"That's the deal, Ruck," he confirmed. "Ready?"
"Hold on! For pity sake, are you insane?! I mean, if you really want to give me ten thousand bucks, I'll be more than happy to take it . . . but what they hell is this coin toss crap? It doesn't make any sense!" I stared at the stack of money. It was more than enough to cover the remainder of Dad's mortgage, but if my bad times had taught me anything, it taught me nobody - but nobody - gives you something for nothing.
Pol rolled his eyes in exasperation, but never lost his happy smile. "Jesus, Ruck, what is your problem? Listen; have you ever tossed a little pocket change onto a table as a tip for good service? As much money as I have, this little piddling amount is nothing more than pocket change, okay? Does that make it any easier to deal with?"
"Yeah, a little." I eyed the stack of cash, then looked at the magnificently patient Debra, then shrugged. The wealthy, it was well known, were about as normal as chickens in a hurricane. "Okay. Sure. Fine then; heads, heads, heads, tails, tails, heads, tails, heads, tails, heads, tails. Good enough?"
Debra spoke for the first time since walking back into the room. "That was eleven, Mr. Ruckle," she pointed out, coolly.
"Fine, omit the final tails." She looked at Pol and he nodded. She flipped the coin into the air and let it fall to the ground. "Heads," she announced. I shrugged and she picked it up and sent it twirling into the air once more. "Heads." Another flip. "Heads."
Seven more flips, exactly as I'd called it. The silence stretched for a moment, then Pol said, "One more, please, Debra."
A second later the coin landed for the eleventh time. "Tails," Debra announced, shaking her head. "Eleven correct out of eleven . . . Boss, I want out of our side bet! This is scary."
"Nope. You made the bet yourself, Girl, now you have to stick to it." He walked over to where I was standing, aghast, and handed me the stack of money. "Now, Ruck, let's talk about your future."
"Waitaminute . . . how the hell did you do that?!" I looked at the money in my hand and stared at an unhappy Debra. "Oh . . . oh, I get it! She's some sort of magician, right? Can toss a coin just the right way to make it come up any way she likes, right? What is this, some sort of game? A brand new way to put the lowly peon in his place or some new management bullshit? Some new stupid way to jerk my smegging chain around and . . . "
"Debra?" She tossed the coin and Pol barked at me, "Call it, Ruck!"
"Tails," I blurted, watching the coin as it spun in the air.
The coin bounced, settled. Debra took a step and glanced at it. "Tails, it is."
"That's smegging impossible!" I shouted, throwing the money on the floor. The band burst on impact and the one hundred dollar bills slid in an almost direct line to the coin. Pol had sat back down at his table and produced two more soft drinks . . . and a wrapped deck of cards.
He removed the cellophane, opened the box, then spread the deck in a passable impression of the money and slid one card free. "Name a card, Ruck," he replied, head cocked.
I rejected the first three cards that came to mind and, instead, went for the grand cliché I hadn't used as a reminder. "Ace of Spades!"
He turned over the Ace of Spades and tossed it onto the table face up. "Sit down, Ruck, and let me explain. Debra? Would you be kind enough to pick up Ruck's money, please?"
I sat down, feeling somewhat numb. "That wasn't my original choice, damn it! I passed over several choices before deciding to say Ace of Spades!"
"Which means that you decided to pick the Ace of Spades, right?" He gestured with his free hand and told me to pick one for myself.
I slowly, using only the tip of my index finger, slid a card out of line. He put down his can of soda. "Right, you pulled it out . . . now pick a card, any card you want."
I felt faint. I started to pick the Ace of Spades again, just to make it impossible, but ended up saying, "the advertisement card." Pol's eyebrows rose, but he nodded and patiently waited for me to turn the card over.
I sat there and stared at it for a bit, tuning out everything else going on in the room. I guess I was going into shock or something, then two hands clamped themselves on either side of my face and my head was forcibly turned to the right. Then someone's lips locked onto mine and kissed the shock right out of me.
My vision swam and, by the time I started to kiss back, the lips disengaged themselves from mine and Debra said, "He'll be okay, boss." She was inches away from me, gently smiling into my eyes. Without any additional comment, she walked out of the room. I shut my eyes and shook my head, hard.
"Ruck? Hellooooo, Ruck?" I turned my head back and opened my eyes. Pol was still sitting there and still grinning. "Ruck, you are - for lack of a better description - a business precognitive. You always make the right choice, regardless of the situation or lack of information.
"You know the standard software cycle; a programmer writes, then testing engineers find bugs and send it back to the programmer, who then rewrites. Then testing engineers retest, since the new code could have new bugs, or create additional bugs in the remaining original code. The software cycles between the two until, eventually, the testing engineers okay the program and it goes for beta testing, who give it a real workout. If everything works perfectly, production finally gets it around a half a year after the programmer first writes the code.
"From the first day you came to us, you've shattered that cycle! You've always managed to find all the bugs, first time through, which is damn incredible to begin with. Then you identify and document the bugs so perfectly that the programmer can actually rewrite without creating new bugs. Then it comes back to you, is okayed, and no amount of beta testing shows any other problems! We've never had a program you okayed bounce or gather any complaints from clients. Of all our Software Testing Engineers, you - alone - have this distinction."
He stood and tossed his empty soda can into a corner. "Why do you think that idiot Boggs wanted you, specifically, to test his latest project? Even the managers know that having you test their projects means cutting months out of the standard cycle process, which equates with saving oodles of money, which - in turn - makes the managers look that much better." Fishing around a mini-fridge, he managed to find two more drinks and brought them back to the table.
"Our other software testing engineers can crank out two, maybe three, programs a year. You worked five your first year and frigging eight last year! A couple of my managers actually put their careers on the line and sent your last three okayed programs straight to production, bypassing all beta testing.
"In short, this all means you're either the second coming of Woz or are just incredibly lucky." He stopped to take a sip of his drink before shrugging. "I don't believe in luck, so I called up one of those 'world's greatest experts' you mentioned and gave him all the facts. He gave me back a twenty-eight-page report, which I called up another expert to decipher for me. She told me that the first expert was some sort of quack, because he honestly suggested that the subject might be using some sort of ESP talent. I paid the first expert a bonus, told the second expert she was a moron, and decided to find out the truth for myself."
To be continued...