No Pride Among the Wounded

Greg Anderson cut a sad profile of humanity as he sat slumped in his easy chair. The same one he had been seated in that day so long ago, when his wife had announced breathlessly, "The doctor confirmed it this morning honey...we're finally going to have a baby," He had leaped up, held her tightly and kissed her lovingly....inarguably the proudest husband in the small residential conclave of Madison Heights at that moment. Now, his greatest happiness was all but a memory - only the discolored ice remaining in the glass in his hand, offering but the vaguest evidence of his very last bottle of bourbon. How had it come to this? As if he needed a post mortem!

The gambling had started shortly after Debbie was born. Nothing major just the usual suspects. Trotting, greyhounds, big-time horse racing, all of which were "retired" from the game-plan once he got a taste for the poker machines. At first he fed them casually. Loose change - then the odd five and ten dollar note. But they were always hungry and he couldn't bear to see them suffer. Thus twenties and fifties became part of their regular diet and when that didn't seem to quell their seemingly insatiable consumptive urge - it had to be his entire pay-packet. Well, he could hardly watch them nudging starvation could he? On the occasions they returned him a pittance, maybe $200 or so, his faith in the Gods of gambling was restored - had not they promised him that big pay-day...and soon?

The home was re-mortgaged, though his wife never knew. Two hundred and fifty-eight grand - a king's ransom to be sure. Shame he never took the time to check out the hostages - a young wife and a (then) ten year old daughter. You'd be surprised how brief the acquaintance with just over a quarter of a mill can be, when you're talking compulsive gambling disorder. Greg Anderson found out - the hard way. So what does a man do when the cash-pool runs dry or in his case, to stone-cold fossilized rock! Yep, you sign on the dotted line ...whatever...whenever. Forty percent? no problem!

If there was an upside to this tale of a wasted if not disenfranchised and potentially great script-writer, it is that his income somehow managed to stave off that final denouement. He still lived in the home although the Bank now owned nine-tenths of it. The crippled paper boy that smiled up at him from his small trundle board on the corner of Fourth and Rickard as he collected his nightly headlines, was about God's only creature he didn't owe money too...and there was no guarantee how long that situation might remain even.

Could things worsen? A dumb contemplation at the best of times and for Greg Anderson, pretty much par for the course.

Both cops were expressionless that night as they had told him there had been "a serious accident" on the Madison Heights off-ramp of the local Interstate. He had no need to ask "How serious?" He didn't even enquire as to the identity of the 'victim.' He heard more words but none of them translated meaningfully in his head. Jenny had mentioned not two days earlier that the two front tires were smooth - he hadn't had any free cash to give her.

Debbie provided him now with the one thing that absolutely nothing else in his life did. A reason to live! Eighteen now, she was a stunningly beautiful young girl and this was no alcoholic exaggeration he knew. Shoulder-length light brown hair that curled up naturally, framing an exquisitely pretty face. Perfect unblemished skin. pale blue eyes, the merest 'application' of eyebrows yet with impossibly long lashes. Her designers were a shoe-in for an Oscar he figured. Little more than five three, she probably looked slightly younger but carried an air of total innocence that indeed reflected just how it was. She was still his little girl, womanhood was queued-up just around the corner and there it could stay for all he cared! Her school work showed a keen intelligence and willingness to learn - she would yet prove his own existence to have had purpose, despite his every other seeming failure.

For several months now he had been skating on thin ice, four weeks ago it had caved-in big time! With gambling debts mounting, utilities close to disconnection, school fees unpaid and myriad smaller bills playing 'follow the leader,' he had pulled down a twenty grand loan from a 'friend of a friend' principally to buy some time and to seek professional help. The "help" he had gotten, the monthly repayment - he hadn't!
Jack Bernstein wasn't the kind of guy you call up and say "Hey Jack, about this week's payment...." You tended to either 'have an accident' or 'disappear' trying that one on.

Having checked to make sure Debbie was upstairs and way out of earshot, he dialled Bernstein's number. Just two rings.

"Yeah?" Not a man to waste words.

"Anderson here Mr Bernstein, Greg Anderson. Just calling to tell you......" Bernstein cut him off...
"That you're making that payment tomorrow?...right Anderson?" What he would have given at that moment to have another bottle of bourbon on hand...even "Southern Comfort" at a pinch.

"Er, not exactly Mr Bernstein," he paused, staring at a picture of Jenny on the coffee table. "Look, the fact is I just won't have it tomorrow...I need another week. I'm working on a few TV scripts should bring in a couple of good checks next Wednesday." There was no immediate response from Bernstein. Never a good sign.

"That's not what I hear you're working on Anderson," came the reply. "Word is you're a machine junkie.....pouring it into those suckers quicker'n you can borrow it?"

Greg was stunned. "I...I" he stammered. Again, Bernstein cut him short.

"Anderson," he said, "I like you. Wouldn't stop me having your arms and legs broken but still son, I like you. I'm gonna make you an offer you might like to think about.

" Greg sat there unable to make any constructive reply.

"Fact is Anderson, you do have something of value....something just might help you, given your predicament right this moment. That young girl of old is she now? seventeen, eighteen? Real cute kid as I recall."

Greg remembered how Bernstein had looked at her that night he had dropped by to give him the money and get his signature on the paperwork. Debbie had brought them both in a cup of coffee. He hadn't liked it then, he knew he was going to like what was coming even less! Bernstein was continuing.

"Now you probably know I run a few little - lets just call them "entertainment services" for a few selected clients. You listening Anderson?" Greg just acknowledged his existence with a soft "Uh-huh!"

"OK well I have a couple of particularly well-paying clients let's say, that have specific needs. You getting my drift here Anderson? Needs, like hot photos of cute young girls for instance. Now, if I was to say to you that we "overlook" this month's repayment and perhaps the next couple, maybe even a few dollars back your way?....on condition you get me what I'm sure you know I want...then we won't need to be breaking any unnecessary limbs will we Anderson?" The voice turned ultra menacing, "I want that cd on my desk Friday afternoon. Don't disappoint me and don't disappoint yourself Anderson. The phone-line went dead.

His first coherent thoughts were to get himself and Debbie on a train out of Dodge that night.Then the reality of the situation hit home. A train where? and what with? Debbie's school in the morning? Her friends? His job? That left the Jim Jones approach - convincing her to suicide with him. Hell, he couldn't even afford a bottle of bourbon, let alone a couple of vials of hemlock! He sat there stunned, running the numbers. He cradled his head in his arms and cried like a baby. He didn't hear her come down the stairs.

"Dad, what is it?" She knelt down alongside the chair.
Embarrassed beyond words at her seeing him cry, he wiped away what tears he could, his eyes still stinging.

"We're in a heap of trouble Deb," he muttered. "I just don't know how to handle things at the moment. But don't you worry about it sweetheart. I got us into to this mess and I'll get us out of it."

"Dad, I know about the money..I know about..." she hesitated, trying to find the right words, "...about your problem dad. I'm eighteen you know, not a child."

He looked at her. God, she was anything but that! She was holding his hand now and her presence was very comforting.

"Tell me the truth dad," she added, "I know you were on the phone just now. What happened?"

He desperately wanted to unburden himself to her. It wasn't that he expected that she could help in any way. Simply that she would be in the loop, and not on the outer periphery any longer. He relayed the facts about the loan, his defaulting and that he had only two days to come up with the money.

"You're not telling me everything dad," she said when he had finished. "I can tell. What else did Mr. Bernstein say to you? I remember when he came here. He was a real slime.....sorry, but he was!"

There was really nothing else for it, so he told her everything that had been said."

Debbie sat there, still holding his hand. She put her head down for a second, deep in thought.

"And what will happen dad if he doesn't get his money on Friday?"

"Nothing you'd want to know about sweetie," replied her father, "But trust me, it wouldn't be good!"

"Dad," she said at last, "Look at me!" He gazed down at her beautiful face, creased now with serious deliberation. "You really don't have any choice. I don't either. How would I survive if anything happened to you?" He was about to reply, but she continued.

"Look, he just wants pictures. You could take them dad. No-one but you and I will ever know and I trust and love you daddy. I'll do it for you. We have that digital camera you bought me at Christmas so that's another problem pics to develop!"

He just stared ...

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