Alea Ludo Chapter 1: Recruitment!

Before taking part in any form of gambling, one must always ask themselves, how much are they willing to lose; to sacrifice, to achieve their goal and win? The answers vary from person to person, but one thing’s for sure; people want to win. Winning in gambling is a beautiful thing. It often enhances a person’s feelings of self-worth. It makes them feel dominant; superior over the ones that have lost.

People say that gambling is an addiction. They’re right to say that. It’s one of the easiest things to get hooked on. Gamblers are often misguided under the ridiculous notion that they have the power to control chance. That’s all gambling is — chance.

One or two lucky wins gives them a sense of euphoria, thus driving them to continue taking risky chances to win. They’re constantly under the belief that their skills or smarts will increase their chances. But every gambler soon comes to the realization that they’re never in complete control.

The odds are stacked against them. The house always has the advantage. Is it possible to win against the house? Definitely. But the chances are slim. Not to mention the stress and damage it can cause to a person after losing so much.

Losing’s never a good thing, not after someone invests so much with the hopes of winning, only to have it snatched away. In all my life, I’ve known nothing but the bitter taste of defeat. I’ve grown accustomed and numb to it. Call it selfish, but even if it’s just once — only once — I’d like to know victory.

“It’s another slow night tonight, isn’t it?” I broke away from my train of thought after hearing a familiar voice. To my right stood Johnny, a co-worker of mine.

“It’s not all that surprising you know. Ever since that new bar opened up down the street, all of our customers have gone AWOL.” The person to my left spoke up. His name was Alec, yet another co-worker of mine.

The three of us were bartenders working at an unsuccessful bar. As the years of service to the establishment went by, so did the customers. It eventually got to the point where there would only be around ten people throughout the entire day. It was awkward working there sometimes. There was no music or television. So, entertainment was limited to the imagination.

“I remember when this place used to be the hottest gig in town. It seems so long ago now when I think about it.” Johnny reminisced. Although, I couldn’t recall him ever being around when the bar was popular. He and Alec only started working there around three years ago.

“This place isn’t going to last much longer at this rate. We need to think of something to draw our customers back here and keep this place open.” Alec said, passing the clean glass over to Johnny. He brought his hand up to his chin, then tapped his cheek repeatedly with his index finger. Once a thought appeared in his head, he glanced over at us then smiled. “What if we spruce this place up a little bit by buying a karaoke machine?”

An exasperated sigh came from Johnny in response. “Try coming back to the 21st century please.” He then flicked Alec’s forehead to punish him for his idiotic idea. “I don’t see any point in even trying anymore. Due to this place’s rough reputation, I doubt anything we do will be enough.”

“So then what should we do?”

“We should start looking for new jobs. If we’re lucky that new bar might be hiring bartenders.”

The bar glass in my hand slipped out from my grasp then fell onto the hard, wooden floor, shattering into pieces on impact. Everyone in the bar looked up in a state of alarm after hearing the sound.

“Sorry about that. Silly me. Damn thing slipped from my hand.” I squeezed my hand into a fist a few times, letting out a hollow laugh as I glared daggers at Johnny.

Since I showed no clear signs of moving to clean up after myself, Alec stepped in and swept the broken glass shards into the dustpan.

“Please calm down, Troy.” He begged.

“Ambrose.” I corrected him for perhaps the twelfth time that day. It was truly a shame that after working with me for three years, he still couldn’t seem to get my name right. My attention returned to Johnny. “You’re just going to jump ship and abandon this place? After everything the old man has done for us?”

Johnny’s face turned pale. His eyebrows furrowed. He wouldn’t look me in the eye. He bit down on his lip as if trying to hold back his words. It was useless, however. If he refused to answer my question, I’d just have to force it out of him.

“Look, don’t get me wrong. I’m upset about what’s happening to this bar. But there’s nothing we can do about it. This place is going under, and we need to think about the future. Our future.”

“See? Now was that so hard?” My attention was drawn away from Johnny at the moment. My eyes rested upon the service tray laying on the bar counter. I picked it up then playfully inspected it before smacking the bastard across the face with it. The unsuspecting man hit his head against the bar counter on his way down to the floor.

Alec hurried to Johnny’s side then checked on his condition while I inspected the other end of the tray. Some of Johnny’s blood was there.

“Ambrose! What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Alec shouted at me. I didn’t like his tone, but I was glad to hear that he said my name correctly that time.

“I’m trying to teach this son of a bitch a lesson in respect.” My eyes focused back onto the downed Johnny. His hands covered his face. He writhed in pain while incoherent groans escaped from his mouth.

He slowly removed his hands from his bloody face, glaring fiercely at me. His hands clenched tightly into fists as he gritted his teeth. He looked ready to strike at me at that moment. However, I was prepared for such an action ahead of time. Before he could lash out at me like he intended to, I pressed him against the wooden floor by slamming my foot on his chest.

“The old man here gave us a home when no one else would. The bar is everything he has. Everything I have. I’m not going to let this place fall,” The conviction in my voice resonated. But whether the people inside of the bar were truly listening was another matter. “You should be ashamed of yourself for even mentioning abandoning this place. Is this how you handle your problems? You just tuck your tail in between your legs and run away like some coward?”

“Bastard! Can’t you see that this place finished? This place is a piece of garbage, and we can’t afford to risk our futures here any longer!” Johnny exclaimed.

“He’s right about that.” An annoying voice intruded into my eardrums from the other side of the room. Everyone in the bar beside me looked toward the entrance to locate the source of the sound. I didn’t need to look. Or rather I didn’t want to look. I could tell who it was judging by the aroma of cheap cologne.

“What the hell are you doing here, Baines?” My hands instinctively squeezed themselves into fists at the sound of many footsteps approaching the bar counter. Judging from the irregular beat of footsteps against the floor, I had guessed that Baines brought at least four men with him.

Impish chuckles escaped past his vile lips in response to my question. That bag of bones always had his way of pissing me off. “What’s with the hostile greeting, Ambrose? I see that you’re still acting like a savage as always. I’m surprised that you’re not in jail for your multiple acts of assault against the people here.”

He was testing me, trying to bait me. I refused to get sucked into his pace. “I repeat, what are you doing here?” I finally decided to turn my body to face him. His skeletal appearance and sharp facial features always gave me the creeps. Especially the mischievous smile he always had plastered on his disgusting face. That smile always seemed to send a cold chill down my spine, always warning me that he was up to no good.

“Not in the mood to engage in small talk? Very well then, let’s cut to the chase,” Baines reached within his suit then pulled out an envelope. He placed the envelope on the bar table while proceeding to take a seat. “The foreclosure notice on this bar has been approved. We’ll be seizing this property, two weeks from now.”

After hearing his proclamation, everything seemed to go dark around me. I couldn’t see anything within the bar beside Baines and the envelope. The words ‘foreclosure’ and ‘two weeks’ resonated in my head.

“What? Foreclosure? But that’s impossible! We sent you the money for our monthly payments!” I desperately informed him. I removed my foot from Johnny’s chest then grabbed hold of the envelope.

It pained me to show such desperation and weakness in front of anyone, but I didn’t have any other choice. The news was just too shocking for me. The bastard broke my guard.

“Yes, while you have been sending in the money. You haven’t sent enough to cover your missed monthly payments completely. We’ve ignored this for as long as we could. But now that the cash has stopped coming in, I see no reason to keep this sorry excuse you call a bar running.” He said, a malicious smirk formed on his face once he finished.

I crumbled up the envelope into a ball and then dropped it onto the floor; where I proceeded to crush it beneath my foot. I refused to allow some piece of paper to dictate when I would lose my home.

Baines heaved a sigh after seeing the action. Nonetheless, he shrugged his shoulders and continued to speak. “I figured that you would act this way, Ambrose. I thought I should be considerate and put this place out of its misery. But I guess you want this place to suffer more humiliation than it already has.”

“This place isn’t suffering. We’ve just been having a few slow days, that’s all.”

A smug scoff came from behind me in response to my statement. The person responsible was none other than Johnny, who was being helped back up to his feet by Alec.

“Don’t kid yourself, Ambrose. This place is finished, and you know it.”

“They’re right. There’s nothing more we can do to save this place. We’ll just have to cut our losses and move on. Sure it sucks, but it’s the only option we have.” Alec added.

Baines folded his arms over his chest and nodded repeatedly. “At least some people have common sense in this godforsaken bar. You could learn a thing or two from them, Ambrose. They might have futures unlike you.”

Oh, Baines was clearly asking for it. It took a lot out of me to be on my best behavior. Now, I know that I’m rude. It’s no secret. But Baines was an asshole. So, it was only natural for me to be hostile towards him.

“You go on ahead and keep talking. Eventually, you’ll piss me off to the point where I’ll cave your face in.” I warned him.

The four men in black suits standing behind Baines took a step forward in preparation to defend him just in case I was to see through to my threat. With a swift motion of his hand, they were called off by their boss.

“When will you learn that your childish threats will never solve anything? It’s practically your fault that hardly anyone comes in here anymore,” Baines stated while leaving his seat. “You have two weeks until we take this bar from you. I’d suggest looking for new employment if I were you. However, it’s not like anyone would hire you with that short temper of yours.”

He continued to mock me. That bastard wanted me to attack him. Pounding his face in would’ve been easy. But, I cast aside my hatred and decided to focus on the most important matter at hand — the bar.

“How much money do we need to stop the foreclosure?” I suddenly inquired.

Baines blinked in surprise, acting as if that was the most surprising question he had ever heard in his entire life. “You’re going to try and stop it? How admirable, but foolish.”

“How much?” My fist slammed onto the bar counter. The entire room fell silent as I engaged the man in a stare down.

“Three hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars.”

“That much? We’ll never get that much money in two weeks!” Alec exclaimed.

“As I thought,” Johnny said dejectedly. “This place is done for.”

“Did any of you truly believe that you could save this shithole? I mean honestly, it would take you…” Baines abruptly stopped with his usual mocking once the door to the kitchen swung open, colliding against the bar table with much force. The sound alarmed everyone in the bar. All gazes turned to the heavy-set man that entered the room.

The man was the owner of the bar and my benefactor, Gideon Maynard, a retired war veteran that possesses an overwhelming presence of authority. Everyone became uneasy once he appeared. No one made any sudden movements.

The old man looked around the room with a stern expression, gauging the reactions of everyone in his bar. His lips curved downward to a scowl before he started to speak, “What the hell are you people still doing here? Can’t you see that it’s closing time?” He pointed over to the clock on the other side of the room.

“Closing time? Is your old age beginning to affect your memory already? The bar doesn’t close until three.” I told him. I knew that he was old, but I didn’t think his old age was affecting him to such an extent.

“I don’t give a rat’s ass about that. I’m the owner of this bar, and I want these people out of here,” He demanded. Immediately following his orders, the customers got up, then left the bar. However, Baines and his men remained inside, causing Maynard to send sharp glares in their direction again. “Is there something wrong with your ears, Baines?”

Bullets of sweat trickled down Baines’ face, forcing him to use the sleeve of his suit to wipe his face. He tried his best to keep a calm composure, but it was evident to everyone that he was intimidated.

“Oh, not at all, Maynard. I just wanted to inform you that we’ll be foreclosing on this bar in two weeks.”

“I overheard you from the kitchen. Now get out of my bar. You’re mucking up the floor with your slime and smell of cheap cologne.” Maynard pinched his nose closed in disgust with one hand while motioning for Baines and his men to leave.

“Now I see where Ambrose gets his “charm” from,” Baines snapped his fingers then turned around to exit the bar with his men. He reached the door then pressed it open, allowing his men to leave ahead of him. “I wish you all good luck in your endeavors. You’re going to need it.” He hysterically laughed before exiting.

“Man, can you believe that asshole?” I looked to the others. “You know he’s only doing this because he has a grudge against us.”

“And I wonder who’s fault that is.” Johnny’s sarcastic tone earned him a sharp glare from me. He flinched in fear then looked away. It was the correct choice to make.

Alec stepped out in between us and held us apart at arm’s length. “Please don’t start another fight right now. We have to finish cleaning up the place for the night.”

“Don’t you get it? There’s no need to do anything anymore. We’ll never be able to pay the IRS enough money in time.”

“It’s because of that attitude of yours that I want to kick your ass out of this bar,” I told him.

“And it’s because of your attitude and short temper why people stop coming here. They’re afraid that one day you’ll snap and seriously injure them.” Johnny countered with a look of pure defiance in his eyes. He sure could talk a big game when hiding behind someone.

We stopped with our quarreling once Maynard clapped his hands together, “That’s enough you brats. Fighting each other won’t solve anything.” He walked behind the bar table, then poured four glasses of whiskey. He passed them over to me and then the other two.

“You’re right, old man. We should focus on earning some money. Two weeks should be enough time.”

“You’re in denial.” Johnny bluntly said.

“What was that? Care to repeat yourself?”

“Didn’t you hear me, boy? I said that’s enough.” To my surprise, the old man’s sharp gaze was directed towards me as he continued, “He’s right. You’re in denial, Ambrose.”

After siding with Johnny, he chugged down his whiskey. A sigh of satisfaction had come from him before he wiped his mouth clean with the sleeve of his shirt.

“What?” I exasperatedly asked him.

“I’ve kept this bar running for as long as I could. It’s time to move on to something else. It was fun while it lasted.”

“I agree.” Alec nodded his head in respect to Maynard, completely agreeing with the old man’s wishes.

“I can’t deny that I enjoyed my time here. It’s a shame that this place is going to close down. But all good things must come to an end eventually.” Johnny added.

It had to be a nightmare. I refused to believe that it was happening. Alec, Johnny, and Maynard, all three of them had given up on saving the bar. The only home they had left in the world.

In the past, they would’ve done everything they could to keep the place open. But then suddenly they were just going to give up just because things seemed impossible?

“Wait a minute. Are you all seriously giving up? You’re just going to let the IRS take this bar? Our home?” I called them out.

“That’s right.” Maynard flatly responded to me. My body froze. I stood there in disbelief while the old man and the other bartenders finished off their glasses of whiskey.

“I don’t believe this shit!” I shouted at them. My gaze lowered to the nearest object. One of the bar stools. With one kick, it flew across the room then knocked over some things.

Nothing I could’ve said to them would change their minds. It had been made up. It was unfortunate that they made the wrong choice. I stormed out from the room, heading into the kitchen. I maneuvered my way through the messy kitchen and then ended up in the old man’s office where I took a seat and continued to vent out my anger.

Some time had passed, but eventually, the old man entered the office with a mixed emotion of pity and disappoint on his face. I looked away from him after seeing that expression. It was a look that I never wanted to receive from anyone.

“The others have left, brat. You should probably do the same and get some rest. You have a big day ahead of you tomorrow.” He walked over behind his desk then took a seat.

“You’re damn right about that. I need to find a way to get three hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars in such a short amount of time.” I said.

The old man had heaved a heavy sigh of exhaustion before he spoke, “You’re still going on about trying to save the bar? You should know that what you’re trying to do is impossible. You’ll never gather up that much money in two weeks. That is of course unless you’re willing to rob a bank.”

He chuckled at his joke. Although robbing a bank didn’t sound as outrageous as he was making it out to be. If I managed to find a competent team with a variety of unique skills, perhaps I could somehow pull it off. But before I could contemplate on the thought any further, a crumbled up piece of paper was thrown against my forehead, thus breaking my concentration.

“Don’t even think about it. You’d get your ass shot before you’d even make it down the block with the money. And that’s if you even manage to make it through the front door without alerting security.”

“Well, there goes that idea.” I slumped in my chair.

“But seriously now, Ambrose. You should stop trying to save this bar. There’s nothing more we can do for this place.”

He didn’t understand how difficult it was for me to hear those words. Let alone accept them. The old man, my benefactor, was telling me to give up on saving the only place that I considered to be my home. Although he may have given up, I hadn’t.

“Listen to you giving up. If I or any other of the bartenders were found talking like that in the past, you would’ve caved our faces in.” I reminded him.

“You’re damn right I would have. But right now, there is nothing more to do. This bar has run its course. It’s time to move on with my life.” Maynard said.

“And where do you exactly plan to go? Didn’t you say that this bar is your only home?”

“It’s my only home. But now it’s going to be taken away. So, now I need to find a new home.” He replied in a matter of fact tone.

“It’s not that simple, old man.” I shook my head.

“It is that simple. You’re the only one making it harder than it needs to be.”

I was the one making it harder that it needed to be? Why was he making me out to be the villain? What was so wrong with doing anything it took to save what home anyone had left? Why was it that I was the only one left that even gave a damn about the place?

“That’s because I don’t want to lose this place. It’s not just your home anymore. It’s my home as well.”

Maynard nodded his head in understanding of my words. I was glad that he was listening to me. There was a chance of me convincing him to fight after all. “I understand how you feel. But unlike me, you still have an opportunity.”

“Opportunity?” I asked.

The old man had grown senile at his age. What possible opportunity could I have after losing the bar? The answer was nothing.

“You’re thirty-six years old. You still have your whole life ahead of you. You don’t need to waste it here anymore.” He told me. His usual gruff tone was gone. I didn’t think it was possible, but he was using a soft, genuine tone of voice.

“But what if that’s what I want? What if I want to waste my life here? This place is better than any other place that I’ve been.”

He rolled his eyes then groaned, unsatisfied with my answer. “Then you’re a coward.”

“Coward?” I harshly repeated.

“That’s right. You’re a coward. The bar is the only place you feel comfortable in, and you don’t wish to go anywhere else. You’re afraid of the outside world.”

“I’m scared of the outside world? Don’t make me laugh, old man. Pissed is more like it.”

“And you have a reason to be. But that was fifteen years ago, and you shouldn’t let it control you. Your fear is what’s keeping you attached to this place.”

My fist found its way through the wall. There was no immediate reaction from the old man. I didn’t want one. All I wanted was some silence for a moment.

“It’s not controlling me! I’m not afraid of the outside world! I just hate losing something that’s important to me! What’s wrong with fighting for something that you care about,” I removed my fist from the wall. “We both did that. We fought for something we cared about.”

“And how did that turn out? How much did we lose,” He brought his hand up to his eyepatch? “Look, there’s nothing wrong with fighting for something you care about. But you need to understand that some good things must come to an end.”

I tightened my jaw and rested my hands on my legs. I hated that feeling — weakness. It was something that I never liked showing in front of anyone. Showing weakness earned one pity, sympathy, or a beating. I didn’t want any of those.

“While that may be true, it doesn’t mean that I have to like it. Whether you like it or not, I’m going to do whatever it takes to save this bar.” My words of determination hit the sweet spot on the old man. Usually, he would’ve angrily given his response before hitting me or something. But for some reason, he seemed calm and collected.

“Very well then, since you’re going to be that stubborn about it. You can do whatever you want. But once you fail, you’ll have to finally open your eyes and deal with reality like everyone else.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence in me, old man. I appreciate it.”

“No problem. Now get off your lazy ass and start closing the place down. I’m going home,” Maynard stood up then walked towards the door. He stopped and took a moment to gaze at the hole left in the wall. “And that’s coming out of your paycheck dumbass.”

And with that, the old man left me alone in the room. Instead of seeing him out like I usually would, I decided to remain in my seat to weigh my options. I had two weeks to earn three hundred and twenty-five dollars to pay the IRS. Clearly, that wasn’t going to be an easy task for me. No matter what kind of idea I thought of, the only outcome I could see resulted in failure.

But that wasn’t going to stop me from trying. This bar was our home. I refused to sit on my ass and let the IRS take it away from us. Even if the others had given up, I hadn’t. No matter what it took, no matter what I had to do, I was going to save my bar.

After gaining some newfound conviction to my cause, I got up from the chair, then began to close the bar down. I started from the office to the kitchen, then finally the bar. I took one last look around. The lights in the bathroom were still on. I pushed the bathroom door open then flipped the light switch to turn the lights off.

“Hey! Turn the lights back on! I’m still in here,” A voice rang out from one of the bathroom stalls. I quickly turned the lights back. Afterward, the sound of the toilet flushing echoed through the bathroom. Then out from the last stall came a man wearing an expensive suit. “Thank you for turning the lights back on.”

The man walked over to the sinks, rolled up his sleeves, then began to wash his hands.

“No problem. Now hurry up and get out of here. It’s closing time.” I informed him.

“Closing time,” The man looked to me with a flummoxed expression before he drew his attention to his Rolex watch. “How can it be closing time already? It’s only eleven.”

“Our bar. Our rules. It’s not like you have the right to complain.” I crossed my arms firmly over my chest.

The man chuckled in response before he turned off the faucet, and then began to dry his hands. “You’re right about that. I’m sorry, I’ll be out of here in a second.”

“Take your time I guess. It’s not like I’m in a rush or anything.”

The ends of his mouth curved upwards into a smug grin as he said, “Now what could you possibly be in a hurry for? Do you have some hot date to get to or something?”

“No.” I bluntly replied to him while shaking my head.

The man’s eyebrows furrowed, and his grin disappeared. “That’s a shame. Nothing like a hot woman to take a load off your mind. Among other things.”

“Can you just please hurry up and leave already? I’m very busy.” My patience with the man was beginning to run thin.

“Mind if I ask what you’re busy doing?” The man suddenly asked.

“It’s clearly none of your business, so I’m not going to tell you anything.”

Something about the man just grated. Every fiber of my being told me to get rid of him as soon as possible.

Despite my cold attitude towards him, the corners of his lips curved upwards as he raised up his index finger. “May I take a guess then? Does it have something to do with accumulating three hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars to stop the foreclosure of the bar?”

I immediately grew tense after hearing his “guess.” My hands curled into fists, and I gritted my teeth.

“Who are you?” I finally managed to utter. I was on my guard. That mysterious man planned some scheme. How had he learned about the foreclosure of the bar shortly after I did?

“My name is Tanet. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Troy Ambrose.” He introduced himself.

“How do you know my name?”

“Are you kidding me? Your name appears in the newspaper now and then for your…exploits in this bar. Once I heard that this place was close to foreclosure, I decided to come down here and see how you would react.”

“That’s…kind of creepy to be honest,” I told him. So, from what I had gathered from him so far, he was only there to see me react to the foreclosure of the bar. But, where did he hear the information from? I highly doubted that the IRS would publicly boast about foreclosing on the bar.

“Oh, most definitely. But, I must say that I’m disappointed. I expected you to hit those IRS men across the face with that tray like you did earlier with that other bartender.”

“How do you know all of this? You weren’t anywhere in the bar when all of that happened.” I pointed out.

Tanet let out a laugh before he responded, “That’s an easy one. I was eavesdropping in the bathroom the entire time. Everything sounded so juicy that I didn’t want to interrupt the moment.”

I brought my hand up to my head then rubbed my brows, trying to fend off an incoming headache. From what I had managed to gather from the short amount of time I spent with the man, he was a smug, eavesdropping asshole.

“Well, whatever. Your fun’s over. Now get out of here so that I can close the bar.”

“Before I leave, may I offer you a proposition?”

“Proposition? What kind?”

Why had I even bothered to listen to that man? Many red flags raised the moment he opened his big mouth.

“You see I’m a recruiter for an organization that is searching for suitable players to partake in a few exciting games,” Tanet answered.

“Are you asking me to be one of these players?” I asked.

He enthusiastically snapped his fingers and nodded, his smile soon returned to his face. “Bingo! You’re smarter than you look you know that, Ambrose?”

“So, hypothetically, if I say yes to your proposal, what will I be doing?”

“You will be playing a game…or rather a series of games to be more precise. If you manage to win all the games, then you will be awarded possibly one million dollars.”

“One million dollars? Are you serious? One million dollars just to play a few games?” I unexpectedly exclaimed. I couldn’t tell if the man was being serious or not. Sure, I had seen people on game shows win large amounts of money. But, it all seemed too good to be true.

And the fact that Tanet had a mischievous grin on his face unsettled me. His expression alone was saying, ‘I got him now.’ Something was wrong. Everything was far too convenient.

“Yes, it’s that simple,” Tanet reached within his suit jacket then pulled out a couple of photos. “This is what becomes of the winners of our games.” He approached me then handed over the pictures.

The pictures featured people with briefcases filled with large sums of money. Their happy smiles brightened up the entire photo. However, there was something off about them. Sure, they looked happy about winning the money. But their eyes told a different story.

They were vacant. No sign of life or emotion whatsoever was in any of the shown photos. I recognized eyes like those.

“Now I am advised to warn you that you might lose your life while participating in the games. It’s quite the gamble. But if you’re okay with it, then you’re free to join and test your luck.” Tanet warned me.

“So, I’ll be gambling with my life?” I looked at Tanet, then the pictures in my hand. Was it all worth it at that point? If I were to win the games, I could win one million dollars and save the bar, my home. But if I were to lose, then that would be the end of the line.

“What do you say, Ambrose? Are you a gambling man?” Tanet asked, taking immediate notice of my hesitation. That man was toying with me, trying to manipulate me. He was taking advantage of my situation to persuade me into going along with his game. Well, I refused to become his toy.

“This sounds way too shady. I can’t trust this.” I handed the pictures back over to Tanet.

His chin dipped down to his chest as he reclaimed the photos from me.

“Now hold on. Don’t just immediately dismiss the idea without thinking it through. Sure, the loss of your life sounds pretty terrifying if you lose. But if you win, you could be rewarded one million dollars and use the money to save the bar from foreclosure.”

“Even if I were to win the game and the money, wouldn’t it be suspicious if I just showed up and stopped the foreclosure with one million dollars?”

He shook his head then smiled. “Not at all. Our organization has significant influence. The IRS won’t ask any questions regarding where or how you received the money. Only if you manage to win.”

“I don’t know about this.” My gaze left Tanet. I still wasn’t sure if I could trust him or his proposition. Everything still seemed too good to be true. He could’ve just been a con man or something. Or perhaps he was playing a cruel joke on me.

When my attention returned to Tanet, the man was looking at his watch again.

“I’m running short on time here. I need a decision right now before I leave. Yes, or no. Those are your choices,” Tanet walked past me, leaving the bathroom. I followed him out and watched him head towards the exit. “You have until I reach the door to make a decision. Will you muster up your courage and risk your life to save your bar? Or will your fear control you and force you to stand by and watch as the bar gets taken away from you?”

He drew terribly close to the door. His hand reached out for the doorknob. It was my last chance to make up my mind. I could win one million dollars at the risk of losing my life. Was it even worth it?

In all honesty, it was better than nothing. I wouldn’t have come close to making three hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars within the time span of two weeks. It was my best option. It was either a million dollars or nothing.

“I’ll do it,” I called out to him.

He froze for a moment. He then slowly turned around, facing me with that mischievous smile again. A chill traveled down my spine. Now I had done it. I had made a mistake of a lifetime and sold my very soul to the devil.

“Excuse me? I couldn’t quite hear you.” He feigned ignorance and leaned forward while bringing his hand up to his ear.

“I’ll do it. I’ll take part in your game and win the one million dollars. If it’s to save the bar, I’ll do it.”

“Well said.” He approached me with his arm extended out for a handshake. While hesitant at first, I eventually reached out then shook his hand. “Let’s have fun playing these games together, Ambrose.”

My eyes bulged. There was a stinging sensation in my neck. I shoved Tanet away from me. He was smiling as if he had done nothing wrong. Held in his left hand was a syringe.

My vision blurred and distorted.

In a last ditch effort to save myself, I swung at him. He stepped away as I tripped over my own feet then collapsed onto the floor. Despite my best efforts, the darkness eventually overwhelmed me as I lost consciousness.