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Manuel Melendez

 

is a Puerto Rican author born in Puerto Rico and raised in East Harlem, N.Y. He is the author of 3 novels, 2 collections of supernatural short stories, and 5 collections of poetry books.

Closing the Deal

     “Mr. C., you have here a stunning view of the city.”


     Mr. C. took a quick glance outside the 34th story corner office window on the newly built 7 World Trade Center. It was indeed a breathtaking view; at night time it was pure magic.


     “Well sir, I apologize for my brusqueness, but we need to address the issue as quickly as possible. I wish I had more time at my disposal, but you must understand there are others who I must see today. Fortunately, four appointments are here in this same building. That doesn’t happen too often, but when it does, it’s quite a relief. Now if we may, I would like to continue in arranging our deal.”


     Mr. C. removed his gaze from the window and guided it to the man who sat in front of him. He was immediately reminded of a weasel.


     The weasel placed his briefcase across his knees and pulled out a leather binder. He returned the briefcase to the floor, and with a magician’s flair, offered the folder to Mr. C.  

 

     Staring at the binder, Mr. C. wondered if by accepting it, he would place himself at the mercy of this man. Instead, he let the folder hang in there between them; the weasel’s smile never faltered. Mr. C. bet this man could stay in that position forever, if that was necessary. Reluctantly, Mr. C. reached out and took the binder. The second his fingers touched the leather binder, a shudder jolted his body. Not bothering to look at it, for he knew its content—and knowing what they expected of him—Mr. C. placed it on top of his desk. After a second, he slid it to the side. Out of sight, out of mind, perhaps?

 

     The brightness of the morning could not bring light to the darkness he felt in his heart. A sudden rumble came from his stomach. That was always the aftermath when bouts of anxiety ambushed him. Mr. C. glared at the weasel, and for a man who was a master negotiator (and a ruthless one at that), at this precise moment, he felt more like a shy kid in a new school. The weasel, his perfect smile catching a full dosage of the sun, sat there, and Mr. C. speculated that the man’s patient could be tested past a normal breaking point.

 

     “You caught me at a very busy time,” Mr. C. said. “I’m expected in our board members’ meeting to go over the reports—”

 

     “And the reports once again will be fruitful ones, if I may add,” the weasel interrupted, perhaps a sign that his patience was cracking. “You have provided an affluent lifestyle to many… including yourself.”

 

     “Yes,” Mr. C. said, giving his stomach a squeeze. “That’s exactly why I would like our matters to be on the back-burner for now. I’m on the brink of completing a major trade, on which I’ve been working diligently for quite some time. It’ll be the biggest one of all. I’m so close to completing it, you know… cross the t’s and dot the i’s.”

 

     The weasel’s smile diminished. Still, the wattage was bright enough to challenge the sun's rays. “I’m afraid I have to deny your request. There are always deals manifesting every hour of the day and night, sadly we can’t be part of all of them. We have come to a crossroads where we need to complete our own deals. That’s why I’m here—our deal has reached its time to… cross the t’s and dot the i’s.”

 

     Mr. C.’s eyes blinked rapidly. His hatred for the man in front of him increased. He had never hated a smile as much as the one facing him. He truly was a man who enjoyed his job.

 

     “Now, let’s be honest,” the weasel continued. “We have handsomely rewarded you, more than you ever imagined by my client, but as they say, good things must end. It’s time for you to… what’s that other saying? Ha, now it’s time to pay the piper.”

 

     Mr. C. noticed the weasel’s smile altered into a grin, filling him with apprehension. And not wanting to see that smug mug anymore, he turned away and looked instead at the scenery out his window. He had a perfect, unobstructed view of the Statue of Liberty, and he remembered the first time he stepped into this office how ecstatic he was. There’s a special place in his heart for Madam Liberty. It brings him memories of his grandfather and the stories he told of the statue welcoming him to America from Italy. For hours, Mr. C. had been in awe of the glorious landscape. He even went out and purchased a telescope, which allowed him to gaze at ferries and boats traveling leisurely through the waters of the Hudson River. Still, in the past five years, the view lost its luster. The only time he’ll glance at the beauty outside was when someone came to his office for the first time. But now, fearing that today might be the last time he will marvel at the glory and rich history of the Statue of Liberty, angsty feelings overflowed his heart. 

 

     He turned once again; the triumphant smile displayed on the bastard filled Mr. C. with the desires to smash that grin off for good. If he had a gun, he would have blown the man’s head off from his skinny neck. Not hiding his annoyance, Mr. C. stood up, walked around his desk, and went to the telescope. It was still in the same position his grandson had left it the last time he visited. His son and grandson had surprised him one late morning, and that thought made him smile. They had taken an early lunch in the elegant confinement of the recently opened restaurant at One World Trade Center. It turned out to be one of the most joyous days he experienced in a long time, and the proudest when his son revealed the good news: a major publishing house had picked his first novel. They penciled the release for next summer, and Mr. C couldn’t wait to be part of the celebration. He took a quick glanced at the weasel, vowing that he was going to do everything in his power not to miss his son’s outstanding achievement.

 

     Mr. C. raised the telescope and adjusted the lens. He guided the eyepiece to a ferry heading to the statue, and he envied each of those passengers on board. At this moment, he would have traded all his riches to possess what all those below him have; and that was the freedom of destiny. Behind him, he could hear the slow, almost silent breathing of the weasel, and he wondered if there was anything he had to bargain with. But something told him that perhaps there was nothing he could use to bribe this man. Especially knowing so well who the weasel’s only client was.

 

     “Mr. C.,” the weasel shattered his train of thought. “If I didn’t know better, I believe you’re stalling. Why, Mr. C.? You knew very well that today was eventually destined to arrive. You must understand, I’m a fair man—a bit too generous with my time, like I am now. But my generosity must come to a halt, especially when the time I’m trying to be generous with doesn’t belong to me, but belongs to my client. Now with that said,” the weasel stood up, adjusting his tie and smoothing the lapel of his jacket, “Mr. C. I would appreciate if we get this matter taken care of. You were quite eager to jump at the opportunity my client presented you with when your life was spinning out of control. Now all my client wants is for you to have that same eagerness to settle your debt.”

 

     “Maybe I changed my mind,” Mr. C. came closer to the weasel, feeling powerful at the four inches he towered over the slim man.

 

     A nasal laugh jumped out of the weasel’s mouth. “Sir, this is not a suit you purchased at Macy’s and after a few days, you decide to return. What you have here is a solid, signed deal you bonded with my client. Changing your mind is not part of the agreement.”

 

     “And if I refuse to honor my end of the bargain? There’s no court in the world that can force me to honor it.”

 

     “Maybe not in this world, but be sure there are other worlds at my client’s disposal. And by the way, sir… I must advise you, my client doesn’t take kindly to deadbeats.”
Mr. C. smiled, hoping to disarm the weasel with a different tactic. “I assure you they have accused me of many things, but a deadbeat is not one of them. I’m more than eager to work with you on behalf of your client. For sure, there must be another option to resolve this deal that was made when few options were available to me.”

 

     The weasel picked a lint from his slacks and let it fall on the floor. There was a controlled anger in his action. He glared at Mr. C., his smile no longer present on his face, but in its place a thin line stretched, underlining his mustache. “I’m deeply concerned with what you’re trying to do, and I must warn you—”

 

     “Warn me?” Mr. C. leaned forward. “At this stage of my life, I’m way past being threatened by anyone. Don’t come here with your fine suit, 500-hundred-dollar haircut, and prissy little smile and try to bully me. I’m aware of the deal that I made, and if you consider yourself a businessperson, you should know that deals are made to be reconstructed. That’s how the world changes itself.”

 

     The weasel kept his eyes fixed on Mr. C., a hint of a smile shaded his lips. “I never claimed to be a businessperson. Rather, I’m merely my client’s collector. A messenger in layman’s terms, if you will. Therefore, I’m not at liberty to reconstruct a deal that was made between you and my client.”

 

     “A messenger? That’s what you are? Then I don’t even know why I’m having this discussion with you. You should have come up through the service entrance to deliver the package to the receptionist, like I instruct all messengers to do. By the way, how did you get access to my office? I hope you didn’t sneak in. If you did, I will have to call security and have them escort you out. I might even press charges for trespassing.”

 

     “Now Mr. C—”

 

     “Now you listen, unless your client is willing to either send a legit negotiator, or even show his face for once, this discussion is over. Now get your ass out of my office before I throw you out the window.”

 

     The weasel took a deep breath and pinched the tip of his nose. He exhaled as he removed his fingers away from his face. He glanced towards the window and shifted his gaze back to Mr. C. His smile illuminated him once more. “My client prefers the comfort of conducting his business as anonymously as possible. Especially when the deal was a cut and dry one. I’m sure he’ll be disappointed, but let’s be clear about this, and please Mr. C., please listen carefully—”

 

     “Fuck you!” Mr. C. leaped to his feet and came around his desk in large strides. “I want you out of here. And give this message to your client, you cheap thug of a messenger. You tell him to come here if he wants this deal settled. Otherwise, as far as I’m concern, the deal is dead.”

 

     “Please sir, you’re making a grave mistake.”

 

     “No, you’re the one that’s making a grave mistake by staying here. Now get the hell out or you’ll be sorry!”

 

     The weasel stood up, grabbed his briefcase and extended his hand towards Mr. C. He held it there for two seconds, then withdrew it. “My client will get in touch—”

 

     “You’re still here?”

 

     “Sir, I need—”

 

     “The only thing you need to do is get the hell out,” Mr. C. said as he wrapped his hand around the weasel’s arm and pushed him out the door.

 

     Mr. C. was breathing hard and through his suit jacket he could feel his heart pounding in a pace that was too fast for his liking. He walked to the window, his hands shaking as he placed them on to telescope tube. Looking through the eyepiece, he guided its view towards the Statue of Liberty. He relaxed.

 

     “A great colossal sculpture that beautiful lady is. And what she represents, the freedom of life. Imagine the millions of eyes that have seen that majestic masterpiece for the first time and have cried at the mere presence of her guiding torch. I’m sure France must kick themselves for giving it away.”

 

      Startled by the voice, Mr. C. jumped, his enormous bulk crashing against the telescope, and if it wasn’t for the firm grip of the man who simply appeared out of the thin air, he would have fallen on top of it. He regained his balance and took four steps away from the man, who was still holding on to his arm. There was an intense heat that radiated from the stranger’s long gloved fingertips and Mr. C. was relieved when the man released the hold.

 

     “Who the hell are you?” Mr. C. asked, backing away, for there was a fear slithering into his heart.

 

      “How the hell did you get in? What the... since when did my office became Grand Central?”

 

      “My sincere apologies if my presence has caused you unpleasantness. The door was open, and I took liberty in walking in.”

 

     “What about my receptionist? Didn’t you bother to speak to her first?”

 

     “Your receptionist must have taken a break,” the stranger said as he glanced at his watch. “Then again, it’s past noon. Perhaps she went out to gather her lunch.”

 

     “Impossible. She always alerts me when she goes out. Besides, she knows damn well to have someone cover for her. My instructions have always been that the reception area must always be attended. Always!”

 

     “I guess there must have been an emergency. Things like that happen. Not all plans and deals go perfect. There’s always a chance for things to break down when the least expected.”

 

     “I’ll deal with her later. Now who the hell are you and what do you want?”

 

     “I’m here because there’s a certain matter that needs to be rectified.”

 

      A cold tremor ran through Mr. C.’s body. He could feel his lower lip twitch and he bit down to stop it. In silence, he watched the stranger walk around his desk and sit on the same chair the weasel had sat before. But unlike the weasel, this man commanded attention. He was a handsome man with dark eyes and if you stared long enough, you could see shades of red in them. A massive head of jet black hair was slicked back, with hints of grey on the temples. Elegance oozed from him like the burnt sweetness of the cologne he wore. His straight nose, as sharp as the blade of a samurai’s sword, divided his face; accentuated a mouth adorned with a mischievous grin.

 

     Meticulously, he slipped off his thin leather gloves and placed them neatly on his lap. He moved his long fingers with the swiftness of a magician ready to perform a mind blogging card trick. “You were quite rude to my associate,” the stranger said, and the edginess took Mr. C. back. There was an accent now that he could not recall hearing before. The man plain scared him. 


     “We should carefully reserve rudeness until the proper etiquette of gentleman have been exhausted. Don’t you agree?” the stranger said, his words laced with venom. The best Mr. C. could do was nod his head. His mouth was dry, and he felt his upper lip dotted with perspiration.

 

     “Sir,” the stranger continued. “I’m a busy man, and when I have to remove myself from my schedule to attend matters that should have been handled in their proper course, I tend to be quite aggravated. Imagine, the businessperson who you are, giving a chore, a meaningless assignment, to one of your underlings, and having to stop what you’re doing to do the chore yourself. It’s enough to yell bloody murder. Do you see my dilemma?”

 

     Again, Mr. C. nodded, and by the fierce look that clouded the stranger’s eyes, he knew it was a mistake. Nervously, he cleared his throat, and still nodding, Mr. C. finally spoke. “Yes, I... I... I... understand.”

 

     The stranger grinned, his white teeth brighter than the weasel’s smile. “Therefore, I presume we will complete our deal. Am I correct to believe that?”

 

     “Sir, if you’ll allow me to say something in my defense,” Mr. C. said, wiping his brow with his hand. “I’m more than willing to...to... finalize the deal. But there’s so much on my plate now... that if you’ll be kind to reconcile... to reconstruct the deal, I’m sure something amicable could be resolved.”

 

     “Are you trying to bargain your way out of a deal, which we already settled and signed for? If you are, that’s out of the question. I’m a busy man and I don’t have time to fiddle with nonsense. You made a deal. I provided you with my service. Now it’s your time to abide by the payment to which you were so eager to agree.”

 

     “Please sir, please hear me out.”

 

     “Why should I? There’s nothing for me to gain. My work is done.”

 

     “But mine is not,” Mr. C. blurted out.

 

     The stranger leaned back and crossed his long legs. The shine of his expensive leather shoes catching the sun's rays—they sparkled like black diamonds. “Humanity never ceases to amaze me. Predictability is part of your genes. If it wasn’t so amusing, I would have dismissed the fools that your species are a long time ago. But, I like to be entertained, and your kind never disappoint me. Your creator must cringe every time he hears that humanity was created in his own image. So, humor me. What can you offer me to put our deal on a different perspective?”

 

     Mr. C. licked his lip and was disturbed that there was no saliva in his tongue, so instead he swallowed the dryness in his throat and then spoke. “There are many deals I’m working on, lucrative deals that will make us powerful and rich. We’ll negotiate a fair deal between the two of us.”
The stranger laughed; his grin widened. “You are a comical man. A pathetic, comical man. You’re bargaining with what you don’t have. Remember, I gave you all that. Didn’t I? Now, you have wasted enough of my time.”

 

     “B…b... but wait,” Mr. C. was sweating profusely, and his stammering was getting worse. Not since junior high school, did he stutter so bad. “There must be something I could offer you. Something I could do. P...p... please, there must be something.”

 

     The stranger smiled. “The question is not something that you can do, but will you be willing to do it?”

 

     “I’ll do anything.”

 

     “Of course, you would. You don’t have too many choices.”

 

     Mr. C. knew he had been trapped, and he hated the stranger’s smirk. He bet this is how a cornered rat felt, and not wanting to look at the stranger any longer, he directed his sight towards the window. Damn, he would have gladly given all his fortune he had accumulated to be on one of those ferries below. “What do I need to do?” Mr. C. finally asked, while looking fondly at Lady Liberty. Not even her could bring him salvation.

 

     “Bring me your enemies’ souls, and if you don’t have any... make some.”

 

     “I don’t understand.”

 

     “What’s not to understand? It’s a simple task.”

 

     “But how can I get souls?”

 

     “Sir, I gather you’re a smart man. I’m sure you know who possesses souls and how they can be obtained.”

 

     Mr. C. swirled around, his chair squeaked loudly, and faced the stranger. Was this man asking him to murder? Instead of agreeing, he played dumb. “I don’t understand what you want me to do. This soul business is quite disturbing.”

 

     “Not as disturbing as you paying your price in full right now.”

 

     Mr. C. recoiled, forcing the chair away from his desk and closer to the window. His grave position smacking him in the middle of his guts. “I cannot possibly do that. I’m a man with many faults, I’ll tell you that with no shame, but one thing I am not is a damn murderer.”

 

     The stranger exhaled loudly, his annoyance coming out on his breath in a foul smell. “You are trying my patience, sir. This is no child's play we are conducting here. My time, as timeless as it is, I refuse to waste arguing about a deal that you signed with no qualms. I could easily yank your soul away from you any time I desire, but if you want to bargain, I’m willing to negotiate, but do not even contemplate that you, an ignorant fool, is going to best me. Remember, before I came into your life, you couldn’t even negotiate a parking ticket. And thanks to me, look at you, making million-dollar deals with ease. Now, enough with dragging your feet, either bring me other souls and I’ll release you from your deal, or prepare to die right there where your pompous ass sits thinking you’re a mighty untouchable king.”

 

     “Please sir,” Mr. C. was now in tears. “Understand the position I was in when I made the deal. I was about to lose everything. I couldn’t afford to see my family suffer. I had no choice but to agree with you. Do I regret it? Absolutely not, but I didn’t think my life was going to be cut so quickly.”

 

     “It was the deal you, sir, wrote. The terms were your own.”

 

     “P-p-please, there must be something we could agree on. I want to cheer for my grandson’s minor league games. I want to read my son’s bestseller. Give me time to see the world through my wife’s eyes. I want to grow old with her, and when I die, I’ll give you my soul with no buts or ifs. You must find it in your heart not to take me now.”

 

     “Give me, give me,” the stranger shook his head from side to side. “That’s all you know how to say? Not once have you said that you’ll abide by the rules we signed in our agreement. Isn’t that’s the way you conduct business? I have watched you all these years, and you’re one of the most ruthless, heartless individuals that walks through the streets of Wall Street. And I must tell you, there have been many ruthless, heartless individuals that had lived and died in these streets since the first Dutch landed on its soil. The more powerful you became, thanks to me, the more Draconian you became. How many of your loyal workers you have ended their jobs just to save pennies from your amassed wealth? How many people you have belittled as you walk around these walls? 

 

     “Just last week, you brought your secretary to tears because your coffee was not hot enough. You fired a single mother of two young boys because she took one day off too many to take care of one of her sick children. Mr. C. you don’t have one single caring bone in your body. Yet now you’re begging me to have mercy on you? I’m sure even your God has abandoned you. Isn’t that the reason you turned to me instead? Enough with this melodrama! Either fetch me those souls, or get yourself ready to come with me.”

 

     Mr. C. dropped to his knees. His hysterical sobs were loud and embarrassing. He groped as he crumbled on the floor at the stranger’s feet. “For the love of everything you hold dear, please let me live.”

 

     “This I will tell you, for I do not have any desires to waste another second with the likes of you. You want to keep your precious life? You dare renege on a deal I fulfilled to the fullest? Well, here’s what I will do. Keep your life, hold on to that ingrate soul, but do not think for a moment that you have bested me. No! You fool! I gave you the best years of your life, a guaranteed future for generations and generations to come. But your greed is too large, your selfishness astounds even me. With that said, I have removed all negotiations from the table. I gave you a chance, and you treated me like the common stock holder you swallowed like a shark swallow guppies. You’ll lose every penny gained by our pact. You’ll have your life, your stained soul, but you’ll lose everything else. And when you’re dead, on Judgement Day, your soul won’t be good enough for your Creator. You’ll be in limbo, in your own private hell. And maybe then you’ll plead with me to take it from you, and then I might consider it, or perhaps not. Begotten vermin, you want your life, therefore I’ll give it back the way I found it!”

 

     A blast exploded in the room with no warning, blinding Mr. C. There was a dark mist where the stranger once sat as an awful smell rammed violently inside his nose. He coughed in his hands; still on his knees he stared dumbfound around, shocked that he was no longer in his office, but in an alleyway. Where the hell did the stranger go? The mist slowly dissipated, and all that remained was the odor of something rotten and burnt. Mr. C. struggled to his feet, and once standing, he felt much better. He looked around, bewildered by what was going on. Where was he? Why was it nighttime? Nervously, he passed his hand through his hair, and he noticed how badly his hands were shaking. At the entrance of the alleyway, he saw a blinking red light, and slowly he recognized the area. This was the exact place where he had tumbled what seemed now many years ago. He was drunk, desperate, and ready to take his life, but was too damn chicken to do it, so instead he went inside a run-down bar to fuel himself with alcohol to give him the strength to kill himself. And that’s when he met a man with an understanding ear, a hypnotizing smile, and an offer to lift him out from the abyss that his life had become. 

 

     Confused and afraid, Mr. C. rummaged through his clothes, which were not the tailored suits and shirts he was used to, but the off the rack clothes found on liquidating stores. Hesitantly, he walked out of the alleyway and went inside the bar, just the same way he did that night. A Frank Sinatra song welcomed him as he stepped inside, and as if following a well-orchestrated dance, he shuffled his steps to the last bar stool at the end of the bar. He sat down. He moistened his lips and looked up at a calendar pinned right above the cash register. It was the same date when he came here to find the courage to kill himself and instead met a savior. A crooked savior, but still a savior. The bartender strolled in front of him, and flipping an old, stained coaster on the mahogany bar, asked him what he was having. A beer… a Budweiser was Mr. C.’s choice that night. And then, like the perfectly choreographed play on off-off-Broadway, the same man from back then sat on the stool next to Mr. C.

 

     “I understand you want to make a deal?”

 

      Mr. C. thought for a second and, with his eyes fixed on the television screen that confirmed what he already knew, he had been sent back to the same time when he signed the pact with the Devil to sell his soul. He contemplated all that he accomplished, the riches he accumulated after he signed the deal. Was he getting another chance? He stared at the outstretched hand of the stranger precisely the way he presented to him those many years ago. 
He leaned back and took a long drink from the cold bottle of beer, as the man pulled his hand away and tried a friendly smile, but it only fizzled weakly away. And the sudden realization overwhelmed Mr. C.—both men were here for the same thing; gathering souls to keep them out of whatever hole they were in. 

     Mr. C. looked at the man and smiled, the barracuda smile everyone knew and feared in the Wall Street boardroom. And Mr. C. knew that by the next morning he would be once again inside his World Trade Center office admiring the beautiful Statue of Liberty through his telescope and finally knowing what freedom was all about—and finally knowing how closing the deal is done.    
 

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