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Something to Lose

A story of greed

By Matt SpazianiPublished 2 years ago 13 min read

“So without further ado, let’s all raise a glass and wish a happy thirtieth anniversary to Mr. and Mrs. Clapton!”

Cries of cheers! resounded throughout the foyer of the mansion, accompanied by the soft tinkling of crystal as the party guests touched their glasses to each other. Robert did the same, taking the opportunity to turn to his wife and toast to her. “Cheers, love.”

Fran smiled at him, a smile that lit up her whole face. They were both getting on in years, but even after three decades, Robert found himself struck by her beauty. The curly gray hair done up in a bun for the evening, the blue eyes that always looked like they knew a secret, the wrinkled smile that always hid a joke…he loved her as much as the day they married, if not more.

“Cheers, honey,” she said to him, leaning in and giving him a kiss on the cheek. Dozens of voices said awwwww, but Robert ignored them, enjoying the moment.

After a few seconds, the two of them turned their attention back to Marcus, who glared at them with feigned impatience.

“You both live here, so you know there’s a bedroom upstairs,” he said.

Robert rolled his eyes to the general laughter of the audience. Marcus waited for the laughter to die down and then finished.

“Well, that’s all I’ve got for you, so how about we get back to the party?”

Another round of cheers! echoed through the home, and Robert watched with awe as the room transformed.

He had been skeptical when his wife proposed throwing a masquerade party for their anniversary, but he had to admit that she really outdid herself. About two months ago, she had sent out the invitations along with do-it-yourself mask kits, each containing a few craft paints and a thick paper half-mask. Much to his surprise, their guests had taken the idea and run with it. A moment ago, the foyer had been filled with their friends, colleagues, and relatives. Now it was overtaken by a vast array of multicolored creatures, the skin tones replaced by blues and reds and purples.

Robert caught his wife’s eye again. “Thank you so much for this,” he said, gesturing to the party. “It’s…remarkable.”

“Don’t thank me too much,” she said with a wink. “You’re paying for it.”

Robert gave a short but genuine laugh. “Touché,” he admitted, and then pointed in Marcus’s direction with his head. “I’m going to go thank him for the toast. I’ll see you soon!”

“Oh yeah. Thank him for me, too!”

“You got it,” Robert assured her.

The pair donned their own masks – each a rosy pink, the same color they had worn at their wedding – and moved their separate ways, with Robert making a beeline for his best friend. A few guests noticed him and offered congratulations, which Robert accepted before quickly moving on. In truth, Fran was much closer with the majority of their guests. Most of his invitees were colleagues, some of whom he barely knew. He would feel much more comfortable spending the evening with his wife or his co-founder.

He reached Marcus and tapped him on the shoulder. Marcus turned and, upon seeing him, chuckled.

“I was wondering when you’d catch up with me.”

“I couldn’t let you run off that quickly,” Robert began. He smiled and extended a hand. “Thanks a million for the toast. It meant a lot.”

Marcus’s eyes crinkled. He grasped Robert’s hand and then came in for a one-armed hug, carefully holding his champagne glass behind Robert’s back. “You got it, Rob,” he said as they released. “I’m just honored you asked me to do it.”

“Are you kidding?” Robert waved his hand around, showing off his home. “Fran and I wouldn’t have any of this without you.”

“I mean, I like to think you had a little something to do with it,” he said, his voice uncharacteristically sheepish. “We founded this company together.”

“Look, I just brought the money,” Robert countered. “You had the idea and the connections to carry it out.”

Marcus bowed his head in what was clearly deep emotion. “Thanks, Rob,” he said, his voice still soft. “I really appreciate it. Here, cheers.”

Robert brought his glass up to meet Marcus’s and the two sipped. Then Marcus came to Robert’s side and put his arm around his shoulder, like they were twenty-five and out on the town again.

“Hey,” Marcus said after a brief hesitation, “I know you said no work today, but—”

“Oh, come on, Marcus,” Robert interrupted. “We’ve had a long week.”

“I know, but I think we’ve got something good. You know the Dawson account?”

Robert rolled his eyes. “Sadly, yes. I’ve been getting emails about it for months. What of it?”

“Well, I was chatting with one of the assistant branch managers before the toast, and he had some ideas about it.”

Robert squinted his eyes, skeptical. “What’s his name?”

“Neville Crawford.”

Robert shook his head. “Never heard of him.”

“No, you wouldn’t have,” Marcus said. “He said he was acting assistant manager after Angela Vance left and just kind of stepped into the role. There wasn’t an interview process.”

Robert didn’t know who Angela Vance was either; he hadn’t personally hired her. But he trusted Marcus at his word.

“Okay, set up a meeting with him next week and…”

He trailed off, seeing the pained expression on Marcus’s face. “What?”

“Well, I said that, but he’s on vacation for two weeks starting Monday.” Marcus hesitated. “So I was thinking—”

“Oh come on, Marcus!” Robert said, exasperated. He broke free from the embrace. “It’s my anniversary!”

“Rob, you’re not the only one who’s been getting a headache from that account,” Marcus said. “That company is impossible to deal with. And this guy says he knows a way we can completely back out of the contract.”

That got Robert’s attention. “Without taking a hit?”

“Without taking a hit,” Marcus confirmed. “I guess he dealt with something similar in a previous job. Just have a quick conversation with him.”

Robert sighed. He didn’t want to interrupt his own party, but Marcus wasn’t lying when he talked about how much the Dawson account was impacting their business. Plus, it sounded like this guy was a go-getter, maybe a candidate for upper management in the future.

“All right,” he relented. “Where is he?”

“I told him you’d meet him in the study.”

Robert uttered a short laugh. “I wasn’t getting out of this one, huh?”

“Absolutely not.”

Robert shook his head, sighing again. “I want you to come get me with some excuse in five minutes. Deal?”

“Deal.”

Robert slapped his friend on the shoulder and turned to leave. “All right. Don’t let Fran know I’m working.”

“Oh yeah. I know the drill.”

Robert laughed once more. Then he turned in the direction of the study and began wading through his masked guests, careful to avoid getting sucked into any conversations. He wanted to get this over with as soon as possible.

The door to the study stood ajar when he arrived, and he stepped inside. The overhead lights illuminated his desk and the rows of bookshelves pressed into the walls of the large room. Leaning against the desk was Neville, facing away from him and examining something on one of the shelves.

“You must be Neville,” Robert began. “Robert Clapton. Marcus says you have some—”

“I like that name.”

Robert froze, baffled by the man’s words. Neville still faced away from him and the statement seemed completely nonsensical, but it was more than that. His voice…Robert knew that voice from somewhere.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” he probed. “Do you want to talk about Dawson or is there—?”

“I mean,” Neville interrupted, “‘Robert Clapton’ is a good name. Elegant. Regal, even.” He paused, and finally turned around.

“Sure beats the hell out of Mikey Sloan, huh?”

Robert’s heart plummeted. The man still wore his mask, but it was definitely not one his wife had sent out. Instead of the thick paper the other guests wore, this one was made of thin wood, with decorative markings etched into every square inch. The entirety of the man’s face was concealed except for his dark eyes, which peered out of two angled slits. It would not have been out of place at a costume party or on Halloween, but the sight of it shocked Robert to his core.

He knew that mask, or one just like it. And tonight was not the first time he had seen this man wearing one.

Robert reached behind him and yanked the door closed.

“How did you get in here?” he asked, trying to keep his voice from quivering.

The man chuckled and removed his mask. After nearly forty years, Robert still recognized the face of Joe Cordaro. The friend he had chased cats with around their neighborhood growing up. The friend who had shared a beer with him after his first breakup. The friend who had always been quick-witted and kind, and had guided Robert all the way through childhood.

The friend whose eyes now showed only cold hatred.

“It wasn’t hard,” Joe answered. “If I stole a bunch of money and changed my name, I’d probably hire better security.” He considered for a moment. “And even easier to get you in here alone. Your employees will spill all their secrets after a few drinks.”

“What, you’re blackmailing Marcus?” Robert scoffed.

“I just bet none of you rich assholes would know who actually works for you. A few questions to the right people got me enough to convince him that I could fix this Dawson thing.” He chuckled quietly. “You should probably get out of that, by the way. Fuck if I know how, but that Dawson guy sounds like a prick.”

“You’re not welcome here,” Robert said. “This is a private event.”

Joe laughed, a loud, cruel sound that was a corrupted version of the joyful belly laugh Robert remembered. Then he narrowed his eyes. “Thirty-eight years in the clink means thirty-eight years without closing a door, so I don’t give a shit about your privacy.”

“Well, others do, and I’m calling the cops,” Robert said, reaching into his jacket for his cell phone.

“This is gonna go a lot faster if you don’t bullshit me, Mikey,” Joe said, his eyes not leaving Robert’s. “You ain’t calling the cops. They never found the fourth guy who robbed Ashton Bank all those years ago, and you’re the right age.”

“The statute of limitations would have run out on that years ago.”

“For a bank robbery? Sure.” Joe smirked. “But that’s not all we did, is it?”

“You said no one would get hurt!” Robert shouted, then remembered his guests and lowered his voice. “You said it would be quick! And then you shot three cops!

“Yeah, that wasn’t how it was supposed to go,” Joe admitted. “Didn’t think that bank had a silent alarm, and I didn’t expect Steve to open fire like that.” He pointed a threatening finger at Robert. “But I didn’t kill anybody, either, and I went to jail while you got rich. You ran. And left us to pay the price.”

“You would have done the same thing.”

Joe gave a short laugh. “Yeah. Maybe. And maybe you wouldn’t have hunted me down after getting parole.” He shrugged. “But we’re different people I guess. After all, my life ended at age twenty-five. It doesn’t matter if I go back to jail. But you?” His lip curled. “You have something to lose, Mikey.”

Robert opened his mouth to respond, thought for a second, and then closed it. In the silence that followed, his mind ran through all the implications of what Joe had just said. His career. His mansion. His friends. His wife. All of it was gone if the truth came out. And his wealth would evaporate when it came to light that his company was founded on stolen money.

“What do you want?” Robert finally said, defeated.

“That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

“Just say it.”

“I want what we stole all those years ago,” Joe said, his eyes hungry. “I want my share.”

Robert let out the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. “That’s it?” he asked. “You just want the money?”

Joe chuckled again. “Glad it’s that easy for you. Yes, I want a quarter of it, just like we agreed back then.”

The tension left Robert’s shoulders. “Okay, I can do that. Check is fine?”

“It’s traceable,” Joe said. “That won’t get us in trouble?”

“With my income, the IRS won’t question some of it going missing,” Robert assured. He walked past Joe to the other side of the desk, reached into a drawer, and pulled out his checkbook. “Let’s see…it was about forty grand back in the day, so your part would have been ten, let’s say fifteen for inflation?”

“Oh, no no no,” Joe said. He leaned forward on the desk, his face inches from Robert’s. “That’s not good enough.”

“But that’s your share. That’s—”

Everything,” Joe said through gritted teeth, “everything you have is from that money. Your company comes from it. This house. And you got it all while I rotted in fucking jail.”

The cold in his eyes was gone now, replaced by a fiery anger that had been bubbling under the surface for decades. The only thing more frightening to Robert was the full weight of what he just said.

“I kept tabs on you while I was in there,” Joe pressed. “Last article I saw said your net worth was thirty-five million.” He paused and let his words wash over Robert. “So I’ll be nice and round down. Eight million.”

“No, I won’t—”

“Or,” Joe interrupted, “I can walk out of this room right now and tell everyone who you really are.”

Robert shut his mouth and looked down. He sighed, but he knew he had no other choice. After a moment, he slowly nodded.

“That’s more like it.” Joe thumped a finger on the desk. “Write the check.”

“It’s not that simple,” Robert said. “It’s not all in one account. I’ll have to move some things around. It could take me a few days, or even a week—”

“I don’t care what you have to do,” Joe said. “I am walking out of here tonight with what I deserve. If not, then…” He trailed off and shrugged, his silence speaking volumes.

Robert opened to the next blank check. He began thinking about the steps that would need to be taken, what he would have to say to cover it up. It was possible, he knew, but one false step, one mistake, would mean it didn’t matter that had given up this money. Losing eight million wouldn’t lower his standard of living, but eventually his wife would see the hole in their accounts. She’d come to him with questions he couldn’t answer. Or worse…if he was busy, she might go straight to their accountants, who would be required to answer. All of this would be for nothing.

No.

No.

He would not go through it again. He had worked and slaved and fucking bled to get where he was. Sure, he had started with illicit money, but he had nothing as a kid. How was he supposed to get here without a little help?

And now this relic of his past was here to take it all away?

It was unacceptable.

He reached into the drawer where he kept his pens, laid a finger on one…and then he grabbed the scissors next to them and thrust upward, driving the blades into Joe’s exposed neck.

Blood poured out of the wound, soaking the checkbook and splattering onto Robert’s suit. Joe clasped a hand to it and fell backwards. He flailed for the desk as he collapsed and missed, succeeding only in knocking his mask to the floor. A sickening noise came from his throat as he desperately tried to breathe. He gasped for air, blood sputtering from his mouth. A few seconds passed, he twitched a few times…and then laid still.

Robert collapsed into the chair behind him, the severity of his actions crashing into him. He began breathing heavily under the weight of the adrenaline, and now there was a body on the floor, and he had killed someone, and there was nothing he could do about it, he couldn’t take it back, it was over, he was over—

The door began to open.

“Rob!” Marcus’s voice called. “The bartender’s looking for you! There’s a problem with the—”

He stopped, his eyes taking in the scene that laid out before him. He gazed at the body on the floor and then stared straight at Robert.

“What happened?” he asked, his voice barely audible.

Robert exhaled deeply, trying to get his breathing under control. “I…I killed him,” he wheezed. “I didn’t mean to. He was…trying to take it from me.”

Marcus stepped inside and closed the door behind him. “Take what?”

Robert didn’t know how to explain, couldn’t possibly organize his thoughts in the time they had. So instead, he borrowed one of Joe’s words.

“Everything.”

Marcus walked around the corpse and knelt by Robert’s side. “He was threatening you?”

“He was…he was trying to—” Robert began, but Marcus kept going.

“He threatened you, and he had a weapon. Or you thought he did, right? You saw him reach into his jacket, right?”

Robert looked his friend in the eyes. “What…?”

Right?” Marcus asked forcefully, tightly gripping Robert’s arm.

Robert’s eyes widened as he began to understand what his friend was doing. “Yeah, he…he had a weapon.”

“There you go,” Marcus said. “Where’s your phone?”

Robert patted his chest pocket.

“I haven’t entered this room,” Marcus said. “In a minute I’ll come in, and you will already be on the phone with 911, telling them that someone attacked you and you fought back. Got it?”

Robert coughed once and nodded. Marcus returned the gesture and then moved towards the door, again carefully skirting the body in the middle of the room.

“Marcus?” Robert said, a thought occurring to him.

Marcus turned back, his hand inches from the doorknob.

“There’s…there’s too much evidence against that,” Robert said. “If they look into it at all, then it’s over.”

To his surprise, Marcus smiled. “Robert, look at who we are,” he said. “Do you think they’ll doubt our story for a second?”

Without another word, he left the room.

As the statement washed over him, Robert felt his own mouth twitching into a smile. He was going to be all right.

He reached into his jacket pocket, retrieved his cell phone, and began to dial.

Short Story

About the Creator

Matt Spaziani

Robotics engineer by day and writer, musician, and gamer by night.

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