New Year’s Day


Jericho Parr cracked his eyelids open.

Laser beams from the sky lanced through his eyeballs and sliced off the top of his head.


He pressed his fist to his right temple.

The hangover headache counterattacked with steady roundhouse kicks to the side of his head.

Somewhere to his left, a male voice asked breathlessly, “What did we do?”

Jericho wasn’t sure, but from the acidic taste in his mouth, he would’ve bet a hundred million dollars it had involved tequila.

Shading his eyes with his hand, he curled up to a sitting position and swung his legs over the side of the couch where he’d been sleeping.

Or passed out.

Yeah, he’d probably passed out.

Great slabs of sunlight hammered through the wide windows rising two stories into the air and splashed across the dark leather couches and chairs. Outside the walls of the country club, sunbeams refracted off the glittering snow covering the golf course and seared Jericho’s eyeballs. He squinted, and his eyes watered.

Beyond the crisp snow, the flashing white disc of the sun rose out of the gray Atlantic Ocean that dove and crashed on the rocks.

Toward the rear of the sitting room, uniformed staff members quietly scurried about, cleaning up the debris from the New Year’s Eve party the night before and trying not to wake the four of them who had been sleeping on the couches near the center of the room.

The fire in the fieldstone fireplace, large enough to have roasted a stag a century before, had burned to ashes hours earlier. Half-empty and completely empty bottles of thirty-year-old scotch and much younger tequila littered the coffee table between the couches where Jericho and his three best friends and business associates had collapsed.

Jericho squinted at one of the other men, who was sitting up and holding some papers. “I say, Match, what have you got there?”

Mitchell “Match” Saltonstall squinted at a sheaf of paper. Pages dangled from the corner where they were stapled together. His sandy eyebrows were raised above his green eyes as he ogled what was written there. “We’re in trouble.”

“What could we have done that is so horrible?” Morrissey asked. Morrissey Sand was the levelheaded one of their little group, the least likely to be involved in something that would live forever on the internet. “We spent New Year’s Eve at an exclusive country club in Rhode Island, not at the casino in Monte Carlo. Surely, we haven’t gotten ourselves involved with international arms trafficking or BitCoin speculating at one of the oldest, stodgiest, most boring parties on the face of the planet.”

Match’s hand stole toward his mouth and his eyes widened as he continued reading the document. Finally, he flipped to the end page. “Jesus, it’s notarized. How did he get somebody to notarize this thing in the wee hours of the morning at a country club New Year’s Eve party?”

“Considering the types of business that have been closed in this room over the past century, I imagine several of the staff are also notaries public so that contracts can be finalized and deposited before the signatories have a chance to rethink and back out,” Kingston Moore said. He stretched his burly arms over his head and shook his head with his eyes squeezed shut as if trying to fling away the sleep. His broad shoulders and thick arms looked like he was a bodybuilder. Kingston had discovered the gym in high school and worked out before the rest of them had followed suit. Thus, he’d earned himself the nickname “Skins” because he’d been the first to strip off his shirt at every pickup basketball game when there were girls around. “What did we sign?”

Jericho was running his fingers through his hair and palpating his scalp, making sure the stripes of pain in his head were just due to a hangover and not the result of a broken skull from a fight that he couldn’t remember either, like the contract that was making Match turn paler by the second. “What did we sign, Match?”

“It’s a bet,” he said. “Was Gabriel Fish here last night?”

Jericho rubbed his face, numb from lying passed out with his feet hanging over the arm of the couch. “I saw him early in the evening. He had a model fresh from fashion week in Milan on his arm and said he was in town because his grandfather was tottering near the edge of his grave. Was The Shark in on the bet?”

Gabriel Fish had picked up the nickname “The Shark” when they’d been in boarding school in Switzerland together because he could take advantage of any situation and would steal everything from you if you didn’t watch him closely. Everyone considered him an apex predator, and Gabriel reveled in it.

Match nodded, his green eyes becoming wider by the second.

“Who was stupid enough to make a bet with The Shark?”

Match said, “All of us.”

That information ran through Jericho like someone had poured an ice bucket over his head. “What?”

“We all signed this, all four of us, plus Gabriel Fish. It’s a five-way bet.”

Match had all their attention now, and the other guys leaned forward with their elbows on their knees.

Morrissey said, “Well, it can’t be that bad. How much could we have bet?” But his blue eyes creased with concern.

Match shook the paper. “A hundred million dollars each, winner take all. Whoever wins, the other four saps have to pay him a hundred million dollars each.”

The sound of the colossal sum jolted Jericho to his feet. “Are you serious?”

Kingston slapped his palms on the coffee table. “If the four of us lose, we’ll owe Gabriel Fish four hundred million dollars. That would bankrupt Last Chance, Inc.” The four of them had gone in on a venture capital firm five years before, and they had been making excellent returns ever since. Liquidating nearly half a million dollars’ worth of investments would destroy them.

And even that wouldn’t be nearly enough. Each of them would be millions of dollars in debt, too.

Morrissey shook his head, his dark hair falling forward over his forehead. “We were drunk. We were not of sound mind when we signed that contract. It’s not enforceable.”

Jericho nodded his head. Morrissey would know. He’d gone to law school and passed the New York State bar. Morrissey could get them out of this stupid sucker bet.

Match shook the paper. “It’s got two notarized sections. One is us agreeing to the contract. The other one states that we were of sound mind and body. Ten witnesses co-signed and attested to it, including Justice Marissa Otis.”

Jericho had his hands up as if he could ward off the insanity that seemed to be coming at him while he was still hung over. “Gabriel got a Supreme Court justice to witness the document stating that we were of sound mind and body when I can’t even remember what happened?”

Morrissey combed his dark hair away from his face with his fingers. “It’ll take years in litigation to break this contract, and I don’t know if we could ever do it with Otis as one of the signatories. Who else?”

Match dropped the contract on the table. “AG Lydia Dickman witnessed it, and so did Senator Harkness.”

Jericho’s knees went weak, and he sat back down on the couch. The other guys were all leaning back and staring at the ceiling. “The Shark got a Supreme Court justice, a sitting senator, and the Attorney General of the United States to witness his contract with us?”

They were never going to be able to break that contract. The best they could do would be to tie it up in the courts, making themselves the laughingstock of all their friends and probably getting them thrown out of every club and business group they were in, and then they would bankrupt themselves fighting it.

He asked, “What the hell was the bet?”

Match read from the document. “It says, ‘The five wagerers will each purchase a golf venture and strive to increase its value. The golf venture with the highest net percent increase of value will win the bet, and each of the four losers will pay the one winner one hundred million dollars each.’”

Kingston rubbed his hand over his heavy pectoral muscle. “This is a cinch. Only one of us has to beat him. We can write a side contract amongst ourselves to work together. I mean, jeez, guys. We own and run a successful venture capital firm. This is what we do. We can outplay The Shark if we work together.”

“Nope,” Match snarled through his clenched teeth. “The contract states that ‘No wagerers may work together, nor give aid, comfort, advice, or information to the other wagerers upon pain of forfeit.’”

“So, we can’t work together,” Morrissey said, “and we can’t help each other. We can’t even tell each other how we’re doing.”

Match continued reading, “‘The wager will end one year from this date on New Year’s Eve when the four wagerers will meet back here at the Narragansett Club with financial evaluations of the golf ventures.’ And then he specifies financial firms and accounting standards because The Shark wouldn’t leave that to chance.”

“And we’ve only got one year to do this,” Jericho said. “Most of our developments don’t start to pay out for a least two. We’re not a pump-and-dump firm. Did he put something in the tequila? Is that why we were all so stupid as to sign this?”

Kingston was scrolling through his cell phone. “Oh, no. I have a video.”

They crowded around Kingston’s phone and watched themselves laughing while they crouched over that very coffee table to sign each one of the five copies of the contract the night before. The immense windows looking out over the snow and ocean were black with the night outside. The black-tie crowd clustered around them was laughing and toasting their wager.

Jericho said, “At least it looks like we held our liquor pretty well.”

Morrissey nodded. “One of the benefits of going to boarding school for thirteen years is an iron liver and an impressive ability to hide how drunk you are, especially during class.”

Jericho’s skull ached like someone had inserted a blowfish in his brain. “I think my liver’s gotten flabby. I’m not doing well this morning.”

Kingston, always slightly more compassionate than the others, staggered over to one of the staff members and asked for four glasses of ginger ale and if it was possible to get some dry toast. The staff person trotted into the kitchen at the back.

Match was shaking his head. “You guys know that Gabriel Fish is going to win this, right? He never makes a bet that he doesn’t know he’s going to win. The Shark is going to tear us to pieces, and Last Chance, Inc. is going to sleep with the fishes.”

Jericho shook his head, which he learned was a mistake because his brain sloshed around the inside of his cranium. “There are four of us and only one of him. We have an eighty percent chance of winning this.”

Match shook his head. “I took macroeconomics at Le Rosey with that guy. You guys were in the other semester. He won theWeimar Republic Simulation.”

That made them all stop talking and think. Students at the Le Rosey boarding school took one semester of macroeconomics during their junior year of high school. Every semester, the instructor designed a new version of the Kobayashi Maru test, an unwinnable scenario designed to test character and the stone-cold nerves required to recover some assets in an impossible situation. Their year had been dealt the Weimar Republic Simulation, a scenario that still lived in infamy at the boarding school as a particularly fiendish test.

Morrissey asked, “How the hell did The Shark do that? It’s not on a computer, so you can’t reprogram it and cheat.”

“Gabriel knew his history better than the rest of us. Dr. Barney came up with something devious every year, but the Weimar Republic year was the worst. At the very beginning, the rest of us hadn’t figured out that the fake country of Sardoninnica was actually the Weimar Republic, and our savings and capital were about to die a horrible death in the grip of hyperinflation. We thought she was doing the 1929 US stock market, so we put our money in bonds and lent it at interest, which is what you do in bear market. The Shark borrowed money at set interest rates from everybody else and bought gold. When everybody’s notes came due at the end, he sold ten percent of his gold and paid them back with the worthless, inflated money. Basically, he borrowed a hundred dollars when a hundred dollars was worth something, invested it in stuff that inflated along with the market, and then paid everybody back a hundred and five dollars each but kept millions. He was the Weimar Republic, paying First World War reparations to France and England with hyperinflated dollars that weren’t worth the paper they were printed on, and the rest of us were German citizens who got suckered into using our retirement savings to buy a loaf of bread.”

They all thought about that for a minute, wondering how The Shark was going to rig this game to win.

Match shook his head again. “If we work together, we lose. If we don’t work together, he’ll beat us. He’s as ruthless and relentless as a tiger shark, and he just suckered us all.”

Morrissey stood up and clenched his fist. “We are going to lose if we just roll over and take it. We may not be able to work together, but we can at least consult on each other’s ventures and make sure we maximize each one of them. Surely, one of us can beat him.”

Match shook his head. “You didn’t see him in that macro class. He made us all think that we were the smart ones, loaning him money at a guaranteed interest rate because we all thought it was the 1930s stock market crash like it had been the year before.”

“So that means he’s a con man,” Jericho said, ignoring the headache swelling in his skull. “Swindlers make you think you are stealing from them. If you play the game with ethics and morals, they can’t hustle you. You can’t trick an honest person. So that’s how we’ll play it. Each of us will go out and buy a ‘golf venture,’ and we’re going to run it to the best of our abilities. We’re going to invest and create value, and we’re going to be the best damn businessmen we can be. We’ve got a great track record with Last Chance, Inc. We’ve taken five companies from deep red balance sheets to profitability in the five years we’ve been running it. There’s no reason why one of us can’t win.”

Match grumbled, “Golf. Why does it always have to be golf?” He struggled with the game more than the rest of them. They’d all become quite good golfers in high school. Many deals are made on golf courses and ski slopes, and Le Rosey boarding school prepares its students, the heirs of billionaires, to be ready to make a deal anywhere.

Morrissey said, “Jericho’s right. This is what we’re going to do. We’ve been practicing for five years while we’ve been running Last Chance. If anybody can beat The Shark at this game, it’s one of us. And only one of us has to beat him. We can sign a side contract between the four of us that if one of us wins, the holdings stay within Last Chance, Inc. And if one of us wins, Last Chance gets an infusion of a hundred million dollars of capital. That way, we can save the company we’ve been pouring our blood and sweat into. We can do this.”

Kingston slapped his knees and stood up. “Deal. I’ll call Last Chance’s contract attorney and have them draw up a side contract for the four of us. We can keep working on Last Chance as usual, and then each of us will have the side project to make sure that at least one of us beats The Shark.”

They all shook hands, but as Jericho clasped each one of his friends’ hands in turn, the hangover sweat on his skin turned icy. The Shark would stop at nothing to win, and the four of them had little chance of defeating him.

If Jericho Parr lost a hundred million dollars in a stupid bet, especially to Gabriel Fish, his father would take it as the final nail in Jericho’s coffin that he was a royal fuck-up.

Even though Jericho held an MBA from an Ivy League school, even though he’d run a successful venture capital firm for five years, his father had worked his way up the social ladder from nothing. His father never let Jericho forget that he’d had every opportunity that his father hadn’t.

Nothing was ever good enough to satisfy Jericho’s father, but losing this bet and putting himself millions of dollars in debt, maybe having to declare bankruptcy, would be bad enough to make it the sarcastic topic of his father’s every conversation for the rest of their lives.

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