Prologue - Bad Men
Marcus Tiller did not think of himself as a Bad Man. Bad Men were the people who took your money, knowing you would lose. Then, when you had no money left, They would offer to let you borrow, so you could keep playing. Once you lost the borrowed capital, those same Men would tell you They would break your legs next Tuesday... unless you came up with what you owed. Those were Bad Men.
Marcus was just a man in a pinch. His cards were perpetually bad, his mojo gone on the wind. Sometimes, when you were down, you stayed down. Sometimes the world would not let you stand up. But sometimes... an angel watched over your shoulder.
He stared hard at the newspaper in his hands. Did an angel smile, even now, at his disbelief? Surely the words would crawl from the recycled pulp and escape his notice.
become rich from
very little work.
No selling necessary!
The advertisement was followed by a phone number and a name: Ollie Parsons. He dialed immediately.
Icarus Consulting was squeezed between the Mane Street Salon and the corner convenience store, Reuger's. Though the three stores shared the same brick face, the dark lines on Icarus' sign made it appear to draw back from the street. He checked his watch - seven minutes early for his interview.
The door swung open with a gentle noise of vacuumed air. The atmosphere in the office was charged - an ionized air purifier humming gently against the wall. The AC pumped cool air over his face. He felt energized after a few moments in the room.
Foldable cubicle walls neatly marked the territories of the building. Cut off from the noise of the outside, he could only hear the purring of electronics and the tapping of a keyboard. The typist stopped and after a moment's pause, a head popped up over the wall.
The woman flashed him a brilliant smile, unruly curls waving about her face as she hurried to greet him. Her business suit was tailored very fine and she moved with indisputable grace. Though she was shorter than Marcus, she stared confidently into his eyes.
"May I help you?"
"I'm Marcus. I'm here for an interview." Why did his voice catch like that?
"Mr. Tiller!" she exclaimed, grabbing his hand and pumping it enthusiastically. "I'm Ollie... Ollie Parsons. We spoke on the phone?"
"Oh, yes, right. I'm going to meet with you? I'm sorry, I didn't realize..."
"No, no," she answered, waving a dismissive hand. "No one does. I'm the only one here. Just little old Ollie all alone in the office." Her teeth flashed again in a smile. "But I'm looking for a very specific candidate, so, really, I have to be the one to take care of it! Right?"
She ushered him back into the recesses of the office, deeper than the small storefront appeared from the street. They sat at a round table with plush chairs. She folded her hands and looked at him expectantly.
"Did you bring a résumé for me to look over?"
"Right, here it is." He fumbled the paper out of his bag, handing it across the frigid surface of the table. He laid his arms down and the cold seeped through his jacket to chill his bones.
Her eyebrows quirked unexpectedly. "St. Mercy Four Cities Hospital? I see you've worked there for quite some time. I would think a position of that institution would pay a decent salary. Could you tell me the nature of your work?"
"I'm a neonatal attendant. I help care for the newborns in the ward, before the parents are sent home. I'm a babysitter in the best sense of the term - medically and physically."
A small smile played across Ollie's mouth. "Indeed. Please describe the care you give to the infants."
"I watch over them through the night, change and feed them, I write a lot of charts about their condition and take 'Apart Time' shifts."
"What is an 'Apart Time' shift?"
"Each baby needs individual care apart from the other babies. We usually have them from 2-4 hours, in which we give them attention, cuddles, soft things to see and touch, feed and change them. We may also listen to music or read stories so they hear and respond to sound or a human voice."
"Interesting. So you are left alone with someone else's baby for a few hours at a time? Sort of like a nanny?"
"Yes, I suppose you could look at it like that. We also monitor their vitals, though, especially infants in the ICU. I write and interpret a lot of medical jargon."
"Tell me, Mr. Tiller," Ollie said, giving him a hard stare directly into his eyes. "Do you like your job?"
He hesitated. There was not necessarily a reason to lie or be truthful. Should he say what she wanted to hear? He thought it might be best to speak what he felt.
"They are not my children. Of course I care about them, in a professional capacity, but once they leave the hospital, they are out of my life, essentially. I generally won't see them ever again, or recognize them if I do."
"I see. And, could you explain to me why you could possibly need $100,000?"
Images of the Bad Men flashed through his mind and he flinched. His hands clenched on the table. "I owe some people some money," he said, horrified at his own admission. What use hiding it now? "There is no option to not pay... not that I'm trying to get out of it," he amended quickly. "Just, I don't have the money I need."
"Well, we can touch on that particular circumstance later..." she offered. "What I want to know is, how far would you go for the money?" He looked askance at her, but she was smiling without a hint of indiscretion.