I never thought blackmail could be so tasty.
Always I thought it would be like bathing in used motor oil - slimy and gritty, sticky, gooey, something you would want to get out of as quickly as possible. Then... there was the first payment. It was small; a single fifty-dollar bill. Quickly, I found a good use for it - a nice dinner out for the wife and me. Later, as the payments escalated in value - fifty, then sixty-five, eighty-five, finally rounded to a hundred, two hundred - life kept getting better.
I remember the first drop, like it just happened. It was eleven o'clock on a Sunday night, Darkness swallowed the mailbox in front of my house and I needed a small flashlight to find the fifty hidden in the sleeve where the newspaper goes.
"What are you doing outside with a flashlight," my wife asked me.
I had not been careful. In fact, I was careless, careless with excitement, careless with eagerness to see if this little scheme of mine would work. But I learned quickly. Instead of picking the money up Sunday night, I would got out early Monday - before the morning newspaper arrived - come back into the house and exclaim: "The paper's not here yet!" But I knew that; the paper lady delivered at 7:30 a.m. daily.
Now, the wife says, "You know it doesn't come this early, so why do you bother?"
She never put the pattern together. Every Monday, I checked for the newspaper early. I was eager. Eager to collect my due.
"I don't know why you keep reading the paper," she said one day. "You've got your phone, a tablet, a laptop and a computer at work - can't you get enough news out of all that?"
You can see why I had to continue the morning newspaper.
But I haven't told you yet, how this little plan of mine took on a life of its own.
I am a high-dollar salesman. Or I was, until my boss and "good friend" fired me instead of the salesperson who really should have gotten the ax - his mistress. He and I were like blood brothers. We hung together at meetings, called on clients as a team, went to lunch, barbecued with the families in the backyard. Then he hired Marsha. No doubt for her looks if for anything. At first, during her training, the three of us hung like pirates, raiding hotels, meeting rooms, client offices, and cocktail bars. It all flowed.
I know what you are going to say: you should have seen it coming. But you've got to understand - he was my brother in arms, with different mothers, yes, but symbiotic. We had a big sales call to make to one of the auto companies, the three of us. Marsha did the PowerPoint deck, and it was fabulously artistic. I arranged the hotels, cars, and logistics. My brother in arms boss worked on the content of the sales pitch. We couldn't lose - we were Winners! With a capital W.
If you've never been to Detroit, well, it is the motor city. Before our sales presentation, we toured a factory; went to a repair facility; inspected the new car development office; and finally sat in on a finance meeting and made our presentation. It was the big time.
Then, just the three of us, had dinner and drinks. My boss started motioning to me, so Marsha could not see him, hinting that I do something. Move? Change tables? Call a server? What?
"Stan, you need to work on the details for tomorrow's meeting."
I thought: what meeting?
Was I in suspended animation or was he moving toward Marsha?
Finally, like a swinging sledgehammer, the truth knocked me out. I excused myself and went to my room. Like a detective, I kept an ear to the door, to the walls, and when I heard Marsha's chirpy voice coming out of the elevator, I cracked the door every so slightly. They went into the same hotel room.
A couple of weeks passed.
Two days before we were set to return to Detroit, he called me into a conference room.
"We're under a budget crunch," he said, not looking at me, talking like I was the coat rack in the corner. He shut the door to the conference room, and told me he was ordered to downsize, to terminate one of his sales staff, "I'm going to have to cut you loose."
I wasn't just devastated, I felt like the car I was in just went over the cliff and crashed into the rocks. Anger welled; like a new oil well exploding with its first eruption. I was too overwhelmed to even speak in my defense.
I turned for the conference room door to leave, in a huff. A man in a brown uniform with badge blocked me.
I turned back to Kevin, "Purely policy, that's all."
The security guard escorted me to my office and motioned for me to put my personal belongings into a cardboard file box.
"This is going to take a while," I told the guard.
"You've got twenty minutes."
I broke the news to my wife. My wife massaged my shoulders and whispered into my ear, "You're too good a salesman; you'll get a better job." Then she walked away, muttering something about my boss that was not audible.
Yep, I did get another job, without a commission, pure salary. A cake walk. Gone was my burning desire to capture the biggest commission payout possible; I settled into a trot instead of a run.
That gave me time to hatch my plan. Had Kevin looked into my eyes when he fired me, he would have seen a lightening storm behind them crackling with wild electricity - revenge!
It came into focus when I settled into my new salaried job and had the need for a little extra cash.
That's where the greeting card comes in. I bought it at the Hallmark store and specifically asked for that little gold seal for the back. I practiced the message on scrap paper till I got it right, then, carefully, using a nice gel pen, wrote this:
"Kevin, if your wife were to find out, well, you know, it would be devastating. Your marriage, the kids in college, even your job. Yes, Kevin, your job. You know the policy as well as anyone... you wrote it. Let's start small, say, a single fifty. To clear up any confusion. that is a $50 bill. In the newspaper chute under my mailbox. Sunday nights would be good. All the best, Kevin."
And I signed it.
I could only imagine his expression when he opened it in his office. What if somebody else opened it first, you cry? Kevin's instructions were all handwritten and addressed mail was to be delivered to his desk unopened. Thank you, Kevin.
I wish the story had ended there. I really do. The money added up. Gosh! Just the first year it was about $2,600. The next year started out better, the payments reaching $200 per drop as my threatening notes became, well, more threatening.
Then there was the "accident." Police called it a crash. The police didn't believe my story. What truck? The car I was driving was run off the road by an angry looking semi-truck, all black, with tinted glass. In the middle of the afternoon. Yep, it is illegal, but it was tinted. I was doing 65 and the truck crossed the center line and came right at me. I swerved, the car spun off the gravel shoulder, slamming into a tree the size of concrete pillar. They cut me out with the Jaws of Life hydraulic tool. I was in the hospital for two weeks, mending very slowly, tubes running hither an yon across my body, a cast on one leg, a cast on one elbow. I was wheeled out in a wheelchair and had to be hand-lifted into the family car.
Never had home looked so good, and after a day of reclaiming my home life, I began sorting through my mail. There was an envelope, a square one, obviously holding a greeting card, and on the back was a little round gold sticker from Hallmark. Glory be, it was a get well card from Kevin, my old boss. He still cared. I should have read his note before I said that. This is what he wrote:
"So sad your 'accident' has brought things to an end, Stan. Best of luck with your recuperation."
He signed it Kevin.
Out of curiosity I got up early the first Monday I was home and wheeled myself to the mailbox and stuck my hand into the newspaper chute. Nothing, no fifty, hundred, just nothing.
It had ended.
But God, was it tasty while it lasted!