Chapter 7: The Meeting
“I’ll get the Chef’s Sampler Platter, but instead of the Honey Mustard Chicken Tenders, can I get the Buffalo Chicken Tenders instead?” Carlos said.
“We can do that,” she answered. It said Lucy on her name tag.
“Alright then uh, let me see, you don’t have any sliders, do you? You know, like a plate full of those little mini-hamburgers?”
“No, but I can get you a big boy burger and have the chef cut it into little pieces for you, would you like that?”
Laughter and then Carlos said, “Ah! Check her out, she’s got jokes!”
Still smiling, he said, “Let me get a patty melt then, grill the onions.”
“And uh, let me get a chocolate shake, too,” nodding his head in approval as he said it and smiling as he visualized how that chocolate shake was going to taste.
They finished ordering and the meeting began.
Johnny started by saying, “All four of us here – if we do this thing right, we can create a life for ourselves that we could only dream about yesterday. There’s only one thing that can fuck things up for us right now and that’s greed – if one of us gets greedy and thinks they can cut someone out or cut everyone else out and get away with it. Seriously,” he said, looking in the eyes of each of the other three in succession, “what’s the fucking difference between the kind of lifestyle you can have on $30 million compared to $60 million or $120 million or however the numbers work out when we cash it out for the lump sum. If one person gets greedy, if one person thinks they’re smarter than the rest, well you’re not. All you’re going to do is fuck yourself out of the life that you could’ve had.”
“I know another way someone could fuck things up for everyone,” Darren added. “That’s if someone starts mouthing off or does something stupid to get caught and ends up with a prosecutor telling them they’ve got a choice of either life in prison or get off easy and rat everyone else out. Every one of us has to be smart enough not to do something stupid.”
Looking at Carlos, Johnny said, “Something you need to know, uh . . . we worked with this guy, so the cops are going to find out that at the same place, three co-workers hit the lottery and one got murdered. That’s a lot of strange fortune to land on one little telemarketing firm in the space of two nights.”
“I figured the guy wasn’t going around telling total strangers about it, so I knew there’d be some connection between you guys and him, but I can just say I bought it myself while I was working,” Carlos volunteered with a slightly bored expression on his face.
“If only one person brings it in, how do the other three begin explaining things like that brand new Maserati they’re driving around town?” Johnny asked.
“What, we tell them we all went in on a ticket? What are we going to say, none of us had a dollar, so we all went in on a one-dollar ticket together? Who’s going to believe that?” Susan asked.
“Dig twenty tickets out of the trash and say we all pitched in $5.” Darren replied.
Together Susan and Johnny said, “Time stamps.” Johnny continued, “It’s not so much about digging tickets out of the trash, we could say we don’t know what happened to the other tickets, but if we give them the story that we all went in on twenty tickets and one curious employee at the California Lottery were to check up on it, they’d have the full record from that machine and they’d see scattered groups of tickets purchased all day long, but they wouldn’t see twenty tickets purchased in a bunch along with the winner and they’d know we’re lying.”
“If only one of us claims it in public, then we have the problem of splitting that money up. How the hell do you take that lump sum and make three transfers of $20, $30 million dollars to three other people without the banks or the IRS being all over that? You can’t just say you felt like being nice and splitting the jackpot with three total strangers.”
“You guys know what the witness protection program is, right?” They answered Carlos with a couple shakes of the head.
“New town, new set of neighbors, new friends, new life, each one of us will have enough money to buy ourselves a whole new identity. You can be whoever you want to be. Day trader, real estate mogul, trust fund baby . . . like me, I’ll tell everyone I’m a Mexican drug lord and I decided to get out of the cartel before the cartel got me.”
“See, that’s what I’m talking about, now that’s some stupid ass shit right there. You don’t leave a crime behind you by telling all your new neighbors you’re a criminal.” Darren said, keeping the volume down on it, but clearly just a bit pissed off.
A bit more of the Mexican barrio crept into Carlos’ voice as he said, “Ah shit man, chill. I’m not going to be telling no one I’m from the drug cartel.”
Johnny couldn’t tell for sure whether Carlos had been joking though. If he had been serious, he’d played it off pretty well, but if he was serious, that was also a pretty scary thought. Like Darren said, if someone did something stupid, got caught and tied to the murder, they were all going down. Once the cops started doing any digging, that jackpot, as big as it was and split four ways, they’d all be tied together.
“I’m twenty-four. No one’s going to believe I’m a day trader retiring at 24, I don’t care how good you are.” Johnny said.
“Who said you had to be retired?” Carlos said.
“I’m twenty-one,” Susan said. “I still live with my parents. I can’t just go off and leave and never see them again.”
“What, you’re going to live at home your whole life? Tell ‘em you got a job opportunity, send ‘em home a check every month,” Carlos said.
“I don’t know, I couldn’t do that . . . ”
“You want to stay at home, you’ve got to keep living the same lifestyle then. You can’t be getting all extravagant and shit, your parents, your friends, everything you buy they’re going to be curious, ‘How’d you get this? Where’d you get the money to buy that?’” Carlos said.
Susan suddenly felt depressed. Where was the fun in having a fortune if it meant having to leave your family behind for good? On the other hand, how could you live with it if keeping your family meant having a fortune you couldn’t even spend? How maddening would that be?
“Why don’t we just go with the simplest solution,” she said. “We’ll just say all four of us had a spare quarter and we all pitched in.”
“Here she comes,” Carlos said. The plates were placed in front of them and one by one the plates were greeted by a series of slow, satisfied and very stoned grins. For just a short moment, all was forgotten about the ticket.
They focused on the food and for awhile it was quiet save for a few syllables and sounds of approval.
“How the hell did you do that?” Johnny asked Carlos.
“How did I do what?”
“That pointing thing, man!”
Carlos laughed and Johnny launched into the story. “This guy!” he said laughing. “This guy . . . We’re on our way out of the pad, and I’m being careful not to leave any prints as I close the door and then I turn around and there’s Carlos and he’s pointing at this couple across the way, and the way he’s pointing, it’s like the death ray of silence or something, like some fuckin’ Jedi mind trick he’s puttin’ on them because they don’t say a word! Not a word of surprise or a question, not one friggen’ word. Not even a ‘who the -’ or a ‘hey the -’ or a ‘what the -’, not one word, just by the way he was pointing at them. How the hell did you do that?”
The other three burst out laughing.
“I’m serious, Holmes. You think a thought, and you’re deadly serious about it and you think it hard enough and intense enough and you can get that message across without ever needing to open your mouth.”
There was a thoughtful silence for a bit and then Darren said, “So what am I thinking now?”
“You’re thinking, ‘Damn, I’m stoned and this burger tastes good!‘”
They all laughed, although that wasn’t what Darren was thinking.
“So you guys got spotted? How well did they see you?” Susan asked, concerned, not laughing any more.
“Ah shit, they didn’t see nothin’,” Carlos said, with a confidence that made Johnny a bit uneasy.
“Seriously? I mean, how far away were they?” She asked.
“It was dark man, they couldn’t see shit,” Carlos said, already over it and wanting to focus back on the chocolate shake and the mozzarella sticks.
They went back to their food, Carlos absorbed in his, the other three slightly distracted.
The patty melt taken care of, only a couple of onion rings left on the sampler plate, Carlos finally said, “I used to talk to him, you know.”
“Who?” Johnny asked.
“The guy,” and then they all knew who he was talking about. “He used to come in, buy his Slurpees, every now and then he’d ask me some . . . I don’t know, some every day kind of question like how work was going . . . ”
The sounds of the restaurant were all around them, but it was suddenly very quiet at the table.
“I’d tell him it was chill, just earnin’ a paycheck you know and sometimes there’d be no one in line and no one else was in the store and he’d just kind of stand there, you could tell he didn’t really have any place to be so he’d just stand there, drinking his Slurpee, not saying much . . . ”
Johnny swallowed hard. Susan and Darren had forgotten about the food on their plates.
“I remember one time though, he started talking about his work . . . ” Susan and Johnny shared a brief glance between them like, “I do not want to be hearing this right now” as Carlos continued. “He did not like that place, man. In fact, I think we only talked about it that one time, but it was the way he talked about it that stuck with me. He did not like that place,” Carlos repeated.
“No one there likes that place.” Johnny tried to muster up a light-hearted laugh.
“It wasn’t so much the place though,” Carlos continued. “It was more the people he really hated. Like I said, we only talked about it the one time, but it stuck in my head. I remember thinking, ‘If I ever hear about a workplace shooting and they put this guys photo up on the news, I would not be surprised at all.’”
“I don’t think we have to worry about that any more,” Darren deadpanned.
Almost all at once, Susan felt the combination of the heaviness of the food, the high that was wearing off and the weariness of a long night. “I have to get back to my car.”
“Who’s gonna hold the ticket?” Darren asked.
“Just call me Johnny Safe Box. I’m not going anywhere. You guys know where I live and where I work . . . ”
“I don’t,” Carlos said. “Not that I’m worried about it. I turn on the news and I see you guys cashed that ticket without me . . . ”
“Listen,” Johnny said, “it’s not like it will be suspicious if we take a few days to figure out how to go about this before cashing it in. Most lottery winners don’t come forward the very next day. They keep their mouths shut, find a good lawyer, maybe some lottery investment expert or something . . . ”
“Your friend should have kept his mouth shut about having the ticket . . . ”
Johnny ignored him, “So tomorrow, we’ll go into work like nothing happened, just act cool, like nothing even happened . . . ”
“I better not hear either one of you whispering about anything to anyone, not even a wink or a nod,” Darren interjected.
” . . . and tomorrow we’ll meet up here again after we’ve had some time to figure things out. You working tomorrow?” he asked Carlos.
“Alright, one o’clock sharp.”
They split the bill, lumbered out of the restaurant and piled back in the car.
As they drove back to where their cars were parked, they could see all the activity from a couple blocks away. Once again, red and blue lights flashing just like when they’d left the street, but this time they were right in front of the apartment building and multiplied by three squad cards and an ambulance.
From Johnny and Susan and Darren arose a chorus of oh fucks and oh shits, but Carlos said simply, “What? After we left you didn’t think they were going to get the manager and make sure everything was alright in there?”