Chapter 1: When the Brass Ring Grabs You by Nate Jenkins
What would you do for five millions dollars?
When John Watson answered that question he gets in way over his head.
The FBI, a crooked police chief and a Colombian Drug Lord are all looking for him.
Two things may save him. They don't know his name. And his first high school crush, Bonnie Greene.
And if John is being honest, Bonnie isn't the most stable person, especially after losing her seven-year-old daughter. She's been working out of the Riverview Motel, making money the "old-fashion" way. And she likes to drink a little too much.
Just how far will John and Bonnie go, what will they discover and how will the Brass Ring Grab them?
I had always been told that if I got a chance to grab the brass ring - grab it. Thank God that Bonnie Greene was there for my grab. It was Tuesday - I was home sitting at my desk surfing the Net. Something I found myself doing more and more these days to escape the dreariness of my today was just like my yesterday rut - when I heard the phone ring.
"John - phone." The icy tone in her voice meant that it was one of my friends from the bad old days.
Back when I thought that I was going to be a rock star. Back when I was into the whole "Sex, Drugs and Rock-n-Roll" bit. I grew out of it, some of my friends never did. Ginger didn't like them very much back then, she didn't even try to hide that fact anymore. It pissed her off every time that one of them called or came by, and that pissed me off. Yep it was inevitable, there was going to be a fight tonight. Oh well - I'd had a lousy day at work too. Today was probably as good a day as any for a fight. That way the whole day would be a perfect waste.
"John man - it's Sam!" Sam sounded like he'd just been crying.
"Saaammm - How've you been? What's wrong?" I asked apprehensively.
"What do you mean what's wrong?" His reply was very nervous.
"I mean it's been at least seven years since I heard from you last. Plus you sound like you have been or are just about to start crying."
A long silence followed.
"John - I need your help. I mean I really need your help."
"What's wrong?" I asked cautiously.
"I probably shouldn't talk about this over the phone. I - can you come over here?" He sounded like he was at the end of his rope.
"Man - Sam - I don't know. It's not like it was when we were kids."
"Please John - I'm in a lot of trouble. I wouldn't ask if there was any other way." He said desperately.
I never could say "no" to Sam. Once he was my younger brother Gary's best friend. He kind of adopted me as a surrogate big brother, and more or less was adopted by me. He was a good friend to both of us.
"Where are you?" If Sam needed my help then he was going to have it. I was already going to have to fight with Ginger, might as well make it a good one.
"I need to go out for a little while." I said rather nonchalantly hoping that I could maybe slip past her and put off the fight for a little while.
"What do you mean you're going out?" It was funny how quickly the ice could turn into fire.
The bell for round one sounded.
"Sam needs my help for a little while. I've got to go." I said in a calm tone.
I wasn't going to give her any fuel. She was going to have to provide all the heat for this one. I was fighting a delaying action. There was time for this fight later.
"Look, there'll be time for this later." I said as I grabbed my keys from the counter and walked out the door.
She didn't follow me out. That meant that she would just sit in there and boil. Cool with me, I just wanted to get this day over with. There wasn't time for a good fight now. I just wanted to go see Sam, have a big fight with Ginger, go to bed mad and start over again tomorrow.
I backed out of the driveway and headed for the Riverview Motel. That's where Sam told me he'd be. It was built just after WWII for the returning soldiers. A nice little place on the river that was cheap enough for the regular Joe to afford. It had a dock and you could rent paddleboats. They had tons and tons of sand hauled in to make a man-made beach. That beach was then littered with bar-b-cue grills. It was a good place for the returning soldiers to get reacquainted with their wives and begin to shrug off the horrors of war.
Now only junkies and hookers stayed there. A good place to get just about anything you wanted - including shot. The fact that Sam was staying there, meant at the very least Sam wasn't doing too good. I had a bad feeling - I was about to have my nose in something that I shouldn't. If this weren't Sam I wouldn't be doing this. I probably shouldn't be doing this anyway. It would serve me right if I got shot.
Sam was a good kid back in the day. He had wealthy parents and never had to work. He always had everything that he wanted, a sports car, a motorcycle, the best weed, and even though he wasn't the best looking guy, he always had a nice looking girl with him.
He started selling weed back in high school. Just small time though, really just enough to keep him in the stuff. Back then we were all into smoking it. We were young and stupid and didn't know any better. Most of us quit, once we got married and started having kids. For me the risk became greater than the reward. One bad urinalysis and I was screwed. I made too much money to throw it all away for a buzz. Sam graduated to selling cocaine but that didn't happen until after I got married and quit. It was also about the time we stopped spending a lot of time together. We didn't part badly, he just went his way and I went mine. We never stopped being friends. We just started going around in different circles. The last time that I saw him was at my mom's funeral. He was one of the pallbearers. That's why I had to help him now. The last time that I saw him, he was helping me.
Twenty minutes after pulling out of my driveway, I pulled up in front of the Riverview. It had been at least fifteen years since I'd been here. Man had this place run down. It had pretty much gone from a Bed and Breakfast to a Bed and Bug when I was a teenager. Now the bedbugs wouldn't be caught dead here, what a dump. I felt dirty just pulling into the driveway. I was going to have to wash my car when I left. I had the windows rolled up and I could still smell the stench of wasted lives. Those people who swore to themselves that it would never happen to them. They would never be addicted to anything.
I didn't judge them, there but for the Grace of God go I. It could have just as easily happened to me. I could be one of those guys that were passed out by the soda machine. I could've been one of those guys, ready to do something that utterly repulsed him, for one more high. I really hoped that Sam hadn't gotten to this stage. It had been a long time since I'd seen him and I'd heard a few things about Sam over the years.
When he switched from pot to cocaine, at first, he did really well. He came by my house in a brand new Corvette that he'd purchased with cash. He owned a really nice house and a couple of condos. He paid cash for a new Harley and a ski boat. He married one of those beauty queens that were always riding in his car. He was living the high life. He had it made.
Then one day, he started sampling his product. It didn't take long and the shine began to fade. He had to sell the condos to pay off a debt. The same thing happened to his Harley and his boat. He lost everything but his beauty queen. She hung on, but she was sampling the product too. The shine on her beauty had really faded. I'd heard that she was working out of here from time to time, now that no one would let her dance anymore. They had a very unusual relationship but it worked for them. The last that I'd heard he still had his nice house. I wondered why I was meeting him here.
I pulled up as close to the room as I could. I got out of the car and almost immediately someone approached me.
"Hey handsome - want to party?" She asked in a cheery voice.
Her voice sounded very familiar. I turned and looked at my would be rent-a-wife. To my shock and amazement it turned out that my new friend was an old friend.
"Bonnie? Is that you?" I couldn't believe my eyes. The smile on the once beautiful lady went away immediately.
"I don't know anyone named Bonnie." Her reply was almost mechanical, most definitely melancholy. She turned around and slowly headed back towards the other girls that were standing around the vending area.
"Bonnie! Wait - It's me John. Don't you remember me?" I chased after her and got in front of her to stop her escape.
She didn't look up as she said, "I remember, please John just leave me alone. I'm not Bonnie anymore. Bonnie's dead, she died about eight years ago."
I remembered, about eight years ago her nine-year-old daughter was riding her bike. Her pants leg got caught in the chain. She was looking down trying to get it unstuck. She didn't see the car coming. She didn't hear her mom screaming at her to stop. The teenager that was driving the car was messing with his CD player. He didn't see little Mary.
Unfortunately, Bonnie saw the whole thing. Little Mary lived just long enough to tell her mom that she was sorry for not watching out for cars. When Mary died, so did Bonnie. The only problem was that her brain forgot to send the message to her heart to stop pumping. I couldn't imagine what it must be like to have to bury one of my kids. I'll never forget that funeral. I'll never forget how Bonnie stamped her feet and then tried to rush the coffin that held her precious Mary. How when her husband stopped her short of the casket, she collapsed and had to be taken to the hospital.
I'd dated her back in high school. At one time I could honestly say that I was in love with her. I definitely had a big time crush anyway. She accepted the offer of an upper classman football star and broke my heart. I couldn't blame her though. He was All-everything and had scholarship offers from most of the major colleges in three different sports, baseball, basketball, and football. Of course he chose football, and a couple of weeks after "National Signing Day", was seen driving around town in a brand spanking new, fiery red Trans-Am. So much for pure amateur athletics, there was no way I could compete with that.
He got her pregnant and her dad insisted on a shotgun wedding. They still had them back in those days, especially when the groom could be sent away for statutory rape, which was the case here. Her dad wasn't anyone's fool. He saw the NFL on the horizon and wasn't going to miss out on that. What dad didn't see coming was Mr. All-American blowing out his knee in his senior year. Mr. All-American sells insurance now.
He blamed Bonnie for everything. Somehow it was Bonnie's fault that he never made it to the NFL. It was Bonnie's fault that she let Mary ride the bike that he bought for her. He was the type that made his self feel bigger by making others feel smaller. Bonnie already blamed herself for Mary. He drove her over the edge. She found solace in pills and booze. She didn't find any in her husband. They divorced almost a year to the date after Mary's funeral.
Bonnie - now hooked on the pills and the booze had no way to buy them. She was always attractive, always sexy. A friend of hers suggested that she might do well as an exotic dancer. She introduced Bonnie to the manager of a local club. He persuaded her to give it a try. She made almost two thousand dollars in her first week. She didn't like it very much, but her husband had never had a two thousand-dollar week. It was hard to argue with success. She could afford her pills and booze again. By now, that was all that mattered to Bonnie, because that was all that she had left.
There's a cancer that goes with dancing, cocaine. Many dancers wind up doing cocaine. Bonnie didn't stand a chance against that stuff. She was already hooked on alcohol and painkillers. When one of the girls offered her some cocaine, she didn't even think twice about it. She snorted it all up and went out and broke all of her previous money records. After that, she did some every night to boost business. It didn't take long and she had another addiction to deal with.
The only problem with her new money booster is that it cost more than the increased profits. After awhile she didn't have any money at the end of the night. She turned to cheaper cocaine - crack. It was cheaper to buy but cost more because it didn't last as long. Once you're on the crack, snorting the more expensive cocaine doesn't do it for you anymore. It takes more of a toll on your body too.
She started losing her looks. She just didn't look as good anymore. She started losing her business to the younger prettier girls. To make up the difference, she began selling her body to anyone who would come up with the price. The price was quite high in the beginning and I would bet that she was worth every penny. As the crack began to take even more of a toll on her looks, the price went down. Now here she was at the Riverview, she deserved better than this.
"It's OK Bonnie, I understand." I tried to sound un-judgmental.
"How could you understand?" She came back at me rather fiercely.
I had that one coming, but then how could I understand. "I mean…" I was dumbfounded.
"It's OK John, I'm sorry for snapping at you. So - how're you doing? You look great!" She said trying to lighten the mood.
"Thanks, even if I know that you're lying." I replied.
"No, I mean it, you look good."
"Thanks, so do you."
"Now look who's lying." She said with a smile returning to her face.
She seemed a little more relaxed now.
"What in the hell are you doing here? You shouldn't be here." She said.
When I saw Bonnie I almost forgot why I'd even come here.
"I'm on an errand of mercy." I replied.
"Not on my behalf?" She gasped almost in a panic.
"No, I didn't even know that you were here. I need to go though. It was great seeing you. I've thought of you often over the years. You know you broke my heart once." I said jokingly.
I was only half joking. Many were the times when Ginger was raking me over the coals that I would dream about what my life would've been like with Bonnie.
"I'm sorry about that, as they say - hindsight is 20 x 20. I have to confess that I've thought about you too."
We both smiled at that one.
"Well I've got to go." I said as I pulled out my wallet.
"What do you think you're doing?" She cried in protest as she saw my wallet.
"I'm paying you back the forty dollars I owe you." I replied.
"You know - Right before you broke my heart, you bought me a half ounce. Well it's been awhile but here's your money."
We both knew that one was a lie but she took the money anyway. We hugged and she walked off to join the other girls. There was something about that hug. She didn't want to let go. She just kept on hugging me. I didn't mind though, I hadn't been hugged like that for a long time and it felt good.
For a moment, we were both back in high school. I could almost hear locker doors slamming. The years melted away for just a little while. We were kids again and nothing else in the world mattered but the two of us. Oh my - but it did feel good. I walked over to the room that Sam said that he'd be in. I knocked on the door.
I heard sounds on the other side of the door. I saw the curtain move as if by a breeze. I heard the sound of the chain being undone. The door opened, Sam grabbed me by the arm, jerked me into the room, slammed the door shut and immediately locked it. I regretted being there already. If he was acting like this, it was worse than I thought.
"Sam what have you gotten me into? What's going on?" I didn't try to hide my irritation.
"Someone's trying to kill me John!"
"Why don't you go to the police?" I tried to sound calmer.
"The police are in on it John. They killed Jeannie and now they're trying to kill me." He was beside himself with fear.
"Oh man, Sam, I'm sorry! How did they kill Jeannie?"
"The coroner is calling it a drug overdose, but I know better." He still sounded scared but now there was some anger mixed in.
"Explain why you can't go to the police." I needed to know what I was getting into. I definitely didn't want any trouble with those guys.
"Chief Blanchard is the one that OD'd Jeannie. He's had connections south of the Equator for years now. Where do you think most of the cocaine comes from in this area? I know it, Jeannie knew it, but that's not why she's dead. A lot of people know it."
"Why is Jeanie dead?" I asked.
"Because of this." He walked over to two navy duffel bags that were full to the top. "This one is full of about twenty million dollars worth of cocaine." He pointed to one of the bags. "That one's full of about ten million in cash, give or take a few grand."
He sat down on the bed and put his head in his hands.
"I don't know why she did it but she stole this from the Chief last week. He caught up with her, and when she wouldn't tell him where it was, he killed her. It was also meant as a message for me. I better deliver the cocaine and the money or the coroner will be calling my death a drug overdose too."
I sat back stunned. I figured that he was just in debt and needed some money. I had no idea, how could I? I just wanted to get out of there. I could already be screwed just for coming here. If what he said about Chief Blanchard was true, and he found out that I was here.
"What do you expect me to do? Sam - what have you gotten me into?" I was getting angry now.
"No one knows that you've been here." He said.
"Someone does know that I've been here!" I blurted out.
"Who?" There was a genuine puzzled look on his face.
"You remember Bonnie don't you?"
"Yeah, I remember Bonnie, you two dated back in the day."
"Well, she's living here now too. We talked when I got out of my car."
"Wow, she's living here now, that's too bad." He sounded a little sad about it.
"Well you're living here." I replied semi-sarcastically.
"I'm not living here," he said defiantly. "They're watching my house - I can't go there now and maybe not ever again." He said as his shoulders slumped down.
He looked like he was about to get into the fetal position and stick his thumb in his mouth.
"What do you want me to do Sam?" I asked again, this time without the fear and anger.
"I need you to hold on to these two bags for a few days. I've got someone lined up to give me ten million clean dollars for it. I can get out of here, go and live somewhere safe."
"When you take thirty million dollars from someone, there isn't such a place. Why do you need me? It sounds like you have it all under control."
"They might catch up with me. No matter what happens to me, I don't want them to get their hands on it again. Not after what they did to Jeannie." He said angrily.
"OK then, why not Gary?" I asked.
"There are too many people that know he and I are friends. They don't really know about you, but mostly because I can trust you. At least I used to be able to trust you. If I give this to anybody I run with now, I'll never see it again."
"I can't believe you got me into this." I said, and I was in it now.
"I'll give you half."
"Five million dollars huh - let me see the money."
For five million dollars, I could go and live someplace safe. I could at least get Ginger off of my back. No matter how much money I made it was never enough for her. She still felt cheated that she wasn't married to a rock star. She took every opportunity to remind me of that fact. Every time that she couldn't afford something that we needed or she wanted. Most of the time, something she wanted became something we needed. That little voice that tells you you're about to do something really stupid was screaming as loud as it could. It was screaming at me to tell Sam "No," and leave. I couldn't hear it though. All I could hear was "five million dollars - five million dollars - five million dollars."
Nate Jenkins, born in Channelview, Texas, went on to receive an Associates of Applied Science degree from Texas State Technical Institute majoring in Computer Science Technology. Now a retired computer programmer with computer codes he’s written spread all over the world, Nate is a musician who loves music of all kinds. As a father of three, two sons and a daughter, and a grandfather of three, Nate currently lives in Pearland, Texas where he is playing out a lifelong passion for writing. When the Brass Ring Grabs You is the first book in Nate’s I’ve Always Heard... series. Keep an eye out for much more from this talented author!