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It didn’t even feel like he was running anymore. It was more like he was just throwing one leg in front of the other and hoping he didn’t fall.

The girl was only going at a brisk walk, so she wasn’t far—easily within a stone’s throw away.

“Hey, hold on!” he shouted. He’d planned on getting closer before he called out to her, but the needle of his fuel gauge was on E. He was panting like a half-drowned man who just got pulled out of the water. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt his lungs burn like they did now.

The girl slowed to a stop and looked back at him over her shoulder. “Who the fuck are you?”

“You took—” he paused to take a breath, “—my wallet. Give it back.” He barely had the energy to keep his head up and look at her as he spoke. She was mostly in different clothes, but he was sure that she was the one he’d bumped into on the way to the Gemini Cafe. Now that he was closer than before, it was obvious. Same height, same build. “You probably used the twenty already, but at least give me back my license and the wallet itself.”

“What?” With her hands in her pockets, she turned around and stared at him with narrowed eyes.

“Just give me back my wallet.”

She snorted and just kept staring at him like he was a stray on the roadside.

“Look, I really don’t care if you took the cash. Just give me my wallet. I’m not going to call the cops.”

She rolled her eyes and heaved an exaggerated sigh of frustration. She started turning around. “Whatever.”

“Okay, hold on,” Raine said. He went for a different angle. “You’re about to enter your senior year of high school, right? I’m going to assume you want to get into a good university.” He was staring at the back of her jacket. “The wind of freedom blows,” it said in German. Stanford’s motto. “In high school, I applied to Cal, UCLA, USC, UChicago, and Harvard. I got into all of them—well, not Harvard. My Harvard essays were rubbish.”

“Glad to know I’m talking to a Harvard reject,” she said. But he knew he had her attention.

“If you give me back my wallet, I’ll tell you what I did to get in,” he said.

She stared at him with a frown for a few moments, seemingly in thought. Then she shrugged. She pulled a small brown object out of her pocket. “Catch, moron.”

She flung his wallet at him like it was a baseball, and it came straight at him. The girl had one hell of a throwing arm.

“Thanks,” he said, catching it. But he was confused. Her back was again turned to him. “You don’t what to hear what I have to say?”

Raine tilted his head, watching as she strode away. What a weird kid.

His phone buzzed in his pocket. Raine flipped it open and checked the message he’d just gotten. He laughed.

“Write it here.” That was all she’d sent.

How does she know my number? Raine wondered as he started heading home. I guess she saw it on my business card. But who steals someone’s wallet and memorizes their victim’s phone number? That’s like kidnapping someone and asking if they want to be friends with you. Wait, no, that’s not a comparable situation.

Out of curiosity, he looked inside his wallet and, to his surprise, saw that there was still cash inside. Not 20, but about fifteen. He grinned. Woohoo!

He’d just gotten fifteen bucks that he thought he’d lost. That was worth celebrating. He sent the girl the name of his website, where he had a post on what he did when applying to college. Then he quickly forgot about her. He turned the corner, walked down the street, and went into the corner store. Three beers for celebration. He couldn’t help it.

He only got the third because of the buy-two-free-one promotion, and knew he would drink it after the other two if he didn’t get rid of it somehow. So he gave it to some guy with a worn-out backpack looking through the potato chip section. Raine liked having someone to talk to while he drank, even strangers. He’d even bothered the store’s employees so often that they were sick of his company.

Raine and the stranger opened their cans outside the store, shared a toast, and drank. They chatted for a while and talked about everything from politics to weather to alcohol. They surprisingly hit it off. Both were centrists, both liked the winter, and both preferred beer and wine over hard liquor. The stranger said his name was Kayden, which Raine promptly forgot. They exchanged phone numbers at Raine's suggestion (a habit from his days as a hustling undergrad). The guy said he was a private military contractor. Raine promptly forgot that too.

They said their goodbyes after finishing their beers. Raine pulled the tab on his second can as he headed home. He checked the time on his phone. It was midnight.

Three blocks later, his apartment building came into view. He picked up his pace as he neared it. Its surroundings were so poorly lit and eerily quiet that he wouldn’t be surprised if a mugging happened there someday. He went into the building and entered the elevator after giving a half-nod to the half-asleep guard.

On the fifteenth floor, he slowly unlocked the door to his apartment, trying to make as little noise as he could. The place was filled with a faint smell of instant ramen. He switched on the kitchen light and washed his hands at the sink. It was full of dirty plates and bowls. It was Wednesday, his day to do the dishes.

Raine slipped on the gloves and spent the next ten minutes trying to do the dishes quietly. When he was finally done, he hung the gloves on the faucet and switched off the light. He shuffled into his room. Too tired to brush his teeth, he just gargled with a mouthwash and splashed some water onto his face and neck to wash the sweat off. Then he flopped onto his bed.

. . . .

Morning came too soon. The curtains were half-open, so he woke up at nine thanks to the sunlight shining into his room. He groaned and rolled off the bed.

His roommates had already left. His brother, Adam, was out for work, Jordan for school, and Dominic for…well, for whatever it was that Dominic did. Raine washed up and grabbed a quick breakfast of cup ramen. He ate while he worked at his desk.

He had a list of five companies in his notebook. He expected each to lose over a quarter of its value over the next year or two. One of them was Bolstridge, and two others were smaller automakers. A bank and a food company were the other two. All five were generally considered good or at least decent investments on Wall Street, but investors seemed to be slowly growing disenchanted with one: Dale & Castor, the food company. A handful of his friends from college had worked there. None had anything good to say about the culture at Dale. Raine was careful about avoiding insider trading, but his friends only told him information that was available publicly. However, it wasn’t easy to find.

A few years prior, a handful of former employees had sued the company for wrongful discharge. They lost in court, but what they said about the CEO, Errol Asher, was interesting. A great grandson of one of the two cofounders, he was a demanding and often unreasonable boss who allegedly gave absurd workloads to the employees he disliked. Once they failed to meet the goals he’d set, he fired them.

More importantly to Raine, the former employees brought up a case from six years prior. Three executives of the company’s packaging operation were found to be cooking their books. Even after auditors and other executives got suspicious of them, Asher did nothing to rein them in. Instead, he allegedly had a meeting with them and encouraged them to “keep making millions for the company.” The three executives later went to jail for filing false tax returns and for fraud.

Unethical behavior didn’t necessarily translate to bad business, but Raine wouldn’t be surprised if someone like Errol Asher cut corners in his own accounting. And his company’s financial statements seemed a little too good to be true. How was its processed food business bringing in more money than ever when there was a trend toward healthier food in America?

He looked through Dale’s balance sheet again, taking notes as he did so. While he did so, his phone vibrated in his pocket. It was a message. He assumed it was spam, since none of his friends messaged him at this time of day. He ignored it and leaned back in his chair, thinking about Dale’s finances. His phone vibrated again, interrupting his thoughts. He frowned. Then his phone vibrated again. And again. And again and again—he pulled it out of his pocket and threw it onto his bed. It bounced off the mattress and landed on the ground with a loud clack. Fuck.

Then he shrugged and just left it there. It was a sturdy phone.

After that, he had a whole hour to work in peace.

Raine closed his laptop and stretched. He was about to go take a shower when he remembered that he’d gotten messages. He picked up his phone and flipped it open. There were fifteen unread messages in his inbox. Raine opened the first. He stared blankly at his screen for a second. Then he closed his phone and put it on his desk.

Maybe my brain’s still swimming in beer. Raine shuffled to his bed and plopped onto it.

“I forgot to mention this yesterday,” the message said, “but I need you to get back into shape over the next few weeks, starting now. I was hoping you would have kept up your level of fitness from back in college, but it’s fine. I’ll send the contact info of a kickboxing gym near Gemini. I know the owner. Tell him we’re friends. The same guy also has a shooting range that you should visit when you can. Now, I know what you’re thinking. You won’t have to use or even have a gun on the job, but you never know if the experience will come in handy. I’ll pay for all of your sessions at the gym and the range.”

Hah. “You never know if the experience will come in handy.” Why didn’t you just say earlier that the job might be dangerous? And I don’t even have a gun license. What good will it do me to learn how to use a gun? Raine groaned. He needed the money, so it was worth some risks, but Levin could have at least mentioned it upfront. And he should have approached Raine earlier. Raine poked his stomach. Its softness frightened him.

He wasn’t that fat, but it was a sad contrast with his six-pack in college. He wasn’t sure he could do more than ten proper pushups without collapsing. He wasn’t sure, so he rolled off the bed and got into pushup position. One, two, and . . . and . . . three. Raine’s arms trembled. He managed to get down on the fourth pushup. But he couldn’t lift himself up. “Hrrrg! Haaaa!”

His body didn’t move an inch. His arms gave up on him, and the left side of his face met the cold floor. He rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling. I’m a little out of shape.

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About the author

HoneyMilk

Bio: I write and ramble and read and laze about.

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Comments(17)
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xtremeloldude @xtremeloldude ago

my man that's more than a little. It's like he hasn't even as much as lifted anything slightly heavier than a pencill since his time in college

thanks for the chapter

MaliMi @MaliMi ago

So I’m thinking the auto industry’s going to take a beating in the next six months. With how much corporate debt automakers are loaded with, they’ll be an awful place once their sales numbers weaken. Their execs don’t have great track records either. I’m planning on buying put options on them.

One of them was Bolstridge, and two others were smaller automakers.

auto -> car

Cute mistake though.

Thanks for the chapter.

Raelik @Raelik ago

That’s like kidnapping someone and asking them if you want to be friends.

Asking them if they want

lenkite @lenkite ago

How can a normal-weight guy in his 20's not be able to do 4 pushups ? Only the very severely obese can have that problem or someone with some muscular disease and matchstick arms.

    Author

    HoneyMilk @HoneyMilk ago

    I've been a martial artist for all my life and, for about a year, frequently helped out at the MMA gym I trained at. You'd be surprised how many people have no idea how to do a proper pushup and fail to do even a handful.

Sanairb. @Sanairb. ago

Doesn't 3k seem really low for 5 weeks of work that could involve a deadly shoot out?  You mentioned a 25k investement, but never covered how an investment an a company would help him.

    Author

    HoneyMilk @HoneyMilk ago

    First, Raine has bare minimum qualifications to be a bodyguard. Second, Levin described the job as follows: "Making sure she doesn’t wander into a sketchy neighborhood, looking out for her at bars or whatever, driving her around. That kind of thing. Basically being her bodyguard." Levin didn't set forth expectations of him being a Hollywood-style bodyguard armed with a pistol and wearing sunglasses and an earpiece. He certainly isn't expecting a deadly shoot out of any kind.

Sanairb. @Sanairb. ago

But he told him to get in fighting shape and practice with the gun. Why would someone pay for him to do that if it wasnt expected? They didnt seem like very close friends so he wouldnt just offer to pay for it out of kindness. It doesnt make sense.

    Author

    HoneyMilk @HoneyMilk ago

    But he told him to get in fighting shape and practice with the gun

    Yes, after their initial conversation and after Raine accepted the job. Hence his reaction in this chapter. Furthermore, you can infer that he needs money from the fact that he accepted the job that and from his lack of interest in backing out now.

mr paradox @mr paradox ago

A little out of shape huh lmao my dudeee

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irn0rchid @irn0rchid ago

A license having a phone number on it seems weird.

Barnmaddo @Barnmaddo ago

Heh, if he's that out of shape... I mean he'll be a lot fitter after two months, but still nowhere close to someone whose been working out for years.

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