The first time Louden met him, Mickey was wearing one of those 10-reasons-a-beer-is-better-than-a-woman tee shirts. When they’d gone to see Mickey’s uncle, he’d worn a shirt with stick-figure bride and groom—Game Over. Louden wore a suit and tie to meet the crime boss.
“Hey, Uncle Teddy. This is my buddy from The Department of—”
Not the best-known branch of the federal government, but one with an annual operational budget of more than four billion dollars. Louden practically ran the South Atlantic branch office by himself. Unpaid overtime, cleanup after incompetent coworkers, absorbing all the flak from DC. He made 41,776 dollars, and that was frozen for the next five years. Meanwhile Mickey had a Lexus and a condo on the water—just because he was the right man’s nephew.
“The wiring contract. We want that,” Ted said.
“I’ll make sure we give your bid the attention it deserves.”
Ted didn’t look happy with this.
“That’s just how they talk, Uncle Teddy.” Mickey put an arm around Louden. “Fucking desk monkeys—they can’t just say, I’ll give you the contract for 300 grand.”
“You get half on Tuesday,” Ted said.
From across the bar, he saw Mickey from behind—Female Body Inspector. Louden didn’t call, didn’t wave to get the man’s attention. He just waited until Mickey adjusted to the dark of the room and approached the back table, smiling big as he sat down with a canvas gym bag in his lap.
“You’re one drink ahead of me, man.”
“It’s just Sprite,” Louden said. Nothing with caffeine today. He was nervous enough.
“Hey, you like the shirt? You know why I wear it?”
“Two reasons. First of all: it’s funny. And if I can bring—you know—if I can bring comedy into the world, I’m doing something right.”
“Can we just do this?”
“Wait, come on. Don’t you want to know the second reason?”
Louden had been up all night the past three weeks, disqualifying better bids, keeping Osterman in the dark, making sure O’Neal was happy with his cut, cleaning up the paper trail. It was sober, tedious work, and now he had to humor this strutting clown.
“Go ahead, tell me.”
“I’m not saying this is likely, but what if some woman sees it and thinks it’s, like, an actual agency?”
“I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
“No, it’s not likely. I grant you that, but you would be surprised what some people fall for. Girls especially.”
“Can I see it?”
Mickey put the bag on the table. Neat stacks of 100s inside. He hadn’t even zipped it all the way.
“It won’t be announced for another week,” Louden said. “But O’Neal will sign off on this today.”
“You know—I take back what I said before. About girls being more gullible? I seen men fall for some dumb shit, too. Really, there’s just a lot of stupid people out there.”
You’re right about that.
“But you’re one of the smart ones,” Mickey said. “300 grand just to shuffle a few papers around? That’s not stupid, is it?”
“No. Now, I—”
“I gave you money, you give us the contract, right?”
Louden zipped up the bag and left the bar.
You can get Wi-Fi and almost any kind of dry cereal you want, but minimum security is still prison.
The investment banker set his Trix across from Louden.
“You want to see the video?” he asked, holding out his phone.
“I bet you anything The Bureau leaked it themselves. Too funny.”
“You look good in it. Suit and tie, hair slicked back. Like a real man of business.”
Louden wanted to ram his plastic spoon right through the banker’s eye, but he also hoped to get out in two-and-a-half years.
“Just so I understand,” the banker continued. “You took a bribe from an undercover FBI agent who was wearing a shirt that said FBI on it?”
Louden was silent for a long time.
“But on the back—”
“What? What did it say on the back of the shirt?”
“. . . Nothing.”