“You should be the one telling me how much I should give you.” She lets out a small laugh.
“Right.” I’m terrible at this.
“I’ll give you a million cash. You’ll have thirty days to return it or they’re mine. Those are the terms I’m comfortable with.”
“Do I want to know what my husband paid for them?” My eyes run over the beautiful jewels. They really are breathtaking, but still at the end of the day it is only jewelry. We’re talking about my brother’s life. There should be no question or hesitation on my part, but there still is. Because Con gave them to me out of love and it’s a hard pill to swallow that I’d so easily give them up.
“He must love you.” Her response puts me somewhat at ease. She thinks I’m trying to leave Con and she’s trying to talk me out of it.
“I know he loves me.”
She looks over to Layla, who gives her a nod. “I’ll get the bills since you have your own security who has brought a gun into my store.”
I don’t miss the pointed look she gives Layla. It has no effect on Layla though. She only shrugs, offering no apologies. I feel as though a weight has been lifted from me knowing that Ms. Meierotto is about to give me what I need to save my brother. Yet the guilt that replaces it feels almost as heavy.
“I hope you know what you’re doing, Abby,” Layla says seconds before Ms. Meierotto comes back into the room with one of her men. He places the bag, which I’m guessing has the cash, onto the table.
“I’ll just need you to sign these papers, agreeing to the terms of this and we’ll be all set. You’re more than welcome to count the money.”
“That won’t be necessary.” She slides the paperwork to me, along with a pen.
Layla walks over to the bag. “Is it all in hundreds?” She unzips it as Ms. Meierotto says yes and looks for herself. Then she picks it up. “Feels right,” she replies before dropping it back down.
I read it quickly, checking that the amount and terms are correct. When I’m done, I pick the pen up and sign my name on the dotted line. Hoping that I’m doing the right thing.
If the words Athletic Club conjure up a certain image it’s most likely accurate. It’s all dark wood paneled walls, overstuffed leather club chairs with nailhead trim, dim lighting and cigar smoke. Oh, and dicks as far as the eye could see. The only women are the wait staff dressed in short maid’s outfits complete with the white frilly aprons and little caps.
“Why the caps?” I ask Wright.
“No clue, man. It’s been this way since I joined. I guess some old geezer thought it was hot. He was probably diddled by his nanny and that’s skewed his whole hot barometer. They look weird, not gonna lie. Most of the time, I want them to take it off.”
“Maybe that’s the whole idea.”
Wright contemplates this for a full second and then begins to nod. “Damn, you might be right. Never thought about it that way. Mostly I try to avoid looking at them because you know they hate it here so I try not to make it worse for them.”
“You’re a decent guy, Wright.”
He pats his chest. “Damn straight I am. When’s our guest coming?”
I check the time. “Should be any minute. I don’t know why he’s late. We’ve got money and usually these vultures can’t wait to be around it.” But, as I’m saying this, Gregory Marks’ lanky form appears behind the manager.
I rise from my chair and Wright follows suit, smoothing down his tie and then pinning his championship smile on his face. “Marks, my man,” he booms, holding out his arms. “About fucking time you showed up.” He draws the slight man into his embrace and then pounds him—literally beats Marks’ back until Marks starts coughing. “Sit. Sit. Something wrong? You got a cold or some shit? Hey, George, maybe we should get this dude a mask.”
“No.” Marks tries to escape Wright’s hold. “I’m good. Really.”
Wright looks skeptical and I try not to laugh. “Okay, if you’re sure, man, but we are a full service club here, plus I can’t get sick. Worth millions. Hero to the city.”
“Man of the year,” I interject. Wright had been put on the cover of a national magazine with that title.
“Man of the year,” he repeats in a loud voice. Some of the club members hear him and echo the phrase. There is even some light clapping.
Then we both look expectantly at Marks, who finally mumbles quietly, “Man of the year.”
“You need to work on your vocalization,” Wright chastises lightly as he takes his seat. “So I hear you’re running a cryptocurrency scheme,” he adds in the same loud voice.