Thomas J.                             about 4,600 words

Thomasjdh@gmail.com

REAL ESTATE RINGER

by Thomas J. 

Mr. John Long is a big timer, the biggest big timer in the real estate market in quiet little Fonda, Tennessee. I mean, he could sell you a house with the flick of his wand and have you buy the shingles afterward, he was that good. 

His smile was darling, his coat and tie always pressed so smooth, a lizard could ice skate on it, and he had a way about him that made you want to smile till your eyes bled.

John’s father, Howard Long, was not in the real estate market. No, no, John’s pop was an ironworker. He drank whiskey like a whale eats krill. He drank the grave to his front door. God rest his soul. Not only did he drink, he was one for turning little Johnnie, as he used to call him, into a bit of a black and blue blob at times. Johnnie was a little too feminine for Howard. Maybe it was something that Howard was lacking that he saw in little Johnnie and that made him angry. Maybe it was something else. Not sure we will ever really know the truth to that mystery.

Mr. Howard Long was what little Johnnie was required to always call his father. Behind his back he would call him obscenities. He never called him Mr. Long after he passed and the name Mr. Howard Long passed with his body. 

But anyways, back to our hero, Mr. John Long. He had it all, a wife: Charlotte, 2 boys: Garret and Justin, and a charming house on a hill. A real dinger of a property, which he had been watching and scooped up while he was making sales left and right in the area. The house was older and had a history, an old Victorian house from the early 1900’s. 

An Amazon shipping warehouse was coming to the neighboring town and John had the inside information to move to Fonda, which was 15 miles away from the prospective new plant. The news networks informed the masses that Amazon put a bid out for 10 different cities across the United States. 

I had better back up and tell you how John got the inside scoop. When John went to school, Clemson, he met a guy there, Mr. Dan Scranton. Before Mr. Dan Scranton became a Mr. he was known as Danny. Danny was the kind of guy that would steal bulldozers in the middle of the night and run them down main street, turning over trash cans and giving up on the heavy machinery after the booze magic wore off. 

The key to Mr. Dan Scranton’s success was that he was in the fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha. He was a business major. Everyone has known somebody like Dan. He’s the kind of guy that you vaguely remember. You also vaguely remember helping a crowd dare him into stealing a bulldozer down the hill at the construction site. 

But, just as we all do at some point or another, we grow up. We stop stealing bulldozers and put on our fathers’ or mothers’ shoes and start to walk so that the little ones that come after us have somewhere to live, and food to eat. After Dan started to adult, he found himself at an interview for a startup called Amazon. 

From there, he worked himself from the shipping floor up to a corner office. So, Mr. Dan Scranton was a good friend to have when shopping for property, especially for a real estate agent. 

After Dan whispered in John’s ear about the new location of the shipping warehouse for Amazon, John packed up the blue Chevy Equinox and whipped himself, his wife, and 2 boys to a new town and school district. They moved from Loveland, a small area outside Cincinnati Ohio, but that’s not important to our story, since nothing much happened there, with the exception of summer baseball games. 

Mr. Howard Long passed and left his little Johnnie a chest of his personal belongings. John never even looked in it and till this day, that remained true. He took it to his home in the neighborhood in Loveland, and there it sat in his basement, where he had dragged it down each step letting it bounce off each one, thinking of his father’s head. When they moved to Fonda, he reluctantly took it with him after Charlotte had a discussion that resulted in John listening to his wife out of common sense. John could either: argue with his wife and end up on the couch or he could take the silly chest and load it up in the moving truck. John made the latter choice. 

    Charlotte had never met the drunken boxer, ever. She had never been around him long enough to experience that side of him. Therefore, she fought in his corner and persuaded John to keep the chest, as he might want to open it someday and at least see what was inside. John’s little sister was a princess to Mr. Howard Long, and of course, she got to keep the castle. The 3 bedroom, 2 bath, childhood home which they both had grown up in. 

She also inherited Mr. Howard Long’s leftover funds, which wasn’t much after their mother, Sally, left Howard in 1971. She left him for the same reason that John didn’t like him. She took most of what he had and took off with Bill Watson. Bill wasn’t an ironworker. He wasn’t a real estate man either. He owned a chain of furniture stores and sold Lazy Boys and couches to most of the tri-state area which included Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. He was a good man. John thought so, but in the divorce, guess who led little Johnnie out of the courtroom? You’d be correct if you guessed Mr. Howard Long. Sally was given the keys to a magical American childhood and Johnnie was doomed for drunken beatings and the same ole deadbeat dad he had always hid from. 

**

John parked his Equinox in his spot. It was reserved for the best salesman of the year. He relished in that fact, every time he pulled in and put the compact sports utility vehicle next to the owner’s Porsche 911.

    Just as you might expect from someone who drives a Porsche 

911, John’s boss was somewhat of a showboat. He wore his money, and proudly. He had a smile that could make a raven shake. His name, you might be wondering, is Phil to his friends, and Mr. Phillip Brandenburg III to his underlings, or so he would call them, jokingly of course. 

    He acquired the real estate company, Mountain Housing, from his father, Mr. Phillip Brandenburg II in 1989. The office had been in an upheaval since the recent announcement from Amazon that they were starting construction in November 2018. Even Mr. Phillip Brandenburg III did not have the insight that John had on the Amazon warehouse construction, but Mr. Phillip Brandenburg III would tell you different. He knew that Amazon would pick Fonda, TN as the location for the new shipping behemoth, at least 10 years ago. He just knew it and would have bet his last dime on it. 

    John headed into the small, one story brick building, 9832 printed next to the large brown door and as John was opening the door he was looking at his phone. He received a message as soon as his hand hit the door handle. He paused for a moment to look at it. He shook it off. It was an alert from the pharmacy that his medication was filled. 

    He wondered why Charlotte always signed up for every alert, on every corporate loyalty account. She always used his number as the primary on those accounts and he was constantly having to unsubscribe each account as the messages started to flood in from every which direction. 

    Maddening from John’s point of view, but he patiently navigated each and every website and unsubscribed his phone number from each and every one. Charlotte never heard a peep on her end. 

    John gave his morning greetings to Pamela. She, as per usual, acted busy as soon as she heard footsteps patter her way, and as they disappeared, she greedily set her fingers back to her hair to twirl them like a ferris wheel until she could punch her time clock and go home. 

    Around the corner from Pamela, was where John sat. His desk had a picture of Charlotte, Garret, Justin and himself, in a nice silver frame. Several cups of pens sat on the desk, and all of them read: ‘Mountain Housing 9832 Smith St. Fonda TN, 37109’ with the phone number ‘423.555.0091’ in bold type font below the address. 

    His computer sat before his black computer chair. Paper inboxes lined the walls of his cubicle in an organized and methodical fashion. He sat down and sighed in relief. He felt at ease, and in control, at his work desk. No Lego on the floor, no TV blaring in the other room, no Charlotte asking him to change the water filter in the refrigerator. He was in the captain’s seat of his ship, in that chair. 

    John busied himself with the closure of his last sale as Mr. Phillip Brandenburg III turned the corner to John’s office space. He grabbed John’s chair and spun it around in a way that made John’s pen line the paper contract all the way from where he was writing, to the edge of meticulously filled paper. John’s heart sank. 

    “Howdy John! You pushing paper or is the paper pushing you!” 

    Mr. Phillip Brandenburg III chortled at the fact that he had made the small talk joke. 

    “Hello Mr. Phillip Brandenburg.” 

    Mr. Phillip Brandenburg’s III face went solemn for a moment. 

    “Mr. Phillip Brandenburg III…”

    Mr. Phillip Brandenburg’s III face went back to smiling.

    John let this greeting out with a falsely acquired smile that took every ounce of will power to muster. He was cut short in his greeting, of course, as Mr. Brandenburg filled the sound space with more office banter. 

    “…Moving houses is small fries, guy. You need to move those retail spaces in the Cook Shoppe Center! Think of all the folks heading home from work at the new Amazon Plant who want to spend their hard earned dollars! Let’s get a move on em’!”

    “Yes… sir.” 

    And before the ‘yes’ finished forming in John’s mouth, Mr. Brandenburg was bumbling with his Big and Tall suit over to the next poor sap that needed a good talking to about sales. John, being salesman of the year was Mr. Phillip Brandenburg’s III favorite and you can only imagine the turnover, after greenhorns witnessed Mr. Phillip Brandenburg’s III bad side. 

    He was either a pain in the ass to listen to, going on about what one needed to do for Mountain Housing, or he was a waddling fire stick, waiting to pop off at the lack of numbers and turn around. 

    One would rather have the lesser of two evils and take the beating about what had to be done. That smile that ravens shook to, could turn to a baboon’s glare quickly, if the numbers on a sales spread were not present at the end of the quarter.

**

    John made his way to the office kitchen, someone was already cooking lunch. John knew who it was from the smell. Most people ate out, John included, but Gary always brought chili from home. The robust smell of cumin and spice filled the small white kitchen with a rank smell. The microwave spun around with the light on. The small bowl of chili was snapping with completion, but Gary left it spinning. 

    John moved his way to the coffee pot, which was his goal since he left his desk. He usually made a cup of coffee on the nose, at 11:00 A.M., every day. The office used to offer free cups of Keurig coffee, but the little K-Cups grew arms and swung out of the kitchen quickly. The office manager, Miss Allison Faraday, noticed the exorbitant prices that were trickling out of the kitchen sink. Therefore, everyone had to bring their own K-Cups from home. 

    John pulled his from his coat pocket and inserted it into the coffee machine. 

“Hey John! How have you been, wife and kids doing okay?” 

“Hey Gary. Yeah, the kids and wife are fine, how have you

been?” 

    “Oh you know, I’m living the dream!” 

    “That’s nice.” 

    “I’m having a small party this weekend, well, not really a party, more of a gathering. If you’d like to bring your wife, you both could come. I’m gonna have a pot of chili and the game on!” 

    “You know…I would…but the wife and I are going out of town for the weekend. We already have a babysitter and everything.” 

    “Oh. Well, maybe next time!” 

    John did not have any weekend outing planned with the wife. But, you and I know that Gary’s party is not somewhere that John Long would ever end up at, even if it was the last place on earth that offered chili and football. John never watched the games, unless he was at them. He might throw the Golf channel on before sinking into the recliner to take a nap, while the kids were quiet or gone, and Charlotte was in the study, working on her projects. 

    When the Longs lived near Cincinnati, they would go to a Reds game every summer. It was more of an outing than true fandom. All 4 of them had red team gear that they would wear and they would purchase the overpriced beer for themselves and hotdogs for the kids. John’s coffee beeped and he gathered some sugar packets and headed back to his desk. Normally, he would have potential buyers to show houses to this afternoon. But, things were unusually slow today and he was stuck in the office with paperwork all day.

**

    “Honey, could you go check the furnace? I’m not sure that it is working right, and if it isn’t, then we need to call the repair company.”

    “Sure thing, Char.”

    John clopped down the steps into the basement. The basement was unfinished and there were piles of moving boxes, long forgotten, since they moved in months ago. A few of them looked opened and stolen from, the shipping paper still littered around them. John found the furnace and checked to make sure that it was pumping heat. He believed that Charlotte just ran cold, because the thing was on full blast. Charlotte must have turned it on all the way.

    John’s eyes fell onto the chest that his father gave him. He stopped and felt the cortisone fill his veins as he felt the pent up rage bounce around his mind and down into his chest. He walked over to the chest and flipped it open in anger. It was the first time he had ever opened the chest. John grabbed a nearby empty box and dumped the contents on the ground. He started grabbing his father’s ironworker memorabilia, mostly things like awards for the company, and his face shield. There was a box of pictures in the bottom of the chest. John’s heart sank. 

    John flopped to the floor and started to tear up. He had never missed his father before, but finding those pictures turned on the water to his eyes. He had believed that his father didn’t give a shit about his family. Those pictures painted a thousand words for John, which he had never known existed, until this moment. 

    Next to the pictures was a small box. John opened the box and found a few little trinkets and an old Zippo lighter. John flicked the Zippo and he felt a wind that should have extinguished the flame. John fell onto his back and scooted up against the wall. There, not 15 feet away, was a woman. She was in a black and white maids outfit. Her darkened skin shined in the dim light of the basement. She was perusing a wine cellar shelf that John did not recognize. She did not notice that John was shouting out: 

    “Who are you!” 

She grabbed a bottle of red wine and left the wine cellar, her footfalls leaving John to ponder what had just unfolded before his eyes. 

    John looked down at the lighter that was still in his hand. He quickly flicked the flint. He was back in his basement with the chest open next to him. He flicked the Zippo again. He was back in the wine cellar. The woman was gone. 

    John stood up. It hit him, what the lighter could do. John flicked the flame of the Zippo and he was back in his basement. He threw the lighter back into the chest and slammed the lid shut. 

**

John appeared at the top of the stairs. Charlotte was in the kitchen, making dinner. 

“How’d it go, did you get the furnace to kick on?” 

“Yeah…” John replied in a daze.

“You okay, honey?”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine. Could you make me a cup of coffee?”

“Sure. Are you sure you are feeling okay?”

“Yeah. I’m fine.”

John moved over to the couch and hit the power button on the remote. Some nonsensical commercial filled the screen: 

“Come down to the Gilkenny warehouse for deals that are steals!”

John sat and stared at the screen but his mind was stuck on the shock of the small lighter which his father had left him. He knew that lighter was trouble. His father was always trouble and he was haunting him from the grave. All that Zippo would bring John was heartache. 

“I’m going to check on the furnace again, I don’t hear it kicking on.”

“Wait, I made you coffee.”

Garret flew by, being chased by Justin.

“Give me back my toy!” Justin squealed. 

“I’ll get it in a minute.” John replied. 

John rushed down to the chest and smashed it open, hitting the top of the chest against the wall. 

“You okay down there?!” 

Charlotte could be heard, calling from above. 

“Yeah, I’m fine!” 

John yelled back upstairs. 

“Could you bring me up some more coffee from the pantry down there?!”

“Sure thing hun!”

John grabbed the Zippo and stared at it for a moment. He put it in his pocket and began to walk back upstairs. Then he thought about the power that this little lighter had. A feeling of dread washed over John. He pushed back against the feeling and walked back upstairs.

“Your coffee is ready.” 

“Thank you.” John said, barely audible. 

“Are you sure that you are fine?” Charlotte replied. 

“Yes! Charlotte, please. I’m fine.” John shouted back. 

Charlotte recoiled and sunk back from John. She was in the kitchen and moved quickly to the study, where she did her projects. John looked saddened as he called back to Charlotte. 

“Char, I didn’t mean to yell. I’m fine, you just kept asking me.” She didn’t answer from the other room, but the sound of the lock switching over echoed throughout the living room where John sat in front of the TV. 

“Come down to the Gilkenny warehouse for deals that are steals!” 

With the snap of John’s wrist he flipped the power off on the TV. With the kids quiet, probably somewhere upstairs, and Charlotte locked in the study, John moved upstairs to the master bedroom. He wished each footfall on the steps was quieter. He closed the door, but didn’t lock it. He didn’t need that much time, he was just going to flip open the lighter and flick the flint in order to see if the lighter worked upstairs as it did in the basement. With one flick the flame was present and the wind rushed over John’s face. It was as if someone left the window open and a passing wind made a wrong turn inside. 

It was Charlotte. She was naked in the bed with another man. A man that John didn’t know. His blood began to boil. They tossed and turned while John stood in rage before them. He rushed the bed while holding the lighter and the flame billowed out. He was transported back to present day. He was standing in his bedroom. He was standing over the bed, mid-tackle. The white comforter was cleanly pressed and looked untouched. John rushed down the stairs, and pounded on the study door with three large and hard thuds. 

“Charlotte, come out here right now!” He yelled. 

“What’s your problem today?” She responded. 

“Get out here, right now, we need to talk.” 

“Fine.” 

As the clicking sound came and the door swung open, John could see Charlotte’s watery and red eyes. She had been crying. 

“Are you cheating on me?” Asked Charlotte, before John could get a word out. 

“What!? I know for a fact that you are cheating on me!” 

Withholding all the rage in his body, John rejected the violence that was bubbling in his chest. Thoughts of punching Charlotte straight in the jaw were smothered, like a kindling fire versus a bucket of water. John was still smoldering. Charlotte stood before him and cried. 

“I’m sorry.” She sobbed. 

It was too much for John. He clenched his fist and poured his power straight from his core through his arm and punched the wall next to Charlotte’s head. She yelled in panic and turned to run further into the study. John left the room with anger coursing through his veins. A vessel in his forehead thronged so large that his head looked like it was blistering hotdog. 

John grabbed the car keys and his wallet off the counter in the kitchen. He jumped in the Equinox and started away from the house.

**

He ended up at the Holiday Inn Express, off I-24. He sat in the car for a moment, staring off into the sun set. Then he reached into the pocket that held his wallet. Then he felt the cold metal of the Zippo lighter. He pulled it out and looked at it. Then he flicked the flint. 

There were 6 men gathered around a fire. John assumed they were Native Americans. The Native Americans seemed to notice John because 2 of them stood and looked in his direction, 1 man was speaking in a low toned language that John didn’t understand. John sat on the ground. He could feel the grass under his hand. This amazed John and he forgot, for a quick moment, the men, the Zippo, and Charlotte. As John came out of his daydream, he noticed that 2 men were starting in his direction. He walked hand over hand backwards a few feet and then turned to a stone. 

He quickly flicked the lighter. He was back, outside the Holiday Inn, next to his Chevy Equinox. It looked strange after seeing the landscape from eons ago. The area was nearly the same, but where the inn stood, there was a small hill. Trees were replaced by a gas station. The parking lot used to be a field, and the cars on I-24 would have had to dodge countless pines. 

John began to think that the lighter was not an instrument he should just use at any place or time. Just as the men seemed to have seen him, 3 people who were exiting a Yukon in the parking lot were giving strange, wandering eyes, towards John, as he sat on the parking lot floor, holding nothing but a Zippo. John stood and straightened his coat and made his way towards the entrance to the hotel. 

“Hello, welcome to the Holiday Inn Express. How many will be staying with us tonight?” 

“Just me.” 

“Okay, I’ll have you fill out this, and we will need to keep a credit card on file. I’ll also need your driver’s license.” She passed John some paperwork. 

“And what size room are you looking for tonight?” 

“Just give me whatever, non-smoking, please.” 

“Okay.” 

After a few moments of the woman tinkering in the hotel system computer she gave John the room key to room 131. 

“The room is down the hall to the left, which is where the vending machines are located as well. The pool is open…”

 But, she couldn’t finish because John took the key and headed straight for the room, leaving the woman to wonder what the hell his problem was. John opened the door and found the room exactly like all the rooms he procured when he was on vacation. 

Thinking about vacation brought about feelings for Charlotte, and John became confused and angered. John realized that he still had the Zippo in his hand. He thought about the trouble that the thing had brought him. 

He threw it against the wall of the hotel room and started for his bag. He always kept a small flask in his travel bag for making a cocktail after being on the road. 

He uncorked the flask and downed half of it in a couple of gulps. He turned on the TV and heard: 

“Come down to the Gilkenny warehouse for deals that are steals!” 

Just then, John flicked the TV off again and finished off the flask. He looked around the room and as the liquor filled his veins with fire, he grabbed the zippo and flashed the flint. 

**

He was in the same room. He was sitting on the bed and the only difference was that the lights were off. He had felt the wind, and the lighter’s flame was flickering, casting a light that glowed in the darkened room. Just then a man and a woman stumbled into the room. They were kissing. The man had dark brown hair and stood at a decent height. The woman who was with him had red hair, and was nearly as tall as the man in her black heels. She was swooning over the man. John was ready for the show, since he was alone and pissed off. He moved from the edge of the bed to the corner room chair. The couple continued to kiss, without notice of John in the corner. As John was enjoying himself, he noticed that the man pulled off his tie and wrapped it around the woman’s throat.

He thought for a moment that this was just part of their play, but the tie was so tight that it was causing her eyes to turn red and bulge out of her head. John stood in order to help and went to grab the man off of her. In doing so, the man turned his head, with his fists still gripping the tie around the woman’s neck. The woman’s red hair was flopping around her pale face and upon closer inspection, was contained in pure excitement. 

John stepped back. He realized there was nothing he could do in this world that the lighter continual brought him to. Just as this dread loomed over John’s head, the man released the woman. Then they began kissing again. John felt a wave of relief. John sat back down in the chair. The flame on the lighter flickered lower and lower, without notice from John until the flame went out. He struck the flint a few more times and the Zippo sparked, but the wind never came.

THE END

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