He was an accountant; she was a motor car racer. They met one sunny afternoon in the middle of a crowded street, in a busy city. He was walking one way, late for an appointment; she was going the other, nose buried in her book, totally oblivious to the outside world.
They bumped into each other, not very hard, just enough to make her drop her book. He apologized profusely. She smiled, said it quite was all right. Their eyes met for a second and he stared, all thoughts of his appointment suddenly, inexplicably gone from his mind. A moment passed, then he smiled sheepishly and said, “Erm…I’ll go now. Good day.” Her smile faded ever so slightly, but she replied, “Uh…ok.” They both walked on. He turned suddenly, and called out to her. She paused, an expectant look on her face. He said, “I don’t suppose you’re in much of a hurry to go anywhere? Perhaps we could go somewhere…you know…get a drink?”
She smiled. That would be lovely.
And so it began.
At a popular restaurant, the two of them ate and chatted for hours. He loved her smile, and her quick wit. She loved his sense of humor. After what seemed like forever, one of them mentioned that it was getting late. They (reluctantly) rose, and she said, laughing, “This is ridiculous. I’ve just had one of the greatest times of my life, and I don’t even know your name!”
He laughed with her. My name is John Sanders, he said.
She said, “My name is Eleanor, but you can call me Ellie. The people who matter most to me call me Ellie.”
They made plans to meet the very next day and departed, each smiling, each deliriously happy.
He was an accountant. She was a motor car racer.
“So, what work do you do?” asked Ellie.
They lay side by side in bed, gloriously naked, in his small downtown apartment. The two of them had met earlier in the day, and one thing led to another. And now they were here, on his single bed.
“Mmm?” Sanders replied, only half-listening to her. He was staring at the curve of her hips.
“I said,” Ellie repeated, “tell me about your job.”
“Oh, that,” he paused. “Well, I’m a superhero.”
“No, really,” Sanders said, struggling to keep a straight face. “When I was younger I was bitten by a radioactive…er…slug, and ever since I’ve been a caped vigilante, protecting everybody from the Evil Doctor…”
Ellie pouted, “John, I’m serious.”
“Oh, fine. I’m an accountant at a local firm. Perhaps you’ve heard of them.” He told her the name.
“Can’t say I have. Did you always want to be an accountant?”
“Not really, to tell you the truth. As a young boy, my lifelong dream was to be an ass-model.”
Ellie laughed and hit him on the head with her pillow.
“What about you?” Sanders asked her. “What do you do for a living?”
Ellie told him.
Sanders raised an eyebrow. “Really? A race car driver?”
She nodded. “It’s what I always wanted to do, since I was little. I’ve always been fascinated with cars. It’s why I moved here, in fact. Have you heard of the Circuit?”
Sanders had. The Circuit was a local racing arena. Mostly underground stuff, underground racers competing for fame, recognition, respect. And – just maybe – the chance to break out into the big leagues. The races were also heavily bet on, even though that was illegal. Fortunes had been made and lost in the arena known as the Circuit. Sanders knew all about that.
“Well,” Ellie continued. “I moved here to compete more. Heard about a lot of interesting races there.”
“Oh,” said Sanders. “Wow. Racer; that sounds way cooler than ‘accountant’. Or ass-model, for that matter.”
They both laughed.
“So have you ever been to see a race at the Circuit?” asked Ellie.
“No,” Sanders lied flatly.
“Well, you should come see me. I’m having a practice run tomorrow, just a little race to prepare me for the big one.”
Ellie told him about a race that was to be held in four days’ time. It was kind of a big deal, as far as underground races were concerned. “Come watch me tomorrow,” Ellie concluded, her eyes pleading.
Sanders said he said he wasn’t sure.
She traced her hand down his torso to his member and asked sweetly: “Pretty please?”
And so he went. To see her race. It was no big event; the Circuit was virtually empty. He stood in the stands and watched her on the track on a cold, wet afternoon.
She was amazing.
Sanders couldn’t believe his eyes. Ellie tore along the track like a demon birthed in the very center of Hell. Granted, the other racers weren’t exactly world class, but Ellie was stunning nonetheless. Sanders watched her overtake one car after another, performing hairpin turns with an almost arrogant ease. When she crossed the finish line, quite a considerable distance before the rest of the pack, he descended from the empty stands to meet her on the track.
Ellie saw him coming and squealed, throwing her arms around him. “How was I?”
“You. Were. Unbelievable.”
Ellie smiled, kissing him deeply. She told him she had to take her car into the garage, she would be back soon. He said he would be waiting.
As soon as Ellie drove off, and Sanders made sure she was gone, he turned on his heel and walked in the opposite direction. Crossing the track, he made his way up the stands, round a corner, into a narrow corridor. At the end of the corridor was a brown door. The paint was faded, chipped in places; it was a generally unremarkable piece of work. Sanders walked right up to the door and knocked once. There was a pause of a few seconds, and then:
“Who is it?” came a deep gruff voice from inside.
“Renard? It’s John. John Sanders.”
There was another pause, then the sound of the door being unlocked. It swung open to show a short, round man, balding, with a lit pipe in his mouth. “John!” said Renard. “You motherfucker. It’s been years!”
“Actually, Renard, it’s been a year.”
“Quit nitpicking, asshat. Come, come.”
Sanders stepped inside the office, allowing the man he knew as Renard to close the door after him. Once inside, he gave the inside of the office a discreet once-over. It looked exactly as it had the last time he’d seen it, almost a year ago.
“Got nothing to offer you, drink-wise,” said Renard. He held out his pipe. “Smoke?”
Sanders smiled. “No thanks, Renard. I’m clean now.”
“Yeah, ever since you left us to become a hotshot accountant, I figured you would be.”
Sanders told him that being an accountant hardly qualified to be called ‘hotshot’. The truth was, John Sanders had always had a head for figures, and when he ‘left’, as Renard put it, it only made sense to pursue something that played to his strength. It wasn’t exactly Hollywood, but hey.
“So, Johnnie boy. What can I do you for?”
Sanders paused, took his time before answering: “I need a favor.”
Renard’s eyes narrowed. “What kind of favor?”
“I need you to give me some information about the race taking place here in three days’ time.”
Renard leaned back in his chair. “Whoa, there. You know I’m not allowed to just give away that information.”
“I know. But I need this favor, just this once. Please.”
Renard stood still for a moment, then crossed to his cluttered desk and sat down. Opening a big file, he asked, “What do you wanna know?”
“Tell me about a racer named Eleanor Graham.”
Renard looked up. “She’s virtually unknown, a last minute entry into the race. Not bad, though, from what I hear.”
“Tell me about her betting odds.”
Renard did some quick checking. “About twenty-to-one,” he said.
Sanders did some quick calculations. He had about forty-five thousand dollars to his name. At these odds, that would amount to nine hundred thousand. He could easily borrow five thousand more from a couple of friends. Investing fifty thousand dollars at the odds of twenty-to-one would be…a million.
One million dollars.
Sanders took a slow, deep breath. He noticed Renard was watching him closely, so he tried to give nothing away. His face remained deadpan. “Thank you, Renard. You’ve been a pal.”
“Huh,” said Renard, leaning back in his chair and puffing hard on his pipe. “To tell you the truth, not many people are willing to stake their chances on her or much of anyone else, for that matter. Not with the Barbarian racing.”
Sanders blurted, “What? The Barbarian is racing?”
“Yeah,” said Renard. “Kind of a last minute addition, actually. Only heard of it last week myself.”
“Oh. I see,” said Sanders quietly.
Renard was studying his friend intently, but Sanders’ face was guarded, impassive. “Well,” he said after a pause, “Anything else you need, Johnnie boy?”
“What? No, not really,” replied Sanders. “Thanks, Renard. I owe you one.”
“You said that the last time we met.”
“I owe you two, then,” Sanders smiled.
Renard said, “You sure you don’t want that smoke?” He blew a thick cloud of smoke out of his nostrils as he said this.
“I’m sure, Renard. But thanks, anyway.” He turned to go. “I’ll see you around.”
Renard waited till Sanders reached the door, and then he said, “Hey, Johnnie.”
Sanders turned. “Hmm?”
Renard said, “This little broad you’re interested in. I hear she’s good, real good. But she cannot beat the Barbarian.”
There was a moment of silence.
“No,” Sanders said slowly. “She cannot.”
“Where have you been? I’ve been looking for you.”
Sanders smiled and took Ellie’s arm. “I got lost looking for the men’s room.”
Ellie angled her face to look into Sanders’. “Well, did you find it?”
Sanders replied, “I sure hope so.” Ellie laughed.
“Well, are we done here?” she said.
They went home. They had an early dinner, retreated to the bedroom, and made love. And when they were spent, they lay side by side in bed. And Ellie slept and dreamt many wonderful dreams, but all through the night a single thought played over and over in John Sanders’ head, like an annoying pest that just wouldn’t die.
One million dollars.
(Part 2 here )