by EN Heim
Submitted: 7 Sep 2015 to Thinkerbeat — http://www.thinkerbeat.com
Appeared in Thinkerbeat Anthology “The Art of Losing 2015”
People on the pier resemble vacationers slowly moving as though they were ready to board a luxury liner to escape the city turmoil, heat, and congestion. Wandering around the pier, people weave in-and-out of the crowd trying to keep cool. Some gaze down at their feet or at the ground, while others stare into the sky or across the water. Everything is silent except the shuffling of feet, and gulls flying overhead and screeching at them in mockery. A pelican soars above, and then suddenly plunges into the water. No one notices the bird leaving a puff of smoke as it submerges. At high noon, the sun radiates white hot, and the temperature is sultry. The only shade comes from the people standing at the edge of the pier. An occasional commotion comes from people jostling through the crowd to get behind someone taller.
A man dressed in a bloody white T-shirt and shorts walks over to the edge of the dock and leans over as to catch any coolness coming off the water. As he glances down to the water’s surface, a rush of heat slaps him in the face. He notices a man in a rowboat peering up at him. The man shouts, “Are you O’Conner?”
“Yes, why do you ask?”
“I’m to pick up you and a fellow by the name of Wilson. Do you know if he’s up there?”
“No, I don’t know the fellow, but I’ll call around.” O’Conner faces the crowd and calls. No answer, and calls again.
Pushing through the crowd a small portly man with a high-pitched voice shouts, “I’m here, I’m here. I’m Wilson. I’m coming.”
Wilson leans over the edge of the dock and gazes down at the man sitting in the middle of the rowboat.
Turning to O’Conner, Wilson asks, “Is he the one that called my name?”
“No, I called, but he asked for you.”
“Why does he want me?”
“He came for us.”
“Are we going with him?”
“Uh, I assume so.”
“Where is he taking us?”
“Damned if I know!” O’Conner gazes out across the water and into the sun, and says, “Maybe to hell. It’s so hot out here.”
In surprise, “HELL!” screams Wilson, glancing around at all the sweaty, reeking humanity, as though they were the scum of he earth.
O’Conner shakes his head. “Just a figure of speech.”
The man in the rowboat calls, “O’Conner…Wilson, you’re to come with me.”
“Where are we going?” shouts Wilson.
“I have orders to take you and O’Conner with me. That’s all the information I have.” He stares at the two men as though everything was a big problem. “Are you coming,” he snaps, “or what?”
O’Conner and Wilson glance at each other, Wilson shrugs, and O’Conner returns a shrug. O’Conner grimaces at Wilson, and says, “Why not, it’s better than standing around in this heat and broil like we’re a couple of chickens on a skewer.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. The water looks better than this heat, and standing around all this reeking plethora of useless humanity.” He snarls at the person standing next to him.
Out on the vast ocean nothing else appears but a little spec surrounded by motionless gray steamy water. At the stern is O’Conner holding onto the rudder handle. Wilson hangs over the bow staring straight ahead. Occasionally, he shades his eyes as though he spots something up ahead. Languorously staring out at the empty sea, the three men glance around searching. Visibility is clear to the horizon; the flat surface of the water mirrors the blue sky, no ripples, no waves. The only disturbance to the mirrored surface is the oars dipping into the water, and leaving no wake or ripple. It appears they are in motion.
Wilson utters, “I’m not too sure it wasn’t any better back there on the pier. It’s so hot it feels like hell.” Fully dressed in a black suit and wearing a tie too tight for him, he stretches his collar and wipes his forehead with his sleeve. He tries to remove the tie, but it is impossible to loosen it, and chokes.
O’Conner says, “We must be getting there soon.” He glances around to the oarsman. “By the way, what’s your name?”
The man peers into O’Conner’s eyes. “Goldman.” Dressed in seafaring clothes, he emits a fishy odor.
Staring at Goldman, O’Conner says, “You been rowing a boat long?”
“This is the first time, why?”
“Do you have any idea where your destination is?”
He shrugs. “No comment.”
Shaking his head, O’Conner says, “You’re telling me that’s all you were to do was pick us up and nothing else.”
“And, where to?”
“I have no idea, only to pick up you and Wilson.”
O’Conner glances around the open sea searching for something, anything. Nothing in view, not even a cloud, gull, or land, just endless ocean, and hazy sky. “I think you’re rowing nowhere. I don’t see land, nothing.” He glances from side to side, gazing across the open water. “Not even a bird or fish or another boat.” Glaring at Goldman in the eyes, he shouts, “Where are we going, GOLDIE?”
Goldman returns a beady-eyed stare at O’Conner. “What do you think I am, a compass? You’re at the helm; you’re steering this damn boat. I’m just pushing it.” He glances over to the oars.
“Aren’t you a sailor? I mean you’re wearing sailor clothes, and smell like rotten fish.” He snarls, turning his head away from Goldman. “You know how to handle this boat. I’m sure you know how to navigate. Or, why in the hell are you rowing this boat?”
“I’m rowing because it was a command.”
“And, who told you?”
Goldman stops rowing, his eyes circle, musing. Shaking his head, he becomes agitated. “It’s just a command, okay.”
The sun overhead beats down on the three men. Wilson covers his head with his hands.
Wilson turns around, glances at the two men, and says, “It’s hot.”
“Just like hell,” yells O’Conner.
Goldman begins rowing, glances to O’Conner. “This rowing hurts my shoulders and arms. How about taking over? I’d like to know if you’re any better.”
“I have no experience at rowing, least of all, boats. You’re doing okay. If I took over the rowing, I’d be rowing around in circles.”
“This is getting to me. I’d like to take a rest.”
O’Conner gazes straight up at the sun. “I don’t think we’re moving, or you’re not rowing very fast.” He turns around glancing behind him. “I don’t see any wake. If you ask me, we’re going nowhere,” turning back to Goldman, “we haven’t moved, have we?”
Wilson interjects, “What’s the time? It looks like my watch stopped.”
Disgusted, Goldman shakes his head, and answers, “It’s daytime…all day long.”
O’Conner chuckles, “No shit.” Again, he glances up to the sun, stares at his wristwatch; it reads: twelve-noon. “If I’m right, the sun hasn’t moved in the sky since we got in this boat. It should be noon, according to the sun. My watch says noon. But, it can’t be noon all day long.” He glances around searching. His eyes squint staring back and forth at the ocean. “There’s something funny going on around here.”
“LIKE WHAT?” Wilson shouts.
“We’re not going anywhere, the sun doesn’t move, my watch says noon, and it’s hotter than hell on this water. It shouldn’t be. That’s what’s funny.” He glances at Goldman. ”What’s it all about, Goldie?”
“What, no comment! Do you know something we don’t? If you do, I’d like to know, too.”
Goldman’s eyes narrow and become fiery, then he blurts, “NO, I’m just as lost as you are.”
“I think we’re in a dream,” glancing around the open sea, “this isn’t real.” Then, O’Conner glances over to Wilson. “I think the man knows more than we do. I think he’s taking us on a long, long trip to nowhere.”
Goldman purses his lips, closes his eyes, then screams, “I DON’T WANT TO HEAR IT…YOU HEAR.”
“We’re going to hell, aren’t we, Goldman?” shouts Wilson. “I knew it when I woke up this morning in the hospital. No one was attending to me. A nurse came in and started to take the IV from my arm, and put the sheet over my face. Then the next thing, I was on the pier, and shuffling around like all the other deadbeats.” He covers his face in his hands and groans, “We’re going to hell,” moping, “I’m going to hell. Oh, ooh, ugh.”
O’Conner peers into Goldman’s face, and barks, “Is that right, Goldie?“
O’Conner shouts over to Wilson, “What did you do, to warrant this?”
Goldman regains his composure and starts rowing again.
Wilson muses, tries to find a suitable answer, and shouts over to O’Conner, “I WAS IN POLITICS. You know how politicians are.”
Gazing up into the sky, Goldman mumbles, “All bullshit.”
“At the time,” continued Wilson, “before I had that stroke, I was running for governor for the second time. As they say: anything to get a vote. You know, the ends justify the means. I promised everything and won. I’m so good at convincing, farmers will buy their own shit, instead of selling it to manure factories.”
Goldman speaks up, “You promised them shit all right, plus took kickbacks. That’s what you did.”
“EXACTLY. I said I would fight for jobs. Instead, I took kickbacks to keep industry happy. They don’t need the extra burden. When I said I would increase wages, I didn’t. Equal pay is a farce. Who wants to see women get equal pay, or even equal pay for equal tasks? Equality on the job is a mockery. That makes less profit. Let’s fact it guys, my constituents are not the people.”
O’Conner interjects, “You’re a sham!” His eyes close, leans his head back, and takes a deep breath. “So, what’s your story, Goldman? How were you so lucky?”
“Don’t look at me. I’m the oarsman on this boat.”
“Come on Goldie, you aren’t here because of your health. Just look at your gut. You said you didn’t know anything about boats or rowing; so there must be something that brought you here.”
Goldman glances across the water, and stops rowing, and takes a deep breath. “I embezzled one billion dollars from my firm. I was working for XYZ Investments.”
O’Conner eyes brighten. “What did you do?”
“I was their comptroller. Did all their bookkeeping, financial reports, knew every nook-and-cranny of the company,” musing, chuckling, “it was easy. I wrote all the investment programs.”
Wilson shouts, “How’d you do it? I mean it must take a genius to swindle a company that size.”
“Not really, it’s a matter of programming the computer. It came to me one day all of a sudden. When I’d tally up all the profits, I noticed all the accounting past the decimal point was no longer there. They rounded it off to the nearest zero. They didn’t report the pennies.”
“How interesting. So what did you do?”
“I took all the accounting less than a cent.”
“How long did it take you? It must have been years.”
“Not long, it took less than three years.”
“With less than a penny.”
“Yeah! When you’re dealing with transactions around the world in nanoseconds and trillions of dollars, it doesn’t take that long.”
Wilson screams, “How did they catch you?”
Goldman turns around and faces him. “Somebody got wise to what was happening.” He chuckled, “They were doing it to everybody who invested with them, but they were taking pennies. I took everything below a cent.”
O’Conner chuckled, “The law of equal returns.”
Wilson yells, “DO UNTO OTHERS.”
“That sounds familiar,” utters Goldman. “I like the phrase, an eye-for-an-eye.”
O’Conner asks, “How did you hide it?”
“The way things are today, there’s no way of hiding money. You must have done something different.”
“Yeah, I used the phantom banks.”
“Phantom banks,” O’Conner’s nose curls, “what in the hell are those?”
“Banks that don’t exist. All the big banks, all the financial institutes, brokerage houses, all use them to slip money to secure sites, and make more money. They have to because of all the skimming.”
Wilson yells, “I like that. If we get back to reality, I want you guys on my team. Make sure I get your addresses, telephone numbers, cells-phones, and emails.”
“When will we get back to reality, Goldman?”
“What’s reality these days, O’Conner?” He smirks, and a twinkle comes to his eyes. “What did you do, to deserve this?”
“Couldn’t keep my pecker from pecking every skirt on the street,” laughing, “I went through six marriages. I associated six with sex.” He pats his lean gut, and smirks, “My wives considered me a sexual athlete, twenty-four-seven,” laughing, “as if it was the last day on earth.”
Wilson interjects, “O’CONNER, I don’t think I want you on my team after all,” shaking his head and scowling, “YOU’RE BAD NEWS.”
“So, how did you get your end, O’Conner?” Goldman asks.
“My last wife emasculated me, and I bled to death.” He points down to his red shorts and T-shirt. “These used to be white.”
“YOU DESERVED IT,” shouts Wilson.
“Yeah, she didn’t like my playing around with other women. She wanted all of me for herself. She was an ego-possessive nympho.” Musing, chuckling, “So, Goldie how did you get yours?”
“I had a price on my head. The firm hired a hitman.”
“So, you got away with it.”
Goldman moans, “Yeah, I did…in a way. But, they traced everything through offshore banks, and eventually to the phantom banks, and got to me that way. I thought I was safe living in Italy, a pleasant little fishing town off the beaten path overlooking the Mediterranean. It looked like something out of a painting with cobblestone streets, and buildings built five hundred years ago. At the time, I was returning late that night from a restaurant in the city center. Then, this fellow passed me in the street. He put a bullet right through the back of my neck. I never knew what happened.”
Wilson wipes his brow, and utters, “Damn, it’s hot.”
O’Conner says, “Just like Hell.”
Goldman stares up into the noonday sky, and slowly says, “No comment!”