But before he can cash in and make amends with his family, he’s thrown down an escalator and left for dead by a greedy hoodlum looking to cash in on Eddie’s winnings. Dying, Eddie wakes up in the presence of the Jesses, a monolithic group of six whose job it is to decide who enters heaven and who enters hell. The Jesses tell Eddie he's stuck in the middle—not good enough for heaven, not bad enough for hell. They entice him to go in on one final bet to break the dead heat.
If he triumphs, they stamp his ticket to paradise. If he loses, he spends eternity in the netherworld. The bet? Eddie must prevent someone chosen by the Jesses from taking their own life. Thinking it will be a piece of cake, Eddie agrees. He quickly learns the Jesses are more cunning than he'd imagined.
|Publisher:||IFWG Publishing International|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.50(d)|
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Eddie Coyne clicked the racing website's Information & Stats dropdown menu. As he had done a thousand times, he squeezed his chin twice for luck, then clicked on the Results tab. He scrolled past the two local racetracks closed for the season, Calder and Gulfstream Park, and clicked on Hialeah Park. Outside his cramped study, he heard Carly scolding their six-year-old, Ben.
"Let's go, Bennie. Your game starts in half an hour!"
The Hialeah Park page opened. Though Eddie had been there the day before, he studied the results. Reliving losses was his personal form of penance — or torture — he never could tell.
"I'm not kidding, Ben. Get off the video game and let's go."
"Almost done, Mom."
Eddie's jaw tightened. He glanced at the picture hanging above his computer: Carly and Ben and himself at Christmas three-years ago, happy and shiny. Before the arguments, the money pressure, the string of rotten luck and the whiskey pick-me-ups. Before he was fired from his job over a lousy misunderstanding. Of course, that was after his last big win, when he didn't give a shit about losing a crummy accountant's position. He scratched his two-day-old whiskers, glanced around his grubby office and once again at the family portrait. Little was happy and nothing was shiny anymore.
"Is your athletic cup on?" Eddie heard Carly say.
"I'm not wearing that thing!"
"Yes you are, mister."
Eddie clicked on the Today's Races page. He studied the lineup and compared them to the check-marked, starred, and circled Daily Racing Form lying open-faced on his desktop. Eddie compared that with his printouts of the AQHA speed index and his Excel charts of past performances. He scribbled an entry in a notepad that was lying next to the Daily Racing Form. He slipped the notepad into his shirt pocket.
"Turn the video game off and put on the cup!"
"I'm not putting that thing on!"
Eddie narrowed his eyes at the closed office door as if it were Carly and Ben. Shut up and let me concentrate ... please? He clicked on weather.com and eyed the forecast for Hialeah, FL, USA. 82° F, wind SE 12 mph, humidity 75%, Afternoon Thundershowers. He checked the Daily Racing Form's Tomlinson ratings — previous results for each horse under various weather conditions. He smiled and starred and circled the name of a horse that was scheduled to race at Hialeah Park. His cell phone struck up the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses." He glanced at the number. His smile dampened. The caller I.D. read Jonah the Whale. He started to press the answer icon, stopped, took two breaths for courage and tapped it. "Whale, before you say a word, I swear I'm good for the vig ... Yeah, all four thousand. Absolutely ... Tomorrow."
* * *
"That's good, because my boss hates tardiness," Jonah answered almost pleasantly. He was seated in a booth at Lester's Diner, the last of Fort Lauderdale's architectural tribute to 1963. Jonah was a tall, slim man with sandy, bottom-of-the-neck-length hair. It was gel-combed straight back. He eyed the waitress as she refilled his coffee. Jonah had long, sinewy arms and a long neck. His left brow was pierced. His arms were sleeved in tattoos of devils and angels. Though he was a regular, the waitress understood that he wasn't anyone to mess with. She avoided eye contact and quickly left.
"It's all taken care of, Jonah. Believe me," Eddie said.
"I hate liars nearly as much as the boss hates tardiness." Jonah picked up a butter knife and unsuccessfully tried to quarter the half-sliced orange next to his bagel. "Don't make me pay a visit to you or your family." Any pleasantness that had been in his voice had evaporated.
"You stay away from them! You'll get your money."
"I hope so, Ed, because if you don't ..." Jonah thrust his butter knife into the orange and ripped the flesh from its rind, "I'll tear your intestines out and then I'll come after your wife and kid." He hung up.
* * *
Eddie took several breaths to prevent himself from vomiting. He removed a flask from his bottom desk drawer, unscrewed the lid and swallowed hard.
"Put your cup on and turn that thing off!"
"I'm not putting it on!"
Eddie pliered his hands against his ears. Stop it!
"Oh, yes you are!"
Damn it, damn it, damn it. Eddie sprang from the desk chair, flung the door open and stormed into the living room. "I've had enough of this crap!" he screamed at Carly, who was standing over Ben, holding his baseball gear. He glared at Ben, who was cross-legged in front of the TV with his Xbox controller, staring at Eddie. "Put the goddamn cup on before I —" Eddie rushed to Ben and raised the back of his right hand over his left shoulder. Ben crouched and covered his head. Eddie went ashen. His hand shook. He lowered and covered it with his other hand as if to hide it. Eddie reached out to hug Ben, but Carly grabbed Ben away.
She gently said to their son, "Get in the car, bub."
Ben looked at Eddie. "What about my cup?"
"Get in the car, sweetie." Carly handed him his gear. He walked to the front door and turned around. His eyes were moist. "I'm sorry, Dad."
Eddie's throat clutched. All he could do was nod. Pinching back tears, Eddie wanted to embrace his son and tell him how sorry he was for raising his hand, but Ben had walked outside and closed the door. Carly reacted immediately. "Don't you ever lift your hand to him!"
"I was wrong. I'm sorry." Eddie passed his fingers nervously through his hair. "Look, I'm under a lot of pressure."
"You're under pressure? How about Ben and I?"
Eddie lifted his palms in surrender. "You're right, I get it. Forgive me."
"You're a bastard, Eddie."
"I know. I've been on a losing streak, but I've been working on something new. Our luck's about to change." He hugged her. "I mean it, Carly. Statistics don't lie. Look." Eddie opened up his notepad of stats.
"Oh, God, here we go again." She stepped away from him. "Eddie, necesitas ayuda."
"I don't need help because I don't have a gambling problem." He took a breath to calm down. "Gambling's for suckers. What I do is manipulate odds. I use them to my benefit." He turned to one of the pages and tapped it. "Look at this. According to my figures, when it rains and the track at Hialeah gets muddy, there's this quarter horse, Heavenly Hiccup, whose sire —"
"Stop it. Just stop it!" Carly grabbed a stack of bills lying on the kitchen counter and brought them to him. "If you want to look at figures, look at these."
Eddie winced. "Where did you get those?"
"Shouldn't the question be how and when did I find them?"
Eddie made a swipe for the papers, but Carly yanked them back. "I was looking for Ben's cup and there they were, in the back of his closet where you hid them."
"I was going to take care of it," Eddie said.
"How? Through odds manipulation?" She shuffled through them one at a time. "Phone, gas, electric, TV, car insurance, Visa, MasterCard. Aquí está uno bueno: mortgage payment two months overdue. Maybe you can flip the bank double or nothing." She shoved the stack in his hand.
"I love you and Ben. You know that, Car. I'll make things right. I promise." Eddie placed a hand on her shoulder. She shoved it away. Outside, the car horn honked.
"What's today?" Carly asked.
"What d'ya mean what's today?"
Carly crossed her arms.
Eddie shrugged. "Saturday?"
"It's your son's birthday. He turned six."
"I knew that." Eddie lowered his eyes. "Of course."
"There's a five-thirty reservation at Chuck E. Cheese's. Don't let him down." Before leaving, she added, "I mean it or we're through. I've had enough."
"Of course I know it's Ben's birthday," Eddie said after she left. "What do you think, I'm a fucking idiot?" He threw the house bills on the couch. "Shit."
* * *
Carly pulled into Miami Springs Middle School parking lot. Ben hopped out of the car with his glove and bat. She tucked in his black with gold lettered Good Buy! Realty sponsored jersey and grabbed his catcher's gear from the trunk of their six-year-old Camry. They headed to the baseball field, where the teams were warming up.
"When does the catcher throw to second?" Carly asked.
"When the fat kids are running to it."
"Heavy. It's not nice to say fat," Carly replied.
Ben nodded. They walked a little more. He asked, "Is Daddy okay?"
"Niño, I ... I don't know."
"Should I pray for him?"
"Yes." Her eyes welled up. "We both should."
He stopped walking. "He knows it's my birthday?"
"Of course he does!" She hugged him and whispered to herself,
"Eddie, you fathead, for Christ's sake don't blow it."
From home plate, Vernon Batton, the Good Buy! Realty team's coach, waved and shouted at them, "Coyne, get that gear on. We've got a game today, son. Move!"
Carly smiled at Ben. "Go on, champ. You're late."
He took a few steps and stopped. "Mom?"
"The word is heavy, not fat. He's a heavy head."
Carly smiled sadly. Ben ran to Coach Batton.
* * *
Eddie drove his Corolla into the parking lot of Hialeah Fire Station Two, braked and studied the sky. He grinned — gray clouds were rolling in from the east. He slipped from his sport coat interior breast pocket a pen and the birthday card that he had bought for Ben. He opened the card and thought hard about the rotten way they'd parted this morning, and about the last couple of years and what a lousy dad he'd been. He wanted to tell Ben — and by extension, Carly — how much they meant to him. How he knew he had let them down and how much he ached to make it good. It took him a while, but he figured out what he wanted to say to his son and wrote it in the card. He slipped it into its envelope and tucked everything back inside his coat pocket.
Eddie left the car, inhaled deeply and again smiled broadly — rain was in the air. He practically skipped to the front entrance of the building. The fire station was fifteen minutes from his home, and another ten minutes from the racetrack. He and his brother Frank had grown up three blocks south of here. Of course, Eddie thought, that was another time and another place. Before Hialeah was one long snarl of traffic, condos, and storefronts, and before every vendor greeted you with Hola.
As he approached the front door, he thought about how his childhood friends had long ago abandoned Hialeah for central Florida and beyond. He recognized their resentment. They felt as if their city had been stolen from them after the tsunami of Cuban refugees arrived in the 1980s. Eddie disagreed. He had no beef with anyone trying to better him or herself. After all, wasn't that what he was trying to do? Besides, he loved the bright colored, fast-talking, multi-cultured nature of South Florida. That's why he settled in Miami Springs, a stone's throw from Hialeah. South Florida was pulse pounding. It was exciting. It was a perpetual racetrack.
Eddie squeezed his chin twice and pressed the doorbell. He thought about his parents and the modest little house he'd grown up in. Of the green palms in their backyard and the iced tea colored canal water that flowed lazily behind them. Of the high hopes his mother and father had had for him and Frank. Of how proud they would have been of Frank had they still been alive, and how disappointed they'd have been in him.
The door opened. It was Anto Pena, Frank's driver/engineer. Anto nodded at Eddie and motioned him into the small outer office. Eddie made himself comfortable on the chair next to the blood pressure station. Anto walked into the TV room and said, "Lieutenant, your brother's here."
Frank, thirty-two, and two years younger than Eddie, entered. Eddie was always struck by how Frank resembled the best features of their parents. He had their father's thick arms and wide hands; and his mother's dense brunette hair, straight, firm nose and full lips. Most importantly, he had his mother's compassion. Something Eddie had taken advantage of since they were kids.
On the other hand, Eddie knew that he had inherited his father's head for math and his love of horse racing. As far as looks went, he was an amalgam of his parents, but his parts didn't have the grace or symmetry of his brother's. Eddie's dirt-black hair tended to curl, his nose was uninspiring and his mouth was a little large and unremarkable. It didn't help that Frank was in shape and Eddie could stand to lose a few pounds. The only thing he had over Frank were his eyes. They were deep, deep brown and charismatic like their mother's. Carly had told him that they were what had initially attracted her to him. Eddie thought on his best days they gave him a certain striking appearance, but mostly he believed he looked mundane.
"Ed, what's up?" Frank smiled, but Eddie could hear the suspicion in his voice.
"Listen, Frank, I know you're busy so I'll keep it brief." That and the fact that post time was at 1:35, twenty-five minutes from now. "I need to borrow five-hundred dollars."
Frank's smile flatlined. "Goddamn it, Ed. Are you in trouble again?"
"No. I swear. My car has a vacuum leak. Mechanic says I need to take care of it before it gets worse."
"Sorry, but not this time. No can do."
Eddie put on a puzzled, wounded look. "I'll pay you back on Friday, when my paycheck comes in."
Frank tapped the top of his left hand with his right index and middle fingers. Eddie knew the action from when they were kids. It was Frank's way of wrestling with his conscience. "When are you gonna quit Publix and get a real job?"
"The economy's bad. Besides, there's no shame in bagging groceries."
"I wasn't implying that, but you've got a goddamn MBA and a family to support."
"And an ex-boss who's the president of the Accounting & Bookkeeper Alliance."
"So what — get over it."
"Don't you get it? I'm blacklisted." He snuck a peek at Frank to see if he was having any effect on his brother. "Over a lousy six-hundred dollars."
Frank sighed. "You took the money to gamble, Ed."
"I admit it was stupid, but I replaced it the very next day."
"You're lucky he didn't throw your ass in jail."
"You're right." Eddie said it with as much remorse as he could muster.
Frank again tapped the top of his hand. "Why don't you get the hell out of Miami? Start over again."
"How many times do I have to go through this? If we leave, Carly loses her position at the bank. We can't afford another financial blow." Before slumping in despair, Eddie glanced at his watch: fifteen minutes to post. "If I don't get my car fixed I can't get to work. I'll lose my job and then ..." He lowered his head.
Frank reached in his rear pocket for his checkbook, but pulled his hand back. "No. You're gonna blow it on the horses."
Eddie thought about telling him that it was Ben's birthday, and he needed the money to buy Ben a computer, but forced himself not to. Doing that would be to cross a line of dishonesty that he could never return from. Instead, he took a deep breath and said, "The truth is I'm in debt to a loan shark for a grand. I have half the money, and I was hoping to borrow the other half from you. He's a son-of-a-bitch who's threatened me."
"I know plenty of cops." Frank reached for the office phone. "I'll call them."
"No! He'll go after Carly and Ben. All I need is the money, and he'll get off my back."
Frank again scrutinized him, but released the phone.
"I didn't want to say anything to you because I'm embarrassed and ashamed." Eddie again thought about his parents and how he had let them down. To his surprise, he welled up. "You're my last chance, but if you refuse, I understand."
Frank took a big breath and slowly let it out. "You need help, Eddie. I'm contacting Gamblers Anonymous." He took a seat at the desk, jogged the computer mouse and awoke the screen.
"I've already done that. I'm attending a meeting on Tuesday."
Frank studied him. "Where at?" he asked skeptically.
"Fulford Methodist Church in North Miami. 7:30 p.m."
"You mind if I confirm that?"
Eddie smiled wanly. "I deserved that."
Frank navigated to the Gambler's Anonymous website.
Eddie watched Frank type in their local zip code under U.S. Meetings. Frank studied the listings. Eddie took a quick look at his watch. He was going to miss the first race, but that was no big deal. The fourth one was the one he was interested in. Frank scrolled down until he found the date, location and time mentioned. He turned to Eddie. "Sorry for doubting you."
Frank stood and gripped Eddie's shoulder. "I'm proud of you for taking this step."
For the second time today Eddie felt like shit. In his doubtful moments, he had gone to the G.A. site and checked out information on local meetings. He had even entertained once or twice the idea of attending. Eddie stood. "This'll be the last time I'll ask for help, Frank. I mean it."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Second Life of Eddie Coyne"
Copyright © 2019 Louis K Lowy.
Excerpted by permission of IFWG Publishing International.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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