Condo Chronicles: The More, The Merrier, My Ass

“Excuse me…who are you?” I asked, attempting to sound as casual as possible. Though you might be overdoing it with the slight drawl…what are you gonna say next? Are you gonna extend the offer ‘to be his huckleberry’?

The grey-haired gentleman (who appeared to be the spokesman of the group) reached into an inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out a leather holder. He flipped it open to reveal a badge. “I’m sorry…I should have introduced us. We’re Mayor Dwek’s protection detail for tonight, and as part of our job, we need to inspect your home prior to her arrival. You know…in order to ensure her safety.” He placed the badge back into his jacket. “With your permission, of course.”

Hmmm…I sure hope that Rhonda put the sativa back into the cabinet before they got here… “Absolutely,” I replied, opening the door wider and raising my free hand to welcome our new guests. “My home is certainly open to Little Peru’s finest. Come on in, gentlemen. Feel free to look around.”

The charismatic police officer turned back to his comrades. “All right, boys, you know the drill.” As his brothers-in-arms began to permeate my abode, he placed himself squarely before me and Rhonda in the midst of our spacious living room and its view of the Manhattan skyline. Well, less spacious at the moment, with all these chairs that we brought out of storage for everyone. Sometimes I wonder where we got all this crap… Even though he wasn’t of any imposing height, his composure and disposition seemed to have stature on their own. His almost-silver mane was complemented well by a goatee of gunmetal grey, and despite the thick blue-collar Jersey accent, he conducted himself with all the grandeur and poise of a Victorian butler. “Sir…ma’am…I’m Officer Linares, and I apologize for our intrusion. I hope that everything goes well for you and your building during Her Honor’s visit. After we’re done with this brief sweep around your home, we’ll get out of the way and just be flies on the wall for the rest of the night.”

“Not a problem,” Rhonda said mellifluously, being the warmest possible of any hostess. “You and your fellow officers should make yourselves at home. Can I get you anything? Or anything for one of your boys? Or maybe something from the catering sent by the mayor?” She motioned towards our dining table, which was struggling under the weight of our edible horde. Despite being the centerpiece of the table, it was receiving less attention than a cooked turkey at an immigrants’ Thanksgiving dinner. (Or, as those in Little Peru called that holiday, Feliz Día de Acción de Gracias…it’s no wonder that the Spanish speak so quickly. They have twice as much to say in the same amount of time.)

As the other officers quickly moved throughout the various rooms of our condo, Officer Linares kept his focus on the two of us. “Very kind of you, ma’am, but we’re fine for now.” He looked past us, observing a quick motion of one of his brethren. “We’re good? That’s great. Okay, it looks like we’re all in the clear.” He reported quickly and quietly to a microphone in the lapel of his jacket before speaking to us both again. “So, it’s almost showtime, since the Mayor and her aides are now getting out of the car downstairs; she’ll be up in a minute. So, we’ll now get out of your hair. Sir…ma’am…thank you for your cooperation.”

Rhonda shook his hand. “And thank you for your service, Officer Linares. Mind if I close those doors to the other rooms that you opened? It’s a little drafty here in the living room, and with those doors closed, we’ll be able to warm up this room faster.”

Officer Linares nodded, petting our cat Flukeman as he rubbed his tuxedo body against the bodyguard’s leg. One tuxedo, one suit…a perfect match. “Absolutely, ma’am, go right ahead.”

As Rhonda walked away to shut the doors of the various adjoining rooms, I begrudgingly attempted to fulfill the social obligation where a conversation can’t just die on its own, especially when it has only a few more moments to live. “So…like Rhonda was saying, if you or any of your men need something, just let us know…”

Even though he was still kneeling down and petting Flukeman, I was still able to hear and decipher his mumbled response. “…Anal sex with machetes.

“Well,” I answered, after a moment of consideration. “I’m glad that you feel comfortable enough to ask, but I’m gonna have to decline that request…that won’t be on the menu for tonight.”

Chuckling, he stood up and looked up at me. “That’s funny…sorry, that’s the handle for this guy on the Internet who keeps making threats towards Mayor Dwek: AnalSexWithMachetes. We haven’t been able to track him down just yet. He’s been a major headache for us, and if we could get a hold of him, this protection detail would become a whole lot less stressful…”

A new visitor was announced via another loud knock on my door, and before I could move a muscle, Officer Linares moved towards the door and opened it for me. I’ll be a fly on the wall…my ass…more like a smooth-talking motherfucker on the wall…

The mayor’s paladin opened the door, and after the entrance of several people with plastic smiles (likely aides with the aspirations of taking the place of their boss and willing to stab each other to get it), I finally recognized the lady of the hour as she stepped into my domain: Mayor Dwek. To my surprise, she was much taller than I had expected, and though she didn’t look that different from the poster, those ubiquitous images didn’t do her justice. From both her body language and facial expressions, her physical presence gave a strong matriarchal presence that couldn’t be conveyed in a two-dimensional form, much like a great live band who never sounds convincing on any recording. Without needing any prompt by her aides, she walked to both me and Rhonda, who was now standing again by my side.

“Hello, I’m Mayor Dwek. Thank you for welcoming us into your home,” she said, gripping my hand firmly but looking towards Rhonda. “I’ll do whatever I can to remedy your situation. Hopefully, we can fix this problem together.” As she walked to one of the many chairs situated in the middle of the room, I started to close the door…only to observe a foot blocking the door’s base from the outside. It was then that a familiar face poked its head through the narrow gap of the door frame.

“Raymond?” I spurted in evident confusion. “What are you doing here?”

Our property manager Raymond Vitalona pushed the door open slowly, placing a hand over his heart. “God bless you, sir…I apologize profusely if I never told you beforehand. I didn’t tell you that I was one of the Mayor’s aides?”

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.

Condo Chronicles: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

“Okay, so how does the place look? Do you think that it looks okay?”

“It looks fine!” I said with exasperation. “If you clean one more thing, I’m going to amputate your arms…and then they’ll be blood everywhere. And then you’ll be especially upset because it’ll be messy again and you won’t have any hands to clean it.”

Rhonda looked at me crossly. “Well, pardon me if I want this place to be clean for once, especially on an important day like this one. It’s not everyday that the mayor of our town comes to visit our place with her entourage.”

It had been only a couple of weeks since the impromptu rendezvous at the White Mana. I had relayed the whole story to Rhonda upon coming home, and hungry for the adventurous opportunity to hunt potential corruption, she started sharpening her mental spears in eager anticipation. With her on board, I had called City Hall and left a message with Her Honor, thinking (and somewhat hoping) that would possibly be the end of it. (Yes, as I came to find out, mayors are to be addressed in the same fashion as a court judge. Though, I’ve never understood the tradition of attempting direct dialogue with someone’s abstract traits. In some way, it almost feels like a priest attempting to converse with someone’s demon during an exorcism. Do you hear me in there, Honor? The power of the jury compels you! And, if Honesty happens to exist and is somewhere around, can you say ‘hello’ for me?) Unfortunately, I was proven wrong when I received a call back the next day, informing me that Mayor Dwek would be happy to visit my building and discuss its legal issues with me. The invitation for a cocktail party had come from Rhonda, who was standing behind me when I had answered the phone and suffering feverish dreams of entrapment. Though her Honor had requested that it be a ‘snack’ party instead (since drinking and professionalism shouldn’t mix), she accepted our invitation. Rhonda had been rubbing her palms deviously when she had made the suggestion, much like she was doing so right now in our living room.

Rhonda grinned nefariously, much like the Grinch on Christmas. “I want her to feel perfectly comfortable, so that she won’t suspect our trap.”

“Wow…you’re way more into this whole thing than I ever would have suspected,” I confessed. “Remember, though, that Joe guy could be totally full of shit. So, I would reserve judgment until we’ve actually had a chance to talk to her for a while.”

Duh, of course…but if we’re gonna try to do any digging, we need to make sure that we’ve planned everything perfectly, right? Oh, and that reminds me…did you get all of those flyers in the halls?”

During the last couple of days, The Legion (as we now addressed Mayor Dwek’s loyal army of recidivist followers) had followed invisible tracks of vermin and found their way into the building through cracks and crevices. Smelling an opportunity for winning the hearts of more voters, her administration had instructed her followers to leave various flyers scattered throughout the building. These flyers of mackled propaganda and bold print announced the impending arrival of their lord and (without the consent of me or Rhonda) invited all denizens to become plenary members of our tentative meeting, so that they could spend hours upon hours to acquaint themselves with Mayor Dwek…in my home. Such is the hubris of all politicians, but in this particular situation, arrogant rudeness was the least of my worries. If I was to either make any progress with the building’s issues or conduct a clandestine operation of gathering criminal evidence, an apartment full of screaming lunatics would be an anathema. On top of that, I generally frown on allowing a shitstorm to splatter its contents in my living room…So, in an effort to decapitate the problem before the rest of its body could arise from the dirt, I had scoured the building and purged it of all the accursed flyers. I was confident that I had gotten rid of most of them, but I had no guarantee of that. I was just happy for my small fortune that Baby Boomers and third-world immigrants were still not hip to those more cutting-edge technologies like emails and phones.

I shrugged. “I think that I got all of them…I guess that we’re gonna find out soon enough.” I motioned towards our dining table. “What are we gonna do with that?”

Only a few hours ago, we had received a delivery from a catering service. It seems that Mayor Dwek had anticipated a large turnout from the building, and in preparation for it, she had decided to donate to the inventory of our ‘snack’ party. A cornucopia had been delivered to our home, wrapped in a plastic shell instead of wicker. Given that she was in the habit of dealing with her Latin American constituents on a more frequent basis, the bounty was filled with the mass-produced version of various Hispanic staples: Cuban sandwiches on stale bread, guava turnovers obviously baked too long, cornmeal empanadas that had been already split open during a clumsy transit. None of it may have been saporific…but if we ever wanted to lead a military horde, we now had the means to feed it.

Again, I shrugged. “I don’t know…I guess that we’ll just eat it over the next ten years…”

Suddenly, there was a knock at our door. We looked questioningly at each other, and with the collective realization that it was a surprise to us both, we looked at the door in silent wonder.

“She’s not due for another hour, right?” I whispered to Rhonda.

“Yeah,” Rhonda whispered back, adding to the susurrous hum likely to be heard by our visitor. “I hope that it’s nobody from the building.”

Reluctantly, I walked to the front door, almost tripping over our cat. “Goddamn it, Flukeman…get out of the way!” After almost killing my feline friend and myself, I looked through the peephole, and much like when peering into my own soul at times, I observed only darkness. For a moment, I thought that the lights in the hallway had been smashed out by mercenary ninjas who now waited for me in the darkness…before remembering that Rhonda had inadvertently blocked our peephole by adding an autumnal decoration on the door only yesterday. Well, we might not be able to identify potential murderers and rapists…but in our favor, nobody will dispute the claim in any eulogies that we were seasonally festive. I opened the door with resignation to our fate, hoping for The Lady but expecting The Tiger…only to come face-to-face with a party of three suited gentlemen and two in casual clothing. I noticed that the three men in suits were all sporting handguns within jacketed holsters; I could only assume that the other two carried concealed weapons as well.

I forced myself to smile at my potential doom. “Hello, gentlemen. Can I help you?

One suited man with grey hair and average height took a step forward. “Mr. Bolton? Is that you?”

I kept my body and my smile in place, despite the temptation to abscond with both. “Yessir. That’s me.”

The grey-haired gentleman nodded in response. “That’s good. Would you mind stepping aside then? We’re here to search your place.”

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.

Condo Chronicles: Uncle Joe Wants You in His Army

“Woah, woah, woah, stop the clock,” I said, taking a sip of the viscous shake that always seemed in need of improvement. However, upon every visit to White Mana, I was always willing to give them another chance at redeeming themselves. That, and I was a glutton. “So…wait…Are you telling me that Mayor Dwek eats people? Listen, I’ve heard some interesting accusations about Jews in my day, but practicing cannibalism takes the cake. Unless it’s some sort of Orthodox Jewish thing…they can be a little weird at times, especially with that chicken-killing ritual…”

Octavio shook his head. “Nah, Pete, we’re not talking about that…dude, she’s selling their body parts!” Interpreting the expression on my face, he added, “And, no, she’s not selling them to cannibals, but to rich people who need them! That fuckin’ puta killed my aunt and sold her kidneys…like she was some sort of fuckin’ animal…”

“Okay…so, what Joe is trying to say is that Mayor Dwek is a dealer in the black market? In the trade of illegal organs?” I inquired as I finished the last few bites of my meal, along with any remainder of good health in me.

Joe nodded. “Exactly.”

Though I wasn’t about to announce my ignorance in this particular forum, the truth was that I knew little of Mayor Dwek. However, from my few months of residency in Little Peru, I knew that she had a devout following among her constituents. It wasn’t uncommon to pass an home and notice a large poster of her proudly displayed in a street-facing window. On rare occasions when walking by an open front door, you could peek inside and inspect their living room, where a portrait of Mayor Dwek would be positioned next to a picture of The Last Supper…as if she were the 13th apostle and had been tardy due to a meeting with the DPW that had run late. Of course, any explanation of how Dwek was Jewish and how such a tableau might seem ridiculous would likely fall on the deaf ears (sometimes literally deaf) of your typical Honduran grandmother. (As with sarcasm and subtlety, irony was not something that was yet universally understood or appreciated by all cultures.) When the day for elections came, her supporters would canvass the town and invade every building with an open door, placing flyers and posters throughout lobbies and accessible hallways. I had discovered such uninvited regalia taped to our own building’s walls, and they probably would have wallpapered my apartment with her visage if I had forgotten to lock my door. I could only guess that such cultish devotion came from her ability to dole out municipal and state welfare aimed at their impoverished families, along with other such perks. But could such a passionate loyalty result in them turning a blind eye towards occasionally butchering and harvesting one of their friends? To that extent, I had my doubts.

I wiped my hands and placed my napkin on my plate. “So, Mayor Dwek is the Devil Incarnate, and these red jumpsuit guys are her minions? Her diablitos? They somehow trick or compel people into getting their organs ripped out, and because they’re likely illegals, nobody knows and nobody cares.” I turned to Joe. “I gotta be honest, Joe: I’m having a hard time swallowing this story. Those are some pretty tall accusations. Got any proof to back that up?”

“Nothing concrete,” Joe stated flatly, as shook his head. “Just missing people, statements from their families, and some circumstantial evidence. Some eyewitness accounts about people running in hospital gowns through Little Peru at night; sometimes they’re wearing nothing.” Even though that last part sent a chill up my spine, I did my best to shroud it. Naked people running around Little Peru…why did that suddenly seem familiar to me? “But, as you can probably guess, we don’t have anything that would actually stick if an arrest were made.”

Octavio interjected, his face flush with emotion. “Joe knew about my aunt, Pete. And I didn’t even tell him about her. Dude, how else would he know about that? And then he showed me a bunch of papers about her death. How that bitch killed my aunt! I remember…I remember how my aunt would always bring me presents on my birthday…” He stopped midway through his sentence as his voice began to waver. Like every teenager, a public display of vulnerability was beyond his current skillset; it made him endearing, in the most awkward kind of way.

Moved by the emotional toll on my young friend, I looked at Joe gravely. “And so what do you and your benefactors want from us?” I deciphered the suggestive hint in Joe’s eyes. “Or, should I say…what do you want from me?”

“If you’re willing to help, we’d like you to do a little reconnaissance for us,” Joe began, flourishing his hand in incantation and summoning our check from the aether behind the counter. “We know about the legal problems in your building…don’t ask how, we just do. Invite the mayor to your building, under the assumption that she can help to fix the problem with your other tenants. When you get her alone, you should talk about the building for a while…but, at some point, make up a sob story about your struggling father and his need for a new pair of kidneys. Then, see what she says about it…and then relay that back to me.” He wiped his hands for emphasis. “No mess and no strings attached. Besides, maybe she could actually help you with your building problem. Who knows? In the end, it could be a win for everbody.”

“Well, maybe not for Mayor Dwek…And, so, that’s it?” I shot at him, with an assertive tone reserved for cross examinations in courtrooms.

Joe gesticulated with a flattened hand, passing it smoothly before him. “That’s it.”

Hmmm…even if this guy is full of shit, maybe Mayor Dwek could help me dismantle the legal bomb in our building…Though I was suspicious of him, I had to admit it: he was starting to make some sense. That, or all of the blood meant for my brain was now in my belly, and in my mentally-challenged state, I had just made a Faustian deal with a drooling smile.

I reluctantly nodded, as an elated Octavio patted my back in excitement. “Okay. I’ll do it.”

Flashing his perfect teeth, Joe held out his hand. “Dinner is on me, buddy…you know, I could tell that you were a good guy, Pete. I’m smart like that.”

“Stop it already,” I said, rolling my eyes. “There’s a difference between beating a dead horse and running a victory lap on top of its rigid corpse…but, yeah, you got me. For the time being, I’m your man.” And with that, I took his offered hand and shook it.

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.

Condo Chronicles: Who Can You Trust if Not a Jersey Mayor

Take it easy, Octavio…you’re practically gushing over this guy. But, truth be told, I couldn’t find that much fault with my naive friend. Even though he had grown up in Little Peru and had learned what a two-bit hustler looked like, he was still young and hadn’t met the ones that wore haute couture as their sheep’s clothing. Before I could respond to Octavio, a server behind the White Mana’s counter approached our loquacious trio. “Had enough time to think it over? You guys ready to order?”

Along with our respective fries, onion rings, and shakes, Octavio and I ordered The Big Web; Joe ordered only a single slider by itself. After the server turned back to his grill, I was about to recommence our conversation…but before continuing this line of inquiry, I had to ask one other important question.

“One slider?” I questioned. “Who does that?”

“In my line of work,” Joe explained, “Appearances play a big role. I keep an eye on what I eat…but since I’m here, I might as well cheat…just a little bit.”

I turned to Octavio. “I’m not sure if I can trust a man who orders only one slider…that’s just plain crazy if you ask me…” I turned back to Joe. “And if you order that burger without the roll, I’m not going to sit here and have this conversation. There’s only so much that I can tolerate.”

Even though my jests had some intention of taxing the patience and possibly invoking the fall of the smiling mask on this dapper gentleman, it also had the secondary purpose of being a distraction. I wanted to conceal any observable indications of insight on my part. Better to keep him guessing and off balance…hopefully, it’s working.

Joe placed one hand over his heart with the other raised, as if offering its palm to the nearest holy tome available. “I swear to consume everything on my plate. Now, if I may…back to what Octavio was talking about: the red jumpsuits. But before I do, let me ask one question. Tell me, Peter, why did you move to Little Peru?”

“Well,” I pondered, “I can tell you one reason why I didn’t move there: it wasn’t because I wanted to listen to fucking bachata music every day for the rest of my life…though apparently I’m not going to get around that one.” In West Virginia, it had been country music; in my new home, it was bachata music. As I had found in my world travels, salt-of-the-earth people had simple tastes. Or, as Mel Brooks had eloquently summarized in Blazing Saddles: they were morons. “Obviously, though, I bought my place because it was affordable, especially for the amount of space…but, being the real estate guy, you already knew that.”

Joe smiled. “That I did. I mean, it’s crazy everywhere else around the Palisades, right? It’s ridiculous to find anything affordable around here. All the towns along the Hudson River have experienced a rush of price increases on homes, and it’s starting to happen on top of the Palisades as well. All except for Little Peru…ever wonder why?”

I shrugged. “Because nobody wants to live in a neighborhood where a block party includes live cock fighting?”

“Really?” Joe asked, in a startled fashion.

“No, he’s messing with you, Mr. Vasgersian,” answered Octavio. “That’s not true…” He paused with a pensive expression on his face. “Well, for the most part. There was that one time, with those Dominican guys next to the bouncy castle…”

“In any case,” Joe continued, undeterred by our desultory remarks, “If you guys aren’t aware of it, there’s one certain thing about the Jersey market: it booms when certain people want it to happen. Take Hoboken, for example. It went from a heroin den to a valuable commodity that demands Manhattan prices almost overnight. How? Because the right people knew how to make it happen. And it keeps happening everywhere else…but not with Little Peru. Why? Because the people in charge of Little Peru don’t want it to happen.”

I nodded. “Uhhh…yeah, that makes total sense. I mean, that’s why the people of Little Peru voted for their mayor and such. So that she’d look out for them, and that includes trying to prevent yuppies from raising the prices and driving them out of town. You think that they voted for her just because of Free Tortillas Tuesday?”

“There’s a Free Torti…” began Joe, stopping when he noticed that both Octavio and I were smiling and shaking our heads. “Very funny, Peter. But you’re right…Mayor Dwek and her team have so much support because she’s promised to keep the broker and developer wolves at bay. Assuming, of course, that Little Peru’s city hall has only the best of intentions for its people…”

“Order’s ready. Make some room!”

As the order came to our stretch of the counter, the crepuscular horizon was losing its fight to the encroaching nightfall, and much like a flower that unfurls with the breaking dawn, the verdant neon ‘Hamburgers’ sign of the White Mana emerged with effulgent life at the twinkling of the vespers, broadcasting itself on the many television screens that were reflected windows of parked cars in the street. Blocks away, the will-o’-the-wisps of the city began to emerge with the lengthening shadows, as the glows of passed blunts rotated between teenagers on nearby stoops. Nocturnal creatures were awakening from their slumber to invade the darkness…but, here, bathed in fluorescent light and comforting smells, we were safe from it all. Relishing the moment to appreciate our shelter and sustenance, I grabbed the squeezable bottle (i.e., the same red plastic bottle that must exist in every diner in America) in order to dole out a copious amount of ketchup for myself.

“So, Joe,” I said, taking a quick bite of one burger, “You’re implying what about Mayor Dwek? That she’s not just into doing her job? That she’s a politician who uses her constituents as part of an angle to line some of her own pockets?” I grabbed an onion ring. “What’s next? Are you going to tell us that water is wet?”

Joe took another slow bite of his lone slider. “Not at all. But you have to understand that she doesn’t want to use them in some sort of metaphorical way. She wants them literally. She wants their hearts and minds literally. She wants them the same way that we want cows for our burgers.” He put down his slider and looked at Octavio. “Just like she wanted your aunt’s kidneys…and she took them.”

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.

Condo Chronicles: Sympathy for a Shadowy Figure

As the patrons of the White Mana diner continued their din and dining, I paused momentarily to collect my thoughts. Even though this dashing figure had the natural upper hand that comes along with an ambush (or, what the pleonasm-loving tubby Mike from my condo building would call “a surprise ambush”), I wasn’t about to show fear in the face of this perfectly coiffed wolf. I leaned a bit back on the counter seat in order to form a V-formation between the three of us, so that I could talk to both Octavio and this stranger simultaneously. That, and I was flirting with the idea of eventually leaning farther back and delivering a devastating kick to that chipper countenance. Of course, I wouldn’t have meant to…I would have just lost my balance. Naturally.

“So, stranger,” I began with a slight drawl, “What brings you to these parts? Looking pretty fancy in those duds…you look like you just stepped out of one of Haddad’s trucks! If they’re shooting a movie, though, I didn’t see any trailers or food tables set up on the street.”

I’m not sure how I had done it…but upon finishing my comment, I took note of the slight surprise evident on his face. Point goes to me…whatever I did. “Thank you, Mr. Bolton,” he said, almost in singsong. “In any case, you’re actually a lot closer to the truth than you may know. At one point in time, I did dabble in acting…but that was some time ago.”

I nodded my head. “And that led right into porn, right? I thought that I recognized you…Listen, there’s no shame in that. Show business is a tough mistress, and hard times fall upon the best of them. I mean, Malcolm McDowell and Helen Mirren did it, right? And Warwick Davis too, right…or was that one just a rumor? Ever got the chance to work with him?”

The stranger’s smile deflated a tad in response, and he tilted his head slightly…assuring me that he wasn’t missing my joke at his expense. “That’s funny, Mr. Bolton…Or can I call you Pete?”

I shrugged. “Fine by me. I’d call you by your name, but as you already know, someone didn’t bother to tell me yours.” I turned to Octavio briefly. “Apparently, I’m not in the loop.”

Before Octavio could speak in his own defense, the stranger intervened. “Don’t blame Octavio…even though I haven’t known him for long, he seems to be a good kid, and he has nothing but praise for you. It’s not his fault. In fact, you can blame this entire thing on me.” He held out his hand. “Pleased to meet you. My name’s Joseph Vasgersian.”

“Okay,” I said, shaking his hand. “Nice to meet you. So, Joe…Care to tell me what this is all about?” Though I doubted it, Octavio could have been moonlighting as 21 Jump Street, and I had been snared into some sort of ridiculous net to catch middle-aged pot smokers. Unlikely…but in any case, I wasn’t about to voice any of my suspicions. “Or is this just a pointless yet fun way for you to meet new people? Something that you save for the weekends, after all of those porn shoots during the week?”

Flashing his mouth’s inventory of ivory, Joe shook his head. “Nah, my weekends are usually pretty busy, too. Though I thought that we should meet…after all, it’s not everyday that people start poking around to learn more about the red jumpsuits.”

This time, it was my turn to look a little surprised, as much as I attempted to utilize my own thespian skills to look otherwise. “Red jumpsuits? What are you talking about? You may need to take a sabbatical from your salacious work. It’s left you dehydrated and delusional.” Shit…that didn’t sound convincing at all. Even I’m not even buying my own acting here. An infomercial actor would look like Al Pacino next to me right now. Let’s just hope that Mr. Haddad Truck is too dumb to know any better.

Unfortunately for me, he did. “That was a good try, Pete…but I know better. My people learned about Octavio talking to people around Little Peru, asking about the red jumpsuits. Then, I came to Octavio myself, and he told me how the whole thing had started with you.” Observing that I was about to throw another verbal barb into my young friend, he stopped me before I could even swivel my head. “But that was only because I confided in him. He wouldn’t tell me anything until I had gained his trust.”

“Pete, he’s a good guy,” interjected Octavio. “Just listen to him for a few minutes, and you’ll see…”

“That’s okay, Octavio, I got it,” interrupted Joe. “Listen, Pete…I’m a real estate agent, and I’ve been working this area for a couple of decades. During that time, I’ve gotten to know a few power players, and…well, let’s just say that I also serve as a representative for certain parties that would like to remain anonymous. In particular, these people have a keen interest in Little Peru. They’re concerned about injustices being perpetrated on its people…”

Much like Ash Williams, I knew pillow talk when I heard it. You can stop with the emotional gambit…I wasn’t born yesterday, son. I know that there’s another angle in play here. I didn’t arrive on the chicken truck yesterday. But I wasn’t about to reveal that card just yet…so I let him keep talking.

“…and since we heard through the grapevine that you shared our concerns, we decided to approach you. To see if you’d like to join up.”

Now I was confused. “To be what? One of these red jumpsuit guys? I gotta tell you…matching jumpsuits isn’t a good sell for being a cool bunch. I think that I’ll decline, especially since blue is more my color.”

I felt Octavio’s hand on my shoulder, and I turned to face him. “Nah, Pete…remember those diablitos that I was talking about? They’re for real. For real. It’s those red jumpsuits…they’re serious assholes who hurt people like my aunt. But Joe, you see, Joe and his guys are legit. And they want our help to bring them down!”

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.

Condo Chronicles: Walked Right into that One

Under strict observation, human behavior can be just as fascinating an example of complex model systems as any software design or any chemical interaction. Read works by John E. Douglas, and you’ll learn of the more bizarre machinations that can be conjured by the human mind. Like the dutiful meticulous work of a spider that weaves its web, the prolific investigator describes how these shattered souls can entrap and enshroud themselves within the complex constructs of their own imagination, curtailed to fit their particular fetishes and foibles. Yet still, these intricate tapestries somehow still aren’t incongruous with the necessary rituals of mundane life; they somehow still mesh with reality. As with other examples of eccentric psychology, it’s possible to conduct investigative therapy and find an artifact from this mental dig, something that helps to explain where it all went wrong…but physiologically, it’s usually a complete mystery.

For centuries, chefs have known that brass serves as better cookware when preparing various egg dishes, but they could never tell you why. Eventually, the enigma was solved in the late 20th century, only after a group of physicists was curious enough to seek its explanation. So, how many more years are left before we finally understand the human mind, down to the firing of every neural synapse? Take a fight between two romantic partners, for example. Sure, we can understand when an alexithymiac couple evades a painful topic, lets it fester beneath the thin surface like trapped methane, and then ignites it suddenly in a bright display of fireworks and a frightful brandishing of razor-sharp Wüsthof knives. That and the occasional subsequent trip to the emergency room are normal, of course…but on a neurological level, what exactly leads to such a dilemma? After putting down our sharpest cleaver and consenting to a truce with Rhonda, I was in the midst of wrapping my head around this enduring puzzle during a stroll intended to calm my nerves. I had made some progress with my walk (but little with my biological homework) when I felt the familiar buzz from my pocket. Hoping that the peace accord had not been rescinded, I saw with relief that the incoming call was not from Rhonda. Thankfully, I wouldn’t have to contact the United Nations to warn them about any impending violence in the near future.

Octavio…hmmm…I wonder what he wants…

“Hey, kid,” I said in greeting to the young lad on the line. “Long time, no see. I haven’t seen you at the gym for the last few weeks. Where’ve you been?”

The voice on the other end was Octavio…but he didn’t sound like his normal effervescent self. “Hey, Pete…uhhh…can you meet up with me at White Mana? I got something to tell you.”

“Sure,” I answered, curious about the tone of his voice. “Which one?”

“There’s more than one?” questioned Octavio incredulously.

Even though he wasn’t physically present, I shook my head disapprovingly. Though it wasn’t completely necessary to be aware of local trivia, you would think that anyone with roots in this area would be aware of an indigenous restaurant feud that had lasted for almost a century. These townies on the Palisades… As a young lad in West Virginia, I appreciated the ethereal serenity that beset me in those lofty peaks, offering its bounty of crisp mountain air…but I and other natives of my age couldn’t help but always yearn to simply glimpse at the menu offered by the world, for to even hope at tasting its offerings was beyond the feeble limits of our jejune imagination. These spawn of the Palisades, though, could observe the entire world from their vantage point. From their apartment windows, they could watch the Empire State Building change its colors every night. They could hear the loud cruise ships docking in the Hudson from the east, and from the west, they could hear the whistle of trains blowing through the North Bergen Rail Yard. On a summer wind that would have inspired Sinatra to sing from his grave, you could taste the salt from the sea in the air during the day’s summer swells. Then, that very night and from below, you could smell the brine and decay of the mysterious, swampy Meadowlands (including its now permanent residents dropped off by mobsters of earlier decades). So much, including New York City, surrounded them, and it was all at their fingertips…yet for most of them, it was simply a background to their existence, as real as a mile-high projection screen for 360 degrees.

Don’t get me wrong…it’s common for the young to be unaware of their surroundings as they frolick, rolling in their new morning clover and feeling the cool dew of life immortal on them. Everything has a tendency to fall into the background when narcissism runs hot in a teenager’s veins…but, these rapscallions, though, seemed to suffer from a hotter fever. Was it just another odd trait in those born to the Palisades? Was it yet another tiresome aspect of an immature Millennial Generation, who seemed to seek reclusion from “adulting” and reality like the Swiss during wartime? Or maybe it was just my perspective as a curmudgeon (a.k.a., an old bastard), as another example where the grass is greener on the other side (or, in this case of a bucolic upbringing, where the buildings are taller)? I had to admit it: there was a good chance it was an amalgamation of them all.

“Yes,” I answered with emphasized exasperation, “There’s another one. But I’ll be down there on Tonnele in a few minutes. Okay?” And after quickly affirming our arrangement, Octavio disconnected from the line.

I could have arrived early by riding the local jitney buses (otherwise known to some locals as “the chicken trucks”), but keeping with my elitist attitudes, I tended to abide by a standard of cleanliness that has been adopted by North America. So, I chose public transportation as the more faithful option. Switching between a couple of NJTransit buses, I finally rode the Route 125 until I arrived on the doorstep of my eventual destination. Looking upon the White Mana Diner once more, I couldn’t help but smile at it with the fond appreciation for anything that has the ability to elicit nostalgia, even when there are little to no experiences involving yourself. For that’s not the important point for such a place to earn respect: it held the key that could unlock memories for so many others. As with any woman who wields subtle power, there is nothing of extravagance worn on its septuagenarian outside to invoke any maudlin feelings of the observer. (The same could be said about the plain-looking Ringside Lounge across the street, though its Siren call has wooed many famous boxers into its midsts. Even Mike Tyson has entrusted it with his beloved pigeons.) However, when one enters the White Mana’s miniscule intimate space and takes a seat at its circular counter, one can easily envision the many generations who have sat and conversed with each other and with those behind the counter, whether during a day’s sober lunch or while having a drunken snack during the wild hours of the night, whether talking about the weather or while arguing about the Yankees’ roster. On this day, I found two policemen arguing about the very same roster on one side of the counter’s circular ring, and spotting Octavio on the other side, I waved and then sat down beside him.

“Man, it’s been too long since I’ve been here,” I admitted to Octavio, feeling sudden pangs of hunger at smelling the grill in the donut’s center. “They do make a damn good burger…I might even have two or three…Hey, why the long face? You hungry?”

Octavio turned to me with downcast eyes. “I’m…I’m sorry, Pete…I wanted to tell you…but he said that it was better this way…”

“Hello, Mr. Bolton,” said a voice cheerfully from my other side, as I detected someone sitting down alongside me at the counter. Did this kid just set me up? Am I about to be blackmailed or arrested for smoking pot with a minor? I suspiciously glanced at the cops on the other side of the diner, who now looked back at me in much the same way.

I turned to face the voice’s owner: a polished handsome man in a sharp Armani suit, obviously tailored to fit his frame. Definitely Giorgio and not Emporio…only the best with this guy. He flashed an easy smile, with the confidence of one who knew his ability to charm came effortlessly. Much like his overall presentation, it came naturally to him. An ambivalent jealousy arose in me, where one side resented him out of a hateful envy while the other wished to emulate such an aesthetic superiority. Though both sides of me continued to debate that subject, they did agree on one thing: this guy was not to be trusted. At least…not yet.

Well, there’s only one way to find out. One, two, three, allons-y.

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.

Condo Chronicles: No Kind Deed Goes Without Harsh Sodomy

I read the letter aloud in order to further concretize what I held in my hand, since my mind was thoroughly rejecting the reality being presented to it. “…and Mike Gigliano, and Helga and Amir Shah, and Bertha and Ira Wolfwitz, by means of their Verified Complaint say as Statement of Facts: 1.) Casa de Perros adopted a Public Offering statement, which includes, among other things, the Master Deed and the by-laws 2.) Currently, Casa de Perros is governed by a board known as the Casa de Perros Board of Trustees (i.e., CPBT) allegedly elected by the owners, without any substantial proof…blah, blah, blah…”

Allegedly? With the insinuation that I had conducted some sort of clandestine coup for this position? Truthfully, in the place of attending the affairs of this building, I would have rather engineered the execution of my own death via being hanged, drawn, and quartered. And how the hell could Mike legally be on this…he had disowned his place, for fuck’s sake…

“20.) At the July owners’ meeting of this year, Plaintiff Bertha and Plaintiff Helga politely inquired about changing the current bylaws, and without any legal basis, the CPBT emphatically dismissed the request and consequently threatened a number of plaintiffs in response…blah, blah, blah…46.) Instead of abiding by the governing documents of the building, the CPBT has made several executive decisions without putting the motion to a vote, including the opinion of making ‘necessary repairs’ without the guidance or witness of fellow owners…”

I had read some of these bylaws before committing myself to the real estate version of a martyr. Essentially, I had found them to be a paragon of ambiguity, only rivaled by perhaps The Bible. I could see them being used as the basis for a number of claims, up to and including the legal argument that condo owners should be considered possible heirs to the Hapsburg line of monarchy. Maybe I’ll use Lisa’s clothes in that abandoned closet and proclaim myself Queen of the realm…

“…blah, blah, blah…55.) Even though this CPBT body (of ‘supposed’ legitimacy) has not yet proven any of its claims, the Plaintiffs have and will continue to suffer from their brash and cavalier decisions if nothing is done to stop them…blah, blah, blah…71.) The Plaintiffs demand a thorough investigation of the board’s current activities, paid out-of-pocket by the current CPBT members , in order to determine if any immoral or illegal activities have been performed under their governance…”

I had heard of some bold requests in my time…but asking someone to willingly pay for their own incarceration was a new one. Even if I had been as guilty as Robert Durst, I would have been stunned and shocked at such audacity.

“…and against the Defendants…Count One, Ultre Vires…Count Two, Temporary Injunctive Relief…Count Three, Breach of Fiduciary Duties…Prayer for Relief, where we ask for the temporary cease of all building fees, under suspicion of malfeasance…for the restraining of any repairs…and for the CPBT to be temporarily relieved of duty.”

Looking up from the paper, I was too stunned to truly articulate anything poignant. That, and I was equally amused as well as outraged. “Well…that sucks. But that doesn’t mean anything until a court date, right?”

The color of Brian’s forehead turned a bit darker and formed into drupelets, transforming his large smooth head into an overripe raspberry. “That would be true…if Raymond’s lawyer had attended the court date to defend us. Those papers were emailed a couple of weeks ago, and he missed his appearance. So the judge ruled in favor of the defendants.” Brian gritted his teeth. “The lawyer said that he’s sorry.”

“So, in summary,” I articulated, “We’re not the condo board for the time being…nobody is going to pay their maintenance fees…and Bertha’s bitches are trying to send us to jail? And only after being in charge of this abso-fucking-lutely ridiculous place for a few months?”

Babbu nodded violently, as if chopping something (or someone) with his tomahawk of a chin. “Yep. You’ve got it, chief!”

“Well,” I said, “Tell you what…nothing against you guys, but I think that I’ve had enough for one day. So, I’m gonna punch out by going home and getting drunk. And if I’m still alive tomorrow, I’ll give you guys a call and try to work something out. That, or we can talk about how we can just burn down the building with everyone it. Either plan sounds fine to me.” I handed the email back to Brian. “Adios, muchachos.

And after wiping my feet on the ugly floormat outside the door, I left them. I walked up the remaining floors to the safety and sanity of my own abode, where I hoped to enjoy the scant tendrils left of my high. As I walked through the door, Rhonda called out to me from the bedroom; she had the uncanny ability to recognize me from just the sound of my footsteps. Her olfactory and auditory senses were so keen that I was always slightly frightened to be around her during a full moon. “Dinner’s almost ready! So, how was your workout with Octavio? Did you get another black eye?”

“Nope,” I called out. “But Mike and Lisa destroyed their apartment and are gone forever, and I got kicked out from being on the condo board. Good news is that I know a place where you can get all the free shoes and clothes that you want.” I noticed a filled trash bag standing by the door. “I’m gonna take this trash down. See ya in a bit.”

A brief pause from the bedroom was then followed by a wavering note of confusion, as the door closed behind me. “Wait…what?”

Slinging the garbage bag over my shoulder, I plodded down the stairwell humming “Until It Sleeps” by Metallica (as I’m prone to do when attempting to barricade myself from depression). I yanked open the door to the garage on the ground floor (at just the moment when the lyrics say …open, but beware!), and as I lazily dragged the garbage bag on the floor (much like a neanderthal would drag his wife in politically incorrect cartoons about cavemen), something had enough presence to distract me from my currently intoxicated malaise. I dropped the bag where I stood, and I walked over to the wall of the garage. There, clearly now much larger than it had been, was the crack in the wall that I had observed from our first meeting in the garage so many months ago. Instead of being a few scant millimeters as before, it was now slowly approaching the width of a centimeter. I could now clearly distinguish figures and shapes on the other side of the wall, and much like a poisonous vine with malicious intentions, the fracture was now beginning to creep upwards towards its lackadaisical inhabitants. So…what will kill us first? The building…or each other? I didn’t know…and as long as Rhonda and I weren’t here when the shit eventually went down, I didn’t really care one way or another.

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.

Condo Chronicles: But Wait, There’s More

Babbu and Brian looked at each other and then stared at me in silence. For a brief moment, I thought that my jest about corpses might actually have some merit, and then the joke would be on me. Instead, they both started to chuckle at the insinuation.

I let out a sigh of relief. “You guys had me going there for a second…I thought that we had a murder-suicide here. Or that maybe one of you had decided enough was enough, and you made the executive decision to get rid of them…permanently.”

“No, man,” replied Babbu, still laughing. “No, nobody’s hurt…but that racist piece of shit deserves something like that! People are always messing with Sikhs, but one day, we’ll rise up to assholes like him! And then he’ll be sorry!”

I have always been amused how each banner-waving minority activist, no matter the particular circumstance, deems their own particular suffering as paramount over those of another demographic…and, in doing so, have actually practiced some form of softball bigotry, where the belittlement of another group’s problems are implied rather than explicitly stated. However, if I even dared to chuckle at that moment, I’d have to explain myself, and it’s safe to say that such an explanation would probably go over my compatriot’s turban. So, I bit my lip.

“…He’s lucky that me and my bros weren’t around when he was leaving…because there’s a good chance that we would have fucked him up!” Babbu spat on the floor in vile hatred. My immediate, normal reaction was to dissuade him from spitting in someone’s home…but considering the state of it, he probably had just helped to clean it a little. Again, I bit my lip. “But he’s gone now…whatever. Brian and I met Lisa leaving the building. We talked to her while she put some furniture and shit in her friend’s truck about an hour ago…”

“…And I talked to Mike on the phone just a few minutes ago,” Brian interjected excitedly. “He said that they had one last big fight, and then that was that. It looks like the show’s over.” He looked around somberly. “And it looks like it was one hell of a final act.”

You didn’t need to be here to know what happened: you could sense it. It was written in the gouged walls and scrawls on the floor. It told of the desperation that’s kept in reserve in most of us, but in this case, the walls of the crucible couldn’t possibly prevent the molten maelstrom from breaking its prison. It echoed the spiral of every romantic argument ever witnessed, as one divulged pain of the speaker begat another pain felt by the listener…And then they would switch places and repeat, until there was nothing left but the lonely, aching want of an embrace. Words that are spoken with immediate regret are then reconsidered as valid only a few moments later, and then one tortuously waffles between those stances for then and forever. At that point, though, it’s never possible to reconcile: the hurt and the longing both fill the room like a million inflated balloons. The two people are lost to each other…no matter how hard they cry with profuse apologies, no matter how frantic they stumble, no matter how much they claw the walls and reach out to find that familiar hand they know so well from a million walks together, no matter how much they would give to put things as they were…Their hopeful future and all its wonderful possibilities fall away with their tears, now mixed with a fresh coating of paint that was chosen together only a short time before. These events, it seems, have a way of finding their way to many of us…Or so I’ve been told.

“Well,” I began, “I can’t say that I’m all that surprised…”

Brian held up his hand. “Well, hold on a moment: there’s more. They both left this place…but they left for good.” He waved his hand emphatically for effect. “Like…they’re gone. They both said that they wanted nothing more to do with this place. Bon voyage. Adios. They both wash their hands of it.”

I looked around in confusion. “So…who owns this place now, then?”

“Nobody!” answered Babbu. “Not until the bank forecloses on it…”

I already knew where this was going. “…And that won’t happen for years, if whenever. And when it’s all added up, that’ll be quite a few fee dollars that then never makes it into the building’s coffers.” Though, truth be told, we hadn’t seen Mike’s fees for some time; he had stiffed us ever since the building’s butler (as he had still insisted on calling our super) hadn’t fixed his toilet for him. Despite the repeated explanation that Miguel wasn’t responsible for fixing toilets, it never quite penetrated the buffalo sauce that coated his brain. “Shit…this is a sad story all around.”

Brian let out a deep sigh. “Yeah…it sure is.”

I tilted my head towards the broken windows. “Well…the least we can do is call some guys to repairs those windows or board them up since fall is just around the corner…” I stopped midway through my sentence as I noticed the eccentric twitches of my partners’ faces. “What now?”

“Remember that there was really bad news?” Babbu inquired.

I nodded gravely. “Yeah…and?”

“Well,” Brian lamented, “We can’t exactly repair those windows…or repair the building leaks…or make any decisions that might help the building for now. In fact, you could say that we’re not exactly in charge anymore.” In the midst of speaking, he had reached inside a coat pocket and handed me a folded sheet of paper.

It turned out to be a printed email that had been sent to our property manager Raymond, who had then forwarded it to the three of us. It began simply “Dear Raymond and the Board of Casa de Perros”, and even before reading the letter’s closing by ‘Mr. Squidichi, Esquire’, I could tell from the first few words that it was written by the modest secretary of a novice lawyer.

At the end of the letter, I looked at them in disbelief. “Those motherfuckers.”

Babbu raised his hand to the sky as if summoning the power of Ik Onkar, in order to smite his enemies with his flaming kirpan. “Exactly!”

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.

Condo Chronicles: One Made a Mess of the Cuckoo’s Nest

Much like a dapper gentleman of a rustic setting who enjoys a postprandial walk though his beautiful estate, I have always enjoyed a pleasant stroll through a more urban setting after the consumption of a mild, mind-altering substance. Even with the ominous thunder lapping at my heels, my smoke-heightened mood was bolstered by the rushing endorphins from my workout with Octavio, and for a short while, I was able to roll back the hands of time and feel slightly invincible once again. After living amongst the constant sights and sounds of such an area, one has the tendency to develop a certain callous that numbs the sensations from such a constant stream of stimuli. However, with some slight “assistance” that alters the perception of passing time, one can regain the ability to notice the once ignored and to appreciate the subtle notes of benevolence that surround us. Depending on the person, it can even lead to bold reflection, and you may even arrive on your own doorstep to ask, “Did I let the world get to me…and allow me to forget how much there is to enjoy? Am I so lost?”

Or maybe it’s just because you’re hhhhiiiiiggghhhh, motherfuckaaaa.

I told my mature yet patronizing voice of reason to crawl beneath the rocks and to stay there for a little while longer…long enough to enjoy the rest of my journey back home through my quaint neighborhood. People might make jokes about this town…but it’s a gem in the rough. And when the ice caps melt and the island of Manhattan is under fathoms of water, the Palisades will be the new metropolitan stretch that everyone will covet. Yep…and then we’ll see who’ll be laughing… Of course, I wasn’t just high for my own sake. I was participating in a study; I was being the first-hand witness to science, observing the effects both cannabis and a runner’s high have on the endocannabinoid system of the brain. Those scientists didn’t need to study that. Shit, I could have told them that for free. However, my peaceful saunter and experiment wasn’t long before it was interrupted once more, by something other than my subconscious. Pulling out the vibrating phone from my pocket, I could see that the incoming call was from Steelkilt. Which meant only one thing…that it was something about the condo building.

Hmmm…should I relinquish this fleeting moment of joy? Because there’s no fucking way that I can enjoy the rest of this goddamn high if I… Too late, I was already pissed off now at merely thinking about it. My brief romantic fling with the universe had been terminated due to the Heisenberg effect of evaluating my own happiness. Goddamn it…this better be important…

Discarding the immediate thought of throwing the phone into a sewer grate on the corner, I took a deep breath and reluctantly answered my phone. “Hello?”

Brian sounded more exasperated than ever (which was saying something). “Peter? I checked your place, and Rhonda said that you had gone out. Listen, we’ve got some real problems now. When are you going to be back in the building?”

As if the overhead storm had been listening and waiting for such a cue, the first spatters of rain began to fall as I rounded the corner that led to my block. I quickened the pace in order to beat the heavier reinforcements, likely bearing down towards me at terminal velocity. “I’m only a few steps away from the front door. What’s up?”

“It’s too much to say over the phone,” blustered Brian. “We’ll give you all the details once you get here. Just meet me and Babbu in front of Mike’s door.” And with that cryptic note, he promptly hung up the phone.

After being on the condo board for only a few months, I had ascertained the essence of such a role: it was a thankless shit job that paid shit. (Actually, it paid nothing, which I suppose is better than actual shit.) Uncertain if it was simply a trait of all generations born after the Great Depression, I could bear witness to the general disposition of my spatial siblings that lived alongside me: they nearly all had the expectation that problems would be fixed without their participance or involvement. Between addressing impatient whining and putting out the small fires of neighborly squabbles, my duties resembled more of a kindergarten teacher than anything council. However, I had conscripted myself into this sisyphean endeavor, and unfortunately, I wasn’t about to abandon my post. If only I had the lack of any conscience. I need to look into purging such a parasitical nuisance. Maybe Octavio’s grandmother knows some kind of voodoo ritual involving a sacrificed chicken…

After walking into the lobby, I quickly ascended up the stairwell to the floor of Mike and Lisa, and after turning the corner, I found myself in the company of a flustered Babbu and a flushed Brian. Brian’s normal shade of angry pink was slowly darkening to a raging autumn. In our previous meetings over the past few months, I had served as the voice of reason against the howling mob that was my combustible compatriots. It looked as if I would need to repeat such a performance even now. Taking a deep breath, I composed myself for the conflagration that was about to consume me.

“Sooo,” I began, “What seems to be the problem?”

Babbu was the first to ignite. “These motherfuckers!”

Placing one of the massive mitts which were his hands on my shoulder, Brian looked at me gravely. “Well, do you want the bad news…or the really bad news?”

“Being in a good mood, let’s put me down gently. Give me the bad news,” I stated flatly.

With my answer to a choice of two evils now given, Brian stepped towards Mike’s door, and without even knocking, he turned the knob and opened the door. When I looked at Brian for some kind of guidance, he said nothing; instead, much like the last ghost that visited Ebenezer, he simply and silently pointed a finger in the direction of my looming fate. Following his direction, I stepped across the threshold of the doorway, and I looked upon the inside quarters of our community’s rotund rapscallion.

My mouth dropped open. “Holy shit…” I muttered.

Not only was the apartment now devoid of Mike and Lisa, it was now devoid of nearly anything. Upon immediate entry, I found myself in their bare living room and kitchen. Though all furniture had been removed, the kitchen cabinets were obviously stocked with plates, and the living room closet was full of odd items, like tools and an old laptop. From this particular vantage point in the living room, I could see into their bedroom, and it was oddly similar to the situation in the living room: no furniture but a stocked closet full of women’s clothing and shoes. More shocking, though, was the physical state of the entire space. Even though I had heard the violence of their past transgressions while eavesdropping, I had never actually seen the evidence of it. Several windows had been broken, and painful gouges that traversed for feet had been torn into the walls. The wooden floors, which displayed a beautiful glossy sheen when first installed, now looked as if shamans had carved deep elaborate runes onto its surface, in the hopes of summoning natural forces that slumbered in the Palisades’ rocks. Shards of broken glasses and dishes crunched beneath our collective feet, mixing with some sort of dark viscous fluid that clung to our shoes. Noticing more than several crimson streaks along the wall, I suddenly hoped that I was standing in dehydrated ketchup rather than congealed blood.

“So,” I managed to mutter, “Is the really bad news that you’re not sure where to put the dead bodies? Because if you’re asking me, I nominate the basement.”

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.

Condo Chronicles: The Fellowship of the Ring

“What about Ana?” I asked out loud. “I thought that you were going to train her.”

“Eh, I’ll get to her later. She’s got to do some more conditioning, anyway.” Octavio turned to Ana. “Run on the treadmill at 9 miles per hour for about 30 minutes. That should get you warmed up.”

Ana nodded. “Okay.” She winked at me. “See ya later, Pete.”

I couldn’t help but glance at his older cousin’s posterior curves as she walked away, and even though it lasted no longer than a moment, Octavio caught my ephemeral indiscretion towards her feminine assets. With a bemused expression that included one raised eyebrow, Octavio stared and grinned at me in expectancy.

I gave him a slight shrug and a cha-grin (i.e., a grin of chagrin). “Hey, look, I may be old…but I’m not dead.”

Octavio chuckled. “Esso! Look at the balls on this old man. I love it!” He clapped his hands. “Okay, let’s get suited up and get started!”

Opening my bag, I pulled out the necessary equipment: handwraps, mouthpiece, helmet, gloves, and shoes. Man…the greatest pain in the ass about boxing is carrying all this shit. And let’s be honest…I don’t really need to wear this helmet. Once I start to sweat, it’s just enough lubrication for this thing to start spinning on my head. Which wouldn’t be so bad if it had eye holes spanning all 360 degrees…unfortunately, I’m not Zatoichi. After donning all of the requisite gear, I was just about to insert my mouthpiece when I paused to pose one more question to Octavio.

“Hey,” I stated simply, getting Octavio’s attention. “Seriously, though…what do you know about this thing with the cop and the guy in the red jumpsuit?”

Octavio’s face once again transformed into another pensive mask. “I…it…it’ll sound silly once you hear it. But I promise that I’ll tell you about it after I’m finished knocking the crap out of you.” He paused long enough to give me one of his cocky smiles. “Deal?”

I nodded. “Okay. That’s fair.”

Octavio paused once more before inserting his own mouthpiece. “And remember…stop telegraphing those powershots, especially your jump hook. I can see that shit from a million miles away. If another opponent can figure that out, then that’s Bad News Bears for you.”

I shrugged. “Easier said than done…but I’ll do what I can.”

Alas, per usual, what I could do wasn’t enough. Keeping with the amateur standard of three three-minute rounds (and since my middle-aged heart threatened to burst at the hint of any more), our pugilistic dance once again proved that my young comrade had all of the power and speed of a panther while I performed comparably to a drunken sloth. (Or, as I liked to tell him when we would run together outside, with his shirtless torso attracting every woman’s attention: You be poppin’, I be floppin’.) In my favor, I did land a few punches towards the beginning, but more often than not, they missed. During the second round, when I attempted to surreptitiously throw my infamous jump hook, I found myself striking nothing but air, and without being able to explain it, I knew immediately that he was behind me. Damn kid is too quick! I turned around and was fed an overhand right that I blocked somewhat…but it was still enough to make me see stars. Even though I basically hobbled over the finish line, I did make it to the end of the third round with a few tatters of my dignity still intact. Just like always.

“Hey, you did better that last time,” complimented Octavio, as we stepped out of the ring and took off our equipment. “Though you did telegraph that jump hook yet again…”

“No shit…we should level the playing field by attaching weights to your legs. So, now that I’ve been properly humiliated, can you tell me your story?”

Octavio nodded, turning his head to yell over his shoulder. “We’re going outside for a break, Ana! Keep it up! I’ll be back in a few!”

Leaving our equipment in small piles next to the ring, Octavio grabbed a small joint from his duffel bag, and per our ritual, we walked outside and proceeded to the very lip of the cliff. A perfectly serene setting for getting a little high. Unlike most kids of his age, it was a compliment to Octavio that he had learned the necessity of not packing a joint too tightly. Within a few seconds, we were enjoying a nice strain of sativa that had quickly become a favorite of mine.

After a few quiet rounds of puffing and passing, I asked again. “So…what’s the story?”

Leaning against the fence that was his sole protection from death that awaited far below, Octavio exhaled a small nimbus of chemical delight before calmly speaking. “So…this is gonna sound silly…but here it goes. So, you know that lots of Hispanics are superstitious, right?” I shook my head. “Well, they are…my grandmother included. She used to make me wear red shit as a little boy because of mal de ojo and shit like that…Anyway, when she used to come over and tuck us in at night, she would always tell me to be good, or else the diablitos would come and get me. She said that they had come for my aunt, who had actually died from bad kidneys…and they’d get me too, if I didn’t act right.” He paused, again with that same pensive look as before. “And for a little while, I believed it…and for an even longer time afterwards, I thought that it was bullshit. My aunt died when I was just a few years old, and I can’t really remember shit about it…but, lately, I’ve been having these dreams…I see these guys hovering over her, and they’re all wearing red.” He paused again. “It’s weird, too…because I’m not the only kid who has dreams about these red dudes.”

I took the joint from him. “Woah,” I said, as I took a drag. “I wonder if your red dudes are related to my red dudes! Man, this town has got it all…illegals, demons, ghosts…”

Octavio turned his head slowly to me, furrowing his brow. “Ghosts?”

“I’ll tell you about that some other time. In the meantime, can you do me a favor? If it’s not asking for a lot, can you dig into this diablitos thing a little more? It’s gotten me curious.”

“Yeah…me, too.” Octavio nodded. “I’ll ask around, old man.”

“Thanks, kid.” I pointed in the direction of the skyline, where the clear sky was being chased away from an encroaching storm. “We better wrap this up. You should get to training now with Ana if you don’t want to run home in the rain later.” I gave a slight chuckle from the tickling THC that now ran with my blood. “You know, it’s funny…I remember being a kid in my house, watching an approaching thunderstorm and taunting it from my window, even as the rain began to fall. You can’t get to me, I’d say to it. I’m nice and warm. Keep trying, buddy! Now, though, when the clouds get dark, all I do is worry about the leaks that are inevitably going to happen…and how I’m powerless to stop it. Just like everything else.” I somberly stared into the distance. “It’s funny how your perspective on everything changes as you get older.”

Octavio’s eyes narrowed as he tilted his head at me in scrutiny. He shook his head in an almost paternal way. “Wow…you are really fuckin’ high right now.”

Though my ability to focus was quickly departing the premises, I had just enough for one last salvo at my irreverent young friend. “You…you…shut up.”

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.