- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Tommy was interested just for fun, but Jeff Zorda, who had put money on the Jets and was winning, had the gambling bug. "Ten bucks a play. You have to call the players."
I had just wanted to play around, but whenever Jeff started winning he turned into a cocky prick who was always telling everyone else they didn't know shit about football. So I took the bet.
"The next play'll be an end-around to Thomas. Right side."
"No way, dude," Zorda said. "It's third and six. They're not going to run it."
Sure enough, there was a right side end-around to Thomas for the first down. Zorda shrugged.
The next play was set up as a shotgun. Then one of the linemenmoved and drew a penalty.
"This'll be a pass play, but it won't happen. The right tackle's going to move before the snap." I had given Zorda way too much information, a hint that I was cheating, but he didn't catch it. No matter how much you know about football, you can't predict a penalty. I don't think he was listening, as usual. Tommy figured something out right away and stuck his head over the booth and saw the other TV, but he didn't say anything. He just smiled. Tommy didn't care too much for Zorda. There were rumors about him and Tommy's wife.
Zorda watched the penalty and stared at me in admiration. "Damn. How the hell could you know that?" Still no suspicion.
"That tackle's been jiggling around the whole game," I said. "He was due for a penalty." Tommy smiled. "Next play'll be a screen pass to Taylor. He'll hit him underneath for a couple yards."
This went on for the whole five plays. I was just about to tell Zorda I was cheating when he got up, took a fifty out of his wallet and threw it at me. "Prick," he said. Then, much drunker than I realized, he staggered off to the bathroom, walking right past the TV that was showing the game ten seconds ahead.
"I'll tell him when he comes back," I said to Tommy.
But Zorda didn't come back. He met his coke dealer on the way to the bathroom and left the bar, sticking us with his tab. So Tommy and me split the fifty and used some of it to pay his tab, and Zorda got so fucked up he must have forgot all about it, because he never mentioned it at work.
And until I shot Corinne Gardocki in the head, that was the worst thing I had ever done for money.
Ken Gardocki is looking at some papers strewn around on his desk while I sit in his nip-and-tuck leather chair in my blue jeans and dungaree jacket, waiting for him to tell me what it is he wants. He has called me at seven this morning and asked me to come down to his office, mentioned a deal we could work out. Ken Gardocki is a bookie and I owe him somewhere in the neighborhood of forty-two hundred dollars so any kind of a deal sounds good. He knows I'm out of work, he knows everyone in this town is, but he still takes bets from me. Maybe he is going to ask me to paint his house, or run some errands for him. Maybe he needs a butler. I could do that. Anything to get me working again.
Ken Gardocki finds one of the papers he was looking for and holds it up, then looks at me thoughtfully. "Canadian football," he says.
"You lost eighteen hundred dollars of your forty-two hundred on Canadian football."
He laughs. "Tell me, Jake, can you name one player in the whole Canadian Football League?"
"Doug Flutie used to play for them."
"What was that, five years ago? He's with the Chargers now."
"Yeah." I like Ken Gardocki because he is a no-bullshit guy. He is also the only guy in town making money, because he sells drugs and guns and he is a bookie. In a town where three-quarters of the men have been laid off in the last nine months, the businesses of desperation are booming.
But I am beginning to wonder why I've been called here. Does he need someone to do a few chores for him, or what? Is it really necessary to go back through my betting history? Obviously, the list of my bets contains a few errors in judgment, or I wouldn't be here in the first place.
"How do you even find out the scores to a Canadian Football League game? ESPN doesn't run them. How do you find out any scores, for that matter, now that your cable has been cut off?"
"You know my cable was cut off?"
Gardocki shrugs. "Everybody's cable is getting cut off." He flips through some other papers and then throws the stack on the desk and looks at me. "So you're placing bets on Canadian football and you can't name a CFL player. What does that tell me?"
Where the fuck am I, in the principal's office? Am I about to be given detention for losing bets? "I don't know, Ken. What does it tell you?"
"It tells me you're desperate."
"It tells me you're betting for the money."
"As opposed to what?"
"As a hobby. For the action. You're betting to feed yourself. You need to place a bet to get the idea that you're making cash, just like you did before the layoffs."
"Yeah. That sounds about right."
Gardocki nods. "You want a beer?"
"It's ten in the morning, Ken. I'm unemployed and I have a gambling problem. I'm not a drunk."
Gardocki nods and smiles. That's the reason people like him, the reason I like him, because he smiles a lot. He is in his mid-fifties, and he has no virtues, and he doesn't take shit from people and he smiles a lot and he is probably the richest man in town, now that the guys who owned the factory have left. Gone to Texas, or Mexico, or Hollywood. Some place with more sun and cheaper labor than here.
"How much more time have you got left on benefits? Before the government cuts you off?"
I figure now that we're going somewhere with this. He's leading up to something, maybe he's going to ask me to be one of his henchmen. Hell, I could do that. Drop coke and weed off at people's doors. Maybe he'll let me drive one of his SUVs. I could cruise around town and listen to CDs and bring people their daily drug shipments, for which they would exchange their unemployment checks. I don't have a problem with that. Somebody will be doing it whether I say yes or no. My moral refusal won't suddenly put a halt to this shattered town's substance abuse problem. Something like that would tide me over, until the new factory opened. They were already talking about a new factory.
"One year and three months."
"Then what? You going to starve to death in your apartment?"
"The new factory'll have opened by then."
Gardocki shakes his head. "There's not going to be any new factory. Who the hell would want to open a factory here?"
"I heard Scott Paper was looking at the location." Tommy had called me up and told me he'd read that in the paper. Big businesses were interested, I knew that. There was a pool of skilled workers, a building already set up to produce machine-tooled parts for tractors. Just a few changes, and it would be up and running, producing something else. We all knew that.
Gardocki laughs again. "Scott Paper." He shakes his head. "That was a heavy metal factory. You think they're going to turn it into a paper mill? And go through all that union bullshit again? Nobody wants to deal with unions anymore. They want Mexicans. They want people who'll appreciate seven dollars an hour, not gripe about seventeen. The factory days here are over, Jake." He leans back in his chair and lights a cigarette. "What happened to that pretty little girl you were going around with?"
Gardocki adopts an expression of surprise. "Is that off limits?"
"You know my cable's cut off, but you don't know my girlfriend moved out?"
"She went off with some used car dealer, huh?" Gardocki is looking sympathetic, so as not to rile me more.
"He was a new car dealer."
After the factory closed, the car dealerships had left town, too. Jobless people don't buy a lot of new cars. Kelly had gone with him, to Ypsilanti. Before she left there had been a lot of agonizing, when she went through her touching "What should I do?" phase. Kelly never asked herself what she should do when I was making seventeen dollars an hour. After her seven-dollar-an-hour salary as a receptionist at a car dealership made her the top grosset of the household, I noticed she began asking herself these deep philosophical questions. She told me some salesman was asking her to go to Ypsilanti with him, and whatever should she do? I told her to fuck off, and went and placed a bet on Canadian Football. After she moved out, I never picked up the phone, didn't return the one letter I got from her and didn't say goodbye. Someone new would come along, once the new factory opened.
"Jake, I want you to kill my wife."
I laugh. Then I search Gardocki's face for signs of humor. But I don't see any. Gardocki isn't even looking at me. He is looking at a spot on the wall above my head, expressionless. He smokes his cigarette and stares, waiting for it to sink in.
"I'm not going to kill your wife, Ken."
Gardocki nods. "What are you going to do? Go back to your one-bedroom apartment? Hang around all day? Walk from one end of town to the other, then spend three hours sitting in the library? Go down and see your friend Tommy at the convenience store where he works, and have him steal you a pack of cigarettes?" That was eerie. He knows I have Tommy steal me cigs from the convenience store, but it isn't really stealing because Tommy is the manager and he knows I can't afford them so he just lets me have them. How long has Gardocki been following me, collecting information on me?
"You're going to get evicted eventually, you know that? And what are you going to do then? Become homeless?" Gardocki is being conversational now, and he offers me a cigarette. It is almost a relief for me to hear these words spoken, the same words I hear going through my head twenty-four hours a day. What are you going to do for work? How are you going to pay bills? Every month, I lose another possession to the pawn shop or the repo man. I've already lost the 1997 Dodge Viper and replaced it with a 1980 Honda Civic. How much more room is there to downgrade, before I come home to an empty apartment? One day I'll come home and the locks will be changed. Then what? THEN WHAT?. I try to quieten the voices with anything I can get my hands on, but these aren't the voices of a crazy person. These voices make sense.
"What are you going to do about your gambling debt, Jake?"
"Jesus, Ken, you make this sound like a career opportunity."
Gardocki nods and smiles. He offers me the smoke, and I take it. He goes and stands by the dirty window that looks out over a frozen field and a few rusted shacks.
"Six hundred people, out of work, collecting government cheese," he says, his voice foggy. "I could make this offer to all of them and at least twenty would say yes. Don't you think?" He turns around and looks at me.
"I don't know."
"Think of the men you used to work with. I mean really think of them. The ones with families, the ones with little children going to that dump of an elementary school. Think of your friend Tommy, managing a fucking convenience store, for what, seven-fifty an hour? He's got a kid, doesn't he?"
"Tommy wouldn't do it."
"How the fuck do you know? Five thousand for one day's work? I think you start throwing those numbers around in this town and you'd find there are a lot of people would do things. It'd pay Tommy's mortgage, wouldn't it?"
"Five thousand?" I just say that before I can stop myself, and I notice behind Gardocki's eyes the instant flash of triumph. In that millisecond, when I am thinking about the money and not about my soul, or morality, or what my mother would say if she were still alive, he knows he's won. That would be the gambling debt gone PLUS eight hundred dollars. Eight hundred dollars cash. I hadn't seen that much money in nine months. I could go to a bar and pay my tab with cash. I could buy milk and bread and make sandwiches and buy real cheddar instead of that government crap that was giving me the shits. I could get my TV back from the pawn shop and get the cable hooked up again and have people over. I could talk to Kelly again, maybe drive down to Ypsilanti and take her out to dinner. Why did I just think that? Fuck Kelly. But I could do it, if I felt like it, if I had eight hundred dollars.
Then I think of Jeff Zorda. "Zorda would do it," I say. "Zorda would do it in a heartbeat."
"Yes, he would," Gardocki agrees, and for a second, I think a funny expression flashes across his face. "But I picked you."
"Why me?" I ask.
"Because I like you."
"Bullshit. You think I'm evil, or something."
"No." Gardocki sits back down again. "I think I can trust you. You're smart, too. You're the type of guy who really needs this offer, but wouldn't go around telling everyone if you decided not to do it. Plus, you're not married. Nobody to go and agonize over the decision to. No wife that I have to worry about whether or not you told. Men tell women everything in bed, and you're not getting laid." He laughs, then goes serious again. "You do what you got to do to survive, Jake. These are tough times."
Who could argue with that? The cops? The preacher? I hadn't been to church since the layoffs. The cops and preachers had jobs, anyway. Their arguments were meaningless.
"Why do you think I kept taking your bets? I cut off everyone else a long time ago."
"I did wonder that."
"This is a career opportunity, Jake. And it might be your last fuckin' one."
"I'll do it."
Gardocki nods. He tells me he'll pick me up later and we'll go for a ride. He tells me to wear nice clothes. He hands me five twenty-dollar bills.
I walk out of the office and get back in my car, not with the heavy heart of a man who has agreed to compromise all his values, but with the soaring high of a man who has gotten a job.
"Here's how it's going to work," Gardocki says.
We are at La Cocina, a pricey Italian restaurant nearly a half-hour from town. I haven't had a decent meal in months, and I'm paying more attention to the menu than to anything else around me. I can't believe my luck. This morning, I woke up expecting another day of nothing, and tonight I'm at a classy restaurant having gnocchi appetizers and a bottle of Merlot.
Excerpted from SINCE THE LAYOFFS by IAIN LEVISON Copyright © 2003 by Iain Levison
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
What can I say about Iain Levison--I LOVE this guy! He can take an average Joe and make him into a hired killer, have him take out not one, not two, not three, but four separate individuals, not to mention a dog, and still love the poor guy. If you're looking for a fun and quick read with characters that make you laugh out loud, then this is the book for you. How to Rob an Armored Car, another book by Levison, is an equally funny and enjoyable read, and both are good books to pick up when you've overdosed on heavier, serious material. Levison also has a fantastic ability to point out and poke fun at the ridiculous nature of entry level, minimum wage jobs, the career supervisors in these fields that take themselves and their respective companies far too seriously, and the poor shlubs that try to eke out a living at them.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.