Robert Jones woke up earlier than he normally did that Saturday morning. He groaned as he rolled over, fumbling for his cell phone on the night stand. He slid his hand across the top, feeling for the phone, accidentally knocking it to the wood floor as he did so.
“Damn it, Robert, if only you had a million dollars for every time you did that,” he cried.
If he had a million dollars for every time he’d knocked his phone off the night stand then he wouldn’t be sleeping in a tiny studio apartment in Queens, and he wouldn’t be so deathly afraid that he’d just shattered his screen.
Robert slid out of bed, stretching towards the ceiling his eyes fixed on the large crack that had been developing for months right above his head. He’d tried to reach out to his landlord to do something about it but had heard nothing back. That had been forever ago, and at this point Robert was at peace with the fact that that was how he was going to die: his neighbor falling through the ceiling, crushing him.
Every bone in his body seemed to pop as he reached to the sky, giving him a small degree of satisfaction from his aching back. His mattress should have been replaced about 2 years ago, but again, Robert couldn’t exactly afford a new one.
He bent down to grab his phone, keeping it face down as he raised back up. As slowly as he could, he began to turn the phone scared to see what the damage would be. Suddenly, it began to buzz, startling him so much, that he dropped the phone again, “Oh, son of…”
He scooped it up from the floor, glancing at the screen (which was perfectly fine), reading the callerID: Unknown. Normally he’d let these calls go to voicemail or just ignore them, but he hadn’t gotten a phone call in a while, so he answered.
“Hello, Robert Jones,” he said, clearing his throat of the phlegm that had built up in his sleep. He really needed to quit smoking. He glanced over at the night stand, eyeing the pack of Turkish Royals, then shrugged, he could always quit tomorrow.
“Robert, hi, this is Ty Herman,” a funny high pitched voice screeched through the speaker, so loudly that He had to take the phone away from his ear, “I hope I didn’t wake you?”
Robert walked out of his apartment, headed down the hall for the fire escape, where he always smoked his morning cigarette, “No, believe me, I’m awake now.”
“Oh sorry, am I speaking too loudly, I tend to do that,” Laughed Ty.
Robert, now out on the escape, lit his cigarette taking a few deep drags before he popped the question, “I don’t know any Ty Herman’s, what is this pertaining to?”
“Oh yes, sorry, I’ll get right on with it. I’m calling on behalf of the Dollar If Society, and it appears that you’ve got approximately $4 million due to you for the 4 times that you’ve knocked your phone off the nightstand, and onto your apartment floor.” Ty explained, sounding strangely professional now.
Robert laughed at first, but then stopped suddenly, “How the hell do you know about that?”
The voice on the other end was about to respond, but Robert hung up, flicked his cigarette down towards the street, and rushed through the hall back into his apartment. He jumped up on his bed, searching the crack in the ceiling for a camera. He checked the lamp, and the bookshelf: nothing.
He ransacked the kitchen and even the bathroom, but it turned up nothing as well. There were no cameras, and no listening devices that he could find… So how had the caller known?
He began to pace back and fourth, which was only a few steps given his lack of space. After a couple minutes of this, his phone buzzed again, this time, it was a text notification. He plucked the cell phone from the coffee table, reading the message, which again, had no number: You’ll find your money on a bench in Kissena Park, by the lake.
Robert knew that park like the back of his hand, he lived just a few blocks away, and had spent many a day sitting by that lake, day dreaming about what life would be like if he didn’t have to worry about paying his bills. That was it for Rodger, he called the police.
Two cops showed up hours later, one stood by the door with his arms folded, chewing his gum obnoxiously, while the other searched the place for cameras or a wire of some sort.
It turned up nothing just like it had when Rodger had searched, and the cops brushed it all off as a harmless prank one of his friends must be pulling on him. The only problem with that is that Robert didn’t have any friends, nor did he have any enemies for that matter.
So, with the police gone, he just tried to enjoy the rest of his day. It was his one day off after all. Normally he’d go walk dogs in the park, a simple way to earn some extra cash, but today, he had no intentions of going anywhere near that park.
Not surprisingly, that would be the most interesting part of his day, then his week, and soon after, his month. Eventually he’d forgotten about the incident all together, as he went about his everyday life. He worked as a librarian at the Queens Library, and as a barista right across the street at Starbucks.
Life went on as normal for Robert: he’d wake up, drink a cup of coffee, eat a banana, and walk to work. Life was boring again, just the way he liked it, until exactly two months later, a phone call woke Rodger up. He rolled over, reaching for his phone, actually located it without knocking it onto the floor, and answered it.
“Hello?” Robert yawned.
“What’s the big deal huh!?” the caller yelled at him, “I leave your money at Kissena Park for two months and you don’t even bother to go and get it!”
Robert bolted up in his bed, “Listen here you piece of trash, I don’t know who you are, but I’m going to Kissena right now, and we’ll see if you still think this is funny.”
He hung up before the prankster could respond, and shaking with a mixture of anger, and fear, put his clothes on. Robert had never been a fighter, he was a librarian after all, so the further he got from his apartment, the more fearful he became.
He’d brought a small canister of pepper spray that his mom had given him the day he moved to New York, and that gave him some peace of mind as he marched through the drizzling rain towards Kissena Park.
As he entered the park and headed towards the lake he fished into his left pocket for the pepper spray canister, pulling it out with a shaky hand. He swallowed hard, trying to get rid of the nervous lump in his throat.
In a few moments he was at the lake, with not a soul around. This was rare, even for a raining day. Usually you’d see a few people walking through the park on their way to work, their umbrellas up, and their heads down, but there was no one.
Robert turned around several times, eyeing every inch of the park, searching for the prankster who had tormented him that fateful day two months ago, and now, today. Minutes passed and Rodger was about to walk back home, when he saw it:
About 100 yards away, on a bench near the lake, was a black object that he couldn’t quite make out in the rain. He looked around the park again, and once sure no one was around, cautiously approached the bench.
“No way…” Robert whispered in disbelief upon reaching the bench.
Right there, laid across the entirety of the bench, were four black briefcases, all the same size. He stood there for a few minutes, staring at the briefcases, trying to figure out what to do. Finally he got the courage to investigate further.
He crouched before the bench, grabbing the far left briefcase, inspecting it’s every inch. He put it down suddenly and shuffled backwards away from the bench with such haste that he nearly fell into the lake.
What if there was a bomb in the briefcase?
He thought about it for a while, and nearly called the police again, but then he realized how ridiculous that was. Who would go through all of that trouble just to hurt a lowly librarian with no friends and no relatives in the city? Wasn’t he miserable enough already?
Robert inspected the briefcase again, discovering that you needed a 6 digit combo to unlock it. He tried several numerical variations that were significant to him: his birthday, the day he moved to New York, his graduation date…
None of them worked.
So, he grabbed all 4 briefcases, piling them on top of each other, and began the short walk back to his apartment, which didn’t seem so short now with nearly 100 lbs. of extra weight in his arms.
Robert was a little man, with twig arms (which coincidentally had been his nickname in high school), and because of this, he looked ridiculous carrying the briefcases which stacked higher than his line of vision. He blindly walked his way home, his arms quivering from the weight of his cargo.
When he got to his apartment building he struggled to try and open the front door. Robert was about to set the briefcases down when he heard a voice from behind him.
“Need a hand?” a man asked. The voice sounded familiar but Rodger, who’s arms were about to fall off from the strain, paid no mind to this, “Don’t worry, I live here too.”
“Please,” Robert groaned.
The unidentified man unlocked the door, held it open for Robert, and then offered to take the briefcases up to his apartment for him.
He followed the man upstairs, directing him to the 5th floor where he dropped the briefcases at his doorstep. He introduced himself as T.J. saying he lived on the 1st floor in apartment 124, that he’d see him around, and then he left, leaving Rodger to unlock his apartment and haul the briefcases inside.
Just as he walked into his apartment, the door about to close, he heard T.J. yell from down the hall, “234813!”
Robert froze for a few seconds, then dropped the heavy briefcases sprinting out of his apartment back into the hall. If his upstairs neighbor had done the same the ceiling surly would have collapsed. The heavy briefcases didn’t make his downstairs neighbors ceiling collapse but it would surly result in a noise complaint, the first that Rodger the librarian would ever received in his life time.
When he got into the hall, the man was gone. Robert then rushed down stairs to the 1st floor. When he knocked on the door of apartment 124 it wasn’t T.J. who answered but some morbidly obese man who yelled, “Who the hell is T.J., are you on drugs or something!?” then slammed the door in his face.
Robert didn’t really need to find T.J. though, because he had heard what he said perfectly clear: 234813. It was a 6-digit number, and if Rodger’s suspicions were correct, it would be the code he needed to unlock the briefcases.
Robert rushed back up to his apartment. He kicked his shoes off, plopping down before the briefcases, grabbing the top one, setting it in his lap. He took his time thumbing the little combination lock numbers, until finally, it read: 234812. All he had to do was flip the far right dial up one more number and it would open.
He took a deep breath, then rolled the last number into place; the briefcase clicked. He lifted the top slowly, his right hand shaking as he did. When he was sure it wasn’t a bomb he flung it open, revealing a thin plastic covering, much like a plastic grocery bag. What it was covering, Rodger did not yet know. He was too focused on the label on the plastic: Dollar If Society.
“What in the absolute…” he whispered to himself.
Hesitating slightly, he grasped the plastic covering, and tore it away from the briefcase, revealing several blue faces that he didn’t see much of these days.
The briefcase was full of $100 bills!
He opened the three other ones revealing the same plastic covering with the Dollar If Society label, and when torn away, the same blue faces.
Robert stood up, his legs beginning to wobble; holy shit, I’m rich.
Before he could think about it further, he fainted.