Garret’s alarm sounded next to his bed. His eyes blinked open, and he pushed to a sitting position. Wiping drool from his face, Garret reached for his cell and shut the alarm off. “Oh, man.” Staggering to his feet, he started his normal morning routine. On his commute, he bought a larger serving of coffee and took a long sip. “I’m gonna need more of this stuff. What the hell did that candle do?”
He left the question unanswered.
The elevator dinged on the fourth floor and the doors slid open. Garret stepped out and walked toward his office, waving as he went. Keith appeared from around a corner and traveled in the same direction.
“Keith,” Garret said. “Hey, hows it going?”
Keith squinted at Garret as he turned his head to talk. “OK.”
“Umm, yeah,” Garret said. “You’re married, aren’t you? Your family doing well?”
“Sure,” Keith said.
Dammit. Garret kept walking while Keith turned into an open doorway. A large frame with several baseball cards showed before Keith closed the door. “Whoa!” Garret put a hand out and stopped the door. “Are those old baseball cards?” He moved into the small office and marveled at the frame. Leaning closer he saw black signatures on the bottom corners of each card. “And they’re signed?” This is what he’s gonna sell.
“That’s the entire 1978 rookie series,” Keith said as he set his shoulder bag down on his desk. “Do you collect?”
“Cards?” Garret shook his head. “I like baseball. The Nationals and the Rangers.” He ran his eyes over the cards behind the glass. “Did you get these signatures or did you have to buy a few cards?”
“I get that question a lot,” Keith said. “I have been collecting since I was a kid. It took a while, but I got all the cards and then as time passed, I got the players to sign them.” He tapped on his keyboard and pulled his desk chair out. “Unfortunately, we both have to get to work.”
“Oh, yeah,” Garret said and walked backward through the open door. “Hey, you up for lunch? I’d like to talk ball and not many people do.”
“That would be great,” Keith said. “I rarely find people that want to talk about it. They only want to talk about my collections and their worth.”
“Cool,” Garret said. “Eleven thirty’s good for me.”
Garret closed the door and moved down the hall. He nudged his office door open and hung his dark suit jacket on the hook behind the door. Like Keith, he set about his job. Between shuffling papers and email, Garret researched where to sell old baseball cards. There were three sport memorabilia stores within a forty mile radius. Their websites said they bought or sold on consignment. If they bought the collection, they wouldn’t give Keith anywhere near what it was worth, but it would allow him to make a couple of payments. That would only delay things.
“Selling on the internet wouldn’t get the money fast enough,” Garret said into his hand as he rubbed his chin. “If he get’s enough money to make a payment, or more, that guy’s gonna want more. Now, I just need to know when.”
A knock sounded on his door and he jerked in his seat. His eyes darted to the clock on his computer. “Eleven thirty.” Locking his computer, Garret stood and put on his coat. He opened the door and saw Keith waiting.
“You still good for lunch?”
“Yeah,” Garret said, and they both moved to the elevators.
Outside, they walked down the sidewalk. “Where to?” Keith asked as he merged with the pedestrians.
“How about Italian?” Garret suggested. His eyes locked on to Giambaco’s, located half a block down and across the street.
“Works for me,” Keith said and walked in the direction Garret was looking.
After a block, they both crossed the street and went into the restaurant. Garret followed the host to the seat. Keith begged off and went to the restroom. Garret took a few minutes to glance over the menu and noticed that Keith hadn’t returned. He placed an order for an appetizer and headed for the restroom. A quick glance at the stall and urinals showed him no one was there. “OK,” he said and exited the restroom.
“Today is the day you are supposed to make a payment.” The words drifted from the far end of the hall. Garret inched closer and nudged the employee only door open.
Garret saw a shoulder and arm extending past a doorway in the kitchen. “I know,” Keith said. “Carley had a birthday yesterday. She turned ten. I bought her a present, a laptop. For school.”
“Just like the dream,” Garret whispered. He shouldered past the door and edged closer to the where Keith stood.
“Oh,” the rough voice said. It floated from a tanned face with large lips and a wide nose. “Carley turned ten. Good for her. Imagine the present I might give her. Seeing her father with a broken leg.”
“Excuse me,” Garret said as he stepped around the table and into view of Keith and the other guy. “Is this where the restroom is?”
“What hell is going on?” A man with well-tanned skin and a dark-green bomber style jacket said. His crooked nose and beady eyes gave Garret a stare full of menace. His meaty hands curled into fists. “Get outta here,” he said, spittle flying from his lips. “Both of ya.” His eyes narrowed at Keith.
“Gotcha,” Garret said. He stepped aside and let Keith go in front of him. The duo fast stepped out of the kitchen area and into the dining room.
“Keep going,” Keith said. “Out the door. I’ll buy a sandwich or something.”
“What the hell is going on?” Garret tossed the question over his shoulder as he pushed through the front door. “Who was that guy?”
“No one,” Keith said and turned toward office building. After a few quiet paces, Keith let out a sigh and said, “You saved me from getting my teeth knocked out, so I owe you for that.”
Settling into a quick stride, Garret looked at Keith. “Then spill it.”
“Fine,” Keith said after a few paces. “I took out a loan.”
Garret’s eyes went wide. “From a loan shark? Are you stupid?”
“Yeah, well,” Keith said with a shrug. “I got stupid and have some gambling debts.”
“Come on, man,” Garret said. “You’re smarter than that. Or should be.”
“It started out as fun,” Keith said, “and then next thing, I’m fifty g’s over my head.”
Garret said in a sharp whisper, “Fifty thousand? How are you gonna pay them back?” The two men walked across the crosswalk with a throng of people.
“I don’t know,” Keith said. “I can sell my cards, but that’ll just buy me a payment to two.”
“What?” Garret said as they turned on the sidewalk leading to their office. “You won’t get nearly enough money pawning it.”
“Who said anything about pawning it?”
“If you sell it through reputable means, it’ll take too long,” Garret answered. “Pawning is the only way.”
“Do you have seventy-five grand?” Keith’s face tightened as he asked the question.
“Seventy-five? I thought you said—”
“Interest,” Keith added as he tapped the elevator button.
“I don’t have that much, but I can get forty,” Garret said. “It’ll take a couple of hours.”
“What? No.” Keith said as they stepped into the empty elevator. “I can’t ask you to do that.”
“It ain’t a loan,” Garret said. “I’m buying your cards.”
“They’re worth like,” Keith paused and thought a few seconds. “Way more than forty.”
“I looked,” Garret said. “Each card with an autograph is around two grand. All twenty would easily be forty. I guess twenty to thirty percent more for the set.”
“Seriously?” Keith looked at Garret. “You would do that?”
“Yeah,” Garret said stepping from the elevator.
The duo walked the hallway and stopped at Keith’s door. Once opened, Garret stepped in and waited. “Is this something you want to do?”
“I don’t have a much of a choice,” Keith said. “If I don’t come up with something, it’ll just get worse.”
“Right,” Garret said. “Give me two hours and I’ll get you the money.” Garret walked from the office and into his own.
Tapping on the keyboard, Garret navigated his bank account. He cashed in his CD account. Next, he sold some of the company stock he had for a while. Then, he tapped into his savings. When more than the agreed upon amount was collected, he called Keith.
“Hey,” Keith answered.
“Account number?” Garret said into the mouth piece.
“Really?” The sound of rustling came over the phone. “Just a minute.” Heavy tapping on a keyboard and Keith recited a number. “You’re really doing this.”
“Done,” Garret said with a loud click of his mouse. “I’ll hold onto the cards for a little while.” He hung up the phone, then scooped up the paper he printed explaining he bought the collection from Keith.
“Wow!” Keith said when Garret showed him the paper. “This is happening.”
“Yup,” Garret said. “You can buy them back when you are ready. There won’t be a markup or anything. Just replace my money and do the right thing.”
Keith’s Adam’s apple bounced as he looked at the ceiling and ran a hand down his face. “Alright.” He waved a hand at the Garret and the door.
Taking the frame down and leaving, Garret went to his office to finish out the work day.