My story “Pyramid Schemes” is in the Winter Issue of Valparaiso Fiction Review today. Big thanks to Jonathan Bull, Edward Byrne, and Doretta Kurzinski and the VFR team. Here is the beginning:
1. Dim Sum
The day my father revealed what he had done, we were scheduled for one of our dim sum lunches. For us, dim sum equaled a progress report on how I was doing in school: first year of pre-law at Columbia.
He asked to meet at his office so we could carpool to the restaurant. The sky over South San Francisco was mottled with chromy clouds that so transfixed me I shot through a red light and into an intersection, screeching to a belated halt. Luckily, it was a Saturday, and there were no moving cars within miles of the many office parks in that area. Easing off the brake, I felt pushed forth as if by a strong wind.
The tower was empty of white-collar workers, but the janitors, doormen, and uniformed building security always worked weekends. The superintendent and I exchanged glances as he ascended a ladder to change a recessed halogen. He had worked in the building since I was a child. We recognized each other, but had never exchanged a word. I didn’t know his name.
I told the thick-necked fellow at the front desk that I was here to see my father – the man whose last name was on the side of the building – Eldridge Leong.
“Sure, dude, all the way up,” he said.
I was wearing a t-shirt, khaki shorts, and flip-flops. I did not resemble someone who deserved to be called Sir.
I’d been all the way up to the fifty-fifth floor only a few times. Like a good executive, my father didn’t spend many days behind a desk—he was usually out selling. When he was in his office, he seemed simultaneously lost and captive, unable to find pens and papers, spinning and expecting to topple some pricey accessory. The room was decorated by someone with taste (i.e. not my father). The walls were deep mahogany. The floors were glossy parquet, and the hanging light fixtures resembled golden gyroscopes. When I walked into my father’s suite, the lights were flashing on and off.
“Not that one,” he muttered. He was searching for the right button.
My father’s suit jacket was buttoned up so that he looked corseted around the ribs. Some salesman had convinced him this look – appropriate for a much younger man – was a good idea.
“What are you trying to do?” I asked.
He pointed skyward. “The whiteboard.”
“Want me to try?”
“I’ve got it.”
I reclined on the low-backed couch, which made all its backrest sitters look lazy and its edge sitters appear hyper-attentive. I kicked off my flip-flops and ran my toes through the pearl-white shaggy rug. It felt good. I was feeling good, hoping to get through the dim sum as quickly as possible, to unload my prepared, expedient lies.
My father finally found the right switch, and the whiteboard lowered. He then shut the blinds and dialed up the lighting. We were closed-off to the outside. With a dry-erase marker, he drew a pyramid on the board. He wrote, “The Company” over the apex, “Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT)” beside one corner, and “The Investor” below the other.
To the right of the pyramid, my father wrote, “Us.”
I don’t recall how long he spoke. Felt like only a few minutes. I didn’t fully understand everything he told me. I’ve never been particularly business-smart. But after all the lines were drawn, dotted, and labeled with dollar signs, even I could see that my father was describing conflicts of interest, fraud on a massive scale, undiscovered.
Read the rest here.