“First order of business,” said Duke. “Definition. What your problem is.”
“Get in line,” I said.
“Among the virtues of being dead. You know things. Privacy. Turns out it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”
“You know what?”
“What I want. The things that interest me. I’m interested in you, Fatman. In Doris.”
“You spy on us?”
“Spy. That’s harsh. I keep up. I’m here to help. You could use some. Plenty, actually.”
Before Duke died, I had my little pot of money. Doris had her job. It was enough. We had our Frogtown pied-à-terre, our 20-year-old cars. Our idea of a splurge was a fifteen dollar bottle of wine. We were happy. Then Duke dropped his money bomb on Doris.
“It’s not mine, baby, it’s ours,” she said.
She kept my stockings stuffed. A Mercedes E-400. A vicuña wool suit that felt like a second skin. Olive oil that probably came from a different solar system. She wanted to make me feel better and instead I just felt worse.
“You got your economic impotence problem,” Duke said. “The kept-dude dilemma.”
“I got my own money.”
“We used to live on it.”
“You call that living.”
“It’s not the worst problem you can have.”
“Compared to the classic impotence problem, the limp dickery and all of that, yeah, I’d rather deal with the four-figure bank account.”
I looked hard at him, tried to figure if he was guessing.
“I know,” he said. He shrugged. “She says, We’re both getting older, Charles, or, Maybe it’s all the change, or, They make pills for this. A very understanding woman, Doris. If what you want is understanding.”
“You got more of that wine?” I said.
“Let’s try to focus. You feel like a parasite, right?”
No. I felt the weight of failure grinding me into the very earth. Compared to my noodle-boy sack trouble, the money was an also-ran. Though the cause-effect connection was obvious. “Parasite?” I said.
“Living off something or somebody else.”
“I got my own dough.”
“I keep trying to tell you. You got peanuts, Fatman. You had a peanut life. Doris, she’s got a plate full. You need to keep up. The root of all your other, uh, troubles. Not to dwell. You need your own thing.”
“And you can help?”
“We got a program.”
“You’re dead. What you mean you got a program?”
“Graydon. Pimlipper. Me. We organized the underworld talent. Of which there is plenty. Legal. IT. Creative. Human resources. Personal development. Life coaching.”
“Life coaching? You’re all dead.”
“You keep saying that. You think just because you die you lose your insight? The dead got as much insight as anyone’s ever going to have. Think about it.”
“Anyway, you’re in the underworld. How do customers get to you? Die?”
“That’s why we scratch each other’s backs, Fatman. We help you, you help us. Let me fill you in.”
Tomorrow: Everybody wins.