Darwin fiddled with his phone, tapping open a game, then closing it, then a messaging app, then closing it, then his cash app, then closing it.
He lay back on his couch, looking up at the ceiling. He should move. He’d lived in this apartment for two years. That was a long time to stay in one place, and there was nothing keeping him here. In the city, sure. Most of the kids lived here. But in this neighbourhood?
Maybe if he moved somewhere else he’d gain some better prospects, as if the internet didn’t make that a pointless correlation. Maybe if he changed his name again, the person he’d become would find the opportunity he couldn’t.
Or maybe none of it mattered. Maybe he’d go somewhere new and the only offer he’d have waiting for him would still be with a sketchy-ass “artist” looking for models, an offer he didn’t want to be anywhere near even if he needed the cash. Darwin just sighed. His phone went off.
It wasn’t any of the contacts he’d reached out to for other work, but it was a text from Pax, which was also cool. I’m outside and I’m in the mood to be unnecessarily mysterious, so you should just come down and see me and spare yourself the dozens of ominous texts.
Darwin rolled his eyes, but he laughed a little and replied. Okay. Coming.
He didn’t come fast enough for Pax, of course, who began sending him ominous messages anyway. Tempus advenit, he texted. Umbra praeteriti cedit promissioni futuri.
Two minutes later, Darwin was downstairs and outside. Pax’s car was illegally parked right in front of the building, and he went up to it and got in. “Stop texting me in Latin.”
“I stopped texting you in Latin fourteen messages ago, I’m texting you in Coptic now.” Pax was still texting, but he hit send and put his phone in his pocket. “Hi.”
“Hi,” said Darwin, reading over all the texts, which were increasingly ominous. There were twenty-three of them. “Are we headed to the final boss fight?”
“No, we’re heading to a casino. Put your seatbelt on, please.”
Darwin did, because he knew Pax would never start driving until he had. Pax started driving. “Why are we going to a casino?”
“It’s a mildly shady casino,” Pax said, as if that explained it, which it did.
“Okay. You need backup?” Pax was mostly clean these days—most of them were—but that didn’t mean something that he’d done before that wasn’t haunting him. Shady shit tended to do that.
“Yes, in a manner of speaking.” Pax turned left. “You probably know this casino. The Golden Bow.”
“Yeah, I know it,” Darwin said. He’d done a few deals there. It was a mostly legit place that played host to a lot of shady people doing grey and black-market stuff. It wasn’t a really murdery type of place, those people frequented other, rougher areas. Probably half of the casino’s income was normal casino stuff. “Who are you dealing with?”
“The new management,” Pax said.
“What happened to the old management?” It was run by a guy named…Darwin couldn’t remember. Jackson, maybe? Johnny?
“Mr. Jacobsen died.” Pax sighed as he said it. “Scuba diving accident in Barbados. On the up and up, no foul play.”
“Oh. Well that sucks.” It also didn’t suck. So few shady and shady-adjacent people got to die in a random accident in the middle of a tropical vacation. When Pax nodded, Darwin asked, “So what’s the issue with the new management? I didn’t realize you had a stake in this place.”
“We all do, actually,” Pax said. “We may have spent the last two weeks collectively inserting ourselves.”
Darwin didn’t need to ask who we were. “But why? You guys have basically all been going legit lately.”
“It was all an elaborate scheme because we wanted to have a say in the new management.” Pax merged onto an overpass, going towards the river. “You see, though most of us are no longer criminals, we do maintain a significant number of criminal contacts, because sometimes non-criminals still need to commit crimes. As a result, we hear many things.”
“I don’t suppose that it’s at all possible for you to get to the point,” Darwin tried.
“No, I’m providing valuable context. Sometimes the things we hear are about the criminal underworld, though I’m aware of very few criminals who operate underground, seeing as we’re not bats, which actually also don’t often operate underground, because they are bats. As a result, we frequently hear things about you. I know you’ve been trying to go clean.”
“I have not,” Darwin muttered, looking out the window.
“You have, though. The criminal activity you’ve been involved in lately is far less illegal than in the past.”
“Illegality actually does exist on a binary.”
“Binaries are for computers. You’re moving away from really dangerous stuff, drugs and violence and mob stuff. You’ve been doing lower-level smuggling, stuff with off-the-books sex work, tax and immigration fraud.”
“So?” Darwin asked. “What does any of this have to do with the casino?”
“The thing is we’ve all offered you opportunities to get out of the world of crime many times recently,” Pax reminded him, not that Darwin needed the reminder. “And you’ve turned them down, citing your own nature. And that’s understandable, but it’s also clear you aren’t happy and also I happen to know you haven’t been employed in a month because the only opportunities you’ve been offered have been too edgy for you. So we got you a job as the manager of the Golden Bow.”
“What?” Darwin sat up straight, looking at Pax. “Pax, what the fuck?” Darwin didn’t know how to manage a fucking casino. And even if he did, that was a full-time gig for a real person with a real name.
Pax smiled at him, but only for a second, because he kept his eyes on the road. “You’ve helped us all tremendously all our lives, Darwin. And we’d like to help you, but you won’t let us, so we’re helping you without your consent. Managing the casino is a way for you to withdraw from the aspects of crime you don’t like while remaining involved in the circles you’re comfortable in and familiar with. Everyone in the criminal underworld respects you and won’t pull shit if they know you’re watching. You won’t have to be violent except for the occasional bap on the head if someone gets unruly. You can hire sexy dancers as entertainment for the floor and you can still commit tax fraud if you want. It’s the perfect job for you.”
Darwin closed his eyes. “You can’t just do this.”
“Yes I can. I can do anything I put my mind to, as a smart person once told me in the middle of a panic attack. And I’ve put my mind to this rather firmly.”
What the fuck? Darwin leaned back in his seat, looking at the car ceiling. He didn’t want to hurt Pax’s feelings, but…
But what? He didn’t want a stable job in an industry he understood? He didn’t want something to do aside from look at his ceiling? He didn’t want money? He didn’t want to admit that he was accepting help from a student?
Fuck all of that, he decided. There was no point in any of that, just like there was no point in ruminating over this for hours. “Okay,” he said, sitting straight again. “I’ll do it, then.”
“That was never in question, but I’m glad you and reality are in agreement,” said Pax, very smugly. “Now would be an ideal time for us to pull into the casino parking lot, but unfortunately in my head when I timed this discussion, you needed ten more minutes of convincing and five more minutes of rumination, so we’re still fifteen minutes away.”
Darwin let out a laugh. “Okay,” he said, fishing out his phone. He replied to the message waiting for him, telling the supposed artist on the other end that he already had a job. Then he went into his contacts and fiddled around with the settings for a second. “I know you guys did a full audit of this place before setting it up. Tell me about it,” Sylvester said.
“Right,” Pax said, smiling warmly. “So the first thing you’ll need to know is that the casino only reports two-thirds of its legal earnings…”
Nodding along, Sylvester listened. It didn’t sound so complicated. He’d never run a business before, not a legit one at least. But this one was only a little legit, and he could do that. Sylvester could go that far.