Suddenly I remembered why I stopped drinking. I was late for work. I had a headache and felt sick to my stomach and the jostling of the subway car was not helping. I scanned up and down the subway car looking for an empty seat or a sign that someone was about to get up but no such luck, so I hugged the doorway to the next car and mentally willed my stomach to settle. I guess I do not bounce back from a night of drinking as I did in my prime drinking days. Though meeting Ines made it all worth it, I think anyway.
I went to T.C.’s Lounge to meet an old friend in our old haunt. Erica had moved back to Florida years ago, got married had two kids, and got divorced since the last time we had been in the same room. T.C.’s had been our hangout of choice. We used to toss back jack n’ cokes and pump quarters into Area 51 until they locked the doors almost every night of the week. She was in Boston on her way to Maine for a vacation. Erica saved my life. I was in a bad place and she dragged me back from the brink. When she left Boston, it crushed me but left me better than when we met. It was good to see her again.
The bad news was T.C’s had removed the video games and pinball machines in favor of more seating. It had changed from a neighborhood joint into a high-priced bar for amateur alcoholics. Still, I adjusted rather easily and quickly re-gained my first drunken state in several years. Erica was not as enthusiastic and left relatively early after just a few drinks. I stuck around.
My old pal Quinton was still behind the bar and still put as little coke as possible in my Jack Daniels and knew not to poison my bourbon with fruit. I sat at the bar reminiscing with Quinton about the good old days when a goddess appeared at the bar, at the corner perpendicular to me. I do not mean to put too fine a point on it but she was smoking hot. She looked a lot like Selma Hayek without the uni-brow. Her sundress was white with a pattern of dark blue flowers and her boots looked stylish, at least all the girls are wearing them these days.
Quinton raised his eyebrows at me, checking that I had noticed her arrival. I gave him a nod. She clearly noticed this interaction and smiled.
“¿Qué volá contigo?” she asked.
“Nada“, I replied. “And that’s about the limit of my Spanish I am sorry to say. I’m Jean.”
“That’s okay; I was fucking with you a little. I’m Priya.”
“That’s cool. Where are you from, Priya?”
“Well, I was born here but my parents are Cuban.”
It went on like that for a while. We took turns buying drinks and I learned a lot about her and her about me. She was actually an awesome painter – oils on canvas. However, I guess being an awesome painter was not paying the bills. She had just moved here from New York to accept some corporate job purely for the money. Just then, I was happy she had. I told her all about my crappy job at Draft Kings. I had applied for a job as a writer, providing content for their web site, fantasy advice for gamblers and number geeks. What I actually did was whatever crappy jobs needed doing. Checking spreadsheets, typing memos, and delivering them to people who were working in the adjacent offices was most of my job. She seemed sympathetic and optimistically said it would probably work out eventually. I shrugged and changed the subject. I try to be a happy drunk and I usually do not complain to beautiful strangers but she had a way of drawing things out of me. It was probably those eyes. Maybe it was because I was drunk but I have no idea what color those eyes were, and I swear it seemed like they were changing color as she looked at me. She told me about her family and friends while we drank. We drank a lot.
At one point Quinton gave her a free drink and comped us a round of Cuervo shots in which he participated. He whispered something to her and flashed a big smile for which his reward was a stone face.
She whispered “Jamonero.”
I have no idea what it meant but almost as soon as she said it Quinton slipped and smacked his head on the bar. He was not seriously hurt but he was holding a towel full of ice against his head the rest of the night. He must have been drinking more than I thought.
I soon reached that state of drunkenness where I was only observing myself drink and talk to this woman. I am not a pick girls up at a bar type of guy, but I have a vague memory of leaving the bar with her. The rest of the night is a blank, right until I woke up this morning and noticed that sundress hanging over my desk chair. There was no sign of her however. Not a hair, not a single sign she had been there other than the dress. I tried to remember if I had seen her carry in luggage or something but I stopped thinking about it when I realized I was already an hour late for work. I skipped through the shower, dressed quickly and ran to the subway.
I was almost two hours late when I emerged from the elevator into the Draft Kings offices. Immediately, Frieda the receptionist informs me that they want to see me in the main conference room. I would need to find a new job I assumed. I psyched myself up to be indignant and thought about throwing a chair or two on my way out, definitely break something. The conference room blinds were shut, another bad sign, they wanted it to be private. I walked in with expletives loaded and violence in my thoughts. Instead of the team of executives I was expecting, there was just one person. Priya spun happily in the chair at the head of the conference table and beamed at me.
“You’re late!” she laughed.
I struggled to find words. Finally came up with this doozy: “What are you doing here?”
“Eric (CTO) and Tim (the COO) have both been fired and I’m your new boss.”
I flopped down in a chair near her. My head was still spinning and it was not just the remnants of alcohol. She continued to stare at me and her eyes were still weird but I started to relax. She was no less stunning in the bright sunlight glaring through the office windows. She was dressed in a simple black skirt suit that would have appeared quite professional if not for the blouse that was open a bit too wide.
“So, I’m not fired?” I really wanted to know.
“Nope, in fact you have been promoted to Director of Online Media. You can work out of Eric’s office for now, he won’t need it.”
Promoted, that was the last thing I expected when I walked in here.
“Did you know this was happening last night or is some of this because of last night?” I was far too shocked and hungover to be anything but blunt.
“Of course.” She said, not really answering my question. I was about to inquire further when there was a commotion outside the conference room. I looked at Priya and she rose to her feet and walked to the door with me. Everyone seemed to be running towards the elevators and stairs. I stopped a passing intern and asked for the scoop.
“I guess someone jumped from the roof. Someone said it might be Eric but…it’s kinda hard to tell.”
The intern kept walking. I turned to Priya but she was gone.
Eric jumped or was pushed is what the police indicated to us about an hour later. I was in my new office, Eric’s old office when I found out. It felt a little strange. All of his things were still in place. Deila told me all about it. She had not heard about my promotion. She came into his old office as if she expected to find Eric there. I had been standing behind the desk looking out at the street where the police were still preserving the scene. Eric irritated me but he was a decent person and I was sorry to hear he was gone. Deila, one of my few close friends in the office, had been close to Eric. I often teased that I did not know why she liked him so much but I felt horrible that she was taking his death so hard.
She walked behind the desk, put her arms around me, and sobbed into my chest. She explained that she and Eric had been seeing each other quietly. Deila worked as our medical specialist, advising us about the likely recovery times for various sports injuries. When it comes to gambling, the more information you have the better. I led her around to the sofa and stepped into the private bathroom to get her some tissue to clean up her face, which was a mess of streaked make-up. I thought I heard someone come in while I was in the bathroom. I returned just seconds later to find Deila desperately grasping her throat as blood oozed and squirted between her fingers.
I ran to the office door and yelled for help. Screaming that we needed an ambulance, I ran back to her to try to control the bleeding. Deila was hysterical and frightened and I tried to calm her as we waited for the paramedics. When they arrived, they asked how it had happened. I explained that I had not seen it from the bathroom and they left.
I was standing there looking at the bloodstained couch when Priya hooked her arm into mine. I had not heard her enter the office. I gently pulled away when the phone rang. They were not looking for Eric; someone transferred the call here to me. The police wanted to speak to me about an open case and would be in the office soon.
“Is this about Deila,” I asked.
“Deila? No. An Erica Nunez never returned to her hotel room and her family is concerned. You may have been the last person to see her.”
“Erica? Something happened to Erica?”
The person making the call did not have details for me and refused to answer any further questions. Jesus! I dropped to the couch, ignoring the blood. Priya sat on the arm of the couch and glared at me as I held my head between my hands.
“I cannot believe this day. What the hell is happening?” I asked the question aloud but I was surprised to hear an answer.
“Stop whining!” Priya shouted. “You have me now. Thanks to me, you also have your dream job. Stop thinking about those bitches and appreciate me!”
“I’ve known those girls for years and they could both be dead for all I know!” My temper was flaring and that almost never ends well. “You can either respect that fact or go fuck yourself.”
I stood up, Priya rose as well, and we had a bit of a stare down. “Do you mean that,” she asked. “What I’ve done for you means nothing?”
I just shrugged.
Priya clenched her fists in front of her and let out a blood-curdling scream. A long, nasty looking dagger appeared in her right hand and a change came over her. Suddenly, she seemed much older. Her hair seemed to rise in the air as if electricity was surging through her. Layer on layer of gray rags replaced her neat business suit. A haze seemed to fill the air as if she were sucking all the light from the room. She came at me screaming and swinging the knife wildly.
I wrestled her for control of the blade. She was uncannily strong. She managed several shallow cuts before I snatched it away from her. Her eyes were clearly glowing red and looked almost aflame. She dug her nails into my face savagely and I drove the dagger into her abdomen. She hissed and was gone. I was standing there covered with blood with a dagger in my hand when the police arrived.
Police officers found Erica’s body in an alley in the Fenway with her throat slit and signs of a sexual assault. The police suspected the very blade I had been holding was the murder weapon. They arrested me on two counts of murder and clearly suspected me of a third since it was apparently too much of a coincidence to believe that Eric killed himself.
I told them about Priya. No one believed me. The receptionist had sent me to the conference room by Eric’s request not Priya’s. No one else in the office had ever laid eyes on her. The dress was still in my apartment when the cops searched it but by itself, it did not mean anything to my case.
A jury of my peers found me guilty of three counts of murder and sentenced me to life in a secure psychiatric facility. I have been here ever since. I did see Priya again. She forgave me eventually. She visits me every night in my padded room.