The single malt scotch burned its way down his throat, scratching at his insides with sharp precision like the red polished nails of a high-end escort.
His sense of entitlement, nestled in the depths of his insides, sat next to his guilt about the damage he was responsible for, the arrogance of his youth and pomposity of a wealthy middle age, each of them drowning in a sea of Chateau Montifaud Cognac, regret and just a shy sliver of hope.
“You’ve gone mad!” They told him. “It just isn’t done.” They hissed at him. And it isn’t. So maybe he was mad. But he also felt better than he had in years. More sure. Calmer. His acid reflux, a sure symbol of corporate manhood, was receding like a warm nighttime tide under a sweet tropical moon.
He had redistributed 99% of his assets: savings, property, stocks, bonds, all of it. He’d liquidated most of his properties and miscellaneous cars, boats and big-ticket items he’d acquired like some people accrue extra socks or hats. He’d given that 99% to 99 different communities starting in his state and in the poorest neighborhoods—they got the biggest percentage. No strings. No government hand out hooks. Just delivered checks to three community centers, 12 different churches, temples and mosques, and dozens of different neighborhood development projects and then in a final fait accompli he simply handed out bundles of cash to people at the local corner stores and coffee shops like some drunk Santa Claus. And it did feel a little bit like Christmas. Not the Christmas’ of his adulthood, crammed with stressful shopping trips in order to find just the right gift for this or that associate, investor, partner, politician, not to mention wife, lover, children, parents and siblings. And good god if being rich wasn’t just a pain in the ass sometimes—they all expected perfection from him. After all, he could afford it. It took a toll, all that striving towards and expectation of perfection.
He sighed slowly and took another meaty mouthful of amber liquid puffing out his extract-of-Scandinavian-seaweed moisturized cheeks, savoring the smoky film that lingered on the back of his throat.
It was a pain in the ass, both the spending and hoarding of riches, the constant search for expansion balanced by a need to keep everything tightly controlled. It was a pain in the ass, and the back—more specifically and more literally a pain in his hemorrhoids and his slipped disks and pinched sciatic nerve. He shifted in his chair, the buttery leather softly caressing the backs of his thighs.
His body told the story of ladder climbing and bootstrapping. He had soft un-calloused fingers and manicured nails, shinny with clear polish designed “to look manly for the dignified executive,” claimed the beautician. His belly rounded out the front of his $500.00 Paul Fredrick button up shirt just enough to let the world know he could afford both a personal trainer and a private chef. His posture was erect but his shoulders rounded forward with the rolling edge of someone always having to bully their way through rather than sit back and enjoy. Even when he sat back to enjoy, which he tried more and more of as he matured and grayed around the edges, there was a restless look about him—all energy still in forward motion.
He sighed again, shoulders drooping in a familiar forward gesture. The second city had been fun. He was in and out in a single day having arrived unannounced and ahead of the press buzz from his previous stint in his hometown. He was chauffeured efficiently by a long time and well trusted driver from one end of town to the other with checks and thick envelopes of cash. Again, he’d started with the poorest part of town. His black town car, a study in contrast, garnered long sideways glances and interrupted neighborly conversations as people paused to watch him drive by, held their breath when he stopped, and held themselves erect when he got out. Some automatically started giving him directions back to the highway assuming he was lost and his driver incompetent. He wasn’t lost. “I’m not lost.” he’d say, “Well not in that sort of sense,” he’s sometimes added quietly with a soft smile. The people would smile back politely. Waiting. He was used to being indulged. When he handed them the envelopes or asked their names to write a personal check, they would often refuse to accept, holding arms up in front of their chest in both a protective and defensive posture. Or, they might not raise their arms at all, but tilt their head at a sharp investigative angle watching him as they took an instinctual step back. In the first, second and even the third city he had been confused. After countless exchanges such as this he finally understood. There was no reason to trust him and every reason to believe he would do them harm, or at the very least make them a pawn in a dirty rotten joke at their expense. He got it. He got it because he came from a world where these sorts of people were expendable, faceless, nameless and even human less. They were numbers on a graph, statistics in a power point presentation. Data to be crunched then mulled over during a three-course lunch or stint at the driving range. And they knew it. Knew he knew it. Their eyes called him out and reflected himself back to himself.
He pulled the trigger back. Boom! Then silence, save for the soft splatter of gristle, bone shards and blood sliding down the mahogany panels of his office walls and the slight tremor of his left hand which lay on top the handwritten note drafted carefully on the monogrammed stationary he preferred to use. “I don’t like what I saw when I looked at myself through other people’s eyes,” it began, “You will be tempted to think I am crazy or unbalanced, while I, of course, prefer to think I am not. I don’t suppose you can begin to look clearly at the world that we have made, that I have helped to build without teetering on the edge of sanity. Had I stayed, I would have gone mad.” The note continued with personal assurances of love and pleas for family members to not place blame on themselves. Of course, they participated in making the world he was trying desperately to disentangle himself from and he knew they were to blame in some regard. But this decision, to end it this way, was all his.
He made sure his family was taken care of to some degree in the way they had come accustomed to, but not completely. After that, he gave the rest of what he had to the homeless man he passed every day on the street walking into his building but never really saw until he put this plan into motion. The homeless man threw a party at the shelter handing out fistfuls of cash to everyone he ran into. No one called him crazy or told him “That’s just not done”. They all took the money and threw parties of their own.