I sat idly on the edge of my barstool, nursing a bourbon – my second – and waiting for a friend. That was the story of my life, having a drink, and waiting for a friend. This was not my usual hangout, not by a long shot. This place was both seedy and dimly lit. Bluntly stated, it was a dive
I wasn’t sure why I was here, except that Amy had called me, imploring me to meet her right away. Sitting there now, I wondered how she even knew to suggest such a place. It was a thought I instantly put out of my mind; she wasn’t that kind of friend. Yet, Amy was an old friend. We’d gone to law school together and even sat the bar exam together. Even now, although we worked at different firms, each on its side of the political tracks, we kept in touch. She was a good friend, a dear friend. I would call her a three-bourbon friend. After three drinks, I wouldn’t be much use to anyone; friend, foe, or otherwise.
I glanced about me, the place had a few sconces scattered haphazardly around, but they were of little use, decoratively or otherwise. The only other light came from the scant illumination afforded by each table’s battery-powered faux candles, every one of them with a miniature lampshade, and all yellowed with age. I know that all sounds cliché, but what can I say; this place was cliché.
This dive wasn’t her usual watering hole, at least not as far as I knew. It certainly wasn’t mine. It did, however, have the notable distinction of being equidistant between our respective offices. She suggested meeting here, and I agreed. I had a lot on my plate and, although I didn’t have the heart to say that to her, I really didn’t have time to hear that her cat had a hangnail – if she even had a cat – but I never could say no to her. I owed her too much.
I tried without success to get the problem out of her over the phone. She wasn’t having any of it. As urgent as she sounded, she would not discuss it on the phone. She said that what she had to say could only be spoken of in person. Was it legal, I asked, or personal? She replied simply, “yes.” I laughed. Her answer sounded like something Yogi Bera would say. Still, it all felt too cloak and dagger for my taste, too film noir.
You’d have to know Amy to understand why this was all so strange. She wasn’t the frantic type, not her. She was the type who could make Marine drill sergeant cry. In a word, she was tough. Not coarse, mind you, but tough as nails tough. That’s what threw me; the tone of her voice. I left the moment she’d called, and I got to this little pub ahead of her. I used those few minutes to invest in my first bourbon. That’s why I was nursing this second one. It seemed bad form to pass out in a bar while a colleague is telling you about a crisis, hence the three-bourbon rule.
Anyway, I was halfway through second drink and getting ready to flag down the bartender for my third strike when I saw Amy burst through the door. Discretion told me that the bartender, cute though she was, would have to wait.
“Amy,” I called out, perhaps a touch too loudly. I stood and waved. “Over here!”
Seeing me, she hurried in my direction. “Franklin,” she said with a whisper as she reached out and hugged me. Despite my urgings, she would not shorten my name to Frank, or dude. She insisted on calling me Franklin. “Thank you for coming on such short notice.”
“For you, anything. How’ve you been? Things going well at the firm?” I signaled my new acquaintance, my personal purveyor of distilled spirits, to attend to my friend as I spoke and attempted to introduce her to Amy. The girl behind the bar was a dark-haired beauty. She was a spirited lass, full of opinions, and a bright smile. One day, she would become a member of Congress, but that’s another story, and I digress.
“Diet Coke,” Amy responded simply. “It’s a little too early in the day for me.”
“Usually, I’d agree with you,” I said, “but I’m closing in on a big case, and I mean big. This one could be a real deal maker for me. Lots of notoriety. Above-the fold-stuff.”
“Since when have you been interested in good press,” she said in a way that suggested just the opposite, adding with a touch of sincerity, “I’m sorry if I dragged you away.”
“Nonsense. There’s nothing more important than you. You got that? Nothing.” My flamboyant delivery was made worse by the bourbon, and I wondered whether she thought I was serious or sarcastic. “Honest, Amy. I mean that. You’ll always come first.”
“Thanks, Franklin. I need to hear that right now, especially right now.”
“Boy, this must be serious. You … you didn’t get canned, did you?” I paused, not knowing what to say next. “I might be able to get—”
“No, nothing like that. I’m doing great. I even brought in a new client; top tier. I mean seriously top tier. The partners are letting me handle him. Don’t have much choice really; the client wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Really? Good for you. You deserve it. You’ve been working like a slave over there; long hours, low pay, all the garbage cases.”
“Don’t I know it, but that’s not why I’m here. I mean it is, but not in the way I mean it.”
“We’re not here to celebrate?”
“No, not exactly.”
“You? Uncertain? That’s one for the books. I’ve never known you to be uncertain about anything.”
“Well, whether you believe it or not, I am, and very.”
“You remember reading about the winning lottery ticket they sold last weekend, the one worth over $1.5 BILLION?”
“Yeah, the drawing was this past Saturday, wasn’t it? I heard about that this morning. I bet that the winner wants to remain anonymous. What of it?”
“Yes. Mr. Anonymous, he’s my new client!”
“What! Amy, that’s incredible! Can you imagine the billable hours! You play your cards right, and you could retire off this one, or become a partner; maybe start your own firm! This calls for a drink.” I started to wave for the beautiful barkeep, but Amy pulled my arm down immediately.
“No. Listen to me, you don’t understand. I’ve got a serious problem.”
“Okay,” I said sympathetically, “I believe you. But why? It sounds like every lawyer’s dream. You’ll be planning his investments, preparing contracts. What an incredible opportunity.”
“Listen, let me explain.” She said with a sigh. “Let me tell you everything, and don’t interrupt.”
“Okay,” I whispered as I sipped my drink. “Shoot.”
“Alright. So, a couple of weeks back, I’m sitting on the subway riding home when … John … he gets on the subway and sits next to me. I—”
“Seriously, John? Is that his real name? John?”
“No, it’s not. Anonymous, remember? Stop interrupting.”
“Okay, right. Continue.”
“So, anyway, this man – John – gets on and sits down next to me. He was an older gentleman, not ancient, but older, like maybe 65 or so, and by his bearing and manners, you’d think he was a blue blood, but his appearance was …well …it wasn’t; they didn’t match. His clothes were threadbare, and his shoes were well past their prime.”
“This is New York, Amy. There’s plenty of homeless bankers around these days. That last crash hit everybody hard, you know.”
“Oops, sorry. Not another word.”
“Anyway, John starts striking up a conversation with me. I don’t know; maybe I felt sorry for him. I certainly didn’t want to be rude, and he seemed harmless enough. So, we made small talk for a couple of stops, you know, about the weather and the like. When he ups and asks me right out of the blue if I’m a lawyer, just like that. I was stunned. I mean, I never thought of myself as someone so transparent. Then he says as if reading my mind, ‘Oh, don’t worry. I’m quite intuitive that way. The point is, I’m going to need a lawyer, a good one, and I have a good feeling about you.’ I must admit I was feeling pretty dismissive of this whole conversation up until this point. Just then, we reached my stop. So, as I was standing up, I took a business card from my purse and handed it to him. ‘Here,’ I told him, ‘if you need anyone to chase an ambulance, I’m your girl.’ Then I left, just like that. I must admit I felt terrible afterward. That was a very catty thing to say, but I was tired, and I couldn’t see how I could be of any help to him.”
“So, anyway, a few days go by. I had forgotten the whole thing when my secretary buzzes in and says there’s a man on the phone. Then she says, ‘he won’t give his name, I’m to tell you it’s the man from the subway.’ There was a long pause, and then she says in a motherly tone, ‘you’re not talking to people on the subway, are you? I know you’re new to the city. We don’t talk to each other on the subway.’ I mean, how embarrassing is that? My secretary is sitting there telling me public transportation protocol.”
“Surely that isn’t what has you so rattled?”
“No! Let me talk. So, I pick up the phone, and in my best professional voice, I say, ‘so nice to speak with you again. What can I do for you?’ and he comes back quick as you please, ‘I’m flattered. I wasn’t entirely sure if you’d even remember me. Listen, I’m going to need your help.’ Then he adds, ‘but don’t worry; there’s no ambulance involved.’ I start to sputter and apologize, but he cuts me off at once. ‘Don’t give it another thought,’ he says, ‘I’m just teasing with you. Seriously, though, I’m going to need some legal advice, and soon, I think. When can I get in to see you?’ So, we set an appointment, and that’s it. I didn’t even ask his name until the end of the conversation, and I only got it then because he asked me if I should take his name. I felt like such a fool.”
“I must admit that doesn’t sound like you,” I offered politely, “but we all get thrown for a loop now and again.”
“I know, right? It doesn’t sound like me at all. There was something unsettling about this guy, like he could see right through me.”
“Sounds a little creepy if you ask me.”
“It gets worse. The day of the meeting arrives, and in he shuffles. I’d swear he’s wearing the same clothes that I saw him in that afternoon on the subway. My secretary looks at him, then looks at me with an expression that says, ‘Subway guy? Have you lost your mind?’”
“I can just imagine him in the hallowed halls of Roman, Ives, and Murray,” I mumbled sarcastically. “The senior partner would have had a fit if he’d seen him.”
“He did … and he did.”
I laughed so hard that bourbon came out of my nose. I quickly recovered and
waved at the bartender for another round. If Amy didn’t get to the punchline soon,
she’d have to scrape me off the floor. That was not a very dignified place to
be, not for a lawyer of Hines and Morgan. I must have been wearing a silly grin
at this point because Amy punched me in the arm and stared deep into my eyes.
It was not a romantic stare, but one that asked the question, “Is anyone home?”
I reacted at once.
“I still here, honest. So, Ives noticed; then what?”
“Well, It was Roman—”
“uh-ho! The big guy.” She waved me off.
“Mr. Roman was very polite, overly so. He steps into my office door just as John took a seat. He says, ‘excuse me, Amy, can I see you for a moment? I need to ask you a question about the Haskell account.’”
“What’s so strange about that?”
“We don’t have a Haskell account. That’s code in our office for ‘I need to talk to you NOW’! Anyway, we stepped into the conference room – you know, the one with the full-length glass wall – and the moment we were inside, Mr. Ives shuts the door and stares at my office for a moment. Then he turns to me and says, ‘he’s an eccentric, right? Tell me he’s some old geezer who looks like a bum but worth $100 million. Tell me that’s what’s going on. Please tell me that.”
“‘I will if you want,’ I said softly, ‘but honestly, I have no idea. He’s just some old guy I bumped into on the subway. We made small talk for a few minutes, then I got off. I thought that was the end of it, but then he called me later for an appointment. Now, he’s here. That’s all I know about any of this.’”
“‘I want him out of here, NOW! He is not Roman, Ives, and Murray clientele.”’
“‘Yessir,’ I said, ‘I understand, but I can’t just throw him out.’”
“‘Why the deuce not?’ He says.”
“‘From everything I’ve learned here,’ I said firmly, ‘I would say that’s not Roman, Ives, and Murray behavior either. I’ll give him five minutes then send him on his way, okay? How’s that?’”
“‘Five minutes, not a second more. Am I clear?’ As he said that, he got that stern, old bird look on his face that said, don’t push it, so I didn’t.”
“Crystal,” I added, belatedly.
“Then he says, ‘Look, Amy, I know you probably feel a certain pressure to bring in new business, but we want new business that actually pays the bills. No pro bono stuff; you understand?’”
“‘Yessir,’ I said, ‘I understand.’”
“That’s it? That’s not so bad. So, you got your tail feathers singed. It’s no big deal.”
“That’s not it! That was all there was with Mr. Roman, but that isn’t the point.”
“Okay, then, what is the point?”
“Okay, so what happened with John?”
“Well, I get back to my office, and he’s patiently sitting there on the couch. I shut the door, put on my best professional face and say, ‘so, how can I help you?’ and he says, ‘I’m going to be coming into a lot of money soon, and I want your help in organizing things; legally, financially.’”
“‘Alright,’ I said. ‘So, is this money coming from an inheritance? A trust? A settlement? What?’ He doesn’t bat an eye; he doesn’t blink. He just sits there straight-faced and says, ‘I’m about to win the lottery, the big one, and I figured it was best to start planning for it now.’ I just stared at him! I figured Mr. Roman was right. This guy was more than slightly eccentric. I sounded certifiably nuts, and I had just talked the managing partner into letting him have five minutes of my time. The damnest thing, though, was that a couple of days later, he actually won.”
“Wait a minute? Are you telling me that he knew he was going to win the $1.5 billion before he won it?!”
“Yes, but it gets better.”
“Better than winning $1.5 billion! I don’t think that’s possible.”
“Let me get back to the story. So, I’m standing there trying to figure out what to say next and trying not to look at John like he’s crazy, and all the while he’s just sitting there with this stupid smile on his face. Then he says, ‘your boss thinks I’m nuts, right? I’ll bet that’s what the whole Haskell account business was about. I’ll wager you’re probably thinking the same thing about now.’ I reluctantly agreed with him. I was, although I was almost too embarrassed to say so.”
“Oh, come on, Amy. That’s the oldest trick in the book. He made a couple of lucky guesses, that’s all. Of course, he’d say you thought he was nuts; anybody would.”
“But how did he know I was a lawyer?”
“That’s not too hard, you’re carrying a briefcase, conservatively dressed, and getting on the subway where you do. These scream lawyer to just about anyone from the city; that or a stockbroker. I grant you, it’s not a slam dunk, but if he were guessing, I’ll wager he’d be right more times than he’s wrong.”
“Maybe so, but that doesn’t explain the lottery ticket. It doesn’t explain the $1.5 billion.”
“True, if it’s true. I could just as easily say I have the winning ticket. I might even make you believe it, too.”
“There’s one little flaw in your theory, smartass. I’ve got the ticket! It’s real, and it’s confirmed. He really did win, just like he said he would.”
“Are you sure you have your timeline right? Are you sure he came to you before they drew the winning numbers?”
“Yes! That’s what I’m trying to tell you.”
“Sounds like he has inside information if you ask me.” Then I mumbled under my breath, “I always thought those things were rigged.”
“I don’t think so. He did win, and I know he did predict it. I totally believe in his gift.”
“So, how do you think he does it.”
“I asked him that. He just grinned sheepishly and said, ‘I honestly don’t know. It’s not a 24/7 kind of thing. Most times, I don’t know what’s coming the next minute. Sometimes though, I just know. I don’t know how or why. I’ll just blurt out something, and it comes true. It might be the next day, or the next month, or even the next year, whatever, but it comes true.’”
“Then I asked the obvious question, ‘if you don’t know a true inspiration from a false one, how do you know which visions are real. Surely you get false flashes of insight?’ And he ups and says, ‘Why do you think I’m dressed like this? Do you think it’s because I like shabby chic? No, it’s because I sometimes get it wrong, very wrong. I’ve made and lost several fortunes. As you might guess, I’m kind of in-between fortunes right now, but that’s all going to change, and when it does, I won’t make that mistake again.’”
“‘Oh, I see,’ I said. ‘Well, our time is almost up. How would you like to proceed?’”
“Then he says, ‘just keep a space open on your calendar for next Monday morning. I’m going to win Saturday night. You relax and enjoy the weekend, and I’ll call on you Monday to begin my financial planning.’”
“‘Okay,’ I said. I couldn’t think of anything else to say. He sounded so sure, so confident, and, honestly, not altogether there. Plus, I didn’t want to risk antagonizing him by disagreeing with him. I picked up and phone and began scrolling through my calendar. I’ve got 9 am Monday open. Can you be here then? Don’t worry if you have to cancel, I’ll understand.’”
“‘Don’t you worry, young lady. I’ll be here, first thing. I’ll even bring you an almond croissant. They’re your favorite, I believe.’ I was speechless.”
“Are they?” I said, now hanging on every word.
“Yes, dammit, they are! Let me tell you, that seriously creeped me out. I mean, it made my skin crawl. That’s not something that just anyone would know.”
“Do you think he’s been stalking you? Maybe that’s how he knew.”
“If he was, then he’s been doing it for several months. I don’t think I’ve had one in ages. Not since my favorite bakery closed. Anyway, I don’t think that’s it. I sure hope not.”
“Somethings going on, that’s for sure.” I waved at the perky barkeep and signaled for another bourbon. This story was going into extra innings, and now I really needed another drink.
“So, what happened next?”
“For one thing, he won! The bastard – excuse me, the nice elderly gentleman – he won. I couldn’t believe it. He left a message on my phone the morning after the drawing, saying he’d be in my office promptly at nine.”
“And he showed up, winning ticket and all. He wanted me to hang on to it for him, to keep it safe. He hadn’t even signed it.”
About then, my bourbon showed up, and. I took a long, healthy gulp. My throat had long since ceased to react to the taste, and I was beginning to feel more than a little lightheaded. I was still wondering, though, just exactly what it was Amy wanted to see me about. So far, it sounded like a dream come true. If she didn’t win the lottery, she at least did the next best thing. She’d get to represent the winner. I raised my glass to her in triumphant salute. “To you, my dear Amy. Congratulations on your very good fortune.”
“But I’m not finished.”
“No, I’ve still got to ask you something.”
“What is the punchline, then?”
“Just this. When we finished this morning, as John was walking out the door, all smiles and relaxed, and he tosses out a comment without even thinking.”
“What’d he say?”
“He said, ‘I always knew I’d die rich; I just knew it.’ And then he said, ‘it’s such a beautiful day, I think I’m going to walk home.’”
“‘All the way,’ I said.’ And then he says with a twinkle in his eye, ‘If I get tired, I can always take a bus. I can afford to now, don’t ya know.’ Just like that, he left. I laughed and turned back to my desk. I didn’t think anything of it for a few minutes. You know, my mind was completely absorbed with all the plans we’d have to make for investing his money, so he’d never be threadbare again. Then as I stood there, it suddenly struck me what’d he’d said about dying rich—”
“Oh, that’s it!” I jumped in. “I think you’re overreacting. Like he said himself, he never knows when what he says will come true. Sometimes it does, and then again, sometimes it doesn’t. It sounds like an off-the-cuff kind of comment. I wouldn’t think anything of it.”
“No, listen,” Amy said, stopping me cold, “That got me thinking. If something should happen, how do I—”
The bartender turned up the TV behind the bar, cutting off Amy. I turned to ask the young lady to turn it back down when I saw the news break. Amy let out a gasp. I spun around to her, but she didn’t speak. Her face went pasty with shock.
“What is it?” I asked. “Are you okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“That’s him … on the news …John….” She finally sputtered. “That’s him. It’s happened!” I turned back to the TV and saw a man’s face on the screen, just as the bartender said softly, “what a shame, really tragic, that.”
“What?” I demanded, “what happened?”
“I don’t know exactly,” the bartender replied casually. “Some old man was crossing the street without paying attention. He crossed against the light and got run over by a bus.”
“And your real question is?” I said in sudden realization, as I turned back toward Amy.
“Exactly,” she whispered conspiratorially as she reached into her purse. “How do I cash in this ticket?”