Burke’s Gamble – Chapters 1 & 2 – Sample Chapters

Burke’s Gamble will be up on Kindle by Late February

CHAPTER ONE

Atlantic City, New Jersey, 12:30 a.m.

To paraphrase the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, “All winning gamblers are alike; each losing gambler is unhappy in his own way.” If US Army Sergeant First Class Vinnie Pastorini had ever read Tolstoy or had even heard of him, he probably would have agreed, but Vinnie knew nothing about Russian literature. What he did know a lot about, was Special Operations, ‘asymmetrical’ warfare, weapons, fighting, drinking, gambling, and losing.

Vinnie had spent countless hours at the tables in Las Vegas, Monte Carlo, Biloxi, the Indian casinos in North Carolina and northern California, and here in Atlantic City. Along the way, he experienced his share of long winning streaks and even longer losing streaks, but the past few months were his all-time worst. As they say, bullets miss, hand grenades can be fickle bitches, life’s short, sometimes the wrong guy gets killed, and sometimes “shit happens.” For all that, Vinnie knew his luck was about to change. He knew it! What goes up must come down, and what goes down must always come back up. One hand! One big hand was all he needed for his luck to snap back and get the juices flowing again. It was going to happen, here and now, in Atlantic City. He could feel it!

On his previous trips to Atlantic City, Vinnie had played in most of the casinos, but he had never played at Caesars down on the Boardwalk before. When he walked inside, it was almost midnight and he immediately liked what he saw. The big action never got going in any of them until at least 11:00 p.m., when the heavy hitters came out and a guy could win some serious money. Vinnie hoped that was the case, because he was in dire need of winning some “very serious money,” and they said Caesars was the classiest casino with the best-healed clientele on the Boardwalk. That didn’t include the Bimini Bay, the Tuscany Towers, or the Siesta Cove casinos up in northeast Atlantic City, all of which were owned by Boardwalk Investments, but he couldn’t go back there until he recouped at least a major down payment on what he owed them. It also did not include the Borgata or Harrah’s either. He didn’t owe them anything, but they were too close to the Bimini Bay for comfort. They would be the first places that Shaka Corliss and his goons would look for him, and that was far too risky. No, he had to try the casinos on the south side along the Boardwalk and win his stake back before they caught up with him. If not, he’d be a dead man walking.

Strolling casually through the front doors of Caesars, he glanced at the gambling tables. The maximums here were higher here than at Resorts or Bally’s, and that was good. Even still, they weren’t high enough. He put his hand in his pants pocket and felt what was left of his cash. No need to count. He knew he had a shade over $7,000 left, which meant he had already lost the $100,000 he brought back from North Carolina earlier that day, plus another $100,000 he had conned two other casinos out of. Vinnie shook his head and laughed at himself. Somehow, he’d managed to blow $218,000 in a little over seven hours. That was a record even by his standards, and now he owed a lot of money to the wrong people.

So, what, he thought. Oh, Patsy was going to be super pissed at him, and Shaka Corliss and his goons would talk tough and shove him around a bit. In the end, however, they wanted their money back; and a dead man couldn’t do that. Oh, he’d have to sell the new house and sign some promissory notes, but that would only put him back where he started three months before. The Army? What could they do? Bust him a grade? “Send him to Iraq?” as the old running Army joke had gone since Vietnam, or so someone once told him. Well, he had been there and done that too; and he was still on the right side of the grass looking up at all of them.

Vinnie’s slide began two weeks before, when he and Patsy came up here for a little R&R. They had just bought the new house, paid cash, and had $30,000 left over. That was the perfect number for an insane weekend in Atlantic City, he thought, so they hit the road. Insane? You could say that, Vinnie knew better than most. In two days, he blew through the $30,000 plus two $50,000 advances he talked the casino out of. It never ceased to amaze him what people would do for a Vet, if he flashed a big smile and an Army ID card. Unfortunately, that bill came due like any other; and when you owe the money to New Jersey casino operators, they came collecting with a baseball bat. So, he and Patsy drove back down to Fort Bragg, saw the Credit Union, and took out a $100,000 loan on the house to pay them off.

A week later, they drove back up to Atlantic City with the best of intentions of getting a nice room for the night, paying off the sharks, having a good meal, and driving back south, suitably embarrassed and chagrined the next morning. And it almost worked. The Bimini Bay even comped him a room. After all, he’d racked up enough Gold Club Points for a top-floor suite with a nice view of the marina. Then, he took Patsy to Ruth’s Chris for a great steak, and told her there was no need for her to go down to the casino office with him. It would only take a minute for him to drop off the money and return to the room. Unfortunately, the guys in the Unit didn’t call him “double-down Vinnie” for nothing, but he knew his luck had changed. He could feel it, and there was no sense in giving all that money to those clowns when he knew he could win it back. That was seven hours ago.

Vinnie wasn’t stupid. When he left Patsy up in the room, he didn’t run straight to the tables downstairs at the Bimini Bay. Instead, he drove south to the Boardwalk and began at The Trump Taj Mahal. He then tried his hand at Resorts, Bally’s, the Tropicana, and finally at Caesars. Of the large, mainline casinos, this was the end of the line. By the time he left the Taj and Resorts, the $100,000 from North Carolina was gone. With his patented smile, Army ID, and a signature, they gave him lines of credit for another $50,000 at Bally’s, plus two $25,000 advances at the Tropicana. Now he was at Caesars with his remaining $7,000.

There was no time to waste. Vinnie quickly walked around the table groupings and saw most of the usual games ─ craps and roulette on the ends, and a long, double line of semi-circular card tables in between. Each table had its own dealer, tabletop graphics, and an illuminated, glass sign, which named the game being played ─ Three Card Poker, Blackjack, Caribbean Stud, Texas Hold ‘em, Crisscross, Let it Ride, Spanish 21, even Casino War. They had them all, and he had enjoyed playing most of them on his last few trips here, winning and losing a pile at each. Tonight, those games were tempting, but their stakes were far too low and he did not have all night. Maybe he had two or three hours at best. By then, Shaka Corliss and the goons would track him down, and he had better have enough cash to buy that bastard off. Patsy was sitting in that hotel room back at the Bimini Bay, their Bimini Bay, and the two of them would be in deep trouble if he didn’t.

Vinnie’s eyes finally came to rest on the Texas Hold ‘em Parlor on the back wall of the casino. It wasn’t his favorite game, but they had unlimited stakes tables there, and that was what he desperately needed. He walked over and stepped inside and saw that it was a big room with dozens of tables, most of which were already full. Giving it no further thought, Vinnie stepped over to the control desk and told the man what he was looking for.

“You sure you want ‘no limit,’ young man?” the man asked

Vinnie nodded, so the man pointed down the side wall. “A seat just opened up at table 22. But I’ll tell ya, that’s a fast crowd down there, so good luck.”

Vinnie smiled, walked down the table, and took his seat. Fast crowd? Looking around at the nine other players, all he saw the usual collection of World Series of Poker wannabes: seven men and two women. Most of the men wore the usual de rigueur combination of black sunglasses, “Beats” earphones, layers of gold chains around their necks, and backward baseball hats. The others wore western shirts, bolo ties, and cowboy hats. The former stared at him with blank expressions, while the cowboys at least said, “Howdy.” The women were another matter. One was bright-eyed and straight out of a Dolly Parton look-alike contest; while the other had dark, dead, “shark” eyes. She had body art up and down both arms and her neck, big loop earrings, studs, and about anything else that could be stuck through her nose, lips, tongue, ears, and probably a few uncomfortable places he couldn’t see. Vinnie never could figure out what any of that had to do with the luck of the draw, much less beauty; but then again, if that was “normal,” then the world was in big trouble.

The next hour went about as he had learned to expect. He started winning big early and got his $7,000 up to $35,000, before it all slowly went to hell again and he found himself staring at the small pile of $2,200 in front of him. The dealer button was Vinnie’s, not that it mattered. The house dealer was a woman for this set, and she seemed to know what she was doing when she opened a new deck and shuffled. The “blinds” were posted, the chips were down, and Vinnie was staring vacantly at the table as she began to deal the first-hand. She got halfway around the table, when she froze in mid card. That never happened. Vinnie looked up and saw the pit boss and one of their big, uniformed security guards standing to her right and left. Surprisingly, they weren’t looking at Vinnie or anyone else at the table. They were looking behind Vinnie, over his shoulder.

That was when he felt a not-so-gentle tap on his shoulder. He turned his head and looked up to see two more beefy Caesars security guys flanking him. Behind them were Shaka Corliss and his twin goons. They were hard to miss. Corliss was black, with a gleaming, shaved head, white-capped teeth, wraparound Oakley sunglasses, a huge chrome-plated revolver in a shoulder holster, and a terminal case of arrogance and anger. Little more than average height, he rippled with the kind of phony muscles you get from too many hours lifting weights at a gym.

Between him and Vinnie, it had been mutual dislike at first glance. Maybe Corliss didn’t like white people, or Army sergeants, or just losers, but Vinnie doubted Corliss got along with anyone. The two look-alike, baby-faced goons standing on each side of him looked like they ran ‘6 “6 and around 270 pounds each, like football players from some small town in Nebraska. Corliss got off by ordering them around and being rude, arrogant, and insulting whenever he could. Vinnie guessed he must pay them a ton of money to put up with that crap, because they towered over him and either one of them could break him in half.

The Caesars security guy was nothing but polite. “I hate to interrupt, Sir, but if you’d come with us, please?” he asked Vinnie.

“You’re kidding, I’m in the middle of a hand here,” he complained.

“We’ll hold your seat and your chips. It’ll just be a minute.”

“Like hell it will!” Corliss shoved the Caesars guy aside. “Tha’s our chips and our money, Sucker, and you already burned through all, you’re gonna burn through!”

Vinnie looked up at Corliss and thought about it as he slowly got to his feet. Obviously, the game was over and he wasn’t recouping any of the money he owed them. However, “in for a penny, in for a pound,” he thought as his right hand shot up in a perfect uppercut ─ compact, explosive, and straight to the ceiling. It caught Corliss under his chin and sent him flying back into his twin goons. All things considered, other than the Ruth’s Chris steak, the surprised, open mouthed, stupid expression on Corliss’s face was the most satisfying highlight of the evening.

At 6’ 2” and a solid, athletic 200 pounds, Vinnie was no small man himself, but after he got in that first punch, all he remembered was a blur of more punches, counter punches, kicks, and a good bit of pain. He had fought his way through six combat tours in two different official wars, and a lot more nonofficial ones as an Army Ranger and Delta Force upper-level NCO Operator, although membership in that elite fraternity would always be top secret and never to be acknowledged. He was considered an expert with most weapons in the Army inventory and just as good in no-holds-barred, hand-to-hand combat, and had been in more than his share of old-fashioned bar fights at one Army post after another. Tonight, he was able to get in a dozen good shots at one goon after another. He even tossed one security guard onto a nearby poker table, breaking it in half, and tossed one of Corliss’s goons upside down into the wall. In the end, however, six to one, almost all of whom were bigger than he was, usually won. When someone broke a chair over his head and he went down for the count, that was all she wrote.

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

 Arlington Heights, Illinois, 1:30 a.m.

Bob and Linda Burke lay naked in the center of their new king-sized bed, sound asleep in a tangle of arms, legs, and random body parts. He bought the big bed three weeks before, just prior to their wedding, because he thought it would provide more mattress space than his old double bed had. Navigating the new bed frame and mattress set up the steep stairs and then pushing and pulling them around several sharp corners into the rear, second floor master bedroom of his townhouse proved to be a job and a half. All of his old Army pals from Fort Bragg had come up for a monster two-day, blowout bachelor party, followed by the big nuptial bash itself. After enough beer and brats, it was amazing how six big men could levitate a king-sized bed up a tight staircase, and all he had to do was watch.

As it turned out, all that effort proved unnecessary. Linda needed no extra mattress space, because she had no territorial respect whatsoever. Left side, right side, top edge, or bottom meant absolutely nothing to the woman. Her normal nocturnal preference was for full-body contact and she would wrap herself around him like a boa constrictor wherever he retreated to on the bed. So, it could be king-sized, a twin, a narrow army cot, or the rear seat of a Volkswagen. Any of those would have provided more than enough space for her, as long as he was there. Like everything else with second marriages, he realized this bed geography thing would take some getting used to.

That night, he finally fell into a deep, REM sleep, when the loud ring of the bedside telephone jarred him awake. Back “in the day,” Bob had ample experience with rude noises in the night, such as exploding Russian 107-millimeter rockets, 82-millimeter Chinese mortar mortars, the crack of a rifle bullet, or the panicky shout of “incoming!” However, in the three years since he left the Army, he managed to wean himself from the worst of those reactions. He no longer dove onto the sidewalk when he heard a car backfire, crawl under the bed when the alarm went off, or jump into the bathtub if a door slammed. Now, all a telephone call in the middle of the night did was to snap him out of his usual recurring dream, which was a good thing.

It was always the same. He was under heavy fire, running down a narrow mountain trail in Afghanistan, with Gramps, Ace, Vinnie, Koz, Chester, The Batman, Bulldog, Lonzo, and the rest of his sergeants close behind. Bullets zipped past their heads and ricocheted off the rocks as they leapfrogged from boulder to boulder, returning fire at every turn, but being chased by a hundred screaming, turbaned, bearded, Taliban tribesmen. The nine crack American rifleman were more than holding their own, even against the stiff odds. However, no matter how many Taliban they killed, the bastards just kept coming and coming, like ducks flying over an Iowa cornfield. The bad dream kept coming too, but he guessed that was the price one paid for fifteen years in the Army. He fought in a mechanized infantry battalion in the rock-strewn deserts of Iraq during the Second Gulf War, followed by savage counter-insurgency warfare in the mountains and high plateaus of Afghanistan, serving in the Rangers and ultimately in the Army’s elite Delta Force. Win or lose, regardless of the war, fighting at the side of good soldiers and better friends like those men were the battles that rattled around inside a man’s head for years to come. So did the bad dreams.  This time, however, the insistent ring of the bedside telephone broke in to save him.

“That had better not be your mother again,” he mumbled into the top of Linda’s head.

“I doubt it,” she answered. “I told her the last time that you’d ring her neck if she wakes us up in the middle of the night again. I think she finally believed me.”

“Your mother? Come on, she loves me.”

“Bob, you’re a warm body with a steady job and a big paycheck, who took in her daughter and granddaughter. What mother-in-law wouldn’t?” With her face buried in the crook of his neck, somehow, she managed to press even closer, throwing her leg over him as she began to rub his stomach with her free hand.

“Girl, you are insatiable.”

“Are you complaining?”

“Me? Never. But let me take care of the phone call, first,” he answered, trying not to smile. Somehow, he managed to twist and turn his head far enough around to see the display on the dimly lit telephone console. The caller’s Area Code read 910. That was Fort Bragg, North Carolina, his former playpen and home away from home; and he immediately recognized the phone number as Vinnie Pastorini’s, one of his former Delta team leaders. Stretching back even further, he managed to get two fingers on the handset and bring it to his ear. “It’s 3:30, Vinnie. What’s up?”

“It’s… it’s not Vinnie,” he heard a young woman’s hesitant voice say. “It’s me… Patsy.”

“Patsy? Hey, girl, how’s everything going down there in God’s country? I heard a vicious rumor that Vinnie threw you over his shoulder and carried you down there after the wedding. Just remember, when you get tired of him, I’ll always have a job for you up here.”

“I appreciate that, Major, but that’s not why I’m calling.”

“It’s not ‘Major’ anymore, Patsy. Those days are long gone. It’s just plain, old, decrepit civilian, ‘Bob’ now.”

“I’m… I’m not down at Fort Bragg; I’m up in Atlantic City. Vinnie and I came here yesterday.”

“Atlantic City? And you two can’t figure out something better to do at this hour than to phone me?”

“Vinnie’s in trouble… Bob,” she finally blurted out. “No, we’re both in trouble, and I didn’t know who else to call.”

“Don’t tell me, not the poker tables again?” He groaned.

“At the time, it didn’t seem like such a bad idea. We bought that new house, you know; and we had some money left over, $30,000, I guess. Since he was going on another deployment, Vinnie decided we deserved what he called an insane weekend.”

“Insane? Figures.”

“It was a spur of the moment thing. We flew up, got a room at the Bimini Bay Casino, and he hit the tables.”

“How much?”

“How much? Well, he started out winning, but by the end of the second day…”

“His luck changed? That’s what casinos do, Patsy; they suck you in. How much?”

There was a long pause before she answered. “Well, for starters, he lost the $30,000; but you know Vinnie. He wasn’t about to quit after that. We went up to the Gold Club office, where this cute little blonde with a big smile named Eva gave him another $50,000, after he signed a note and a bunch of papers, of course.”

“Casinos are nothing if not accommodating.”

“I told him not to take the money, but he wouldn’t listen. The more I argued, the angrier he got at me; so I finally shut up.”

“I take it he lost that $50,000 too?”

“Of course, but this time there was no cute blonde to go see. They cut him off, and two big gorillas took us by the arms and walked us down this long corridor door to the business office ─ both of us ─ where we ended up in front of the desk of a man named Martijn Van Gries. He’s Dutch, I think, pleasant enough, but a real smart ass. I wanted to cut our losses and leave right then. Hell, I wanted to leave after the first $30,000, but you know Vinnie. He talked Van Gries into giving him another $50,000, if you can believe it! Well, by the end of the third night…”

“He’d lost that too?”

“You got it. So we ended up back in the business office again with that Dutch jerk Van Gries. The bottom line is that he gave Vinnie ten days to come back and pay off the markers. If he didn’t, they’d go down to North Carolina and take the $100,000 out of our hides… his and mine.”

“Well, I’m glad you called me.”

“Vinnie didn’t want me to call anyone, especially you. He is so embarrassed that he made me promise, ‘Don’t call the Major,’ he told me, over and over again. ‘You can call Ace, but don’t call the Major!’ Anyway, he swore up and down that he’d learned his lesson.”

“Vinnie?” Bob shook his head in dismay. “That’ll be the day.”

“So, we flew back home, took out a loan from the credit union on the house, and came back up here yesterday with $100,000 in cash to pay them off. This time, I didn’t go to the business office with him. I couldn’t stand the thought of seeing that man again.”

“A wise choice.”

“Vinnie had an appointment with Van Gries, and he said he wanted to do it himself, so he took the cash and left. He said it shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes. However, when seven hours passed and he hadn’t returned…”

“Don’t tell me,” Bob said in frustration. “He went back and doubled down?”

“More or less. He went to four or five other casinos down on the Boardwalk, where the ‘genius’ figured they wouldn’t know him, determined to win it back. And since he was using cash, at least in the beginning…”

“He lost all of that money too?”

“Worse. He lost that $100,000, plus another $100,000 he managed to talk those other casinos out of… and there were damages, too.”

“$200,000?”

“That isn’t even counting the $130,000 of our money he blew!”

“What was he thinking?”

“I don’t have a clue; you know him better than I do.”

“I doubt it, but that’s why the guys call him ‘Double-Down’ Vinnie.”

“And to top it all off, he got in a big fight at Caesars with some of their security people and the ones who went down from the Bimini Bay to pick him up. Anyway, I had given up and had gone to bed. The first thing I knew about it was when two big gorillas came to the room, woke me up, and dragged me down to the Risk Management Office. I think that’s what they call Security now. Some big joke if you ask me! Anyway, Vinnie was there, and he looked like he’d been worked over pretty good. So did two of their Risk Management Associates.”

“Knowing Vinnie, that comes as no surprise. Look, Patsy, I’ll call Van Gries first thing in the morning. I’m sure I can work something out…”

“It was a different guy the second time. Van Gries was there, but so was a musclebound, black, psycho named Shaka Corliss.”

“He must be their enforcer.”

“Well, if he is, it looked like he had a fresh bruise on his chin. Anyway, he was really rude and pushy, and he said Vinnie owes them $275,000. That’s for the markers at their casino, plus the others, the damages, the ‘vig,’ and for being a general pain in the ass.”

“Well, I’d say they have a point.”

“No question, and they also have us… but what’s the vig?”

“The ‘vig’ is the vigorish. That’s the daily interest on the principal; but with them, it’s usually pretty steep, probably loan shark rates,” he answered. “But what did he damage?”

“Two gambling tables and a bank of slot machines at Caesars, and the medical bills for four or five security people, two of whom he said Vinnie put in the hospital.”

“That’s my boy, all right.”

“Corliss said the tab is growing by $10,000 per day, and he wasn’t very pleasant about it. He says they want their money, all of it, in cash, or they’ll start breaking body parts.”

“Well, I can’t blame him for that, but where are you?”

“Back in our room at the Bimini Bay. I told Corliss I had to call some people to raise that kind of money. He gave me Vinnie’s cell phone and said that was a really good idea, if I wanted him back in one piece,” she sobbed. “I… I didn’t know who else to call, Bob.”

“You did the right thing calling me, Patsy.”

“Where’s Vinnie?”

“Van Gries told me they locked up in the basement storeroom, so Vinnie ‘won’t hurt himself anymore,’ he said. And Corliss said he’s staying there until I ‘come through’ with the money… that is, unless ‘a cute little thing’ like me wants to ‘work it off’ in one of their ‘escort services’ all winter… God, they scare me, Bob. I’m afraid they’re going to kill him, and they already told me what they’re going to do with me.”

“None of that’s going to happen, Patsy. I’ll get with Van Gries work something out. Don’t worry, they don’t want Vinnie or you; they want the money he owes.”

“It’s $275,000, Bob! We don’t have that kind of money.”

“I’ll take care of it, Patsy.”

“I’m really sorry about all this, but…”

“Look, I owe Vinnie, Ace, and all the other guys in the Unit a lot more than that ─ you, too. When Linda and I had our problem up here in Chicago, everyone came, no questions asked. I have the money, and it’s the least I can do. So try to get some sleep. I’ll call you when I know more.”

Bob reached back, stretching as far as he could to hang up the phone, and then rolled back with every intention of going back to sleep. By the time he did, however, Linda had already scooched over and taken up half the area he vacated.

“$275,000? Who we gonna kill this time?” she asked.

“Probably Vinnie. And forget that ‘we’ stuff. I don’t want you involved this time.”

“Patsy is. And it’s Atlantic City. How come she gets all the fun?”

“I doubt she’s having any fun. Now go to sleep.”

“Sure,” she said as she threw her leg across him.

“Hey, you gonna leave me some room here?”

“Not unless I have to,” she mumbled into his chest and pressed even closer.

 

Bob was ten years older than Linda, but they had both been married before and were no longer kids. It had been so very different with his first wife, “the fierce and dreaded” Angie. While Linda was soft and cuddly, the late, great Angie Toler was nothing but sharp edges, hard muscles, and knees and elbows like ball peen hammers. Her father gave them the family’s big English Tudor mansion on the lakeshore up in Winnetka, a white Cadillac Escalade, a Porsche, a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and three country club memberships. A spoiled brat? No doubt about it. After all, she was the one who talked Daddy into hiring Bob in the first place. She knew her father was looking for someone to succeed him and bypass her. When she and some of her friends met Bob and his friends on a long weekend in Hilton Head, it was “lust at first sight,” as they both admitted later. But the more she learned about this career Army officer, the more she saw him as the missing link in her ‘master plan’ to block her father’s plan to freeze her out. Getting her father to hire him would be easy. Convincing Bob to get out of the Army would be the hard part.

He was a third generation Army brat. His father put in 30 years, retiring as an infantry colonel after three tours in Vietnam. His grandfather had been a hard-as-nails sergeant major, who rose through the ranks fighting Germans in WW II, and later in Korea. He grew up on a dozen Army bases around the world, followed by four years at that exclusive government school for wayward youth up the Hudson River Valley called West Point, where he instinctively gravitated to his family business, the infantry, spending fifteen years on the Fort Benning, Fort Bragg, Iraq, and Afghanistan carousel, serving in turn in the 82nd Airborne Division, the elite 75th Ranger Regiment, and the 1st  Special Forces Operational Detachment or Delta Force, as it is called in the movies, or simply “the Unit” by its members. In the end, while Bob still believed passionately in the men he fought with, he no longer believed in political wars run by idiots in Washington who knew nothing about those places, but who kept sending a long line of young men to die there anyway.

That was the weak moment when Ed Toler offered Bob a top job in his rapidly growing telecommunications company in Chicago. At the time, Bob thought the man was out of his mind. He knew next to nothing about business and even less about the high tech, high security telecommunications equipment, that Toler TeleCom built on exclusive contracts for the Defense Department. Technically, Bob was a Signal Corps officer, which was the Army’s communication branch, but he had been “detailed” to the Infantry for most of his career. While the Signal Corps made a great cover story for a guy who never looked like Special Ops to begin with, all he knew about communications was what they taught him fifteen years before in the Signal Officer Basic Course. By the time he got out, that stuff was as obsolete as a flip phone. When Ed Toler made his offer, Bob politely but firmly turned him down. He had no intention of becoming one more “beltway bandit” lobbyist who sold his integrity back to an Army he had served so honorably and for so long. That was never going to happen. Slowly, however, Ed Toler convinced him that wasn’t what he wanted either; and in the end, the opportunity was far too good for Bob to let pass by.

Ed later admitted that when Angie brought Bob home the first time and introduced him, he assumed this was one more of his daughter’s moronic jokes. Bob looked so very ordinary. He was on the short side, with a slight build and not exactly rippling with muscles like Angie’s usual gym-rat boyfriends. But a West Point career officer with short hair? Battle scars instead of tats? No nose ring or body piercings? A man who actually shook your hand, looked you in the eye, and said “Sir.” Ed quickly glanced around, trying to find the hidden camera, but there wasn’t one.

It was a closely guarded secret, but Ed’s health was failing. Not even Angie knew, but he was desperate to find someone who could take over the company when he was gone. To Ed, that was a sacred obligation that he owed to his employees. So instead of another bozo she could control, Angie had inadvertently brought Ed exactly what he had been looking for ─ a dynamic leader who commanded respect and knew how to manage people. Ed wasn’t stupid, though. He didn’t give Bob a desk next to his and introduce him as the boss’s new son-in-law. Instead, he started him at the bottom in customer service, manufacturing, installation, sales, distribution, and technical systems design.

Unfortunately, the company would never be more than a big cookie jar to Angie, something she could dip her hands into any time she wanted; and something she could cash out to the highest bidder when Ed was finally gone. Fortunately, Ed understood her better than she knew, and crafted a diabolical succession plan that left controlling interest of the company to his new son-in-law, instead of his daughter. When she realized she stood no chance of controlling Bob or her father, that iced whatever was left between them. She would have the houses and expensive cars, including the big mansion, a minority stake in the company, and more than enough to money to support her exorbitant lifestyle; but she would never get her hands on the cookie jar.

Angie’s reaction was to act out with any tennis or golf pro she could get her hands on, but Bob wasn’t one to dwell on mistakes, or on people or things he couldn’t change. He threw himself into the job, and in less than a year, the dynamic, Delta Force Major had morphed into what was occasionally mistaken for the “telephone guy.”

 

Advertisements