I sit with Helena at the Montana Grill. It's a two-ish, low energy, customer thin, hot afternoon.
As she smiles up at me, and her blond hair waves, I feel even hotter. (That's a good thing). Besides, she owns the place.
She fans her face with her hand. "Let me sell this place, and we'll run off to Hawaii. You're not doing nothin.'"
"Hawaii, huh? Have to be First Class, cause I don't do coach. I'd like to, but I got stuff to..."
"What's stuff?" she says, again with that smile, and that wave.
A man in dark glasses, red pinky ring, and gold chain, (more than one), sits in the booth next to ours. He looks around the place. He has no smile.
Two older men move from another booth and sit down with him.
"Mr. Martin, and Mr. Lewis. I presume." he says. "Glad you could make it." Now a slight smile.
They shake hands.
"Woody," says Helena. "We could be on the beach in Waikiki, right now...with the Trade Winds blowing..."
"So," says Martin from the next booth. "What is this all about. I got about an hour before I gotta get back to the shop. You said something about money? A lot of money."
A lot of money? My ears physically grow bigger. Money? A lot of money?
"The man on the phone," says Lewis. "He didn't really tell us anything. This isn't some kind of lame Cop sting is it, because you got the wrong..."
"No, Gentlemen, nothing like that. My name is Palermo Sicily, but just call me Pauley. Coffee?" he asks?"
They both nod.
On cue, (a sixth sense), Helena scootches out of the booth. Holding a full pot of coffee, she greets the three, giggle, pours, then waves for a waitress. And all three stare as she comes back, perfect Blond hair, and that walk. Did I say she's super super curvey?
"Why not Hawaii?" she says. "It's like a different world..."
As I glance over Helena's head, I see Pauley reach into a briefcase, pull out two envelopes, and push them across to Martin and Lewis. "You asked about money. We'll let's start with this."
They look inside the envelopes. $10,000 in cash. They touch it, look at each other, then look back at Pauley.
"Short and Sweet, Gentlemen. We know you're substitute NFL refs. You're on the field for maybe one more week, we don't know. I represent a few powerful men who wager on The NFL. We choose one Sunday a season to bet. We chose next Sunday. As you well know every NFL game has Overs and Unders. Our strategy is to only bet the Overs."
Both men nod.
Pauley's voice is lower. "Our strategy is simple. We bet only on a sure thing. That way we can't lose. Only once a year, so our operation flies under the radar. No one likes losing, do they Gentlemen?"
"Losing is for suckers." says Martin.
"Winning is better," says Lewis.
"...lying on the beach sipping a cool...I don't know...something with a lot of rum in it..."
"Shush," I say. "I'm trying to listen. If they're saying what I think they're saying...?"
"Basically," says Pauley. "Here it is." He removes two sheets of paper from his briefcase, and slides one to each. "It's in writing, so it'll be easy to memorize by Sunday. One sheet. Let's quickly go through it."
Mr. Martin, and Mr. Lewis hunch over the table. They follow along with their fingers, word by word.
1. There will be a minimum of five penalties per team.
"Five penalties minimum, guys." says Pauley. "This is to show the fans you're working, doing your job. No penalties would look a bit awkward, know what I mean?"
2. You will be told by phone what the Over number is.
"Okay, the total score must be over that number. It's usually around fifty to fifty-five. I'm sure you guys know what Overs and Unders is all about.
3. Your job is done once the total score goes Over that number."
"...on a surfboard, out on the waves, in that warm water...oh...OH..."
"Shshuushsh, Helena, sweetheart. I'm trying to listen..."
"So, Gentlemen. Any questions? Pretty cut and dried. Bad calls will simply be chalked up to your inexperience."
Both men re-read their duties, working their lips as they read. They both nod.
"We understand," says Lewis.
"So," says Martin. "If there's a long pass, close to a touchdown or something, I call pass interference...automatically?"
"You got it," says Pauley. "And if there's a long run, there will be no Holding or Offsides, or any Roughing the Passer. You want a high score to cover the Overs."
They both nod, look up from their papers and smile.
"Look Gentlemen, this is a win-win," says Pauley. "I know the NFL isn't making you rich. Two weeks from now if everything goes as planned, you'll each get another envelop with $10,000."
They look at each other. Both blink.
"But...what if...we don't want to do this," says Martin. He rubs his chin. "We might want to be...honest...refs, and hope that our good work on the field gets us a permanent job with the NFL."
"Well," says Pauley. "That would really be unfortunate," He looks out the window. "Please, let me explain. We've been doing this, one Sunday a season, working with the real refs, since 1981. It's really a long time tradition with us. We have no problem with one game a year. We would certainly not want anyone else to know our strategy. We bet big, and I mean big, on this one Sunday."
"But there's only two of us. We can't do everything."
"The less people known about us, the better. Loose lips, you know. And even if this Referee Strike is settled before Sunday, and the real refs are back on the field, you just keep the cash, our gift for keeping your mouths shut about all this. You understand."
"...we'll go to a luau, and drink...something... cool...something with rum...Lots of rum..."
"Helena, come on...shshshuuuuuush."
"Besides," says Pauley, picking at his fingers. "Mr Martin, your mother would certainly be disappointed. Doesn't' she live alone on West 31 St Street, in Bayonne, over near the Library? And Mr. Lewis, your two grandsons, Jimmy and Billy, up in Portland. Don't they walk to school together early in the morning? Lincoln High School. Isn't that just off South West Salmon Street?"
Both men breathe deeply. Their faces turn pink.
"Just saying," says Pauley. "This is very important to us. How can you lose, Gentlemen. Mr. Martin, wouldn't your mom like a visit? You haven't visited for how long? Fourteen years isn't it. And Mr Lewis, wouldn't those two young boys like new bikes for their birthdays?"
Pauley looks at his watch. "Gotta go. Good Luck, Gentlemen. It's been nice meeting you. We'll be watching this Sunday."
The three shake hands. Pauley grabs his briefcase and is gone.
Martin and Lewis look at each other, at their small envelopes, at each other again, then laugh.
"I should go back and see my mom, you know."
"Those kids would sure go nuts over new bikes."
They both slide out and walk, (more like bounce), out the front door.
"...and I won't have to be nice to everybody...Wait?...Did I hear that right, those guys were talking about...fixing a foot ball game?...No...?"
"You got it," I say. "They're substitute NFL referees and they were talking about betting on games."
"Well," she says. "Go...and...do something. I can't have that going on in my restaurant. I should call the Police."
"No, no," I say. "You can't. They probably know where your second cousin does her dry cleaning. Don't worry, I got this."
I thumb my iPhone, and call my favorite bookie, down in Florida.
"Hello? Who's this?" says a low voice.
"I'd like to talk with Key West."
"Who wants to know?"
"Key, it's me, Brentwood."
"Hey. Woody. Been awhile. So, gotta tip for me on a horse? Belmont? Del Mar?"
"I wanna bet on all the NFL games this Sunday. The Overs. Can you do that for me. $1,000 each."
"Not a problem. But...Hey?...You sound way too confident...Wait? You know something?"
"Just a hunch, Key. You know me. Taking a trip to Hawaii so a little extra cash'd be nice. Hope this pans out."
"What do you know, Woody. Tell me."
"Thanks Key. Talk to you next week."
"Real fishy, Woody, but...okay, all the Overs. You got it. Overs, huh? Okay...?"
Helena looks at me, then out at Martin and Lewis, standing outside the front window, then back at me. She starts to smile.
Her eyes narrow, hold on me, then open wide. "Hey," she says. "I gotta go get me a new bikini."
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