Harry didn’t so much want money as much he just wanted his problems to go away. Granted, there are other ways to solve your problems but money just happens to be the fastest, or at least a reasonable stop-gap. Whichever it was Harry was spending his morning as he had for as long as he cared to remember: thinking about money. Rent and bills, and bills and rent, it was a seemingly endless river of red numbers in which he felt he was drowning. All the while Matty’s harping and harassing was stinging his ears and raking his conscience. Not that all her complaints were without merit, then again not all of them were valid either. And of course her carping would be more tolerable if it weren’t so cruel and shrieking. Then there was also little Henry to think of.
During his morning meditation, if it could be called that, Harry couldn’t help but realize it was so typical of him to marry a woman named Matilda who complained too much. He found a sly, wry humor in realizing his own neurosis. At this point laughter, even the self deprecating kind, was all he had left.
It was then that Harry could go back to work. A cup of coffee and some dry, internal laughter was usually enough to get him over his morning malaise. So he went back to the spread sheets and reports that consumed his life from nine to five. Those dreary, dull distractions that kept his life from falling apart, at least for a little while. Little did he know that today his simple, dreary life would be shattered and things would never be the same.
The shards started falling at lunch. He knew something was wrong when his supervisor, Mister Sanders, asked him to come into his office. Harry was in the habit of eating at his desk and when Mister Sanders asked him “To come have a chat”, Harry felt his blood run cold. Mister Sanders was friendly enough, but that was his job after all. Once Harry heard the phrase “Redundant efficiencies” his mind stopped focusing on the conversation. For the second time that day Harry had entered a trance of contemplation. He nodded and frowned as one might expect, little more than an automaton executing a clumsy program of pre-ordained instructions. Mister Sanders seemed to notice his comprehension, and his surrender, quickly enough and gave him the rest of the day off, which was an empty, if polite gesture.
Harry then wandered home. On his way he passed a newsstand which sold comic books. Comics just like the ones he read when he was little. His mind turned to little Henry, barely five, but already devouring everything he got his hands on. Harry picked up the comic, ostensibly to see if it was fit for Henry, secretly seeking the refuge of nostalgia, and looked inside. The art was different than he remembered, newer, flashier, but still those same brightly colored characters. For just a minute he reveled privately in those familiar stories. Good triumphing over evil, everything turning out okay, never had black and white been painted in such a vibrant spectrum. Harry thought of Henry, then he turned to the newsman.
“How much?” He asked.
The vendor pointed to the cover where the price was printed. Harry rummaged in his pockets for a moment before rescuing his last few dull and battered coins from the lint and dust of his trousers. He presented the payment to the vendor then tucked the comic under his arm and went home.
Well not home, per se. When the money troubles started a few months back, Matty decided to move back in with her mother but Harry was not invited to move in as well. With his family sleeping somewhere else Harry decided to downsize to save money. The studio was small and rotten, but it was close to his work and it was cheap, which was another thing Matty disliked. Harry had enjoyed the small mental vacation provided by the comic, but on his walk home he braced himself for yet another hassling. This time by his land lady who understood money trouble enough to know not to tolerate it from her tenants. What he got was much worse.
Harry paused at the door to his building, he sighed heavily and braced himself for the argument: an old familiar dance that executed itself in the same clumsy, belligerent way each time he came home with empty pockets. The door swung open and he was immediately met by his landlady an ugly gargoyle perpetually perched in the haggard chair in the entryway to the building. Her eyes, dark and empty, were fixed upon the mindless television. Only when her gaze sought out those who owed her money did the dumb glaze wash from her eyes and a dark, intense, almost hawkish stare took hold. To his surprise, Harry escaped the demon of the entryway with only an evil flicker of her stare and a short, mean grunt. This confused him but he was happy to avoid the fight again so he quickly went to his apartment.
He sighed with relief after getting up the stairs and when he slid the key into the lock and heard the welcoming click of the bolt retracting he finally relaxed. Though when his door swung open his heart sank for there she was, Matty, sitting on his chair staring at the television. She was just as surprised as he was because she sat up with a start and looked at him with momentary shock. Quickly her face turned from surprise to restrained disappointment and subdued, cruel anger as the possible explanations for Harry’s early return from work ran through her mind.
“Harry.” She said in that dignified but condescending tone that had become all too familiar to him, “What are you doing here?”
“What are you doing here?” He shot back like a dog barking at its master. He set down his briefcase and hung up his coat before going to the kitchen.
“You didn’t answer my question.” She said sternly trying to get the proverbial dog to sit.
“You didn’t answer mine.” Harry pulled a bottle of scotch out of the cabinet and poured a drink. He realized he only had two, maybe only one and half, glasses left in the bottle. He might have to go out later.
“Oh that’s wonderful, Harry.” She said, “It’s barely past noon and you’re drinking. Have you ever thought this is why you can’t get ahead?”
“Christ.” He said in exasperation, “Can’t you leave me be for just one minute, okay? You know this isn’t a pay week so what are you doing here?”
“Babysitting, apparently.” She strode forward deliberately and seized his glass of scoth and poured it down the drain.
“Hey!” Harry shouted in anger, “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Trying to have an adult conversation!” Matty sneered. She then grabbed his bottle and poured that down the sink as well.
“God Damnit!” He hollered as his one last joy swirled in the steel of the sink and vanished into the black hole of the drain. “You bitch! Can’t you let me have anything!”
“Not when you behave like a child!” She retorted, “You’ve obviously been fired today. So what are you doing coming home to drink?”
“I came home because I have nowhere else to go.” He replied, “Only to find you here ready to bust my balls again. Seriously, you’re here nearly every day, why the hell did you even move out?”
“To get away from you.” She replied, “And to keep my son away from a degenerate!”
“Degenerate?” Harry mused pushing past Matty to the door. “That’s a new one.”
“Well what do you call someone who drinks this early in the afternoon?”
“Stressed. And you’re not helping. Now get the hell out and leave me alone!”
“Not until I’ve had my say.”
“I’d say you already have.” Harry replied, “Now leave.” He said brusquely as he opened the door.
“Harry, I saw a lawyer this morning.” She blurted out. Harry stared at her for an awkward moment. Then he slowly closed the door, but gently this time almost as a besieged fort might raise a white flag.
Matty sighed deeply preparing herself for the announcement, “I know you don’t have a lot of money, and in all seriousness: yes, that is one of the reasons I’m leaving. But more importantly you know this just isn’t working out. I’m taking custody of Henry, but if you cooperate and don’t cause a fuss, I promise you’ll have visitation rights. Just…just don’t fight this and we can end this cheap.”
Harry’s face was frozen. He wore a look that was equal measures shock, rage, and sadness. He could find no words to reply and so, struck dumb, he simply stood there in shock.
“Well?” Matty asked, “Anything to say?”
Harry still rigid with conflicting emotion, stayed frozen for a moment longer. Eventually he opened the door gingerly and said quietly, “I’d like you to leave now.”
“What about what I said? Are you going to cause a fuss?”
“JUST GO!” Harry shouted as his rage overcame him.
Not to be bullied or surrender her composure Matty walked slowly and deliberately to the door. She paused for a moment and turned to Harry to extol him one last time, “I know you’re angry, but if you fight this you’ll only make trouble.” Her advice was met only by Harry’s angry stare. Matty looked ahead once more and with a frustrated but arrogant “hmph” she left. Harry shut the door for the last time and with little else to do he wept.
A few hours later, still swollen with melancholy, Harry was at the corner bar drowning his sorrows with cheap scotch and his last dollars. The news coming from the television was all about how well the stock market was doing and how the economy was finally turning around with so many jobs being created this month. He could not sympathize and around his third glass he had had enough.
“Hey, put it on the sports channel or something!” He called, “Anything besides this.”
“Wait!” Came a deep soothing tenor from the other end of the bar, “Sorry, but I’d like to keep watching this. If you don’t mind.” The stranger turned his gaze on Harry.
Harry rolled his head in surrender beaten just one last time and said, “Fine. What do I care?”
The stranger looked at him curiously for a moment, his deep, insightful stare seeking this sad statue for some clue to his melancholy. Eventually the man said, “I’m sorry, sir. I can tell you’re upset about something, here let me buy you a drink.” He signaled the bartender to refill Harry’s glass.
“Thanks, buddy.” Harry said gesturing with his fresh drink and then taking a generous pull, “You got a name?”
The man smiled curiously. His eyes seemed to light up a little, but this is only made him look like a con man who had just suckered a mark. The man walked down the bar to meet Harry. He was of average height, but generous size. His suit was plain but fashionable and had the kind of cut and style that indicated high cost. His presentation was stylish in that subtly understated kind of way and his tie matched impeccably. He was balding and his thin hair was parted in a way so as to be presentable without looking vain. His eyes were deep and welcoming but also piercing and strange. His smile was warm and comforting but also slightly dangerous. Harry could feel the man’s charisma as he approached but he also felt a queer sense of mistrust. He liked this stranger, he thought, but he also felt the man warranted some measure of caution. Strangest of all Harry felt as though he already knew the man, though he couldn’t quite remember from where.
“Samuel Heckles! Pleased to meet you.” The man said with enormous charm. “Sam Heck to my friends. And since I’m buying your drinks tonight, you can be one of those.”
“Thanks.” Harry said, slightly reserved while shaking the man’s hand. “For the drink, I mean. I really needed it.”
“Bad day, huh?” Sam replied sympathetically turning his attention back to the television.
“You could say that.” Harry replied still sipping his scotch.
“Well enjoy your drink. And if you need to vent, feel free. I have a friendly ear.”
“What’re you?” Harry asked looking at the man again, “Some kind of shrink?”
“No, no.” Sam chuckled under his breath, “At least not at the moment. In my life I’ve had many professions, but right now I guess you could call me a lawyer.”
“Huh.” Harry chuckled, “You any good? I could use one of those.”
“Oh,” Sam mused in an inquisitive tone, “And why would that be?”
“My old lady.” Harry answered, “She’s wants out and she’s gonna take my kid, too. You any good with divorces?”
“Sorry.” Sam said, “But my practice is what you might call…more specialized. I have a few friends, though, who are quite good at that sort of thing.”
“They work cheap?” Harry asked half in jest.
“Unfortunately no.” Sam replied, “But if money’s a problem I may be able to help you there.”
“What are you some kind of Wall Street lawyer?” Harry shot back. That vague sense of distrust had crept up and now he was suspicious of this guardian angel, seemingly falling out of the sky to save him in his moment of need.
“Well, I do handle a few delicate financial transactions…” Sam began, “But really I administer trusts for accomplished speculators. In fact I have an item in my inventory I’ve been looking to loan out, temporarily of course, but it is available.”
“Uh, huh.” Harry said with disbelief. He suddenly felt like a fish on a hook, just before the angler begins to reel. “What is it? Free money?”
Sam’s eyebrows plucked up quickly as he touched his forefinger to his nose. Harry looked at him for a moment searching for this generous stranger’s true meaning. After a tense moment of inquiry Harry began to laugh.
“Oh, jeez.” Harry replied, “Thanks buddy I needed that.” He continued to chuckle as he sipped his drink. He felt slightly better but soon his laughter faded when he realized that Sam was not laughing. “C’mon, seriously, there’s no such thing as free money. So what are you selling?”
“Not selling.” Sam replied coolly, “Just…lending out for a time. And yes, there is no such thing as free money, you know that already. But for all intents and purposes, this item is able to procure sums of money, in the desired amounts and currency, with only subtle risk to its user. Would you be interested in that?”
“Ha!” Harry laughed, “Even if something like that existed, who would want it? Yeah, I got problems buddy, but I don’t need magic to solve them. Thanks, but I can handle it myself.”
“Are you sure?” Sam asked. His voice was suddenly cold and incisive and Harry felt real doubt creep into his mind. For a moment he wasn’t entirely sure of himself.
“Okay.” He replied, “Maybe I’m not sure. But you’re selling, pardon my French, a crock of shit, pal. What you’re talking about doesn’t exist.”
“Does it now?” Sam asked again in that curious, incisive voice. He reached out his hand and put a shimmering gold coin the size of the old dollar coins on the bar.
Harry picked it up and examined it for a moment. The designs seemed modern, but unfamiliar. Its color (Oh its color!) was so beautiful that Harry found himself suddenly entranced by its shimmer. After a time of curious inspection Harry set it down again and asked, “So what do you do? Sell it?”
“If you want.” Sam replied, “But that would be very, very foolish. You see if you put this coin in your pocket, and think, it will produce any amount of money, in any currency, that the user desires. “
“Bullshit.” Harry said flatly. “Look, buddy, I appreciate the drink, and this has been fun, but now you’re just screwing with me. And I don’t need that.”
“Oh, no, my friend.” Sam replied in that sonorous, enchanting voice, “This is genuine. In fact, because the nature of this article is so curious, I allow trial runs, of sorts, to satisfy the doubts of any potential borrower. Would you like to try?”
“Right here?” Harry asked.
“Why not?” Sam replied, “Just put the coin in your pocket and make sure you’re holding it while you think.”
Harry picked up the coin and inspected it once more. Though he had no inclination of what to look for he found himself drawn to its golden shimmer, yet also fearful in some strange ethereal way. Finally he clasped the coin in his hand and put it in his pocket. Then he looked at Sam and said, “Twenty bucks…American!” Sam smiled and nodded at the hidden hand. Harry pulled his still clenched fist out of his pocket and held it out in front of him. He wore a sarcastic smile, doubtful and sly, determined not to be taken in by the prank. His eyes then turned to his fist as he unfurled his fingers. To Harry’s great shock there it was: a crisp new, twenty dollar bill and the gold coin resting in his palm. “Impossible…” He muttered in shock.
“Not in the least.” Sam said reassuringly with that charming but vaguely threatening smile of his. “Go ahead try again.”
“Okay.” Sam nodded in disbelief, “Something more complicated this time.” He put the coin back in his pocket and said, “Fifty bucks, as a twenty, two tens, and two fives. NO! A twenty, a ten, two fives and ten ones!” He retrieved the coin from his pocket and was amazed once more to find crisp new bills, as he had specified, resting in his palm. “Unbelievable.” He said aloud.
“Oh believe it.” Sam replied, “Go ahead, once more if you want.”
Harry looked at the coin again, thinking quickly to try and stump it. “Okay, once more. What do they use in Japan? Yen right? Okay gimme 500 Yen, smallest number of bills or coins or whatever!” He again repeated the ritual to find along with the gold coin, a bright new 500 Yen copper coin resting in his hand. Harry stared bedazzled for a moment before exclaiming, “Can it do gold too? Like Roman coins or something? Spanish Doubloons! I want Doubloons!”
“Sorry.” Sam replied with sincere apology and an underlying tone of firmness, “But that’s the end of the trial period. It can, though, reproduce just about any currency in antiquity, but there are limitations to how much archaic or unused currency it can procure. It is therefore recommended that the user rely instead on modern currencies. Also, and I know you did this just for the test, but it would be wise NOT to say out loud how much money you’re about to create.”
“Well of course…” Harry replied, “So how do I take this home? Huh? What’s the cost?”
“Nothing terrible.” Sam said invitingly, “You see, the investors I represent prefer certain speculative future commodities. They have transitioned beyond mere wealth you might say.”
“What speculative futures?” Harry asked suddenly worried.
“Oh nothing you’ll miss. You could say you can take it home for a wish and a prayer.”
“Uh huh.” Harry replied, “What kind of prayer?”
“A legal one spelled out right here for you to review.” Sam replied taking a folded contract out of his jacket pocket. “Now the particulars may be a bit complicated, but it is a standard lease agreement. You are allowed to keep the lent article (the coin in this case) for as long as you like. All for some small speculative futures.”
“As long as I want? I don’t have to pay?” Harry sat back a little in disbelief and mistrust. He knew better than to trust anything too good to be true. But then there were the bills, and Matty, and no job…and Henry. He could do everything he ever wanted for Henry. All he had to do was sign. “Okay. Where do I sign?”
“Well, the last page of course. But I must caution you to read the contract first.” Sam said a little more insistently.
“I don’t care, I just want the coin. Where do I sign?” He said flipping to the last page and searching for a signature line.
“Why, right above your name. There: where it says ‘Harold Arem’. However I must say again: you should read the contract.” Sam replied.
“Alright.” Harry said. He then paused and looked at Sam with great suspicion, “Wait, I never gave you my name.”
“Didn’t you?” Sam asked innocently, “Well it doesn’t matter now. It’s right there for you to sign.”
Harry paused. He squinted his eyes at Sam in suspicion. Something deep down in his head was telling him to leave it be, to walk away. But the coin…the coin and its animal lust and extravagant promises seemed to drown it out. All the while Sam wore a face of simultaneous innocence and guilt, as though he were a child trying to evade punishment. Ultimately the desire of the coin overwhelmed all else and Harry signed on the dotted line.
“Excellent!” Sam exclaimed picking up the contract and returning it folded to his jacket pocket. “You won’t regret a thing, as long as you’re cautious. Now go enjoy your coin!” He shook hands vigorously with Harry.
“Yeah, thanks.” Harry said a bit swept up. He then held the coin in his palm to contemplate the new life it would bring. Then one last question crept into his mind and he turned to ask Sam, “Hey what did you mean as long as I’m—” But Sam was gone. Harry looked around the bar but could not see his new secret benefactor. Finally he asked the bartender, “Hey, you see where that guy went?” The bartender shrugged unknowingly and returned to his menial busywork. Harry shrugged in indifference and pocketed the coin. He then left the bar to see how much truth Sam was telling.
Harry stumbled back to his apartment that night at about four in the morning. His clothes were disheveled and he reeked of whisky, cigars, and cheap perfume. At first he tested the coin by just piling up cash. Small amounts at first, but then thousands of dollars at a time. He tried spending it at bars, buying top shelf liquor for any smiling face. When he had had just enough liquor in him he ventured to the gentleman’s club. There he quickly found his way to the reserved, VIP, section where he took full advantage. It was simple debauchery at its finest and after his recent troubles, now effectively gone, a welcome release of stress. Sloppily, shabbily he somehow found his way to his apartment and summarily collapsed in a drunken stupor. As he slipped off to sleep, he wore a sly grin of joy and secrecy. “The coin, the coin.” He thought, “God bless the coin.”
In the coming weeks Harry’s life changed dramatically. At first he had materialized enough money to pay off all his old debts and then a little to start giving his life a nice bump. Before he spent it he remembered Sam’s advice to be cautious. At first he paid off his debts in small amounts and only by money order. Then he started to think deeper. Soon he hired a lawyer and an accountant to manage his money, or rather his materialized money, through a series of legal and book keeping maneuvers that left him mostly anonymous. All he had to do was deposit a few thousand dollars cash into an account each week and everything else was taken care of. His new apartment, his new car, and his new wardrobe were all the property of a corporation that was in turn owned by other corporations, which in turn were managed silently through escrow accounts by several law firms. So complex and deliberately obscure was the web of control that Harry didn’t quite understand it himself. All he understood was that his life was finally turning around and that he had the gold coin to thank.
Trouble soon reared its beautiful head. For a few weeks he had been talking to Matty. Things were going better now that he had money, and they were even talking about not separating. This pleased him somewhat, but the fact that it was the coin, and the money it brought, that had begun to win her over was a wound to his pride and ego that would not heal. It annoyed him like a shaving cut that just won’t stop bleeding. He was standing in line at the bank waiting to make his habitual deposit when he first caught a glimpse of her. She was standing in line two queues to his left and though his eyes were wandering without purpose or direction, his gaze found it hard to discard her. She was tall and lean, with thick black hair that shone like obsidian. Her dress and style were fashionable and enhanced her already great beauty. Despite this she carried herself with the utmost class and distinction, a true woman in the sincerest meaning of the word. Harry found himself lingering on this seductive visage. At one point she too began looking around and for a moment their eyes met. Harry looked away in that awkward, embarrassed way that men do when caught staring at a pretty lady and spent the rest of the time in the queue pretending, in that awkward and foolish way that men do, that she did not exist. She smiled slightly at his initial shyness and chagrin. She also took notice of Harry’s nice, and obviously new, clothes. She noted the way he wore them without reservation or apology. And she noticed the large stack of bills he handed to the teller. These things of course made her smile more and though she was only a few places from the front of the line, she felt it more prudent to leave the queue and find out more about this mysterious gentleman who is so shy around beautiful women.
Harry was standing outside on the impressive marble steps of the bank. It was an unseasonably clear day and the warm, welcoming rays of the sun seemed a reflection of his newfound happiness. In his mind however, he found himself conflicted. He was trying to light a cigarette, but his hands were clumsy and distracted. In his mind’s eye, he saw Matty. She was smiling and laughing, brief flashes of the halcyon days that he thought he might be able to relive. Battling these old, familiar feelings were images of the beautiful woman from inside the bank. Her raven hair and youthful, yet aristocratic aura sang a siren song he could not resist. He knew nothing of this girl other than her face and yet her seductive gaze seemed enough to drown out the plainer, yet warmer, images of Matty. At each flash of memory his hands fumbled again with his lighter, only adding to his frustration. In the midst of these dueling dames came single frames of Henry, the very reason he had accepted the coin in the first place. He found his mental tension growing and growing until finally he felt he could endure no more. Just at his moment of highest agony suddenly, yet tenderly, a small, feminine hand reached out and stole both his lighter and his attention. Harry turned to view this delicate thief only to be met by the gaze of the Calypso from inside.
“Hi.” She said politely but flirtatiously, “Having trouble with your lighter? Care to give me a try?” Harry stood dumb for a moment, taken completely off guard by her intervention. “Here.” She said soothingly as the fire sprung up about the silver zippo’s wick. She lit his cigarette before closing the lighter, snapping out the fire as quickly as she had made it appear and handing it back to him.
“Thanks.” Harry replied returning his lighter to his breast pocket, “I’m Harold—Harry! Harry Arem.”
“Well hello, Harold Harry Arem.” She replied facetiously, “I’m Lily. Lily Ciren. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Believe me,” Harry said between puffs on his cigarette, “The pleasure is all mine.”
Lily smiled coyly and then said, “Well?”
“Well, where are you manners, Harry Arem?” She asked behind a smile as sharp as a razor, “Aren’t you going to offer me a cigarette?”
Harry smiled back. For the first time in as long as he could remember he wasn’t thinking about Matty.
Detective Durham was staring at the bank teller’s open drawers scratching his chin. He had been a detective for thirteen years and a good cop for nearly twenty. Like most veterans he thought he had seen it all. From clowns trying armed robbery, to the most bizarre acts of lunacy, to the most sobering murders, nothing surprised him anymore. But the rash of thefts in the last few weeks had him puzzled. Each week at about the same time on the same day, but at different banks, money would simply vanish from teller’s drawers. One moment it was there, the next it wasn’t. Sometimes it was all from one bank. Other times it vanished from several, sometimes it came from the vaults, and once even the safety deposit boxes had been raided. The origin of theft varied wildly, but the amount was always the same. That was the confusing part. It was as though someone was teleporting all the cash they wanted out of supposedly secure locations.
Detective Durham was still scratching his chin, an old habit he had no desire to part with. He felt it made him think better. He thought he had seen it all but this was a new one. “That doesn’t matter.” He thought, “After all the money has to be going somewhere.” For the past three months he and his team had been focusing on patterns and locations trying to catch the thief in the act. Now he found himself against the wall. “Maybe,” he thought, “Maybe we aren’t going to catch this guy, at least not while he’s stealing it. Still,” He mused, “the money has to be going somewhere.”
Though Matty was sitting across the table from him, Harry found it impossible to even see her. It had only been a few weeks since he had met Lily outside the bank, but she was just about all he thought of these days. He had almost missed his regular deposit this past week. It was only because Lily had reminded him that it was time for his usual deposit that he even went. It was also in this time that he decided he did want to separate from Matty, for good. Through his blind trust he had secured a very fine divorce attorney. Matty, her means still menial, found herself wholly outclassed by these slick, high salary sharks. Still Harry seemed to be behaving magnanimously and his terms, though not entirely to her liking, were amiable enough. Even if he had secured full visitation rights to Henry. She had no means to keep him from being in the boy’s life. And while this was not, at least superficially, a bad thing, she was extremely suspicious of Harry’s new wealth. Typical to Harry he was tight lipped about the source of his sudden opulence. Saying only that he had “gotten lucky.” And while Harry found himself unable to focus on Matty at all, she could do nothing except stare at him with cold anger.
The lawyers were rambling on, and on, less of a discussion and more an offering of terms. As they went on and on, the topic of Henry came up. At this Harry seemed slightly more interested and began talking secretly with one of his lawyers about how he was going to take his boy to the game this weekend. At this comment Matty’s patience suddenly broke and she blurted out, “You can’t have him. Not this weekend at least.”
The room fell silent. Harry, whose attention had been everywhere except Matty for the whole afternoon, was now, finally, on her.
“Why’s that?” He asked calmly, but firmly.
Matty took a deep breath and began racing through plausible excuses in her mind. She was inexplicably possessed of the desire to make Harry notice her again. When all the excuses she thought of fell by the wayside she fell back on the only thing that had reliably worked in the past. “Because I said so.” She finally said.
Harry stared at her for a moment taken aback by this random display of confidence. Then, rather brazenly, he said, “Uh huh. So how are you going to stop me?”
“I—I—” Matty stammered in return. Though she had always commanded Harry in the past, she now saw that his sudden wealth had raised more than just his privilege. She gaped dumbly for a moment, searching desperately for a way to salvage her dignity.
After a few moments of this spectacle Harry said in a terrifyingly calm way, “Well, now that that’s settled.” He then turned to his lawyers and asked, “Guys, do I need to be here? I have a date tonight.”
His attorneys let him go and as he got up and left the room, Matty could do nothing but stare in impotence and worry. It was in that moment that she understood what Harry had meant to her, and that she was going to lose him forever.
“You really said that to her?” Lily said, only slightly in shock. “What did she say?”
“Nothing.” Harry said over a sip of his wine. He paused a moment to study the candlelight flickering across Lily’s face. Her features were soft and enticing. So seductive were they that for a moment he thought the candle flame seemed a reflection of her. “She just stuttered and I left.”
“Very Assertive.” Lily smiled back. “A touch rude, but still she deserved it. Trying to keep you away from your boy.”
“Aw, she’s just being bitter.” Harry said. “Honestly, I couldn’t really care, I’m just happy she can’t hassle me anymore.”
“I guess she can’t.” Lily replied with a smile, “Though you never told me where you got all this money from.”
“Oh, I–umm–” Harry stammered in reply. He thought he had been careful with his new found wealth, but he never did figure out a good cover story.
“Harry, honey.” Lily said soft and sweetly, “You don’t have to be embarrassed. It’s an inheritance isn’t it?”
“Uh, yeah…” Harry replied, “My great uncle. I was close to him as a kid and he never had any of his own. So, yeah…when he passed away he left me an inheritance. He was a little funny about money though, that’s why it’s paid out as a weekly pension.”
“What a sweet man.” She answered, “How long does the pension run?”
“My whole life, effectively.” Harry replied.
“Wow. He must have been extraordinarily wealthy.”
“Yeah. He was an oil man or something.” Harry said more relaxed. He did have a great uncle who worked for an oil company. So that much of the story was true. He was just hoping that no one would check that he was a clerk and had died fifteen years ago.
They were sitting at yet another high end restaurant in one of the City’s most fashionable hotels. Truthfully Harry didn’t like all the money he had been spending, but Lily had some refined tastes and he still couldn’t believe she had just walked into his life. He also didn’t like talking about this new wealth in public. But, again, Lily had a way of getting him to open up. He didn’t know what it was, but around her, he felt almost compelled. So much so that he could hardly contain the swell of emotion she conjured in him. He had to admit, though, that the life was pretty good. Even if it was a little noisy.
Throughout their dinner Lily kept him laughing while making sure he never had an empty glass. She also seemed to ask a lot of questions about his money, but always in innocent and ancillary ways. For his part Harry didn’t care. She was gorgeous, she was attentive, and she made him feel young and strong again. If she wanted to eat out, well they were going to eat out.
It was during Coffee and dessert, just before the check arrived, that Lily excused herself to ladies room. Harry watched her go. Her gate was a gliding waltz amplified by the aristocratic yet lustful sashay of her hips. For a few moments, Harry had no thoughts.
“Having fun I see.” said a friendly, familiar, yet frightening tenor. Harry spun in his seat startled by the voice to find Sam Heck smiling that warm but sharp smile of his. “It would seem you’re making the most of your opportunities.” He said as his eyes gestured to the receding figure of Lily.
“What?” Harry asked spinning around again to follow Sam’s gaze. “Oh! Yeah. I guess you could say that. She just sort of, fell into my life…a bit like you come to think of it.”
“Well, luck has a way of following some people.” Sam quipped. “I saw you here and I thought I might come say hello, see how you’re liking the coin.”
“Oh I like it.” Harry said taking a sip of coffee, “I like it a lot.”
“I can see.” Sam replied, “And it seems to like you as well. I knew the moment I saw you, you were the one for it. My goodness, how rewarding it is to see I made the right decision.”
“You?” Harry smiled, becoming more at ease, “What about me?”
“Well, it wasn’t exactly a hard sell.” Sam replied as they exchanged smug chuckles. “Well, glad to see everything is working out. And by the way, if you have any questions, feel free to call.” He handed Harry a business card that simply read “Sam Heck” with a nine digit phone number printed beneath his name.
“A bit plain, wouldn’t you say?” Harry asked putting the card in his wallet.
“It’s how I like to operate.” Sam replied. “Well, take care, Harry, though you seem to be doing a splendid job already.”
“I sure am.” Harry answered.
“Goodbye, then.” Sam smiled as he turned to leave. After a step he paused and said, over his shoulder, “Oh, and Harry, if you get the chance, you should read our contract. Just for legal purposes, of course.”
“Of course.” Harry said. Sam then continued on his way, his ordinary but unique figure disappearing into the crowd of the restaurant.
“Harry, what are you looking at?” It was Lily, returning from the lavatory.
“What? Oh, just…a friend.” Harry replied, turning to look at her. “Didn’t you see him?” Lily merely shook her head. Harry shrugged and said, “Oh, well, I guess it doesn’t matter.”
“No, it doesn’t.” Lily smiled. She took Harry by the hand and they began to leave, “Come on Harry, let’s go home.” Now her voice purred, sending shivers down Harry’s spine. They retreated to a taxi, arm in arm, her head resting on his shoulders. Harry didn’t know if the feelings welling up inside him were love or lust. And in that moment, honestly, he didn’t care.
“Casper the Friendly Thief” was at it again, not that he had ever stopped. Detective Durham didn’t even look at the new theft reports when they came in. He knew what they were going to say. Instead he told the junior detective to put the robbery report on the pile with the others and he went back to his spreadsheets. He didn’t have the authority to subpoena all the bank records in the city, but he didn’t have to. Instead he went to the banks and asked them to keep an eye for suspicious activity. He made the point that even if the theif was depositing with them, it was still a crime and that it was ultimately hurtful to their business as he might be stealing from them as well. Even though they had kept the story out of the papers, mostly, some of the victims were wealthy and powerful. They didn’t like the idea of a thief either. Soon enough, Durham had a spreadsheet of all the strange and new accounts created since the thefts began.
There was one account in particular that was standing out. He checked the deposit amounts, then the times of the deposits. Every week like clockwork. It didn’t match up one hundred percent, but it was damn close. So close that Durham’s gut boiled almost as soon as he saw it. This wasn’t the end, not quite yet. He needed to call the District Attorney, he’d have to play hardball with some accountants and lawyers, and he might even step on a toe or two. But that was all old territory for him. He got up from his desk unconsciously smiling at his new revelation. Yeah he needed to do some things, but right now, he needed another cup of coffee.
Harry and Henry were walking through the park on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Henry was wearing his baseball cap and glove, repeatedly throwing a fly ball he had caught into his mitt, full of youthful exuberance. Harry was happy just watching his boy. It felt like a lifetime since he had had enjoyed such a simple, peaceful and happy afternoon with his son. For a few fleeting moments, the divorce, his recent troubles, even Lily and his money, didn’t seem to matter. Right now he was having fun just being around his boy.
“So what’d you think of the game, Henry?” He asked.
“It was great!” The young boy exclaimed, “I liked seeing the ball players so close up. They looked so big!”
“I bet they did. Who was your favorite?”
“Because he could hit the ball so far!” The boy exclaimed, “It was like Pow! And it was gone!”
“It sure was.” Harry agreed. He smiled down at his son, still playing with his new trophy, as blissfully unaware of life’s trials or tribulations as any child should be. The pure innocence beaming from the boy made Harry forget, if only for a moment, that he too was an adult and his wandered off to nowhere in particular. Which is, of course, the favorite place for the mind of a child.
Suddenly Harry’s peaceful meditations were interrupted by a short, sharp, shock of reality. “So Dad, why are you and Mom splitting up?” Henry asked.
“I–uh…” Harry was taken completely off guard by the question and quickly he scrambled for an answer, “Well, Henry, your mother and I, we, well, we just don’t agree about a lot of things. It’s better for us, and it’s better for you if we’re not together all the time.”
“Really?” The boy asked, “Mom said it’s because you don’t have any money. But now you have a whole bunch of money. And when that happened, Mom stopped talking to me about it. She doesn’t want to talk to anyone about it. I think she’s mad.”
Harry now felt something else entirely: guilt. Deep down, somewhere inside, he still felt love for Matty. Hearing that she was in distress gave him a sense of sadness that was quickly replaced by shame in the knowledge that he was its root cause. “Well, that’s not good.” Harry replied weakly, “I guess I’ll try to talk to her. I’ll-I’ll be nice.”
“Really?” Henry asked.
“Really.” Harry said. “Now c’mon we’re taking a long time, better get you home.” He took his son by hand and they began to walk home, at least home for young Henry.
A little ways across the park Harry saw a man in a long trench coat and a fedora coming towards him. This stranger had a seemed familiar to him but no specific recognition came to mind. It was a familiarity born more of sense and feeling than true personal knowledge. The man looked like a thousand school yard bullies Harry had fought in his youth and he walked with the demeanor of the thousand principles and disciplinarians he had to answer to after the fights. As he approached it became obvious that this man meant to approach Harry and his son. Harry subtly shifted Henry back and away from the stranger and braced himself for some kind of confrontation. He couldn’t pinpoint the cause of his unease but something about this stranger felt wrong.
“Hey Pal,” The stranger said as they came within arms reach, “I’m real sorry about this, but I’m in a real bind. I need a hundred bucks and damned if the banks are closed today.”
“I-uh-I–” Harry stammered in reply.
“Don’t worry,” The man replied, “Here’s my checkbook, and my ID, I can pay you back tomorrow. I just need the cash today.” The man pulled out his checkbook and identification. He was a one Grant Durham. His balances could cover what he was asking, and everything looked in order. Though there was something about his name that further sparked Harry’s sense of recognition. Somehow this recognition only further heightened Harry’s wariness. He decided to give him the money and get away from him as quickly as possible.
“Sure.” Harry said reaching into his pocket and grasping the coin. “Here. Crisp, clean hundred dollar bill.” He then produced the bill and handed it to the man.
“Boy it sure is!” Exclaimed the man, inspecting the note. He held it up to the light, checking its validity, and then studied it intently for a moment.
“Well, best of luck…and don’t worry about it.” Harry replied as he turned to continue on his way.
“Sure, one more question though.” The man said moving to block Harry’s path. “Are you Harold Arem?”
“Yes.” Harry said in pure shock.
“Good.” The man said holding up a detective’s badge, “You’re under arrest.” Harry felt cold steel wrap around his left wrist. The surrounding park had come alive with people. Half a dozen plain clothed police officers appeared out of nowhere and began descending on Harry. They quickly separated Henry from him and Harry began to struggled with the Detective, reaching for his son in protest and futility.
“Hey, what’s going on here? Where are you taking my boy? Let me go!” He exclaimed.
“You have the right to remain silent.” Detective Durham began.
“What? Hey, let me go!”
“Anything you say or do can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you can’t afford an attorney-”
“Let me GO!” Harry exclaimed shaking loose of Detective Durham and running for his son. As he closed in on the officers holding Henry, they closed their bodies to shield the child from Harry. He could feel his hands clench into fists and his right hand drew back readying a blow. Then at the instant he was prepared to let loose from he was tackled from behind by another officer. Harry hit the ground hard and all the fight in his bones and air inhi lungs were evacuated in one great gasp. His head went light, he felt confused, disoriented. The other officers fell on him and finished cuffing him with their knees dug into his back and neck. He looked up with heartbreak written large across his face, watching helplessly as they carried his son away. He could hear Henry’s shrill cires of fear and confusion growing fainter and fainter until they put the boy in the back of an umarked police car. Harry could feel his heart break as they shut the door. Now all he heard was a gruff and stern voice saying: “…If you can’t afford an Attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?”
The holding cell was dark and dank. The smell of mildew and urine saturated the place. Harry was lucky, he’d been arrested during a “down time” for drunks and muggers so he had the cell to himself. He had also been a particularly high profile criminal, at least within police circles, for the last few months. This in turn made him a high value suspect and so every cop in the department was dedicated to getting him to his day in court in one piece. Harry was here because he’d refused to talk during the interview. Detective Durham kept asking him where he got the money and how he stole it. All Harry asked about was what happened to Henry. He had a suspicion that they might not be able to prove he had stolen the money but after all they had him for resisting arrest and assaulting an officer. This was more than enough to hold him for a while. He’d asked for his lawyers, but Durham had gotten to them first. The invisible trust he’d set up wasn’t so invisible when the people running it were threatened with prosecution. They had flipped on him to a man. At least that’s what Durham said. Again Harry suspected that they were overplaying their hand, but at this point that didn’t really matter. Instead he’d said nothing for six hours until the police finally decided to put him on ice and wait for Harry’s patience to run out. Now all he did was sit amongst the dark and the dank, bracing for whatever came next.
“Arem, visitor!” Barked the ragged voice of the guard as an iron door swung open. Harry stood to see who might be coming to visit him, he wanted it to be Matty, or Henry. Instead he was greeted by the image of seduction in satin. Lily came through the door sashaying in that enticing way she could. Harry was surprised to find that he didn’t really want to see her right now. Certainly she was not an unwelcome sight but, given his predicament, Harry thought he might need to use all his senses not just his eyes.
“Harry, is it true?” She asked timidly as she approached the bars of his cell. “Are you a thief? Is that where the money came from?”
“I–Well–” Harry stammered, “Not exactly.”
“So there isn’t a wealthy uncle Bob who left you all his money?” She asked again meekly, seemingly on the verge of sobbing.
“I did have an Uncle Bob, but he wasn’t–Well–No. No it’s not an inheritance.” Harry replied.
“Oh.” Lily said in that same somber tone. She then collected herself and smoothed the wrinkles in her dress. Then more curtly and confidently she said, “Well, in that case, goodbye.” She then turned to leave.
Harry stood dumbstruck. He watched, mouth agape as she walked back to the door, calling for the guard. After the moment of shock had passed he blurted out, “Wait! Is that it? Is that all I was to you?”
Lily turned and looked him in the eye. Then plainly and matter factly she replied, “Yes.” Then she vanished through the door, exiting his life as suddenly and insubstantially as she had come into it. He slumped onto the bench in the cell, surprised to find himself only mildly despondent. It was shocking how quickly she had abandoned him but even more shocking for Harry was to realize that he didn’t care. In those moments of bare honesty he realized he had used her as much as she had used him. They’d been business partners and now that their coventure had failed it was time to move on. After a few minutes of mulling it all over, he heard another gruff bark from the guard.
“Arem! ‘Nother Visitor!” The iron door again swung open and into the dark, damp hole came Matty. Though her face was lined with worry, her makeup hastily applied, and he body quivering from stress, she appeared to be a beam of light. Surely she took on the form of an angel come to save Harry from himself. Harry rushed to the bars of his cell, longing to hold her, just to reassure himself that she was real.
“Matty!” He exclaimed as she approached the bars, “Thank god you’re here.” She took his outstretched hands in hers pressed her face as close to Harry as the bars would allow.
“Harry, oh god, Harry what happened?” She asked nearly sobbing.
“I-I-I made a mistake.” He said hanging his head in shame, “A big one. I don’t know what to do.”
“I’ve been trying to figure out what happened, Harry. Henry is safe, that much is alright. The police brought him home, they told me you were a bank robber, but I can’t believe it! Harry, is it true?”
“Well, yes, no!” Harry stammered, “Maybe. I guess the money is stolen, but I didn’t know. It just sort of…fell into my lap.”
“How?” Matty asked.
“I…you wouldn’t believe me.” Harry said despondent, “Listen do you have a lawyer, all of mine have bailed on me, or so the police say.”
“No.” She said, “At least not a criminal lawyer. I called my divorce attorney, but he’s no help here. He said he’d call some friends, but I just don’t know what will happen. Harry, what are we going to do?”
“I don’t know.” He answered, more fearful than ever of the unknown, the future. They stood in quiet sadness for a few moments. Finally Harry remembered something. He reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew a plain business card. On it were printed the words “Sam Heck” and a phone number. He handed it to Matty and said, “This man. He can help me. Tell the police this is my Lawyer and I want to see him right now.”
“Really?” She asked. “Why didn’t you call him before?”
“I don’t know.” Harry answered, “I just didn’t think to, I guess.”
“Alright, I’ll go tell them.” She replied turning to leave. Harry watched as she walked out of the holding cell his hope seeming to fade with the distance. As the iron door clanged shut he imagined it to be a funeral bell, tolling the hour of his doom. Harry sat down again waiting fervently for Sam Heck to show up, or at least to receive word he was on his way. After a few minutes the iron door opened and Detective Durham came in holding the business card.
“Sorry, Arem.” He replied handing Harry the card back, “No answer, looks like it’s been disconnected.”
“What?” Harry asked in shock.
“Sorry, don’t know what else to tell you. Any other lawyers you want to call?”
“You want to talk to me, finally. Tell me the real story?”
“Okay then. Enjoy the mildew.” Detective Durham then left Harry as well. Now, truly, really alone Harry slumped onto the bench. All hope was lost. He was depressed and ashamed at how badly he had been seduced and how terribly he had betrayed his family. He sat there in utter sadness for time unknown. Perhaps several hours, perhaps several minutes. He didn’t know or care. He began to go into a mental withdrawal, but just at the moment that he began to shut down entirely he was startled by a familiar, friendly, but subtly lethal voice.
“You really should have read the whole contract.” The advice came suddenly and the voice was so sonorous yet so powerful that Harry jumped to his feet in surprise. His heart began to race and it nearly lept out of his throat when he saw that there, sitting in his cell, behind the bars, with him, was Sam Heck.
“Sam!” He shouted in utter shock, “What-What are you doing here?”
“You called.” Sam replied matter of factly standing up and approaching Harry. He then began to flatten the wrinkles on Harry’s shirt and straighten his tie. Then in a suspiciously friendly manner he said, “Harry, Harry, Harry…What are we going to do with you?”
Harry looked Sam up and down still flabberghasted that he was there in the cell with him. Harry’s eyes were still the size of dinnerplates but now the shock was turning to wonder. Harry felt like he was watching a particularly deceptive magic trick.
“Oh don’t look so surprised.” Sam said, “After all I gave you the coin, surely that is real magic. Why shouldn’t I be able to be here?”
Harry’s brow narrowed as he began to realize just what it was he had done. He focused his gaze on Sam and asked sternly but timidly, “Who are you?”
“You know who I am.” Sam replied flatly. His voice carried a sharpness Harry had not noticed before and for an instant it seemed as though his eyes had come alive with flame.
“No.” Harry said his voice dripping with denial, “You can’t be, you’re not real.”
“Doubt,” Sam began, “Is a big part of the confidence game. And I am the oldest confidence man in the world. Oh don’t feel bad, Harry. You’ve been conned by the best. Not that it was particularly difficult (no offense but you were an easy mark). But still you were conned.”
“That’s it, that’s all you’ve got for me?” Harry blurted out indignant. Then a bit more somberly, “Of course that’s all you have…you’re you.”
“Tut, tut, Harry, my boy.” Sam replied, “You of all people should know I have more yet to give.”
“Really?” Harry asked skeptically.
“Well not really.” Sam replied in a skulking manner, much the way a child answers when caught in a lie, “Not to give, of course. But there are a few unexercised clauses in your contract. You might still get out of this.”
Harry felt a pang of hope, but was now, finally, extremely wary of it. The temptation was too much though, and finally he asked, “What are they?”
“Well you see the payment you agreed to was one item, one item in particular, your soul.” Sam said in a very business like tone, “But there is an acceptable substitute, and given the value of the substitute for me, I would be willing to get you out of prison, clear your name, and let you keep all the money. The coin would be gone, but you’ve socked away enough to keep you comfortable for a good long time. Long enough for prudent investments to start paying solid interest. Yes Harry, it can all be yours, all you have to do is give me a soul.”
“Whose?” Harry asked, worry creeping into his voice as he felt where this line of discussion was going.
“Well, it can’t be any old soul, it has to be a soul you have legal ownership of. I’m afraid there are some very particular rules and as of now, there are only two souls you have legal, transactional authority over.”
“Henry. You want Henry.” Harry replied.
“Yes.” Sam replied flatly, “An innocent child is a rare find for me. He would be particularly prized. Which is why I am willing to do so much extra for you.”
Harry turned away and leaned on the bars of his cell. He was ashamed to admit it to himself but he thought, more than once, about Sam’s offer. The guilt however was building to an intolerable level. He already could not live with himself, to betray his son like this was just too far beyond the pale. Disgusted with himself for even considering the offer he turned to Sam and said, rather confidently, “No.”
Sam simply shrugged, “Win some, lose some.” He quipped nonchalantly, “Well if that’s all, I’ll be taking my leave. Have fun with prison Harry. And mind the soap.”
“Wait!” Harry shouted, “Listen, I-I could still use some legal advice. How much do you charge?”
Sam’s eyebrows went up a little, now slightly surprised at Harry’s sudden turn. After his moment of modest surprise he said, “Sorry, Harry, but I think you’re tapped out. You only have one thing I want, and you don’t want to give it up.”
“Well,” Harry began reaching into his pocket, “How about one gold coin? C’mon just some quick advice for a friend.”
Sam smiled at Harry’s guile. The coin, of course, was really Sam’s to keep. Whether or not Harry gave it to him, it would be back in his possession soon. Sam did really admire Harry’s turn of character and thought to indulge his own, insatiable curiosity, “Well, how could I say no to that?” Harry handed him the coin gingerly and the two shook hands. “So, what can I do for you?”
“If I die, tonight, what happens to my money?” Harry asked in a very direct way.
Sam rubbed his chin for a moment, then said, “Well I don’t think they can prove anything. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence, but once Matilda gets a look at the inheritance at stake she’ll find a real lawyer and offer him a cut. In all likelihood she’ll spend about a third in court costs, a third on the lawyer, and get to pocket the rest. Which by then will come in under the tax limit. It might take a year or two, but when all’s said and done I’d say she’ll have enough to send young Henry to a good college, maybe a little bit on top of that.”
Harry smiled, somehow content with the choice he had made. “Thank you.” he said extending his hand. “Thank you very much.”
“Happy to be of service.” Sam said without a hint of irony or self congratulation, “By the way you know what will happen to you? Where you’re going to go?”
Harry nodded in a sad yet peaceful way. “Yes.” He said.
“Well then, it looks like your mind is made up, Harry. See you soon.” Sam said as he smiled devilishly. And with that he was gone.
Harry knew he had made some mistakes but he could give his family something. Not much, but something. It was just money, but husbanded well it could be turned into a real legacy. Something that they needed and that could make their lives better, even if his was in shambles. Coolly and deliberately Harry took off his belt. He stood on the bench and looped one end around the bars of the window and then the other around his neck. He thought of the terriffic afternoon he had had with Henry. He thought of Matty and their fights and how all she ever really wanted was the best of him. He smiled the smile of the damned and then with the courage of a martyr, he jumped.