Don Shea Don Shea, Writer & Editor
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Chapter Five

     Cal paces in a small, windowless room lit by overhead fluorescent lights. Three steps, turn, repeat. Over and over. The room contains a folding metal chair and a desk with an electric clock, note pad and pencil, his address book, and a phone. The ten ounce tumbler of tequila, mercifully provided by Roque, sits empty.
     I am not a bad person, he is thinking, and he is trying to muster evidence to support this, stalling, really, because he has a little time now, and he does not yet want to think about what he finally must do. And because what he must do in the end will make him feel bad about himself, it is important to establish in advance that he is not truly, not completely, a bad person, so he is compiling a list of good things in his mind, achievements, qualities, helpful acts. The awards he won at Harvard, for example, all those math and music prizes in a single year, and how he never cheated at backgammon, never took deliberate early losses to up the stakes, the oldest ploy on the circuit, never welshed on a gambling debt (until last night). Or consider his work for animal rights, most animals being equally or more deserving of rights than most humans he has met, and the half dozen stray dogs and cats he always cared for even when he had no money, like the current bunch at Deanna's loft which includes Archimedes, Von Neumann, Nagel, Laplace — those are the dogs, and the cats are Boole, Babbage, and Birkhoff.
     And there were other things, human things, such as his fierce devotion to Corey in their early years and after the accident that killed their parents (although he knows there are those who would argue that no good boy, no decent boy, would ever under any circumstances lust after his own twin sister).
     And there were creative things, the computer program he wrote, following Chomsky's theories of generative grammar, that poured forth elegant, surreal poems, and the rock songs he helped score for Deanna's band. And Deanna herself, how he tended to her rapacious needs, almost always rising to the occasion, the next sexual challenge she presented. And things from his childhood, bright with anxious promise, so many times he had delighted and charmed with quick wit and careless grace.
     All of which brings him back to square one, which is to say, if all of this is true, how is it that he finds himself locked in a small room in a foreign country at the mercy of terrifying people who make their own rules? And the answer, of course, (again, no denial here), is his condition, his disease, his biological status as an alcoholic and addict who lacks the requisite endorphins in his blood chemistry, the proper balance of natural opiates, and is thus driven to sedate. (And here he agrees with the foolish Doctor that his problem is at root a true disease with a broadly predictable pathology but he does not agree with the foolish Doctor's totally unimaginative conclusion that the logical next step is to cure the disease through abstinence, rather than to cultivate the disease, to protect it, to adapt one's life to it successfully, which is admittedly — total honesty now — something he has failed to accomplish so far).
     But the fact of this condition or genetic predisposition does not mitigate the terror of his present circumstance or the conclusion, already reached on some primal level, that there is nothing for it but to call Corey.
     And wasn't Roque kind, he thinks, to give him the tequila? He feels a burst of gratitude toward Roque, a rush of warm feeling. And having finally opened the issue of calling Corey in his mind, he feels, as well, a physical rush of relief. What he must do is avoid telling her how much he needs. What he must do is get her to indicate how much she can give him — well, really loan him — without ripping her life apart again. That's the important thing. And if it's not enough, if it's not the full amount, then he will find a way around it, some way to finesse the balance.
     He glances at the clock. He has been through his address book twice. There are two or three people still in there who might loan him a thousand or two, truly not worth the trouble to call. There was no reason to wait any longer.
     He picks up the receiver.
     "Roque? I need a line. I want to call New York."
     The call goes through and three minutes later it is over. Roque brings him another glass of tequila and watches with a kind of tenderness as he drinks with greedy haste.

     At one o'clock, Roque brings him to Herr Schmidt's office and Cal lays out his proposition. He speaks with urgent intensity for several minutes. He evidences sincerity and resolve.
     Herr Schmidt considers what Cal has proposed. He sighs.
     "Well, Herr Cross, I am a gambler, as you know. At the present time, you are a small loss to me, a small, bad taste in my mouth. So. I will gamble with you once more. When your $30,000 arrives, I will give you the phone number of an associate of mine in New York. I think one month is enough time for you to have something for me, no? And then we will see."
     "Plenty of time, Herr Schmidt, you won't regret this..."
     "But of course I must also consider that you have been dishonest Herr Cross, and that when you are in New York you may again forget your obligations. I am wondering if Roque should not, perhaps, break one of your fingers, simply to..."
     "I assure you, Herr Schmidt, please, I...that's not..."
     Herr Schmidt smiles his crazy gap toothed smile.
     "Well. Perhaps it is not necessary."
     The muted bell dings again. Herr Schmidt turns toward his computer screen. He speaks with his back to Cal.
     "Roque will give you the bank and the account number for the money transfer. When this money arrives, he will drive you to the airport. Do you have funds for a ticket?"
     Cal shakes his head, and sees Herr Schmidt's round, beaming face, reflected in the smoke tinted window behind his desk, register mild disgust. Then Cal sees himself reflected — unshaven, mouth twitching, eyes like Christmas bulbs, his white cottons hanging from his body like filthy rags.
     "So. I will advance you these funds on account. Good luck, Herr Cross. And do not return again to Zihuatanejo to play Backgammon. Or to Acapulco. I play there as well."



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