Jack King sighed as he tossed his brown vest jacket onto one of the kitchen chairs, strangely stressed on one of his rare days off where he got to relax. He plopped down on the couch, remote in hand, and flipped through the channels as he sorted the thoughts that raced through his mind like a horse in the middle of astonishingly close race. He absentmindedly flipped through the channels while silently tapping his foot, a habit he often indulged in when he was deep in thought. It happened far more often than he would like it to, but never had his thoughts revolved around something anywhere near as important as that; something that would certainly change his life, and not for the best.
He settled on a local news channel, more for the background noise than anything else. He rested his head in his hands and gripped his black, greying hair in frustration. He absently bit his tongue as he attempted to come to terms with the terms that had been forced upon him. He grabbed a photo of his grown daughter and his wife, who had tragically passed away from lung cancer; something she had most likely caught because of the second hand smoke from her parents. Jack still didn't know how to feel about that.
The photo was taken when his daughter, Jamie, and his wife, Sara, had gone down to Florida for vacation, one that Jack was still disappointed for not being able to attend, but working as a banker for California Bank and Trust often kept him trapped at his work office in San Diego. In the photo, his daughter smiled as she attempted to keep her beach hat from being blown off of her bright blond hair as her green eyes shone with life. His wife laughed at the strange face her daughter made as her own brown hair fluttered with the wind and her blue eyes shone just as bright as her daughter's.
Jack sighed as he placed the photo back down on the table that stood next to the couch. The white walls of his California home usually filled him with peace, but now they were a vice's grip over his throat that threatened to squeeze until he gave out his last breath. What was he supposed to do? How was he supposed to make that kind of decision?
It was just a few hours ago when he had been approached at work by a man who called himself Joseph Wade. Joseph had gone up to Jack as he worked at his desk. While customers were technically not supposed to speak with him, many did, asking for help or directions, but Jack had never expected anything like this.
He reached into his dress pants and grabbed his cell phone along with a piece of paper that held a phone number. He dialed the number. He had made his decision. He closed his eyes as the phone rang in his ear, and gave a small prayer to God as his mind drifted back to earlier that day.
"Hello, Mr. King, I need to speak to you in a more private setting, if you don't mind." Joseph Walker had whispered in Jack's ear. Jack had just given him a confused look.
"I'm sorry, I can't help you. If you need help with anything, the customer help desk is just over there." Jack had said while pointing in the direction of the desk.
"No, you misunderstand me; this is about you, or more precisely, your daughter." Joseph had said. His lips had curled into a small smirk, one that had gone completely unnoticed to Jack, whose eyes had widened with worry.
"What happened? What happened to my daughter? Is she alright?" The questions had been a waterfall that had poured out of his mouth with little thought.
"Let's go somewhere more private and I will explain it all to you, I promise." Their eyes had locked for a brief moment. Jack had felt as if he were just uppercut in the gut. Nevertheless, Jack had stood up and guided Joseph to his office.
They'd walked for a few minutes in silence. They arrived at Jack's office door, which was created from wood and bared a large fourteen. He had opened the door and walked over to his desk as he motioned Joseph to take a seat directly across from him.
The room itself was quite cozy. Like the door, the walls and floor were crafted out of wood that added a warm charm to the office. The room lacked personal items with the exception of a photograph of Jack's wife and daughter.
"Allow me to get straight to the point. Your daughter is fine, for now. It is up to you if that changes or not," Joseph had said as he'd adjusted his black bowler hat. "What do you mean by that?"
"I've been sent by some high people up the chain of Armenian Power, which I'm sure you know, is not a good thing for you. I know all about you and your daughter," Joseph had stated as he eyed the picture that rested on Jack's desk. "It's simple-either you get us credit card information of at least twenty people, or your daughter is not going to have much of a future. I'm sure you get the idea."
Jack had understood. The Armenian Power were a large and powerful local gang that often indulged in murder, drug trafficking, identity theft, credit card theft, and so much more. They had roots in every major city in California and had a strong member base of well over five-hundred and was constantly growing. His heart had raced as he swallowed a lump that had formed in his throat, his breathing picked up pace as fear penetrated his mind.
"W-what? I can't do that!" Jack had stuttered.
"Well then, I guess your daughter will have to pay the price. You don't want that, do you? It can certainly be arranged though."
"No! Don't you lay a hand on her!" Jack had shouted, angered and scared at the thought of them harming his daughter.
"That is completely up to you. And please, keep your voice down, we wouldn't want someone stumbling in on this and making the choice for you. Tell you what, you don't have to decide right now, go home and think about this for a little bit, but I expect a call by midnight, or I am just going to assume you declined our generous offer." Joseph had reached into his pocket, pulled out a piece of paper that his number scrawled upon it and placed it on Jack's desk. "Once you make up your mind you can call me at this number, just ask for Joseph Walker. Remember, before midnight. I'm sure I don't have to mention that if you go to the police, unpleasant things will befall your precious daughter. I suggest you keep that in mind." Joseph tipped his hat, and walked out of the office.
Jack had slumped in his chair, his green eyes filled with anger, fear, disbelief, and confusion. He'd sat there and struggled to come to sense with what just happened. He had just been confronted by someone working for one of California's largest gangs and was offered a lose-lose ultimatum. Either he handed him the credit information of people he didn't know, or his daughter lost her life. Jack had rose from his seat, gone to his supervisor, complained of being ill and asked for the rest of the day, which he had received due to his near perfect attendance.
Joseph Walker stared out the window of his fifteenth floor of his temporary apartment and he enjoyed the orange hues as the sun set. He sighed and twirled his black bowler hat, waiting for the phone call. He sat the hat down on the table opposite the armchair he was sitting in. He pulled a comb from his suit pocket and combed down his black hair. He had to look his best at all times.
He looked over at a picture of his young son, Alex, as he rested in his arms. The infant's eyes were blue as the beautiful, open sky as they showed his excitement at being with his father. Joseph lips turned into a full, genuine smile as he thought back on the day that picture was taken. It was his son's third birthday and it was one of the few occasions Joseph was allowed to visit his son. His wife had divorced him only a few months after Alex was born.
He stood from his chair, walked over to the kitchen where he took a small glass cup, filled with three ice cubes and a shot of Jack Daniel's whiskey. He made his way back to his seat and downed the whiskey. He needed to clear his head from the mixed emotions.
He wanted to regret what he did. He forced a man to make a decision where no matter what something bad was bound to happen. Either he ruined the life of twenty people and risked getting caught, or he ruined his own life and and killed his daughter, but he just didn't have a choice. It was either ruin or be ruined.
He couldn't help but think about why he joined the Armenian Power. He used to be a fine man. He used to make a decent, honorable living. He used to have a family. But he threw it all away, flushed it all down the toilet when he started drinking from the stress of being an accountant at Armanino. In a drunken rage he got violent with his wife as they argued, which awakened little Alex from his nap. It wasn't long after that his wife filed for a divorce and he was left without a job and limited visitation with his own son. After that it didn't take him long to fall in with Armenian Power. He needed money in order to keep his home and they had money to offer, as long as he wasn't afraid to get his hands a little dirty, and for the most part, he wasn't. He sympathized with Mr. King, having a son of his own; he doubted he could make the choice that led to his son's death. And that was just what the higher ups counted on.
The sun set and darkness covered the sky. The wind howled like a wolf to the moon. Joseph's phone rang. He grabbed the phone from his pockets and answered. "Hello."
"I-Is this Joseph walker?" Jack answered, his voice shaking.
"I take it this is Jack King?"
"Yeah, I-I've come to a decision. I'll get you the credit information. Just don't harm my daughter!" Jack begged. Joseph wanted to smile, wanted to be happy. This job not only paid, but helped guarantee the safety of his own son. But how could he? How could he be happy when he forced a man to go through this? He silently swallowed the lump in his throat and steadied his voice before he replied.
"Good, very good. You made the right decision, you daughter will be safe now and we will get out of your hair, once you deliver us the information, of course. Get the information by the end of the week. I will contact you on Saturday with more information. Goodbye." With that, Joseph hung up, and dialed a different number.
"Hello." Mark Anthony, Joseph's "supervisor" answered. Mark was believed to have committed at least ten murders, probably more, and was known around as someone one nobody wanted to mess with. He was scarred from the multiple fights and was known for his in-your-face attitude.
"He agreed. Mr. King will cooperate and get us the credit information we want." Joseph said, in what he hoped was a calm tone.
"Very good. Good work Joseph, I'm glad he agreed. Oh, I heard your son was going to Los Angeles later this week. Is that correct?"
"Yeah, he and his mother are going on a bit of a vacation. Get away and just enjoy the sights and sounds." Joseph felt as a knot formed in his stomach.
"Well, I'm sure that will be fun. Keep up the good work and send my wishes to the little tyke, I would hate for something to happen to the little guy." With that, Mark hung up the phone and left Joseph with nothing but the wind as it continued to howl through the night. He knew what that meant. He wasn't in the clear just yet, he still had to make sure the rest of the deal went off without a hitch, or there would be four dead.