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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Dark · #2311337
Sometimes success leads to better things, but not always. (Word Count 1990)
Winning Streak

By Damon Nomad

          Claire thought she heard the front door close as she sat on a bar stool at the large kitchen island. A few moments later, Victor strutted into the room carrying his tennis racket. She took a sip of chardonnay. "Did you beat him again?"
          Victor laid the racket on a stool and grabbed a bottle of imported beer from the refrigerator. "Like a drum." He took a long pull of the cold brew.
          Claire studied her finely manicured nails. "He's twelve years older than you. Why not give him a break? Glenda is one of my best friends and they are our neighbors."
          "He's a loser and she's a fat cow." He snorted a laugh and finished off the beer. "I'm getting a shower."
          "Wendell is the vice president of a bank and Glenda's not a cow." She should lose a few pounds. "You can be so rude." She shouted as he left the room, "We're meeting them for dinner at the clubhouse at seven."
          She held up her hand admiring the three-carat diamond ring. Victor was a prized catch in college; even more handsome now at forty-one than when they met back then. Thick wavy light brown hair, electric blue eyes, and square-jawed with a dimpled chin. He was competitive in everything, almost to a fault. She picked up the tennis racket and took it to the mud room. She stopped and looked in the mirror and smiled as she fluffed her blond hair. Claire had everything she wanted; a big house, a luxurious lifestyle, and a handsome and successful husband.
          A few hours later, the four of them were on their third bottle of wine and they weren't worried about driving. The elegant dining room in the clubhouse was a short walk from both of their estate homes in the gated golf and tennis community. Glenda had a buzz from the wine and couldn't resist taking a swipe. "My sister's son just got accepted to Stanford, computer engineering. Didn't you start out in engineering Victor? How come you didn't stick with it?" Take that you arrogant jerk.
          He cocked his head with a smirk. "It was boring and tedious. I switched over to finance."
          Claire corrected him, "You changed to mathematics then finance." She saw Victor clench his jaws and she quickly added, "Finished top of his class."
          Wendell poured himself a glass of wine. "Worked out good for you."
          Glenda's eyes momentarily flashed with anger at Wendell. She hated how he shrugged off Victor's sarcastic barbs and his condescending comments about the work ethic of salaried bankers. Victor had worked at a bank himself before going into derivatives trading. Bragged that he wanted a more challenging job with an unlimited upside. Pompous and rude.
          Glenda took a deep breath; Wendell was too good-natured to care. She plastered on a smile. "Yes, it did." She looked at Claire. "You two are going away this weekend right, Atlantic City?"
          Late Saturday night, Claire channel surfed as she sat on a sofa in a ritzy suite of the casino hotel. She muttered, "Ten minutes after midnight." She would say something but knew better than to confront Victor with ultimatums. I didn't come here to sit in a hotel room while he played poker for eight hours.
          Claire stood up when the suite door swung open moments later. "Victor, can we talk?"
          Victor swaggered into the room and held up a bottle of champagne. "Two hundred dollars a bottle." He tossed a small nylon bag onto the sofa. "Thirty-six thousand dollars and some change."
          He popped the cork and took a drink. "How about a shopping spree tomorrow; just for you?" He handed her the bottle. "Talk about what?"
          Claire took a drink and handed the bottle back to him. She pulled a stack of hundred dollar bills from the bag. "Our plans for tomorrow." She flashed a toothy smile. "Shopping sounds like fun. I didn't think you were a serious poker player."
          "You knew we played in the frat house, but that was mostly for fun. I've got a system figured out now. This is just the beginning; I'm ready to play for bigger stakes."
          Two months later, Claire was surprised to find Glenda at the front door when she answered the door chimes. "Glenda, what are you doing here?"
          "You were supposed to meet me for lunch." She had never seen Claire like this. Her hair was a bit messy, no makeup, and dark circles under her eyes. "Can I come in?"
          "Sure. Sorry, I forgot about lunch."
          They sat down on a sofa in the living room. Glenda spoke first, "You've been avoiding me and we haven't seen Victor for weeks. Is something going on with you two?"
          Claire exhaled slowly. "He quit his job a month ago, he's playing poker in Atlantic City full-time. He drives over on Monday and comes back home on Friday night."
          "What! Playing poker for a job?"
          "I thought it was crazy at first." She paused a moment. "He says he's winning big."
          Glenda nearly exploded, "You don't believe him! Surely not. Have you been there? Have you checked your accounts?"
          She stared at the floor. "I trust him." Claire paused after telling the half-truth. "Victor takes care of the money; he always has."
          Glenda shook her head in disbelief. "Tell him you want to go with him. See for yourself."
          Claire slowly nodded in agreement. "Maybe every other week. Just so we can have more time together."
          The next week Claire made the trip with him to Atlantic City. He asked her to stay away from the poker table so he could concentrate. She had a big shopping allowance to keep her occupied. Before they left on Friday, Victor smiled as he waved a sheet of paper in the air. "Receipt for the week's winnings transferred to the bank. Want to see the numbers?"
          "No, I know you're taking care of us." She felt guilty for doubting him.
          Weeks later, Claire woke up in the middle of the night at home on a Sunday. Victor was not in bed and the orange digits on the alarm clock showed 1:32. She put on a robe and slippers and headed down the stairs. Light was coming from the study in the front of the house.
          She crept through the open door. Papers were strewn all over the floor and Victor was at his desk typing on the computer. "What are you doing?"
          His head swiveled up and his eyes went open with surprise. "Why are you out of bed?" He jumped up and moved towards her. "I'm paying some bills. Moving some investment funds around."
          "Why are you talking so fast?" She looked toward the computer. "Can you show me the accounts?"
          His eyes narrowed as his lips tightened into a frown. He squeezed her biceps with a powerful grip as he pushed her back. "I've got everything under control."
          "Stop squeezing. You're hurting me."
          He pushed her out of the room. "Get back to bed!" Victor slammed the door shut.
          Monday morning, Claire shuffled down the stairs. Tired from a poor night's sleep, but she couldn't lay in bed any longer. Her arms were slightly bruised and she was ready to confront him about last night. The door to the study was cracked open. "Victor."
          There was no answer. She raised her voice, "Are you in the kitchen?" The cavernous house was deathly quiet. She pushed the door of the study open. The room was clean and orderly as it had been before. Did he go to Atlantic City without saying a word? It was nearly nine in the morning.
          She rushed through the den and the mud room and opened the door to the garage. One of the three cars was gone. Then back to the kitchen counter and picked up her mobile phone. No message. She punched the speed dial for his mobile but it went straight to messages. "Call me. Where are you?"
          She made a pot of coffee; then headed back to the study. She put the coffee cup on the desk, opened a drawer, and pulled out a thick stack of papers. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw the top page. Second Notice Mortgage Arrears. The coffee sat untouched as she rifled through the pile. Claire quickly realized that he had drained their savings and investments to pay for gambling losses and their lavish lifestyle. The receipt he had waved at her was probably a fake. We're nearly broke.
          Wendell sipped his coffee as he gazed out the window of his office on the twenty-third floor. It wasn't the prized corner office but he was happy with what he had at work and home. His attention went to the framed picture on the credenza; himself, Glenda, and their son Calvin. He smiled with a sense of satisfaction and pride. Calvin was in graduate school, astrophysics of all things. He spun around in the chair when his executive assistant opened the door, "Victor Fleming is at the reception desk. He doesn't have an appointment."
          Wendell glanced at the clock. What's Victor doing here? "Yeah, that's fine, I have thirty minutes before the ten o'clock staff meeting."
          Moments later, Victor came through the door. He was wearing a suit, but something was wrong. He wasn't his usual manicured self; his hair was unruly and it looked like he hadn't shaved for days. Wendell stood up. "Are you okay?"
          Victor came a few steps closer as his eyes darted around the room. "I need money."
          Wendell laughed then caught himself when he saw the look in Victor's eyes. "I don't understand. What do you mean you need money?" Wendell had been suspicious ever since Glenda told him about this new 'career' in poker.
          Victor got a sheet of paper from his shirt pocket. "Routing codes for our bank account. Two million dollars. Now." He moved a few steps closer and laid the piece of paper on Wendell's desk.
          Wendell shrugged. "You can't be serious."
          Victor pulled a stainless steel revolver from his jacket pocket and pointed it at Wendell. His voice was strangely cold, "Deadly serious. You're senior vice president of credit and lending. I'm sure you're authorized for a lot more than that."
          Wendell gasped as he staggered back a step. He spotted his executive assistant running for her desk and picking up her phone. She had been watching through the glass door. Wendell waved his hands. "Okay, Okay. It's going to take me a few minutes."
          Wendell sat down at his desk and logged onto his computer. He picked up the sheet of paper with the routing numbers. "I need to create a corporate entity with a file on record with the bank. Give me ten or fifteen minutes." He typed at the computer and his eyes occasionally glanced over the top of his monitor. Hoping to see a team of security guards coming to intervene.
          Minutes later, an overweight security guard bumbled through the door with a gun in hand. "Don't move."
          Victor spun around and didn't even realize he had pulled the trigger. His pulse was pounding in his ears as the guard fell to the floor. He stared as the man's white shirt turned crimson red. He turned and watched Wendell stumble away from his desk. His ears were ringing and it seemed like his neighbor was moving in slow motion.
          He pointed the gun at Wendell. Victor couldn't hear the words but knew what he was screaming. No, please. Wendell fell against a credenza and a picture fell to the floor. Victor glanced at the picture of the family.
          He turned his attention to Wendell as he cocked the hammer of the revolver.
          Wendell screamed, "Don't do it!" There was nothing he could do as Victor turned the gun on himself and pulled the trigger.

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