A midnight business proposal worth $100,000+ takes an unexpected turn [#31]

There's only one rule: whatever you do, don't draw the Ace of Spades.

A midnight business proposal worth $100,000+ takes an unexpected turn [#31]

Hey there! A few quick updates before my short story:

  • All of the URL subpaths for my previous articles have changed from /XXX-a-few-descriptive-words to /NUMBER, where NUMBER is the number associated with each of my articles. This should make it easier to remember and access my articles that you enjoy, because you'll only have to remember the article's number.
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Now without further ado – here's my short story!

The Cards

Sally was walking home from work when she encountered the businessman.

She almost rammed into him because she wasn't paying attention. He was a tall man wearing white jeans, a black suit jacket, black shoes, and white sunglasses. Sally, meanwhile, wore blue jeans, a faded yellow blouse, and bright red Nike shoes. She backed up slightly so she was facing the businessman.

The streets were dark, only illuminated by a few streetlights along the sidewalk. Sally desperately wanted to go home, as she badly needed sleep. She considered running straight home, until she noticed the faint green color of cash poking out of the businessman's briefcase.

The businessman was carrying a lot of money in his briefcase. Sally estimated that there was at least $50,000 based on the briefcase's size – nope, never mind, they weren't $10 bills, they were $100 bills.

The businessman sighed, as if he had more important things to attend to. He reached into his suit jacket and retrieved an ornate black deck of cards, which was decorated with speckles of gold and silver.

"Have you seen a deck of cards before?" He spoke in a measured, crisp voice while retrieving the cards from the tuck box.

"Yes, I've seen a deck of cards before. I'm not an idiot, but I am annoyed at you for interrupting my walk home at midnight – are you here to promote your pyramid scheme or stupid startup idea?" Sally answered indignantly.

"No, my friend. I have a business proposal. What is your name?" he asked.

"Sally. And you know, it's awfully rude to keep someone awake at this hour."

"This is a rather exceptional business proposal. Name's Matthew." He set the briefcase he was holding down on the sidewalk, and they shook hands. Then Matthew displayed the deck of cards to Sally.

"I'm going to keep this simple. There is one Ace of Spades in this deck of 52 cards. I will shuffle the deck, and you may choose a card of your choice. If you choose a card that is not the Ace of Spades, I will instantly give you $10,000." Matthew said, almost bored.

"You will put the card you chose into your pocket, I will shuffle the deck, and you may choose another card. We will repeat this process as many times as you like. You may stop at any time, and you will keep the money you've accumulated so far."

"Well! This sounds amazing!!" Sally exclaimed.

Now Sally was struggling to contain her excitement. She had considerable debt from her student loans (she never thought statistical analysis would be such an expensive degree) – and she really wanted a new iPhone too. And Matthew looked intimidating but honest. If he was telling the truth, she could make a lot of money tonight.

"But... what happens if I draw the Ace of Spades?" she said.

"You'll lose all the money you earned – and you'll also lose a little extra." Matthew's voice dropped an octave or two and his eyes glinted in the moonlight.

Sally was rightfully unnerved. She had no idea what 'losing a little extra' meant, and she did not intend to find out.

But the decision to draw the first card was easy – Sally knew she only had a 1/52 chance of drawing the Ace of Spades. She was willing to take that chance. So she nodded at Matthew, who promptly shuffled the cards and spread them out, face-down, into a fan. Then Sally held her breath, took a random card near the center of the spread, and flipped it over.

The four of hearts.

She exhaled in relief. Not a bad way to start. She placed the card in her pocket and looked expectantly at Matthew, who gestured at the briefcase. So Sally set down her backpack on the sidewalk, grabbed a (surprisingly thin) stack of $100 bills, and threw the stack into her backpack. "That's the fastest $10,000 I've ever earned," she thought.

"You now have a higher chance of drawing the Ace of Spades. You understand?" said Matthew.

"Yes, I majored in statistics in college."

Matthew shuffled the deck again, and Sally drew another card and placed it in her pocket. This time it was the nine of diamonds. She was up to $20,000. She placed the card in her pocket and sighed, knowing that every card she drew increased her chances of losing it all.

But Sally continued. She drew three more cards: the five of spades, the nine of clubs, and the Ace of Diamonds, and threw an extra $30,000 into her backpack. $50,000 was definitely enough to pay off Sally's student loans. But Sally wanted more.

"I'm tired of shuffling the cards." Matthew said. "I'll shuffle them one more time, then lay them out, face-down, on the sidewalk. The same rules will apply, and you can stop at any time."

"Okay, Matthew, that works." Sally replied. "But, again, what happens if I draw the Ace of Spades?"

"You lose all of the money you've earned so far and a little extra. Is that too difficult to understand?" Matthew said angrily.

So Matthew shuffled the cards and laid them out haphazardly on the sidewalk. He sat down and gestured for Sally to do the same. So she sat down and continued to draw more cards.

Once she had drawn her 12th card (the ten of hearts), she seriously considered quitting. She was up to $120,000 – the most money she had seen in her entire life. Plus, her chance of drawing the Ace of Spades was now up to 2.5%. How many more times was she willing to take a 2.5% chance of losing everything?

But Sally eventually decided she would draw a few more cards. She thought, "I'll stop after I've made an extra 50, maybe 60k. That extra cash would be amazing."

The 13th card was the three of clubs. "So far, so good," she thought.

The 14th card was the Ace of Clubs, which scared Sally to her core for a few milliseconds until she registered that it was a club, not a spade.

The 15th card was the ten of diamonds.

The 16th card was the two of hearts. "Just a few more cards," she thought.

And then her eyes landed on a 17th card. She hesitated for a moment, then flipped it over on the sidewalk for all to see.

The Ace of Spades had finally made its appearance.

"NOOOO!! NO!!! Noooooooooooooo!!" shrieked Sally. "GOD – WHY DID I NOT QUIT EARLIER?!? I'M SO STUPID!!!!!"

"You only made one mistake. What a shame. You could have done so much with $160,000, but you were greedy." Matthew said menacingly. He grabbed Sally's backpack and shook it so all of the money fell out into his briefcase.

"I suggest you run along now. The final part of our agreement will commence in thirty seconds." Matthew said. His eyes glinted in the moonlight yet again. Sally noticed that his eyes, which were previously bright blue, had now become dark grey.

Sally was devastated by her loss and stupidity. She had hundreds of thousands of dollars and she threw it all away. "How could I have done something so DUMB?!" she thought. "My house is just a few blocks away – I'll just run home, go to bed, and figure all of this out in the morning. And what did Matthew mean when he said 'the final part of our agreement will commence in thirty seconds'??"

So she backed away slowly from Matthew and started to jog home. She wanted to get as far away from Matthew as possible. She started to run, and after only a few more seconds, she heard footsteps behind her. Sally didn't dare turn around to see her pursuer. She just kept running.

She started to scream. As she ran, the streetlights flickered out one by one. The footsteps were louder now. She was so close to her apartment. So close...

Four gunshots rang in the night, and then there was silence.


  • If you enjoyed this short story, please share it with your friends!
  • I came up with the core idea for this story quickly – the harder part was developing the characters, writing realistic dialogue, and ensuring a steady, consistent build of tension throughout the story.
  • A question for you, dear reader: if you were offered the same deal as Sally, but without the threat of bodily harm, how many cards would you draw? What if the reward for each card was only $10 instead of $10,000 – would that change your decision?