"Boy, you ain't gettin' out of this town." Uncle Russ shifted in his seat, elbow perched on a slightly crooked knee and finger creating little wrinkles in a pool of sweat at his temple. He rocked slowly on the wooden chair he'd crafted thirty years prior. It was his proudest possession; he'd fashioned it from the old oak tree he had climbed and subsequently fallen out of as a boy. Comeuppance, he'd called it.
Now, the arm was molded and soggy, nearly crumbling under the weight of the man's forearm. Charlie couldn't count to begin with, but were he able, he was sure he wouldn't have enough fingers to represent the number of time's that wooden plank had been replaced. He'd helped Uncle Russ with the screwdriver, and he hated it. He hated tools, he hated work, and he hated the sound of wood rocking along the wooden porch. He could be inside the house, at the farthest corner of the single-room shelter, and still hear the screech. Back and forth, back and forth, back and…
He felt the sting of his Uncle's hand before he could register the characteristic silence that preceded his Uncle's anger. "'Didn't ya hear me, boy? Issa 'bout time you started helpin' your Uncle out here on the farm. Them pigs ain't gonna feed themselves, kid."
Charlie looked down at his shoes and nodded. He was much more interested in the shape of his big toe nail, the one that had cut itself free of the stinky canvas cage and now wiggled freely in the dank air. He could hear the southern vernacular escaping the chapped lips of his papa's kin - he refused to accept him as anything but - but neglected to consider the cruel words. Perhaps it wasn't cruelty, to Uncle Russ; had Papa been there, thought Charlie, maybe he would have prompted Charlie towards the same fate of hard labor and near poverty. Charlie liked to believe his papa had more honor than his brother.
"Damn kid," Charlie heard Uncle Russ spit, as he walked back to his chair and his beer and his sedentary nature. The boy walked to his corner, cursing the splinters that remained imperfectly lodged in his perfectly calloused feet, and peered down at the pile of envelopes at the base of his chair. He'd come to recognize the whisper of the mail sliding under the door every morning, something foreign to Uncle Russ. He wondered if Uncle Russ knew Charlie was taking his envelopes. He assumed his Uncle's ignorance. Somewhere in that pile was a letter from the bank, and Charlie had enough foresight to know he didn't want Uncle Russ to open it.
Charlie knew the importance of communication: Papa was a businessman. He'd assumed as much, considering the polished nature of his mama and papa in the picture carefully taped to the wood paneling next to his cot. Mama was beautiful, but papa was proud. Charlie liked to think Papa had been proud of him. Charlie wanted to be proud of something, too.
He didn't want to be proud of a chair, like Uncle Russ. Charlie hated that chair. Charlie hated a lot of things, but nothing more than that chair. Maybe Uncle Russ would have been proud of Charlie if he didn't have that chair. Charlie immediately regretted the thought.
Uncle Russ didn't make Charlie like he'd made that chair. Somehow, if the chair were given to Uncle Russ the way Charlie had been, the boy thought it would be knocked around as much as he was. Builds character, Uncle Russ would tell it. Charlie hated that word, too. Character.
Anyway, thought Charlie, the chair was still in worse condition than he was.
Charles Dunburry, Jr. was the eighth richest man in the seventh richest county of the sixth richest state in the nation. It was an accomplishment he often boasted, despite the fact anyone porting the esteem to visit his office in the penthouse of a multi-million dollar casino-nightclub-hotel-multiplex-extraordinaire could see the achievement in three-foot golden letters etched into the marblest marble money could buy. Mr. Dunburry was a businessman to his core and would only stand to be recognized as such. He knew the power of investment; when investment came knocking, the bright, dazzling, charismatic smile of a one Mr. Dunburry would certainly be the first to greet it.
He wasn't much for working hard, because thinking was hard enough work.
Mr. Dunburry was the feature of all magazines, newsprints, interviews, radio broadcasts, television programs, board meetings, and tittle-tattle in Burmont County. Dunburry had become a family name, despite Charles Dunburry Jr.'s lack of family. Dunburry stew was eaten in Dunburry bowls with Dunburry spoons, by families squatting in Dunburry chairs in Dunburry apartments on Dunburry Avenue. Burmont County was characteristically shiny; Dunburry products were metallic, notoriously, perfectly polished by men with calloused hands in wooden buildings. Mr. Charles Dunburry Jr. had never visited these buildings or these men. It was a well-known fact the businessman hated tools and anything crafted from wood.
Charles Dunburry Jr. loved the publicity, only until he didn't. The latest gossip was a rumor surrounding Mr. Dunburry's multi-million dollar casino-nightclub-hotel-multiplex- extraordinaire. Charles Dunburry Jr. examined the front page of the Burmont County Weekly, examined the photograph as if it were a mirror reflecting a weary man that could only have been a man of business. His fingernails had been worn down by anxious teeth and enzymatic saliva...he saw this both in the photograph and on the fingers that held the print against the light. Charles Dunburry Jr. squinted, scrutinized the photo, then shut his eyes, but the headline had already been etched into the purple void of his dreary eyelids:
"Esteemed Businessman and Household Name Charles Dunburry Jr. Threatened by Suspicious String of Jackpot Wins"
Mr. Dunburry looked at the pile of envelopes near his perfectly polished Oxfords. He knew, somewhere in that pile, was a letter from the bank. Somewhere on that correspondence, in a pile of letters and numbers he could only count up to, in bold ink, were either the best or worst words known to a businessman. He assumed his own ignorance and returned his attention to the minimized window of footage on the 15-inch screen in front of his face.
There was no reasonable explanation for the frequency of jackpots recently observed by the Dunburry Casino. It was rumored Mr. Dunburry was losing multi-millions of dollars in payments to lucky winners at the Poker Table. There was no possible explanation: Mr. Dunburry was a businessman, and he knew business. The key to a successful business, according to the successful thinker, was to eliminate expense and proliferate profit. He invested in his bright, dazzling, charismatic teeth the same way he invested in dealers who kept lucky streaks to a non-existent minimum. Besides, thought Charles Dunburry Jr., no man walks through the doors of a casino with extra room in his wallet.
Mr. Dunburry made the essential assumption he made in all business endeavors: this was the hard labor of a thinker. Only one man, and one man alone, could have the intellect to rival that of Charles Dunburry Jr., for the probability of two men, or three, of four, was merely notional - Mr. Dunburry was in the business of probability.
Certainly, the winners all appeared different, of different races, different genders, different ages. But Charles Dunburry Jr. had the intuition to recognize the similar nature of the winner's wins: the bastards never looked at their cards.
Luck? Blasphemy! One could only logically suspect the victors' assurance they would win...but to scam so conspicuously as to play the game in blatant disregard of the rules? It was a personal attack on the cunning of a businessman - of all businessmen, as represented by the interest of the best in the business, Mr. Charles Dunburry Jr.
He stopped the video as the most recent winner thrust their bounty towards the center of the table. All in, without a single glance. Mr. Dunburry scoffed, produced the print from the machine beneath his metal desk, and circled the man. He proceeded to place the photograph with the plethora of pictures of the perpetrator previously probed by protruding eyes.
Surely, the authorities would not be adoit as Charles Dunburry Jr.; Mr. Dunburry was now in the business of saving his own.
Astute as he was, Mr. Dunburry designed a plan as clever as a plan could be. He handed the dealer a stack of cards, a fresh bill, and the responsibility of employing the deck he had personally seen to would absolutely, under no circumstance, produce a winner. He retreated to the penthouse of his multi-million dollar casino-nightclub-hotel-multiplex- extraordinaire, to the metal desk above the decisive machine, and fixed his gaze on the 15-inch screen. It was this position he assumed as he watched the money drain from his bank account as quickly as he did.
Charles Dunburry Jr. was angry. He hated many things, but he hated nothing more than the winner. He hated the idea of closing the poker table: to close was to admit expenditure, and the key to success, from the successful thinker, was to minimize expenditure and proliferate profit. He was a businessman, after all. Protecting his investment was paramount.
Mr. Dunburry perched at his seat and counted the seconds as the perpetrator - identified by his lack of interest in the hand dealt to him - pushed his score to the center of the table. A win was impossible; Charles Dunburry Jr. had fixed the deck himself. And yet, as Mr. Dunburry chomped down on the bloodied nail bed of his right index finger, as the perpetrator removed his empty wallet from his trousers, as the video on the 15 inch screen on the metal desk above the machine played for the businessman, the dealer dealt the final card and the final blow to Dunburry Casino on a metal Dunburry table covered in a sickly green felt.
Mr. Dunburry assumed the sickly green and immediately melted into the reddest red he could have melted to. He removed his Oxfords and, as the dank air hit his big toe nail finally freed from its leather cage, he began to run.
Down the stairs - no time to wait for the meandering pace of the metal elevator. Time was money. An investment. That was his business.
He ran down the stairs and into the lobby, shoeless, rabid, a businessman. He ran down the stairs and into the lobby and toward the Poker Table, toward the sickly green felt and the only man to rival his cunning.
He ran down the stairs and into the lobby and toward the poker table and into the Perpetrator.
Mr. Dunburry held the newsprint delicately between the bloodied index finger and thumb of his right hand. He held it up to the only light he owned, which hung from a wooden fixture in his one-room shelter, and examined an image of himself in his last good suit as if it were a mirror.
Charles Dunburry Jr. squinted, scrutinized the photo, then shut his eyes, but the headline had already been etched into the purple void of his dreary eyelids:
"Esteemed Businessman and Household Name Loses Fortune After Lawsuit over Broken Hands of Lucky Jackpot Winner"