J P Roszell
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National Exposure

watch for it ... spring 2011

Miami. 2005 February

 

“So it all comes down to this?”

The lawyer played with a paperclip, straightening it then bending it in half again before answering. “I’m afraid so, Wade.”

I rattled the ice in the cut crystal rocks glass, watching the single malt scotch swirl around the cubes. The reflected lights from the nightlife on South Beach reminded me there was a whole world out there that didn’t give a shit. A world populated with people who didn’t give a damn about anything more than what was happening right now, or perhaps what might happen – or not happen – in the next few hours, depending on whether or not they hooked up with somebody for the night. A world that lives on a headline, a sound bite or a picture that catches their attention for a fleeting second before they dash off to the next source of instant gratification, amusement or entertainment. A world whose mindless, amoral need to elevate their heroes to pedestals so that they could derive some crude satisfaction from watching them fall had made me rich.

“And there’s no other way to stop them?” I asked.

“Wade, let’s get this clear. I’ve already stopped them. I’ve stopped every son-of-a-bitch who’s ever dared to take us on. The laws in this country were written for people like us, and I win every time. The ridiculous part is that the publicity we get just drives our circulation higher.”

He was right about that. I’d made a fortune giving the public exactly what they wanted. Scandalous, juicy bits of outrageous gossip that titillates some portion of my readers’ brains that otherwise go to sleep when their hands touch my paper. Ridiculous pieces of ‘news’ that feed the public’s desire to see their heroes torn from the very heights to which they raise them. Pieces of trash that in any other context the thinking, reasoning portion of their cerebra would identify as garbage.

“I know you’ll win in court tomorrow, but that’s not what I want.”

“Then what the hell is it, Wade? What else is there?”

I spun around and slammed the glass on the boardroom table, smashing it. Pieces of glass and ice flew across the room as the scotch puddled on the highly polished surface of the rare wood.

“I want this fucking thing settled out of court, that’s what I want. Why can’t you get that through that thick legal skull of yours? Is it so difficult? Settle it, you asshole!”

The smashing of the glass shocked the lawyer but not nearly as much so as my tirade. He made a show of wiping the scotch from his custom-tailored suit jacket and cleaning his splattered glasses while he regrouped.

“They won’t settle, Wade. I’ve told you that.”

I glared at the lawyer, who I knew from experience would visibly shrink. Predictably, and to my pleasure, he quickly averted his eyes while pretending to pick the glass out of his clothes.

“You call their ambulance-chaser and get this arranged. I want those papers on my desk by 7:00 a.m. tomorrow morning.”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you, Wade. They won’t settle for anything less than an amount that will cripple us. I’ve made all kinds of offers, and they won’t budge. I tell you it’s just stupid. It’s them, not me. Their own counsel warned them they can’t win, and they still won’t budge. He’s frantic. He’s working on contingency, so he’s got a stake in this, too. ”

I leaned over the table, balancing on my knuckles, elbows out. “I don’t care what it is they want. Get the best deal you can. Get it on paper and on my desk by 7:00 tomorrow morning or you’re fired.”

The lawyer was like a rat caught in a corner. A rat desperate not just because he was trapped but because he was in danger of being separated from his cheese. “The board won’t approve this,” he warned.

I resisted the impulse to spit. “The board has never approved any settlement in advance. I’ve never even gone to them before.”

“This is different. It’s never cost us this much before.”

“Are you threatening to call the board?” I asked.

It amused me that the lawyer had the balls to glare back at me eyeball to eyeball, but it only lasted for three seconds before he blinked rapidly twice and tried another tack. “It just doesn’t make sense, Wade.”

“Cut the bullshit, Joel. I know you too damn well – the way your mind works. I don’t have time for your fucking games.”

“Wade...”

“Shut up and listen. And listen carefully.  Don’t even think about an end run around me to the board or any of your other slimy tricks. I want every damned bit of your creative energy focused on getting the best deal possible. I want a deal that nobody else can get. And I want it before the verdict. Do you understand that?”

“But we’re going to win, Wade. The judge is going to decide in our favor. I’ll stake my life on it.”

I felt the color shoot up my neck, turning my face into a cruel mask. “Perfect choice of words, Joel. If you’re thinking about taking the easy way out by simply showing up for the verdict tomorrow, it will cost you your life.”

Joel laughed nervously. “Surely you’re not threatening to kill me, Wade.”

I left his words hanging between us for what seemed to be an eternity, and then, subconsciously, felt the hint of a smile touching the corners of my mouth.

“Do you remember that cute little actress?” I asked. “You know – the one who died from the overdose two years ago?” I turned my back on him and pretended to look out the window to let him think about what I’d just said.

“Christ, Wade. What are you suggesting? That I had something to do with that?”

As I turned back to deliver my last threat, I knew I had him.

“I have some interesting pictures, Joel. I’m sure your wife would like to see them. I know your father-in-law would.”

The color drained from Joel’s face. 

I was already congratulating myself and wondering what kind of settlement Joel would reach when my world crashed in. It hit me in the lower back like a wrecking ball and flung me to the floor in a twisted heap, little slivers of tempered glass from the shattered floor-to-ceiling window peppering my hair and clothing. I remember suddenly hearing the noise from the street below and smelling the ocean breeze as Joel leaned over me, panic written across his face. Heather ran in from the suite next door, screaming for security even as she was dialing 911. I couldn’t feel my legs, and Joel’s face was fading in and out. I managed to spit out a few words and he leaned closer to hear me.

“You’d better hope I die you son of a bitch, or that you get that settlement.”

And then everything went black.

copyright © J P Roszell, 2010

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