“That was the best game we’ve ever had!” said Grandmaster Bloodworth.
The three members of the Inner Circle sat around the private club off 82nd on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Anthony Bloodworth wasn’t the oldest member, but with his love of Cohibas and Scotch, he had aged harder than his contemporaries. He wasn’t fat, but it didn’t take a doctor to tell his blood pressure was through the roof, and his hands showed the beginnings of palsy.
“It was certainly one of the fastest,” agreed Harry Timms.
Timms, one of the younger members in his mid fifties was in very good shape for his age. He was also ambitious and had his eye on the Grandmaster position for some time.
“When will Mrs. Tuggle be indicted?” asked Glenn Morrow.
Glenn, the oldest member at seventy-four, was the newest component of the Inner Circle, having replaced Mathew Seaton who had passed on a few months prior.
“The Grand Jury meets on Friday,” replied Bloodworth.
“Any chance she won’t be indicted?” asked Morrow.
“None,” said Timms, “I was there. The police had to turn witnesses away they had so many. For New York City, it was a very involved crowd.”
“All right, open the doors and let the rest of the membership in,” said Bloodworth moving the meeting along.
Harry Timms rose and opened the double doors into the roomy lounge area allowing the other twenty-one members into the meeting room. They all served themselves drinks at the bar, some lighting up cigars, as they positioned themselves around the room. There was a definite but unspoken hierarchy to their grouping.
“I call this meeting of the Diogenes Club to order,” Bloodworth said. “First order of business. Do we have any viable candidates for the open position? With Seaton’s passing and Glenn’s ascension, we need to fill a position to keep our membership at twenty-five.”
A few members passed folders to Glenn Morrow, who would lead the vetting process. The pool for possible members was small but specific. One had merely to have been falsely accused, and then acquitted of the charge of murder.
“Thank you,” Bloodworth continued, “As most of you know, the current game has come to a satisfactory conclusion. At eight forty-eight this morning, Douglas Tuggle was pushed into the path of an oncoming subway train by his wife in front of dozens of witnesses. In addition to Harry Timms, who had been following Mr. Tuggle, Brian Rowe was there in his role tailing Mrs. Tuggle. Rowe, were you paying enough attention to add any insight to our little endgame?”
“I always pay attention Mr. Bloodworth; my reports are never less than complete and accurate. You know this, which is why you gave me the assignment in the first place. I had just reached the bottom of the stairs and was passing through the turnstiles when Mrs. Tuggle leaped forward, screamed ‘you bastard’ and shoved Mr. Tuggle onto the tracks.”
“What was the precipitating factor?” another member, Earl Heinz, called from the bar.
“The precipitating factor?” cried Bloodworth, “We’re the damned precipitating factor, you idiot. We’ve been working this one for two weeks.”
“That’s what I mean,” defended Heinz, “Two weeks. It normally takes months to reach endgame.”
“I think I can answer that,” interrupted Timms, “Mr. Tuggle was standing there reading his paper when Mrs. Tuggle came through the turnstiles. A young woman, who was not part of the game walked over and asked him the time. Mrs. Tuggle witnessed the encounter and that’s when she sprang forward. If it hadn’t been for someone’s intervention, she would have pushed the woman into the tracks also.”
“It wasn’t you, was it Rowe?” bellowed Bloodworth.
“No sir, “said Rowe, “I’ve been a member for fourteen years and know the rules as well as anyone. We can do anything to set the game in motion, but can never interfere with the outcome.”
“Fine,” said Bloodworth, “everyone will please have their reports filed by tomorrow. On to the next game. What do we have lined up?”
“The target is Jacob Furman,” Harry Timms said, rising from his club chair and opening a folder. “Fifty-three years old and lead sales rep for a mid-town electronics firm.”
“Who is our weapon,” asked Morrow, “jealous wife, impatient heir?”
“No,” continued Timms, “we have several resentful co-workers to choose from. Or we can plant the seed in all of them and let them sort it out. It seems our Mister Furman has reaped the benefits of lead rep for years resting on his laurels and riding on the coattails of others. His client list consists of all of the firm’s large regular customers. He also gets credit for all cold and online customers. The rest of the sales team has to fight for new clients while Furman does nothing to earn his huge commissions.”
“Sounds good,” said the Grandmaster, “let’s push all the reps and see what develops. Since the last game ended so quickly, I think we can take the time to let this one ferment for a bit. Timms, you take the target again. Assign members to the potential weapons. Try to find Rowe something he can’t screw up. This meeting is adjourned.”
The membership rose and closed the meeting in the traditional way, "Strike me, Antisthenes, but you will never find a stick sufficiently hard to remove me from your presence,” quoting the club’s ancient Greek namesake.
Bloodworth rose and headed to the bar, the cloud from his Cuban cigar following him across the room. Rowe got up and stormed out to the lounge, stopping at the member’s bar to refill his drink.
Harry Timms came up and sat next to him a few minutes later. “Don’t take it personal Brian. You know he’s a blowhard. I’m assigning you the lead weapon again. We all know you get the job done.”
“Then why does that ass keep riding me like that. I’ve brought the weapon to the target successfully in almost every case. I should have made The Circle before that old fossil Morrow. I’ve been a member almost as long and have produced many more endgames.”
”Your time will come, Brian, trust me. I can guarantee you, if I make Grandmaster, you will be in the Circle. Now let’s discuss the details of this game. I want you to make first contact as soon as possible.”
Harry and Brian worked late into the night discussing strategies and variations. As they both knew, once you contacted the weapon, the game could go in any direction. That is why all twenty-five members would frequently be involved in a single game, often independently. Seeds must be planted and nurtured, coincidences engineered, suspicions placed, jealousies encouraged. Most of all, unseen events had to be dealt with. Most of the time they had a negative effect on the game. Others, like with the Tuggles, can move the game along quite nicely.
It was almost a week later that Brian watched his mark walk into the Pig & Whistle on Third. He had been following his assignment since the day after the meeting, but this was the first opportunity he had to approach. He waited for a few minutes, and then followed inside.
His weapon, Ryan Waltz, was seated at the far end of the long oak bar on the left. The last seat next to his, was empty. Brian gathered his thoughts, then stormed down and sat on the high stool.
“Son of a bitch!” Brian said and slammed his valise on the bar next to him. The bartender was walking up with a draft beer for Waltz. “Give me a beer and a shot. Make it scotch and whatever he’s drinking. And a shot for him too.”
Waltz looked over, a bit uneasy, and said, “That’s okay. I’ll just stick with beer.”
“Hell, let me buy you a drink. I just got fired and I’m celebrating.”
“You don’t much look like you’re celebrating, but okay. I’ll take a shot of bourbon,” he told the bartender. “Ryan Waltz is my name,” he said as he held out a hand.
“Willie Norvell,” Brian said, shaking his hand. “I finally got the nerve up today to tell my boss what I think of him and he fired me, just like that,” he said, snapping his fingers. “Well, screw him. I’ve been bringing all the business in anyway while he gets all the credit. I’ll find a company that appreciates my effort. Say, you’re company isn’t hiring, is it?”
“No, and if it was, you wouldn’t want to work there. I’m in the same boat. The lead rep gets all the cushy clients that are going to buy our stuff anyway and rakes in all the commissions. The rest of us have to bust our humps dragging in new customers off the streets just to make quota. And once we do land a good one, he steals them away.”
“Man, isn’t that just like them?” Brian said, motioning the bartender for another round. “Just once, I’d like to those jerks get what’s coming to them.”
For the rest of happy hour, Brian fueled Waltz’s anger and frustration with alcohol and discourse. Unknown to Waltz, but well known to Brian, half a dozen other members were scattered around the city working some stage of the game. Many worked behind the scenes, staging phone calls, getting phony documents delivered, forcing chance encounters. The game would take months of planning and coordinated effort. But the end was usually the same. The last time a game had ended with the target still alive was seven years ago. It was Rowe who had misread the situation that caused the game to abort at the last minute, and Bloodworth had never let him forget it. It marred the Grandmaster’s perfect record.
Brian and Waltz left the pub as the city was getting dark, going their separate ways. As Brian got to the corner of Fifty-Fifth and turned west, he saw Harry Timms leaning against a street lamp.
“Harry, what the hell are you doing here,” Brian said, the alcohol making him bold.
“Well, Brian, Anthony wanted me to come down and make sure you were on your mark.”
“That bastard. Is he checking up on anyone else, or just me?”
“Calm down, Brian. You know how he is. He wants every game to run its course. He worries you’ll let another one slip through.”
“That was seven damned years ago! The little bastard was about ready to kill his old man. No one knew about the trust fund except the father and his lawyer. It wasn’t in any of the research.”
“And everyone knows that. Still, Bloodworth had a perfect record and now he doesn’t. He’s pissed and he’s taking it out on you. I’ll talk to him again. I’m meeting him tomorrow night on top of 30 Rockefeller Center for a progress report. He knows the maitre d’ d at the Rainbow Room and he’s going to get us out on the observation deck before it re-opens next month. If you can move your mark any closer to action by then, I’ll pass that along.”
“Thanks, Harry, you’re a friend. If it weren’t for a shot at the Inner Circle, I think I’d get out of this club.”
“Don’t say that, not even to me. You know membership is irrevocable. No one leaves the Diogenes Club alive. Don’t be such a cynic. One day I’ll be Grandmaster and Morrow won’t live forever. Think about whom we want in the Inner Circle with us. Now go home and get some rest. Work out how you can move your mark closer to endgame tomorrow.”
They parted company and Brian headed down Fifty-Fifth to his six-story walkup near the Empire State building, where he rented a tiny efficiency. As he turned left onto Fifth, he began to consider a plan that would see him in the Circle sooner than expected.
The next afternoon, at his regular job as a courier for a stockbroker, he called The Rainbow Room and asked for the maitre d’. “This is Harry Timms; I need to confirm my reservation with Anthony Bloodworth tonight.”
“Certainly Mr. Timms, but Mr. Bloodworth doesn’t have a reservation. I am simply to let him out onto the observation deck at ten for his meeting with you. Will the two of you need a table?”
“No, that’s alright. I wasn’t sure what Anthony had in mind. I’ll see you at ten. Goodbye.”
Brian hung up and got back to work, polishing his own endgame in the process.
After work, Brian went home, showered, and changed into a fresh courier uniform. He poured himself a small tumbler of scotch to fortify himself. After downing it, he left his building and headed up Fifth toward Rockefeller Center.
He entered the Lower Plaza off Forty-Eighth and descended into the catacombs where he blended into the after-work crowd heading for train stations and window-shopping. He went to Kinko’s and purchased a large manila envelope, a package of paper, and a felt tip pen. He sat at one of the tables in the food court and assembled his package.
At ten o’clock, he followed the corridor over to NBC studios and caught an elevator full of tourists heading up. He pushed the button for sixty-eight and waited while the old elevator slowly rose, losing most of the passengers on the lower floors. As the doors opened on the sixty-eighth, he rushed over to the entrance to the Rainbow Room and up to the busy maitre d’.
“I have an urgent package for Mr. Bloodworth. It is essential he get this for his meeting with Mr. Timms.”
The maitre d’ pointed toward the double doors leading to a short flight of steps. “They are outside. I can’t leave my station right now. No one else is out there. Go on up.”
Brian walked up the stairs and across the lobby to the doors leading outside. The wind was howling as he opened the doors and stepped out into the night. He crept around first one side then the other looking for Bloodworth and Timms. He finally found them at the back corner looking south toward the Empire State building. He had to slip up close behind them before he could hear their words.
“I think it’s time we let Rowe off the hook, don’t you?” asked Bloodworth.
Brian leaned closer, not sure he had heard correctly.
“I don’t know Tony,” Harry said, “I’ve had to keep him on a tight leash to prevent another screw-up. To be honest, I’m getting tired of following him around cleaning up his messes. If I hadn’t stepped in on that last game, I’m not sure it would have ended satisfactorily.”
“Well, you know him best. If it hadn’t been for you, I would have placed him in the Inner Circle instead of that idiot Morrow. You saved us from a crucial mistake there. We owe you our gratitude. I can guarantee you get to pick the next member in the Circle.” Bloodworth took two of his Cuban Cohiba’s out of a breast pocket. He cut and lit his and then lit one for Harry, his hands shaking a bit.
“Thanks, Tony, I appreciate that,” Harry said, puffing on the cigar and looking off into the dark space where the World Trade Towers used to light up the horizon.
Brian could hardly believe what he was hearing. He came up here to secure a spot for himself in the Inner Circle, and make his ‘friend’ Grandmaster. Now he discovers that bastard has been stabbing him in the back. His anger reached the boiling point and he rushed forward. Grabbing Harry by his ankles, he lifted and pivoted him over the low iron railing that was the only thing between him and the street. The wind whipped away the scream as he plummeted to the sidewalk on Forty-Ninth Street below.
Anthony Bloodworth calmly turned toward him and took another puff on his cigar as Rowe turned with fists clinched. He was about to begin a verbal and physical assault on the Grandmaster when Bloodworth raised his hand and clapped him on the shoulder.
“By God, I didn’t think you had the stones, Rowe."
“That snake Timms has been playing politics, manipulating members, and positioning for my spot. We had to end it. It’s been a long time since we played a double-header,” he chuckled as he peered over the side.
“But the maitre d’, he knows I came out here.”
“Yes, you’ll meet our newest member at the next regular meeting. Meanwhile, we need to get out of here before the police show up. Let’s go to the club. A special meeting of the Inner Circle is about to take place.”
“But I’m not in the Circle,” Rowe stammered.
“You are now, my boy,” Bloodworth replied, “we just had a vacancy open up.” He chuckled again. “How’s your current game going? Making any progress?” he asked as he put his arm around Brian Rowe’s shoulder and they made their way back to the elevator.