8. Into a Wall at 200 MPH

“I’m in, what’s that mean exactly?” I asked Duke.

“Where’s the trust, Fatman?” He pushed back his chair, made to stand up. “Sure, I’m dead. That doesn’t mean I got time to waste.”

“The basic outline, okay? What I’m getting into.”

Duke sighed and sat down again. “Here’s the deal. You get rid of the tenants. We get our own people in. A nice couple. They’ll turn the lights on and off, mow the grass, shovel the snow, water the flowers.”

“No parties, right?”

“Strictly under the radar, like I said. The deadest people available.”

“It’s a home or an office?”

“A home office. No problem. Strictly in compliance with city ordinances. Pimlipper and I checked it out.”

“Do we have a lease?”

“You want a lease, we’ll write something up. But what you going to do with it? Take us to court?” At that Duke let loose another of his wheezing laughs.

“Forget the lease then.”

“That’s the spirit. Maybe we hang up a shingle. Duke Consulting. Duke Life Systems. Life Insight. Vague. Low key. Encouraging. You’re client number one.”

“What do I get?”

“Intake interview. Aptitude assessment. Myers Briggs, Minnesota Multiphasic. Basic stuff. Then we call in Creative. Start working on options for you. Big league options. Major plays. Put a package together. But it’s more than that, Fatman. Our whole team gets behind you. Software, branding, marketing, accounting, social media. You see the depth, your head will spin. You want Michael Jackson doing your jingle, you got Michael.”

“You kidding?”

“Right now he’s not busy, he’s bored. You’d be doing him a favor. Same for the rest of them. Mailer, Pollock, Basquiat. Hell, Picasso. Though between you and me, the artists are more trouble than they’re worth. You want an ad, call an ad man is what I say.”

“What’s in it for you?”

“There’s got to be something in it for us?”

“Duke. We go back. Let me ask again. What’s in it for you?”

“Suspicion, Fatman. I don’t like it so much, but I appreciate it.” He twisted the big Rolex on his wrist.

“They bury you with that?” I asked.

“Wrote it into the will. A little joke. You want it? Here.” He popped the clasp and handed it to me. “Maybe it’ll work for you.”

“A Rolex? It doesn’t work? At the price they ought to be bombproof.”

“Remember? The hands stopped when I killed myself.”

I slipped the watch onto my wrist. The second hand started to twitch.

“The pay-off on our end,” Duke said. “It’s like this. People like me. We got a big life going. The money, the women, the houses, the planes, the cars, the food, the wine, the vacations, the donations, the board seats, the staff. Which isn’t the half of it. And then bang, it’s over. You run into a concrete wall at two hundred miles an hour. You used to be a player and now there isn’t even a game. You’re sitting in the underworld dust and you don’t have a chair.”

“Maybe that’s the idea,” I said. “Reflection. Meditation.”

“Maybe. Maybe you get to that. I’m not there yet. I want to keep a hand in.”

“I’m a puppet.”

“You’re a partner.”

Duke patted my shoulder. He gave me a slow-motion wink.

Tomorrow: She groaned at that.

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