Bang! A wrinkled fist raised up high and slammed down onto the metal desk. Bang! Bang! Bang!
“Fucking waste of my time this shit!” Dr. Nelson screeched into the empty room.
The gray-haired scientist glared at the stacks of turquoise folders towering in front of him with swollen, red-veined eyes, and slouched over the rickety desk in angry defeat. He grumbled curses under his breath and imagined pounding his forehead onto the surface to knock himself out of his misery. It was just after midnight and the old man was beyond the point of exhaustion. The highly esteemed and -normally rational- Dr. Nelson had been held against his will for thirteen hours thanks to his new boss, Agent Reynolds of the CIA.
Dr. Nelson was the sole-proprietor of the Nexus Mind Research Labs; a place he’d run for nearly three decades with moderate success. His goal in life, was to cure Alzheimer’s disease. He’d performed many good and wonderful feats in his lifetime, and up until the economy crashed 7 years prior in 2008, he’d never struggled for work. He’d certainly never had to do anything shady like he was doing now in cahoots with the CIA.
The proud man was not the least bit pleased about betraying his moral standpoints. He’d always been honest; it was his trademark. Though, he also realized, that in life, one sometimes was forced, “to do a little bit of bad, to obtain the greater good,” and that’s what got him into the ‘Formula 35C’ mess in the first place.
The task set upon Dr. Nelson earlier in the day, was explained as if it were an easy matter, but easy it was not. He was assigned (among many other things) to handpick fifteen “qualified” candidates, who would run through a TOP SECRET experiment that Dr. Nelson himself would oversee and operate. He had christened the project; ‘Formula 35C’. The problem was, he didn’t know what Formula 35C was! This was not standard protocol for the old man. Nelson didn’t mind playing doctor, or babysitter, but he certainly didn’t like playing God in an experiment for which no data was given. The proud scientist possessed a stellar IQ, numerous degrees, accolades etc. and never once abused his station or rank within the medical community. However, because of financial hardships, he had to forego his principals and thrust Nexus Labs into a sordid, back-alley deal with the CIA. The circumstances vexed Nelson greatly and challenged his reality.
Mr. Reynolds’ instructions were to integrate fifteen men and women into the experiment. A task that might have been a lot easier had not hundreds of people applied. Furthermore, each of the fifteen people Nelson would have to choose, -under Reynold’s orders- should in some way or another, be in such desperate need of money that they would surely ignore all the fine print. This meant he had to somehow guess as to who might be clever enough to actually read the fine print, and this was no easy task. Nelson stared a moment at the over-filled shredder basket next to his chair and sighed.
The saggy-eyed man had spent all day analyzing the applications of nearly two hundred individuals who responded to the ad. It was a fine advertisement and elicited considerable response. “Make $300 every day for 30 Days!” the ad claimed in big bold print. Anyone who clicked the link was redirected to a single-paged website containing the application form. Nearly everyone who applied had typed into the “Additional Comments” section to plead all the reasons they should get in. The idiots didn’t even know what they were “getting in” to, he thought, but the old science captain sympathized with the hard-up folk, nevertheless. The pickings for good jobs in Boston were slim, and times were tough for everyone, including himself. The advertisement was effective because it claimed to pay more in a day than most of these people could earn in a week.
So far, he’d approved fourteen people to share in the experiment, but he needed one more to be through with the arduous assignment. Dr. Nelson sat there a few moments in silence and tapped the metal desk with his long fingernails. He daydreamed about the comforts of his warm home. His tongue throbbed for the taste of red wine, and his ears longed to hear the kind-hearted chirps from his loving wife, who was undoubtedly pacing back and forth through the kitchen concerned to death. Marge Nelson had always been such a worrywart, but he couldn’t help but smile when he thought of her face.
The thoughts spurred the doctor’s sense of urgency to escape his surroundings and directed his focus onto the folder of one, Jack McCoy. Potentially, Subject Fifteen. He gripped his white mug of black coffee and grimaced down two big gulps of the bitter substance. Ole’ Jonny-caffeine was the isolated gent’s only friend inside the drab and heartless building. He placed Jack’s folder in front of him and paused to look at the young man’s photo.
“Help me out Jack,” he muttered under his breath.
The thick folder held Jack’s online application, credit report, police report, FBI file, social media records, and driving record. Everything furnished by the CIA. The doctor rapidly scanned through each document, anxiously aware of the uncomfortable pressure building inside his bladder with each passing moment. When he finished reading, he let out a long thankful sigh. He decided, then and there, that the sorry soul of Jack McCoy was going to be his fifteenth subject in the drug trial. All things considered; Mr. McCoy was a wild variable to the experiment. The fourteen applicants he’d already approved, breathed very average lives, under very ordinary circumstances. Most had their problems, and some had bigger problems than others, but none of them compared to Jacks.
Per the file, Jack was a financially ruined, degenerate gambler with very few friends and many enemies. The gambler’s life was almost stranger than fiction, and to the doctor it seemed, should be made into a Lifetime Network movie for TV. Jack’s father, John McCoy, stood a convicted murderer, damned to the confines of a concrete box for the rest of his days. While his mother Loretta, existed as a lonesome, old hag, slowly withering away inside a prison of bottom-shelf vodka and foul-smelling cancer-sticks. The couple’s lack of good parenting had led to a son caught into the drifting hell of insolvency and lies. Not the best ingredients to bake with, Dr. Nelson thought to himself. He then added Jack’s folder to the other fourteen approved applicants. Jack must do, he thought, since the scientist just wanted to be done with it and get the fuck out of the cramped office.
“Welcome aboard rats,” he said rising from the desk.
Doctor Nelson snatched the files and his half-drunk coffee off the desk as he headed for the door. His bladder pulsed, giving the doctor the full body jerking sensation that signaled he was about to piss his pants. He exited the room in a wild dash to get on with his business. He hustled down the bright-lit and narrow hallway on plain beige carpet toward the restroom.
He rushed inside the men’s room, dumped the folders onto the counter and quickly stood before the urinal. Within seconds, his muscles relaxed, and the doctor exulted in relief as he trickled out every drop of transmuted coffee into the toilet. It was the single best moment he'd had all day. He zipped, flushed, and then washed his hands, noticing that they shook with an uncharacteristic nervousness born out of fatigue and fear. The old man stood in front of the mirror a moment longer, gazing at his wispy gray hair and the dark bags under his tired brown eyes and sighed. “Stanley... what the fuck are you doing? Is this right?” Getting no answer from himself, he collected the folders and headed back to the corridor.
As he strolled down the passageway, he crinkled his nose at the stale and frigid air that seeped into his skin. Apparently, Mr. Reynolds enjoyed the air-conditioner’s extreme, glacial settings to be fully employed always, which seemed senseless to the Doctor since it was as cold a New England winter as there ever was. The old scientist had lived in Massachusetts his entire lifespan, and he’d learned to appreciate the warmth of a blazing furnace during the snow months. It was yet another reason he hated the agent, he didn’t seem human. Nearing his boss’s office, the scientist wondered again how he’d gotten himself into this mess.
When first approached by the CIA, Nelson had asked many questions. The only data that he was given about Formula 35C, was that it was a strange cocktail of narcotics completely fabricated by the CIA. He wasn’t even sure if it’d been tested on animals, and if it had been, he didn’t understand why those results were not made available to his research team. The experiment wouldn’t have bothered him so much if this were a phase 1 trial with rats or something, but apparently, the CIA was cutting straight to the Phase 4 clinical trials and bypassing all the rules. This sort of thing didn’t sit well with Dr. Nelson.
Unfortunately, he had signed the papers, and there was no going back now. His desperation had put him into a position where no part of his life was in his control anymore. For truly, he had made a deal with the devil, and he had abandoned his own integrity. However, if he could cure Alzheimer’s disease, he thought, it would all be for the greater good.
He finally arrived in front of Mr. Reynold’s door and knocked twice.
“Enter,” came a soft voice.
Dr. Nelson shifted the folders to his other arm and carefully balanced his coffee while turning the knob and opening the door. The interior of the office was just about empty, and every wall stood a tiresome pale white that seemed to moan in a dreary sadness. The tall and lanky figure of Mr. Reynolds sat along the back wall, hunched over his cluttered desk. The room’s lighting was too bright and caused the doctor to squint his eyes uncomfortably. The AC buzzed annoyingly loud and shot straight into the scientist’s already frazzled mind. Shivering slightly, Dr. Nelson walked inside. Mr. Reynolds lifted his head slowly, revealing his dark eyes and stern, pale features. Nelson felt uneasy around the man. There was something unsettling in his gaze and even more so in his unemotional mannerisms.
“Have you chosen your Subjects, Dr. Nelson?” Mr. Reynolds asked dryly, as he looked down to the papers on his desk.
“Yes Sir, I have fifteen as you requested.”
Mr. Reynolds started writing and offered no response.
“What’s the next step?” Stanley questioned while sipping his coffee.
Mr. Reynolds looked up and narrowed his eyes as if annoyed by the interruption. “Leave me the folders and await further orders.”
Dr. Nelson carefully tiptoed over to the intimidating spook’s desk, fearful to make any sound, and placed the folders in front of the towering agent. Even sitting, the man was nearly his height. Dr. Nelson peeked down at the paper Reynolds wrote upon, and he could see what looked to be a form of hieroglyphics. Nelson’s eyebrows raised and he shrugged, not understanding the significance.
“Alright then, I’m going home where I’ll await your instructions,” he said as he turned to exit.
As he approached the door to make his long-awaited escape, he heard the agent stand up from his chair.
“Yes?” Dr. Nelson squeaked tensely as he turned back toward the agent. At full height, the spook's head nearly touched the ceiling, a sight that caused the scientist to down the remainder of his cold coffee.
“Why did you choose these fifteen people?”
The Doctor hesitated a moment before answering and stared into his empty mug. He stood there a few seconds, silently, and then looked up at the agent. “Because they all have one thing in common.”
Mr. Reynolds crossed his arms. “Which is what?” he asked.
“Some have no choice but to sign the papers because of their finances, and the others, who don’t hurt for money as much, simply won’t read the fine print… because they’re stupid. They’re all stupid.” the doctor replied while daring to grin.
The agent said nothing and returned to his seated position. The nervous doctor took the cue and exited the room quickly.
Standing on the others side of the door, Dr. Nelson paused. He wiped away a single trickle of sweat beading down his forehead and sighed. “It’s for the greater good. It’s all for the greater good.”
In the winter of 2015, the City of Boston was covered in a foot of wet snow and Jack McCoy marched through it alone. He wore an old black-leather jacket, faded blue jeans, and a pair of ankle high boots unfit for winter and which caused him to lose all feeling in his toes. Jack's only real protection against the stinging cold that day were his gray earmuffs that he’d owned since the 6th grade and even they were starting to fall apart from wear and tear. Jack never planned properly and always had circumstances, such as this, to battle.
The frigid man peered skyward and scowled at the dark grinning clouds that mercilessly hurled sleet down into his squinted eyes. The city's tall buildings loomed over the lone man like shadowy gray giants and the hypnotic snowfall danced before Jack daring him to lose his balance. If one were looking down from above, it would appear like a painting of a winterish ghost town, and Jack would seem like a wraith trapped within it.
Most people –normies--, as Jack like to call them, were inside their warm and cozy homes wrapped in thick blankets. Probably all watching the television and sipping hot cocoa as they gleefully savored their time off from work. The jobless Jack, sick with envy, couldn't enjoy that same luxury because he'd failed to pay his electric bill several months in a row and thus had no power on at his apartment.
Jack was cold, and he was sick of walking. He gazed down at his treacherous boots as they stomped deeply into the heavy snow and sullenly pondered his troubled life. The problem with Jack was that he didn't like to work, and consequently, had too much time to think, and think negatively at that. It wasn't unusual for him to get himself into trouble somehow. Most days, Jack worried about his future, and when he could no longer stand it, he'd, of course, find his way inside of a casino, which not only magnified his problems, but tended to create many more.
On this day, the freezing man's troubles had caught up to him in such a way that there seemed to be no way out. Aside from his electric being cut off, he now had to deal with an eviction. There was a bright, neon-orange eviction notice on his door that morning. The mental image of it haunted him. Jack knew if things didn’t go his way, which they often didn’t, he’d be forced to live out on the streets for the first time in his life. Given the current weather patterns and the fact that he had no vehicle or any close friends, this almost certainly meant death for the young man. He did have the option of living with his mother, but to Jack, there were things worse than death and his alcoholic mother was one of them.
An hour into his journey, the somber young man arrived in front of a small market called “Brown Street Goods”. Jack took his mind off his problems for a moment and did his best to clear out the snow in front of the entrance. Once clear, Jack had to force the door open against the wind to get it open. As he did so, he heard the brass bell above jangle loudly and once inside; the door slammed shut behind him. For just a slight moment, Jack thought he could hear the wind whispering vulgarities at him, angry that he'd survived his journey. The quivering man breathed a deep sigh of relief and grinned once he felt the magical warmth touch his skin. Jack thanked the Lord above, flexed his rigid fingers in front of his hot breath and removed his earmuffs, placing them inside his pocket.
Half-Irish, half-Italian, Jack McCoy was regarded as a handsome fellow by any who saw him. He stood a pinch over six-feet and had raven-black hair worn at medium length. His bright-blue eyes sparkled like topaz gems and tended to place people at ease when he smiled. Hypothermia aside, and discounting potential homelessness, he appeared to be in better spirits since entering the store.
McCoy had just left his gambler's anonymous group for what he hoped to be the last time. The meeting had given the young man a sense of renewed hope. Jack's friend, Vic, who also had a gambling problem, had told him about a "golden opportunity" which would end all his money problems. At the meeting, Vic had very enthusiastically informed Jack about an advertisement he'd found on Craigslist from a laboratory looking to pay people $300 per day to take an experimental drug.
"Three hundred a fuckin’ day Jack! What the fuck huh?" Vic rattled with a giant grin.
"You sure it's legit? What if it's a con?" Jack questioned dubiously.
"Whatya got to lose you fuckin' loozah, huh?" Vic laughed.
“Yeah, but what the fuck kind of experiment is it”?
“Who gives a flying fuck? Three hundred --over thirty days--, that’s nine thousand fuckin’ dollahs”! Vic shouted as he whacked Jack a hard one in the shoulder.
Jack thought about the eviction notice on his front door and couldn't really offer a good rebuttal. He took a swig of coffee, aka sludge, and grimaced at the Styrofoam cup. Both Jack and Vic then went on for an hour talking about it. Afterwards, the two shook hands on the hope they'd both get to participate. As a long-time gambler, and indebted to some bad people, Jack saw it as the perfect “get out of jail free card” he'd been looking for.
It was after the meeting when Jack decided, finally, that he’d quit gambling, pick up the Sunday paper for a job and then apply for the drug trial. Jack reasoned that if he got accepted into the trial, he'd start the job after it was finished and hopefully live a normal life once again.
Presently, inside the market, the optimistic man smiled as he approached the counter in the rear. It was a small store that had a dingy tiled pathway to the register in the back. On each side of the walkway were two double-sided shelves stocked with basic stuff like candy, chips, toilet paper, cat food, canned Beefaroni and Spaghetti-O's. The kind of inventory you’d find at any market and selling for triple the price you’d find at the grocery chains. Jack could smell freshly brewed hazelnut coffee and made a note to grab a cup with the paper. He felt somewhat badly as he noticed the trail of dirty snow, he'd left behind him. When Jack stepped in front of the register, he rubbed his chilled hands together and cleared his throat. He faced an old, silver-haired clerk named William. The old man greeted Jack with a wink and a slight grin hidden under his bushy mustache.
“How are you, Jack? Cold enough for ya?” the clerk asked.
“Yeah, it’s fuckin brutal out there. Wicked bad winter this year. Sorry about the mess I brought in,” Jack responded while blowing his hands warm.
“Don’t worry son, I got plenty of free time to clean these days. Want your smokes?”
“How about a job?” Jack stated with a vanishing smile.
“If I had more business, sure. Economy ain’t too good right now. How long you been looking for work?”
Jack frowned and ignored the question as he rubbed the numbness out of his nose. “Just get me a pack of them Camels, and if you got a Sunday paper still, I need one of those too.”
The old clerk nodded and fetched the cigarettes. “One pack or two? Discount if you get two, you know.”
“Just one for now,” Jack replied.
William placed the cigarettes on the counter and reached next to the register where he lifted a thick, slightly used Sunday paper. “Cigarettes are eight bucks and the paper you can have for free. I just finished it,” he said as he rang up the order.
Jack’s face lit up, he was happy to save a few bucks whenever he could. While reaching for his wallet he glanced left and fixed his attention on a glass box display which housed a wide assortment of scratch tickets. He’d noticed the tickets when he walked into the store but repelled his attention from them to prevent his own temptations. Jack didn’t want to spend any money on gambling ever again, but… his left brow raised slightly as an idea occurred to him. “Say, how much was that paper supposed cost me, Willy?”
“Two bucks, but don’t worry about it kid,” the old man grinned with a wink.
“Well, that’s not what I was getting at. I think I’m going to take the kindness you’ve given me and try my luck. Let me get a two-dollar scratcher,” Jack said with wide eyes.
“Hmmm alright. Which one you want, son?”
“You choose, old man,” Jack said quickly, his eyes never leaving the case. After he said that, his attention caught onto the ticket that read, “$2,000 a week for life,” and he imagined how wonderful that would be. However, not wanting to jinx himself, he decided to let the old man choose for him, and as Jack presumed, the clerk picked a different ticket. Not the same ticket that Jack felt “good” about, but he decided to stick with the old man’s choice. He figured his own luck was never that good anyway. The clerk placed the scratch ticket onto the counter while pulling a penny from the cup, and then laid it on top of the ticket.
“Ten bucks for everything,” the clerk said.
Jack pulled a worn debit card from his wallet and presented it to the old man.
“I can charge the smokes, but I need cash for the ticket.”
“Shit… you got an ATM right?” Jack asked with a clenched jaw.
“Yeah, right there in the back. Three-dollar charge though, this ticket's gonna cost you five dollars,” the clerk warned.
“Well let’s hope I win then!”
Jack hustled to the back of the store, inserted his card into the ATM and mentally reminded himself that he wasn’t going to gamble past the “free ticket” he was getting. The state of Massachusetts had been paying him $300 a week for unemployment, and like clockwork, every week he’d lost it all gambling down at the casino. He punched in his pin number and felt a twinge of apprehension about getting any cash out at all. Maybe I ought to just forget the ticket and get out of here… he thought to himself. Conflicted, Jack looked to the front of the store toward the counter and considered the ramifications of what he was doing. He almost canceled the transaction after a moment’s thought, but then his eyes fell on a large digital sign with glowing red numbers that read, “$40,000,000,” the -Lottery Jackpot- and next to it, a white sign that spoke, “You can’t win, if you don’t play,” and he made up his mind.
“Fuck it,” he said aloud.
“WHAT?” the old man yelled from the counter.
“NOTHING!” Jack hollered back.
The ATM prompted him to select the withdrawal amount and Jack decided it’d be better to take out all the funds just in case. This way he could avoid using the ATM again for any purpose and dodge paying another fee. It’d be better to pay the fee only once, he reasoned, rather than multiple times. He pulled out $280, which left $17 in his account. Jack folded the wad into his pocket, less one twenty-dollar bill to pay for the ticket and smokes. He then returned to the counter. He handed the clerk the twenty and the clerk handed a ten-dollar bill back.
“Good luck,” the clerk grinned.
“Thank you, Sir. You mind if I scratch it here in case I win?” Jack asked. He was concerned because it was three blocks to his apartment and it was too cold a day to have to come back.
“Sure, why not. I ain’t got much else going on in here.”
Jack smiled and grabbed the penny. He scratched off the coating on the ticket to reveal his fate. After a few seconds, he checked it. He checked it again. Then one last time. He had lost.
“Damn. I was hoping for something good to happen,” Jack said as he placed the smokes into his pocket and picked up the paper.
“It was worth a shot, Jackie boy,” the old man chuckled.
“It sure was,” Jack said with a frown.
Jack turned to leave, and his eye caught the ticket he’d been drawn to first. “$2,000 a week for life.” The ticket’s powerful statement caused him to ponder for a moment. Why is that ticket calling out to me? he thought.
“You know what… fuck it. I got no use for this ten-dollar bill. Let me get five of them tickets right there,” he said as he tapped the glass.
The elderly store clerk reached into the case and pulled out five as Jack requested. “Here you go. You feeling like it’s your lucky day now?”
“I don’t know, but for some reason… that ticket is calling my name. Almost like it’s trying to tell me something. I think there’s a damn good chance I might win big here,” Jack said as he placed the paper back down on the counter.
“Alrighty then. I hope you win,” William said as he took Jack’s money.
Jack scratched the tickets in quick succession, each time frowning in disappointment as the tickets revealed themselves to be losers. Upset with himself for being drawn back into the chaos of gambling, he quickly threw the losing scratch cards into the trash and picked up his paper. He looked at the clerk and smiled. “Here’s your penny…”
Jack stared a moment at the penny the old man had given him for the tickets. Something didn’t feel right about it, and he looked at the date. 1990. It was one of the new cheap alloy pennies they started making after 1981. He flicked it into the air and heard only a slight tick. Jack smiled and understood the source of his bad luck. “Can I choose my own penny out of the cup?” Jack asked as he placed the paper back down onto the counter.
“Got you some kind of superstition, do ya?” the old man chuckled.
“Sort of. These newer pennies are so cheap, they can’t be anything but bad luck,” he said as he thumbed through the cup. He pulled out a dark colored penny and placed it into the palm of his hand. 1978. His birth year. It was a sign. He flicked it into the air and heard the metallic ping verifying its high copper content. He smiled. “Yeah, here we go. Let me get ten more of those tickets.” The clerk shrugged and tore off a new set of ten tickets and handed them to Jack.
Jack took a long, deep breath and separated the tickets with gentle care. He then slowly scratched all the tickets one by one, carefully and meticulously. He made sure to rub away each of the potential winning number spots with sharp attention. When he was done, he held onto only three of the cards that had won him back at total of ten dollars, half what he paid.
“Guess them ain’t the lucky ones then?” the clerk asked.
“Let me get ten more,” Jack said as he fished a twenty out of his pocket.
“You… sure about this kid? Ain’t you supposed to be looking for work?”
“Oh don’t worry, Willy, I’ve got plenty of money saved,” Jack lied.
“Oh, well alright then. Let’s have some fun.”
The old man handed Jack his ten tickets and took the twenty. He then cashed in the three winners from before and asked Jack if he wanted the money or new tickets. Jack instructed the old man to give him new ones as he scratched away on the cards already in front of him. At that point, Jack became blind to his surroundings. His mind wandered into the realm of hope. A place where at any minute, his life would be changed. His life would be better. He would be able to pay all his bills. With $2,000 every week, he was going to be able to find a better apartment and buy himself a brand-new car. He’d also be able to pay back his other gambling debts in less than a month. The world was going to be brighter for Jack McCoy after this day. He just felt it…
An hour later, Jack stood in front of the counter with one remaining ticket unscratched. He’d lost all his money in front of the snickering store clerk, who figured the young man was just having fun. For Jack, it wasn’t amusing at all. He’d just lost his entire weeks’ income and didn’t have enough money to pay for food. He also didn’t have money for rent which sent the mental image picture of the orange eviction notice to the front of his thoughts where it mocked him. The gambler was broke… again. This time it was serious. Rent was thirty-seven days past due and the electric... Jack realized right then and there that he should have used the money to buy food or to have gotten his electric turned back on. His face became pale and his eyes dull at the prospect of everything he would lose because of his compulsion to gamble.
“You think that’s the lucky one son?” the old man asked.
Jack flinched, stared up at the clerk and sighed. “I hope so. I really fucking hope so.”
Jack sluggishly scratched the card with a heart that ached from the certainty of defeat. As he predicted, it too was a loser. Like Jack. He threw the scratch card into the trash along with the other several hundred or so duds. He closed his eyes, rubbed his face and felt the weight of reality come crashing down upon him. Wanting only to cry, he turned from the counter and headed for the door.
“Your paper!” the old man yelled.
Jack wandered back out into the dim and frigid evening with his head down. He lit up a cigarette and slowly wandered the deserted streets of Boston. He then remembered that he had $17 left on his card which meant he’d be eating uncooked Ramen noodles again all this week. He headed toward the building where his apartment was and wondered how he would claw his way out of the mess he’d landed into yet again. His spirits rose just a bit as he thought about his friend Vic’s great opportunity. He looked at his watch and saw it was just after 5pm. The Boston Public Library would close in two hours, and he needed to go online to apply for the trial. He changed direction from his apartment and headed toward the library. Jack hoped Vic was right. Life was running short on opportunities for the broken man. Jack needed something to change, and fast.