I’d been at the wolf’s lair til closing the night before. Not for any special reason. Just because. I dragged myself into the office. The place had a foggy, unnatural air. I sat down. The message light on my phone was blinking. It made my head hurt. I checked the voice mail, to make it go away. Nothing urgent. That was a relief. I deleted a few dozen e-mails. Maybe some of them were important. I couldn’t really tell.
The phone rang. Please hold for Mr. Warwick.
Shit. Please hold for Mr. Warwick. The lard-ass can’t dial four digits for himself. Has to delegate it.
I heard an unsubstantiated rumor.
They’re the best kind.
Someone resembling you was seen in the elevator this morning.
At ten forty-five.
Well, yes. I’ve got plantar fasciitis. Very painful. Something to do with tendons in the arches. Common in
basketball players. Anyway, I change my shoes when I get to the office.
Well, I don’t doubt you, Redman. I really don’t. Well then. But we’ve got to think of morale.
All right then.
Yes. I’ll think about it. Morale, that is.
Good. Good. You think about that.
Yes, I will.
Jesus. What was wrong with these people?
I’d never figure it out.
My stomach hurt. My head felt light and heavy at the same time. I thought about the hours of my shrink’s time my conversation with Warwick was going to eat up, at two hundred dollars per. Time that could much better be spent talking about my sex life. Why I didn’t have one.
All I could do was close my door. Pretend it wasn’t there. This job. My life.
And call Dorita.
Guess what now? I said.
Don’t tell me.
But I must. Listen here, darling. They’re monitoring my appearance in the morning.
Them. They. You know, the ubiquitous, omnipotent, omnivorous They.
I do. I know them well. Pesky.
Yes. Get over here.
In seconds she was at my office door.
Ricky? she inquired.
Her legs were impossibly long. Her back was army straight. Her breasts, voluptuous. To be desired.
But not for me. No. I’d thought about it, more than once. Something in my wiser self had held me back, appraised the situation and realized, as clear as vodka in a martini glass, that this was not a good idea. Not at all.
So, we were friends. And friends we would remain.
Dorita closed the office door behind her.
Why did I ever get into this business? I asked.
Because you’re brilliant at it. Come on, Ricky, do I have to tell you that every day?
Well, yes. If you don’t, who will?
You’ve got a point. Anyway, what’s today’s little crisis?
That damn Warwick again, what else? He thinks I’m bad for morale.
Dorita pulled out a cigarette and a platinum blowtorch of a lighter. The blue flame shot a good six inches toward the ceiling. She sat down, took a generous haul of the smoke, blew it decisively about the room.
That’s a laugh, she said.
Of course it is. How can wearing sneakers in the elevator compete with five-page memoranda about how to train your secretary to stop wasting file folders?
They’re a scarce resource.
So I understand. Damn, why did I ever get started in this business?
We already resolved that question.
That was a resolution?
As much as the topic merits.
I should have been a poker pro.
Yes, darling. And how does your poker bankroll stand today? Don’t lie now.
Minus eighteen thousand. But that was tuition. I don’t lose anymore.
That’s some expensive school you went to.
Yes, well. I did some stupid things.
Nobody never loses at poker.
You know what I mean. I’m in control now. I almost never lose. Long term, it’s a lock. I know that if I stay at the table long enough
I’ll be up at the end of the night.
Let’s see. Maybe you could quit your job. Minus eighteen thousand times two — it’s been six months, right? — that’s minus thirty-six thousand a year. You could probably live on that. You’d have to cut back on those happy lunches at Michel’s though.
That’s what I love about you. Always a sympathetic ear.
The fact was, she was a sympathetic ear, in her twisted way. Or, rather, more than that. She was my eccentric anchor in the heaving seas of temptation. Had I been less embarrassed about it, had shared with her, somewhere along the way, my bad luck streak, and that my cure for it had been to raise the stakes to get back all that money quick, it never would have happened. Or at least it would have stopped somewhere short of eighteen thousand. She’d have kicked some sense into me.
I’d like to kill him, I said. I really would.
That’s quite a segue.
Isn’t it, though? I rather liked it myself.
Twist my arm.
The image of her legs lingered.2.
My back hurt. My head hurt. I worried about these pains. What did they mean? Was I ill? Was it cancer? Cancer of the lower back? Hadn’t heard of it. That didn’t mean it didn’t exist, of course. I made a mental note to look it up.
Why wait? I googled it. God bless modern technology. ‘Lower back pain, cancer.’ Several hundred hits turned up. Alarming. I opened the first. ‘Cancer is a rare cause of low back pain,’ I read.
‘But not unknown.’
‘When cancer does occur in the lower back, it usually has spread from the prostate, lungs or kidneys.’
Jesus, I thought, I’m a dead man.
I called in Judy. Told her to make an appointment with Dr. Altmeier.
Five minutes later she buzzed me.
Next Monday at one, she said.
The pain went away.
Tomorrow I’d tell her to cancel the appointment.
I turned to the deposition of Lawrence Wells. The transcript lay unopened on my desk. It had been there
for days. I resented it. It sat accusing me. Read me! it shouted, you irresponsible lout! The hearing’s in two days! You’ve got to prepare a cross examination, fat man!
I wasn’t fat, actually. A little rounded at the edges, perhaps. But the transcript liked the sound of it: fat man!
Well, I thought, I guess I’ve procrastinated enough. I picked up the transcript. I set my chair to optimum lean. I adjusted the lumbar support. I dove in.
Halfway through the first page, my mind began to wander. I thought about last week’s oral argument before the Court of Appeals. Just as I was reliving my brilliant riposte to a particularly sticky question posed by the Chief Justice, my computer beeped three times.
Reverie interrupted. E-mails. All from Warwick. Damn.
I’d missed another meeting, it seemed.
Warwick loved meetings. Endless meetings packed to bursting with trivia. Secretarial evaluations. The need for new coffee machines. The latest seminars for junior associates. A new committee on office decoration.
With a heavy heart and a trembling hand — trembling not from trepidation, mind you, but from lack of sleep and excessive beverage consumption — I dialed Warwick’s extension. While the phone rang I rehearsed my tale of incapacitating illness. Lower back pain. Of course. That would do the trick. Hell, it was almost true.
Mr. Warwick’s office, chirped his terminally cheerful assistant, Cherise.
Hi, Cherise, I said.
Hello, Mr. Redman! she fairly screamed. I’ll see if he’s in!
A curious exercise, that. In light of the fact that her desk sat immediately outside his office door, one would think she’d be aware if he was in.
After a suitably pompous interval, Warwick’s voice arrived on the line.
Redman, it said. Come to my office at once.
I composed myself. Rubbed some color into my face. I’d forgotten to shave. Fortunately, I’m blessed with the facial hair of a blond adolescent, so it wasn’t obvious.
Warwick was sitting ramrod straight in his chair, chewing on an unlit cigar. Doing his best General Patton. I pulled back the visitor’s chair a foot or two. I knew that in my condition a mere whiff of chewed cigar and cloying cologne would make me gag.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Dead Money by Grant McCrea. Copyright © 2006 by Grant McCrea. Excerpted by permission of Vintage Canada, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.