long day.”
“Yeah, I did.”
“Well you spent $101,357.62, and you followed the rules thus far. Good for a start, but I hope you have an ace up your sleeve. You need to pick up the pace. Good luck tomorrow. You’ll be hearing from me.” Click.
Marv dwelled on Lapham’s speech. He felt like his coach had reamed him after the big game. Lapham was right though. If he didn’t make a dent in his required spending by tomorrow…well he didn’t want to think about that, but he knew Lapham had no problem reminding him if it came down to it. He recalled the comment “ace up your sleeve,” and it hit him. He thought of bright lights, lavish hotels, games. He’d go to a place where dumping your money was not only expected but required.
As Marv sank into the mattress of his ocean view hotel, he replayed instances of his gambling at the Trump Taj Mahal, the Tropicana, Caesar’s, and the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. He had walked up to the roulette table, throwing five hundred to a thousand dollars’ worth of chips on one game. It had got everyone’s attention, no matter what casino he had gone to. Loss after loss he had kept placing chips like he had bottomless pockets in that $15,000 Brooks Brothers suit. A crowd had been drawn to his table, and where he had seen cringed faces and heard a universal “Aww,” he had seen relief, a bigger prize of $100,000,000.
He had dropped $400,000 in one day, and he had broken no rules doing it. What Lapham had never said outright but had hinted at was that creativity made the experiment—blessing, curse, whatever—interesting. If Marv was the first of Lapham’s guinea pigs, particularly in this game, who was to say that casinos would be next on the “don’t do” list? It didn’t matter. He was $400,000 poorer and closer to a bigger prize and keeping everything he had.
The phone buzzed on his end table, and the word “Lapham” was displayed in bold digital letters. He reached for the phone, but as the tip of his finger felt the vibrating device, he withdrew. He didn’t need a play-by-play of the day’s events; he had lived them. Although he put a big dent in his finances today, he needed ideas for the remainder of the week. The church crossed his mind. Churches always took money, and they’d rob him for a hundred thousand dollars. After that though, he wasn’t sure. Days got shorter, and creativity wasn’t Marv’s strong suit although his spending methods had proven otherwise.
The phone buzzed again with the word “Lapham” across the display. He took the phone and placed it in the drawer until its rumble became a smothered hum. He turned out the light and sank into his pillow.
A minute into drifting off he heard a pound on the door. A muffled “Mr. Stinson” blared through it, and Marv shot up from his bed and turned on the light. He threw off the covers and darted to the door. Silas was standing in the hall as Marv had suspected and he waltzed into the room.
“Sorry to wake you up, Mr. Stinson,” he rambled. “You won’t answer your phone, so I decided to pay you a visit.”
“How kind,” Marv said, shielding his eyes from the hallway light.
“It seems you spent a considerable amount of money today.” He stepped in the middle of the room. “We have matters to discuss.”
Marv noticed he had a leather bag. He didn’t want to hear a dollar count on today’s activities. He wanted the pints of Guinness he had downed throughout the night to course through his body while he slept.
“I know how much money I spent, so there’s no reason for a recap.”
Lapham threw the leather bag on the bed. “Here’s another million dollars, Mr. Stinson. Enjoy.”
Marv’s eyes widened and so much blood rushed to his head that he thought they’d pop out. “More money! I didn’t break any rules! I did everything you told me to do!”
Lapham’s lips stretched across his face, and he raised his eyebrow. “No, you didn’t, but I wanted to make things interesting.”
Lapham headed for the door.
“Wait, do I get more time?”
Marv wanted to grab the little twerp and show him what a buzzed Irishman could do.
He stepped into the hall and turned around. “You get to break three rules. Decide which ones and call me tomorrow.”
“Pick three rules?” Marv whispered. “I can’t even think of one.”
He closed the door, threw the money on the floor, and jumped back into bed for the night.
Marv woke up with the feeling that a tiny monkey resided in his head and was tapping his skull with a chisel, and the midmorning sun shining through that sliver of curtain didn’t help.
He peeked over the foot of the bed, hoping maybe the bag Lapham had dropped off was a dream. It lay on the floor, turned over as he had left it, and now he had to think of three rules to eliminate. The ones he remembered off the top of his head—and ones he’d omit—were not using a lucrative method twice and the one where he couldn’t spend it all in one place. And wasn’t there a rule or limit on how much to spend in one day? He couldn’t remember the exact rule verbatim, but he knew that was what it basically said.
He ran the plan through his head. He’d stay in Atlantic City for another day, drop the million, and then spend the rest at home. A rush of pride went through him. Lapham thought he had thrown a curveball at him, but Marv had swung and hit. Lapham had said, “Any three rules,” and if he rejected them or threw another unexpected curveball, Marv might flip. If anything, everything had to run smoothly through the detour.
The phone rang once before Lapham answered. “I choose to break the ‘you can’t spend it in the same place twice’ rule, ‘no exceeding half a million dollars in one day’ rule, and ‘no spending it all in one place’ rule.”
“Wise choices, Mr. Stinson. Have a nice day. Talk to you soon.”
He hung up, and Marv went about his day.
Thirty to forty people gasped as Marv rolled the dice. When they settled, everyone threw their arms up and screamed. Marv wasn’t as excited as everyone else, but he managed to maintain a hint of enthusiasm. To the inhabitants around the table, he projected a calm happiness like someone who didn’t want to ruin the $100,000 winning streak with a “Yes!” or “Yah!” In his head, however, his mind spun. He figured that it was a cosmic joke. Silas Lapham had rigged the dice or hired a guy to run the table.
He rolled again and everyone paused in suspense and went nuts. Marv had won $150,000. Again, he maintained his cool demeanor, but it doubled as one of disappointment.
He handed chips to everyone, receiving pats on the shoulder, hugs, and “thank yous” in return.
He gave a stack to the dealer.
“Thank you, sir. Good luck and enjoy your stay at the Trump Taj Mahal,” he replied.
“Thank you,” Marv said, staring him down for signs of familiarity.
He couldn’t down shots fast enough. It got to the point where he slapped a hundred on the bar and asked for the bottle.
The bartender—a pretty brunette with blue eyes and a nice rack—poured shot after shot.
“Hard day at work?” she inquired.
“No,” he slammed one down, “I made $150,000.”
Her eyes flickered in surprise, and she puffed out her bottom lip. “Aww! You poor baby.”
She smiled over her shoulder as she walked to the other end of the bar. He put the shot to his lips but reconsidered. He put it down and pushed it away.
She returned and noticed the glass. “What’s the matter, Mr. Rich? Saving for retirement?” She smiled.
“No, I closed a $150,000 sales deal, and lost $5,000 of it gambling. My boss is gonna kill me,” Marv said.
Maybe it was the suit, or maybe it was the lie of being an established salesman, but she gave him a seductive look and joined him in the next shot. “This one’s on the house.”
An hour later, the bar was empty, and the busboys and waitresses were wiping down the tables. The female bartender sat on the other side of the bar with Marv.
“Cassandra, Cassandra, this has to be your card,” he said.
Cassandra laughed and nudged him. He noticed her silver thumb ring and the glitter on her purple nail polish. “I’m telling you it’s not my card.”
“How about this one?” He put a card on the bar.
She looked at him, grinned, and shook her head.
“No? Come on, it has to be. Alright, this one.”
She took the card and showed it to Marv. It had miniscule writing on how to play poker.
“I suck at card tricks. You wanna get out of here?”
She picked up her purse and they left.
The next morning, the sun peeked through that one sliver of curtain right into Marv’s eyes. He squinted and rolled over, expecting to hold Cassandra and warm her up for another round of lovemaking. When he rolled over, she wasn’t there. He sat up, looked in the bathroom, and found it empty.
He reclined, trying to suppress his disappointment. He told himself, “She’s beautiful. She gets hit on all the time. It’s part of her job. What’d you expect, Marv, her to marry you, serve you breakfast in bed?”
“No,” he answered, “but it would’ve been nice to get a goodbye.”
The inner-Marv continued, “Besides, remember all that money? The one million plus dollars you have to shed in three days? Remember what happens? Little Silas Lapham takes everything except the clothes on your back and that damn litter box.”
He thought of her smile, her laugh, the electricity he had felt when she had touched him. The inner-Marv attempted another speech, but he didn’t even complete the first sentence.
Marv walked for blocks, letting his thoughts guide him. The money took a back seat to Cassandra’s leaving him yesterday morning. He didn’t pay any attention to what direction or what street he walked. He knew two things: that he needed over one million dollars off his back fast and that he was very hungry. He scanned the block and saw “Jake’s Place” in blue neon lettering. As he approached the diner, he saw a woman with her son.
“Excuse me, sir. Could you spare some change? I’m saving up for a meal for me and my son,” she said.
The woman had caramel skin, thin, dark eyebrows, and brown eyes. Marv concluded she was Spanish or Indian. Her son, about five, with shaggy, black hair and the same brown eyes, only more puppy dog-like, clung to her shirt like any answer he gave would blow them off their feet. Any other time, Marv would’ve said “no” without making eye contact and gone about his routine like they never existed. Maybe the kid’s protruding lower lip plucked Marv’s heartstrings. Without a doubt, the fact he had a shitload of money in his possession prompted his decision.
“Come with me. I’ll buy you lunch,” he offered.
Her eyes lit up and a smile formed on her face.
They entered the diner and the hostess approached them. “Table for three?”
“A table for those two, and I’ll sit by myself,” Marv replied.
She walked the three of them to the nearest empty tables. She sat the woman and her son in one booth and Marv in the adjacent one.
The woman looked over her seat. “Thank you very much. May God bless you.” She looked to the kid and babbled something in what Marv thought to be Spanish. The boy spoke. “Thank you very much.”
“It’s okay. Just enjoy your meal and get whatever you want.”
The waitress, a dumpy woman with blonde hair and perfume tinged with a hint of cigarette smoke, greeted him. “Good morning. I’m Pam. Can I start you off with a drink?”
“Yes, I’ll have a coffee, and charge whatever they’re having to me.” He pointed his thumb to the table behind him. “In fact, start a tab and lunch for everyone is on me. Everyone in here now and anyone coming in here for the rest of the day doesn’t pay. It’s all on me.”
The waitress gave him a perplexed look.
“Don’t worry,” Marv assured, “Here’s my credit card, and I promise I’ll tip you and your staff handsomely.”
She took the card, scrutinized it, and walked away.
Two guys in dusty uniforms—plumbers or mechanics by the looks of them—wore that same perplexed look as the waitress. Then came the whispers and the occasional stare—staff and customers alike. A wave of embarrassment came over Marv. He didn’t want attention; he wanted to unload his money. He scrutinized the menu, hoping that would distract him, but the whispers became more frequent and closer to the table.
Marv couldn’t take one bite of his Chicken Parmesan without someone thanking him, shaking his hand, or sitting across from him, telling him about themselves. There was a stretch of three minutes where Marv ate in peace when suddenly, someone sat across from him.
“Thank you for lunch,” the all too familiar voice said.
He looked up, and Lapham sat across from him, wearing that devilish smirk on his face.
“You’re welcome,” he replied, going along with the charade, “I’m glad you enjoyed it.”
He got up. “I don’t want to disturb your meal…Marv, is it?”
“The world needs more people like you, Marv. Have a nice day.”
Marv strolled down Liberty Street. Sure, he did good deeds. First helping that woman and her son, then everyone else in the diner, but he still had over a million dollars to spend and three days to spend it. The leather bag felt heavier with each step he took. His idea and creativity well had run dry.
Again, his thoughts occupied him, distracting him from the fact that he was drifting down a dark portion of the block where the lights above him flickered.
“Yo buddy, you got a light?” a voice said from the darkness.
Marv snapped out of his daydream and looked around. Out of the shadows came a silhouette of a guy. He was stocky, looked like he wore a hat and a hooded sweatshirt.
“Sorry, man, I don’t smoke,” he replied, but the sentence had barely left his mouth when he felt a spike in his side.
First the question of what was happening entered his mind, then came the pain. He felt his arms go numb, dropping the leather bag. He went cold and tumbled to the ground. The last image he remembered was the guy running, with the leather bag swaying in his hand.
As he trailed off, he heard fast tapping footsteps. “Yes, get an ambulance here to Liberty Street and Mason. A guy was mugged. He heard a beep and a click. “Marv, stay up. Help’s on the way.” He recognized the voice, but he had never heard it in a tone of panic.
Seeing Silas Lapham in a chair across the room puzzled Marv. He ignored the TV and the machines because it was Lapham with his pointy nose at a forty-five degree angle like a shark fin breaking the ocean surface that held his attention.
Marv remembered being attacked. He didn’t know how or by whom, but what did Lapham have to do with it?
The nurse came in. “Good morning. Glad to see you’re awake.”
She checked the IV bag and rummaged through drawers.
He glanced at the nurse’s profile and he saw Cassandra. “You never said good bye, Cassandra. I had such a great time with you. I got mugged, and there’s this money, and—”
The nurse turned around. She had dark hair like Cassandra, but a much older face. She changed the IV bag, dismissing his ramblings.
Seconds later, Lapham stirred in the chair. He raised his head and looked at Marv. His eyes were puffy and held the bewilderment of someone waking up in the wrong room or the wrong house, and a tuft of hair stuck up on the back of his head, which Marv found comical.
“Good morning,” she said to Lapham, “I have to change his bandages.”
He felt sharp pulls to his skin, and he looked down to a huge, purple and yellow blotch surrounding a couple of red marks. From his view, it looked like a semicolon. He still wondered how the marks had appeared. Had he been stabbed? Shot?
The nurse left.
“What happened?” Marv asked in a scratchy voice.
“You were stabbed,” Silas answered. “The mugger took the leather bag. How much money did you have in it?”
“All of it.”
Silas nodded like he was telling himself he was right.
Marv figured he was screwed, that the bed he occupied was the last before the hospital discharged him.
“You’re in the clear, Marv,” Lapham said, “All the money’s gone, not a penny to spare, and you did it without breaking the rules. You held up your end of the bargain, and I’m going to hold up mine.”
“I didn’t spend the money; it was taken,” he said, realizing how stupid it was to argue with a guy who held Marv’s future in his hands.
“Well, it wasn’t exactly the best way to unload the money,” that smile formed on his face, “but it was unpredictable, and sometimes life is unpredictable. Besides, you have no insurance being unemployed, and the money you possessed would’ve more than covered the hospital bill.”
“You called the ambulance,” Marv realized, recalling the sound of worry in Silas’s voice.
“I’m not heartless, Marv. What was I going to do? Leave you there to die?” He put on his coat. “Well, I’m leaving. Get some rest.”
“Wait, I won? I got the hundred million?” he said in a high octave, then cowered, realizing what he had said aloud. He whispered, “I got the money?”
“Fair and square, Marv.”
“Who are you, really?” Marv asked. “Why did you pick me to do this? Who do you work for?”
“Very good questions, but you need rest.”
“Silas,” Marv called out, “are you coming back?”
“Of course I’ll be back.” He got to the doorway and turned around. “And my name’s not Silas Lapham. It’s Angelo Huckabee. The man who gave me the money told me to make up an alias. When you get better, you need to think of one as well. We’ll discuss this later. Get some rest.”
Maybe it was fatigue or maybe the drugs were kicking in, but Marv tried processing what he had just heard. The important parts jumped out in no order: “the man who gave me the money,” “you need to think of an alias,” “Angelo Huckabee.”
“Angelo Huckabee,” Marv whispered and let out a laugh that hurt his gut seconds later. “You should’ve stuck with Silas Lapham.”
Silas/Angelo walked alongside a wheelchair-bound Marv as the orderly pushed him to the exit. The automatic doors opened, and Marv felt like a free man. He’d never told his family about the winnings because they’d have questions that he still had yet to get answers to. Also, like a command put in a computer, his mom would say, “Marv, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” Always the optimist, but he had to make sure the money came his way.
They got into Silas’s Bentley. “Since I’m officially discharged, I have several questions.”
“There’s other business we have to attend to,” Silas said as he turned the wheel, pulling out of the parking lot.
“I’m getting the money. You said it yourself. You said I held up my end of the bargain.”
“You will get the money, but first I have some news for you—good news.”
A half-hour later, they pulled up to Jake’s Place. Marv felt an unexpected, creepy feeling from being in the vicinity of the site where a stranger had mugged him. As they ascended the steps, Marv remembered leaving Jake’s to go home, only he had never got there. It didn’t matter if he was rich or poor. Post-traumatic feelings didn’t discriminate.
They walked into Jake’s, and he noticed Pam, the waitress who had served him a week ago, and the manager, Ken, who, like everyone, wore the dumfounded look of seeing a guy stroll in with a bag full of cash. Three people let out a hearty “hey” as Marv walked in, and he dismissed the weird feelings he had.
Marv and Silas sat in a booth. “Alright, so what’s the news you got for me. You wouldn’t tell me in the car after I guessed a hundred times. Will you tell me now?”
“Well, Marv, they caught your mugger. I was going to do it myself using the GPS tracker, but it seemed I didn’t need to do that. It turns out that Jake’s Place patrons heard about the incident and kept a look out for the guy. Within days they found him and turned him over to the police. He robbed a couple people in the neighborhood in the past month before he got you.”
“Who told them?” Marv asked.
With that, Pam approached the table. “Hey, Marv, good to see you back. Angelo told us about what happened, and when word got out, everyone kept their eyes peeled. It was the least we could do for you.”
Marv gave Silas a look, and he returned it with a “there’s your answer” stare.
She left, and Marv put the pieces together, then processed everything. “Why would people I barely knew do such a thing for me?”
“‘Better to go down dignified with boughten friendship at your side than none at all. Provide, provide!'”
Marv absorbed the statement knowing it had some importance. What, he wasn’t sure.
“Look, Marv,” Silas continued, “part of my job, hell, my entire job, is to pick someone with morals, character, and make sure they follow through. That’s what I did. You proved that it’s not money that makes the person but what they do with it. You gave just like I knew you would, and these people gave back to you because they admired what you did.”
Marv got that “fuzzy” feeling one got after watching a marathon of Christmas movies. He hated that feeling, made fun of others when they felt it. He sat there, the punchline to karma’s joke.
Pam came back with coffee, and Marv remembered he had another question. “You said in the hospital that I’d have to come up with an alias. Why?”
Silas poured some cream into his coffee, took a sip, and placed the cup on the table. “That’s because you’re going to do what I did. You’re going to find someone to pass a million dollars to and make sure they spend it.” He smiled. “You didn’t think it was going to be easy money, did you?”
Marv peered at Silas as he shot him that smirk, and for a second, he discarded the comment as a coincidence and thought that maybe he was present when the kid said what, in the past couple weeks, he had found to be more gospel than any verse in the whole Bible.
“I want to discuss something else with you,” Silas continued, “We can confront the guy who mugged you. I know where he is.”
“Confront him?” More processing and Marv thought by noon his brains would be an overloaded circuit breaker. “Can we do that?”
“You’re a millionaire. You can do anything. Think about it. Nothing has to be done today.”
Across from Marv stared cold eyes, lifeless, no emotion. Perhaps the mind behind them didn’t get that bicycle for Christmas or a gold star in Math. Marv looked into those eyes and might as well have looked into the infinite depths of space. The kid’s hair—greasy, unkempt. His face—at that threshold between adolescence and adulthood.
Silas suggested Marv put on a $50,000 custom-made suit and flash a Rolex, create the illusion that he was somebody. Somehow it worked.
The sun reflected off the walls, illuminating the kid’s face, but all Marv saw was the silhouette coming from the shadows. He couldn’t believe he’d been reduced to this state by a 130-pound kid—a kid who, if smarter, would be taking an Accounting class or napping from an all-night term paper writing binge. As a bouncer at Topsy Turvy’s, he took on guys twice the kid’s weight. True, they were drunk and impaired, and he’d get a bruise or the occasional torn shirt, but never put in the hospital.
“Do you know who I am?” Marv asked.
The kid stared, not so much as a nod or a facial twitch.
He pounded the table. “Do you know who I am?”
The door squeaked behind him, and he felt a hand on his shoulder. “Alright, that’s enough,” A crisp voice from behind him said.
Marv wanted to pound the kid, throw him across the room to see if he would make a facial cringe in terror, but if Marv did, he’d be the one wearing handcuffs. The agent signaled him to leave.
Marv stood up. “Let me give you a hint.” He ripped open his shirt, buttons popping off, and he peeled the bloodstained bandage from his stomach. “How’s this for a clue?”
He complied with the agent and headed for the door, but the inner-Marv asked, “When will you see this punk again?” He turned around and flipped the table. It toppled over the punk’s thighs, and his face cringed. It was the emotional spark Marv was searching for.
“What the hell happened?” Silas asked as he scanned Marv, taking in the ripped shirt and the torn bandage. “What’d he do? Go after you again?”
The agent interrupted, his face as red as a tomato and jowls flapping. “This guy threw a table at the suspect!”
Silas nodded in admiration.
“Well, why did I confront the guy? To play patty cake?” Marv remarked.
“No, no, you needed closure,” Silas replied.
They exited the station, and two cops escorted a guy in handcuffs to the entrance. He thrashed and squirmed his way out of their grip, and they trampled him when he lost his footing. They pinned him to the ground. One cop took his legs as the other sprawled across his shoulders, pulling out his club.
The guy’s dark hair flopped, and dollops of spit were flung from his mouth as he screamed. “Why are you arresting me? Arrest the other guy! I punched him because he hit my sister, and you let him go!”
He wiggled on the ground, and his mouth did the work the rest of his body couldn’t.
“I guess he waived his right to remain silent,” Silas chided.
Marv took Silas’s arm while observing the spectacle in front of him. “How did you get all of my info?”
“I followed you, Marv. I pieced everything together. Why?” he asked.
He watched as the police finally got the guy back on his feet. Seconds later, he bumped one cop with his shoulder and ran for it. He didn’t get far.
Marv looked at Silas. “We need some bail money.”
Marv pounded on the door and waited thirty seconds. He pounded again, much harder, and he heard clicking on the other side. A scrawny kid, about 22, peeked through the door’s crack. His hair was a hurricane of entanglement, his face was a sheet of stubble, and he wore a T-shirt covered in holes and food stains.
“Daniel? Daniel Warren?” Marv asked.
Silas advised him. “Sound imposing, sound like ‘no’ is not an option. You’re a big guy, Marv. You could walk the walk and talk the talk. Project a ‘death stare.’ This guy has your money for Christ’s sake, and kindness will not get it back.”
He was right after all, and Marv realized that people generally saw what people projected. Silas was 5’3″, skinny as a rail, yet seemed intimidating. If he could do it…
“He moved out, left, I should say,” the kid said. “He took all my money, my TV, my drums. Probably for drugs. If you see him, let me know because we have to talk.”
Marv had learned (and demonstrated) that people would lie their asses off for the sake of money, for the sake of dodging consequences. Besides, the last time Marv saw him, he had run away with a bag of money. Before that, cops had tackled him.
Daniel shut the door, but Marv stopped it with his palm, pushing it until the chain straightened.
“Daniel, I know you have the money. I saw you pick it up three days ago on a park bench in Fairmount. Do you want me to describe the clothes you wore?”
There was silence with the occasional bang or rustle. Silas had prepared Marv for all of it, all the different scenarios.
“He’s going to be scared, and he’ll act rashly. He may climb out the window, hide the money, or lie.”
“What if he goes out the window?” Marv asked as he settled into his apartment for the first time in weeks.
“I’ll be right outside,” he answered.
“And if he gets by you, ‘small fry’?”
“Well, Marv, let’s hope you picked a real deadbeat. If not…” He pulled out the taser, and sparks streaked across its tongs. “You remember this, don’t you?”
Marv pounded the door again. “Warren, don’t make this any harder on yourself.”
He knew what he had to do, although in some naïve part of his mind, he thought Warren would invite him in without so much as an argument.
Marv shouldered the door and stumbled into the apartment. For only a second, he observed the “nonexistent” big screen TV and surround system, but it was the commotion in the bedroom that led him. Through an open door, Marv saw clothes being flung. It wasn’t until he walked in that he found out where.
Warren was flinging clothes out the window. Why was Marv’s guess, and it demonstrated Silas’s theory that he’d act rashly.
“Warren?” Marv yelled.
He looked up with big eyes like a boy caught with his hands in the collection basket, and he darted toward the open window.
Marv grabbed him by the seat of his pants and pulled him back in. “Running does no good, Warren. Wherever you go, I’ll know. Don’t deny you have the money. I’ll find it.”
He pulled out the GPS tracking device for show while a heaving Daniel Warren pleaded for Marv not to kill him.
“I’m not gonna kill you. I’m gonna change your life.” He turned on the GPS tracker.
“Look the money’s—”
“Don’t tell me.” Marv put his hand up. “This is cool.” The green dot on the GPS screen was right on top of the red one. He knelt down and under the bed was the leather bag. “Really? Under the bed?” He pulled out the leather bag and dropped it on the bed. “Before we get down to business, let me introduce myself.” He recalled Silas telling him to come up with an alias. He didn’t sit up nights thinking of a name. In fact, going into the meeting, a name never occurred, but he remembered a name from his first day at The Harlan Institute of Technology. The Electrician’s course started with the founding fathers and contributors of electricity and its principles, and a name had struck him. “My name’s James Watt. Let’s take it easy. Relax. If you keep cool, I keep cool. Are we cool?”
“Yeah, Mr. Watt,” he stuttered, “We’re cool.”
“So here’s the deal. The money’s yours.” Warren perked up. “But there are rules.”
Silas sat in the café as he had said he would. Marv took about half an hour longer than anticipated.
He sat across from Silas. “It’s done.”
Silas closed his book. “Come on, Marv, you know it’s never really done.”
“So what now?” Marv asked.
Silas took a sip from his cup. “Well, for me, I sit back and watch. You get to watch and guide.”
“What? So now I follow this guy?”
“Pretty much. Also throw a monkey wrench in his routine like I did to you.”
“So let me get this straight. If this guy goes to Timbuktu, I have to follow him?” Marv inquired.
A man wearing a beige suit jacket, black shirt and khakis approached the table. He had dark hair with two gray patches above his sideburns and not a speck of facial hair. He placed his hand on Silas’s shoulder.
“Hello,” Silas greeted. He stood up and gave the newcomer a kiss on the lips.
Marv shook his head. First an alias, now this.
“Oh Chad, this is Marv. He’s a business associate of mine.”
Chad extended his hand. “Hi, Marv, so you’re the guy Angelo calls every day.”
Marv shook his hand. “Yeah, he calls constantly. Is he like that with you?”
“Don’t get me started,” Chad stated.
“Stop it,” Silas demanded. “Now back to business. You have to follow him yet be two steps ahead of him. Come on, there’s someone you have to meet.”
Silas left a hundred on the table.
“That’s a pretty hefty tip for a cup of java,” Marv commented.
“‘I celebrate myself, for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.’ Follow me.” He turned to Chad. “I’ll be right back.”
They exited the café and walked down the street to the entrance of a park.
“There’s your money,” he said, waving his arm as if to give Marv his last hint of guidance.
He looked to a park bench next to a winding stone road. At the bench was a figure, but it was too far away to determine its gender.
He took a step, then stopped. “Silas, if I didn’t spend the money, were you really gonna take everything I had? Answer honestly. Don’t quote some dead poet.”
He smiled that devilish smile. “Honestly, I wouldn’t, but nothing motivates faster than the threat of financial destitution. We’ll be in touch.”
Marv walked up the road, only keeping his eyes on the figure. As he got closer, about thirty feet, he realized it was a woman. Her features, even at close range, were hard to determine, and all he noticed was the braided, black ponytail.
He approached the bench. “Hello, Silas…Angelo sent me to you. He says you have something for me.”
She turned her head, and her ponytail swung around and rested on her shoulder. It took him a second to recognize her—the caramel skin, the brown eyes. Marv thought she was beautiful, even when he had seen her outside the diner he had noticed her beauty, but the situation and the burdens had overridden his focus. Her eyes lit up, and she projected a smile like he was an old friend from childhood. “Hello, Marv. I’m Francesca. Have a seat.”
He sat next to her. “You? You’re the source of the money?”
“Yes, it’s all my money.” She reached down and pulled up a leather bag much bigger than the bag he had found. “This is for you.”
He opened the bag and saw overlapping stacks of money and a thick manila envelope.
“Study those documents. It’s a ruse to make it seem you inherited the money.”
Marv closed the case. “I want to know, why me? Out of all the people in this city, why did you choose me to spend the money?”
“You’d just lost your job. I thought you needed it.”
“People lose their jobs every day. You could’ve chosen anyone. Really, why me? It’s a simple question.”
“When Angelo gave you the criteria for spending the money, you shared the wealth; you changed lives. You didn’t think twice when you saw me and my son outside the diner. About five people passed us without a thought before we talked to you. Why did I choose you? Because I can tell how positive power can be in the right hands. You proved my theory.”
“Silas/Angelo—what did he do before he got rich?”
“He taught high school English.”
Marv chuckled, thinking of how he’d been bullied by a guy who studied sonnets. “And your son. Do you really have a son?”
“Of course. He’s over there.”
She pointed to the green fields of the park where her son frolicked with his dog.
“So now that you have all this money, you might want to start following Daniel Warren.”
He watched the boy and the dog, yet took in her comment. He thought of passing signs on the expressway and the Atlantic City skyline.
He saw Cassandra immediately, even through dimmed and neon lighting. She slung two beers to a couple, then tapped the register.
He sat at the end of the bar, watching her scoop ice and make another drink. He first noticed her red lipstick, the same lipstick she had worn a couple weeks ago, and he remembered how her lips had felt against his the night they had met. Her hair was down the last time, but she wore the same eye shadow.
She came closer, pouring the guy two bar stools from him another drink. As she handed him his change, he noticed her leather wristband with the tribal design stitching. It reminded him of the way she had nudged him when he showed her the card trick. It was the first time they had touched.
She approached Marv, and a hint of recognition entered her eyes, but she dismissed it as quickly as it occurred. “What can I get you?”
On the outside, he played it cool, but on the inside he wanted to blurt out all that had happened in the past two weeks—the mugging, the money, the confrontation. He wanted to ask why she had left without so much as a goodbye, that he felt they had had a connection, but his inner-Marv stepped in, telling him not to be a wuss. Only a flirtatious “remember me” grin made it through.
“I’ll take a Jack and Coke,” he ordered.
She responded with a perfunctory “sure,” and a shock of disappointment stunned him. Didn’t she remember him? Was she mad at him? Did she regret their night together?
She placed a napkin on the bar and the drink on top of it. “$5.75.”
He opened his wallet and gave her a ten. “How have you been? I haven’t seen you in a couple weeks.”
She took the money, not responding, and he figured she was busy, couldn’t talk, but the bar only had a few patrons.
She placed the change on the bar without making eye contact.
“Cassandra, it’s me, Marv,” he said. It was basic, even desperate, but he knew it would get her attention. “I know it’s been a few weeks, but…”
The wall of estrangement collapsed, and her eyes filled with acknowledgement. “Look, Marv, I know—”
A guy walked up to the bar—a handsome guy, slim, fit. He was dressed all in black and wore three silver chain necklaces. He had short, light brown hair with that gelled, messed up look on the top. He placed his hands on the bar, and Marv noticed rings on eight of his ten fingers, one with a silver skull. Marv thought he could’ve been a roadie for the Rolling Stones.
“Sandy, you ready?” he asked.
“Yeah, Todd. I have to count my till, and I’ll be done in fifteen minutes.”
For the first time, and Marv didn’t know why, he noticed a ring on Cassandra’s left hand.
He felt shock, an even bigger shock than finding out Silas had a boyfriend. The same question he had asked for the past three weeks crossed his mind—”Why me?” As Cassandra attended to a few last-minute customers without acknowledging his existence, he knew he wasn’t going to get an answer, and if he did, it had nothing to do with him being a decent person. Things happened. Sometimes they happened for a good reason, sometimes for a bad one, and sometimes for no reason at all.
He headed toward the exit, and he fought the urge to take one last look at her. Disappointment surged through him, but he figured something was bound to be misaligned. He had obtained a hundred million dollars, survived a mugging, and all this after he had lost his job. He had no room to complain. It was time for Marv Stinson/James Watt to get back home. Daniel Warren’s first day of spending was almost over, and Marv had a phone call to make—the first of many.
L. Garvey Thomas hails from the city of Philadelphia, and his writing credits include The Chaffin Journal, The Bracelet Charm, The Commonline Journal, and most recently, Red Dashboard Publishing released his dime novel, Get in the Ring. In February 2013, he received his certificate from the Long Ridge Writers Group’s Breaking into Print program. He writes constantly, whether it’s writing or revising stories, brainstorming new stories, or working on his novel.