“So, what’s the catch?”
“Ain’t no catch. You pay cash now, or...” The Collector glanced at my chest, half hid beneath the table. “… you pay with your, uh, you know.”
I pulled fresh bristles of a growing beard under my palm. “What kind of organs are we talking?”
From his back pocket, he produced a laminated card; the thick plastic felt like a small Waffle House menu. Though, this room didn’t smell like bacon and eggs, this room smelled like Clorox covering for mildew.
“My name is Lance, by the way. Figure we’re on a first name basis now, Anthony. Or is it Tony?”
I ignored his question, partially because he wasn’t the type of person I wanted to be on a first name basis with but mostly because I was stunned. The card listed all the organs the Casino would accept as debt payment and the payout for each. One kidney paid $5K. A liver lobe paid $25K, a full lung $50K and so on. The bottom of the card read: If you can survive to lose it, we’ll use it.
“The payouts change on the regular.” Lance smoothed his dark hair back. “You caught them on a good day. I seen that kidney as low as $1K before.”
“You’re telling me that my options are to pay you in full right now or sell an organ?”
“There’s the payment plan option too,” Lance said with a shrug of his shoulder, his leather jacket groaned at the movement.
“The plan with a 20% interest rate and the address of my mother?”
“If you ain’t got a mom, we’ll take anyone in your family. Girlfriend, even. I bet a pretty boy like you got a girl.”
Had. – Had a girl. “This is illegal.”
“So is gambling.” He flashed his stained teeth.
“What if…” There wasn’t a chance in hell I’d let some hacks pull out one of my organs but I couldn’t risk Jenny. Also, I can’t exactly call someone to ask for fifty thousand dollars at two in the morning, even if I had someone to call. “What if I could offer my services instead?”
“I ain’t into blow jobs from dudes, even pretty ones like you.”
I shook my head to release the image. “No, I mean my services for your payment model. I’m a surgeon.”
Lance laughed. “You ain’t a surgeon.”
In another life, I’d punch his ugly teeth and leave. Well, I wouldn’t be here in the first place. But in this life, I’m in so much student loan debt, I thought borrowing from the House to throw it all on black a reasonable gamble. The odds of hitting are actually 48.6%, which is worse than the 50/50 I assumed, yet equally as foolish.
“I am. County Medical. I’d guess there aren’t a line of surgeons waiting to work here.”
“You’d be surprised.” He raised his eyebrows. “But. The boss is still going to be interested in this. You’re going to have to wait here until I can talk to her.”
“That’s fine.” I crossed my arms over my chest and leaned back in the fold-out chair. I didn’t feel fine.
“You got credentials or something?”
I slid my hospital ID out of the stack of cards I kept secured with a rubber band, and threw it on the table. “You can look me up.”
Lance grabbed it and read it over, tilting it under the light like a bar bouncer.
“I want to talk to her,” I said.
“Believe me, boy doctor. She’ll talk to you tonight.” He pocketed my ID. “Press the button if you need anything.”
Lance left me alone in the Casino interrogation room. It reminded me of the mental health pods at the hospital: nothing to see but windowless white walls and nothing to hear but the thoughts in your head.
After what felt like hours, the door opened. I stopped pacing like a caged tiger.
“Dr. Anthony Henry,” a short woman with a straight black bob said as she entered the threshold. “Someone once told me to never trust a man with two first names.”
“Someone once told me to never trust Casinos.”
We stared at each other. She appraised me head to toe and I hoped she couldn’t see through my façade. The dark haired and dark eyed woman before me couldn’t have been more than five feet tall but she filled the entire space. Her cheekbones were so prominent that it made the space above her jaw appear capsized. Her thin lips were painted a bright red against her moon-colored skin. I half expected that when she smiled, I’d see fangs.
“I understand you’d like to settle your debt by offering your medical expertise to the Casino.”
“That. And then some. I came here because I’m in need of cash. Fast.”
“Isn’t everyone?” Her voice cut as sharp as her features.
“Well, yeah. I suppose they are. But not everyone can complete a nephrectomy. I can.” I had done it once, under the close supervision of my attending. But she didn’t need to know that. I needed this money today.
“You’ve successfully completed that surgery once, under close supervision.” Shit. She really did look me up. “You’ve never once completed pneumonectomy or even a lobectomy. At least you’ve assisted on a few liver resections.”
“How’d you get that information so quickly?”
“People in this city settle their debts with me in all sorts of ways. What are you proposing, Doctor?”
“Double my debt. Give me the $50K I owe you and the $50K I came here to win. I’ll work it all off by preforming your surgeries.”
“What do you need the money for?”
“I’m afraid.” She tucked her hair behind her ear exposing a brilliant diamond cuff, likely worth the amount of my debt. “When I loan debtors six figures, I need to understand the nature of their loan.”
“It's none of your business.”
“You wouldn’t receive the same courtesy from the bank. Furthermore, you are detained in my facility because you already owe me money. You may be an educated man but, Dr. Henry, you are not a smart man.”
I sighed because she was right. I overestimated my leverage. “My ex. She had a baby… My baby. And she’s sick. Really sick.” I cleared my throat and pulled my shoulders back. “She needs this specialized treatment to save her life and it’s expensive. And I don’t have the money… Or the skills to save her.”
“How much is the treatment?”
“One-hundred thousand dollars.” Saying it out loud dropped an anvil in my gut. The same feeling that led me here in the first place. When Jenny told me, with tears in her eyes, I told her not to worry; I’d figure it out.
“And your insurance doesn’t cover this?”
“Well, Je… My ex doesn’t have insurance. And the baby isn’t legally mine, yet. I just found out.”
“How noble of you.”
“Are you going to accept my deal or not? I told you everything you need to know.”
“I will. I’ll give you the money, on my terms.”
That seemed too easy. “And your terms are?”
“Lance will bring in the contract with the particulars. But you must first complete six months of training under the supervision of our more seasoned surgeons. I won’t allow an amateur to carve up our debtors.” She spoke to the top of my head, not me. “And then you can begin to complete the surgeries towards your debt. Ten percent of the value for each organ will go toward your liability. Once it’s paid in full, plus the accrued interest, you can decide if you’d like to stay on our staff or not.”
“You’re kidding me, right?”
“You have the other options Lance offered you. Think about it, Anthony.”
She turned on her heels and left the room.
That was my choice. Simple. Give my life and my skills, the skills I sacrificed so much for, to gangsters or risk my daughters life, the daughter I had never met.
“Not everyone gets a visit from the boss herself,” Lance said by way of introduction.
“I never asked her name.”
He scoffed. “She wouldn’t have told you anyway. Do you want to read it over before you sign?” He slid the contract across the table and held out a pen.
I pictured my daughter and her wide brown eyes, just like my own. I knew before the paternity test, just by looking at her picture that she was a part of me. I pictured the life she could have. I saw her first steps, her first day of school, graduating, laughter, tears, and all the possibilities ahead. I wasn’t ready to be a father, and I never had much of an example. But I would think that, at a minimum, a good dad would keep his kid alive, give them a chance.
I shook my head, held out my hand for the pen, and signed.