Selling Out — Part I

A pale, silvery moon hovers overhead, partially obscured by a few ebony wisps of cloud. Through an ornate bay window draped in shadow and flanked by slender pine trees, a man can be seen counting money. His mustached mouth moves silently as he plucks packets of bills out of a brown leather briefcase, flips through them hurriedly, and lays them down on the beige couch cushion next to him. From time to time he casts a furtive glance over his shoulder toward the front door, but most of his attention remains fixed on the bundles of cash in his hands.

A fierce north wind picks up suddenly, the pine trees outside the window wave back and forth, and something metallic, perhaps a garbage can lid, crashes to the ground. The man jumps up from his spot on the couch and rushes to the window to see if someone is outside. After surveying the yard for a minute or two, he scurries into the foyer and checks the front door to make sure it is still locked. Apparently satisfied, he lets out a long breath through pursed lips, and returns to the couch and the piles of cash.

Several minutes pass without any further commotion. Then, just as the man reaches into the case for the last packet of crisp, tightly wrapped hundred-dollar bills, there is a sharp clicking of heels on the front porch and then the unmistakable sound of a key grinding into the lock.

The man’s head snaps around to stare at the door, and he scrambles to stuff the cash back into the briefcase before the newcomer enters the house. In his haste, he drops several of the packets onto the floor and has to bend down and fumble blindly for them even as his eyes remain glued to the front door.

He doesn’t make it. He is still clutching three or four bundles of bills in his hands when a pale, freckle-faced redhead glides out of the black night into the lamp-lit foyer. She is wearing a shimmering green evening gown, stiletto heels, and a string of pearls around her throat, and her delicate china features bear a preoccupied and distraught expression. Even so, as she drops her keys back into her tiny designer purse and takes a few steps into the living room, her flashing blue eyes instantly light on the cash that the man is trying to conceal in his fists and the leather briefcase he is holding closed with his elbows.

Her eyes flicker from the money to the briefcase and then up to the man’s face, and there is a moment of expectant silence. At last she realizes that he isn’t going to explain himself without a little prodding. “Jack?” she says. “What’s going on?”

Jack swallows, shrugs. “Nothing much.”

The woman takes another step closer to the couch. Now they are no more than ten feet apart. “Nothing much? What’s all that money you’re holding? And what’s in the briefcase?”

Jack ignores the questions and instead glances down at his watch. “I thought you said you’d be out until midnight. It’s not even ten yet.”

The woman sets her purse down on the coffee table, and appears to be momentarily distracted. “Erika and I had a bit of a…disagreement.” She plants her hands on her hips, and her voice hardens. “But don’t try to change the subject on me, mister. What are you up to?”

Another pregnant pause. Finally Jack says, “It’s nothing. I just made a–a little business transaction, that’s all.”

The redhead crosses the living room in three long strides, taking care to circumvent the thick Persian rug in the middle of the floor. She stops short as she reaches the couch, and Jack flinches involuntarily. But she doesn’t lay a finger on him; instead, she reaches down and flings open the briefcase. Her eyes widen. “Little? There must be, I don’t know, a hundred thousand dollars in there! At least!”

Jack opens his hands and lets the sweaty bills fall into the now-open briefcase. It is a gesture of surrender. “I guess I might as well spill my guts. You would have found out, sooner or later.”

TO BE CONTINUED…

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