Last time I saw Duke he was being carried off into the afterlife by four black teenagers in hoodies. It’s a lot to explain.
Now he stood in the coal closet, blinking.
“Kinda bright in here,” he said.
The light from the single bulb seemed as dead as Duke was.
“I thought, maybe…”
“Could have done worse. All things considered.”
“They give you…what you call it? A sentence?”
“Not how it works.”
“How does it work?”
“Who knows? But you ought to lock the door. Unless you want to run a B and B for the undead.”
Duke and I go back. We went to the same school, got mugged by the same nuns. He went his way, I went mine. His way led to law school, private practice, an office on the two hundred and fifty-fourth floor, a view of the Dakotas. He was the lawyer you called when you were guilty but had enough money maybe to wiggle off the hook. My way? It’s worked out, you could say, albeit with some twists and turns.
“Looking good, Fatman. Getting your three squares and then some.”
“And you, Duke, you…”
“Don’t lie to me.”
Who wants the truth? Death wasn’t doing Duke any favors. He always wore suits from the top of the rack. He paid more for a sport coat than I paid for a car. His shoes were made by an old Italian guy you had to beg to take you on. Now Duke’s finery was grimed with the gray dust of the underworld. Ditto for his skin. He was dead and he looked it.
“Okay, you looked better. You take everything into account, can you complain?”
“Sure I can complain. You’re the guy who can’t complain.”
Duke and I: Our dealings are complicated. Duke’s thing with Doris, it didn’t work out but it happened. She’s in my bed now. Or, to be one hundred percent accurate about it, I’m in her bed. Duke left her most of his estate, including the mansion. He left her so much money she’s not sure how much there is.
“It’s not like counting the change in your piggybank,” she’s explained. “Depending on the day. We’re up up a few million, down a few million.”
“Get me in hand grenade range.”
“North of thirty-five,” she replied.
For a number of reasons I was startled, not least of which was that Doris had uttered the phrase north of thirty-five. She was speaking a foreign language.
Perfect, you think, but it wasn’t. Suddenly we had issues. What was hers. What was mine. What was ours. Who was running the show.
I blamed Duke. Quietly.
Who wants to hear you trash talk the guy who left you millions?
“You don’t mind me asking,” I said to him. “What brings you by?”
“I’m like dead Santa, Fatman. I know when you been sleeping. I know when you’re awake. I know when things aren’t working out.”
“I’m here to help.”
To which I thought, oh no.
Tomorrow: We’re not zombies