Copyright 2001-2008, James J. Belcher. All rights reserved.
Never Bound Books
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Copyright 2003 James J. Belcher. All Rights Reserved.
Alex, Heaven and Hell
I have the perfect job for an excitement junkie,
except of course I could never be someone else's employee.
I tried it a few times, but my temper and temperament just don't fit in
with some jerk's notion of what I should do.
So I'm a self-employed freelance photojournalist.
I travel a lot and at 35 I've seen much of the world, mostly from the
side of its soft and sick underbelly. You
name it and I've seen it -- cults everywhere, genocide, natural disasters,
political upheavals and really sick criminals.
And believe me, The Globe, the Star, the National Enquirer and a lot of
others will pay, in cash and on the spot and handsomely, for digging up dirt,
especially with pictures.
Besides, it's nice to see my name, Alex Fortesque, in print and know that
millions of readers will see my work. I
chose the name myself, because Alex Florsheim always got the comment about the
shoe manufacturer [no relation] and it sounded too Jewish.
I tell people it's French and they believe it.
On the other hand, some Clevelanders never get it,
and I guess that's why people make so many jokes about Cleveland.
My ex-brother-in-law Sidney is like that, a real schmuck.
Turned down for the army, flat feet.
College Boards too low for City College. Backaches, chronic heartburn and ulcers before age thirty.
So he's a draftsman with a commercial architectural firm known for
getting big warehouses and Holiday Inns completed on schedule and under budget.
No money, no future and no fun.
That's why I couldn't believe it when he called up
to say he was bringing over a couple of steaks and a bottle of Chivas Regal
Royal Salute for us to share his good fortune.
Sixty-dollar scotch and New York strips don't fit into a draftsman's
budget. In fact, it's rare for
Sidney to have the occasional $5 for lottery tickets.
I saw him from the window of my living room walking
towards my apartment door a few minutes after the phone call, carrying the
bottle in one hand and the steaks and other stuff in the other.
The SOB had actually gone to the priciest downtown meat market – we
were going to feast on prime beef. Sure
enough, 21-year-old whiskey. Sidney,
a guy with the looks and personality of unidentifiable road kill, was grinning
from ear to ear. Maybe the lottery?
"Can you believe it?
Ten grand, in cash, for two weeks' night work."
"You always said Crenshaw was the cheapest
firm in town, no overtime."
"Naw, not them.
Some A-Rab, just out of the Cleveland Clinic, nearly croaked of a heart
attack, but they saved him. OTB,
just copying some old drawings, mostly."
"First, I'll pour myself a stiff one.
Then you'd better explain. Pour
yourself one, too."
Damned if that stuff didn't smell and taste great.
Smooth. I poured a second
before I walked over, sat down in my favorite chair and motioned for Sidney to
plop himself on the couch. He
doesn't usually drink, but he had a tall one, mostly water. The steaks were close to a pound each. I put a couple of potatoes in the oven; figure an hour to
bake. Steaks later.
"How did you meet the camel jockeys and what's
worth that kind of dough?"
"As I said, mostly copy drawings of some
smaller Holiday Inns. You know I'm
not a licensed architect, so I can't seal anything, but they didn't care.
The old guy is one of those fellows with the robes, beard and sunglasses. His family is related to the rulers of Qatar or one of the
Arab emirates, I never did get that figured out.
They all have names I can't pronounce.
I just kept calling him "Sheik" – he liked that.
"You're Jewish. Why
should one of them hire you?"
"The old guy saw my boss, outlined what he needed, told them he was in a hurry. The boss played it by the book, was vague, said 6% of construction costs and estimated ten or more months to do the job. The old guy just walked out on him, I could hear the hollering in the john, where I was at the time. And, by the way, you're Jewish too."
"So I lifted my butt, got off my ass, buttoned my trousers and raced
down the hall after the sheik."
"Yeah, just like that.
All he could say was no."
"I told him I overheard, that what he wanted was doable, but
something I'd have to do at nights.
Work was slack, everyone leaving by a little after five.
No one would be there but me, since we all have keys to the office."
"He asked how long and I said a couple of weeks.
He shook my hand and asked if ten thousand in cash would be enough.
I said sure and we started that night, him coming back to the office.
Later, he'd send over one of his guys, but they didn't speak much
The old man went to school in England, speaks better than you or
"This is rich.
It ain't you, Sidney."
"Yeah, but ten grand in cash?"
"OK, I'll buy this shit, but what did you fucking do?"
I took another sip of Sidney's scotch.
Maybe he'd leave the bottle if I got him loaded.
I poured him another, this one pretty stiff.
Sidney excused himself to use the toilet and I doused the steaks in A-1
sauce and put them on the grill rack and set the oven.
If the potatoes weren't done, what the fuck?
He came back out, still with that cheesy grin all over his face.
Before he could sit down, I asked.
"So they never asked my name, much less whether I was Jewish.
I guess they figured that Crenshaw, Warrick and Boone would never hire
one of us.
No contract, nothing in writing, they knew I wasn't supposed to be
working in the office, using Crenshaw files and computers, on something
And cash doesn't have a name on it."
"The sheik had a bad heart, and the Cleveland Clinic told him so.
And he was a fanatic about sex, had one of the largest harems in the Near
East, four wives and a hundred concubines.
And they told him to lay off the twice a day or face the hereafter in a
matter of months.
But the sheik actually believed the gals would really miss him, so he had
me draw up a sex motel, patterned after a Holiday Inn, with just four guest
suites, with connecting bedrooms, baths and dressing rooms for the girls.
Just a few interconnecting doors, nothing really."
Now it was my turn to
"Where's all this pussy waiting to be koshered?"
"That's the catch.
He couldn't have it in his home country, for all the obvious reasons, so
he chose a no-name Indian Ocean island, someplace in the Seychelles group, four
hours by jet from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
And the whole place was going to be for family only, except his brothers
and in-laws are overstocked themselves.
So in ninety days, the place will be there, the girls will be there, the
old man will have to do with 4 + 8, leaving ninety or so on the ready, and no
"Nice problem to have."
"I see the TV and the movies.
I don't think sex means that much to women, not like some men think it
the sheik figures his being out of action is damned near going to have his harem
So I suggested he open it up to members of the public, and he says he's
going to think about it."
Sidney was sounding more reasonable
than I had ever heard him.
I had to ask.
"How did you ever design a motel?
You're not an architect."
"I told you.
It was small, so I just copied some small one-story Holiday Inn drawings
All the software nowadays makes it easy.
Just tell them to build it on a suitable concrete slab.
They have package water treatment and sewage plants that go behind the
building; you drill a well for water or pipe it in or build a cistern – take
You pick a room size and the computer figures out how many pieces of
whatever, what size – with computers and a minimal amount of skill, it's all
done for you.
Electric power and telephone service were already available.
There's not much engineering I had to do, since it's simple.
At first, I told them to double the size of the AC from the stuff on the
drawings, since it's a tropical island."
"Sidney,I don't know much about
tropical islands and architecture, but I've been in Holiday Inns.
They use these room air conditioners, noisy as hell, either freezer cold
or no A/C. They're
not going to like that."
"Funny you should mention that.
So I got out the drawings on a Holiday Inn convention center, with a big
unit on the roof of the building, extra large ductwork, a four-foot crawl space
above the ceiling, top of the line.
I said that stuff would maybe add the better part of a million and they
said 'Do it.'
So I did, and now the A/C should freeze your butt off, be quiet as can be
and support all sorts of wildlife."
"Yeah, like rats.
Rats love warm, dry and no people with pesticides.
You know, I've been working for Crenshaw for nearly twelve years.
I get around, ask questions, I even get some of the technical stuff.
A tribe of squatters could nest up there now, but it's got to be built
with that much empty space in case something goes kaflooey and a guy has to get
up and fix things."
"You did all this in two
"Alex, we have guys who could knock that job out in two or three days. Remember, we're a company that's been doing this sort of stuff for fifty years. It's all on file from old jobs, and now it's all on computer. Piece of cake."
"Sidney, I'm not sure the windows will open or
there'll be cracks, but I guess it'll work."
"Oh, I forgot one thing.
No windows, since what you want to see is inside."
No windows? I
had to go there. I kept at the scotch, sip, sip, savoring every drop until it
was gone that night. Sidney kept
talking about what nice guys they were, how the sheik was thoughtful, about
Cleveland Clinic and the good work they do, Doctor Mark Fontaine, the sheik's
cardiologist, blah, blah, blah. I
burned the steaks but Sidney just kept talking.
I just kept thinking about pussy.
I must have passed out about two in the morning, because I woke up, Sidney was gone, the scotch bottle was empty and he left a note thanking me. That's Sidney – his steaks, his whisky and he thanks me. Dumb schmuck.