Better Choices
Chapter 1 - Big Nick's

Shane Ellis just wanted to get ahead for once. And if that meant breaking the law for a cool ten g's, so be it. What he didn't expect was a job offer...

Shane Ellis.jpg

Big Nick’s

 

Shane lined up the shot. It was do or die, get it right, or lose the $20 that sat perched precariously on the corner of the pool table, a square of chalk holding it in place. The eight-ball was close to the corner pocket, but so was his opponent’s nine-ball. He had to thread it close, not touch the nine-ball, just slip past with enough oomph to knock the eight-ball in while not following it with the cue-ball. He stared at it, bent down, and released a breath as his stick nudged the cue ball down the length of the table, whispering by the nine-ball. It connected with the eight-ball, sent it clicking into the pocket and advanced gently, inexorably, sitting on the edge of the pocket. Another millimeter, maybe two, and the out of towner who had been baiting him all evening would have collected the twenty.

Shane’s luck held and the cluster of people around the table hollered, one of them clapping him on the back. “Ellis, you are on fire!”

Shane nodded, reached out and collected the twenty, shoving it into his pocket. Rent was due in another week, and his cupboards were looking bare. It would come in handy. His opponent shook his head and headed for the bar. 

By the rack was a beat-up chalkboard with a list of names. It was Friday night, and there were plenty in line. “Carl’s up next.” Shane called out, “Is there a Carl here?”

“He’s in the head, I’m next, I’ll switch with him.” A lanky man unfolded himself from one of the bar stools against the wall and stood up. He looked familiar. He grinned at Shane.

Shane grinned, “Dave Eggers? What the hell are you doin’ here?” Despite living in California for the past ten years, his southern drawl still slipped through.

“Heard you ran the tables around here, figured I’d see if you really are the shit.” He bumped Shane’s fist and slapped him on the arm. “I thought you were gonna be some high falutin’ doctor, but here you are sharkin’ assholes out of their hard-earned money and drinkin’ Bud Lite.”

Shane shook his head. His dream of becoming a doctor had been driven by his drive to save his mother, some way, somehow. When she had died halfway through his third year at Stanford, those dreams had turned to dust, anyway. There was no way he could see watching the student loan debt ratchet up and spend most of his twenties becoming a doctor now. And for what? Mom was gone. The second semester had been a shit show and by the time he was halfway through his third semester, Shane could see the writing on the wall. Three semesters at college and over $80k in debt. He’d dropped out, rented a tiny, cramped apartment, and started working two jobs just to handle the student loan payments. It was a rather hand-to-mouth existence. Just another reason for him to make some money on the side knocking balls around the pool table.

“Shit, driving an ambulance is close enough for me. Besides, weren’t you going into business?” Shane gave Eggers a once-over, “Where’s your three piece and the fancy letters at the end of your name?”

Eggers grinned, “I’m in business, just ain’t the kind of business that needs a suit.” He slipped the quarters into the slot and the balls released, rolling into place with satisfying thuds. They clacked into the rack, three at a time and Dave leaned over the table, his eyes focused on sliding the rack into place on the worn out spot of felt. His fingers bunched against the edge, keeping the balls close, and gently lifted the rack out of the way. “College, hell, it just wasn’t for me. You neither, by the look of it.”

Shane said nothing, just focused on the triangle of balls in front of him and hit them with a solid whack to the cue ball. They flew across the table, the two-ball and the thirteen-ball both sinking into the far corners. The four-ball followed a few seconds later. 

Eggers whistled, laid a crisp hundred-dollar bill down on the corner of the table, and grinned at Shane. “What d’ya say we raise the stakes a bit?”

Shane blinked. He had seen the roll of bills the other man had in his pocket. A hundred dollars. Shit, he’d better win this round. Against his better judgment, he nodded and took aim at the six-ball. It slid past the eight-ball, bounced in the corner, and hovered there. Eggers laughed and balanced a stick in his hand, examining the length of it and hefted it in his hand before settling into the far corner, his eyes on a striped nine-ball.

A crowd gathered as the two men stalked around the perimeter of the pool table, clawing their way, one ball at a time, toward the end prize, the black eight-ball and the hundred-dollar bill on the corner. Each shot generated a shout of praise from the onlookers. They groaned as Shane left the cue ball mired behind a wall of solid balls and whooped when Eggers managed to jump it out and hit his seven-ball into a side pocket. Every ball, every turn. It was close, damned close, and Shane was sweating over how he was going to have to fork over one hundred bucks if he lost to the other man. 

And finally, after each ball was sunk and only the eight-ball remained, Shane knew he had one chance, and one chance only. Do or die. Make a hundred bucks or eat ramen for the rest of the damned month. He took the shot, the cue ball bouncing the eight-ball off of the opposite wall, down the full length of the table and gently depositing it in the corner. Eggers whooped right along with the others, laughing as Shane slid the one hundred into his pocket. 

“Shit, Suzie Sharpshooter, at least buy me a drink with that!”

Shane laughed and shook Eggers’ hand. “Good game.”

“Indeed it was.” He leaned closer. “Look, give the table to Carl and I’ll buy you a drink. I got a business proposition for you.”

Shane shrugged, “All right.” He handed the stick to a woman who would have been a beauty ten years ago and smiled at her. He liked cougars. They knew exactly what they wanted and had no problems going after it. Women his age were still playing hard to get and bullshit mind games. “The table is all yours, darlin’.” 

She smiled at him and winked. “I’ll hold on to the table for you, Southern.” She was a regular at the bar, and could hold her liquor and played a mean game of pool. She had nicknamed him Southern Comfort, due to his drawl, and propositioned him last week. Shane had regretted having to turn her down, but he didn’t want to risk being late for his construction job. The money was good, and he needed all the hours he could get before the rainy season began. Maybe the offer was still open for tonight. He would hear what Eggers had to say and then head back her way.

Eggers chose a table far from the others. “Damned if I don’t need some of them chili cheese fries they got here, too. Haven’t eaten all day.” He snapped his fingers at one of the barmaids and she took his order, “Give us four shots of Jagermeister along with that.” 

She nodded, winked at Eggers, “I’ll be back with that in a jiffy.” She walked away, her butt sashaying. The woman knew how to get tips.

Shane laughed, “Jager? Didn’t you have enough of that at the frat parties?”

“Hell, I was just getting started.” 

Shane looked Eggers over. They hadn’t been close, but they had shared some of the basic entry-level classes that first semester. They had been in the same dorm, a few doors away from each other. Eggers was wearing a very expensive Rolex watch, from the looks of it. Shane didn’t know much about them, but the thing was gold and had diamonds encrusted around the large dial. 

“I guess life’s treating you pretty well,” Shane said, nodding his head at the watch.

Eggers grinned, “It ain’t too shabby.” His clothes were at odds with the watch, simple black jeans and a black t-shirt. “I hear you’re workin’ your tail off these days.”

“I had been until the hospital started laying off a bunch of us.” It had snuck up on him, caught him with barely a day’s notice, and Shane’s hours as an ambulance driver were cut down to three hours, three days a week. His second job, working in the dojo for Thompkins, didn’t pay squat, but he was able to train for free. “What have you got in mind?”

Eggers stared at him, and Shane felt like he was being assessed. “I’m looking for someone who is interested in making good, quick money and doesn’t ask too many bullshit questions.” 

The barmaid came back with the drinks, sliding the Jagermeister shots and chili cheese fries into the space between them, her pink tongue moistening her lips before she asked, “You want me to start a tab for you?”

Eggers shoved another hundred-dollar bill out of his pocket and slid it towards her. “Sure, sweetheart, keep those Jagers coming whenever you see us go dry. All right?”

“You got it!” She chirped and slipped the bill into her cleavage. Dave grinned at her, his eyes on her ass as she sashayed away.

“Why have I not visited this bar before?” he mused as he tossed down a shot and grabbed at the fries. “There are some hot ones here!” He grunted in appreciation over the fries and shoved them closer to Shane.

“I need a little more info.” Shane said, and Eggers nodded at him, his mouth full of fries. “Weapons?”

“No.” Eggers said, “No weapons.”

“Anyone gonna get hurt?”

“Nope.”

“Why me?”

“I owe you one.”

Shane drained one of the shots, stared at the man across from him, and shook his head, “No you don’t.”

“You took the fall for that bullshit in Compton.” Eggers drained his glass and then snapped his fingers at the barmaid standing two tables away. “How would you like $10k for a night’s work?”

He laughed at Shane’s expression and the barmaid walked over and leaned in close, “Ready for another round, Hon?”

Eggers grinned at her, reaching out to run his hand down her leg, “Another four, and one for you.”

She smiled coyly, cast a glance at a rotund man in the far corner who wore a perpetual glare on his face. “Can’t, darlin’, Nick’d can me for sure. No drinking on the job.” She turned her body at an angle that Nick couldn’t see and rested her hand on his sleeve. “But I’m off in thirty minutes, forty-five tops. Wanna party?”

 

She extended the invitation to Shane with a sensual bat of eyelashes. Rather, it would have been sensual if Shane were into skinny chicks who obviously enjoyed more than just alcohol with their party.  

Shane tried to hide his revulsion by stuffing his face with the last of the chili cheese fries. He studied the framed photos on the wall, avoiding eye contact. Her smile slipped for a minute, before re-focusing on Eggers.

“Yeah, I’m up for a party, sweetheart,” he pulled her halfway onto his lap and shoving another hundred-dollar bill into her cleavage. “But go get us those drinks. I gotta talk business with my home boy here.” He smacked her ass as he helped her stand up. 

“Whatever you say, Darlin’.” She sashayed away, casting a quick glance over at Nick. If it were possible for the man to glower more, Shane didn’t know how. 

He studied Eggers, who had leaned back to watch the barmaid’s every move, practically licking his lips. Shane knew whatever the other man was into, it was illegal as hell. That didn’t bother him. It seemed that no matter how hard he worked, he never got ahead. Men like Eggers did, though. Fancy watches, cash, and a stash of coke back at his pad, without a doubt. Was it drug running? Debt enforcement? Or just plain old B&E? He was betting it was the latter. 

“So you in?”

“Not until I know what I’m getting into.”

Eggers barked out a laugh and downed another shot of Yager, licking his lips as he did. “You always were the careful one. That’s what I like about you, Ellis.”

“So, you gonna tell me what it is, or should I start throwing out guesses?”

“B and E, straight up, no danger.” 

Shane raised his eyebrows, a set look on his face. “No danger” was bullshit.

“Seriously, man, the places are always empty. It’s part of the deal. Rich bitches on vacay to Europe or working on their tans down in South Pacific, old men going for treatments down in Central America so they can use their dicks again. In, out, no worries about the security alarms and no one to show up unexpectedly.” He grinned like a cat. “I’ve been doin’ it for six months now. Another handful and I’ll move to a whole new area, no muss, no fuss, and sure as shit, no trace of me. Hell, I wonder if they even notice they’ve been robbed.”

“You work for some kind of alarm company? What’s your way in that doesn’t leave any trace?”

Eggers grinned wider. Some of the chili was stuck in his teeth and Shane could see they were graying in areas, a classic indicator of meth. The man didn’t look jacked up right now, though. Nevertheless, it raised Shane’s hackles. He’d never been a fan of meth, or any of the other heavy stuff. He’d seen what it had done to plenty of his classmates, chewing them up and spitting them out, ghosts of their former selves. 

“It’s a corporate secret, man, you gotta sign a NSA to learn that shit.”

Shane held back from telling Eggers it was an NDA, a non-disclosure agreement, not a non-whatever the hell Eggers thought the ‘s’ was supposed to stand for.

“I’ll think about it.”

Eggers’ expression soured, “Yeah? Well, don’t think too long about it. This ain’t a marriage proposal and there are other fish in the sea.”

 

“Don’t get your panties in a twist. When do you want to do this?” 

“Next Saturday. That’s when the house is empty. Rich asshole’s going to some conference in D.C. and the staff have the weekend off thanks to it being Memorial Day on Monday. A quick in and out, we even got us a shopping list and the codes to the safe.”

“And no one gets hurt and there absolutely aren’t weapons, right?”

“Didn’t I already say that?” Eggers grinned again, “C’mon Ellis, this is a walk in the park. Easy in, easy out.”

“For 10k?”

“For 10k.” Eggers downed another shot. “You keep asking questions though, and I’m knocking down the price. God damn, you are a pain in the ass.”

“Let me sleep on it. Call me tomorrow.”

“Whatever, man.” Eggers said as Shane scrawled his phone number on a napkin and handed it over.