“Our numbers are in the toilet! What do I need to do? Set you on fire?”
Jimmy glowered at his assistants. They cringed inside. He needed a break. The day to day grind was getting to him. And then to see their numbers circling the drain depressed him. Jimmy hated working in collections. He couldn’t wait to get to Del Mar.
He continued, “We’re in a rut, guys. What can we do to get things moving? Leon!”
Leon flinched. “I don’t know boss. How about burning their cars?”
Jimmy did a face palm. “Arson is old hat, people...”
Leon kept going. “But you said…”
Jimmy held his hand up. Leon stopped. Jimmy struck a match and relit his cigar. He flicked the match at Leon who frantically brushed it away.
“We need focus. Personal appeal. How do we get under their skin and get them begging to pay us?”
Mickey mumbled something and caught Jimmy’s attention.
“Speak up, Mickey. So everyone can hear.”
Mickey kept looking down. “I just said, ‘Breaking their thumbs always worked for me.’”
Jimmy cocked his head. “Mickey… Have you heard anything I said? The old strategies don’t work anymore. We want to do better. Get it?”
“Good grief! Look at the time! I gotta go. Look, guys, I’m gonna be gone a week. Off with the wife for some much needed R&R. Work with me. Come up with some ideas. Our methods are mired in the past. This is the 21st century. Breaking legs doesn’t make it anymore.”
He shook his head. They didn’t get it.
“Look, guys. This is a great country. But you know what made it great?”
They stared at him, like a bunch of baby chicks with their mouths open.
“Repeat after me, guys… Inn-o-va-tion… We need this... Something fresh… Gotta go. See you in a week.”
He turned to go, shaking his head in frustration. “What am I thinking? Asking muscle heads to innovate…”
Jimmy stepped out and got into his waiting limo. He told the driver, “Swing by to pick up Bunny. Then, the Del Mar Hilton.”
He could jet down and save a few hours in transit. Jimmy was a gambler, but not fond of flying. Besides, he liked the drive through the desert, straight down the I-15. It gave him time to think. Especially since Bunny discovered Facebook.
They checked into the penthouse. There were flowers everywhere.
The lobby felt like a high school reunion. People Jimmy hadn’t seen in years came up to shake his hand and pat his back. Everyone was too friendly. Had they heard his numbers were down?
Jimmy asked Bunny to count the daggers in his back. She laughed.
But the horses were running. Opening weekend at Del Mar. Sweet.
Jimmy took Bunny to his favorite restaurant. The sunset over the Pacific was spectacular. Jimmy didn’t see it though. He was on his phone. Business doesn’t wait. The golden sunlight on Bunny’s face said it all.
It would be a full day. Jimmy got up early and headed to the track. He just walked in. Ticket booths wouldn’t open for hours. Only the grooms were there, up since four. Bookies and handicappers wouldn’t show for hours.
Bunny had a big day planned to shop and sun by the pool.
Cool enough to see your breath, grooms walked their horses. Farriers were finishing up. Tack was stowed. A tractor dragged the track after the water truck passed. They were testing the starting gate.
Jimmy strolled over to the immaculate stables. Chico called to him. They’d known each other forever.
“Hey Cheeck! Last time we met, you were barely a bug boy.”
“Billy still treating you well? I’m glad he took you off the leaky roof circuit.”
“Yes sir, Mr. Jimmy.”
“I hope so. You are the best. Got any mail for me?”
“We don’t run dogs, Mr. Jimmy.”
“No stall walkers? No rogues?”
“No. They’re all tight.”
Jimmy showed Chico his form “Who’s the topper in one?”
“How’s the track, by the way? Heavy?”
“It’s got a good bottom. The track is good.”
“With all the weather last winter?”
“I’ve been watching. The clockers are happy.”
Jimmy shook Chico’s hand and palmed him a fifty. Chico shoved it into his pocket and grinned broadly.
“Thank you Mr. Jimmy.”
“You bet, Chico!” They both laughed.
Jimmy wandered a bit, greeted some old timers and got a feel for the place. This is where he got his start.
Back at the clubhouse, the bar hadn’t opened. The betting windows were still deserted. A few hard core players had claimed their seats. Cigar smoke sweetened the air. No little old ladies yet.
Then Jimmy spotted him, Bennie Biltmore, known everywhere as a cheap tout.
“Jimmy the Hammer! I thought you’d be here for opening day.”
“Hey, Bennie. What’re you selling, more rabbits?”
“Not me, Jimmy. Unless you’re looking for a hot tip, or two.”
“Thanks Ben. I don’t want to get burned. I think I’m covered.”
“Jimmy! I wouldn’t burn you. You think I’m crazy?”
“Not crazy. No.” Bennie moved on.
Jimmy took a seat, lit a cigar and did some paper work. He locked down his favorites and climbed the steps into the clubhouse to place his bets. A few locks and a few long shots, Gate Crasher, Top O’ the Ritz, Shimmy Chamois, Little Shoulder, Run it By Me and Tornado in the sixth.
Where do they get these names? Jimmy thought it should be an interesting day. No maidens though, maybe later in the week.
He entered the bar. More longtime associates greeted him. Everyone glanced up at the wide screen TV. They were lining up for the first race.
The bell rang and they were off.
The races were short. But Jimmy’s day ran long. None of his bets came in the money. Not even close.
He got out the stakes on the last race, doubling down, trying to make up his losses, to no avail. Now he was out of the money by thousands, on margin. Not a problem for him but embarrassing. And everyone gabs.
Jimmy couldn’t believe it. He talked to people in the know, groomed his contacts for years. This never happened to him.
Something was up.
Jimmy returned to the hotel, made some calls and showered. Bunny was still at the pool. Jimmy didn’t mind. He didn’t feel like company.
Someone knocked on the door.
Jimmy answered it and a bellhop handed him an envelope. Jimmy gave him a ten and shut the door.
The envelope invited Jimmy to room 2300 to meet with Mr. Thompson. Now.
Jimmy got it. So Thompson fixed this. Time to put it behind him. He put on his tie and jacket and grabbed the next elevator to Thompson’s suite.
They’d known each other since the beginning, but never were friends. Always on opposite sides of a bet.
Years ago, Jimmy thought Thompson tried to kill him. Now he’s getting an invite to Thompson’s suite. Had anything changed beside their incomes?
Someone opened Thompson’s door to reveal the man standing by the bar near the balcony door. He held up a decanter as an offering.
“Rye, please.” Jimmy didn’t want the view to distract him.
Thompson picked up the bottle of rye and poured. He handed it to Jimmy with a broad smile.
“Too bad about your opening day.”
“Fast. I know. Crazy isn’t it?”
Jimmy sipped his drink and kept his eye on the open balcony door. He always knew where everyone in the room stood.
Thompson got serious. “I have a favor to ask.”
“After today, I’d expect…”
“I know. You’d be asking me the favor. Right?”
Thompson continued, “I think we can help each other out.”
“I don’t remember asking for help.”
Thompson laughed. “Good old Jimmy. You never give an inch.”
“I like to think of myself as a stretch runner.” They both laughed. It sounded like an empty can bouncing on concrete.
“Tell you what, Jimmy. I don’t want you embarrassed by today’s results.”
“I’ll be straight. Your organization holds paper on a few friends of mine.”
Now Jimmy got it.
“You want me to ease off?”
“Nice of you to offer. And in return, consider today’s loss a wash. Forget it.”
This surprised Jimmy. He’d never heard of such a thing. Thompson smiled at Jimmy’s reaction.
“I need names.”
“That’s taken care of. I just need your word.”
“That’s it? No catch?”
“This isn’t a jack-in-the-box, Jimmy.”
“That’s most generous. Then, I think we can do business, Mr. Thompson.”
“I knew we would.” Thompson offered his hand to shake. Jimmy switched his drink and shook with the man. He finished his drink and left.
Bunny was showering when he got back to their room. He felt good. In the elevator it came to him. Jimmy had an innovation he wanted to try.
He took Bunny to a new French restaurant he’d heard about. Things were looking up.
The following week, Jimmy called his team in to talk. He leaned on his desk.
“Whatcha got?” he asked them.
“What about thumb screws?” Leon offered.
“What? We’re going from the Stone Age to the Spanish Inquisition? Is that the best you came up with in a week?”
They stood in embarrassed silence.
“I tell you what we’re going to do,” said Jimmy. “We’re going to set up a payment plan.”
“Spread the word. Starting next week, these dead beats come up with half of what they owe? They’re in the clear.”
“I know. It’s radical. Listen up. This is what we tell them. If they don’t pay, the following week, they owe the full nut.”
It began to sink in. “And the week after that?”
“Bring out the bats.”
Leon and Mickey cheered.
Jimmy calmed them down. “But guys, the point is to tell them the steps. We want the money...”
“Sooner than later…”
“Now we have incentives for them to pay up. The bats come out only when we need them.”
“Got it, Jimmy!”
Jimmy high fived them. “Now stow the bats and get out the receipt books. I want to see those open accounts closed. Money on the table.”
Leon and Mickey shut the door on the way out.
Jimmy lit his cigar and blew a beautiful blue smoke ring.