“Call on Me in the day of trouble, I will rescue you…” — Psalm 50:15

“Mr. Binns?”


“I’m calling about the check you wrote for some jewelry?”

“What jewelry?”

“The jewelry you bought at the auction? Saint Timothy’s Day School auction?”

“You know, my checkbook was stolen. I’ve reported it.”

“Mr. Charles Binns? It’s your signature on the check.”

“Obviously a forgery.”

“No, we’re quite sure it’s yours.”

“Are you a police officer?”

“No, I’m the bookkeeper for Saint Timothy’s.”

Charlie snorted.

“Mr. Binns?”

“Sorry. Bit of congestion. Had to sneeze.” Charlie smiled. Bookkeeper. Okay, not as bad as it could be. He shouldn’t have picked up, but he had, so deal with it. At least it wasn’t the cops. Go with the charm first.

“I’m sorry, what’s your name?”

“Tedesco. Alb—”

“Look, Tedesco. Mister Tedesco. I’m pretty sure that the check you have is one from the book that was stolen. I’m sorry. I can’t help you.”

“We certainly considered that possibility, Mr. Binns. We asked anyone paying by check to provide a photo ID. The woman cashing out the buyers remembers asking, because it was such a large amount.”

“So. Fake ID. And she didn’t catch it. Happens all the time.”

“We’ve already confirmed the signature with the bank.”

Shit. “So, have you called the police?”

“Not yet.”

Okay, still not bad. Maybe a little bluffing. “Then why don’t you?”

“We talked with the bank and we’re assuming we can work it out without involving the police. But if we can’t—”

“I’m sorry. There’s nothing I can do.”

“We’re hoping not to involve the police.”

“You said that.”

“I’m hoping we can resolve this.”

Sounds like a parrot with a corn cob up its ass. We can resolve this, we can resolve this. “Fine. My checkbook was stolen. Someone looking like me used it to purchase a necklace, which, in all likelihood, was fake. And now you’re trying to pin it on me.”

“I didn’t say what kind of jewelry.”

Shit. “Yes. You did.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“You mumbled it.” Shit.

“Mr. Binns, we have pictures.”


“From the night of the auction.”

Where would they get a picture to match up?

“Can’t be me. I wasn’t there.”

“We did some checking.”

How? He was careful to keep his face off social media.

“It was easy enough.”

Shit. Where’d they check? Someplace with mugshots? Shit and shit again.

“The necklace is worth $8,000. It’s a Class A felony, so we’re hoping you’ll want to clear this up as soon as possible.”

“How much?”


Shit. “Mister—what did you say your name was? Tedesco?”

“Tedesco. Albert Tedesco.”

“Mr. Tedesco.” Shitshitshit. “Do you still have the check?”

“Yes. The bank returned it for insufficient funds.”

Okay, maybe he could figure something out. “Mr. Tedesco?”

“I’m here.”

“Wait a minute. Mr. Tedesco? I’m looking at the checkbook I carry. Would you read off the account number? Have you got it there in front of you?”


Charlie made sounds like he was listening as the bookkeeper read off the number. He didn’t have a clue what the account number might be.

“Okay, okay,” said Charlie. “I see what happened. Guess I had too much to drink at your party.”

“They didn’t serve alcohol.”

“Okay, wherever, but what happened is that I wrote a check on the account that the checkbook was stolen. From. That’s what happened. My mistake.”

“Okay.” But it didn’t sound like Tedesco was buying it. Shit.

“Here’s what I can do. I can put another check in the mail and you tear up that one. Okay?”

“I can’t do that.”

“I’ll send it FedEx. Be there tomorrow.”

“I can’t do that.”

Shit. “What if I come down. Or up. Where are you?”

“Midtown. All the way west.” Tedesco rattled off the address.

Way the hell over. Almost to the river.

“How about I run by, drop off another check, take that one back and we’re even?”

“Or you could bring the necklace back, you can take your check. Then we’re even.”

Shit. He didn’t have the necklace anymore. $8,000. Double shit. He got 500 for it. Triple shit.

“How about if I use a credit card?”

Tedesco didn’t say anything.

“You still there?”

“Yes. Just checking.”


“If I can run a card from here.”

“Can you?”


Shit. “Great!” He’d have to use a stolen card. One he’d been keeping back. “Okay. Give me that address again?”

Tedesco rattled off the address, still sounding brittle, not like he was relaxing because Charlie was about to solve his problem, which ought to squeeze a little gratitude out of the sour bastard.

“When can I expect you. Today?”

“Sure. When do you close?”

“I can stay late.”

Of course you can, you little prick. “I appreciate that, because I’m on the street right now, and I’ve got a ways to come. About four? Thereabouts?”

“We’ll see you at four then. Thank you, Mr. Binns.”

Charlie cut off the call. He’d have to ditch this phone, but couldn’t just yet. Too many other irons in the fire right now had this number. He mule kicked the wall behind him a good half-dozen times, then walked a tight circle trying to bleed off his anger at being so stupid.

Okay. What he needed to do was get down there, get that check, and smooth everything over with that Tedesco guy.

He liked scamming auctions at church functions because they were so trusting and unsophisticated. Spread a little charm around, Jesus this and bless-you that, make them think you’re dropping a sizeable chunk of money, and they eat it up.

Usually, it’s easy pickings. Check the lobby of some of the clubs and hotels mid-town, check the sign boards, or ask the person at the desk. Most of the time, all it takes is saying “the fundraiser” and if there is one, they send you right up. If there’s not, you give them some nearby address and they point the way or you say, “Sorry, they must have given me the wrong location.” Or “I gave the driver the address and he screwed it up. Sorry for the bother,” and leave. Nobody gives it another thought.

If you hit, then you go on in. If it’s a small enough affair, they usually let you in without a ticket. Just wave the checkbook, give a phony name. If they do ask for some kind of ID, make sure it’s one with your picture.

Won’t make a fortune, but hit enough of them in a week during the season, and you could make expenses for a month.

Even if they do get wise, they don’t make too big a deal. Forgive and forget. A few stern phone calls. Like getting yelled at by your mother. This guy, Tedesco. Works for a church. A bookkeeper. How big a threat could he be? Charlie had done some time. He’d been in the belly of the beast. A little. County lockup. He didn’t have to take shit from a hand-waving holy roller at some god-almighty church school in a basement on the west side. Hell’s Kitchen, most likely.

Tedesco sounded like a shrimp over the phone. Charlie could take him apart. Like, what’s he going to do about it? Turn the other cheek, right?

Okay, that was the plan. Charlie would go hardcore on Tedesco, get the check back, and leave him with one of the bad cards. Let him think he was lucky getting that, and not a beating.

Still. That necklace. $8,000? No way. Another reason this whole thing pissed Charlie off. Whoever donated that necklace pulled the number out of his ass. No way it was worth 8,000. Guy told Charlie he was lucky to get 500 for it.

$8,000? No fucking way.

Charlie took the crosstown bus, then walked down the three blocks to the location Tedesco had given him.

The place was not the school he’d expected, but a men’s shelter in a rundown, walk-up brownstone squeezed between two large apartment buildings, with a national mattress chain on the ground floor of one and a collection of small mom-and-pop stores on the other.

He pressed the button on the intercom next to the lobby door.

“Yes?” The voice came through tinny and close.

“Charlie Binns. To see Mr. Tedesco.”

The door release buzzed, and Charlie took hold of the knob. Before he could pull, the door opened into him, and one of the shelter guys stopped in the doorway.

“I’m looking for Mr. Tedesco?”

“Take the elevator. Up two flights.” The guy slipped around Charlie and left.

Charlie rode the creaking elevator up to the second floor and found a tiny space identified as the accounting office by the sign stamped in metal and screwed to the door.

Inside, at a desk that had to be years old, sat a slight man looking nearly as worn out as his desk. The man referred to an antiquated computer screen as he worked through a stack of spreadsheets. His suit jacket, shiny at the elbows, hung on the back of his chair.

“Mr. Tedesco?”

The bookkeeper looked up, nodded, and pointed to the chair by his desk. He didn’t get up, and he didn’t extend his hand.

“I’ll stand, thanks. You look busy. I won’t take up much of your time.”

“The card?”

“Can I see the check, please? Just making sure it’s mine.”

Tedesco studied Charlie for a moment, then took out a folder, and held the check where he could see it. Charlie reached for it.

“Let’s do the card first.”

Charlie could see from the open folder that Tedesco had paperwork from the bank and from some kind of online agency doing background checks.


“So. What I’d like is a receipt or an invoice that says the necklace is worth what you said it was.”

“We send out receipts for taxes at the end of the year.”

“My check was for what? 10,000?”


“You know,” said Charlie, gauging the tensile strength of the man in front of him, seated, in his stained shirt and loose tie, the too-big trousers cinched in with the cracked leather belt, like he was wearing a drawstring bag for pants.

“You know,” he said again, “I don’t appreciate how you insinuate I could be some kind of criminal.”


“Checking up on me.”

“The check for $10,000 bounced. You have a necklace worth 8,000.”

“That’s insinuating,” said Charlie. “Mr. Tedesco? You ever done time?”

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“I’m asking.”

“Not important.”

“It is to me. I’ve been inside.”

“You have.” Not a question.

“Yeah. You give me a chin check. You know what that is, Mr. Tedesco?”

The bookkeeper didn’t answer.

“You give me a shot to see what I’m made of. See if I fold up. Like I got nobody watching out for me. Stuff like that doesn’t go down well when you’ve been inside for any time. Makes it a threat, showing me how easy it would be to send me back.”

Guy working in a men’s shelter? Good bet he’d done a little time, too. Embezzlement, from the looks of him. Maybe child molesting. Get him thinking about the rules of the yard. Make him think back.

“Mr. Binns, I’m sorry if it seemed like a threat,” said Tedesco, both of his hands splayed out on his keyboard, running his fingertips back and forth over the keys. He kept his eyes averted from looking at Charlie. “I can appreciate how hard it might be, coming from lockup. That’s why I asked the bank to return the check and let me handle it. Trying to make it easier for someone in your situation.”

Bingo. Guys like this peel easier than a burrito. “So you see, you making threats—”

“I don’t make threats. I’m pointing out—”

“—threats that, you know, I have to deal with. You let shit like this go, and pretty soon you’re wearing a mark, that you’re a pussy. Then you got the whole yard down on you.”

Tedesco didn’t say anything. His hands moved back and forth over the keyboard of his computer.

“Come on. You know what it’s like. Guy pushing like that? You can’t let something go, you know? Marks you. For a pussy.”

“You’re putting me in fear of my life,” said Tedesco, a calm and easy statement as he stared at the computer screen with its network of spreadsheet cells.

“Just, you know, pointing out a fact.”

“You’re putting me in fear of my life,” Tedesco said again.

“Okay,” said Charlie. “As long as we understand each oth—”

The room exploded as Tedesco belted Charlie in the face with the back of the keyboard, knocking him against the file cabinet. Tedesco swung the keyboard again and again at Charlie’s face and head, saying, “You are putting me in fear of my life.” Not raising his voice, just saying it over and over and over, a syncopated percussion accompaniment to the blows landing on Charlie’s head and shoulders and then on his forearms once he could get his hands up to protect himself. Charlie bounced off the cabinet, off the door frame onto the desk, scattering the spreadsheets, sending the chair skittering against the opposite wall.

The keyboard shattered into pieces. Tedesco continued with his fists, amazingly strong. The guy wasn’t some pussy of an ex-inmate. The heat and danger flowed from him. Charlie wasn’t fast enough to parry the onslaught and he was losing the ability to think. He was a big guy, but no brawler. Threats had always been enough.

Slipping to the floor, Charlie tried crawling, but the blows continued to rain down on him.

Like a window opening, Charlie saw the end of his life swirling toward him. In a shabby office, over a bad check that was three years, tops. His brain filled with random flashes of memory. Getting dressed this morning, eating the bagel, not using the toilet.

“Wait, wait,” he tried to say, but the scrawny bookkeeper was relentless. What was he in for? Assault? Domestic violence? Murder? Shit. Murder?

Charlie folded up, protecting his gut, and covering his head with his arms. His nose felt broken.  His teeth loosened. His jaw seemed to crack.

Tedesco straddled Charlie, punching his ribs, the pain searing.

Blood pooled under Charlie’s cheek. He could see the room as a crime scene, the police stepping around the spilled blood.

“Jesusjesusjesus,” Charlie tried to say, but his mouth hurt too much. “Peace!” he gurgled, “be still,” the only thing he could think to wrench from the little bit of a Bible story he had to sit through as an inmate. Help me, God. Don’t let me die here. Not here. He couldn’t focus, couldn’t think what he owned that he could use to bargain with God, his brain going empty. Not here, not here. Okay, where? his own cynicism bubbling up.

Then stillness.

Somebody, saying something, kneeled beside him, the dirty toes in sandals the only thing visible.

Charlie twisted his head. Somebody else, a guy in jeans and sneakers, had the bookkeeper pressed against the wall. The person in sandals held a hand out, hovering over him, not wanting to touch him.

“Jeez, Albert. Jeez,” is all the guy in sandals could say.

Charlie tried to rise. If he stays, there’ll be cops. He can’t stay. Another bad check and he’ll go away for real this time.

“Jeez,” the guy in sandals said again.

“Call 911,” said the guy in sneakers.

“No!” Charlie managed to get out. “No.”

“You put me in fear of my life,” said Tedesco.

“Albert, holy shit. Holy shit.”

“Call 911,” the guy in sneakers said again.

“No. I’m okay. I’m okay. Misunderstanding.”

Charlie knew he had to get to his feet and get out of there. His face was swelling, his lips already puffed up. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at his face.


It probably looked as bad as it felt.

“I’m fine,” said Charlie, trying to smile, his hands up to keep these dumbass Samaritans at bay.

“We should call an ambulance at least.”

“No.” Not that either. Call an ambulance and the cops show up right behind the EMTs.

Unsteady on his feet, Charlie gathered his belongings that had scattered out of his clothes. He pulled a wad of cash from his pocket, unable to remember how much was bundled in it. He put it on the desk.

With his tongue, he found a new gap in his teeth. He looked around, weaving, hoping to catch sight of the missing tooth. To think of his tooth being swept out by the bookkeeper at the end of the day was sad somehow.

He stumbled backward, caught himself, and leaned against the door frame for a bare second, then lurched toward the elevator.

The blows to the body had made him nauseous. The elevator would take too long, so he pushed on the slam bar of the door to the stairwell and lurched down the stairs. It was a struggle to see clearly the steps in front of him. He nearly lost his balance again as he tottered through the front door and out onto the sidewalk, squinting in the sunlight.

He reached the corner and stopped to lean over a trash can. He tried to puke. His ribs hurt as his gut spasmed until he managed to vomit. It cleared his head.

Some guy stopped, keeping back. “You need help, buddy?”

Charlie’s head hurt as he wobbled it in a kind of “no, thank you,” shake.

“You want me to call somebody?”

“No,” said Charlie, then smiled. “Great party,” he added, and winked at the guy who was little more than a dark shape to Charlie. He kept grinning and nodding until the dark shape moved away.

“Fucking guys,” said Charlie. “Fucking guys, and their fucking Jesus. Let a fucking shrimp work me over for a few bucks.”

Charlie’s eyes had cleared and he could see the blue and white of a patrol car parked at the intersection.

He’d report that son of a bitch. The guy’d lose his job and go back to prison. Charlie knew he needed a few minutes to get his story down. Then he’d report that asshole and he’d go back to prison and Charlie’d have that whole shitpile of a place shut down.

He headed for the patrol car. The officers looked over at him. Then he stopped. He felt embarrassed. But he wasn’t sure why. For not being able to take care of himself? For the way he must look? The fucking guy worked him over, for Chrissake. Minding his business, and the guy goes berserk. The little shit’s got it coming.

Charlie raised his hand to signal the cops when he realized he’d been holding a bit of paper in his fist. He peeled the paper open and saw the check. He’d managed to get the check? When? Somehow, when he fell on the desk?

When he fell on the desk, he must have clutched it trying to catch himself.

The cops were watching him now, with that “professional interest” look they all get.

He smiled, and pulled his phone out of his pocket, like he’d just received a call.

He didn’t speak, but mouthed a conversation with the imaginary caller, and turned away from the patrol car. He kept looking at the check.

Instinct. That’s what it had to be. Man, oh, man. Getting a beating and he can still take care of himself when it matters. His tongue found the gap where his tooth had been. Mostly.

He crumbled the check and smiled again. Then realized he had to get out of the neighborhood.

He put his hand up and a passing taxi pulled to the curb. He tumbled in, slamming the door.

“Uptown. Way uptown.” Charlie tucked the check into his shirt pocket and felt a hard, wet lump.

The driver nodded, glancing in the mirror. “You okay?”

He followed the stringers of blood that ran down from his collar into his shirt pocket.

He reached in and pulled out the tooth.

He looked up at the driver who had turned around to stare at his passenger.

Charlie marveled at the tooth between his thumb and fingertip.

“Yeah. Yeah. I came out okay.”