The System

Frank leaned back in his chair and said, he’s got a system

Tony shrugged, and the Pope’s Polish, but what’s that system about?

Statistics, Frank said and tossed back a shot of 1800

I’m really bad with numbers, Tony said and took a bite from his baloney sandwich

Me too, Frank said, math ain’t my thing

I know what you mean, Tony said, math sucks, so he’s got a system?

Yeah, like what team wins the next game, but only in basketball

Only basketball? Why?

Frank shrugged, I don’t know, maybe cause he likes basketball, like it’s part of his system

I get it, Tony said, work with what you know, but how does his system work?

Frank tossed back another tequila shot, then squinted bitter and slammed the glass on the table: it’s complicated, like a bunch of numbers, I don’t know how he does it, wins a lot of cash betting on games, that’s what that chick said, the one we met at Rudy’s on Tuesday

Is she for real, Tony asked, I don’t know her

I don’t know her either, Frank said, she was out of it, drunk like a skunk, blabbing about the system. I don’t know . . . she was pretty

Maybe we should find out about his system, Tony said, we talk to him and see what he says

Frank raised his eyebrows, talk to him?

Tony nodded, yeah, let’s go talk to him . . .

Frank and Tony were Italian-American, thirty-two, identical twins hard to tell apart even with the passing years. 5.7 and 190, they were sturdy trunks. Bald by choice in tandem with fashion, they had brown eyes, a bulbous nose, wide ears and thick lips. Frank sporting a short beard was how one could tell them apart—Tony was always clean shaved

They knocked on the brown door of apartment 106. The man who opened the door was also 5.7 but only 140 pounds. He was ten years older and had blue eyes and short dark curly hair turning silver

He knit his brow, can I help you?

They nodded and Tony said, I think so

Who are you, the man asked

I’m Tony and this is my brother Frank, we’re identical twins, and who are you?

I’m Eugene, and it’s nice to meet you but I’m very busy

He tried to shut the door but Frank’s heavy boot got in the way

Don’t freak out, Tony said, we just came to talk to you about your system, we’re not robbers or criminals, just regular guys with families to feed

Eugene glared at the twins, you are criminals if you force your way into my apartment . . .

Tony pushed open the door and strode in, followed by Frank who swaggered—another one of few details to tell one from the other—and said, so maybe we’re a little pushy, and I’m tired of standing in the hallway. Tony shut the door and stood with his arms crossed

Frank said, we just wanna be part of your system, we ain’t here to hurt you

Really, Eugene said, and what if I don’t want to share my system with you?

Then we have to consider options, Frank said, but why not share your winnings with us? We only take 30% and you’ll have protection

Protection from what, Eugene asked

Protection from other people who’ll find out about your system and come looking for you, Frank said, like I know people in Vegas I could tell, and if you think we’re mean, well you ain’t seen nothin’

Eugene sat on the couch and asked, so you’ll beat me up unless I pay 30%?

Small price to pay, Tony said and cracked his thick knuckles

How did you find out about my system, Eugene asked

We’re not privy to share that information, Frank said, suffice to say it came from a credible source

It’s a really simple system, Eugene said, anyone can do it. I can show you how to do it, then you can place your own bets and win 100%

Frank took a step back, I’m bad with numbers

Me too, chimed Tony from his guard position by the entrance

Eugene walked to his computer, it’s super easy, any dipshit can figure it out

Frank curled his fists, who you calling a dipshit?

Take it easy, Eugene said and clicked the mouse, it’s just a figure of speech. He turned to the door and motioned Tony, come see, I’m not gonna make a run for the door. Gimme three minutes, and if you don’t . . .

Frank’s fist to the face sent Eugene to the floor, I told ya we don’t like numbers

Eugene sat up and wiped the blood from his lip, fuck you, man, why you hittin’ me? You don’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs

That’s true, Tony chimed from the entrance door, Mom always said that, and I wanna try figure out the numbers

Frank rolled his eyes, fine, three minutes and we’re done here, I got business at the track

Okay, Eugene said and stood up. The twins congregated around him while he brought up a page on the computer—a page neatly arranged with columns and numbers

Okay, Eugene said, let’s take an obvious case, like the Golden State Warriors beating the Sacramento Kings last night by a score of 120:101. GS is one of the best teams in NBA history but that doesn’t matter. What matters is the ratio of assists to turnovers, which is easy to differentiate. He pointed to one column, this is the assists, and then pointed to another column, and this is the turnovers. To assist is good, to turn over is bad. Let’s count.

He ran his index finger and counted, Golden State had 32 assists and 14 turnovers. The Kings had 14 turnovers, the same as GS, but had only 22 assists. That’s 10 assists in favor of Golden State and why they won with relative ease. Are you with me?

The twins groaned and Frank said, I don’t like numbers

Eugene rushed the words, it’s okay, so to round out my system, I compute each team assists and turnovers. Sometimes all that isn’t enough, it’s not a perfect system, so having solid knowledge of the game and the teams is always a plus. You have to love basketball, be a student and disciple of the game

I prefer football, Tony said

I like soccer, said Frank

Eugene shrugged, to each his own, then patted his back pockets and said, where did I put it? I wanted to show you one more thing, what I call the x-factor, oh it’s in the drawer . . .

Eugene opened the desk drawer and pulled out a 9mm pistol with a silencer. He took two quick steps back and shot Frank and Tony smack in the forehead. The twins collapsed like sacks of potatoes and lay on the floor, blood oozing from their shattered skulls

Eugene blew on the gun barrel, then placed the gun on the table. He sat in the chair and wagged his finger at the dead: I’m not as dumb as you look; no one fucks with my system

He then called 911 and calmly explained the situation. The cops showed up, as did an ambulance and the coroner. The gun was registered, Eugene had a spotless record, and turned out the twins had spent the last decade in and out of jail due to racketeering and witness intimidation charges. Both had warrants for parole violation. Eugene had a busted lip to prove he was assaulted, and the law was clear: He had every right to defend himself within the confines of his home. Open and shut case. The detective gave him a card but didn’t ask him to come down to the station. Within two hours, the apartment was back to its orderly fashion while Eugene, nursing a fifth of Jack Daniels, sat at his computer and tried to calm down and contemplate his next bet . . .

The phone rang and Eugene answered, hello, then shook his head and said, Marci, why did you go do that? These two thugs showed up at my apartment, knew about my system, and you’re the only one I told. You sold me out, but that doesn’t matter. I killed them, so don’t you dare blab to anyone else, you Delilah. I cared about you, cared a lot, but I should’ve known better, stay away . . .

He slammed the receiver, then turned his attention to the computer screen, looking at the chart. But the numbers blurred with the tears in his eyes.