We met in kindergarten. I don’t remember how exactly it happened, but all three of us were in different classes, so it was probably at recess. We stayed best friends all through high school until we graduated, and went our separate ways to college. Jimmy stayed in Los Angeles for accounting, Toby went to UNLV for mathematics and I went out to Riverside to get a degree in business because I was completely lost in my life and no other major seemed appealing.
After four years, they were both out of college and working, Jimmy at an accounting firm and Toby was working with a company that analyzed research data or something, and I was still in Riverside taking just enough classes to get financial aide and doing just well enough to not fail. They both moved back in with their parents and commuted to work, and on some weekends they would come out to visit me and relive their college days.
After five years and one quarter it was finally time for me to graduate, and since my parents had moved to Florida after my fourth year, I had no home in California to go to. It was Toby’s idea to get a place together so we didn’t always have to drive to see each other. It was a good plan, but I had no job so I needed to fix that before I could go along with it. Toby tried to get me hired at his company, but their need for people with business degrees was slim, and I honestly didn’t follow through as much as I could have.
I ended up finding a job on the internet working at a mortgage firm. It was as entry level as there existed at the time. I didn’t even get my own cubicle. All I had was a desk, a phone, a computer and a locker. Toby had a cubicle, Jimmy had his own office, but I had a locker. The job paid me fairly well, so I didn’t exactly mind the lack of privacy. It made for easier fraternization with the other greenhorn mortgage workers, a group which included several attractive females and that definitely was a bonus for my fresh out of college mind.
We lived in a four-bedroom apartment, which technically made it a condominium, but we couldn’t explain the difference to anyone when we used to call it that, so we stopped. It would go something like this. Someone would compliment our place, say it was great, say how much they liked it, something like that. One of us would then give an interesting tidbit of information about the place; the year it was built, how much the rent was, the fact that it was technically a condominium because of the split levels, or the ground level patio. The person would then doubt the fact that those were distinguishing characteristics between apartments and condos, which would lead to an un-winnable debate which ended when we would waste time pulling out our lease where the domicile was referred to as “the condo,” and an awkward silence would follow. Truth be told it often ruined the beginning of several potentially entertaining social gatherings which had become weekly occurrences once we all started hating the drone of the nine to five lifestyle. Unlike school, every day for the working-man is the same, or at least it was for me.
I would wake up between five and ten minutes after my alarm clock and debate whether or not I would call in sick because I was tired, then I would convince myself to get up and get ready. Since I woke up late every morning, I never had time for breakfast. It was a sacrifice I had to make if I wanted to make it to work on time. Without college all that matters is money. There are no tests or projects you are responsible for. You show up, punch the clock, work, punch the clock and go home to get enough rest to do it all over again the next day.
I couldn’t stand the idea that the previous twenty-three years of my life had served only to prepare me for paying rent and affording food. I let it stew for a long time. I decided we needed change. We didn’t need something bigger as big things usually end up exploding or something like that. We just needed something else. This is when I started looking for another job. The market was not that ripe for recent graduates with three weeks experience and a strong desire to leave their first job ever, so I had to find some other way to shake things up.
I started bringing liquor home every day. I figured all the best things in college were inspired with alcohol in one form or another. It is a social lubricant and a light bulb above your head at the same time. Toby hated his job as much as I did, so he was drinking with me on the first night when I explained what I wanted to do with the booze. It took both Toby and I a solid twenty days to drink and plot how to bring Jimmy into the nightly alcohol inspired brainstorms that were somehow supposed to relieve the monotony in our lives.
We were all sitting in the living room bored and drinking about a month after Jimmy joined us when it came up. “So I was listening to talk radio today,” Jimmy loved Danny Bonaduce but rarely mentioned him by name due to some Partridge Family phobia, but since Jimmy didn’t listen to any other talk radio, it was understood that its mention was synonymous with the Danny Bonaduce show.
“Wait.” Toby said. “I need to get a beer.”
“What do you mean wait? You’re just going to the next room.” Jimmy flipped his head towards the kitchen, which began where the tan living room carpet met the black and white checkerboard linoleum; a distance of ten feet.
“I hate missing the front of the story, then I’m confused the whole time, just wait.”
“I’ll just talk loud so you wont miss out.”
“But what if I have to pee while I’m up, then I’ll miss the front, then you motherfuckers will be laughing too hard to explain the trivial shit that happened at the beginning, and I will feel left out, but then you will explain it, but by then…”
“Ok,” Jimmy conceded, “but get me a beer too. And Greg.”
“Greg, do you even need a beer?” Toby called from the refrigerator. It wasn’t a large unit, but the beers at the back were always the coldest and Toby’s slight frame could easily be lost behind the door when he leaned all the way.
He was already on his way back. “Yeah, mine is done,” and he glared at me a bit through is box-framed glasses, turned and headed back to the fridge as I shook my beer near my ear to signify that my beer was indeed done and needed replacement.
Toby sighed deeply as he buried his head back into the fridge. He slid his socked feet along the floor, dealt the beers out to Jimmy and I and flopped back onto the couch. “So, you were listening to Danny Bonaduce today?”
Jimmy hit the story in stride, “Yeah, and this lady, a publicist, was yelling at Danny because her client died.” Jimmy started snickering. I couldn’t follow the joke, and apparently neither did Toby. Jimmy’s big brown head slumped down as his snickers subsided and he regained his composure.
“Sorry I made you wait to tell that one. Fuck, well at least it was short and bad.” He turned his back to us, putting his right foot right on the couch cushion so he faced the TV. Jimmy shook his head at Toby and the corner of his lip jumped a bit to show his right incisor before it reformed a smile and he went on.
“No, that’s not the whole story. She was blaming Danny, because her client was a fan, and Danny had him in a death pool.”
I sat up. Pools of death had always interested me. “Death pool?” Toby stopped sulking, but still pretended to not listen.
“Yeah, like, a fantasy celebrity death league. Where the most deaths gets you the most…”
“Yeah, rotisserie death club. I get it. We need one, a big one, with lots of people.” I looked at Toby again. The leg that was still on the floor was shaking, but his back was still turned. “Toby?” He spun his head around so quickly I wasn’t sure if he could stop it. “What do you think?”
“What’s the buy in?” His eyes were mag-lights, blinding. Toby was a gambler. He always was wondering about pot-odds and payouts and whatever else is involved in that stuff. We were all into gambling, we all played poker through college, always went to Vegas together, hit the tables, did the standard guys night out stuff, but Toby was always the one pulling the all nighters after the clubs and bars.
“The buy in is whatever we decide,” Jimmy explained, “We make the rules, make the lists, invite our friends, charge a fee, and less our operation costs, the winner takes all.”
Toby turned all the way square to us, his beer now on his lap inside his lotus clasped hands. We all saw a fun way to kill time and poke fun at celebrities; Toby saw the quick buck, the jackpot, and the dollar bills. He had the look. The look he always got when we began our descent into McCarran Airport when he would stare out the window and have the lights from the strip hotel-casinos fill all available sensory receptors. “Winner takes all. So the more people we get in on it, the more money the winner gets.”
“That’s the idea,” Jimmy said, “but second place gets nothing.”
“Yeah, yeah, second place gets nothing.” Toby looked at the floor
“I’m confused though,” I spoke up. “Why celebrities? I mean, don’t you guys think that’s a bit weird?”
“Well, you remember back at Condit they had the Cow Plop?” Jimmy was referencing our elementary school.
“Yeah, you buy a square on a grid and if the cow shits in your square you won the money.” Toby never seemed to forget a way to gamble.
“Do you remember Greg?”
“Yeah, the cow shit.”
“Well, why would anyone bet on a cow shitting on the ground?” Jimmy was right.
“And plus, they’re celebrities, they make all of their money off of us, why not have a little side game on them?” Toby made a bit less sense than Jimmy did I thought, but he certainly had a point. He went on. “If anything, we are increasing their celebrity because at least them dying might benefit somebody, right?”
Jimmy sensed that I was losing interest. “Look Greg, celebrities do make an insane amount of money as Toby says. How do they do this? They exploit the public, that’s you and me.”
“I guess.” I shrugged a bit.
“Well, in return we exploit them. We have tabloids, talk shows, trade magazines, behind the scenes features on DVDs. We follow them around and take pictures of them living their lives like their sole purpose in life is to entertain us. When is one time that nobody is making a big deal about as far as celebrities go?”
“Uh, when they shit?”
“No man. Well, yeah, fuck that’s kind of gross, but I mean reasonably, the one thing nobody ever mentions about celebrities is when they are going to die. Everyone mentions when so and so will break it off with so and so, or who is pregnant and who the father is, but nobody sits behind a desk and says, ‘you know who I think will probably die next?’ That could be us. We are completing the cycle man.”
“I guess.” I wasn’t exactly apprehensive, but I was curious why they seemed so excited about it and I was barely beyond indifferent. Maybe it was my waning appetite for gambling in the same room as Toby’s exploding one. Either way I had no problem with it. Getting it up and running and recruiting players would definitely fill some time for me while I wasn’t at work, and could definitely be a great conversation starter with the ladies.
Jimmy could probably tell that I was done thinking because when I finish thinking I have a tendency to shake my head when I realize I have been sitting in silence and get a bit self-conscious. He broke the silence, “You in?”
Toby answered first and yelled a bit, although the yelling was probably unintentional, “Yeah!”
“Me too.” I looked at Jimmy and he raised his beer can as if making a toast. I turned my head to Toby who had done the same and I followed suit.
“To the death pool!” Jimmy said.
“The death pool!” Toby and I repeated and we all took a swig, and that is how what would later be called Celebrideath International began, although it would not get this name for a couple years.
That night we stayed up drinking at the thrift-store card table that served as our dining room deciding the rules for the pool. We first figured out general logistics of everything. We decided that it should be web-based to minimize the paperwork that we all hated thanks to our entry-level junior-executive cubicle jobs. Jimmy took the lead on the website design and maintenance. Since I was the business major specializing in sales, it was my job to build and track the participation in the pool and keep my eyes open for any opportunities or difficulties that may arise from the pool and its participants. Toby was the most enthusiastic about building up membership, so my role in that capacity was slightly diminished by his desire to get more people in so the winner could get more money. By the time we hammered out all the details, the sun had come up we were all to tired and drunk to go to work so we called in sick and went up to bed.
The pool works like this: entrants are invited to our website by one of us or by word of mouth, and register for the service. There is a nominal fee for this, it’s a one-time thing and you pay it on the spot via credit card and you’re registered for life. This is the first bit of our data entry process, it has the normal questions, then some basic legal stuff in case you win, and it all has to go into the computer as soon as possible. At first Jimmy wrote a computer program to do this step for us, but it had too many bugs, too many problems, so we had to start doing it old school, row by row, column by column, inefficient but nostalgic; labor intensive but secure.
After the original registration, you get to the contest page with all the rules. Essentially you pick ten celebrities, for every one on your list that dies between the time you pick them and 11:59pm EST on December 31st of that year, you get a certain number of points. The person with the most points at the end of the year wins the entire prize pool, which increases throughout the year.
The points are awarded via a formula, which is thankfully a computer spreadsheet. To keep it simple, we explain the formula instead of displaying it. The lower the age, more famous, more tabloid covers, better general health, more accolades and fewer people that pick them, the more points you will end up with if they die. No points are awarded for near death experiences, extreme illnesses or anything else that does not end in death before the end of the time period. A perfect pick would be a young Oscar winner who has a sports drink sponsorship, a famous girlfriend who might be cheating on him and a new blockbuster scheduled to open. The hardest part about the pool was the general question, “is this person a celebrity?” We solved this problem by simply forming a celebrity verification board, consisting of the three of us; majority rules.
Every entrant’s picks had to get entered into the computer weekly. Every time the news about a celebrity changed, the formulas had to be updated. After the Grammy’s, Tony's, Oscars, Golden Globes, Woodies, scream awards, after the ESPN Awards, after the Internet news awards, after anything, the formulas each needed to be updated. We had to subscribe to the globe, national enquirer, u.s. news and world report, entertainment weekly, we had to watch CNN, fox news, Oprah, everything. It was a modest commitment when we had ten entrants, an hour per night tops.
The pot was small for the eventual winner, our neighbor Mark who was still in school and had only played because we wouldn’t let him drink with us if he didn’t. His total take was four-hundred and twenty dollars. Being a college kid whose father paid his tuition, rent and credit card bills, this much cash was foreign to Mark.
Strangely enough it was Mark’s idea to hit Vegas the night he won. It was a Friday and we all wanted to celebrate the first successful go-around for the death pool, so a weekend with the boys was perfect, especially since Mark was springing for the room. Toby drove his car and what should have been a five hour drive from our condo in L.A. only took three and a half. We pulled into the parking lot of the Imperial Palace just before eleven and Toby jumped out, threw his keys to the valet and said, to no one in particular, “I’m going to go check on roulette, I’ll meet you guys at the room.”
He walked inside with his hands in his pants pockets. The automatic doors slid open and the smoke from inside seemed to swallow him. The rest of us watched him walk in, then looked at each other and shrugged. It took us thirty minutes to check in and another thirty to haul our luggage up to the room. It wasn’t much, just a backpack for each of us and we left Toby’s in the car, but walking through a packed casino with two other guys wearing backpacks is kind of tough.
We would get knocked by almost everyone and Mark was a bit paranoid about being pick pocketed. It was only his second time in Vegas, so it was understandable especially with all the cash he had in his wallet.
I was the first one to be ready. The great thing about Vegas is that there is no last call which means the clubs don’t exactly close, the people keep partying until the party is over and a place is always open as long as there are people spending money in it. I went to find Toby while Jimmy and Mark got ready.
I found him almost right away, it wasn’t very hard in a casino. Toby had this energy about him when his money was at risk, a certain mojo that seeped out of his skin like some sort of noxious gas that made everyone around him almost as crazy as he was. When I hit the casino floor I simply looked for a crowd of cheering people which is how my attention was drawn to the roulette table right in front of the bar.
I was thirsty, so I bought a drink. This is usually a no-no in Vegas for me because they literally give drinks away if you are gaming, but I was not in the mood for gambling with Toby, or I should say, my wallet wasn’t able to keep up with him.
As I sipped the seven dollar vodka red bull I turned to the table with the crowd and sure enough there was Toby, still dressed in the clothes he wore to work, and the entire drive out there. The tie was loosened and his black medium length hair was wild, but it was definitely going to be his outfit for the evening.
I squeezed through the crowd of people, mostly onlookers attracted to the chanting and cheering, and grabbed Toby’s shoulder as I talked into his ear. “Hey man, we made it into the room. They’re getting ready to go to a lounge or a club or some shit. You almost done here?”
He turned to me and had a grin to match his hair. This was the look. The one in cartoons where steam comes out of the ears, the one Toby gets that I have come to recognize and refer to as “The” look, and not just a look. He did not hear a word I said. “What? Where’s Jimmy and Mark?”
“In the room. We’re about to go to Caesar’s. You with us?”
The roulette dealer announced no more bets and Toby stared at the wheel and started yelling for black.
“Come on black! Come on even! Come on second twelve! We need twenty-two baby! Come on twenty-two!”
The ball stopped on twenty-two black. Toby pumped his fist first to the dealer, then turned to the crowd. “That’s what I’m talkin about! Wayahayeah!”
The crowd cheered, I cheered. I was standing too close, he was starting to get me into it. I yelled, “Toby!” He snapped out of it briefly, and looked at me as if I had just arrived even though I had been standing there for at least two minutes, it seemed as if he hadn’t noticed me until just then.
“You up?” I talked the gambling lingo with him to try and get him to listen better.
“Yeah man, up about four-hundred.”
“In only an hour? Fuck, good shit man!”
“Yeah! Where are the guys?”
“Are you kidding? You just asked me that.”
“Well, I guess I couldn’t hear you…”
“Yeah, let’s go.” He colored his chips up and put them into his pocket. At this the crowd dispersed and we walked back to the elevators. Toby looked confused.
“I thought you said Caesar’s.”
“Yeah, but we gotta go up and get the guys.”
“Couldn’t you have waited to bring me to Caesar’s until we were ready to go to Caesar’s?”
“We are going, we just need to get the…”
“I’m going to check out the craps game. When we go to Caesar’s, get me,” and he left. I rode up the elevator and walked back to the room. Jimmy was ready and Mark was tying his shoes.
“You find Toby?” Jimmy was watching TV, but he was talking to me.
“Yeah I found him, he’s up four hundred.”
“Four hundred? Already?” Mark’s eyes were wide.
“Yeah, he’s down on the floor still. Said to grab him on our way over to Caesar’s.”
“He isn’t gonna change?”
“Guess not. He didn’t want to come up to the room.”
“Greg, does he have the look yet?”
“Yeah. It’s pretty bad, but he’s doing well.”
“Great. Mark, let’s go.” Mark gave his shoe a final slap on the toe of his shoe and jumped up to follow us. We went down to the floor again, but couldn’t find Toby right away. There was no crowd, no cheering.
Jimmy started to get impatient. “Where the fuck is Toby?”
“He said something about craps.”
“Mark, go look for Toby at the craps tables.” Mark walked off. Toby could have gone over to Caesar’s, I wasn’t sure though. I bought Jimmy and I a drink to give us something to do while we waited for Mark to come back from his recon mission.
“Not at craps, blackjack or roulette.” Mark was out of breath.
“He probably went to Caesar’s, let’s just go.” Jimmy said as he walked away from the bar and towards the front door. I shrugged at Mark and we followed Jimmy over to Caesar’s Palace.
After an hour, Toby had not showed up. Not like he knew where to find us, but this bit of logic seemed to escape Jimmy. While Mark and I threw back shots and stared at pretty women, Jimmy only broke his cross-armed pose to nurse his beer. At around four in the morning, we all decided to call it quits. Actually, Jimmy decided, and Mark and I weren’t sure we could find our way back to the proper hotel, let alone the right tower, floor and room number, so we stuck close by him.
I blacked out on the way back to the room, but when I woke up at noon I had a terrible headache, and there were only two other people in the room. Toby was missing. I washed the bar sweat off my face and neck and headed down to the casino to look for Toby.
Again, there was no crowd, no target, no center of attention, no place to start looking for Toby, but he had to be close. I got a four dollar water at the bar and walked around looking for Toby. His favorite game was “Let it Ride,” but I couldn’t find that table, so I just walked in expanding circles.
Sure enough he was at the let it ride table. I sat down next to him and bet the minimum. He was still dressed in yesterday’s clothes, except now the sleeves were rolled up just past his elbows which held up his abdomen at this point. He barely acknowledged me with a nod. It looked as if he had a long night.
“Hey.” His voice was just barely more than a whisper.
“How much are you down?”
“Yeah. How much did you lose when you were supposed to be hanging out with us?”
“I’m up almost ten thousand MOTHERFUCKING dollars!” He jumped up and held his hands out like the fonz.
“Shut the fuck up ten thousand dollars!” He laughed again and slid his hands forward and back through the air as if looking for a double low five. I gave him a single high five and a hug instead. “Did you eat yet?”
He was feverish with excitement. Tricky bastard had me thinking he bet his car and lost, and here he was up four almost two months salary. “No man, let’s find a fucking buffet, I want some pizza.”
We went and ate and he told me all about his all night bender. He told me about the craps table, the poker room, the blackjack table and even the slot machine he pulled while waiting in line for the bathroom. From what he told me, he spent all night impervious to losing anything, and had ten grand to show for it. The look did not leave his face the entire meal. After we ate, we went back to the room and he passed out.
The rest of us went to the pool and took some sun. Jimmy didn’t believe my recounting of Toby’s night, and Mark was just amazed. He kept asking kid questions while I was trying to re-tell Toby’s story as best I could. I felt like I had won the money the way Mark looked at me. It was like I was explaining how I single handedly slew a dragon, Mark was enthralled, he didn’t lean back in his barcalounger once the whole twenty minutes I spent talking.
When we returned to the room, Toby was gone again. It was no big deal, with a streak like that, you got to push it as far as you can. The night passed without incident, although it is worth noting that Jimmy wasn’t nearly as upset, and Mark and I did not get nearly as drunk. When we woke up on Sunday, we had twenty minutes before checkout and Toby was missing again, or still. We packed up all of our things and tried to pack Toby’s as well, but we couldn’t find anything of his.
Mark went to the front desk, and Jimmy and I wore our backpacks on the casino floor again as we searched for Toby. Jimmy saw him first at the video poker slot machine. He pointed, “There.” Toby was wearing the same clothes he wore when we showed up on Friday. His hair was beyond control and he sat the exact same way he was the day before when I found him. “This doesn’t look good.”
“Don’t worry about it. He was sitting like that yesterday too man. Probably knows we’re coming for him, wants to fuck with us a little bit.”
“I don’t know man. He’s not even moving.”
“Well, lets go find out.” Jimmy seemed reluctant, slowed down. “Fine,” I said, “I’ll go talk to him, you go get Mark and the car.” Jimmy hurried off towards the front desk and Mark. I walked over to Toby. When I got close, the dealer looked at me and spoke.
“Your friend?” He motioned towards Toby.
“Yeah, what’s going on?” Toby was motionless.
“He’s sleeping. Been here for half an hour.”
“Oh. Shit man, sorry. We’re heading home now.”
“Very well sir.” I shook Toby and he stirred a bit, but wasn’t totally awake.
“Hey man. Toby, wake up, we’re leaving.” He stood up, although felt like he was still half asleep the way he leaned on me. I half carried him all the way to the car and he passed out right away on the back seat.
“I guess I’m driving,” Jimmy said. Five hours later we were back in our garage at the condo, and Toby was still sleeping. We left him in there and went inside to sleep; me on my futon, and Jimmy on his queen sized mattress without a box spring or bed frame. It had been a long weekend and we’d had enough of each other.
Within three years, things got big. With the website and the internet, the word got out, and like all secret things between friends that are as awesome as this, the word was good. We got page hits in the six digits, entrances in the quadruples and the prize pool was huge. I got a bizarre phone call at work. It was a restricted number, and I don’t pick up restricted numbers, so I let my voicemail get it. The message went like this.
“Good afternoon sir, this is Daniel Cohen calling from Catch ‘em All Exterminators. I’m phoning you to discuss a possible business proposal for your website, please call me back at your earliest convenience. Thank you.”
I didn’t know exactly what to make of it. What possible business proposal could this man have for me regarding my website? What business could exist between an exterminator and some post college kids’ website exploiting the agony of famous people’s death? I was curious to say the least. I called him back right away.
“Mr. Cohen? This is Gregory Smith from the death pool site returning your phone call.”
“Ah, Mr. Smith, that was very prompt, how are you today?”
“I’m good, although very busy, what can I do for you?” I wanted to make the phone call short because I was at work and the phone policy was strictly for business only, and not just any business, but company business. The phones were for sales calls and canvassing only, not for personal use, and certainly not to look into the advancement of outside enterprise.
“Well Mr. Smith…”
“Greg. You can call me Greg.”
“Very well Greg. Well, you see I represent a worldwide conglomerate of exterminators.”
“A worldwide conglomerate?”
“Yes sir, you see we manage a database and a focus group for exterminators of all type and every size, and my job as business manager is to get our name out there to as many people as I can.”
“Ok.” This was taking too long.
“Well, we’d like to sponsor your website.”
“The death pool website?”
“Yes sir, you see it’s along the same lines as our business. We both capitalize off of the public’s need for death.”
“Mr. Cohen, I don’t know if our website does that exactly…”
“Greg, you are a business man I trust.”
“Yes I am.”
“Then hear me out. We want to give you money, and in return, we’d like some mention on your site.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“Well, we’d like to match your prize pool up to fifty thousand dollars, and in return we’d like a banner on your home page and a special provision to our namesake in your rules.”
“I’d have to discuss it with the board.”
“I understand Greg.”
“I will let you know as soon as possible. Could you go ahead and fax that offer in writing?”
“I sure could. Hope to hear from you soon Mr. Smith.”
I hung up and got back to work. Ten minutes later, my boss Mr. Reyes was standing at the open end of my cubicle, his wiry three piece suited frame only filling half of the small fire exit slash picture window slash foyer to my office space that I could not walk through without brushing one side or another.
“This a fax for you Mr. Smith?”
“Yes sir I believe it is.” I reached for it, but he pulled it back. He held it over and behind his shoulder so I couldn’t reach it.
“This doesn’t look like company material here Mr. Smith.”
“Well, it’s not sir, it’s…”
“Personal. I noticed.”
“Well sir, I can explain. It’s just that...”
“Mr. Smith, you know our company policy regarding company property for personal use, don’t you?”
“Yes sir, I do and this was a mistake…”
“Then lets not let this happen again. Understood?”
“No sir, of course not.”
“No it’s not understood?”
“No! I meant no it wont happen again sir.”
“Have a nice day Mr. Smith.” He walked off with the fax. I needed that thing. I got up and went after him down the row of cubicles.
“Yes?” He stopped and turned towards me, folding the fax and holding it behind his back this time.
“Do you think, since I’ve learned my lesson that I could maybe have that fax that was accidentally sent to my office instead of my home by a client of mine who is also a friend?” He smiled. An odd display of emotion given the situation, but a smile is never a bad thing.
“You’ve got some gusto don’t you Mr. Smith? Do you really think I should give this to you?”
“Sir, it was an honest mistake made by a careless friend. Please.”
“To the daring go the spoils Mr. Smith.” He held out the fax and I snatched it, mumbled a thank you and ran back to my cubicle. I stuffed the fax into my briefcase without reading it and finished up my work for the day.
I called Jimmy on the way home from work but he couldn’t talk because his company had a similar policy on personal vs. company time. I called Toby as well, but he didn’t pick up.
Jimmy got home a half hour after I did. “Hey, what’d you call me for? You know I can’t pick up my phone at work.”
“Yeah, I know, but it was important.”
“It was important? What was it then?”
“This guy called me. He wants to sponsor the pool.”
“Sponsor the pool? How does someone sponsor the pool?”
“Well, that’s what we have to figure out. His company is prepared to match our prize pool up to fifty thousand dollars.” I looked at Jimmy’s face, it looked like he was doing math in his head. His eyes were shaking as if they were following a ping pong match in fast forward.
“Damn. Fifty thousand dollars? Damn! What are the details? What do we have to do to get this money?”
“Read the offer.” I slid him the fax and he flipped through it.
“Oh, they’re giving the pool fifty thousand dollars, not us.”
“Well, I’ll think of something simple. I thought we were getting paid here.”
“Doesn’t look like it.” Toby walked in from work, still dressed in his short sleeve shirt and clip on tie.
“Whoa it’s serious!” He looked at us confused. Jimmy and I were sitting across from each other at the card table instead of our usual spots on the couches. Jimmy tried to explain.
“Not really man, just some stuff about the pool.”
“Oh okay.” Toby turned to climb the stairs, but I wanted to pick his gambling brain for a bit.
“Hey man, when do you think the winner should get paid the prize pool and a bonus?”
Toby stopped and looked over the banister at me. “Well. How about if their entire list is cleared?” Jimmy’s eyes snapped towards Toby then back to me. He looked surprised.
“That’s not a bad idea. The Catch ‘em All bonus pays anyone an amount equal to the total entry pool when their entire list is cleared in any year.” Jimmy looked again to Toby who was still standing with his elbows on the railing. “Good thinking man.”
“I’m hungry.” Toby said. “Someone should order pizza.” He was looking for a complimentary meal to thank his brilliance. Jimmy was still excited about this new rule.
“On me!” He stood up and went to get the phone book from our fourth bedroom which was where we kept our computers and other general office supplies. Toby went upstairs to change and I phoned the guy from the exterminators to leave a message.
“Mr. Cohen this is Gregory Smith from the Death Pool website. We are going to go ahead and accept your offer. I will fax you our proposal in the morning.” Jimmy walked back in around the middle of the message and gave me kind of a disgusted look, the look where his face wrinkles in every possible spot and his eyes almost close.
“What man? Why are you fucking with me while I’m doing business?”
“The Death Pool website?”
“Yeah. I was calling the guy who…”
“I know, but it sounds like shit. It can’t have a name that just describes it.”
“I run a death pool website. ‘What’s it called?’ It’s called the death pool website. ‘Oh.’”
“Ok, I see what you’re saying, but what should we call it?”
“I don’t know. We’ll figure something out.”
“Maybe the pizza will make Toby’s brain work.” I turned my head to see if Toby was close enough to hear the jab, he wasn’t.
The next morning at work, I faxed Cohen the details of our offer and he called me to accept. “Mr. Smith, oh, uh, Greg, hello.”
“How are you sir? Did you get a chance to look over our offer?”
“Yes I did. Very impressive. We happily accept.”
“Great. We’ll be making the adjustments very soon, and I will let you know when you can take a look at the finished product.”
“Wonderful. You guys seem to have everything figured out. That was very quick.”
“Well, we’re a small unit and we make up our minds fast.”
“Well thanks again Greg. I hope to hear from you soon.”
“No Mr. Cohen, thank you!”
“Yes, you’re actually our first sponsor.”
“Greg. I’m not actually paying any money unless some lucky player gets their entire list.”
“Yes, this is true.”
“Well, other than that, I’m getting free advertising for my company on the mandatory literature on your website.” He was right. We missed that fact in our excitement. That was my mistake. I’m the business guy. I thought I’d try and save face.
“Yes sir, we’re aware of that. We weren’t sure we could charge for advertising until we could demonstrate our website’s traffic.”
“Yes sir, your company is a test case to sell advertising space to others.”
“Oh, well in that case thank you Mr. Smith.”
“And again I say thank you Mr. Cohen. We will be in touch shortly.” He bought it. Did he buy it? Wait, that’s actually not a bad plan. I was happy with myself. Perhaps I did learn something in college. I had to call Jimmy and tell him the news. I dialed and he picked up, but didn’t say anything. I listened, it sounded like a bunch of old men talking. I kept trying to get his attention.
“Jimmy! Are you there?” There was no response. Finally there was rustling and a whisper.
“Don’t call me anymore at work you fuck,” and the phone went dead. I sat there, at my desk staring at my cell phone when Mr. Reyes walked past.
“Smith, is that a company phone?” He reached for my phone.
“Oh no sir. There was no call. I was merely making sure my phone was on silent so as not to disturb any of my neighbors should my parents call from Florida.”
“Well, is everything alright in Florida?” He crossed his arms across his unbuttoned suit jacket.
“Last I heard, yes. But my parents are old, things could happen.”
“I see.” He turned his head up and pressed his lips together, squinting at me behind his glasses. “Well,” he nodded his head yes for some reason, “carry on then.” He walked down the row towards his office.
This was just the beginning. I thought it was big before the first sponsor, but soon our sponsorships and running budget was a six figure deal. They never taught giant budget management in school. Well, for all I know they might have on one of the days I missed, which, over the five years totaled up to about four years.
The pool consumed us. With all the emails to field and numbers to crunch and silly web-sponsors to deal with and research to do, we started taking time off of work to stay caught up. Our cut for the maintenance fees stayed the same percentage, which was never actually declared, but we were trying to keep it honest. I hated my job, so I was always the first to volunteer to call in sick to fix the problems.
Not to say there were always problems, but with the traffic the site was pulling in, there was just stuff. I can’t even remember it, it was all small insignificant stuff, but there was usually something worth ditching my desk for. To be honest, Toby should have helped out a lot more, but he couldn’t be bothered with the internet programming stuff, so he mostly just let me or Jimmy know when something went wrong.
Jimmy was the one with the important job. His accounting degree landed him a pretty sweet office, so if push came to shove, he could work on the pool from work. He would just close his office door and use his cell phone with the hands free. This eventually led to trouble because as the site got bigger, more things needed to be done. If more things needed to get attention from the site, the less actual work got done, and for any company, this is a problem.
Some days Jimmy and I would both call in sick and work insane hours to keep the site up to keep our sponsors happy to keep our site running, to keep our current customers happy and playing and telling their friends about us, which would increase traffic and lead to more cash from the sponsors which would of course lead to more money for us and the potential winner and the cycle spiraled outward and upward.
We both lost our jobs. Jimmy got put on probation first, and he tried to work harder, tried to teach Toby how to do what he should have been doing, but it didn’t work out. Jimmy got fired fairly dramatically. He never gave us details, but he came home one day at lunch while I was having another run of “the fever” and he locked himself in his room.
Toby and him shared a wall between their bedrooms. When Jimmy was locked in there, I couldn’t hear anything but Toby said there was enough yelling to wake him before his 3pm alarm clock, and when he was awake he heard pounding reminiscent of sex, but Jimmy was alone, so we could only figure Jimmy was beating up some solid object in there with his bare fists, which was strange for Jimmy as he was more or less a pacifist. Whatever happened in there, Jimmy came out the next night right before dinner in the same clothes he went in there with, and was normal again.
My firing was considerably less shrouded in mystery. It was two weeks after Jimmy’s melt down, and even though he was working full time on the site, there was a bunch of new applications to run through and enter into the system, so he needed me to stick around and do it. I called in to work and the woman at the front desk, Martha put me right through to the big guy. It was the first time I didn’t have to wait on hold to speak to him, he might have been expecting my call, or he might have been picking the phone up to call someone else, I don’t know, but he picked up before it could ring. He almost yelled into the phone.
“Hi, Mr. Reyes, this is Greg Smith, from subrogation.”
“Smith, what are you doing, calling in sick?”
“Yes sir I am. I had some bad sushi last night.”
“I sure did sir, my stomach is feeling a lot better now, but I was up all night sitting on the toilet, and well, I think you know the rest sir.”
“Smith, I am not calling you a liar, get that straight. But I’m looking at your records and it seems as if you have been having a run of… well, a run of the runs.”
“Quite an anamoly sir, I’m not happy about it either.”
“Right. So either you’re an idiot and keep eating awful shit and paying the price which means you don’t learn from your mistakes, or you’ve got a weak stomach. Let me ask you something, where do you see yourself in three years Mr. Smith?”
“I can’t answer that.”
“Why not? I am asking you honestly, forget that I’m your boss for a moment and answer.”
I laughed, “Sir, if you asked me that three years ago, I would have answered honestly and been completely out of this world wrong, so I try not to think that far in advance.”
“I can’t imagine an answer that would please me any less than that. You see, when we hired you we saw a young fresh mind bent on showing up and showing off and to say you hit a plateau would be far more generous than I am willing to be.”
“I think I get your point.”
“You’re probably laughing about this with your buddies. This isn’t a joke son. If you don’t start taking your life seriously, it is going to be a miserable one.” He went silent for a bit, probably trying to think of a way to rephrase what he just said. “You’re fired Smith.” He succeeded. I knew I was fired when Martha sent me over to him, or I suspected it. It was no big deal, the pool was profitable enough to support me, and big enough to keep me busy. “I’ll have someone box your shit up and leave it at the security desk.”
“Got it. Thanks for all the good years.”
“You don’t get it yet do you Smith? You don’t have a job anymore.” I hung up. I got bored and he was only going to repeat himself. I never went down to the office to get my box of stuff. I had moved all the important things out long before they put the axe to my neck.
Toby never really saw any of the bad side of the site. He got his share of stress but it only came from his work friends who were also his gambling friends who he brought into the pool and his precious job was a “crucial step in his career that cannot be jeopardized to keep up with some silly hobby.” We never argued with his unwillingness to help out with the site as much as we did since we took most of the maintenance fees, and the few times he stepped in and helped us, he was so careless that it ended up making more trouble for us to fix the next day, so we just let him do his own thing, as long as he paid the rent we were fine with him. We were all best friends with or without the pool, and all he wanted to do was play and win, so it wasn’t even an issue. And since he brought new players from work and his side games, he was generally in good favor with us.
Jimmy and I were working full time on the site. We had nothing else to do since we were both officially unemployed, but by the end of the year it was even too much for the both of us. Perhaps not too much for us, but definitely more time and effort than we were willing to put in. I cam up with an easy solution for every business minded individual, an intern: Mark from next door. He had a rich dad and was somehow still in college and still lived next door, and we told him we would wave his entrance fees if he worked on the site for us. We paid this guy five hundred dollars a year, and undoubted resume building experience for thirty hours a week of monotonous and relentless shit and he idolized us for letting him in on the game. College kids are bizarre.
The pot was huge before we knew it. It reached an all time high in March, and we still had a good four months of “rush” to go through. There was never a rule to allow for a second place prize, so when the first place hit $50,000 we capped it and started skimming. It was an awful thing to do, but Jimmy and I felt entitled after all we had lost for the benefit of this stupid goddamn death pool. We were at least smart about it. We mixed it in with the sponsorship money, spread it out over some investments we had, bought some real estate for our newly formed non-profit corporation called Gamblers for Responsible and Ethical Gaming, incorporated it, and named ourselves CEO and CFO, to make sure that all the money we were donating to gambling addiction went to the right research institutions and things like that; just your basic umbrella front organization with a heart.
It wasn’t that serious, our money laundering. Since Jimmy was an accountant, he did all the tricks and all that was left to do was decide where to sink the money. I had the choice since I was always considered the money guy, or at least the saver. Jimmy was great with math and computers and numbers, Toby had the whole spending thing down, and I was just the person who always had the rainy day sock full of twenties to bail us out of whatever jam we got into. The take we pulled off the top of the prize pool was just sock money.
Toby lost his job at this point. We couldn’t blame the site for certain, but we gave him some money too, since we were all technically in it together, and we were making him share his bathroom with Mark who had failed out of college and moved in with us full time after his dad cut him off. Toby didn’t want to work anyway. With all the money talk floating around the apartment, he was always trying to find a poker game to mess around with. His new dream was to become the next big shot on the professional poker scene.
All he did was watch that shit on TV and read the books and go out to play. He bought a second computer so he could play online at two different poker sites at the same time, he stopped showing up for the weekly celebrity verification meetings, stopped showing up for dinner. We put Mark from next door on the board, so that was no big deal, but there was something aside from business that we were concerned with.
It was his new fascination that made him lose his job. We weren’t exactly surprised. What really confused Jimmy and I was how Toby reacted. Right before he lost his job, he would go on gambling pushes like anyone else. He would drive to the Indian casino on a Monday night after his shift and not come back until after his shift on Tuesday. It was either the gambling or a lady we decided, but since Toby never mentioned anything about a lady, we just figured, based on his past that it was the gambling.
When he didn’t have a lot of money, his success gauged his habit. The more he won, the longer he stayed. He would be gone a couple days, come back with pizza and tell us stories; or he would be gone a few hours, come back and flip on the TV without saying a word. After he lost his job, he would always be gone and rarely would he bring home pizza.
The home stops became less and less frequent and lasted for shorter amounts of time. It got to a point where he was home for a couple hours a week, and only to shower and eat, snap a joke at Mark, and then head out again. He wasn’t bringing overnight bags or anything with him, just what he was wearing. Then one day, we noticed that it had been two weeks since anyone had seen or heard anything from him.
Nobody said anything about it, until the day the man came by the house. He knocked loud, which startled all of us, since nobody who knows us knocks, they just walk in. “Get the door Jimmy.”
“Man, who is it?” Jimmy turned his head towards the front door and yelled, “Who is it?” There was no answer, but whoever was there was still there, because they knocked again. It sounded like this person was kicking the door the way the wood creaked and snapped back into place.
Jimmy and I got up at the same time and headed over to the door in the middle of the third barrage. Jimmy through the door open and I stood behind him, as I am considerably larger and more intimidating when I stand behind a small guy. The man outside was large, very large and his leather jacket squealed when he put his arms behind his back to try and look relaxed, a gesture that was nice, but after the beating he put on the door, I knew better than to think he was a Jehovah’s Witness or something.
“Hey,” Jimmy said, “Do you need something?”
“Yeah, I’m Al. Big Al”
“Yes you are.” I said. This man was a giant. He had a bald-head and one of those tough guy goatees that was perfectly black. He seemed to fill the doorway with his leather jacket and dress slacks and had this confidence about him that was fairly intimidating, but in a non-violent sense.
“I’m lookin’ fer a guy named Toby, he lives here right?”
“Something like that, Al,” Jimmy explained, “he pays rent, but he hasn’t been around in quite awhile.”
“Oh yeah?” Al crossed his arms in front of his chest now and leaned back. The jacket shrieked.
“Yeah,” I chimed in from the back, “he spends all of his time these days in…”
“Card rooms.” Al had known me for less than a minute, and he was already finishing my sentences.
“Yeah, poker rooms. Sports books too actually. He hasn’t been around in a couple weeks at least.”
“Well, if I was him I wouldn’t come home neither. If he shows up or calls, give him a message for me.”
“Sure Al, we can do that.”
“Tell him I came by, and tell him to get in touch before he gets touched. Get it?”
Jimmy’s head dropped straight forward. “Al, how much is he into?”
“A hundred large.”
“A hundred thousand dollars? Does ‘large’ mean ‘thousand dollars?’” I was not trying to be funny, but Al smiled a bit.
“Yeah. It means a hundred thousand dollars. And the juice has to start on the first.”
Jimmy anticipated my confusion, “juice is interest.” I nodded him off like I always knew what juice was, he spoke to Al again, “yeah, we’ll let him know Al. You got a card or something?”
“Nah kid, I ain’t got a card.”
“Yeah Jimmy, Toby knows how to get a hold of him. How else would he be seventy grand in the hole?”
“I like ya.” Al smiled again. He looked me up and down and had this grin on his face. I had never been to prison or anything like it, but I had the strange inkling that Al was enjoying this visit a bit too much.
“Alright,” I was nervous. Al’s eyes were getting glassy, “We’ll let him know. See ya Al.” he lingered for a bit, winked at me, then walked back out towards the street, leaving Jimmy and I alone with our thoughts.
“Fuck.” We sat down on the sofas in the living room. “What now?” Jimmy was turning white, onion white. When he gets nervous he changes to this color and talks a lot, when he gets scared he just turns this color, he wasn’t talking very much. “What now, Greg?”
“I think we need to sleep on it, or get out of the apartment to get a beer or something.”
“Yeah, beer sounds good. Where’s Mark?”
“He’s in the office, he’ll be okay by himself, unless big Al comes back.”
We drove down to the pub and got a beer. I am convinced it is the only pub in North America to have the E! Channel on at least one TV at all times; the perks of living in Hollywood are strange. Before we could finish our pints we saw the first report on TV. Colin Ferrell had died of a drug overdose while shooting his newest film in Silverlake. It was going to be a busy night of answering emails and updating the formulas, so Jimmy and I headed back to the apartment to make sure mark wasn’t drowning.
By the time we got home Mark was running around the apartment in his socks and boxers. “Did you guys hear?”
“Yeah, Colin Ferrell died, going to be a busy night for us.”
“Colin Ferrell died too?” His face was completely flushed red.
“Yeah, O.D. What do you mean too?”
“Gwyneth Paltrow is dead?” Mark smiled like it was Christmas; two deaths in one day. We were sick.
“Yeah, the guy from Coldplay found her dead in their mansion.” We spent all night answering emails and updating the standings on the website. We worked non-stop until right before sunrise and hit the hay. When I woke up at three in the afternoon, the apartment was still dark. It was raining. There was a rustling in the living room. I went to check who was still working and I saw Toby packing a bunch of stuff into his backpack.
“Toby, this giant man came by yesterday looking for you.” I startled him a little bit. He looked up from the pile of laundry he was sifting through.
“Shit. Sorry, I didn’t know he would come here. You don’t have to worry about him, I got it taken care of.”
“Toby, he said you owed him a hundred thousand dollars.”
“Well, that’s cuz I owe him a hundred thousand dollars, but I told you, I got it worked out.”
“Toby, where the fuck are you going to come up with a hundred thous…”
“I said I got it. If he comes back, you haven’t seen me.”
“Greg, let it go. It is under control.” And he left with the backpack full of clothes. I woke up Jimmy.
“What the fuck man?” he pulled the blanket over his face, “let me sleep.”
“Toby was just here.” Jimmy didn’t move for a second, and then he sat up in bed.
“Like, Toby is here now?”
“No. Like he was here and he ran out and he is gone again.”
“Did you tell him about Al?”
“Yeah. He said he had it under control.”
“Did he have the look?”
“The Toby look. The 10am Vegas Toby at the blackjack table look. The look.”
“I couldn’t tell. He was just throwing shit into his backpack, and he told me to relax and he ran out the door.”
“Ok. Well, I’m going to go back to sleep.” He lay back down and pulled the blanket up over his face again.
“Jimmy. Look or no look, something is cooking man.”
“Just give me one hour. You should take a nap too, there’s probably a hundred more emails to go through, so do those or go to bed, but get out, I’m tired.”
“Whatever man. Sleep it off then.” I went to look at the emails, about a hundred stupid ones from people gloating about having picked Ferrell or Paltrow and how genius they were. Mark was in the office when I walked by.
“Greg, check this out.” He was still in his socks and boxers. I walked in.
“What is it?” he was pointing to the standings.
“Toby jumped big time last night. He picked both Paltrow and Ferrell. He’s up to third place with only three celebrities left alive.”
“Nice. I think you were the only one of us to ever win it Mark.”
“Yeah, the first year. Nobody has even come close since.”
“Yeah. Well, alright, I'm going back to my room to finish checking these emails, get some sleep.”
I went to go take a nap like Jimmy said. It was a good idea. Lately we had been under a lot of stress and with the big Al incident and the double death, I needed some time to just be asleep and not care.
I woke up around dinnertime. Jimmy and Mark were downstairs on the couches watching Access Hollywood. When I walked in Jimmy looked right at me. It was only a bit strange, I didn’t know if we were going to have a talk, or if I looked like I felt. It was the former.
“What is Toby?” Jimmy was not making sense. I was Greg. Toby had left hours before.
“Look.” He turned his eyes to the TV. I grabbed a seat on the couch next to him.
“Abe Vigoda was found shot to death in his car outside of NBC studios today.” The reporter announced. “Authorities are seeking this man who witnesses placed at the scene.” The composite sketch came up. It was Toby.
“Shit.” I sighed and looked to Jimmy who was staring past the TV. Mark was silent on the other couch. “What is he doing? This is fucked.”
“Abe was on his list. He’s got two more on there and he gets the fifty thousand from the exterminators.”
“Alright, who else does he have?”
“Chuck Norris and Jonathan Lipnicki.”
“Well, what do we do? Call the cops?”
“I mean, yeah, we call the cops.” Jimmy was so matter-of-fact. I wasn’t so sure about turning in a lifelong friend.
“Really? I think we can do better than that. They’re going to fuck him up.”
“Greg. He is murdering people.”
“You don’t know that. It could just be a coincidence, maybe he is a key witness or something.”
“Greg. Toby is gone. He is murdering people. Important people. Celebrities. This is totally fucked.”
“I don’t believe it. Toby doesn’t have murder in him. He’s never even been in a proper fight.”
“He was in that one at Kelly’s”
“He got jumped by four guys, he didn’t even throw a punch.”
“Look. I’m calling the police, that’s it.”
“Do what you want, I’m going for him. You don’t turn your best friend since Kindergarten in to the police man. You know he wouldn’t turn on you like that.”
“He would if there was a fifty-thousand dollar reward.”
“No. I’m just saying, he’s doing this for the money. The Big Al money.”
“Look, you might be right, but if it’s all the same, let me try and talk to him first.”
“Alright man, but if I don’t hear from you by midnight, I’m on the phone.”
“Do what you got to,” and I left. This whole thing was completely fucked.
I could not stop my thoughts as I drove to Hollywood. “Toby gets caught he goes to jail, best friend gone. Toby goes to jail they will have a trial, calling into question his motive. Big Al will be upset for sure. He knows where we live. The death pool is gone. Me and Jimmy will have to get jobs again, that’s awful. Mark will have to go back to school, or get some garbage job delivering pizzas or some shit. Shit.”
I did the smart thing: I bought a map of the stars off some street vendor. I knew Toby pretty well. He was more of an opportunist than a narcissist, so Chuck Norris was probably not his next target; not with a child as the other option. Lipnicki lived about twenty minutes from where I bought the map. I got there in 15 and drove around the block a couple times to look for Toby’s car, it wasn’t there.
I started thinking again. “He’s not here. He didn’t do it. If he did it, he would be here waiting to kill this kid or running around in the bushes. If Toby is up to what we think he is up to, he would be here now. He had like four hours to get here.” I had no clue what was next. I drove around the block and lost myself in thought. Essentially trying to psych myself into acting or going back home and letting Jimmy play rat.
After five or six rounds, I left. Drove back down towards Sunset Boulevard. I stopped at the red light. It turned green, but my foot couldn’t switch pedals. It stayed jammed onto the brake. It boiled over. I smashed the steering wheel with my hand.
Back at the apartment, Jimmy and Mark were still watching TV. Either they didn’t notice me when I walked in, or they were ignoring me. I sat next to Jimmy again.
“Find him?” He still wasn’t looking at me.
“No. I drove around Lipnicki’s block for an hour. Didn’t see his car.”
“What’s that mean?”
“He called from the police station right after you left.”
“What? Why the fuck didn’t you call me?”
“I figured I’d let you stew a bit.”
“Why are you still here then? Shouldn’t we be…”
“Waiting for the lawyer? Yeah. That’s what we should be doing.”
“Oh. Well, shit man.”
“Well, you were so gung ho save my best friend Toby, I figured I’d let you work out all your shit.”
“Work out my shit? Man, how are you gonna sit around and watch TV when your best friend is out on a fucking nutso binge? Maybe you should work out your shit.”
“He was gone man. He was way out there.”
Jimmy finally turned to look at me, “Dude. There is other shit to worry about. Toby is nicked for murder. Probably 3 murders. Triple murder. That’s a fucking killing spree. Toby is sitting in jail right now talking. Toby is telling them how he made Collin Ferrell snort heroin that he thought was coke. He is telling them about how he broke into Gwyneth Paltrow’s house and shot her while she was in the bathtub. He is telling them how he walked up to Abe Vigoda’s car while he was stuck at a parking gate and shot him in his fucking head. He is explaining to them why he got hung up on the fence in Lipnicki’s yard with the gun that killed the other two people in his front fucking pocket.”
“And they are asking why he did it. Do you know why he did it Greg?”
“No. Well, yeah, but no.”
“The fucking death pool. Our fucking death pool. This little thing we’ve been doing for the past five years instead of work.”
“Wait. Why is Toby talking if his lawyer isn’t here yet?”
“His lawyer is there. His lawyer has been there. We are waiting for our lawyer. We have a bit of a shit storm to deal with.”
“Well, yeah. Yeah man.”
“Fuck.” This was it. I was right. The pool was done. The lawyer got there and told us not to say anything. He prepared us for the other lawyers, the suits. They were going to come in and probably take our computers, ask us a bunch of questions, basic investigation type stuff. The lawyer left. It was just the three of us again.
Jimmy broke the silence. “Maybe I can get my old job back.”
“I can’t get mine back. I guess I have to get my resume together.”
“Make sure to leave off the whole complicit to premeditated murder spree thing.”
“Hey guys,” Mark stuttered, “What about the sock money?”
“What sock money?”
“How do you know about the sock money? How do you know we call it that?”
“Well, I do most of the work around here. Not much that goes through here that I don’t touch.”
He was right. He did most of the work around here. Smart kid for a college dropout. “What else you got Mark?” Jimmy looked at him for the first time in a long time.
“Well. How long do you think it’ll take to get those computers confiscated?”
“I don’t know. Why?”
“Sell the pool before it gets fucked officially.”
“No.” I was the voice of common sense here. the only sane one in this apartment. “Let’s just stick to the sock money. Jimmy, do you think it can work?”
“It doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to the Gamblers for Responsible and Ethical Gaming Inc.”
“Is it going to work or not?”
“Fuck I don’t know man. I mean, it’s not connected to the pool except for you and me being in both. But it doesn’t do shit. It’s a tax shelter.”
“Well, use it to shelter us. I am not getting a job.”
Somehow it worked. Jimmy, although rude was apparently a genius with the books. The sock money paid out. We didn’t tell our lawyer, he probably wouldn’t have been into it, and he didn’t ask where his retainer and other payments came from, he just cashed the checks. The pool didn’t end up getting banned thanks to him; great lawyer. They let the pool continue as long as we included the clause disqualifying anyone suspected to be involved in the death of a celebrity.
We were done with the pool at this point however. We sold it and split it up four ways, using Toby’s quarter to pay off his lawyer and putting the rest in some account Jimmy set up for him so it would be available, tax free should Toby ever be released from prison. Jimmy and I actually began to run the Gambling Addiction non-profit, using Toby as our case in point. Mark, of course, stayed on as our assistant, we arranged a paycheck for him finally, although with his cut of the pool he could have easily retired.