ROOK TAKES PAWN
Nick Manoloff was not a well man.
The decades-old French brandy, his imported genuine tobacco cigars, the comforting and rich upholstery of the Garbisch chair; such things usually brought him comfort as he savored them. But this night he slugged his brandy, chewed on his cigar, sweated and squirmed in his chair. Only one thing occupied Nick Manoloff’s mind.
The crushed corner of his brick fireplace.
Dragon, despite his shadowy reputation and intimidating demeanor, had always been cordial to Nick, even when he began losing. But Manoloff loved his excitement almost as much as he had loved his comforts, and he had been so certain his luck would change. When the debts began piling up, when he had borrowed more from the house, he assured Dragon he was good for it. Even then, Nick had somehow deluded himself into believing that Dragon’s civility would outweigh the American’s ugly exterior.
But now he knew he was wrong. Dragon had brought that bull of a man into his home to make a point. And Nick was much more fragile than the masonry of his fireplace.
The money was gone; he could barely afford what small luxuries that now surrounded him. As Manoloff’s mind raced over every angle and option he could think of, some small part of his mind knew with certainty that he was a dead man. The week would end without payment to Dragon, who would then send that monster of a man, and Nick Manoloff would die. The manner that death might take began to torture Nick’s imagination and for a moment it seemed he could hear the future echo of his screams.
Springing out of his chair, cigar smoke trailing behind him like a locomotive, his eyes burned like coals with the desperation that now infused him. Escape, to run, go abroad, yes, yes, that could be the way. Surely Dragon wouldn’t pursue the likes of him for such a paltry sum. What’s a few hundred thousand between friends?
Leaving his sitting room, Manoloff ran in his panic to the study, dropping himself into the chair in front of his faux secretaire desk. Hitting the activation switch, the desktop unfolded into a display which Manoloff fumbled with until he began to manipulate the desk’s multi-touch sensor.
Pushing through information, Manoloff entered in the code for his personal travel feed. Train and flight information floated in front of him, endless possible routes of escape. Then the display blinked and so did Manoloff.
Text, not from the travel feed, appeared in the center of the display.
“You’ll never make it.”
Manoloff blinked again, feeling dread return and squeeze his chest. The text dissolved and reformed itself into new words.
“You’re being watched.”
Finding himself suddenly short of breath, Manoloff pushed himself away from the secretaire. The next words managed to instill hope and terror at the same time.
“We can help.”