“You don’t have a computer.”
“I have a computer,” replied Munroe.
“But you are using a typewriter.”
“I am using a typewriter. Your last name is Romer, right?”
“That’s right, Römer with an umlaut over the ‘O.’”
Typing, “I can’t do an umlaut with the typewriter. I’ll draw them on later.”
“If you had a computer, you could insert the umlaut.”
Munroe sat in a wheeled swivel chair. The typewriter sat on a squat pedestal over which he hunched, pecking at the keys. “Damn it,” Munroe muttered. “Hand me that white-out, would you, on the edge of the desk.”
“Listen, I don’t mean to be rude, Mr. Munroe—”
“Just Munroe, no ‘Mr.’”
“Right, as I was saying, I don’t mean to be rude, but is there any way we can get down to business, maybe get your secretary to fill out these forms?”
Munroe swiveled, peered over Römer’s shoulder into a hallway filled with stacked boxes. Once upon a time, in the stead of boxes, there was a desk. And at the desk sat a prim secretary: Miranda.
“Of course, the secretary can do it. Okay, let’s get down to business. What do you like to be called?”
“My wife calls me Mike,” Römer said.
“I’ll call you Römer, then.” Munroe ran his hands through his shaggy head of hair. When did he last have a haircut? Römer was well-groomed, clean-shaven, lean, looked younger than the sixty years he claimed. “Do you dye your hair? I’m sorry, business.” He opened the center drawer of his desk, dug out an unsharpened pencil. From the wastebasket he pulled a several year-old newspaper, prepared to take notes in the margins and white-spaces. “Alright, from the top, you want me to do what?”
Römer wanted Munroe to come out of retirement. “I have a daughter,” Römer said, “not much older than you, and married to an English Lit professor at Colgate. She has money, my money, but he not so much, not anymore. What he makes he loses at the track—”
“I don’t know anything about horses,” Munroe interrupted.
“He doesn’t either, apparently. Your job is easy: get close to him, help him feel adequate or less inadequate. I’ll give you money and all you have to do is consistently lose it. He has to see you lose it. He needs a friend, see?”
“He might not want a friend.”
“He wants a friend, trust me. I’m in the trust business. I know these things.”
“What is the trust business? And shouldn’t I have some handicapping experience – some training?”
“No, far as I’m concerned, the less the better. Most bettors are self-described experts, but they still lose. Your job: losing spectacularly. You only bet on long-shots, over and over again. All of your other expenses will be paid: room and board, admission, drinks.”
Munroe studied the margins of the newspaper. They were empty. He hadn’t written anything. He rolled the pencil beneath the palm of his hand. He listened to the electric typewriter hum. “Am I missing something?” he asked Römer.
Römer smiled. His teeth were capped, dazzling, sharp. “You aren’t missing anything. I love my daughter. I don’t like her husband, never did. He has a problem: gambling. But he’s never laid a hand on her. He doesn’t drink or do drugs; he doesn’t embezzle, buy whores, nothing, just this one little thing which maybe isn’t a whole lot better than the other things. She won’t leave him and he won’t quit. There’s a lot of debt. He needs a friend. Someone with whom he can lose, then someone with whom he can win, and win big. By October or November, I need him to leave the track rich and with his pride intact.”
Munroe jotted down two words, circled them: “Lose” and “Win.” “You know, you almost have a great last name. Your daughter’s husband might not like me. He might not want to be my pal.”
“He has debt and you will have money. You will be his friend.” Römer keyed a button on his Blackberry, handed it to Munroe. “That’s Tidy Emmanuel Frisch, my daughter’s husband.” On the small screen was illuminated a picture of husband and wife, maybe at a garden party, dressed casually. She was pretty and he was pretty plain, a little doughy. The screen went black. “Press any button; the image will reappear.” Munroe did and the screen filled once more with husband and wife. “He’s forty-three and she’s forty. She wants to get pregnant, soon, this year.”
“She could leave him, start over; find a family-man, someone that doesn’t gamble.”
“Alright, she can’t. Okay, befriend Tidy, lose a little and then win a lot, sound right?”
“You nailed it.” Römer pulled a thick manila envelope out of an inside pocket of his Luigi Borelli, plopped it atop Munroe’s newspaper/notepad. “That’s eighty grand. The races start in three weeks. Your pockets must be empty by the first week in May. By then, Tidy will know you have money and aren’t afraid to spend it.”
Römer was still talking but Munroe was thinking about his thirteen year-old dog. If he took the job (he would take the job), the dog would be alone; he would need a dog-sitter, maybe the girl next door, but was she reliable, did she like dogs, and did she know how to administer insulin shots? She was too young and the old woman over the hedge and behind the slatternly fence was too old, could barely see.
“Is there a problem?” Munroe heard Römer say. Yes, there was a problem. The dog, for one, and the car’s tires were flat; he hadn’t driven it in over two years; it would need an inspection. The car would not pass inspection.
Munroe tapped the money-choked envelope with the pencil, said, “I don’t think I’m what you are looking for.”
“You’re what I’m looking for. You are local, don’t have enemies and you were recommended to me by a friend. He says you are trustworthy.”
“Which friend is that?”
“Will you take the job or not?” Crowley was an old rat terrier, had three working legs and one half-working eye. He was a round-the-clock job.
“I’ll have to put my dog down.”
“Then it’s a deal.”
Römer and Munroe shook hands.