writing from
Scars Publications

Audio/Video chapbooks cc&d magazine Down in the Dirt magazine books


Bargaining Power

Gerry Doyle

��It took Jake three tries to find the living-room light switch. And even after he could see where he was going, his feet wanted him to walk any direction but a straight line.
��He dropped his keys and wallet on the kitchen counter without bothering to try for the light switch there.
��His jacket, which smelled more of stale Marlboros than it did leather, got tossed over the back of a chair at the dining room table. As his eyes adjusted to the dimness of the kitchen, he was able to stagger down the hall to his room, the fingertips of his right hand dragging along the wall.
��He plunged down on the bed and bent over to untie his shoes. The laces seemed tangled up... fuck it. Jake swung his legs up on top of the green comforter and tried his hardest to pass out.
��He succeeded for a few minutes. Then his body reminded him that his head was spinning. His eyes flew open.
��He lunged out of bed, a blitzkrieg mission to the bathroom eclipsing coherent thought. His shoelaces caught underfoot, and even in the dark, his inner ear’s abilities mangled by alcohol, he saw the wall reaching up to slam him in the face.

��It couldn’t have been that much later when he woke.
��He rolled over, tried to sit up and yelped as his head reminded him why he was lying on the floor. But the impact seemed to have knocked any urge to puke right out of him. He felt his forehead. There was a bump, but no blood.
��He staggered to his feet. Whoa—yep, he was still drunk. He closed his eyes and confirmed that, headache or no, the room inside his head was spinning.
��He needed to stay awake until his body decided to play nice.
��Jake staggered back into the living room, first grabbing a few ice cubes to hold against his throbbing noggin.
��He collapsed on the couch and turned on the TV.
��“... it’s beautiful, really, you’d think it would be far more unwieldy because of its pure size , but actually it’s very graceful. And you can see the garnets here, they’re all cut perfectly, there must be less than a millimeter of margin of error. Now, normally this would go for, you can see here, $155.50, and our price would be less expensive, yes, at $105.05. But today, because Thanksgiving is right around the corner, we want to offer it to you—and it will go fast—for $65.”
��Jake again fought the urge to sprint for the bathroom. The smiling, extra-jovial face on the TV was trying to sell him jewelry. Home shopping certainly wouldn’t keep him awake.
��He fumbled with the cable remote. He had just gotten the dish system that morning. James’ friend’s friend, the crooked cable guy, had installed it for him in near-silence. Only at the end, after Jake had handed him five $20 bills, did he explain what he had done and how to operate it.
��But now he couldn’t figure out the fucking remote.
��At least, it didn’t seem he could. The channel wasn’t changing. The volume wasn’t changing.
��The man on screen, sitting in a tailored, tie-less suit in front of a orange-on-orange patterned background, managed to widen his smile by a few centimeters.
��“And don’t change the channel, either! Coming up in a few minutes, you can see this beautiful diamondique pendant, handcrafted in Brazil! And we’ll include the chain, again, for Thanksgiving. Perfect jewelry for the holidays.”
��Jake’s mouth began to drift open as he concentrated all his alcohol-sodden willpower on keeping his eyelids above half-staff.
��Jake snapped his eyes open and wiped a thread of drool off his chin.
��The announcer was holding a trinket now, a chain of some kind. He seemed excited about it. In a bar on the left side of the screen, the price—the SPECIAL price—was underlined in red. It was a bargain at $220.
��Underneath the price, a clocked ticked down. It was at 1:22.
��Really, you won’t regret this purchase. Look at how the fittings catch the light. As you can see on Monique, here,” the salesman said, gesturing at the 20-something woman sitting on a couch next to him, “it goes dazzlingly with a bright-colored outfit, but trust me, for evening wear? It’s perfect. Time is running out, here, and you’ll be kicking yourself if you don’t act.”
��Jake tried to snicker, but his stomach muscles didn’t want to cooperate. He settled for sneering at the TV.
��The announcer seemed to be getting a bit testy.
��“Look, I realize it’s late, and maybe you already have some pretty jewelry. But this is a must-have. You can’t say no to this deal. Ignoring such a fantastic bargain would be a truly painful mistake.”
��The surface area of the man’s smile had diminished by a good two-thirds.
��“Fuck you, Jack,” Jake said, slurring “youJack” into one word. “Jake don’t wear jewelry.”
��The announcer’s smile was all the way gone now. The timer hit zero. The announcer even had stopped talking.
��Even though his neurons weren’t firing the way he wanted them to, Jake was spooked. He started fidgeting with the remote again.
��This time the channel changed, dissolving into snow and white noise.
��It was too much for his depressed system. The remote clattered to the floor as his brain gave up trying to keep him awake.

��And again, Jake woke to intense pain.
��It felt like he was being pummeled. Then, as his consciousness asserted itself a little more, he realized he WAS being pummeled. The lights were off, but two shadowy figures had his arms and legs pinned to the couch while a third whacked him with a jingling sock. Each impact rattled his teeth. The blows were concentrated on his midsection, and it was too much. Jake yakked.

��One eye screwed up its courage, overcame the gummed-up eyelashes and stretched itself open. After adjusting to the sun streaming through the windows, it took stock of its surroundings. It was on the couch. The TV was off. The coffee table had its usual assortment of magazines, plus an open cigar box. And there seemed to be splashes of vomit scattered about.
��Jake’s eye persuaded him to open its partner. Jake made several observations: He had thrown up on himself, his couch and several other living-room items. He was clothed. He felt like he had been hit by a truck.
��He took a chance and sat up. His head was pounding, and his stomach felt sore, but he survived the experience of moving to a more vertical position.
��After a shower, he threw the sofa cover into the wash and settled down to the task of trying to scrub the puke out of his rug.
��As he worked, pieces of the night before resurfaced in his memory. Meeting Dan, Sally Smith and Miles at the bar. It was three hours of free well drinks for a $20 cover. He met some girls. They danced. He didn’t remember how he got home, but after a few minutes decided it wasn’t really important.
��Then he remembered watching TV. He glanced over at the silent set, but the cigar box caught his eye. It was old—once upon a time, it had held Cuba’s finest—and now he used it to keep his cash stash in. Why was it on the coffee table?
��And, now that he picked it up and looked in it, why was it EMPTY? He’d had more than $200 in there, and now it was gone? What the fuck had he DONE when he was drunk?
��After a few minutes of speculation, he gave up and called Sally.
��She was hung over, too.
��“Fuck, Jake, you sonofabitch, it’s not even 11,” she said by way of greeting.
��“Smith. Did I spend a lot of money last night?” he asked.
��There was silence.
��“Yeah, you put your card up at the bar after the free drink time was over. That’s why I have this headache, asshole. Don’t you remember promising the bartender a $100 tip when you signed her receipt?”
��Jake didn’t. But it answered his question.
��“Okay, Sal,” he said. “Thanks.”
��She grunted, and he heard dialtone.
��Jake continued to wrack his uncooperative brain for details about the previous evening.
��Then the memory of the shadowy figures hit him like a sudden right cross.
��He glanced at the front door. It was locked, bolted and chained.
��After hobbling to the back door, he discovered it was shut tight, too. As were all the windows.
��But in his bedroom, he saw a dent on the doorframe near the floor. And remembered falling. That would explain the huge shiners on his forehead and right cheek. What’s more, excessive vomiting—and judging from the spray patterns on the couch and rug, “excessive” was being kind—would account for the sore midsection.
��But it had seemed so... vivid.
��But, he reminded himself, he had been so... drunk.

��As the weeks went by, Jake’s recollection of that Thursday night became less surreal and more forgettable. Vomiting, sure, he could remember that. Well, cleaning it up, anyway. But weird TV shows? Shadowy intruders? Jake didn’t want to admit it, but it wasn’t the first time he had hallucinated when he was drunk.
��Still, he made a point of not watching TV when he got home, sober or drunk. He couldn’t put his finger on the reason why, but it just seemed more inviting to sit down and play video games. Or read. Or talk on the phone. Sometimes even go straight to bed.
��The $200, though, that bugged him. He didn’t like keeping cash around, and now he was even more paranoid. Hell, it didn’t even take an intruder for him to lose the money—he had managed to rob himself.
��Even so, the farther that night fell into his past, the less it bothered him.
��He never mentioned it to anyone. Sober, at least.
��“Sal, listen,” he said one night, leaning across the bar table, trying to outshout the jukebox.
��Sally bobbed her head. He wasn’t sure she was listening to him or nodding along to Black Flag.
��“Smith,” he said. “Really, check this out. You remember that night where I called you really early the next morning? You called me an asshole.”
��She was paying attention.
��“Yeah, man. You wanted to know whether you had been buying drinks for me and Miles and Dan. And of COURSE you were... that’s why I keep you around, darlin’.”
��Jake smiled. Then frowned and fidgeted with his cocktail napkin, soaking up spilled Long Island iced tea.
��“Well. See. I lost some money that night.”
��He looked at her. She squinted a little, but said nothing.
��He struggled on.
��“I mean, I don’t remember spending it. But I wake up on my couch,” he said, sidestepping the whole vomit nastiness, “and there’s my cigar box on the coffee table. And it’s empty.”
��Sally leaned back and took a judicious sip of her vodka tonic.
��“Did you buy some smoke or something?”
��Jake shook his head, trying not to smile.
��“Um, no, actually. I looked,” he said. He giggled. “No, I couldn’t figure out what I spent it on.”
��“Well, Logan, I don’t know what to tell you,” she said. “That’s fucked-up. But it’s not like you needed the money, right? Maybe you ordered $200 worth of pizza. Or beer, more likely. Make sure to get a receipt next time.”
��Jake tossed a matchbook at her, missing and bouncing it off a passing cocktail waitress.
��He and Sally dissolved into laughter. The Cardigans replaced Henry Rollins on the juke.
��Miles Carver emerged from the bar-hugging crowd and set a pitcher on the table along with his glass and a basket of popcorn.
��He looked back and forth between Jake and Sally, who still were gripped by hilarity.
��“What?” he said.
��“Jake had some money stolen by little green men,” Sally said. “No big deal. He’s gonna do some kind of X-Files investigation.”
��“Hey, as long as I get Scully, I’m happy,” Jake said.
��He launched his soggy cocktail napkin at her, this time scoring a direct hit on her forehead.
��“Jake Eric Logan, you suck,” she said, drilling him with a handful of popcorn.
��And the three of them settled down to the business of getting further sloshed and discussing the weekend’s big party.

��The next night, stone-cold sober, Jake sat on the couch in front of the TV, staring at its blankness. The remote was in his hand. He was curious, in a Stephen King kind of way. Vague memories of something bizarre happening on that screen taunted the edges of his perception.
��X-Files, indeed.
��But all he saw as he turned it on was Craig Kilborn asking some starlet one of his Five Questions.
��Jake felt kind of let down. He had been waiting for some big revelation, a psychic, Amityville, reach-out-of-the-TV-and-strangle-him experience.
��But no.
��It took all of 45 seconds for Jake to fall into his old routine of channel surfing. He caught portions of Bonanza, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, and even some kind of a Japanese show about clam diving. And, of course, there was porn. Jake was happy that his illicit satellite hookup finally was providing him with the goods he expected.
��Without thinking, with no effort on his part, Jake was entertained. His brain shut down, forgetting that there was any world outside of, say, the Ponderosa.
��His consciousness was shrinking like the picture on a worn-out Trinitron.
��And then someone offered to sell him a collector’s edition “Little Victoria” china doll.
��“Each outfit is hand-sewn for each doll. And you can see here—look at this one next to it—even the facial features are a little different on each one. They’re so adorable. Even if you don’t collect dolls, think how she would look all dressed up, sitting with your Easter decorations.”
��Jake’s eyes focused. His jaw clicked shut.
��Leaning forward on the couch, he watched a woman, her permed hair matching her platinum-white blouse, try to sell him a figurine. A doll. The woman wore enough makeup to suffocate a clown.
��The woman made the doll’s arm wave at the TV screen.
��“Victoria, here, her limbs are completely movable. And, see, she can stand up!”
��The camera zoomed in on the doll’s vacant, blue-eyed face. The woman turned it so it faced the camera head-on.
��“You need this doll,” she said.
��“Um, no,” Jake said, his eyes flickering to the door. It was locked, bolted, chained. He walked over and buttressed the doorknob with a living-room chair.
��Walking back to the couch, he saw that the camera had zoomed in the woman’s shiny features.
��“This doll is a steal, at only $125. The skin is so perfect, so beautiful. This is one item you definitely would regret not buying.”
��Jake didn’t notice his hand reach up and rub the spot on his head where, weeks ago, he had sported the shiner to end all shiners. That wording seemed familiar. Also threatening.
��The woman was looking right at him. She had stopped talking.
��The timer on the price bar along the left side of the screen ticked down.
��Jake glanced around. Was he supposed to say something?
��The woman blinked. The doll was staring at him, too.
��“What the? Look. Does it LOOK like I need a doll? There’s a Fugazi poster on the wall behind me, for fuck’s sake.”
��The clock hit zero. Jake dropped the remote as TV snow blotted out the screen.
��After picking the remote up off the carpet, he found the channel wouldn’t change. He got up and turned the TV off.
��Then, glancing at the door, he rifled through the hall closet until he found a 7-iron buried under some vacuum cleaner attachments. He went back to the couch and sat down, the golf club across his knees, staring at his front door.
��It was 2:25 a.m.
��The sound of his front door lock being picked didn’t wake him. But when the chair was pushed back into the wall, the clatter snapped him into ass-kicking mode. His right hand, gripping the golf club, shot out in a warding-off gesture, and the mud-encrusted wedge shattered the end table lamp.
��The man standing half-inside his apartment froze, right under the porch light. Jake stared, the golf club dangling from his fingers.
��The guy in the doorway looked like a librarian. Late 30s, maybe, brown hair. He was wearing brown loafers and, it looked like, black jeans. His tucked-in green polo shirt looked too festive next to the crowbar in his right hand.
��His eyes were the size of manhole covers.
��That was the image Jake took in before the man and, it looked like, a couple of other people standing behind him bolted into the night.
��The golf club clattered to the floor.
��Jake peeled himself off the couch and walked to the still-open door. The chair was ruined.
��And there was no sign of middle-aged intruders outside. Except for....
��“Hello,” Jake said, picking up the wallet. It was one of those chain wallets that wasn’t supposed to ever fall out. The fake gold chain on this one had snapped. There was a Wisconsin driver’s license, a Visa card, an AmEx card, a couple of business cards and $32.
��For the first time in his life, Jake slept with a golf club.

��“Miles, what do you know about home shopping?” Jake asked. They were back at the Lyon. It was early—barely 8:30—and the music volume hadn’t soared to conversation-quashing levels yet.
��“It’s fucked-up,” Miles said. He took a sip of his Guinness.
��Miles, a psychology major, never rushed into a conversation. Jake slurped his Long Island and waited.
��“It’s like this,” Miles said. “It preys on people with low self-esteem. They don’t want to be ‘taken.’ They want to be winners. So it kills them, absolutely KILLS them, to not be able to buy something that is A) a huuuuge bargain, and B) selling fast. It’s like, they buy it because it’s too good a bargain to pass up. It’s the one time, the ONLY time, they can beat the system. It makes them better than the people who go out and buy their Elvis commemorative plates at Kmart.”
��Jake waited. Miles just wanted to sip his brew.
��“I mean, we’ve talked about it in class before. There’s some really interesting research about it. Something like 90-plus percent of the people who regularly watch those channels buy stuff from them. And don’t think the channels don’t have shrinks of their own advising them how to best persuade their viewers to pick up a faux-Swiss cuckoo clock.”
��Jake waved at the cocktail waitress for another drink.
��“So, it’s like, they’re addicted?” Jake asked. “They’re so set on getting the best deal that they can’t pass up anything? They can’t say no?”
��Miles nodded.
��“And,” Jake continued, “would they behave like addicts? Like, you know, sell a kidney so they could have a few hundred more dollars to spend?”
��Miles nodded as he drank, sloshing a little beer onto his sweater.
��“You have a drinking problem,” Jake told him.
��Miles mopped the foam off his upper lip.
��“Damn straight, I do,” he said.

��It was Friday. His only class, a noon discussion of his lame-ass Western Civ survey, had ended five minutes ago. Jake was in the library.
��Jake managed to find the journals he was looking for. He settled down on a couch with his CD player. The library wouldn’t close for another 10 hours.
��Miles had been totally right. This stuff was fascinating. According to the journals, people would seek counseling because of their shopping habits. Unlike when they were in a store and physically purchasing that nice lampshade or picture frame, there was no corporeal tie to their TV purchases.
��So not only were they constantly being bombarded with too-good-to-be-true bargains, but they had no physical reminders that they were spending money.
��One article detailed how a man collapsed into a three-month coma after he took two daytime jobs to pay for his shopping channel purchases. He had worked from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. as a paralegal. Then he went to a 7-Eleven and worked from 3:30 to 11:30 p.m. Then he went home and bought stuff on TV until 6:30, when he showered and drove back to the law firm. He started hallucinating after three days. He collapsed while changing the hotdog display on day five.
��The business side of the industry was terrific, too. The figure Miles had quoted actually was a little low. Nearly 100 percent of the people who saw a home shopping show on a regular basis bought something. Figuring, conservatively, a million people see the show a day, and they each spend $100... sheesh.
��Jake photocopied a few pages, highlighted some stuff and went home.
��He didn’t turn on the TV.
��But he would soon.

��Saturday night, Jake begged off drinking. He dodged the insults and the curious jokes, made a quick stop by Radio Shack and settled down in his apartment with a map.
��He refrained from drinking any of the beer in his fridge. He wanted to be clear-headed tonight. And mean.
��About 9:30, Jake pulled up to an East Side townhouse.
��He turned off the ignition, silencing the engine and Bob Marley, who had been wailing on the stereo. Jake checked the address on the driver’s license again.
��Yep, this was it. This white, well-painted townhouse on a well-lighted street. In a well-to-do neighborhood, no less.
��As he climbed out of the car, he scanned nearby porches for nosy neighbors.
��Nope. Everyone was watching TV, it seemed.
��He walked up the steps to the townhouse. The lawn was cut to about three inches. There were some flowers growing in beds along the front of the house. A windsock fluttered next to the blue mailbox.
��Jake pulled his baseball cap down a little lower over his face. He reached inside his jacket and clicked a switch.
��Then he rang the doorbell.
��As he expected, it was a few moments before he saw a shape moving behind the drapes on the front door. It opened a crack.
��“Yes?” came a voice from around the door’s edge.
��Christ, Jake thought. He’s acting like he lives in a gang war zone.
��“Steve?” Jake said. “Hey, man. Don’t you remember me?”
��The door opened a few more inches and half a face peered around its edge. The door wasn’t chained, Jake noticed.
��“Yes?” the man said again.
��Jake held up the wallet in front of him, Fox Mulder-style.
��“I just need to ask you a few questions,” he said. Then he let the wallet flop open, revealing the man’s driver’s license.
��The man’s eyes widened. Jake shouldered the door into him.
��The man staggered into his living room, tripped over his own stockinged feet and sat down hard. Without looking, Jake shut the door with his heel.
��Jake noticed that a home shopping channel was the featured entertainment on the man’s big-screen TV. He took a couple of steps to his right and turned it off. He didn’t want anyone to see this.
��He turned the baseball cap backward so the man could see his face. Then he tossed the wallet into the man’s lap.
��“Hi there,” Jake said. “You might remember me from such films as, ‘You Tried to Break into My House but I Had a Golf Club.’”
��Jake took a step closer to the man, who was staring down at the wallet.
��“And I’ve photocopied everything in that wallet, plus taken fingerprints. It’s amazing the stuff you can buy on a police-supply Web site,” he said. “Now, I’m going to ask you some questions, and you’re going to answer them, or you’re going to look awful funny handing out those Information Technology Specialist business cards in the federal pen.”
��The man looked up at Jake. Yep, it was the same librarian-looking dude.
��“What?” he asked. He said it like he was calling after a lost puppy.
��“Pull up a chair, Steve McFells. That loveseat will do nicely,” Jake said, motioning to the nearest piece of furniture.
��McFells, keeping his eyes on Jake the whole time, stood, shoved his wallet in his back pocket, and collapsed into the loveseat.
��Jake grabbed a wooden chair and set it in front of McFells.
��“Can you talk?” he asked.
��“Of course,” McFells croaked.
��“Okay, then. Let’s start with... hmmm... okay, how about this: Why the FUCK were you breaking into my apartment?”
��McFells swallowed. His Adam’s apple never seemed to reemerge from the junction of his collarbones.
��“Who says I... I mean, I didn’t break in anyplace,” he said.
��Jake shook his head.
��“No, see, you DID. That’s why your picture is on my security camera. That’s why your wallet and your fingerprints were at my apartment, which was broken into.”
��McFells coughed.
��“Okay, fine. I was there. I was there and I was supposed to be there. But I just knocked on the door and it opened. I didn’t know....”
��Jake cut him off with another shake of his head.
��“No. My door was locked twice and chained. You had a crowbar in your hand. Didn’t you?”
��McFells nodded.
��“Didn’t you?” Jake repeated. “Say it!”
��“Yes! Yes, I had a crowbar,” McFells looked at the floor again. Jake noticed that his cow-brown eyes never made direct contact.
��“You showed up at my apartment with two other people,” Jake said. “You had a crowbar. You picked the locks, and had pried the door open when the chair fell over. That’s when I saw you. And you saw me. And then you ran. Is that correct?”
��McFells crossed his feet at the ankles. Rubbed the toes of his left foot with his right.
��“Yes. That’s what happened. But I just had the crowbar for the door. Not to use to... you know... not to use on anyone.”
��Jake almost smiled.
��“Fine, whatever. We’ll get back to that. Now, why were you there?”
��McFells mumbled something.
��Jake leaned in. “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?”
��“Fifty Percent Club,” McFells said, turning the mumble’s volume up a few notches.
��“Mmm-hmmm. And what is that?”
��McFells showed a little animation. He sat up straighter and gestured with his nose at the TV over Jake’s left shoulder.
��“You know, on the Show. It helps with the Show.”
��Jake sneaked a glance at the TV. It still was off.
��“How often do you watch the show, Steve?”
��McFells smiled.
��“Oh, all the time. It’s the best thing. The best thing. You can find things on there, useful things, pretty things, and they always sell them to you cheaper, because they know you deserve it. Good bargains. And the people on the Show are so nice. So friendly.”
��McFells reached for the remote.
��Jake snatched it off the loveseat and tossed it across the room.
��McFells looked hurt.
��Jake turned back to him.
��“So you like the show.”
��McFells nodded.
��“I don’t,” Jake said.
��McFells nodded.
��“Is that why you were at my apartment?”
��McFells nodded.
��“Say it,” Jake said.
��“I don’t understand how you can watch the Show and not realize the deals they have and they’re offering them to you, trying to help, really, and you’d be foolish not to take advantage. But I’m even better than that because I get a discount. Fifty percent. They give me even better deals. And I help them with customers. People who don’t understand. They can see you, you know. Through a satellite, they see you, and they want to give you these bargains, and you rejected them. Me and the others came over to make sure you understood. Once you buy a few things, you’re there. You understand.”
��McFells finally took a breath. He dived back in.
��“We were going to come in, break in, maybe hit you like the other time, and then you could buy something. And it would be great. Like those sapphiresque cufflinks they had that night. I got those. You should have gotten them.”
��“The ‘other’ time?” Jake asked.
��“Mmm-hmm, mmm-hmm,” McFells said. “We hit you, and you bought that necklace, and you threw up on Alice.”
��“That I did,” Jake said. “Now, I need some addresses and phone numbers.”

��As Jake was leaving, two addresses, three numbers and a packing receipt stuffed in his pockets, he turned and looked at McFells, who was sitting on the loveseat examining his socks.
��“Hey, Steve,” Jake said.
��McFells looked up.
��“That stuff I bought? They never sent it to me. Not so great service, huh?”
��McFells was still sitting there, looking like a sniper had killed Santa Claus, when Jake closed the door.

��Jake made two other housecalls that night, having hours-long chats with the other two people who had come to his apartment. Alice had traumatic recollections of being puked on. Both she and the other man were forthcoming with all the details Jake wanted.
��And they all bought the idea that a poor college student could somehow afford a security camera in his living room.
��About 3 in the morning, Jake used his cell phone to call Miles. He wasn’t ready to finish this tonight, and he didn’t want to sleep in his own apartment, 7-iron or no.
��Miles sounded less than sober when he picked up.
��“Jake. Whafuck, man?”
��“Carver, man, I needa crash at your place.”
��Jake heard the sound of a man’s respiratory system struggling to overcome a case of beer and a pack of cigarettes.
��“You got the couch. And don’t come upstairs. I got a chickie up here.”
��A half-hour later, Jake had let himself into the apartment. It was totally silent. Either Miles’ night hadn’t gone the way he had planned or, as the Dead Kennedys would suggest, his stamina had been weakened by a pint too many.
��He kicked off his shoes and lay down on the couch, his jacket stuffed under his head as a pillow.
��Jake dreamed of a neverending field of snow.

��On Monday, Jake skipped all his classes.
��He was surprised that no one looked at him sideways as he made his arrangements. He had been under the impression that this was all, like, French Connection-style cloak-and-dagger shit. But even at the post office, they didn’t ask a lot of questions.
��When he got back to his apartment, it was starting to get dark. Perfect. He heated up some week-old Chinese food—the microwave would kill anything nasty that had materialized in it—and chowed down as he watched the Chiefs demolish the Raiders on Monday Night Football.
��Nine-thirty. Almost time.
��Jake arranged the accouterments of his plan around him. The minicassette recorder. Three cassettes. Several pages of notes. His cordless phone. And a script.
��Jake set his VCR to “record.”
��He picked up the remote.
��He pushed the red “channel up” button.
��There was a flicker of static.
��And it began.
��“The beauty of this phone is that it’s so powerful, 2.4 gigahertz, that you can take it anywhere in your house, into the yard, wherever you need to go. And you can still talk. It’s amazing.”
��A tall, redheaded woman was standing on screen, talking into a cordless phone. Its dark blue case matched her skirt-and-jacket combination.
��“If you need to go out to the barn? No problem. If you need to go out to get the mail at the end of the driveway? No problem. And this shock-resistant case means I can do this,” she said, rapping the phone with her knuckles, “and not hurt it.”
��Jake tried to look rapt. He nodded slowly, caressing his phone with his fingertips.
��“And look at this,” the woman said, dropping the phone into a clear plastic bucket of water. She fished it out, and continued talking. “It’s completely waterproof. As you can see by the counter, our supplies are just getting gobbled up. And why not? At less than $200, it’s really a no-brainer. You can’t get a deal like this at the big box stores. You can’t get it anywhere. Except here.”
��Jake picked up his phone. He was sure he could hear the woman start talking a little faster.
��“And if you call in the next minute and a half, you can get this lovely, durable belt clip. You can see here, it just hooks on, and then, bam! No more need to carry it around in your pocket, right? It’s so light, you won’t even know it’s there. It’s like having a cell phone in your own house. Now isn’t that useful?”
��Jake picked up the phone.
��He wasn’t sure, but he thought he saw her quiver a bit in mid-pitch.
��He dialed the number on the screen. After a polite two rings, he heard, “Welcome to the nation’s best shopping service. Can I assist you?”
��Jake took a deep breath and looked at his notes and script.
��“Oh, I’m a first-time buyer,” Jake said, and then coughed. He hoped he sounded nervous. “I was wondering if I could talk to Susanna? On the show? I think that phone is just amazing, and I think it would be perfect for my wife.”
��There was a pause. Then, “Yes, I can put you on next. I just need your name and hometown.”
��Jake smiled.
��A few seconds later, the TV muted as he had been instructed, he read subtitles.
��Jake realized he had actually heard those words a few seconds before he read them.
��He coughed again.
��“Uh, hi, Susanna. Wow, that phone sounds fantastic.”
��“Yes, it’s amazing. Have you been watching? Did you see the water? That’s what sold me,” Susanna said.
��“I know,” Jake said. “It’s phenomenal. In fact, we have a huge backyard, and my wife always is working in the garden by the back fence, and you know she hates to miss calls, so this would be perfect, especially with the belt clip.”
��Jake hoped he wasn’t overdoing it.
��“So just one? It sounds to me like you could use more than one,” Susanna said. Her smile looked big enough to engulf the phone in one bite.
��Jake smiled back.
��“Actually, I would like something else,” he said. “I know about the 50 Percent Club. I know who supervises it. I know how long it’s gone on. I have names and addresses of people who it has targeted. Dates. Places. I have it all on these cassettes,” he said, waving them in front of the TV. “And before you send out some more feeble-minded shopping junkies to rough me up, I have six copies of these tapes and all my notes in six different safe deposit boxes. Did you realize that some cut-rate law offices will do things like set up a will in less than an hour? If I disappear, the boxes’ contents go to all kinds of people, including my friends, my parents, the FBI, the Florida state police, the attorney general’s office. It’ll be great.”
��Jake continued.
��“So what I’d like from you is not your crappy-ass phone, but the money you stole, plus $10,000 cash, to my address, which I know you have. And then I want to never see you on my TV again. Know that if I ever hear from you or any of your people or, for that matter, disappear or anything, your business is done. Finished. Keep the zombies you have, I don’t give a fuck. But stay away from me. Understand?”
��Susanna still looked like she could swallow the phone. But now it was because she had the slack-jawed, amazed look of someone who just had been kneed in the groin by a Green Beret.
��The screen flashed away from her to a closeup of a diamond tennis bracelet, the next item for sale.
��And on the phone, Jake heard: “There’s no way. You have....”
��Jake cut off the speaker by holding up the tape recorder to the receiver. He pushed the “play” button.
��A woman’s voice came on in midsentence: “... the offices are in Sarasota. In Florida. Sean Hutchence, he’s the one who runs the club, he calls us from there. He orders us to go beat people or whatever, help with their purchases. I have his direct number....”
��Jake hit the “stop” button.
��He put the phone back to his ear.
��“Here’s the way it works,” he said. “This is an offer that’s too good to pass up. Act now. Understand, motherfucker?”
��There was silence. Then, he realized Susanna was back on TV.
��The voice on the phone spoke.
��“Fine,” it said. “Don’t call again.”
��And the line went dead.
��Jake stood up and turned off the TV. He yanked the satellite feed out of the TV, then carried the converter box out to the backyard next to the dish. He beat them both into compost with an aluminum baseball bat.

��The money came two days later. It was in a brown paper-wrapped package, like a box of checks. Jake was worried about a bomb, so he soaked it in his tub for a few hours. Then opened it.
��Inside were soggy $100 bills. One-hundred and two of them.
��After depositing the money in his bank, he called Sally. This required celebration on a scale he and his destitute friends hadn’t experienced since coming to school.
��“Sal! What are you doing tonight?”
��“Uh... I was going to stay in. Watch some TV. You know,” she said. Her voice sounded less enthusiastic than usual. Maybe she was drunk. It was after noon, so that wasn’t outside the realm of possibility.
��“Actually, you’re going out with me,” Jake said. “First I’m going to buy us steaks and a stupidly expensive bottle of wine. Then I’m going to take us to get loaded on my tab. I know you’re in. I’ll pick you up at 7.”
��“Well, okay, Jake,” she said. “I guess if we’re not out too late... I have things I have to do tonight. When you come over, I have to show you this breadmaker I bought from this incredible store. But it’s not really a store, like that you can walk into. It’s amazing.
��“You won’t believe the deal I got.”

Scars Publications

Copyright of written pieces remain with the author, who has allowed it to be shown through Scars Publications and Design.Web site © Scars Publications and Design. All rights reserved. No material may be reprinted without express permission from the author.

Problems with this page? Then deal with it...