THE SAFE GAME
Today she was on fire. Heads started to bob and the group pressed closer, trying to get a better look at the device.
With her work done, Victoria fell quiet. The excitement of the crowd was properly kindled now. A contended grin curled up her full lips. To Urbane’s surprise, her sharp eyes suddenly found his. At first, he thought it might be a fluke. Or perhaps his supposedly concealed location had been somehow compromised. Before he could stress himself over the matter, she winked. Then, all other thoughts fled. Just as his face started to heat up, she returned her attention to Roy. It was his turn to bring it home.
“Now, I’ve been given strict instructions by Treasury Department officials to accept no less than two thousand dollars for this device,” he intoned formally.
This was met with groans of disapproval and one or two boos and justifiably so; one could buy a small house for that amount of money. It was a far higher bid than in previous towns.
Feigning surprise, the Idea Man continued. “You understand, surely, that such a sum would be recovered in a matter of weeks if the prescribed regiment is followed?”
Urbane wondered if that was right. Knowing the scam – game – he had not previously given much thought to its premise. Having lost sight of Victoria for the moment, he quickly did the math in his head and came up with about fifty days. This was with the assumption that the machine was operated every five hours… and that it was not a scam.
As one who dealt in numbers and concrete reality, this world of deception was foreign to him. How people could believe such an outlandish proposition boggled his mind. A naturally curious sort, Urb simply could not fathom the lack of such in others.
Outside, Roy let the groans begin to subside before he extended the olive branch.
“Hang on, now. Hang on. Well… it will mean some hard questions from my superiors. Maybe even some shady bookkeeping on my part. But if that is asking too much, perhaps a discount might be considered. Just for the hard working folks of Lawrence, mind you.” In a quieter voice, he added, “But I must implore you to please keep this just between us. I could go as low as twelve hundred dollars.”
Again, boos. Though, fewer than before. In the end, Roy was obliged to drop the bid twice more before a collection hat started passing around. Urb shook his head, astonished. Roy and Victoria could steer a crowd the same way he could tickle a lock or build a mechanism. For the price of a decent used car, these people had accepted this deal that should have been too good to be true – of course it was. The crowd soon divided into two factions, apparently debating how the forthcoming riches would be allocated.
One man emerged as the representative of the group, holding the collection hat. Urbane’s eyes went wide. It was more cash and coin than they had made in the past three towns put together. If properly budgeted, it could well be enough to carry them into summer. The crowd shifted and he caught sight of Victoria again. She had also glimpsed the considerable sum. Like Urb, she bit her lower lip in anticipation. Seeing the curve of her face and the swell of her hips, he nearly forgot about their windfall and most everything else for that matter.
And he was not the only one to take notice. Would-be suitors were not an uncommon issue. As a professional hazard, Victoria tended to attract male attention like iron filings to a lodestone and today was no exception.
It was a young fella. The excessively confident ones often were and Urbane frowned as this one fixed Madame Charmer in his sights. She inspired many emotions: infatuation, longing, lust. Urb was a thinking man, but after six months of living and working in close proximity, even he could not fully resist her allure. Watching others make the attempt for her affection, even knowing they were doomed to fail was not good for his heart.
Though entirely capable of rebuffing such attempts, it seemed Vic had not yet detected her latest admirer. As the young man drew closer, Urb realized too late that something was off. This fellow had none of the telltale signs of one about to ask for a date.
At the same time, another speaker fired a bombshell question directly at Roy.
“How is this not counterfeiting?”
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