Under The Table

Under the Table

March 22, 2020

by Trey Nosrac

“What was the worst job you ever had?” My boss asked the question on his first visit to Chez Trey where we dined on foot-long Subways.

“Easy, private investigator.”

“Are you joking?”

“My job description was a joke, all they asked me to do was get dirt for divorces.”

“How?

“I knew a sleazy dude who eavesdropped on cheating spouses for a lawyer. One year he had a backlog of cases, and he outsourced some of his dirty work to me.”

He raised his eyebrow, “Wow, quite a cast of characters you hang with.”

“You want crazy. One of my cases — well, I only had three before I bailed — took place on a Tuesday morning at nine. I’m waiting for Cruise to meet his girlfriend at Starbucks for their usual tryst at the table by the fireplace. I gave him the codename Cruise because he looked a little like a beefy version of the Scientology actor, but this Cruise never showed the big white smile.”

“Was he a plaintiff or perpetrator?”

“I think he was Italian. My MO was to take a few photos from across the room with my cellphone. To collect additional evidence, I duct-taped a cheap cellphone on the underside of the table where they always sat.”

“You know there is improved technology on the market?”

“No doubt, but I’m a low tech kind of guy and this was only my second case. Anyway, my plan went bad. The girlfriend did not show. Instead of a stocky blonde woman, an ancient, skinny guy, wearing a red jogging suit circa 1975 with stringy, grey, slick-backed hair sat down across from Cruise. I had to wait around for over an hour to retrieve my phone.”

He asked, “Is recording like that legal?”

“Possibly, I worked on the principle of don’t ask, don’t tell. The young guy kept waving his hands to try to make the geezer lower his voice. Anyway, when I got it home and listened to the playback, well, it’s like when you catch a big, ugly fish with teeth and don’t know what the hell to do with it. Hey, maybe you do.”

I headed to my junk drawer in the kitchen and dug out a memory stick and plugged it into my laptop. Then I said, “Listen to this file. There is some talk about sheltering money that the lawyer used to push for a settlement, then out of the blue they start to talk about horse racing.”

“Horse racing?”

I nodded, “See what you think.”

Listen here:

 

“Looking sharp gramps.”

“How’s the divorce going kiddo?

“Ugly, real ugly, she’s got her claws out.”

“Kiddo, If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s a good looking wife with a bad attitude.”

“She’s a nightmare.”

“So how hard can she squeeze you without kids and after what, four years?

“Like a python on steroids Gramps, I’m just glad I kept most of my money dark.”

“If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s a woman taking money she didn’t earn, or at least swindle.”

“Amen.”

(sounds of coffee being sipped)

“Ya know kid, I used to run a book, just like you.”

“Trust me gramps; your book was nothing like mine.”

“You take in money. You hand money out. You take a cut and chase down clowns that don’t pay. Only difference is you use the computer and your cellphone.”

“There are plenty of differences. It’s apples and oranges.”

“Like what?”

“Like I never see my players, like I only have about a dozen, like my players use skill, and like…I don’t get caught.”

“That was what, 40 years ago? The guy was undercover. You think the government can’t go undercover with you? It would be a hell of a lot easier to trap you on a computer.”

“Nobody wants to trap me. The players I use are clean and they are flush. The play they make is a weird kind of racing called harness horse racing and they are very happy with my service. Besides, I’m not even sure it’s illegal.

“Hah. Kid, if you ain’t paying the government, if you ain’t paying the racetracks, you ain’t legit.”

“The Internet is different; nobody knows what the hell is going on, and…”

“The money kid, they can always follow the money. That’s how they shut down those off-shore outfits.”

“Those earlier outfits taking bets from the public were asking for trouble. The offshore gambling got pinched because of the banking part. I have that covered.”

“How?”

“You won’t understand Gramps.”

“I been scamming since you was a wet dream. Try me.”

(laughter)

“You know what an app is?”

“I’m old, I ain’t stupid. If there’s one thing I can’t stand its people thinking old equals have lost their marbles.”

“We use an app that allows what is called peer-to-peer payments. My players run invisible tabs.”

“What’s your vig?”

“Five per cent.”

“Kind of low.”

“Yes, but it’s easy. I sit at my computer. I don’t need to chase people around. It’s not like cops and robbers, and if my players were on the open market they would be paying a lot more.”

“How’d you find ‘em?

“The internet, that’s how you find anyone these days. I hooked a couple of big fish on social media. The play was simple… ‘Hey guys, I’m in the same boat, I like the trotters and pacers but hate the odds. What about we simply start gambling on harness races among ourselves?’ I make it sound all friendly, like I’m just thinking on the fly.”

“You never meet them in person?”

“No. I researched them on the Internet and made my pitch on the Internet, chatted them up on the Internet with, ‘Guys, in our new little word, our take-out is ZERO. We can set up any sort of wagers we want. I will take it upon myself to organize our private group of harness players and just take a pinch for hosting.’”

“These players you got, they aren’t scared?

“A little, but they were doable.”

“What did you tell ‘em?”

“The truth, ‘Nobody knows what is legal on the computer; laws are all over the map. The courts won’t bother us. No individual hasever been charged using an online service to bet on sport. You think we will be the first? It’s as if were making bets at the local pub and the winner gets paid off, or pays for the next round, and the loser says he will square up later. We don’t even have to pay bank or credit card fees. We can gamble our mobile hearts out. Who’s gonna stop us.”

“Kid, it’s easy to see you are family.”

(laughter…then a pause)

“I might run a second grift, especially if I need money to cover the divorce, but I got a problem.”

“What’s that?”

“I kinda like the stupid sport, harness horse racing. I needed to play, to bet on the races to keep up appearances, to be in the club. I got pulled into the goofy little world. It’s fun. In other swindles, I never felt a twinge of guilt. This play nags at me. They don’t even know that I’m robbing them blind.”

“Well kid, maybe we ain’t related after all. I don’t know if I should be touched or smack you upside your head. Here’s some advice. Keep it business. You don’t run these players, somebody else will. The sport, what is it, again?’

“Harness horse racing, with the buggies.”

“Kid, they gotta cover themselves. That’s been true since Ben Hur. If you feel so bad for horse racing, change your game to something like football.”

“Nah, the money works better in horse racing because I can give my clients a nice deal; other sports my margin isn’t as good. What makes me feel bad is the sport lives off gambling, and that’s where they have a soft underbelly.”

“Kid, if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s confusing business with social work. Get soft and you lose your action, that’s the world.”

I pulled the memory stick out of my laptop and said, “Well, there you go. Don’t ask me if this is the tip of the iceberg or the whole iceberg. Hell, this type of scam may just be an aberration, maybe just a few gamblers are playing in the dark web. I do know that about a hundred years ago, bookmaking almost killed horse racing, and you know what they say about history repeating itself.”

My pal, David, took a minute to process everything, and then he said, “This doesn’t surprise me. The concept of people stealing the racing product has crossed my mind. All I know is you guys better keep your eye on your horse races because Internet sharpies will take down anyone and anything in their path. Guys like Cruise can kill you. He sounds like a flat-out crook, but there are semi-respectable parasites out there that can bleed you dry. Hey, ask the people in the music business about pirates, they have stories that will break your heart.”

I closed my laptop, gently tossed it onto the back seat, and sighed, “This sport doesn’t need any more problems.”

Then he said something cryptic, “Protecting your product is doable. A lot of things are doable on the web. Good things.”

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