Sugar Ray on the Precipice by Gary V. Powell

Ray leaned into the railing of his neighbor’s deck, swirling a Scotch on the rocks, pretending to listen to Max rattle on about the Cubs, opening day not far off. When Max paused for breath, Nice Guy Ray, a perennial season ticket holder, offered his seats for free. Max flicked his cigar and wheezed, Hell yesI’ll even pay. Ray declined, declaring Max’s money no good. Before they returned to the party raging inside, Max asked if everything was all right, and Ray shrugged sure, why not. 
Earlier that day, Senior Associate Ray had joined his boss, one of five named partners at the big law firm where he worked, in dancing a jig on her desk. They’d scattered papers and kicked off their shoes, a check for a cool one mill—the price tag for the tax shelter they’d sold a wealthy client—clutched in Marilyn’s hand. 
 .
But by the time they returned from a celebratory lunch, three sheets to the wind, the IRS had issued an adverse ruling. Retroactive in scope, the ruling required a refund of not only this most recent million but also twelve million filched from other clients since the beginning of the year, most of it already committed or spent. Promoters, the ruling said, could expect fraud charges. 
 .
By the end of the day, indictments came down, Slick Ray and Mad Marilyn leading the pack. Marilyn, philosophical once her initial indignation passed, said maybe she’d pull the plug for her condo in the Caymans. Lacking that plug to pull, Ray boarded a train for home in Naperville. He’d forgotten about the neighborhood party. 
Inside, off Max’s deck, Ray’s wife, Heather, and another woman, too drunk to stand on their own, swayed together and sang karaoke. When they motioned for Famous Ray to join them, he pretended not to notice. Across the room, Max’s wife, Jessie, and her friend, Larissa, chatted. They glanced at Ray, clinked wine glasses, and shared a laugh. He hadn’t mentioned the indictment to Heather, seeing no reason to spoil the evening’s fun. 
 .
In the kitchen, the guys gathered around snacks, talking basketball, now. Tom What’sHis-Face, who ran a Fortune 500 company in Schaumberg, said mark his words Kentucky had a lock on the championship. Pete, host of tonight’s party and a hotshot insurance salesman with a Playboy-model wife, asked what Lucky Ray thought. Ray advised, When in doubt always pick Louisville. Or UCLA.
 .
Months earlier, at another party, Larissa had barged in on him midstream. Shit-faced, she’d embraced him from behind, grabbed, and giggled that it took two hands to handle his Whopper. He shook loose and told her to act her age. She offered a blowjob, but he protested, reminding her he was married. She replied so was she, goddammit, but since when had Swinging Ray turned down a BJ.
 .
Tonight, he locked the bathroom door behind him. 
After zipping up, he went downstairs to check out the action in the basement. Kids, ranging in age from toddlers to teenagers, watched a movie featuring animated, talking cars. Big Daddy Ray’s two young sons, eyes glued to the screen, didn’t even acknowledge him. They stuffed their faces with pizza and munched Doritos. He tried to imagine how it would go for them, their old man the only guy on the block behind bars. He wondered if conjugal visits were allowed. 
 .
Then he wondered how Heather would handle incarceration, his incarceration. Maybe strike the pose of the bewildered, long-suffering wife. Or, instead, badmouth him to her friends and neighborsWhy, I had no idea he was involved in illegal shit. Maybe she’d seek a divorce or simply have an affair? Maybe bang Tom or Pete or that twerp Joe on the cul de sac? 
 .
Pausing to re-fill his drink at the wet bar, he trudged upstairs onto the second floor and sauntered down the hall. Passing a child’s bedroom, he glimpsed a young couple, the neighborhood trust fund babies, bent over a dresser. The husband, Brett, wiped his nose and asked Wild Man Ray if he’d like a toot. Ray passed on the blow but said he wouldn’t mind a little weed. The wife, Shannon, giggled and produced a doobie from her purse. The first one’s free, Brett assured him with a wink. 
 .
Further down the hall, Ray pushed through French doors and into the master suite. Pillows piled high on Pete and Playboy Model’s big four-poster bed. The spacious en-suite bath with Jacuzzi loomed across the way. Shady Ray let himself into the walk-in closet, allowing his eyes to adjust to the near darkness. Dresses and skirts hung on one side, tennis outfits on the other. Dirty laundry piled in a cornera red panty with lace around the edges winked up at him.
 .
He sunk to the carpet and sagged against the wall. 
 .
He couldn’t believe the pricks had got him for fraud. Fraud. It seemed such an unreasonably harsh word, especially when his clients, those greedy bastards, had been such willing participants. Plus, he hadn’t felt the adrenalin rush you’d expect from committing a big-time crime like fraudmore the dull satisfaction derived from a man merely doing his job. 
 .
He wondered if Marilyn, always chirping they’d never get caught, really would jump ship for the Caymans. Not likely. She had plenty on the line right heremansion in Lake Forest, husband in the state senate, kids in Ivy League schools. Not to mention she enjoyed a good fight. Once she thought it through, she’d hire the best shyster money could buy. They’d probably say it was all Genius Ray’s idea. Why, honey, I just cashed the checks.
 .
Bitch. 
 .
Either way, he needed to lawyer up, too, maybe hire that asshole Chip Bright. 
 .
Sure, lawyer up, take out a second mortgage, settle with the governmentaccept a fine instead of jail time, keep his law license. Even better, if Chip was worth a shit, cut a deal with the firmthreaten to spill the beans on other shady deals he was privy to unless the dickheads paid his fine, refunded client moneys, and covered his legal fees. As long as he was gambling, might as well go all inmaybe leverage this mess into a partnership.
 .
Damn straight.
 .
He finished his drink, opened a window, and fired the joint. Holding it between his lips, he eased through the opening and onto the roof. The shingling was slippery and steep, but Free Wheelin Ray secured himself by straddling a ridge. He could still hear the music and laughter from the party. The bass thrummed between his legs like a Harley.
 .
He’d grown up on a farm, attended college to escape, and went to law school for lack of a better alternative. Average overall, he’d somehow excelled in tax law, discerning order where others saw only chaos. They might call it the Infernal Revenue Code, ten thousand pages of angst and compromise, but Ray read poetry in the footnotes and circular referenceseach item of income balanced by a deduction, each section and subsection illuminated by the Service’s own revenue rulings and bulletins, and loopholes big enough to drive a truck through for those who knew how to drive. 
 .
Marilyn called him Sugar Ray because when it came to clients he was the candy coating to her bitter pill.
 .
Sir, you can pay us now or the IRS later. Explain how it works, Ray.
 .
He had a knack, no doubt, for translating the arcane into something clients, even the dumb ones, could grasp. What had he told that rich guy who owned the company that made valves? 
 .
Mr. Valve, it’s a simple matter of pressure and release. Get it, pressure and release? 
 .
Maybe he could prep the warden’s taxes, earn a few brownie points that way. 
 .
Late March, and snow was beginning to fall. Fluffy flakes floated soft, blown in on a late winter front out of the northwest. Sugar Ray thought he detected a whiff of cow shit. He’d never liked farming, hated it actually, but he kind of enjoyed that scent.
He tossed the roach over the side, onto Pete and Playboy Model’s perfect lawn. He backed through the window and into the closet. He set his empty glass down, picked up the red panty from the dirty laundry pile, pulled it over his head, and sniffed the crotch. Not bad. Flowery with a hint of musk underneath.
 .
Fuck it, he’d beat this rap. They didn’t call him Teflon Ray for nothing.
 .
He exited the bedroom and stumbled down the hall, steadying himself against the walls. More light greeted him as he edged down the stairs. The party lay before him, glowing rosy pink through red silk and lace. His friends’ and neighbors’ laughter began about the time he reached the landing. Then came applause. 
 .
Good Time Ray re-entered the fray.

Gary V. Powell
Gary V. Powell

Gary V. Powell’s stories and flash fiction have been widely published in both print and online literary magazines and anthologies including most recently the Thomas Wolfe Review, Fiction Southeast, SmokeLong Quarterly, Atticus Review, and Best New Writing 2015. In addition to winning the 2014 Gover Prize for short-short fiction (Eric Hoffer Foundation), his work has placed in several other national contests including The Press 53 Prize (2012), Glimmer Train Short-Short Contest (2013), and the Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize (2014). His first novel, Lucky Bastard (Main Street Rag Press, 2012), is available at http://www.authorgaryvpowell.com/debut-novel/.

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