Genre: Contemporary Literary Fiction
Author: Brad Cotton
Publisher: Prinia Press
Best friends Duncan and Ray run a successful bookie business in Phoenix. Outgrowing the life they began in college, the late twenty-something pair set out on the road with a plan to never return. Their trip takes them cross-country with eventful stops in Las Vegas, Omaha, and Niagara Falls. Along their journey they meet several colorful characters and even agree to bring a pretty young girl named Ruby along with them for the ride. Landing in Boston to run an errand for an old friend, the travelers begin to lay roots in an attempt to forge for themselves the life they’d always hoped for. Easier said than done. As romances begin to burgeon, and one of their lives is put in danger, the group quickly discovers that where they are may indeed have little effect on who they are.
1st Chapter Reveal
“You’re telling me he’s in charge?”
“So he knows what’s going on right now?”
Ray paused to absorb Duncan’s response. “You say that as if I should have known,” he said.
“Well, consider the alternative.”
“I don’t have access to him, Dun. I’m just taking your word for it.”
Duncan removed the black bag from his lap and placed it beside him on the couch. It sank heavily into the soft leather. Duncan leaned forward and lifted a large book from the coffee table in front of him. Ray sat across from Duncan on a black chaise, his feet propped up.
“New Zealand,” Duncan said. He showed the book’s cover to Ray.
Duncan scuttled back into the couch. He opened the cover of the book and began turning its thick, glossy pages. The vivid greens and browns of the picturesque hills charmed him right away.
“It doesn’t make you uncomfortable to think he knows what you’re up to?” Ray asked.
“Not at all,” said Duncan.
“I don’t buy it.”
Duncan continued to flip the pages of the book with an easy grin. Restless, Ray rose from his chair and scanned the picture frames atop the nearby marble fireplace. He lifted a wooden plaque that sat amongst the photographs. “Eagle’s Glen flight two golf tournament champion, 1998,” he read aloud.
The front door opened. The house was abnormally large, but the sound of someone entering and walking down the hallway towards them was easy to distinguish. The echo of shoes on a tiled floor began to draw close. It was an ominous sound, but Duncan’s eyes never wavered from the shimmering turquoise lakes reflecting majestically off the snow-capped mountaintops.
“Hi Marty,” Ray said from his vantage in front of the unlit fireplace.
Martin Bridge startled and turned quickly. He was standing before three wide steps that led to the massive sunken living room. He nearly tumbled down the steps when Ray called his name.
“What the fuck?” Martin yelped. The aging man grasped at a white pillar beside the steps.
“Don’t freak out, Marty,” Ray said, holding his palms out in a gesture of peace.
“Who the hell are you?” Martin asked.
“I’m Ray, that’s Duncan.”
Duncan closed the book and placed it back calmly on the coffee table, sure to tilt it back into the original position he found it.
“Oh shit, Ray,” Martin said. “You scared the hell out of me.”
“Sorry about that.”
Martin unclenched the pillar – among other things – and walked down the steps and into the living room to meet Ray and Duncan. “What are you guys doing here?”
“We need to talk to you about something,” Ray said.
“What’s wrong with the phone? In four years you guys have never come by once.” Martin walked over to Ray and shook his hand. “You’re a lot younger than I imagined,” he said. “How the hell did you get in here?”
“We need to cash you out, Marty,” Ray said, still holding Martin’s hand.
“I need a drink, can I get you a drink?” Martin said.
“None for me,” said Duncan.
Martin unclasped Ray’s hand and walked to the far end of the sunken room. He tapped his finger on a small white pad by the window. A discreet portion of the wall-long bookshelf began to rotate slowly and unveiled an impressive alcohol display.
“Scotch okay?” Martin asked, twisting open a twenty-five-year-old single malt. He then poured into his glass what could be considered the daily hydration quotient of a small farm animal. He did the same for Ray.
Ray took a seat beside Duncan on the couch. He lifted the book Duncan had been looking at and flipped it open to the middle.
Martin joined the pair in the center of the room. He placed a coaster down in front of Ray and then the glass of scotch upon it.
“Do you still golf, Marty?” Duncan asked.
“Yes, well, no,” Martin said, “I don’t get out that much anymore.”
Martin was in his early sixties. His impeccably tailored suit made him look a bit younger, as did his fashionably narrow eyeglasses, but the lines on his face spoke the truth. Martin’s hair could be described as salt and pepper, but only if the lid of the salt had been unscrewed as a prank before it was shaken onto his head. He stood six-two and weighed well over two hundred pounds. He was larger in stature than both Ray and Duncan. Martin walked with confidence, as if he knew where he was going and what he was going to do when he got there. In a boardroom, Martin could be an intimidating figure. In his living room, he made no such impression on Duncan.
“You still belong to Eagle’s Glen?” Duncan asked.
“I use the facilities,” Martin said, taking a seat on the black chair across from his guests. “How did you guys get in here? How did you know my wife wouldn’t be home?”
“Your wife moved out years ago, Marty,” Ray said.
“Lives with your wife, but is currently attending Stanford Law, so she wouldn’t be at either house. And you leave a key under the fake rock in the front garden. Why don’t you golf anymore?”
“My body is falling apart,” Martin said pitifully. “Look at this.”
He held up his left hand and clenched his fist a few times slowly as if he were milking an invisible goat.
“What are we looking at?” Ray asked.
“You don’t see this?” Martin said. He opened and closed his hand a few more times.
Ray looked over at Duncan who had no answer either.
“Arthritis!” Martin said. “I can barely grip my clubs anymore. I have to wear padded batting gloves just to hold my driver. I just bought a $1,200 custom-fit TaylorMade and the thing keeps flying out of my hands. I nearly tossed it into someone’s pool.”
“Sounds frustrating,” Ray said.
“So why the hell do you need to cash me out?” Martin asked, “Is something wrong? Are you guys in trouble?”
“Nothing like that. We’re cashing everybody out.”
“You need the money?”
“We’re shutting down,” Ray said.
“We’re leaving Phoenix,” Duncan added.
“You’re leaving Phoenix? What for? Where’re you going?” Martin asked.
“Don’t know yet. Maybe L.A.,” Ray offered.
“I’ve spent time in L.A., Ray, you’ll hate it.” Martin leaned back in the chair and took a gulp of his drink. “Coffee shops, plastic surgeons…actors. A million fucking actors.”
“New York, maybe, I don’t know,” Ray said as he put down the book. Duncan reached across the couch and unzipped the front pouch of the bag.
“New York!” Martin said.
Duncan withdrew a black hardcover notebook from the bag and handed it to Ray. Ray flipped the book open and shuffled through the pages.
“I had a girl in New York once,” Martin said. “1968. Maryanne McCurry. Red hair, blue eyes…great ass. She moved to Michigan and married a Protestant.”
“Sixty-six,” Ray said.
“No, I’m pretty sure it was sixty eight. It was the summer we saw Gary Puckett and The Union Gap…it was a leap year too, I think.”
“Sixty-six thousand, Marty. You’re at sixty-six thousand,” Duncan said.
“Sixty-six thousand? That can’t be right. Are you sure?”
Duncan took the book from Ray and walked it over to Martin. He turned it around and placed two fingers down the ledger.
Martin lifted his glasses and looked at the book. He shook his head. “Fucking Wake Forrest,” he said. “Never bet on a team named after trees.” Duncan turned and handed the book back to Ray.
“We need it in cash,” Duncan said. “Today.”
“Sixty-six thousand in cash?” Martin exclaimed. “You must be joking.”
“You’re the last person on our list, Marty. We need the money,” Ray said.
“What, you guys gonna rough me up or something?” Martin asked, leaning forward.
“No, not really.” Ray said.
Martin sat back pensively. “Well if you need it right now, I can get you ten, maybe fifteen,” he said. “But there’s no way I can get sixty-six. I don’t have that kind of cash lying around.”
“Few do,” Ray said. “But we still need it. So you better come up with something.”
“Okay, let me think for a minute.”
Martin got up from the chair and returned to the bar. He topped up his glass, standing before volumes of un-creased book spines.
“Okay,” Martin said after a healthy swig. “Give me thirty minutes.” He gulped down the entirety of the brown liquid.
“Stay here, make something to eat, have another drink. I’ll be right back.”
Martin placed his glass on the table and hopped back up the three steps.
“I’m coming with you,” Ray said.
“I’m just going to my brother’s house.”
Ray looked over to Duncan.
“He has a bigger safe than me,” Martin added.
Ray and Duncan exchanged another glance.
“Guys,” Martin said, walking back towards them and standing atop the steps. “I’ve been a lawyer in this city for thirty years. I sit on the board of a hospital charity. For fuck sake, I have a monthly dinner with the mayor. I’ll be back in thirty minutes. Trust me.”
Ray and Duncan continued their silence.
“Go,” Ray said finally.
When it was clear that he had indeed vacated the premises, Ray walked back across the room and pressed the small white pad on the wall. The bar began to disappear and the bookshelf reemerged. When he clicked it again, the bar returned.
“How did you know about his wife?” Duncan asked.
Ray was still playing with the switch.
“Remember Hayley,” he said, clicking the button. “Dated her about three years ago?”
“It only lasted about a month, but we’re still Facebook friends. Spoke to her last week actually.”
“I have another question for you,” Ray said, finally bored with the switch on the wall. “If he knows what’s going on right now – with everything, I mean – why doesn’t he do something about it?”
“Who says he hasn’t?”
“Well, I don’t see him doing anything.”
“If you say so,” Duncan said. “But how can you be sure?”
Ray sat back down on the chaise.
Martin Bridge returned to the house in less than the allotted thirty minutes. He walked down into the living room carrying a black gym bag. He sat on the couch beside Duncan and placed the bag on the coffee table.
“Twelve,” he said, with a lift of his chin.
“Not enough,” Ray said.
“I know that.”
“So what are we supposed to do?”
“Well what am I supposed to do? I have games this weekend.”
“That’s not our problem,” Duncan said. “Find someone else to take your bets. We need the money.”
Martin crossed one leg over the other.
“Is that your car on the street?” he asked.
“What is it? 1978? 79?”
“Nice car. They don’t make them like that anymore, do they?”
“They do not.”
Martin gave Duncan’s knee a friendly tap. “Follow me,” he said.
Martin rose from the couch. He grabbed the gym bag and led the boys through the kitchen, down a long hallway, and up to a dark metal door. The door had more than one lock on it. Martin flipped one deadbolt and used a key to open the other. He opened the door and turned on the lights. They stood in a large car garage. The room had a freshly painted grey concrete floor and an impressive twenty-foot ceiling.
The three men stood in the doorway.
“These all yours?” Ray asked.
“Something like that,” Martin said. He began to walk, leading the duo across the impressive line-up. “Aston Martin V8 Phantom. Ferrari F430. Mercedes SL500. Bentley Continental. Maserati GranTurismo Sport. And, if you’ll follow me this way…”
The trio reached the last car in the garage.
“The 2010 Metallic Silver BMW E92 M3.”
All three gazed at the impressive machine. “Is this one special?” Ray asked.
“They’re all special, Ray. But this one is yours.”
“I already have a car,” Duncan said.
“Consider it a trade-up, Duncan.”
“This is our sixty-six K?” Ray asked.
Martin threw the gym bag filled with cash to Ray. “It’s your fifty-four. And believe me, it’s worth double that.”
“So then why you giving it up?”
Martin pointed back to the first car in the line and made his way down the display. “Mine, mine, mine, mine, mine…hers,” he said.
“Won’t she ask what happened to it?” Duncan asked.
“She will,” Martin said. “That’s why you’ll have to do something for me.”
“And what’s that?”
Martin walked over to the wall and typed a code into a keypad. A silver box on the wall clanked and opened. Martin pulled a key ring off one of the hooks inside.
“Before you take this car,” he said, dangling the keys on his finger, “one of you is going to have to punch me in the face as hard as you can.”
“You can’t be serious,” Ray said.
“Oh, I’m serious.”
“Why, exactly, does one of us have to punch you in the face?”
“Well, Ray, there are a few reasons,” Martin said. “Including that it will make explaining the disappearance of a six figure car a little easier to believe. If I tell the she-beast that I had to give it up to settle a debt, it might look a little better if she thinks I was at least coerced a bit first. And, we do want to be sure that the police don’t get involved, don’t we? I imagine that’s important to you. But also, Ray,” Martin paused. “The truth is, I’ve never been punched in the face before, and this seems like a good opportunity. I want to know what it feels like.”
Ray looked at Duncan. Duncan simply shrugged.
“You’re serious?” Ray asked.
“Never been in a fight. I want to know what it’s like.”
“So you want one of us to just pop you?”
“That’s what I want.”
“I’m not gonna do it,” Duncan said.
“Okay,” Ray said, walking up to Martin.
“Ray…” Duncan said.
Martin tightened all his muscles, including the ones in his face. “Count to three first,” he said.
“This is really stupid, Marty, you know that, right?” said Ray.
Martin braced himself again.
Ray made a fist and Duncan held back any further objection.
“This is weird, Marty. I don’t know if I can do it.”
“I believe in you, Ray. You can do it.”
“All right then. One…I’m going to hit you in the mouth.”
“Okay, go. No wait. Mouth or nose?”
“Mouth I think.”
“Well I don’t want to break your nose. Let’s try and avoid a visit to the hospital.”
“Okay, mouth. I’m ready.”
“Don’t knock out any teeth, no dentist.”
“Duncan should be the one doing this.”
“Just do it, Ray…”
“I’m gonna do it. You ready?”
“Just do it!”
Ray’s fist landed on Martin’s face. Martin’s hands flew up to his mouth. He bounced up and down in pain and exhilaration. Ray swiped the car keys from the ground almost as quickly as Martin dropped them.
“Fuck me!” Martin yelled. He stomped his foot on the sleek concrete floor and the sound echoed through the immaculate garage.
“Open the door, Marty” Ray said, patting him on the back. “You’ll be okay.”
Ray threw the keys to Duncan and walked over to the passenger side of the car.
Martin scurried over to the same wall where he had retrieved the keys. He pressed a button and the garage door in front of the BMW began to rise.
“Put some ice on it,” Duncan said as he threw the keys to the Riviera to Martin and got into the driver’s side of the new car.
Martin nodded and waved him off. The car purred upon ignition.
Duncan pulled the BMW out of the garage with a delicate squeal. As Duncan and Ray drove down the bricked drive, neither of them looked back to see if Martin was watching.
About the Author ~ Brad Cotton
Born and raised in Toronto, Brad has been writing professionally for over a decade. An average guitarist, a sub-par painter, and a horrible juggler of anything larger than a tangerine, he is currently married to a woman, but does not have a cat, a drum set or any children.
You can visit Brad’s website at bradcotton.com.