I didn’t tell Doris about the eviction or the busted up toilet.
Days passed. From the underworld, nothing.
Had Doris been party to this deal, the silence would have driven her nuts.
She’s a bustler. Try to get her to sit still. Even after the millions went from Duke’s accounts to hers, she kept her job.
Take it from me, it’s not glamorous work. Debt collection is Doris’s racket.
Within her firm, Alpha Omega Asset Management Services, Doris is the clean-up batter. You’ve already dealt with the staff thugs, guys who edge up against the letter of the law with their threats of ruination. They haven’t made you crack.
Then, finally, Doris gets on the horn. She purrs into your ear. You wonder if it’s some misplaced phone-sex call, until she gets to the part where she all but whispers that she’s from Alpha Omega Asset Management Services and she would love to consummate an agreement.
She’s like a snake charmer. The idea of your money is now mixed up with the urge to satisfy The Voice, to consummate the relationship, to collapse into the bed of cash that used to be yours. And so you work out a payment schedule, maybe on the order of one hundred dollars a week for the next, say, seventeen months, since with fees, interest, principal, court costs, a couple hundred other things, you now owe one thousand six hundred and forty-two dollars instead of the original three hundred and thirty seven.
I’ve pointed out to her that she could afford to retire, she could take on work that might possibly be of greater service to humanity. Raise money for orphans. Feed kids in Africa.
“Charles,” she replies. “Reminding people of their obligations. Making them do the things they promised they would do. You twist the dial half a notch, maybe Jesus would be collecting debt. You think about it, what’s Judgment all about? Settling out accounts. What you promised versus what you did. Heaven versus hell. Harsh, really. Dealing with me? A cakewalk, actually.”
As I’ve said before, no point in arguing with her.
In comparison, I could spend my life rocking on the porch, staring into space. It looks like I’m doing nothing. Okay, I am doing nothing. But my mind is churning. Well, not so much really.
I am what I am. I’m not apologizing.
Doris takes in the sight of me thus occupied and asks, “Charles, do you think you’d be happier if you were doing something?”
“Who says I’m doing nothing?”
“Judging by appearances.”
“It only looks that way.”
Sometimes my meditations are so profound that I’m unsure of what I’ve day-dreamed and what has occurred. The continuing silence from Duke slipped into that category. Those conversations with my dead friend: a figment and nothing more?
Then late one night, while Doris snored lightly and drooled on her pillow, I sensed a presence.
I put on my robe and made my way into the hall, as if pulled by a ring in my nose,
Creep, creep, creep. Down, down, down, to the basement and the dark coal bin.
At the foot of the barred steel door, a folded scrap of paper.
Nuns spent years cracking Duke’s knuckles for his miserable handwriting. There it was again, like the trail left by a dying insect as it crawled across a page.
Open the portal at midnight, the message said.
Tomorrow: We got work to do