: Beating the pavement in the early morning mugginess in the Central Business District, Bruce Halloran is already sopping wet inside the block and a half he’s walked from the World War II Museum parking lot. Another four blocks away, he attempts to keep himself in the thinning lines of shadows close to the buildings. Crossing Tchoupitoulas he’s nearly hit by a bicyclist blazing through the red light, cursing him as she passes. The faint smell of rancid patchouli and soup hovers in her wake like a skidmark in the air. He pushes on, finally arriving at the address on Fulton and N. Diamond. The only good thing about the morning so far was the smell of roasting meats coming from Cochon a few blocks away. Wiping himself down with his saturated handkerchief, he enters the door tastefully etched “DiNotto, Tschantz, & Asino: Testamentary Law and Legal Services.”
It was like stepping into a deep freeze. Within seconds his sweat-soaked button-down and khaki shorts become a frozen tundra. Turning to look behind him, he wonders exactly why it isn’t raining inside the doorway. The interior is a small vestibule painted a Wedgewood blue and white everything else, including the carved woodwork along the baseboards. On either side hang two white filigree framed marbled mirrors, very 70s chic. Directly across from him is an elevator door covered in white latticework. The doors open to reveal a mahogany paneled lift with Persian carpeting. Bruce steps inside, and pushes the old fashioned button that says simply “Up.”
The doors close, and for a few moments the temperature rises, warming him up. At first he doesn’t think he’s even moving until a subtle jump in the car alerts him to his arrival. The doors open and Bruce steps into a repurposed Creole cottage interior. It’s decorated in much the same way as downstairs, except for the very authentic looking hardwood floors. The elevator closes behind him and Halloran steps into the office, and looks around. There are several very young, very thin interns beavering away in the various rooms. Few of them are boys, and the few they have are nothing to write home about. To his left, he hears a tinkly little voice ask,
He turns to see a blonde pencil in a blouse and matching skirt rising from behind an enormous antique desk. In his head he utters the phrase “Ichabod Crane’s little sister.” She comes at him like that stick family on the back of the van you barely miss hitting in rush hour traffic, and tinkles cheerfully,
“Hi Mr. Halloran. My name is Alsace. I’ll let Mr. Tschantz know you’re here. While you’re waiting, can I get you anything? Vodka stinger? Margarita? Jim Beam and Coke?”
Bruce looks up at her with shock. “It’s 9:15 in the morning.”
Alsace blinks. “Margarita then?”
“Please!” he exclaims, pulling his wet shirt away from his chest. “I need energy.”
Alsace dangles off like a marionette in search of his cocktail when the unmistakable smell of seersucker and Grey Flannel pierces his nose. He turns to find said seersucker adorning the slight frame of a young man somewhere just north of his middle twenties. His straight brown hair is neatly combed to the side at an angle that accentuates the cherub-like features of his artless face. And of course, a bow tie. A navy blue bow tie embroidered with crimson crawfish.
Very daring. And exactly what Bruce Halloran had no intention of seeing. The recruitment poster for the Young Log Cabin Republicans. The boy sticks out his hand and chirps,
“Mr. Halloran, it’s a pleasure to meet you sir.”
Bruce looks down at the hand, and shakes it begrudgingly, mumbling,
“Obviously you haven’t met me.”
The barb goes unnoticed, and the boy turns and walks into his office down the hall. Bruce follows, simply because there is nothing else to do. Once inside, he’s surprised to find an ultra modern office setup that was obviously geared to the building. It looks a bit like the Habsburgs' Ikea. Taking their seats, Mr. Tschantz opens a drawer and pulls out a weighty folder, placing it on his desk. Alsace totters in and delivers the neon green margarita, rimmed with...wait for it...yes. Bacon salt. Bruce takes a long sip as he and the young man take their seats. Alsace closes the door behind her.
“Now, Mr. Halloran you obviously know why you’re here. I have here a list of the five people that your late benefactor Mr. Pitts left for you to handle, as well as Mr. Pitts’ copious notes on each...incident.” The boy’s smile doesn’t waver as he speaks but he can’t hide the catch in his throat at talking about it. A single strand of his perfect hair swoons at the thought and falls gracelessly across his unlined brow, the sole dissenter. Sara Joy must have done some really awful things. Mr. Tschantz pushes the folder across the desk to Bruce, his eyes looking just a little too intense. Bruce takes up the folder more out of defense than security and opens it up. Inside are five smaller folders, each one containing a person Gary Pitts ruined during his wasted, hateful life. The top folder is for a guy named Philip Tupperman. He flips it open to reveal an old Polaroid picture of Tupperman, along with some stuff in a plastic bag and several sheets of Pitt’s recounting of what had happened. Closing it, he turns the entire thing on its side and reads the names: Philip Tupperman, Lois Uzermaan, Gerald Kramer, Nicky Oesterheimer, and--
Bruce’s eyes widen to the point of dehydration. There before him is the one name he didn’t want to see. The one person left on the planet who crawls under his skin more than Gary Pitts ever did.
That bellowing termagant that has been the bane of his existence since he went to work for Cox. The sulphurous harpy that infests his office and his eyesight every single, stinking day. The customer service equivalent of Typhoid Mary. Avalena Beasley! Beelzebub in a Lane Bryant suit.
Damn you Gary Pitts! This is too far! He begins to reach into the folder to see what he did when Mr. Tschantz says with remarkable authority,
“Mr. Halloran, please! Set the folder down, there are some things we need to discuss.”
Bruce overgently places the folder back where he found it, patronizingly uttering "OK Princess. Don't break a sweat." The young man continues, reading from another set of pages at his hand.
“It is Mr. Pitts’ wish that you make amends with the five individuals as they are ordered in the folder--”
“Are you kidding me?” Bruce blurts out, his temperature rising again.
“Mr. Halloran, please let me finish!” The young man remains decidedly seated. Bruce calms down and listens. Mr. Tschantz continues.
“As I was saying, Mr. Pitts wishes for you to make things right in the order he made them wrong. He was very specific on this point. Your first mission is Mr. Tupperman. You can take that file today. The rest go back into the safe until reparations are made.”
Bruce stares bullets at the kid before snarling,
The young man’s face never loses its mask of grace and civility. Bruce has to hand it to the kid. By now he’s got most of these hipsters spitting nails in his wake. All he does is blink a little. Like he’s doing now. It speaks.
“That can mean anything from correcting a misconception to remuneration.”
Halloran snorts and says, “I suppose that money’s coming out of me. That miserly bitch.”
Mr. Tschantz looks back to his papers, and smiles as he points to a line and says,
“Oh yes. He said you’d say that. It’s right here, ‘you miserly bitch.’”
Unseen, Bruce narrows his eyes at this fetus from Rubenstein’s. But he resists the urge to kill. Squaring his shoulders like Susan Hayward in ‘I Want to Live.’ he asks,
“What else did Eva Braun scrawl before the Allies got there? And if you tell me that gag is in your notes I’ll kill myself all over your pretty blue walls!”
And again Mr. Tschantz blinks. Four times this round. “No,” he says kindly, checking his notes. “...there’s is a reference here to Tallulah Bankhead, but I…”
His voice trails off as he looks up to see Bruce’s grimace.
“Anyway,” continues Mr. Tschantz, his babyface rictus unshaken, “the money doesn’t in fact come from you. Mr. Pitts has a reserve fund specifically for the expenses of your tasks.”
“There’s more money?!?” Halloran exclaims. “How much is this fund?”
“I am specifically forbidden from revealing the exact sum to you, Mr. Halloran, as per the provisions in the footnotes on page six of the will which reads ‘if he knows how much there really is, it will kill him.’ If there is any balance remaining in the fund at the completion of your tasks, it will be awarded to you.”
Bruce stops to take it all in, then slowly slides Philip Tupperman’s file toward him. Mr. Tchantz takes up the rest of the files and places them back in the drawer. The smile abides. Flipping it open, he looks at the photograph of Philip Tupperman. He wasn’t a bad looking guy. Not Bruce’s style, but he could see the appeal. Brown mane of 80s hair, cute little moustache, average build. And he’s standing in front of the Smokey Mary on Elysian Fields.
Beneath the picture is the plastic bag. Inside he sees Tupperman’s driver’s license from 1988, what looks like an inside-out used matchbook, and a folded mimeographed flyer. And beneath that were the notes, all in Sara Joy’s hand. He flips aimlessly through the pages, and asks,
“So, how exactly am I to go about this?”
“That is an excellent question,” replies Mr. Tschantz, returned to his unnervingly perfect posed composition. Even the one errant hair has returned to place of it’s own accord. “Your task is to go through the files and learn all you can about the circumstances of each victim’s situation. When you have all the information you will make contact with them and find out what they need or want in order to feel they’ve been repaid. Once they agree to terms you must have them sign the paperwork which indemnifies Mr. Pitts and his estate from any and all further claims. Upon final delivery of whatever they have accepted as payment, your task is complete and you may move on to the next victim’s case.”
Bruce stares at Mr. Tschantz with his practiced “bar-eyes,” guaranteed to rattle anyone’s cage. But this Tschantz kid. He’s good. Not even a twitch. Just the blinking. Finally Halloran sniffs a bit and asks bluntly,
“OK. What’s the catch?”
Blink. Two. Three.
“The catch. The stumbling block. The twist.” Bruce exhales. “What’s the twist?”
Blink. Two. Three. Four...five…
“...the victims cannot know that you are brokering the legal release of the late Mr. Pitts and his estate from any and all responsibility for whatever his past actions may have caused. You may represent yourself as a longtime friend of Mr. Pitts, but in no way may you identify yourself with this office or indicate your goal until the time of signing. All requests for services, cash, other forms of barter are to come through me…”
Bruce’s eyes narrow in on his with laser-like precision.
Mr. Tschantz slowly pushes his chair away from his desk, turning it towards the door. Still smiling, he says,
“In fact Mr. Halloran, it is my exclusive job to work with you on bringing this account to a close--”
“That’s the one!” bellows Halloran, his voice reverberating against the walls. “Anything else? There must be something else?”
Mr. Tschantz rises and backs up slowly toward the window where a large and heavy marble buffalo resides. He keeps himself within ready access as he replies atonally,
“It is my job to assist you and keep up with your records. But I cannot physically assist you in any way. My involvement is strictly limited to advice, requisitions, and accountancy."
“So, what you’re sayin’ is you can get me the car, but you can’t pick me up at the airport.”
Bruce sighs. Once again he’s being told what to do by some kid that can’t even carry boxes. Perfect. Still, what’s the alternative? Shrugging it off his big, rounded shoulders he asks flatly,
“So, what do I do, just report back here once a week?”
At last, the smile strains. It doesn’t fail entirely but it loses some of its structural integrity. Here, the chirp of young Mr. Tschantz become less of a budgie and more of a hawk.
“No Mr. Halloran. You won’t. This will be your last visit to the offices. The partners wish to make it clear that it is in their immediate interest to close Mr. Pitts’ account and distance themselves from any knowledge of it. From now on I will be coming to you. If you need me, you will always be able to reach me at the number you called earlier. Once you leave today, you are never to return. Refusal or violation of any of these conditions will constitute a breach of contract and will instantly trigger the repossession of all of Mr. Halloran’s assets. Is that clear?”
Bruce leans in, picks up his margarita and drains it down. Setting it back on the desk, he turns to Tschantz and says,
“That’s fine, the drywall man’s coming at noon. Can I get another margarita before I go?”
The disturbingly pleasant smile returns in full force, puffed into place by six blinks before he says,
“Of course Mr. Halloran.” Reaching over to a slick black box he touches a lit square and calls out “Alsace, another margarita for Mr. Halloran. And take out some petty cash for his parking. Thank you Alsace.”
Returning to his chair, Mr. Tschantz settles back in and stares at Bruce Halloran. The morning sun pouring in through the cantilevered windows settles on the left side of him, catching the lightness of his suit and skin in blinding detail. Suddenly the fresh-faced Mr. Tschantz seems more aged and imposing than Bruce had originally seen. Innocent freckles now appear as wizened liver spots, Feeling the heat, he moves his chair away from the windows, returning to his creepy little perfect self. Leaning in to Bruce, Tschantz says cheerfully,
“Now would be a good time to start learning about Mr. Tupperman.”
Outside the closed office door, the “thinterns” continue about their daily tasks. In the kitchenette Alsace finishes rimming another glass with bacon salt and limes, a couple of hundreds laying nearby. It won’t be the last time she does this today...This Is My New Orleans.