Jack in the Pulpit
“Jack-in-the-Pulpit? What the hell’s that?”
“A flower — grows from a bulb-”
“You’re killing me. All I said was I need to get my mother a plant.
“I’m just saying. Get her a lily or a jack-”
“How about a rose? Everybody knows what that is. You walk in and say, ‘I need a rose,’ and they get it. You ask for jack-in-the-pulpit, they look at you funny.”
“Not in your finer boutiques.”
“You kiddin’ me? What do you do for a living, Mort?”
“Just cause my career path-”
He stopped, frozen by the look from his boss.
“What do you do, Mort?”
“Handle collections for you, Jackie, you know that.”
“Then don’t try to tell me what to get for my mother. Now shut up and watch the door.”
“I’m watching, Jackie. He comes out, I’m all over him.”
Mort Dingle and Jackie Dupre sat in silence, Mort watching the mirror and Jackie wondering why his sister talked him into hiring this clown.
“There he is! Jackie, he’s coming out.”
Mort jumped out, and Jackie walked around the back of the car to fence the man in.
“Who the hell are you?” the man asked Mort.
“He works for me, Stan,” answered Jackie.
Stan spun around. “Jackie! Oh, man, I didn’t see you. I thought-”
“You got my money?”
“Some of it, Jackie.”
Stan pulled out a crumpled wad of bills. Hands shaking, he counted.
“Twenty, thirty, I got thirty-two. I can get more tomorrow.”
Stan pushed the bills toward Jackie. Jackie stared for a few seconds, then glanced at Mort, who snatched the bills from Stan.
“Let’s take a walk, Stan,” said Jackie.
Mort grabbed Stan by the shoulder and pushed him toward the alley. When they reached it, Mort shoved him behind two dumpsters.
“Jackie, swear to God, I can get more this week.”
“Stan,” Jackie said, shaking his head. “You borrowed five-hundred, three weeks ago, and missed the vig twice. I told you, take your time paying the principle, but you got to make the interest. Now you owe six-hundred, and you hand me thirty-two bucks? I think I’m going to leave Mort here for a talk.”
“No, Jackie, please. If I’m hurt, I can’t load trucks. How am I going to pay you if I can’t load?”
“That’s your problem.”
“Shut up. Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. This thirty-two bucks, we’ll call it pain and suffering. That means Friday, you owe me one-fiddy. You don’t have it, you’re going to have to find some line of work don’t require mobility, got me?”
“Yeah, sure, Jackie. I’ll get it somehow. I’ll load extra trucks-”
“I don’t care how you do it. And come to me. Don’t make us have to find you.”
Jackie turned and walked out of the alley. Mort hit Stan in the gut before following.
Stan began walking home, trying to think. He had four days to come up with one-fifty, plus his rent was due. Enough for food, cigarettes, and beer — call it two-fifty.
He did piece work at Ace Foods, loading trucks. They paid him twenty-five a truck, no matter how big. No way could he load ten trucks in four days unless he got lucky with the loads.
Damn it! Why did this keep happening? If he could just put together a little money and one sweet deal, he’d be set. He was halfway home when he thought of his mother. He hated asking her, but desperate times…
Stan slipped up to his mother’s door and knocked, but no answer. Maybe she’s not home, he thought, I can slip in and check her stash in the sewing chest. He took out his key and tried to insert it, but it wouldn’t fit. That’s when he noticed the shiny new brass.
“What the…,” he said as the door was opened.
“What do you want?” his mother snapped at him.
“Ma, why’d you change the locks?”
“Because things kept turning up missing, and you’re the only one with a key.”
“What things?” Stan said.
“The silver candlesticks I got as a wedding present. My watch — this watch,” she said, holding it up.
Stan stammered, “Where… How…”
“I had to buy my own damned watch back from the pawnshop. They already sold my candlesticks.”
“Ma, I swear, I don’t know what you’re talking-”
“Look, Ma, I didn’t come here to fight. I came about the Mother’s Day present I was going to get you. There’s this pearl brooch I saw, I’m going to get it for you.”
“Why are you telling me? If you’re buying me a present, just buy it.”
“Well, see, that’s the thing. Mother’s Day’s Sunday, and I’m a little short. If you could front me a few bucks ’til I put together this deal…”
“Always a deal, just like your father. I don’t have any money for you. I love you, and I hope you get your life together. But don’t come back here until you do,” she said, slamming the door in his face.
“Witch,” Stan muttered, turning toward home.
By the time he got there, he was contrite as usual. She’s right, he thought, opening a beer, I have to get myself together. By the time he finished a six-pack, he had once again resolved to change.
“Tomorrow, I’ll be on the docks before the shift starts. I need to load two trucks in two days and three the other two. I can do that. It’ll make some long days, but I can start paying off Jackie and quit gambling. Tomorrow will be better,” he said to himself, falling asleep in the ratty recliner where he spent most nights.
In spite of past failures, Stan stayed true to his word. By Thursday noon, he’d loaded six trucks. If nothing else, he had Jackie’s vig in his pocket. By the time they met him Friday, he’d be in the black. He sat on the bench, waiting for his next truck. A few minutes later, Buddy dropped down beside him.
“Hey, Stan, what’s up?”
“Just loading, Buddy. I need to get three today. Hope I get a light one next, you know?”
“Yeah, but I won’t have to worry about it after tomorrow.”
“What, you found a job?”
“Nah,” Buddy said and lowered his voice, “I got a sure thing at the dog tracks. I been loading all week — going to put the whole wad down on the last race. It’s a sweet deal. I can let you in, but you got to promise not to tell anybody. Too many people get in and the odds tank, you know?”
“Sounds good, Buddy, but I’m going to pass. I have to load four more trucks before I get out of here tomorrow.”
“Okay, let me know if you change your mind — it’s going to be long odds.”
Stan felt good about his decision as he sat, waiting for his next load. The foreman finally brought over his ticket.
“Door six, Stan. Reefer. Fifty-four K,” the foreman recited and handed Stan his loading ticket.
Buddy laughed as Stan walked away, “Think about it, Stan.”
“Yeah, son-of-a-,” Stan muttered as he walked toward door six. Refrigerated truck, fifty-four thousand pounds. Worst load you could pull. This one would kill him, no way to get the third truck in today. As he picked up the first of five thousand boxes of cheese, he thought about a sure thing at the track.
By the time he finished and got his twenty-five dollars, he decided he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t face another day pushing boxes into a cold truck. He looked around for Buddy. Not finding him, he asked the foreman.
“Buddy left over an hour ago. Pulled a short load.”
With that, Stan dragged home. He was stiff and cold from four hours in a frozen box with twenty-seven tons of cheese. When he got there, he collapsed in his chair and fell asleep.
Waking the next morning, Stan could barely lift his arms to light his cigarette. He washed some aspirin down with a warm beer and decided. He had to find Buddy. There’s plenty of time; Buddy said it was the last race.
Walking out his front door, he was stopped by Mort, leaning against Jackie’s double-parked car.
“Stan,” Mort said.
“Mort,” Stan said, his hand involuntarily touching his pocket. “I was going to come find you guys, like I said, after work. I got to load two more trucks, then I’ll have it.”
“Stan, it ain’t’ like we don’t trust you, we were in the neighborhood. If you say you’ll have it this afternoon, that’s good enough for us. But if we have to look for you, it ain’t going to be pretty.”
Mort turned and got back into the Cadillac, and Stan hurried down the sidewalk.
“What do you think, boss?” Mort asked Jackie.
“I think Ace Foods is the other direction. Did you see him pat his pocket? I don’t know if he’s got our money, but he’s got some of it. Follow him, let’s see where he goes.”
Stan got to the tracks just before the first race. He hurried up to the betting window out of habit before stopping himself. No, I got to find Buddy, get the scoop on the last race. He walked along the windows, looking for his friend. He didn’t spot Buddy, so he headed down to the bleachers by trackside, but no luck there either.
“Crap,” he thought. Where is he? The only place he hadn’t looked was up in the lounge, but that had a ten-buck cover. He walked through the place once more. By this time, the second race was underway. Getting worried, he paid the ten dollars to get into the lounge. He wandered around for forty-five minutes without luck.
Leaving the lounge, he spotted Mort heading up the stairs. “What the heck is he doing here?” He turned around, bolted into the restroom, and hid in a stall. He waited five minutes before peeking out. Not seeing anyone, he hurried down to the main concourse. Looking at the board, he saw they were finishing the fourth race. There were twelve races tonight. How was he going to keep ducking Mort and find Buddy at the same time? He could just fork over the one-fifty, but if they caught him here, they would probably rough him up anyway.
By the time the tenth race began, he was getting frantic. An hour of ducking and hiding while trying to find Buddy was grating on his nerves. He was making another pass when he spotted Mort coming toward him. He turned around and got in the closest betting line, hiding his head behind a racing program. Glancing back, he saw Mort was at the end of the same line.
“Bet please,” the teller called out.
He said the first thing he thought of, “Two dollars on number three to win.”
The teller looked up. “Sir, this is a twenty-dollar minimum. If you’d step to the side…”
He was attracting too much attention. “No, sorry. I meant twenty on number three to win,” he said, paying for and retrieving his ticket.
He walked away and made for the track entrance. He had bet on a long shot. If he lost, he couldn’t even pay the one-fifty. Where the heck was Buddy?
As he watched the three dog finish last, he heard his name. He turned around to see Buddy walking toward him, a smile on his face.
“Decided to take my advice?”
With a shaky sigh, he said, “Yeah, where you been, I’ve been looking for you all day?”
“No point in getting here early, I’m only betting on the twelfth.”
“Okay, so what’s the deal?”
“This is a grade-A dog, been racing down south. He’s registered here under a fake name in a grade-C race. He’s going to blow past the rest of the pack. Put it all on number seven to win. Odds should be at least forty to one.”
Stan hurried back to the windows. If he pulled those odds, he’d walk away with almost six grand. He could pay off Jackie and live in style. He was thinking about winning as he bumped into someone.
“Excuse me,” he said without looking up.
“That’s okay, Stan, we was just looking for you.”
Stan looked up into Mort’s cold smile.
“Thought you were going to work, then meet us with our money.”
“They were light on trucks, so I came to the track instead. Let me place this bet. As soon as the race is over, I’ll pay what I owe.”
“Why not pay first? I’d hate to think you were betting all your cash and both legs on a dog.”
Stan was starting to sweat. Only a few minutes until bets closed. He couldn’t tell Mort about the deal. If Jackie found out and bet large, the odds would sink.
“I swear, Mort. Meet me right here after the race, and I’ll pay you the whole thing.”
“It’s your funeral,” Mort said as he walked back toward the lounge.
“One minute to post!” the announcer said.
Stand hurried to the fifty-dollar window where there was no line.
“A hundred forty on seven to win,” he said. He turned from the window with his life held in the paper ticket showing forty-two to one odds.
He got to the track as they opened the gates. When the dogs came by, they were in a tight pack. He could see number seven halfway back on the outside. Through the first two turns, he held that position.
“Go,” Stan said, almost in tears. Down the backstretch, the pack spread out, but his dog was no better than fifth. Stan turned to look at the exits, planning an escape as the dogs hit the third turn. A roar from the crowd brought him back around. Seven was coming strong on the outside. By the time they got to the last turn, he was third and gaining fast.
Stan’s heart was leaping out of his chest as seven continued to gain, now in second place, then in first, crossing the wire a full head in front.
“Yes, oh my God!” Stan screamed as he ran back to collect. He had just turned around when Mort came up and grabbed his shoulder from behind. Stan turned, smiling.
“What are you grinning about?” Mort said.
“Nothing, Mort, my man, here’s your money,” Stan said as he counted out Six hundred and fifty dollars into Mort’s palm.
“Uh, yeah, I guess so,” Mort said, turning away, wondering how his boss was going to take this.
The next day, Stan was in a jewelry store, buying that pearl brooch for his mother, while three blocks away, Jackie entered a flower shop.
“Can I help you, sir?”
“Yeah, I need something for Mother’s Day. You got any of them Jack-in-the-Pulpits?”