I have a few regrets in my life and after coming from the Abbey after my recent foray down in Mexico one of them was weighing heavy on my mind. The first thing I did when I hit town was to go back to my office. If you’re keeping up with current events in my life then you know I returned here a new man, when I last left the building it was in four parts, literally, as both my legs and my right arm had been severed and delivered, on ice to Saint Mary’s Hospital in the hopes that they could re-attach them. They did what they could, but it was the favor called in by Governor Black that got me a slot at the Abbey of Saint Walburgha, which boasted a miraculous healing room where I spent the night. I walked out the next day, sore, aching and with more than just my limbs reattached. It seems that one Sister Charlene, now calling herself ‘Char’ had attached herself to me and left the Abbey without their chief fundraiser and helper to the down trodden. All is well that ends well though, and in exchange for freeing one Shiner from their clutches, I had brought them replacements. In fact, the general feeling I had as I left was that they might owe me a favor or two.
In the excitement of my last two weeks I had lost not only every piece of identification I owned, but also the key to my office. My landlord, Hal Franklin, is a real peach of a guy, loves having me as a tenant and bends over backward to keep me in the building. I knocked on his basement door, but no one answered. With a sigh I made my way to the third floor to my office, maybe it was unlocked. Turns out it was not only unlocked, but the door was wide open too. I heard animated voices coming from inside it and thought about what I had for a weapon…nothing. I’d donated the bus I’d driven the kids to the Abbey in to a chop shop I sort of owed a favor to and I’d dumped the guns and weapons I’d had long before that. All I had was a triple bagged bundle of loose cash that the kids had stolen from a few automate teller machines along the way and given to me. A voice came toward my office door and I raised the bag of cash.
It was Hal. My landlord. He took me in with his eyes and back pedaled, “No!”
“What?” I asked him following him inside.
“You’re dead! I read it in the paper, I still have it down in my office, you’re dead!” He yelled his voice rising and the vein on his forehead throbbing.
I stopped and looked around my office, it had been painted. And cleaned. And most of my furniture was gone. “You…tell me you didn’t rent my office out!”
“Billy, please you gotta understand…I thought you were dead!”
“I’m not.” I said, staring at him.
“I already rented the space.”
“Damn it, Hal! Unrent it.” I said.
“No, they are paying me four times what you were paying!”
“And we both know why I was getting a deal on rent, don’t we?” I growled. I had done Hal a solid a decade ago and we’d worked out a rental agreement around the same time.
“I know, I know.” He looked briefly at the ground, I almost believed his apologetic tone. “But that was a long time ago, Billy a very long time.”
“It was a very big debt, as I recall, which is why I got the break on rent. Hell, face it Hal, even if I got the space for free for the rest of my life, you made out on the deal!”
“Rents have gone way up in this area, Billy.” His whining was growing old.
“I accounted for that. We accounted for that as I recall. Look, no big deal, if you want out of our deal, I’m sure I could still talk to some people.”
“Yeah, I guess…wait, talk to some people? What do you mean?”
“You know what I mean. These people I worked with, on your behalf, are still friendly to me, in fact I think they still have an interest in this building…”
“You wouldn’t!” He shook his head, then looked at me again, “You would? No, no you wouldn’t, you’re a stand-up guy…”
“And I expect you to be too.”
“Maybe we can work a new deal, I could get you an office somewhere else…”
“In this building.”
“I brokered a few deals, I have more buildings now.”
“Our deal was for this building, it’s always location, location, location, isn’t it? And I like where this one is located.”
“I got a new building on Penrose. It’s just a few blocks from here, off the main drag, quieter, better location for your office.”
“This building.” I said, actually Penrose was closer to my apartment, save me a few blocks of travel and keep me off the main drag, but I couldn’t let Hal know that.
“Come on, Billy cut me some slack and I could rent you a larger space for maybe only fifty percent more too…”
“No, if I like this office you’re trying to pawn off on me, our deal would be transferred there, no changes, no rent raising, you cut me the same slack you did here.”
“Really? You’d move to the new place? You’ll love it, Billy, love it! I’m moving my office there, there’s a coffee shop downstairs and a sports bar on the corner.” Hal said.
“I hate it already. You’re supposed to be trying to sell me on the place not talk me out of it.”
“You’ll love it! You’ll see, do you want to meet me there tomorrow afternoon? Maybe at two…”
“Where’s my safe?” I asked, “Hal, where is my safe?”
“Ah, it’s out.” He held up his hands defensively, “I thought you were dead! Your grandfather was the only one listed on your contacts and he said he didn’t want it.”
I squinted at him, “You. Called. My. Grandfather.”
“You were dead!” He yelled back at me, “It’s the law!”
“Holy shit, you do not know what you’ve done, what did he say, exactly?”
“Look you better tell me, I’ll find out anyway, you think he isn’t going to want to talk to me now too?”
“He said, well he may have mentioned something about you not being dead until we saw a body…But I got a copy of your death certificate! It’s in the office, I had to use it at the courthouse to get your stuff out of my place.”
“Where is my safe, Hal?”
“A&E. They said they could crack it and have the contents back to me by tomorrow. They’ve only had it a day.”
A&E was a locksmith, decent guys, I’d bought the safe from them as I needed one to store firearms in, as required by law. I’d also had Henry Jones work up a special lock for me over at the University; Jones died of cancer a few years ago. “You better call them and tell them not to mess with it; I had Jones do some work on it.”
“It’s a Jones’ safe? I didn’t know you could afford that…”
“It’s an A&E safe, Jones worked on it for me, he owed me one and paid it back in spades with the work he did.”
“Sheesh, the people you know, Billy, you should write a book.” Hal said, he was fumbling his phone out of his pocket, “I’ll call the goodwill too, cancel them picking up the rest of this stuff today. I’ll get a mover to drop it in your new office too, free of charge.”
“Let me guess, you own a truck and you’ll have the maintenance guys haul it over?”
He started to shake his head, then shrugged and nodded, “Okay, yeah, but it’s still hours they could be working for me.”
“They would still be working for you. Just make the calls and then bring me over to this ‘new’ place you think I’ll love.”
He made the calls and then drove me over, at first look I genuinely hated the building. It was like a work of art with cement buttresses climbing high and white into the sky. It was off the main strip, but on a busy side street, with the coffee shop toward the street and a large sign for “My Mom’s Place” Sports bar and grill. I liked the name, if nothing else. It was high end, well-manicured and too artsy for me. I like my buildings to be like Soviet Housing Blocks, functional and unassuming.
“Whadda ya think, huh? She’s a beauty!” Hal said as we got out of the car near the far end of the building.
“I hate it; I hope it’s better inside.”
Parking was more than ample, not that I ever concerned myself where my clients would park, I figure for a service like mine a few hurdles like parking are not too much to ask. After all, if a client couldn’t get over not finding a parking space, they probably would forget to pay my bill too. With a long sigh, I nodded at him and said, “C’mon then, show me.”
He brought me up the back of the building, there was an elevator next to a set of mailboxes. “Wait a second here, Hal, is this residential?”
“Only some of the units, Billy, it’s all the rage, put some apartments down right in the business district, the kids love ‘em!”
“What’s my office then? An apartment or an actual office?”
“Kind of could go either way, give it a chance! I think you’ll love it!”
Of course he did. One thing about Hal, is he was always pretty optimistic about what he thought I would love. We rode the elevator to the third floor and it opened into a foyer Inside was plus and had natural lighting from a skylight. The hallway down from the elevator banks had doors spaced catty corner to each other along its length.
“Kinda perfect for you, really, I mean the designer didn’t pay a lot of attention here close to the elevator and there are these rooms that go around the bank on the outside at this end. Only up here too, on two they are taken up by the restrooms and some fuse boxes. Up here though, well, you’ll see.” Hal gestured to a door to one side of the elevator bank. It looked like an apartment door.
“We’d have to change that, make it like my old one.”
“Done.” He unlocked it and pushed it open. “I figure this would be the business office, right? Desk here, maybe a couch and a few potted plants over there..”
He was motioning with his hands, painting a picture I didn’t need or want, but I was looking the place up for size, it was appreciable larger than one of the two rooms of my former office. It also had a lot of light, maybe too much, there were no windows on the back wall, which would have been facing away from the street, but the wall to the north was practically all glass.
“I’d need blinds.”
“Venitian, I’d take care of it. Come look at this…”
He pulled me into a long narrow room, which ran behind the elevator banks and to the outside wall. There was a single large window over a sink, plus a stove, full sized refrigerator and a dishwasher. The place was an apartment. “This is an apartment, Hal, not an office.”
“Hear me out, hear me out, okay? First look at the end of this hallway, back into the living room, I mean office, there is plenty of space there to put another doorframe, take my guys two days to do it, wall it in proper, make it extra secure, given what happened in your old office.”
“The guy walked through the wall there, Hall, do you think you could stop a shiner walking through the walls here?”
This gave him pause, which was good, in dealing with Hall it’s best to keep him off balance.
“Right, probably not. Say you gotta a lot of bad memories in that place anyway, why would you want to go back?
“Because we had a deal to keep the place cheap. This.” I waved my hand around, “This is a two bedroom apartment, not an office.”
“Er, one bedroom. Nice though, and zoned for both business and residential, you can totally run a business out of this place and that’s my other point, okay? You can live here, right? Right. No more bitching from me about you sleeping in your office, and better yet, no more renting your apartment. Think of the money you’ll save!”
“It’s a nice bedroom, master suite and everything.”
“So if my client needs to use the pot I have to bring them into my bedroom?”
“No, there’s public stalls on the second floor, weren’t you listening? C’mon.” Hal let out what sounded like a defeated groan and “You might as well see the rest of it.”
The master bedroom was as large as the living room, or as Hal would say, ‘the office’ was. Plus, it had a huge walk in closet and well-appointed bathroom with both a tub and a shower so big it didn’t have a curtain. There was already a king sized bed in the bedroom with a huge headboard and two nightstands. “This furniture come with the place?”
Like the front office, there were plenty of windows.
“Yeah, we’re were offering it as an incentive to the renter, if they signed a two-year lease…”
“Hal, what were you asked for this place?”
He named a figure, probably inflated for my benefit, it was less than I had been paying to rent my office space from him. I asked him, “Why so low?”
He shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t really know, we’ve had not problems moving the other units…” The elevator doors dinged and I heard the elevator start up the shaft, then someone get in and take the lift down.
“Or could it be that you can hear the goddamned elevator in every room clear as day?”
“Eh? I hardly noticed. No, no it has to be something else…”
“I’ll give you half of what you were wanting, on account of our deal from the other building and the shitty elevator noise.”
“Half? No, I can’t do half…” Hal said.
“Then no deal, find me an office where I was.”
“We’re booked up there! I could go maybe three quarters…”
“If you want three quarters of what you were asking I want a noise barrier set up around the elevator shaft!”
“We’d lose six inches off each of the rooms! That’s a lot of space and we’d have to re-wire the place along the inside walls too, that’s not cheap.”
“And cheap is the name of the game, I know; I’ve dealt with you before. Look, Hal, you really think you’re going to rent this place out the way it is? Get some quotes, then get back to me on it, okay? But I’m out an office right now and every day I don’t have a place to work is money out of my pocket, money that I bet a good lawyer could get from you.”
“Don’t be like that Billy, please! Sleep on it, okay? I’ll get some quotes on the noise suppression, see what we can work out.”
“I won’t hold my breath waiting for your call.”
“You have a new phone?”
“I just hit town, I don’t even have a car yet.”
“What happened, Billy?”
“I’ll tell you all about it over a steak at Vitellos…the day after I move into my new office.”
“Deal!” He said, “I love that place.”
“And they love you.” I told him, I knew it was true; they were the whole reason he owed me in the first place. Some people never learn.