Betting Zoo

by Cory Hope

The following excerpt is the complete first chapter of Cory Hope's novel, Betting Zoo.

The Wrong Room.

Frank Heatley slipped off of the sofa with as much grace as he could
muster, which was not very graceful at all and reminded some who had
witnessed the event previously of a worm attempting to remove itself from
a manhole cover on a hot summer day. As with most of his movements and
gestures, and much of his conversation lately, it appeared over-caffeinated,
and as he clumsily put on his slippers he looked as if he were a marionette
being fought over by a trio of drunken invalids. Eventually, his movements
ground to a good pause, after which he sat back down and pressed his palm
to his forehead, rocking back and forth in a futile effort to shake himself
loose of the haze that had overcome him.

The hangover was overwhelming and unexpected, as he had
no recollection of having any more to drink the previous night than
he normally had in the course of an evening. This wasn’t to say that he
shouldn’t be feeling some ill-effect, but he felt he didn’t deserve to feel
as bad as he did. He looked at his watch, noting that it was almost a full
fifteen minutes later than he normally woke up, and wobbled himself into
action.

Heading lopsided towards the kitchen, Frank began his morning
ritual by making coffee. The beans, grinder, and coffee maker were laid
out on the counter as they were left for him every night, and his favourite
mug, an item too important to spend time in line at the dishwasher, stood
upside-down on a dishtowel by the sink. He dumped what he deemed an
appropriate amount of beans into the grinder, which was as much as it
could possibly hold at one time, but his trembling hands failed to close the
bag before it overflowed. Several beans spilled out of the grinder, dropped
to the counter and spun their way across the floor. He ground up the beans
in the grinder, dumped the grinds into the filter, slapped the basket closed
and turned the machine on. A red light on the coffee maker conveyed to
Frank that it would be just a few minutes brewing, and then he could wake
up.

He turned his attention to the beans that had escaped the fate of
their comrades in the grinder. There weren’t enough of them to bother
grabbing the broom, so he stooped to pick them up by hand. They made
a trail that led under the refrigerator. Frank picked them up one at a time,
inching his way over to the fridge, where he grabbed an ancient flashlight
attached to its side by a magnetic bar. He got down on his knees and
pressed a cheek against the floor to see if any beans were taking refuge
underneath the fridge. The flashlight’s beam captured a brown oval in stark
contrast with the white tile and white walls of the kitchen. Frank spent
a moment contemplating the best tool for the job of reaching under the
fridge and getting the bean, when he was startled by something he didn’t
see.

What he didn’t see was anything else. Not a rubber band, another
bean, a pea, a bottle cap, a mouse dropping, a dust bunny, or anything
else that said that the room saw any use. He recoiled from the fridge and
scrambled backwards on the floor until his back hit the cupboard under
the sink. He dropped the flashlight, expecting it to roll around on the floor
dramatically shining its light in circles like they always did in the movies.
The magnetic bar on the side of the flashlight prevented it from rolling,
however, and the impact from being dropped from little more than a foot
had broken the bulb. The kitchen was also brightly lit, which would have
cut down on the dramatic effect anyhow. A bubbling noise began to fill
the otherwise quiet room, telling Frank that his coffee was ready. He had
no idea why he was so on edge about the cleanliness of the kitchen floor.
Maybe Susan was simply the best cleaning woman ever, or perhaps he
might just be overreacting because he didn’t feel well in general. He had
almost calmed himself down when a knock at the front door sent him into
a panic.

After a moment of silence, the knock came again. This time a muffled
female voice followed the it into the room. “Mr. Heatley?” it asked. “Are
you okay in there? It’s Joan.”

Frank’s blood pressure peaked and then came down to a level
befitting a man of his age, hangover, and mental state, which was still
unhealthy, but nothing a prescription couldn’t manage. He reached into the
pocket of his housecoat, and grabbed the little orange bottle he kept there.
Both the bottle and the pills it contained were unlabelled. He popped one
of the pills into his mouth and started to choke, then began looking for
something to wash the pill down. Clutching his throat with one hand and
the kitchen counter with the other, he struggled to his feet, then coughed
his way to the sink where he fumbled with the taps until water started
pouring. He was still cupping water into his mouth when Joan burst into
the room.

“Oh my god! Mr. Heatley! Are you okay?” she called out as she
rushed to his side.

Heatley took one final handful of water before turning to face her.

“I’ll be fine once you get me some new pills,” he spat at her. “Who the hell
makes a pill you’re supposed to take when you feel panicked that makes
you goddamn choke to death?”

“Dr. Edmunds told me that-”

“Dr. Edmunds is a damn quack! I want something that’s easier
to swallow. Some gel caps or something like that, and I want them here
tomorrow.”

“Yes, Mr. Heatley, I-”

“And why the hell do I never get a label on these things?”

“Dr. Edmunds said that he-”

“Oh, screw Edmunds,” Heatley said, throwing the bottle of pills at
the sink. The rounded bottom of the sink threw the bottle back into the air,
where gravity grabbed it and brought it back down onto the corner of the
counter, popping the top off of it. Pills scattered across the counter, then
down to the floor, an homage to their bean predecessors who had made
the same remarkable journey only minutes earlier. Heatley watched them
disperse, then turned back to Joan. “And give Susan a raise.”

Joan pulled out a notepad she kept on hand and wrote ‘Screw
Edmunds / Give Susan a raise’ at the end of her list of largely crossed out
items, most of which were things she hadn’t actually done. Lately, she had
just been assuring Heatley that she had done what he had asked of her,
when the truth was she had simply crossed them out while she had been
waiting for her car to warm up or her coffee to brew. Heatley grabbed his
coffee and shuffled his way past her, motioning for her to follow him into
the living room, where they would conduct their morning meeting. Joan
circled ‘Give Susan a raise’ on her notepad to remind herself that this was
one thing the old man had told her to do that would actually get done.
“What the hell, he’s cute,” she said as she circled ‘Screw Edmunds’ as well,
then grabbed herself a coffee and followed after Heatley.

Joan had become much more relaxed towards her employer and his
current situation than she had believed possible. She took notes during
their meetings, sometimes throwing in a doodle or two to amuse herself,
but generally just taking enough down so she could answer him with
some accuracy when he would trail off and ask her what he had been
talking about. She made sure that instructions she approved of, such as
Give Susan a raise, or ones that Heatley would notice not being done, like
Get an electrician/plumber/exterminator in here, got done. Tedious tasks
like picking up dry cleaning or groceries, or other errands of the personal
assistant calibre that she used to do herself, she would get someone else to
do and take credit for it. This wasn’t done maliciously, but out of necessity,
as Heatley hadn’t paid her enough to have her own personal assistant, and
if he found out that she suddenly had one, he may have become suspicious.
Joan sat down and placed her coffee on the table beside her chair,
making sure that it was on a coaster to avoid the fury of Susan, who claimed
that her job was hard enough cleaning up during Heatley (as he never
left the apartment anymore, it was never cleaning up after him) without
having to clean up after anyone else as well. She turned her attention back
to Heatley, who appeared to be experimenting with greater and greater
states of dishevelment, and was about to ask him about his morning when
he dropped a bomb on her. “I want to go for a walk, Joan,” he said, as if this
were a normal, everyday occurrence.

Joan barely concealed the massive convulsion that her brain had
requested from the rest of her body. She dropped her pen and notepad,
forced her mouth to close and clenched her skirt as tight as she could with
both hands for just long enough to get her composure close enough to
pleasant surprise. “Why, th-that’s wonderful, Mr. Heatley,” she said. “It’s
been almost ten mon-”

“Nine months, three weeks, three days, and-” he glanced at his watch
“four hours since I closed the doors,” he waved his hand around in a grand
gesture to Joan, as if to present to her the deadbolts on the doors leaving
the living room, as if she hadn’t been the one that he had called and told
to hire somebody to bolt the doors closed, as if she hadn’t been the one he
called and asked to bring him some toilet paper because he had decided on
a whim that he was never, ever leaving the house again and hadn’t done any
shopping to prepare for it. A thoughtful look crossed his face. “You don’t
happen to have the keys for any of these doors on you, do you, Joan?”

“No, Mr. Heatley. I stopped carrying them around after the first few
weeks. They were taking up a lot of room and were quite heavy,” she offered
in apology. “I’ll get them right away.” Joan picked up her pen, clicked it
closed, and tried to stand up. Her mind was racing her body and winning,
leaving her feeling light-headed when she tried to move.

“Are you okay, Joan?” Heatley asked. He had been feeling the slightest
bit better since he had made his decision to get out of the house, but even
as self-absorbed as he was by nature, he could tell that Joan had seemed put
off by their discussion. He couldn’t put his finger on why, though. “Joan?”

“Yes, Mr. Heatley.”

“Is everything okay with the company?”

“Why, of course, Mr. Heatley,” she said with no trace of a lie in
her voice, because she wasn’t lying. The company had been performing
fabulously since Frank Heatley had stepped down as President and turned
all of the decision-making, as well as the title of President, over to David
Meyers. The only problem was that Heatley had no idea that he had
stepped down. The reports he was given each morning looked the same as
they always had. They just weren’t the real reports.

Frank relaxed, placed his right arm over Joan’s shoulder, and began
walking her to the door. “Good then. I’ll be expecting you back shortly so
we can get my running shoes out of the closet. I’ll walk you to the elevator.”
“That’s really not necessary, Mr. Heatley,” Joan began, and made an
attempt to walk faster so Frank could not keep up. The anchor that he had
made of his arm prevented her from moving faster than him, though. Joan
removed his arm from her shoulder using just enough force to tell him
that she did not want it there. Frank didn’t fight with her, and he opened
the front door, holding it open for her. They began the short walk from
Heatley’s penthouse to the elevator. There was only one other door along
the way, marked with a sign depicting a flight of stairs. They arrived at the
elevator, Frank’s gesture of chivalry requiring him to only travel thirty feet
from his front door. He thought about escorting Joan all the way down
to the lobby, or perhaps all the way out to her car, but decided against
it because he was still in pyjamas, a housecoat, and slippers, and would
probably want to keep on moving after all this time spent indoors. No, a
few more hours won’t kill me, he told himself. Joan pressed the call button
for the elevator, and the doors opened immediately. She stepped in, turned
around, and pressed the lobby button, and fell into the awkward silence
that accompanies an elevator ride, regardless of how many people were
in the car. The doors began closing and Heatley stuck his hand in to stop
them.

They opened again, and Joan reached out and held the Door Open
button. “Joan, one more thing,”

“Yes, Mr. Heatley?”

“Make sure you bring over some tools to remove the boards and
such from the windows, and the keys to remove all the padlocks. I’m done
with being shut in up here.”

“Yes, Mr. Heatley,” She was ready to cry.

“Oh, and maybe a few workers to use the tools. See you in an hour
or so?”

“Yes, Mr. Heatley,” She attempted to shatter the Door Close button
with her finger.

Once the elevator doors had closed, Joan turned around and pushed
in one of the decorative panels on its back wall until she heard a click. The
panel popped back out on one side and revealed a keypad. She punched
in an eight-digit code, and the panel closed itself. The entire back of the
elevator slid to the left, revealing an office bustling with twenty or so
people, one of whom approached her with a clipboard in hand, writing
furiously and talking to someone through a headset. Joan handed over her
notes from her meeting with Heatley, and grabbed a quick drink from the
water cooler.

“How’s the old man today, Joan?”

She crumpled up her cup and threw it into a garbage can that was
filled with other crumpled white paper cups and a few brightly coloured
pieces of gum. “We’re in trouble, Mr. Meyers,” she said bluntly.
The man with the clipboard appeared at her side and returned her
notes. “And I think Joan here is gonna screw Edmunds!” he said as he
walked away.

David Meyers raised an eyebrow at her. “What kind of trouble are
we talking about here?” he asked.

Joan took a deep breath, and she told him.

(Want to read the book? Find it on our order page!)

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