Adam D. Fisher’s short fiction has appeared in The Jewish Spectator, Echoes and Home Planet News. He is the author of nine books which include liturgy, poetry and works for children. Currently he is the Poetry Editor of the CCAR Journal.
The large manila envelope was thrown to the floor when Will’s white Corolla with rust spots on the fenders and the trunk, squealed to a stop alongside a Lexus, so he could back into the parking spot on Wooster Street. It was such a sticky, broiling August day that the tar around street repairs bubbled up. The smell of sweat seemed to hang in the air. Will’s floral tie was loosened and hung limply down his rumpled yellow shirt. The air conditioning was turned up high but he had sweated through his shirt leaving a dark spot on his back. His seersucker jacket was thrown in a heap on the back seat. His long brown hair was held together in a pony tail but several wisps escaped and were hanging damply against his thin face. Another few loose strands hung over his ear covering a small gold earring. Dark stubble sprouted on his receding chin.
The Best Thing
Inside the envelope were two memos to Will: “From: Walter O’Malley, O’Malley Development Corp. “…in view of your hesitancy and clear dissatisfaction with our aesthetic judgement, we have decided to select another architectural firm.” The second, from Will’s boss, Jack: “…you are in deep shit over the O’Malley project. Be here tomorrow at 4:30 to explain—it better be good and don’t be late…”
Will turned around quickly and was already part way into the space, when a huge black Lincoln Navigator with headlights glowing like the eyes of a monster loomed in behind him. He honked, backed in farther so that both cars were now half way in. Will opened the window, got a punch of hot air, and called out in a controlled way, “Excuse me, I was here first. Would you mind backing out! Please!”
“Hell no, this is my spot! ” bellowed the voice from the huge SUV.
Will got out of the car; stood slightly up on his toes, “Come on, let’s be fair about this — you know I was here first.” He glanced nervously at his watch and then with greater urgency, “How about it? Please just move your car.” His shoulders sagged, making him look even smaller than five-seven.
A tall athletic guy, shaved head, wearing a crisp gray Armani suit, black tee shirt and a thick gold chain, got out of the Lincoln, put his hands on his hips and mimicked Will in a high voice, “Let’s be fair about this.” Then with a dismissive flick of his hand and in his regular deep voice, demanded, “Get out of my way and find your own goddam spot!”
Will glared, squared his shoulders and crossed his arms, “I did. This one,” pointing to the space.
He laughed, “Suddenly you think you got balls.”
For a split second Will’s jaw softened.
The guy’s face turned serious; he pointed a finger at Will and as he ordered in a steely voice, “Listen asshole, you a retard or something? MOVE!” he threw out his big hands against Will’s chest and gave him a hard shove toward his car.
Will stumbled backwards a few steps, grabbed the door to stop himself from falling and yelled, “Get your hands off me. You’re not going to get away with this,” quickly got in and backed up to the Navigator’s bumper.
The huge SUV gunned the engine and pushed Will’s car out into the street.
Will grabbed the Club lock, his face red and contorted in rage, screamed, “Push my car another inch and your headlights are history.”
The guy in the suit suddenly loomed in front of him, sternly ordered him, “Man, you got shit for brains. You don’t know who you are dealing with. Just put that down and you won’t get hurt.”
Will took a swing at the lights, the guy grabbed the club and threw it against the curb where it made a dull clank. He lifted Will up and banged him down on the trunk of his car knocking the air out of him and scraping his face on a rust spot. Then he grabbed his arm, held it behind his back, dragged him to the driver’s side and pushed him in, “Now go! Get out of here before I really hurt you!”
Will sat looking straight ahead gasping for breath, shook his head, “Okay,” then put the car in gear and crawled up the street. He stopped, then crawled a little farther, then stopped again. Finally he stopped half-dozen cars up and out of sight of the Navigator, turned and gave the guy the finger. He sat for several minutes, his head down, hands firmly on the steering wheel, then he reached up, felt his face and looked at the blood on his hand. He banged the steering wheel crying out, “Shit, shit, shit…” again and again. Finally, he reached over the seat and pulled his brief case into the front where he opened it, took out his cell phone and dialed 911. Then, he called his boss, “Jack, I’ve had an awful time this afternoon … I’ve been in an accident and my face is scraped up…Yeah I think I’m okay. As soon as I finish with the police, I’ll be there …No, no, wait for me, I’m very anxious to talk to you… Oh, maybe a half hour or so… No, I don’t want to wait until morning, just wait for me…Please! I’m right near the office; all I have to do is find a parking spot.
An hour later, after making out a complaint charging the driver of the SUV with assault, Will came into the office. The large loft on Spring Street with high windows was bright and airy. Huge sentry palms thrived on either side of the door. Will walked directly into the Men’s Room and looked in the mirror--he had a big scrape on his right cheek and his right eye was puffy; he muttered, “That son of a bitch, when the police locate him, I’ll have his ass.” He washed his hands scrubbing off the blood from when he touched his face in the car. He carefully washed his face grimacing as he put soap and water on the scrape, then patted it dry. He rubbed his shoulder and arm then painfully took off his shirt and examined his shoulder, which was turning blue and purple. He lowered the right sleeve of his shirt and slipped it back on before he directed his left arm around into the left sleeve. Will retied his tie and attempted to smooth out his shirt as much as he could. He took some paper towels and let the cold water run over them to make a compress. He touched it to the scrape and swelling on his face and pulled it away quickly, “Whew, that stings. “ Finally he held it firmly on his face, examined himself in the mirror once more and walked down the hallway.
Jack’s office was a large space with an oriental carpet, a big table, two computers, a desk and photographs of buildings the firm had designed. A cardboard model of a building labeled “O’Malley Project” sat on a low table.
Jack stood up—a tall, thin, elegant man in his sixties with perfectly combed gray hair, “My God what happened to you?”
“You should have seen me before I got cleaned up.” Will eased himself onto the large table biting his lip in pain, while holding the compress to his face. He took a breath.
Jack came out from behind the desk with a concerned look on his face, “Don’t you want to see a doctor—maybe go to the Emergency Room and have them look at you. Come on, I’ll take you, we’ll talk about the O’Malley business tomorrow.
Will looked at him squarely, managing a faint smile said, “Jack, just relax. I’m fine.”
“Well, you don’t look fine—your face is swollen and I can see you are holding your arm as it if hurts. What happened?”
“It was just a little fender bender—I’m fine. Really,” he said in
an annoyed tone.
“Okay. Okay,” Jack held up his hands, then arranged himself against his desk, crossed his legs and folded his arms across his chest.
“I want to talk about that piece of garbage,” Will pointed derisively at the model of the O’Malley project. “Well, I’ll agree it isn’t terrific but we need the account and I’d hate like hell to lose you…”
Will interrupted, “What do you mean, ‘lose me'?’”
“Don’t you realize that I don’t have another project for you.” He looked intently at Will. Neither showed any sign of noticing the sirens wailing on the street.
“So, I won’t have a job,” said Will firmly, “but if I did it the way O’Malley insists we do it, you won’t have a firm with a reputation worth a damn. Would you really want to put that monstrosity up on the wall with that other great work?” Will gingerly slid himself off the table and walked over closer to the photographs of the projects. “I know I wouldn’t want my name on it.” He winced as he slowly situated himself in a leather club chair facing Jack.
Jack paused, his eyebrows knit together as he saw Will’s pain. Then in a friendly tone, “ Whoah, Will come on now,” he leaned back against the desk, “I can’t believe that you’re talking like this—you’ve always been a team player. What’s gotten into you?” He paused for a moment, “You sure you don’t want to go home, have a drink, calm down and we’ll talk about this tomorrow?”
Will raised his voice, “Hell no I want to talk about this now” and pointed his finger at the model.
“Okay my young friend if that’s what you want,” Jack had an edge in his voice, “but let’s begin with a dose of reality. My job and your’s I might add, is to keep this business going which if you hadn’t noticed pays your salary and the salaries of everyone else around here—and that includes doing jobs like the O’Malley project. It’s time for you to stop the idealistic grandstanding.” Jack reached behind him, picked up a copy of O’Malley’s letter and held it out toward him. “Listen to me carefully,” Jack leaned forward and ordered, “I want you to take him out to lunch some place special like The Judson Grill or The Water Club—your choice — get a good bottle of wine and smooth it over; that’s all he really wants. And be careful, don’t make him feel like the ugly developer.”
“I think O’Malley would prefer the Paramount Gentleman’s Club for a little topless dancing.”
“Oh come on, be serious!”
“Jack, I am serious, I can’t do it the way he wants it. And he is the ugly developer."
“Oh brother. That accident must have scrambled your brains. Firms are laying people off and you want to get up on your high horse and blow the O’Malley job?” He raised his voice and pointed his finger at Will, “Have you given even a moment’s thought about the other people in this firm who also depend on the project and what losing it will do to them? Just think of John Harris—his wife just had a baby, and Joan Lamata who is a single mom.” He mentioned people whom he knew Will especially liked.
Will turned the compress over and looked at the faint streaks of blood on it. Jack walked over to the window and watched a delivery boy pedal down the street as if he would tell him how to calm both Will and O’Malley.
Will looked at the compress again and in disgust threw it in the direction of the wastebasket. He sat silently shaking his head slowly from side to side and made such a deep sigh of resignation that he appeared as if he might deflate.
Jack watching him said firmly but softly, “Will, you can do it. Remember you are very good at what you do, just try to stay calm and stick to the design—you’ll be fine.”
Will, his head down, his mouth firmly set, still slowly moving his head for side to side, sighed again, a shallower sigh, then looked up without saying anything. Jack smiled, “Stroke him a little; that’s all he wants.”
Will glared at him.
“I said stroke, not grovel, okay?”
Will took a deep breath and let it out unevenly; he managed a faint smile, then got up unsteadily and said, “I’ll call him in the morning.”
“That’s my boy—I’m sure you will.”
Two nights later while Will was in a deep sleep the phone rang. The clock's red numerals glowed 3:10. After the sixth ring he turned, grimaced, cried out in pain as he stretched out his bruised right arm, fumbled for the phone and knocked it on the floor. The receiver came off the hook and ended up under the night table. Will finally got his feet over the side of the bed, reached down with his left hand to grab the receiver and said an alarmed, groggy and annoyed, “Hello?”
The voice said, “This is a friend of the guy you’re pressing charges against. I’ve got a little advice for you—drop the charges if you don’t want to end up in the hospital or the morgue.”
Will cried out, “Who is this?” The phone went dead. He looked at the receiver, dropped it, covered his face with his hands and cried out, “Ohmygod!” then started to shake. He stood up, paced in the living room lit only by light from street lamps that crept around the edge of blackout shades. He took deep breaths, stumbled over a pile of books and steadied himself on the easy chair. He then ran into the bathroom and washed his face with cold water. He paced quickly from the living room into the bedroom alternately hugging himself and running his hands through his hair. He was panting, gulping air, hyperventilating and got dizzy. He held onto the wall, and finally taking deep slow breaths he made his way into the kitchen, sat down and put his head between in knees. Then he got down on his hands and knees and rummaged through the bottom cabinet where he found an unopened bottle of scotch, pulled himself up, took a water glass and poured himself four fingers. He took a big gulp and coughing, spit half of it out into the sink. Then he took a sip, grimacing as it burned its way down his throat, threw the rest into the sink, muttered, “I forgot how much I hated that stuff,” turned on the cold water, leaned over and drank right from the faucet.
Will sat down at the kitchen table where he put his head down and covered it with his hands, crying out, “Oh shit, what am I going to do now?” He sat up, ran his hands through his hair, thought of his friend Sol, picked up the phone then looked up at the clock: 3:27. He put the phone down and went into the bedroom to check the clock next to his bed, 3:29, and back into the living room where the VCR blinked out a constant 12.00. He returned to the kitchen, reached for the phone but pulled back, then went to the refrigerator and took a swig of orange juice out of the container. Some dribbled down his chin and onto his tee shirt. He opened a cabinet and found a box of Oreos which he tore open and stuffed into his mouth two at a time alternating with gulps of orange juice. He went into the living room and stood in front of the TV as he surfed past reruns of MASH and Cheers, and stopped momentarily at Headline News. After passing History’s Memories he clicked it off. He hurried into the kitchen, grabbed another handful of Oreos, paced from there to the bathroom where he tried to shave but after covering his face with shaving cream he was shaking so much that he put the razor down and washed off his face. Finally at 6:00 he grabbed the phone and dialed. “Hello Sol…No I’m not all right—someone just threatened to kill me!!! I need to talk to you –how about meeting me for breakfast…I’ll tell you later but remember when we were in college and that drunk football player tried to break down the door to our room and you stood there with your lacrosse stick ready to cream him? This time I think…I don’t know, maybe a knife or a gun...the police? That’s the problem…Yes, legal advice… and I just need to talk to you…” He stood in his kitchen winding the phone cord around his hand. “Good, Ninth Avenue Diner in an hour… 9th Avenue and 16th…”
Will walked out of his apartment, looked up and down the street, then constantly looking around rushed up Hudson. At 14th Street he stood shifting from foot to foot as he waited for the light to change. When a black Lincoln Navigator passed, he took cover in a doorway. He charged up 9th Avenue, pulled open the heavy stainless steel Diner door and entered near the faded pink counter with cracked, blue-leatherette stools scattered next to it. Several men in work boots, their shirts marked Marpan’s Beef and bloody white aprons were at the counter drinking coffee and watching the sports news. Will made his way to one of the worn, pale-blue Formica tables in the back. One edge was becoming unglued.
The door swung open. Will looked up expectantly, but two heavy set women in hospital scrubs, picture IDs clipped to their pockets, came in. He sighed in disappointment, then got up and went to the door to look out on the street, stayed for a moment and went back to his table but stood drumming on it with the fingers of his left hand. He sat down and ordered coffee. Finally Sol arrived—he was heavy but solidly built and was already losing his hair. He wore what he called his ‘gray lawyer suit’ and conservative stripped tie. Will managed a smile as he watched Sol coming toward him.
“Oh my God! What happened to you?” Sol rested a hand on Will’s shoulder and bent over to examine his face. The blood from the scrape had dried but his cheekbone, temple and eye were swollen black and blue.
Will grasped his hand and shook it. “Thanks for coming. Sit down and I’ll tell you.” As Will told him the story of the fight over the parking spot, he raised his voice in anger; when he told about the Club lock, he whispered in embarrassment over what he had done. Sol listened carefully, leaning forward and looking at Will over his glasses and shaking his head from side to side in disbelief.
“Then,” Will leaned forward and whispered, “I got a phone call at 3 AM. A guy threatened to kill me if I don’t drop the charges.”
Will shook his head from side to side, “I don’t know what to do.”
“You’re kidding?” Sol sat up and held out his hands, “You drop the charges that’s what you do.”
“Of course! That’s the sensible thing; I know that; it galls me that that guy can attack me and then I can’t do anything about it. I’d like to call his bluff,” he looked down and whispered, “but I’m scared stiff.”
Sol, in a loud whisper warned, “You should be scared stiff. This isn’t rocket science.” Then in a lower voice, “Are you fucking crazy? Just drop the charges!”
“Maybe I am crazy. Hell, I feel crazy!” he said, looking wild eyed, “But you don’t understand! I have this thing inside me that keeps saying: Don’t let the bastards win; take a stand; don’t be a wimp!” Will reached across the table and grabbed Sol by the shoulders, wincing as he reached out with his right arm, said in a loud voice, “I’m tired of being pushed around!” A mother at the next table having breakfast with her four-year-old daughter, who was wearing a Cinderella tee shirt, gave Will a worried look. Will noticed them and leaned back, shifted in the seat and resting his elbows on the table leaned closer to Sol and whispered, “Hell, I’ve even got this client who belittles me and everyone else and my boss says I’ve got to take it otherwise I don’t have a job. I feel like,” he was loud now, “its ‘crap all over Will week.’ Two women in scrubs turned around, as did a burly guy at the counter; the dark balding cashier stepped out from behind the register and looked at him nervously as if he were expecting trouble.
“Hey man, easy now, just calm down,” cautioned Sol.
Will sank back against the chair, then smiling and in a loud whisper said, “When I think of calling that punk’s bluff and telling the client to shove that whole project up his ass, I feel so good.” He looked straight at Sol and shook his head, “Man, it feels sooo good.”
Sol was silent for a moment then said softly, “I don’t think you’d feel so good if this guy sticks a knife between your ribs or hits you on the side of the head with a baseball bat. This is not something to mess with.”
“Will, listen to me.” Sol leaned forward, looked at him intently and took hold of Will’s arm so tightly that his knuckles turned white, “We’re not kids anymore. This isn’t the school yard at PS 144 and Ray Janson and his friends aren’t parading around beating the shit out of you because you were too small and too scared to fight back.” Then raising his voice a notch, "All you’ll get out of pressing charges is a beating that might kill you and all you’ll get out of fighting your client is out of a job.” He released his grip, “You just can’t let every punk and every pain in the ass get to you. Get on with your life for godsake!" He sat back.
Will sat there examining the coffee cup in which the dry remains had left a brown stain, then looked up at Sol, and slammed his hand down on the table shouting, “And that asshole just gets away with it!”
The waitress looked nervously toward the cashier who again stepped out from behind the register and now walked toward Will and Sol.
Will crossed his arms, looked down and sighed as if to say that it just isn’t that easy.
“Come on,” Sol ordered, getting up, “you need some air to clear the crap out of your head or at least to let the rest of these people eat their breakfast in peace.” He looked at the check, pulled out his wallet and threw down some cash.
They stepped outside the diner. The sun was already hot. Sol looked at his watch, “Shit, I have an appointment with a client, I have to get going. But listen, you have to choose your battles—don’t fight this one because you can’t win. Please.”
Will nodded, “Thanks.”
Sol gave him a hug, slapping him on the back, turned and headed uptown.
Will took off his jacket and held it over his shoulder as he walked east and then south by a little park on the corner of Hudson and 8th Avenue. There was a sand box, a jungle gym and four swings which squeaked. Two boys, one about four, the other about six were standing near the sandbox fighting over a Tonka truck. Will watched through the chain link fence.
“But its mine,” said the smaller boy.
Will muttered, “Hold your ground.”
The other boy pulled it away from him and the small boy who fell back into the sandbox lay there crying.
“Stop being a cry-baby,” the older boy taunted.
Will stood holding on to the fence, shook his head, the muscles in his jaw working furiously, his face was pale and his shoulders sagged as he peered at the little boy. Suddenly the small boy took a handful of sand, got up and threw it in the other’s face, getting it in his hair and eyes.
“Atta boy! Don’t take any shit!”
The older boy wiped his face, yelled, “I’ll get you.” He picked up the truck and threw it at his head. Will winced. The little boy grabbed his face and howled. Blood was coming out of his left eye. The boys’ mother came over and screamed, “What happened?” and picked him up, and wiped the blood away from his eye, but it kept gushed out, ‘Oh my God, call an ambulance.” The boy was screaming. Another mother took out her cell phone and dialed, then tried to calm them, “The ambulance is on the way.”
Will shuddered… “Oh my God, over a stupid truck.”
A police car arrived lights flashing, siren blaring.
When Will returned to his office, he closed the door, locked it, and began shaking. He slumped down in the chair, pushed aside the messages littering his desk. Finally he sat up and picked up the phone. His hand still shook. He put the phone down, got up and paced back and forth, found a half empty bottle of water on a book shelf and took a sip, swallowed, then a deep breath. He let it out slowly and muttered, “It’s not worth it.” He went back to the phone on his desk, sat down and dialed, “Det. Harris, this is Will Sonaris…” he leaned over, placed his elbow on the arm of his chair and rested his head on his hand, “I’m okay…Oh, you’ve found him? That’s what I called about. I’d like to…” he paused, took a deep breath, “let me...uh… call you back.”
Will put his head in his hands then sat up and slammed his fist down in the desk. A dirty coffee cup rattled in its saucer. He swept his hand over the papers and sent them flying across the room, got up, paced muttering to himself, “Don’t be an idiot; use your head.” He fell back into the chair then called back, “I’ve decided…uh…to drop the charges…” He shifted in the chair and leaned both elbows on the desk holding the phone to his right ear and cradling his head in his left hand. “Because, well, you know, it was a brutal day, and uh…the heat must have gotten to both of us…Yeah, uh...I’m sure. Just tell the guy to forget it—that’s the best thing.”
He hung up slowly, covered his face with his hands and finally took a deep breath. Then he sat up and took a tissue out of the bottom drawer, wiped his eyes and blew his nose. After a few minutes, he muttered, “One down, one to go…let’s get it over with.” He gulped some water, walked back and forth taking deep breaths, then standing next to his desk he lifted his heels off the floor making himself taller and dialed again, “Mr. O’Malley, this is Will Sonaris…I’m sure we can work this out to your satisfaction…” He covered his face with his free hand, “Of course,” he took another deep breath and swallowed leaning against the desk, “This is your project…Good. Suppose…” he hesitated “…I make a reservation for us at The Judson Grill for lunch next week to work it out.”
Will hung up, sunk back into his chair which seemed to engulf his small frame then got up quickly and unsteadily made his way into the bathroom where he threw up.