Chapter 11: Debt
Mike came to propped up against the side of the tower. His head hurt. It took him a few moments to remember what he was doing there. He was vaguely conscious of a uniformed security guard standing just inside the tower door, peering out the window at him. As he looked back at the man, the security guard raised his walkie talkie to his mouth, uttered a few words, and turned away from Mike.
The two security men who’d escorted Mike out of the tower hadn’t known what to do with his unmoving body. It wasn’t uncommon for them to drag a recently fired employee out of the office, but they had always stayed conscious.
Mike collected his muddy thought, rubbed his head and slowly stood up. The adrenaline that had fueled his angry tirade earlier was now gone, and the realization that he was in deep shit had fully sunk in, leaving his mouth dry, his head aching, and his knees weak.
He was dizzy. What was he going to do? He tried to ignore it, but the thought of what Angelo was going to do to him kept coming back. He had needed that bonus! He willed himself to get angry again – to muster up the chemicals in his brain that would restore him to his normal self – but nothing would come. He was too tired. He wanted to sleep for a very long time. In his dejection he found it strangely humorous that he would soon get his wish; when Angelo found out he didn’t have the money, he’d make sure that Mike would be sleeping for a very long time.
He eventually became aware of the people staring at him. He must have looked very awkward, staggering on his feet, blood on his shirt, hair mussy, a distant look in his unfocused eyes. But why did they stare? Had they never seen a jobless guy downtown before?
“Screw you!” he yelled at a passing woman who’d kept her eyes on him for a moment too long. She jumped and scurried on along, looking back every so often as if she was worried he might follow her.
Finally his head stopped swimming and he gingerly stepped off the tower stairs down towards the street. The security guard was there in the window again, no doubt ordered to keep an eye on him. He spoke into his walkie talkie again, and maintained his watchful gaze as Mike stepped along the street slowly.
It occurred to Mike, as he staggered down the street, that he had no money for a cab on his person. He normally kept his wallet on him, but on this particular day he’d worn his nice Italian pants; the back pocket was far too small for his oversized wallet, stuffed with business cards, credit cards, and pictures of his wife to show potential customers. It’s large bulge in the back pocket of these particular pants was unsightly, not to mention uncomfortable, so he had placed it in the briefcase along with his files – the briefcase that was by now being ransacked by Maureen and her team in search of his notes on his new campaign.
He reached in his pocket, feeling for his keys and cell phone – they were still there, along with his train pass and a few cents in loose change. At least he could call Marie. He fumbled with the phone a few minutes before he finally got the number punched in. There was no answer? She hadn’t been there earlier either; where was she?
Without consciously realizing it, he’d been walking towards the State Avenue train station. It was just as well. He could at least ride the train up towards his house, then try calling Marie again and hope she would answer. She could pick him up at the station.
As he approached the platform, he reached in his pocket and quickly counted the change he had. He was 50 cents short of what he needed to get back up north.
He sighed, defeated, realizing the sick sense of humor the universe must have. He began to ask passersby if they could help him out with a little change, but they shrugged him off and hurried by. Why didn’t they believe his story? He wasn’t a degenerate – he was an important man! And he only needed 50 cents! It wasn’t a big deal! The irony was not entirely lost on him as he remembered the earlier events of the morning. referring back to beggar story with Mike, need to addYes, the universe had a sick sense of humor.
After several unsuccessful attempts at soliciting assistance, and a couple of close scrapes with a public transportation employee who seemed to enjoy pointing ominously at the small signs posted around the station that read, “Solicitation Prohibited,” Mike tried a new approach. He checked around the vending machines at the station, poking his finger into the change return and fishing under the machine with his hands. His efforts yielded two dimes, three nickels, and a collection of pennies, which he exchanged with the public transportation employee for additional nickels and dimes.
Before long, he had the requisite 50 cents and found himself on a northbound train, heading home. He was emotionally drained. Hopelessness enveloped him, and he tried to sleep, but was constantly plagued by nightmares of Angelo’s response to Mike’s explanation of why he didn’t have the money.
It had all started two months ago, when Mike was riding high on the success of another of his accounts. This account was much, much smaller than Richmond, but the campaign he’d designed had worked considerably well, and he felt the need to celebrate that fact in some way.
He had overheard a conversation in the office regarding a horse that was “a sure thing.” Mike had never thought of himself as a gambler, though others would no doubt have termed him that, but when thinking about just how to celebrate his recent victory at Copeland, a sizable bet on a “sure thing” seemed to be just the thing. There were few things more exciting to Mike than watching money turn into more money (this was an important thing in advertising – it was his job to turn a client’s advertising budget into revenues), and his cursory research into the horse, named Day Tripper, indicated that he had a good chance to do well with his bet. His own research coupled with the overheard office discussion made his decision decisively simple.
He had called up Angelo, whose number had been collecting dust in his Rolodex, and put a sizable bet on Day Tripper to win. Angelo had been more than happy to take Mike’s bet, reminding him again of the debtor’s obligations to his creditor. Mike had brushed it off; Day Tripper was a sure thing – it was money in the bank.
That was when things started to go wrong. Day Tripper had lost miserably, and the following day at Copeland he was informed that his client had misreported their revenue from the last campaign, and the ads weren’t doing as well as they had initially thought. Mike had had his first and only out of body experience at that point, and upon returning to normal, had proceeded to throw random objects around the office and threaten to fire each and every person on his team.
Angelo, of course, was pleased with the outcome, and was sickeningly calm and collected when he phoned Mike to inquire about payment. Mike was in for a lot, and without the expected bonus from that recent campaign, he didn’t even have the money he’d put up, let alone enough to cover the juice Angelo was already running.
Angelo had been more than happy to extend Mike’s repayment period; after all, the interest went straight to his pocket. He had, of course, informed Mike in no simple terms the extreme regret he’d feel if he didn’t pay the money back when it was due.
Mike had readily agreed – he figured he could get the money somehow – he would have done anything to get Angelo off his back for the time being. And when the Richmond guys said they were looking at renewing their contract, Mike was confident that the bonus would pay his debt and leave plenty left over for a little celebration. As the bonus began to seem more and more a reality, Angelo and the debt were demoted to the back corners of Mike’s thoughts.
But now, it was all he could think about. Mike didn’t know exactly what Angelo was capable of, but he knew enough to worry. Angelo wasn’t the kind of guy you could look up in the yellow pages. Mike had a need to be discreet about his gambling; that’s why he went through Angelo in the first place. He had never anticipated actually having Angelo hunt him down.
He couldn’t decide whether he should call Angelo and let him know he wouldn’t have the money, or wait for Angelo to wonder where he was and send someone for him. Either way, the outcome would be the same. He shook his head, trying to shake off the uneasiness and worry that plagued him. Well, no matter what, he was going home now. He was going to drink a large glass of scotch – perhaps the whole bottle – and accept Marie’s soft, tender arms around his neck to comfort him. And then, perhaps… well, he would have to wait.
Then he would figure out what to do. The alcohol and Marie would help to calm him down; it would clear his head, it would make everything better. Then, and only then, would he be able to make a rational decision, to do the right thing.
As the train passed by the Allerton station, he looked out towards the highway, hoping to catch a glimpse of his car. It wasn’t there. He sighed; it had probably been towed to the city impound, which meant he’d have to pay to get it back. It was surprising how quickly something as small as an impound fee could become a financial burden.
The train pulled up to the far north station – his station – and he stood up, head still swimming somewhat from his earlier bout with unconsciousness. He phoned Marie as he stepped out of the nearly empty train; she still wasn’t picking up. Her lack of attentiveness to his needs, whether she knew they existed or not, was starting to wear on him. She was his wife, dammit! What the hell was she doing.
The few cents in his pocket had not, unfortunately, transformed into more during the trip, so he was still unable to afford a cab. He had no choice but to continue on foot. He called Marie at about every block, but she never answered. Eventually he started getting busy signals; was she there, and simply ignoring him? That bitch!
The mile-long walk to his home went by quickly. He had too much on his mind to feel the growing blisters on his feet, cramped inside the Italian leather shoes; too much to feel the throbbing pain of the reopened wound on his hand, now oozing blood again.
The house was dark and quiet when he reached the front door. He grabbed his key from his pocket, and inserted it into the deadbolt. As he pushed the key in, the door swung open silently; it was unlocked. Something was wrong – the door was never unlocked. Marie was obsessive about security – the only reason the door would have been unlocked was…
He bolted into the room, looking around frantically. Nothing seemed out of place.