Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Elevator

Jerry Milligan entered the vacant elevator and pushed the “down” button as the doors swooshed shut. Thank God it was empty. He wasn’t in the mood for chitchat. Especially today.

His meeting with Vincenzo hadn’t gone well. Jerry had borrowed some money from Mr. “V” to pay off a gambling debt. Four thousand dollars to be exact. “Borrowed” wasn’t really the right word…it was more of a “loan.” A loan with strings attached.

Jerry figured he could pay it back after Saturday’s horse race. He had gotten a tip that Placebo’s Dream was a shoo-in to place in the third. Well, Placebo’s Dream became Jerry’s nightmare. The horse didn’t keep up his end of the bargain and now Jerry had to ask Vincenzo for more time.

Alone in the elevator, Jerry recalled what had transpired just moments before in Vincenzo’s suite on the 19th floor. As Jerry offered his explanation in a calm, albeit panic-stricken manner, Vincenzo sat quietly in an oversized plush chair, his fat round belly extended to his knees. A Buddha statue in an Armani suit. Cigar smoke swirled around his head and his beady snake-eyes never blinked.

Vincenzo’s silence made Jerry even more nervous and he just kept rambling. Finally, the fat man spoke. “Good day, Mr. Milligan. You may leave now.”Jerry started to speak again, but changed his mind as Vincenzo pointed toward the door with a stubby, ruby-ringed finger. He left the room in a hurry and figured he was getting off easy. If Vincenzo was going to kill him, he wouldn’t have let him go, right? He would have called in one of his goons to escort him into another room where they would “discuss” the situation. A friendly little meeting that might involve brass knuckles, a blowtorch, blenders, bullets, boards, bed knobs, broomsticks … or any number of torture devises that begin with the letter “B” and end with Jerry bleeding all over his Birkenstocks.

Jerry had vowed to quit gambling over and over again, but every attempt had failed. The longest he had gone without playing the horses was six weeks … the worst six weeks in his life. He couldn’t eat. He couldn’t sleep. He got headaches and night sweats. Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore and went to the track. Standing at the betting window and sliding his cash to the clerk, he salivated like a beagle in a meat market. That was when he realized the truth about himself … he was a compulsive gambler, and he always would be.

Consequently, his gaming lifestyle put him the company of some pretty shady characters. Guys like Vincenzo who hung around casinos and racetracks, using their “patsy” radar to zero in on poor suckers who lost all their dough and needed some quick cash for a sure thing. Jerry didn’t like dealing with those bums. But two weeks ago, he had run into some bad luck at the track and Vincenzo was more than happy to help out.

Jerry’s worrisome thoughts were interrupted as the elevator stopped and the doors slid open. A man walked in wearing a black suit, his long hair tied in a ponytail. He was well over six feet tall and looked like he could lift a Buick with one hand and not even break a sweat. Jerry caught a glimpse of a gold front tooth as the man glanced his way.

The man positioned himself in the middle of the elevator, arms folded, looking at the numbers above the door. Jerry retreated to the corner. The only sound was Jerry’s raspy breathing and the muffled swoosh as the elevator made its descent. The piercing sound of a cell phone shattered the silence. Mr. Ponytail flipped open the phone and spoke with a pronounced lisp: “Yeah...I’ll take care of it, bosth…don’t worry…I’m on my way.”

Jerry tried to keep from wetting his pants. This was Vincenzo’s goon sent to give him the “business.” But did he know that Jerry was in the elevator just an arm’s length away? Mr. Ponytail seemed oblivious. Of course, he could just be pretending, acting like everything was kosher. And then when they got outside…a shiny black sedan and a couple of gorillas ready to shove him into the backseat for a ride “downtown.”

But maybe the man didn’t know it was Jerry. Maybe Vincenzo gave orders to nab Jerry at his apartment. Yeah, that had to be it. Hope flinched in Jerry’s gut as he planned his escape. As soon as the doors opened, he’d make a run for it. He figured he could out-run the goon, if it came to that. But what if Mr. Ponytail pulled a gun and started shooting?

Jerry couldn’t think that far ahead. He had to get out of here! His eyes focused on the doors and sweat broke out on his forehead. His tongue swirled around his dry lips in anticipation. Suddenly, the elevator lurched to a complete stop, slamming Jerry and the man against the rear wall. The lights near the doors lit up like the control panel in a nuclear power plant at melt down. Jerry’s fingers shook as he randomly pushed the buttons, but nothing happened.

Jerry looked at the man and stammered, “I…I think the elevator is stuck!”

“Don’t worry, Misther Milligan,” the man replied. “You’ll be on your way down in no time.” He smiled at Jerry and his gold tooth glimmered in the fluorescent light.

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