Did you ever have one of those days where you’ve got a 15-story drop in front of you and a guy with a gun behind you? That’s the kind of day I’m having.
I am not speaking metaphorically. This is where I am and what’s happening to me and I’m relating this to you because, well, I need someone to talk to just now. I’d talk to God … but we have sort of a history. It’s looking more and more likely that we’ll be seeing each other pretty soon and it may not go well. So I’m leaving Him alone for the moment. And you seem nice, so here we are.
I’ll finish setting the scene for you, and pardon me for whispering; I don’t want to be overheard. It’s night, 12: … 48 a.m. I’m on a ledge of a tall building, taller than 15 stories, but I live on the 15th floor and I’m outside my apartment. The ledge is thin and I’m not comfortable in any sense of the word. Not physically comfortable with how I’m standing, not comfortable with the idea of trying to sit down, not comfortable with how sturdy the ledge is, not comfortable with wearing only a button-down shirt and boxers, and most of all, not comfortable with the great gulf of space in front of me that’s filled with nothing but gravity.
Inside my apartment, and so far unaware of my presence out here, is Reynaldo. Reynaldo Guzoman. He’s angry with me. I don’t blame him for that. I do, however, harbor a certain umbrage that he intends to kill me.
Oooooh! and now I’m not comfortable with that breeze that’s kicking up. Sort of wind-like. As if my situation needed something to make it more precarious. OK … it’s going away again. I’m guessing it’ll be back later.
So how did I get here, in this doubly dangerous spot? I suppose you could say it started when I didn’t make valedictorian in college. They gave it to that little suck-up Laura Giamelli, the daughter of the senator-turned-lobbyist who could make things easy or difficult for the school.
After that, I said, “Screw it” to most everything. I took my bachelor’s degree in business management and embarked upon a lifestyle meant to bring me the most income for the least amount of trouble. In today’s society that, of course, means drugs. “Trafficking in narcotics,” as some judge would like to tell me. But one never has.
Unlike many of my peers in the business, I’m extremely smart. Should have been valedictorian, you remember. Most people who enter occupations not fully accepted by society are convinced that they will never be caught. Me? I know full well that I could be caught. So I live paranoid. I don’t keep anything in my home that could be remotely incriminating. When I get even a hint that there’s going to be a crackdown, I suspend my operations. Sure, it takes some time to start them up again and there are some burned bridges, but it beats sitting in the state pen because the law says a fifth of whiskey and a pack of cigarettes is fine but a hit of pot will be the ruination of us all.
Also, I worked my way into enough money to start a legitimate side business: a recording studio. I actually make a decent living off of it, although I can’t stand the stuff that comes out of it. Man, what kids call music these days… Anyway, my family thinks that’s what I do and so I get to go home for Christmas. But it doesn’t support me in the style to which I’ve become accustomed, and so I have my primary occupation.
Really, I’m much more of a go-between, a middleman, making deals for other people and checking to be sure they happen. I never touch the product, but I’m in over my eyebrows as far as the law is concerned.
Oh, and I don’t use the product. Makes me feel … weird, somehow. I really don’t know what people get out of it. But then I don’t know what people get out of hundred-year-old cabernet or collecting stamps, either.
Damn! There’s that wind again. Once this is all over, you come out here and see if you can find where I’ve dug my fingers into the brick trying to hang on. Now I smell rain. That’s all I need.
Anyway, I’ve got my businesses. And you’re already guessing that Reynaldo, the well-armed man in my apartment, is visiting because a deal went bad, and you’re right. It’s not my doing and he knows that. But he’s angry and since he can’t find the person he really should express his anger to, he’s come looking for me since I set the deal up.
What you aren’t guessing is that it’s a music deal that went south. You’re thinking it’s the illegal business that has me hanging on out here for dear life when, ironically, it’s the legal business that may get me killed. But because of the illegal business, I’m in no condition to yell for help and I’m hoping that the dark of night will keep anyone from seeing me up here. I’m not quite to the point where 10 years in a prison cell is better than falling 15 stories.
Reynaldo, to the best of my knowledge, isn’t aware of my primary occupation; he knows me only as the owner of ChartHuggers International, Ltd. He came into my office almost six months ago on a Wednesday afternoon, which is one of the two days a week I let my executive assistant, Anita, schedule appointments for me. Reynaldo styled himself the manager of the hottest new band in history. Aren’t they all?
He’s not too bright. You can just look at him and know it. Then he grunts. Just a soft, short grunt at odd intervals. Then he opens his mouth and you know that he got a high school diploma just because it didn’t cost the school extra to print one more.
He had a boom box with him, which I appreciated. Lots of people bring in CDs or want me to download an MP3 or otherwise use my own resources for their benefit. Reynaldo didn’t make that assumption and I, fool that I am, took that as a good sign. He pushed the play button and filled my office and my ears with that nasty screeching crap that every garage band emits. But I know enough about my legit business to know that it was, in its own setting, good crap and it could sell. I handed him a standard contract to read – note that: I told him to read it before he signed it – and told him to check with Anita about scheduling time in the recording studio. And I thanked my lucky stars that I would be nowhere nearby when Moveable Point Frog invaded my studio and did its thing for posterity.
The first I saw them was on the cover of the finished CD a couple of months later and I didn’t take a good long look. They were spooky. The oldest was barely of legal drinking age. One of the others … I’d never seen a face pierced in the location and manner his was. I later had a nightmare about someone doing that to me.
Anyway, everything is going well. Moveable Point Frog moves CDs a little better than the average unheard-of band and so I up the publicity a little. They start to do very well and the money starts to come in. I pay off quarterly but in the meanwhile I was having Anita keep Reynaldo apprised of how well sales were doing. It made him happy, too.
So Reynaldo and I were pals, right up to the day when I discovered one of the spooky little creeps in the band uploaded the whole CD to some free music service online. It wasn’t the freak with the piercing; it was one of the other, more nondescript creeps.
On a Wednesday afternoon, Reynaldo was in my office telling me about it and kind of chuckling. “Boys will be boys, huh?”
I agreed that boys will, indeed, be boys, but men had signed a contract. And the contract stipulated that ChartHuggers International, Ltd., was the sole distributor of the music of Moveable Point Frog. I could get the free downloads to stop by contacting the Web site’s administrator. But there would be a lot of sharing going on by those who already had the music. This was costing me money and so, since it was a band member who had broken the contract his manager and I had agreed to, I would be keeping all the profits from the sales of the CD, such as they were and would likely be, so I could recoup my expenses.
This annoyed Reynaldo, and continues to do so even as he sits in my living room, apparently waiting for me to come home. I heard someone break in. Given the threats Reynaldo had made against me, and given that I could hear the peculiar little grunting noise he habitually makes, I took the only option I had, which was to go out the window I had propped open for a little fresh air. He hasn’t looked out here, but then again, no sane person would walk out of a window on the 15th floor of a building. Unless he didn’t have a choice.
That brings you up to date. We’re both heading into the unknown at this point. And the wind is blowing again and it’s starting to rain. Really, I have to choose how I want to die. Being shot would be quicker; I wouldn’t have 15 floors of free fall to think about it. And if I fall it’ll look like suicide. I’d prefer everyone knowing I was murdered.
I’m going back inside. As soon as I can get my knotted muscles to work again. I could fall trying to get shot.
Gently … gently … oof. Pick up the leg … on the floor … and inside! I’m safe! From falling. Now we come to the getting shot part. He’s still in there. I can hear him grunting. I’m going to put my pants on first. Preserve a little dignity. It’s 1:21 a.m. I was on the ledge for just over half an hour. Seems a hell of a lot longer than that.
Maybe there’s still a way out of this. I need a shield. What’s in my wallet? Three Franklins. That might do it.
All right. I’m going in there now. Maybe you should wait in here.
“Where the hell were you? I looked in there!” Grunt. “Who cares? Now you’re going to get it! How much money is that?”
“Three hundred dollars. It’s just a small example of what you’d be giving up if you killed me.”
“What do you mean?”
“I would be willing to amend our contract so that you get the money you were expecting.”
“Yeah. On two conditions. First: You don’t kill me. Second: The kid who uploaded the CD is out of the band. Replace him with some other snot-nosed brat who can play a bass.”
(Long pause with occasional grunting noises.)
“You can have this $300 as a down payment. And from now on, let’s conduct business strictly at my office.”
“Sure thing. Y’know,” grunt, “you’re actually a pretty easy guy to do business with.”
(Another long pause.)
You can come in now. He’s gone. And I’m still alive. I can hardly believe it, but I’m still alive. Like I said: Reynaldo isn’t too bright and I’m lucky it didn’t take much to make him happy. If he were brighter he’d be worried that I’m going to have him arrested on half a dozen charges. But as I told you earlier, I can’t involve the cops, and so Reynaldo gets away with blackmail at gunpoint. If ever someone clues him in, he’ll just think I’m a pushover and he’ll laugh about what he did.
I’ve decided a couple of things. First, I’m going to hire a manager to run the day-to-day portion of the music business. It’ll eat into my profit, but I don’t care. Maybe I’ll have Anita do it; she’s pretty smart. And second, I’m mostly going to pay attention to my other business. It’s safer.
Surely my family would rather have me alive than dead, even if I am doing drug deals.