Chapter 1

The Deal

Chapter 1 – Blinds Posted

It’s a little before midnight, and I’ve finally decided to call it quits. Two thousand two hundred seventy seven dollars richer, I’m walking home through the streets of Chicago. This isn’t the Chicago everyone sees on TV. It’s closer to the modern version of John Dillinger’s Chicago. These are the nighttime streets of McHenry County, and I’m walking back to my apartment alone with a wad of cash in my tattered old messenger bag. My converses kiss the damp pavement with each step; apparently it rained while I was at Catherine’s. The bottoms of my jeans are already torn up because they are just an inch too long and always manage to sneak under my shoes. I can never find pants the right length. The moisture from the pavement gradually seeps into them, making them a darker and darker shade of blue.

The lamp posts coil up toward the gray slate sky, probably searching for the stars behind that smoggy countenance. A car alarm goes off somewhere far to my left. Everything seems to vibrate along with the rhythm of that incessant beeping, despite it being infinitely distant. I take ten more steps, and it’s quiet again; the alarm has been silenced. Yellow light sits heavily at increments along the pavement, cast down from the inquiring lamp posts. The yellow isn’t bright, beautiful, or sunny. No, it’s that vomit kind of yellow that everyone hates. The buildings along the street curve out and away from it as they rise, no doubt disgusted by the color. A bus floats by me, teetering left and right, like it’s on the verge of tipping. I hear the fatigue of a single mother, going home after the late shift at her second job, permeate through the bus windows. It lingers around me as I walk, taunting me. It would take that poor woman three months to earn what I just earned in three hours.

I live cheap. I don’t buy nice clothes, or many nice things. I don’t have a flat screen television, and all my furniture is second hand. My carpet is tearing up, and the paint on the walls of my apartment is chipping. It gets obscenely hot in the summer months, but I don’t want to pay the electric bill that comes with a window air conditioner. That is the apartment I have to look forward to as I make the right turn onto my street. Lynch Ave., the sign mocks me. I stop for a moment to stare at the sign. I don’t say anything. I just think it, because I know it can hear my thoughts. I’ve saved up over three hundred thousand dollars working and playing poker. I turn twenty one tomorrow. I’m quitting my job, and I’m buying a first class airplane ticket to Las Vegas. The sign shrinks away, defeated. It knows that it won’t be seeing much more of me. This street, this city, thrives on weak hearts and lost souls. Degenerates and failures roam around these alleys at all hours trying to find their way. They howl into the night, desperately searching for some respite, even if it means floating down the River Styx. I am not one of them. I know where I’m going.

I reach into my bag and grasp the lanyard at the bottom. The white lettering against the purple background reads Northwestern University. I earned a college degree at one of the top institutions in the country so I could play poker for a living. My parents would be so proud of me. A degree from Northwestern in communications leads to a position as the marketing director at a prominent publishing firm. That, in turn, leads to a consistent, substantial cash flow toward my poker bankroll. Managing to get that degree and landing that position at age eighteen means I have little to no expenses. Each motion I make now is motivated by these thoughts. I turn the key.

I take a step into my apartment and shut the door behind me. It sends a small gust of air into my body as it thuds into place. I turn the bolt to lock it. I reach for the light switch to my left, but before I can flip it, the lights flash on. I see figures rising up from behind my couches and crawling out from behind the walls and corners of my apartment. They all have wide grins on their faces, taunting grins, sickeningly happy that I’ve fallen into their trap. I break out sweating immediately and stumble back into my door. I can’t escape. They’ll be on me by the time I turn the bolt in the opposite direction to unlock the door. I’m trapped. Then I hear it, a collective yell.

“Surprise!”

My heart stops accelerating, and I let out a sigh of relief. My sister bounces toward me, wearing the biggest smile I’ve ever seen. Her gorgeous mahogany hair decorates her shoulders, perfectly accenting the dark green strapless dress she’s wearing. She is the most beautiful woman I know, perfect in every way. She stands five feet nine inches tall without heels. Her stomach is flat and taut, and she has long defined legs that glisten in every kind of light. She is the center of attention, and catches the eye of every man, through no real fault of her own. Her hazel eyes are doing a fiery salsa right now. She knows she got me good, and she’s absolutely thrilled about it.

My sister and I lost our parents in our early teens. It was the typical story they use in the driver’s education classes to teach teens not to drink and drive. Except, in this case, the children didn’t die, the parents did. My sister and I immediately clung to each other. She has been my rock throughout my entire life, the only real family I have left. There’re always aunts, uncles, and cousins, but the bond with them doesn’t come close to resembling the one I have with her. And, she decided to reaffirm that bond by throwing me a midnight birthday party for my twenty first.

“Are you surprised? Oh man, I got you! Admit it! Big confident card shark, never surprised by anything, always knows what’s gonna happen.” She lets out a triumphant laugh.

“Alright, alright, I admit it. You got me. This is incredible sis. I can’t believe you pulled this off. You’re the best.” I smile and give her a hug.

“Ok, say hi to all your friends. Then cut the cake and change. The limo will be here in half an hour, and we’re gonna party downtown all night!”

“Limo? You can’t be serious. This must’ve cost you a fortune.”

“You’re not the only poker player in the family ya know, just the only one who never spends any money. Plus, I have the boobs to distract all those guys at the table.” She pushes her breasts together and lifts them a little, then turns and bounces away into my living room.

I follow her, walking toward the cake in the middle of the room. I am greeted by my close friends, Katie, Barry, and Marshall. They take turns giving me hugs and kisses on the cheek, congratulating me on this monumental occasion. There are about a dozen and a half other people in my apartment. I know them all, but none of them are terribly close friends. Each of them congratulates me as well, giving me a pat on the back, or whatever gesture he/she finds appropriate for the moment. Katie, Barry, and Marshall are all wearing their nice “going out” outfits. For Katie, this means looking like a classy slut. She has on  tight jeans and silver striped heels. She has a see through lace top and a frilly Victoria’s Secret bra underneath. Ok, maybe the word “classy” is giving her a little too much credit. Barry and Marshall are wearing gray and black suits respectively. They never wear ties when going out, and they have on their alligator leather dress shoes. We all went to buy our dressy shoes together, and they decided to get the alligator skin. Why not? They’re all smiling at me, and I’m getting more excited with each second that passes by.

I quickly blow out the candles after they sing. I cut the cake and go into my bedroom to change while they talk in the living room. I shut the door and push the little button next to the glass knob to lock it. It’s not really glass. It’s that glass-like plastic that they make doorknobs out of in vain attempts to make them look fancy. I slip off my shoes and throw them on my shoe rack. I keep it in my bedroom just because it’s more convenient, easier to get dressed in the morning, and I never have to worry about finding my shoes because I took them off somewhere and forgot. The carpet is soft, and the fibers snake in between my toes. I can feel the bottoms of my jeans giving my feet cold, sloppy, wet kisses. My carpet is a very light blue, gentle and subtle. I flick on the lights and see it contrast against the darker, overbearing blue my jeans have become. I unbutton them and labor to slip out. Tight jeans make me look good, but they can be very uncomfortable. I sit down on my bed after getting them down to my knees, feeling the pillow top cover hug my butt, holding it in all the right spots, just like a mother holding her new born child in her arms.

I grab the bottom of each pant leg in turn, pulling them down and off my legs. I hang my jeans on the edge of my closet door and start sifting through the clothes hanging in my closet to figure out what I’m going to wear for the night. I feel a cool breeze caress the backs of my thighs. I spin around on my heels, not because I’m scared, but because it’s fun. I see that I apparently left one of my windows open this morning. There are three long vertical windows on that wall of my bedroom. The middle is about three feet wide, and the outer two are half as much. The windows are half the height of the wall, but sit vertically centered, equal margins of wall spanning out from the top and bottom. The middle window is slightly open, and I can see the screen rippling from the breeze. I usually remember to shut them before I leave for work in the morning, but I have forgotten before. I suppose this was just one of those mornings.

I walk over, still pants-less, grab the edge of the wooden casing for the glass pane, and slide the panel down until it thuds in front of the screen. The breeze is gone. I begin to turn and walk back toward the closet, but I catch the light from the window glinting off something on the floor. I bend down to look closer and see a three of diamonds floating upon the fibers of my carpet. It sits lightly, like a gleaming red feather, barely kissing the top of each thread it touches. I don’t know where it came from. I am now hunched down, sitting on my haunches, staring at this card and periodically blinking like a curious animal. I’m not thinking anything, and I don’t know why. I snap out of the momentary trance after a few seconds, pick up the card, and set it on my end table. I am a messy person, and I usually have cards on me. I probably just dropped it, and it got blown toward the window or something. Maybe it was stuck to the bottom of my foot or shoe. I have more important things to concern myself with anyway. My sister and friends are waiting. I quickly slip on the only suit I own. It’s a cheap one hundred fifty dollar ensemble I picked up at JCPenney, but it looks nice enough. I slide into my Good Will second hand Florsheim’s and walk back out into the living room.

I’m in downtown Chicago now, after a long, champaigne-laden, inebriating limo ride.

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