REP MGMT

Everyone at the office has seen her photos. I assume that’s what the call is about. I’m the junk drawer. I’m nobody. I will always be nobody in a crowd. If you need something done and can’t make a succinct job description, someone gives you my info, and I show up. I am a fixer. I am a reputation manager. I am a guardian angel. I am your picture of Dorian Gray. I know where to find the heart under your floorboards. I weigh your soul against the feather. 

She’s on the fourth floor of a historic building. My dad used to eat in the bar next door every day. I think Chuck Norris got beat up in that bar for a movie. These outsiders don’t know this city, just the surfaces. I used to see a therapist next door. I have had ample years to learn this city in wondrous ways. I take her rickety elevator. It’s tacky. There are mirrors, and striped off-white colors make me think it was last updated in the 1980s. This adds some charm. I can turn my body and touch two walls.

Her office is behind serious security. This is where the money goes. Bulletproof glass, strong doors, an intercom. Heads do roll in family law. She’s famous for a lot of reasons. Her work is still brought up in ethics classrooms to this day. She bought a series of billboards saying “Life is Short. Get Divorced.” 

She posed in erotic photos next to the phrase. On the billboard, it was lingerie. Magazines were a bit more risque. My mother speaks to the gift of women’s legal right to divorce often. This is how I will try and set myself aside from the pack. Pathos plea. She was featured in gentlemen’s magazines and even wrote some articles. She had a recurring column in one.

I buzz the intercom, and a beautiful man answers the door. Everyone in these places is gorgeous. There has never been an office where they aren’t. He’s fit and tall. His hard cock could rest against my chin, standing. He directs me to a waiting room. I’m told she’ll be out soon. 

The owner comes to find me. She offers a hug. I’m shocked, but attorneys are always over-friendly. She’s a little taller than me. Her tits are like rocks on me. It hurts to be hugged by her. I feel honored. I want to be her. She’s blonde. Hot people do her work. She’s been known worldwide for her beauty, wit, and advertising sense. She’s the perfect American woman. “Your boss said you can help me out with my specific needs.”

“Yeah. Tell me more about your case.”

“I used to write some articles for a website. I would talk about the business of sex, business, and just sex. It was a sophisticated column for people who knew how to have fun and put their money toward something stunning. I got sued when I republished the pieces on my blog. I’m proud of my writing. I worry people won’t hire me because I lost to the magazine. I’m not aggressive enough in the courtroom if you Google search me. I don’t want the naked photos to move further down the search.” I stop sweating. 

This is what I thought the job would be. There was no way I was pushing that down. She’s naked in a Law Library with a judge’s robe sliding off her body. Her tits hang down almost past her stomach. Her stare is discerning, and a massive book is in her hands. My boss showed it to me. His lackey did. My best friend too. Everyone went mad for her photos. I love the sense of power in it. She knows in the photo people will know who she is. She lets you know she knows in public. This is her game, and she is the apex predator. Her writing is good too. She understands her assets. 

“I don’t think anyone is going to bring up that case when they Google you. I didn’t see it when I searched. You can hide a dead body on page two of Google. Did anyone bring it up to you?”

“I handled a divorce for another attorney, and he did.” 

“I think he was just hassling you to get cheaper services. Attorneys will not be your only clients, and you can’t base the access to information attorneys have as a realistic standard for the average client. All the results are about your advertising. The moves you pulled worked. No one knows about a breach of contract suit. It’s not even the type of law you practice.” 

“Okay, but why are you talking yourself out of a job? I got a guy who does web shit. What do you do differently? Y’know, I know Mancow. He’ll have me on any day of the week. Can you get me bigger than Mancow?” She’s already got a guy. This is how she calls us by name. She cuts through the bullshit. I bet her guy is great. I bet Mancow is a puppy in front of her. The way she brings them up warms the room. I am not going to get this job. Not because she has a guy, but because she heard what I said. She did nothing wrong. The only people who retain my services have a secret. You only have a secret once you feel the need to share it. She knows there’s strength in nakedness. It disarms. 

Time passes.

“Your dad told me how to get a hold of you. He says you understand people fuck up. He’s a great guy. You should see him more.” Attorneys are always six inches away from the biggest pile of shit you can step in. This is how they make their keep. 

This pile of shit stands about 6’3,” and he’s wiry. He scares me. He’s got this manic energy that only a certain kind of tall guy can have. I am fat. My hairline is receding. I’m nobody. At my best, I look like George Costanza with a beard. I am never at my best. 

“Tell me what’s up.”

“Okay, so I was in the news.”

“Okay, in the news for what? C’mon, it’s fine.”

“I pinned a woman up against the wall in the courtroom. I did this in front of God and Country, man. She was the opposing counsel’s client. Someone thought it was a big event, and all of a sudden, I’m reported on in different cities.”

“I can see how that would happen. That’s quite a stunt.” I look away from his eyes toward the combination McDonald’s and Noodles & Company. The McDonald’s is a black cube. It looks like a skyscraper that stopped getting developed on floor two. I’ll be treating myself to McDonald’s for putting up with this guy. I met him at the skyscraper across the street. The middle-tier office buildings have a museum with stolen artifacts on the first floor. 

He gets to the point, “Okay. Yeah. So what I need you to do is get the articles that put this in a bad light off the first page of Google.” 

“I don’t think there’s going to be any article framing it in a good light on page one.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. People like me because I’m a bulldog. I get shit done. The legal process needs to move the fuck forward.”

“I believe people want a bulldog. I can’t take this case, guy. I have women clients who would not like to know I am scrubbing this away for you. I do this to be my own boss, and I can’t sleep at night thinking about the positive framing of pinning a woman to a wall in court.”

“Your dad said you’d help me.”

“My dad says a lot. I am not him. He can’t do what I do. You can’t afford what I do.” He sends me the articles with a positive frame of the assault. My hair pulls further back on my scalp. The two McDoubles and McChicken make themselves known in my GI tract. I will look like the crypt keeper by twenty-five.

Time passes.

I’m going to meet a man that I’ve seen thousands of times. His commercials were parroted around in my grade school. Everyone mocked his voice. He’s a local myth. Everywhere you drive, his name is on the offices. He’s paranoid. He’s filthy rich. He spends half the year on private beaches. I’m lucky he’s made time in his schedule for me at all. He has two separate checkpoints to get into his office. I think it’s funny. The waiting room plays his advertisements in three different languages. He does the Spanish narration on his own. He must think people are out to get him. The inside of his office is a factory farm of attorneys. They sit at long desks. The day of the cubicle is over. He can micromanage from the island with his iPad, always using facetime attached to a remote segway machine. 

The iPad has an extended battery duct-taped to the vertical bar. Some things just can’t be improved upon. He’s an early adopter of modern technologies. The open concept panopticon will help us achieve maximum profits. He’s a genius. To explain why is to reveal trade secrets. 

His office is filled with animal totems. His nickname is self-appointed, and it translates to a powerful animal. He is one of the most hated men in this city. When the people thinking of him aren’t thinking of a joke, they see red. He owns one of the most expensive pieces of property in this city. He forced his price with a legal battery. You can’t out-litigate endless wealth. Right to the first refusal is what this nation was founded on. 

The Attorney says, “Your boss says you can help me. What do you do?” He’s short. He might be shorter than me. He’s thin but just fat enough with age that he’ll never look actually thin. His Versace shirt is tucked. He has Italian leather loafers on. He looks only fifteen years older than me because he works out and I don’t. 

“I develop a strategy to fix your reputation in search results. Even when jurors say they aren’t googling names when they go home, they do. You have invited me here because you don’t like what you see. That’s a given. You need to tell me or show me what you don’t like. I then start writing content pieces to get Google tracking new results. Your results will be fully crawled and updated in ninety to one hundred and eighty days. I get you taking photos doing things for the community. We have you start a site to explore a personal interest or professional expertise. I want your name to come up with a robust look at your human element. Tell me what’s wrong in your words.”

“Every article about a case I’m involved in -personal or professional- talks about me like I’m a fool. They hate me. I didn’t do anything to the people who wrote those articles.”

“I’ve read what’s been said. You’re the richest person people can imagine with a face in this city, and you’re always in the news. People also think they can see you on the street, which is true. You lose every case and even kick your own attorneys off to finish the case in flames. Juries probably feel like Robin Hood coming for you.” 

“I thought you were trying to get a job.”

“I thought you wanted people who stopped lying to you. Jack can’t say what I do without you firing him.”

“Who says you can say what you do and expect to be hired?”

“I’m not the one in need.”

“Okay big guy. I give to charity. Why doesn’t that get acknowledged? My wife and I are always running matching donations.” 

“People want your time. You can throw money at everything but this. You need to look like you give a shit even if you don’t.”

“I do give a shit.”

“You will never piss away enough money to appease your detractors. Let’s roll this back for a second. Do you know who Sasha Grey is?”

“Every man in America knows who Sasha Grey is. Why are you trying to get a job talking about porn?”

“Ah, ah, ah. You better watch yourself. People can hear you. Did you know she was in a Soderbergh film? She worked with the band Death in Vegas. She’s at the front of industrial, noise, and experimental folk scenes. You won’t know this, but my friends who value art do. She was the original reputation management God. When she left porn, she fixed her search results. If you google her now, you’ll only see safe results that don’t reference a career in porn. That is if you don’t watch porn at work.”

“Don’t lead so much, kid. Don’t fucking accuse me of that. I’m out here fighting for my wife in the courts, and you think my hand is on my cock while I’m trying to make money? Okay, so maybe she knows a thing or two about fixing her image. How does this relate to me?”

“No one will ever be looking for you as much as people are still looking to see her get fucked. If she can do it, we can do it. You need to trust me. You need to get out in the community and do something actually good.”

“So, what? Do I go to a soup kitchen?”

“Yeah. That’s a start.”

“Tell me how you’re helping me again?”

“Would you have thought of a soup kitchen on your own?”

“Fuck you.”

Time passes.

She’s the first client to give me a chill. She’s too stupid to be this successful, but most people are. My boss starts by telling me she only wants to meet him at night. She only wants to meet him at dark restaurants. She only wants to meet him, and when she sees him, she won’t talk about the case. He’s afraid of being around her. He loves his wife. He doesn’t want to cheat. He misses easy pussy, but he still has values. He doesn’t want her, and I go in to pick up my sloppy seconds. 

She’s in big trouble. The feds are involved. She’s in the national news. I know her name because everyone knows her name. Her case is sensational. She’s pretty enough to be a hot criminal, even though she’s gone unacknowledged for the last twenty years by her husband and the world. She’s a judge. She’s been taken out of the division she’s worked in for most of her career, and now she’s doing court marriages. I knew cops enjoyed punishment because they get paid easy duty, but I now realize judges get the same treatment. I am going to City Hall, where some judges work. City Hall is next to the county courthouse, but there are two separate circuit courts and a federal courthouse spread out across the Loop. She is in a basement near the pedway. In a few months, she’ll be twenty stories up talking to a judge in a building where cell phones aren’t allowed on Dearborn. 

When I find her office, I see her making a marriage legal. I start to tear up. The couple is crying. They are thrilled. They will never forget her. She gets to do the most beautiful work a judge can do as punishment. I wait my turn, and she invites me in. I never get used to people being able to identify me. She chimes, “You must be James’ friend.”

“I work for him, but I’m glad he uses the word friend.”

“Can you come in and close the door? I’m sorry I made you wait.” The room is tremendously small. It’s technically an office, but you have to squeeze past the desk to get behind it. I feel like I’m in a closet. 

I start off cordial, “Most things in life take time. Don’t worry. It’s nice to meet you Judge.”

“You’re just as kind as I’d hoped. I know your mother. She raised a good kid. Did you expect that?”

“Yes. Everyone I meet knows my family. People want to know me because they think they can get closer to her. I just deal.”

“I don’t have ulterior motives. I like her even if the other judges don’t. I just finished my Marian Consecration rites. I know what you do, and James says you’re good.” James has never seen my work. He just knows people don’t complain to him. He doesn’t know people don’t complain because they’d have to admit what they did. James is a buffoon. 

“When working with reputations, it is important to cultivate a strong one for yourself. Tell me what you need. I can’t guarantee anything, but I can listen.”

“I have two requests. One is personal and more important. One is related to my case.”

“Start with the case.”

“I need your help. All the search results blast the word fraud everywhere. Even the gossip rags covered me. They say I took advantage of old people, people with disabilities. I would never do that. I got my Marian Consecration performed at a retreat to meditate on grace and forgiveness. I’m a good Catholic. James gave me the gist. Maybe we could write about that. We could make a documentary about my trial. We could talk about the importance of faith in my life and release it before the first day of court.”

“It’s nice to consider working with someone who’s already made ideas for plans. I’m not going to make you a documentary unless I get a full-time wage. You’d have to provide the supplies. That’s not what I do. I think people will see you trying to shape your image. I also don’t think it’s a good idea to try and tell a truth that spins what you think the trial’s outcome will be. If you lose, that looks bad for both of us. I don’t need my first filmmaking credit to be this. We can explore that idea in further meetings, but this is a job for more than one person.”

“If I’m going to jail, I can’t pay you full time. How much do you think I earn?”

“What you earn is a matter of public record. It’s a lot of money. It doesn’t bode well to hear you say it’s not enough to someone you won’t even consider paying. Since the feds are involved, I need you to tell me if you actually committed these crimes. We don’t need to do a mea culpa, but I need to know for myself. I don’t need the feds watching me.”

“You don’t trust me? I thought James recommended you because you do the work.”

“I do the work. That doesn’t mean I take every job. Let’s keep talking. Don’t forget. You need me. I walk away. I still have other jobs. Tell me about the personal request.”

“Mark Wahlberg is coming to town in two weeks. He’s going to be speaking with a bishop. I’ve loved him ever since he was Marky Mark. I remember the Calvin Klein underwear ad. He’s an incredible Catholic, and I want you to help me meet him.”

“I don’t understand why you think I can do this for you. I can send some emails. This might be out of turn, but you know he blinded a Vietnamese guy in his youth, right? It was a hate crime in no uncertain terms. I don’t know your specific ethnic or racial origin, but are you sure you want to meet this guy?”

“I told you. I just finished my Marian Consecration. I have had a long time to think about grace and forgiveness. He’s a devout Catholic. All people can be redeemed. I love him, and I want to meet him.”

“I’ll do this for free. We’ll get no faster than light or no response. Don’t get your hopes up. If you’re meeting him, you can take me.”

“I’m the one meeting him, though.”

“How do you expect me to even begin to set this up without me being there? If you want to see him, just go to the event.”

“The event is only for students. I need you – a young person – to talk to him about your faith and bring me along. Then I want to speak to him.”

“I don’t think this is going to work. I’ll send you an email. I gotta go. I’m on my lunch break.”

“We could always meet up for dinner.”

“Goodbye, Judge. I’ll be in contact via email.” I leave City Hall to go next door. I have to speak to my mother. No matter how much I learn, how old I get, or how much information is available in a single search, sometimes a mother’s intuition is the only information you can go on. I call her when I’m standing outside by the Picasso. “Hey, mom, I got a knife on me. Can you take me through the judge’s entrance to talk or come downstairs?”

“I’ll come downstairs.”

“I’m sitting on the Picasso.”

We met outside. It’s good to see my mom. Things haven’t been so good between us. She thinks I’m doing dangerous and stupid work. “How is my baby?”

“I’m okay, mom.” We hugged.

“What’s going on?”

“I just spoke to Judge L–.”

“Did she say anything about me? Why is she getting in contact with you?”

“Yeah, she thinks you’re a great judge. James put me in contact.”

“James is a snake oil salesman. Use your head. I stay away from her. I don’t need to be covered in the papers any more than they already do. Someday you might realize the value of toiling in obscurity.” She’s right, like always.

“She wants me to help her. You know how.”

“Don’t. The feds don’t knock until the case is closed. She’s dead in the water. It doesn’t read that way publicly, but it’s the truth. Don’t take her money. You don’t need a knock. We know how you freak out around cops. What are you going to do? Buy scotch, buy records, buy games, let your girlfriend siphon it away at a restaurant. C’mon.” She’s right. I only send the Wahlberg email. I get no response. She won’t get out of jail before I’m dead. 

Time passes.

Rent around his office costs an arm and a leg. His building is sleek, captivating, hidden away, but next to so many landmarks you can’t believe you’ve passed it before. He’s a stupid man, but this stroke of genius may have been intentional on his end. I strut up the sidewalk in all black. I have been told he’s stylish. First impressions mean a lot to him. 

When I enter his office, I am greeted by a beautiful man and a woman. The man is chiseled out of marble. The woman is supple, athletic, curvy, not curvaceous. The Doctor’s new advertisements run on the television. This is his next great move. It might be. They look like an after-school special from the ’90s. His infomercials can serve him best going viral, which he doesn’t need to do again anytime soon. 

I’m comfortable in a chair when his personal assistant comes out. I’ve seen her naked. The text messages between her and the boss are a part of discovery. She was dressed like a pirate. Her business casual today is revealing. I enjoyed Secretary. I get it. She leans down to meet her face with mine. I’ve been staring at my phone. I feel her breath on my face. I look up, the first view down her blouse, next to red hair, finally a sharp face with some wrinkles. She knows not every wrinkle is a bad wrinkle, and my brain starts to short circuit. “You must be here to see The Doctor.” 

“Yes, we have a meeting scheduled right now.”

“We’ve heard a lot of great things about you.” 

“It’s always good news to know my name carries a nice connotation.”

“I’ll show you around first.” She takes me back. The office is a long corridor. There are sanitized rooms. The rooms have luxury dentist chairs. There are machines in the rooms. The machines modify people’s bodies when hands are not doing the work. You can watch Netflix while you get your work done. It makes the time pass faster. You can bring your own media. Just consider how badly you want to distract the doctor. 

Technicians do this work too, but everyone comes for The Doctor. We try to make sure we don’t let someone know they’ll wind up with a technician from the start. “You can go to the door at the end of the hall. I’ll text The Doctor and tell him you’re coming in.”

I make my way into his office. There are four oversized leather chairs. Three of the four chairs have animal pelts on them. They’re on his chair and the two chairs to the side of the middle burgundy piece. His walls are adorned with art, and the room is mauve. On the walls are patent sketches for luxury vehicles and naked women. He stands up. He might be 6’5″. Vince Vaughn is 6’5″. He is in a turtleneck and a heavy blue suede blazer. A perfectly manicured stubble adds salt and pepper to his onyx chin. He flashes me a million-dollar smile and extends a hand that could crush mine. My shake is firm. The shake is make or break. I push back enough to let him know I can.

“I’ve been told you can help me.”

“Let’s see if I can.”

“There’s an article on the front page of Google about me. It’s about some litigation. The litigation was settled out of court, but the article is still there. The phrasing in the article leaves open the possibility that I killed him deliberately. He had a heart attack. How could I have prepped for that?” 

“I’m not in the business of caring whether or not you did it, sir. I’ll check if the article shows up on the front page for me. Your Google and my Google aren’t the same. That goes for every person. There are tools designed to approximate what the average front page looks like.”

“So, can you make it go away?”

“It’s hard to make anything go away. Once you put something up, it will be found if someone looks hard enough. Your home address, social security, P.O. box, high school graduation date, birthday – everything you try to keep half private – can be found by someone with half a brain directed entirely at using a computer well. With that being said – I can help you get it to page two, maybe three. I will keep watch of the results, email the website owners, and we can work to shift them to our advantage. Has any client brought this litigation up to you?” 

“No. I just know it’s there. It hasn’t affected business either.” 

“Okay. Things aren’t so bad. Everyone can’t get through life spotless, and the litigation has already proved your innocence. Why are you talking to me like it hasn’t?”

“This is going to prevent me from getting clients. People know me. I’m somebody here.”

“I’m sure a lot of people know you. The people who already know you know what they know. If no client has brought this up and still has received a procedure – they probably don’t see it. You can hide a dead body on page two of Google. Sorry. It’s true.”

“Someone might be looking for it.”

“Is anyone trying to bring about your downfall, Doctor?”

“Let’s focus on what’s in front of us. I can give you a discount on hair plugs. We’ve got new patented technology. I can also give you cheaper cool sculpting.”

“I expect a monthly retainer. I do forty hours of work a month. All communication is on the clock. If you ask, I will write up what I did each time. Anything past forty, and I get the time and a half. I’m fine with how I look. Given the reason I’m here, I’d want the work for free. I expect the monthly retainer before services are rendered. Results are not guaranteed. We will be certain of results in six months or less.”

“This better work.”

“I’m going to give it my all, Doctor.” 

“Talk to my assistant. She’ll give you all the passwords.” I leave for the passwords. When I came out with the assistant, my first check was cut. I cash it in ten minutes. 

I will receive no calls in the first month. The article is the lowest result on page one of Google. His name is not in the visible title. To be certain the article is about him involves reading the entirety of the piece unrelated to any medicine website. I buy a pair of white 200 dollar shoes. I will walk those shoes into nothingness in four months. It felt good to have expensive shoes. I was on my way up in the world. I do what I do, which is not interesting to read about. 

When his article is off the front page of Google, I send an email. No need to speak unless about results. He’s late with my second check. He will now come pay it. I remind him in the email. He sends me an email from his phone. He pulls up to the office of my main job. Everyone knows everyone at a certain level in this city. I am standing on the street in a highlighter pink moisture-wicking polo. The wife of my boss made me buy it at a charity event. She haggled the golf course down to half off. I guess I looked like shit. People bring it up a lot. I wasn’t making nice clothes money. He’s in the passenger seat of a Bentley coupe. His pirate assistant is driving. The Doctor flashes his million-dollar smile. I approach the car. “I don’t have a lot of time. Let me ask you a question.”

“Yeah.” I reach toward his outstretched hand and take the envelope.

“What do you think people think when they think about me?”

“Sir, I think even people who are somebodies for any reason are being thought about much less than they expect. I think people think you’re rich. They think you go home to a big home and fuck your smoking wife. They assume nothing. If you want to talk more, you can call me in private.” I send him a reminder text. 

The next time he calls, I am shitfaced. My girlfriend is on vacation with her mother. I’m house-sitting the McMansion and their anxious dog. She’s got this fucked up puppy mill golden retriever that looks a lot like a dinosaur and chews walls. The mother jokes that she’s been driven mad by the dog, but I’m on my Jack Torrance shit, and I get it. I’ve been drinking since around eleven AM. I switched from Jimmy Buffet to Lulu by Lou Reed & Metallica. Really though, I’m listening to “Brandenburg Gate” on repeat. Something about James Hetfield and Lou saying they’re small-town girls hurts right. I’ve been double fisting one of two cases of Tecate and a bottle of Remy Martin 1738. I have enough money to buy an engagement ring. I’m celebrating. The music stops because my phone’s Do Not Disturb has been bypassed. I’ve missed two calls already when I react too late to the third. I pick up the fourth. 

“Yeah.”

“Don’t you say more picking up the phone?”

“Don’t know who’s calling every time.”

“Are you good? You sound different.”

“I’m fine. I’m relaxing. Calls get charged. What’s going on?”

“I can’t stop thinking about it. I lose sleep. My wife won’t fuck me. I keep thinking, ‘you’re either a good dad or a good husband.’ I’m a good husband and a good dad. My sons love me. They’re going to be successful entrepreneurs. My wife and I don’t interact. My whole life is fucked, man. I’m so fucked! I can’t ever sleep again.”

“Hey, hey, hey. Breathe. Breathe in. Roll your shoulders back. Exhale longer than you breathe in. That’ll calm down the fight or flight. Let’s just talk this out.” I pull the phone away from my mouth and sip the cognac. “Your brain is powerful. It will make your thoughts a reality if you let it. When you can’t sleep, put your hand on your stomach and repeat the mantra, ‘I’ve accepted if I don’t sleep tonight.’ Focus on the feeling of your hand rising and falling with your stomach. Before we hang up, tell me what’s going on.”

“Okay. It’s the same thing as always. Do you think I killed that guy?” 

“I don’t know the specifics.” I do.

“The highest court that will ever know this tale thinks you didn’t kill that guy. I’m nobody. I am a nobody who helps you become a nobody on the internet. Why does it matter if I care?”

“I don’t know. I just don’t know who else to ask. I can’t call the attorneys. That’s 400 an hour.”

“It sounds like you could use a therapist.”

“They’d tell someone if I killed that guy.”

“We already know you didn’t kill that guy. I think a therapist could help you stop saying it like that unless you have something to confess. I don’t think anyone except a therapist would convince you.”

“I can’t go to a therapist, dude. That means I have something wrong with me.”

“I think your view is antiquated. I see a therapist every week. He’s a fixture in my life. Without him, I’d be like a ship without a lighthouse.” 

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, he’s right up the block from you. He’s brilliant. You should call him personally. I sleep okay.”

“Maybe another time. It’s different when you go to therapy.” I take a sip. I take another sip. I put him on speaker. I miss the music.

“Does anyone bring this guy up with you?”

“No. I bring it up to some people.”

“Okay. So if no one else brings it up, what’s going on?”

“What if someone clicks it to the front page of Google?”

“Who would do that?”

“I have a brother who doesn’t like me.”

“You have a brother who doesn’t like you enough to dedicate time to that?”

“Yeah. Maybe. You don’t know my brother.”

“I think you should find a therapist on top of what we do. This is your money too. You could be very paranoid.”

“Let me know if the results change.” We hung up. I drink a lot more. I play a video game until I can’t see straight. I spend a lot of time looking at the dog. He looks like he’s laughing at me. He’s got this crooked knowing smile. My hairline recedes further. I have to manually massage my jaw. I can feel the furrow in my brow giving me wrinkles. I’ve looked old since I was sixteen. 

I try to fall asleep in my girlfriend’s childhood bed. Her absence is felt. I’m doing this job just to pitch in more. She hates how poor I am. I can’t sleep because the guy who still texts her fucked her in this bed. She can’t marry a broke chump. Her life is funded by her family. Her family has more to kick around than my mom. I blame that on my lack of sleep. I blame the booze. I start to think I’m destined for hell in the silence of the night. I’m cruel and judgmental. I let down the people who raised me. I’m a failure, and I will cook and rot forever. I age by the minute, holding my client’s secret. I am going to hell because I bury these bodies. I am going to hell because I help the rich get away with this. I need to die to release the pain. 

He calls when I’m in class. I forget which Econ. I think it’s the one I got a B in. My professor knows I work for lawyers. He admires the hard-driving spirit of the non-traditional student. I pack up my bag and call him back. I love my campus. I love my city. “I think my brother is going to come to town.”

“What evidence do you have for this?”

“He’s speaking at a conference in the city.”

“Okay, that’s concrete. What’s he do?”

“He’s a cult leader.”

“Can you try and sensationalize this less?”

“He’s a spiritual leader.”

“A spiritual leader is going to have you killed? Well, I guess I see why you call it a cult. Which god?”

“Jesus.”

“He runs a cult for Jesus? C’mon. This isn’t Weekly World News.”

“How old are you, dude?”

“Stay on task.”

“He’s crazy. He’s always been crazy. He’s a different guy every six months. Something is always on the horizon. He’s living in a compound in Colorado. It’s a cult, and he’s cleaning up unfinished business with me when he comes to speak. Perfect coverup.”

“Hey, you should recommend to me the movies you watch. I may have more fun.”

“I’m serious. Check the Google results. I’m going to get my staff guns. You don’t know when he’ll show up. Do you want one? I’ll buy it for you. I’ll cover the lessons. I may want you in the office more.”

“Do you think he’s gonna gun you down in your office? He can’t get away with that. If he’s a smart criminal, he’s not trying to go too big. I don’t want a gun. I’d turn it on myself.”

“Hey dude, you should see a therapist.”

“Take your own advice, pal. I told you I do.”

“Okay, no gun. You don’t need to be so grim.”

“You’ve been very grim, sir. Is he going to kill you or not?”

“Okay, yeah. I think he is. Can you go out to Colorado? Confront him? Make sure it’s him?” 

“You can’t afford that. That would call attention to your paranoia. I won’t do that on a hunch. I’ll look at the results. If you’re rereading the article all the time, that’s your fault. We agreed you wouldn’t do that. You need to take time to work on getting past this. Even after I’m gone, you will have to live with obvious guilt in your conscience.” I’m in so fucking deep. This is not what the job description was. It also wasn’t outside of the scope of what it was.

We recycled these conversations until I hit forty hours. He’s late in paying again. He bought the guns. Another guy I know accepted one. It’s a Glock. I was jealous. I sent an email saying services will no longer be rendered as he’s been late in paying two months in a row. This is not the beginning of a fruitful relationship. He doesn’t reply. When I think about him, I pray he’s only anxious that his wife can’t taste his mistress on his cock. Just because I know the specifics don’t mean I’m an adequate judge. 

— Gwen Hilton is a writer, musician, and counselor in training based out of Chicago. Gwen can be reached on Twitter at @1amCait or email at gwenergymusic@gmail.com.