Graham Michaels was a dead man.
Not in the figurative sense, though he had also been that since last Thursday. At this moment he was genuinely dead. And in sixty seconds he would realize this fact.
Graham’s net worth was 1.9 billion. He did not live lavishly. He did not care about status. He made money because he was good at it. Really good at it. Being a hedge fund manager was sheer joy.
While he would publicly bemoan every new regulation placed upon his work by the government, Graham secretly relished each new change to the game. While he had the talent and the stamina to make money within the system, finding ways to game it was his primary hobby. And for nineteen years, he had never been caught.
Last Thursday he was caught.
No charges had yet been pressed, but a close friend tipped him off that the SEC had proof of insider trading. Graham did not fear death. Death was just the end of the game. But he feared prison, where the game continued without him.
Five minutes ago he met his friend at a villa outside Riga. Sipping on some wine, his friend extended his hand out, inviting Graham to have a seat. He obliged, resting his attaché case on the wicker table. Perhaps it was a bit conspicuous, but Graham had to carry as much cash as possible with his bank accounts soon to be worthless.
“You know,” his friend greeted him. “Lugging that thing around could get you killed.”
Graham raised his brow. “By you, perhaps?”
His friend grinned, pulling out a pistol. “Perhaps.” Graham let go of the case. “You see ol’ friend. What I didn’t tell you was that the SEC found a little Ponzi scheme you ran in ninety-nine. I lost half a mil that year.”
“I’ve made you back twice that,” said Graham, ignoring the weapon.
“So you did,” he replied, opening up the case. “And now, it appears, twice that again.”
Not only did Graham not fear death, he did not fear living. Sewn into the lining of his suit was enough money to keep him comfortable for a long time. He took a sip of the Sauvignon and considered opening a winery.
“Guess I no longer need this,” his former friend said, putting away his gun. “Hope your soul is prepared.”
Graham put down his glass. “The wine?” He laughed. “Classic.”
Sixty seconds later, Graham opened his eyes. A red mist clouded most of his view. He did not know what to expect from the afterlife, but he was surprised to find all of his senses still in working order. The smell of sulfur nearly knocked him back.
Never one to hesitate, Graham strode through the mist. As it cleared, Graham was aghast to see dozens of grayish souls wandering, sulking. He expected spirits, yes. But the sight of people resigned to their fate was abhorrent. He didn’t pity them. He hated them. And he had no time for them.
Ahead, he saw what looked like a river, black and uninviting. As he approached, a ferry came into view. Its operator stood erect, but otherwise appeared calloused, bereft of life.
Graham accosted the spirit. “Do you take me across the river? Is my soul to be judged?”
The spirit lifted his arm, pointing to a sign. On it, a picture of a coin.
Graham felt around inside his suit. Bingo. “I have cash. Will a hundred thousand do? After all, I can’t take it with me, right?” The spirit nodded, and beckoned him to the ferry. The trip was long, especially since Graham’s companion was not conversational. However, before eternity passed, they reached the other side. The spirit extended his hand.
“Oh, right. Your payment.” Graham removed everything stitch of clothing that held money, leaving him in his briefs. He handed his clothes to the spirit, who donned them and stepped off the boat. He handed Graham his oar.
“What’s this for?”
The spirit finally spoke. “I finally have enough to pay my dues. I sincerely thank you. Now I must be going. I am through with this world.”
“And what am I supposed to do?” sputtered Graham.
“You are Charon,” the spirit replied. “You pay your dues.”