COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
"You get busted?"
Seth Marcus, my best buddy since junior high school, bartended three nights a week at a sort of yuppie dive called Alley Cat. During the days he was a paralegal at a downtown law firm. He said he needed the money, but I was convinced that secretly he was bartending in order to maintain some vestige of coolness, to keep from turning into the sort of corporate dweeb we both liked to make fun of.
"Busted for what?" How much had I told him? Did I tell him about the call from Meacham, the security director? I hoped not. Now I couldn't tell him a goddamned thing about the vise they'd got me in.
"Your big party." It was loud, I couldn't hear him well, and someone down at the other end of the bar was whistling, two fingers in his mouth, loud and shrill. "That guy whistling at me? Like I'm a fucking dog?" He ignored the whistler.
I shook my head.
"You got away with it, huh? You actually pulled it off, amazing. What can I get you to celebrate?"
He shook his head. "Nah."
"How about a draft? They don't keep track of those."
I shrugged. "Sure."
He pulled me a draft, yellow and soapy: he was clearly new at this. It sloshed on the scarred wooden bar top. He was a tall, dark-haired, good-looking guy—a veritable chick magnet—with a ridiculous goatee and an earring. He was half-Jewish but wanted to be black. He played and sang in a band called Slither, which I'd heard a couple of times; they weren't very good, but he talked a lot about "signing a deal." He had a dozen scams going at once just so he wouldn't have to admit he was a working stiff.
Seth was the only guy I knew who was more cynical than me. That was probably why we were friends. That plus the fact that he didn't give me shit about my father, even though he used to play on the high school football team coached (and tyrannized) by Frank Cassidy. In seventh grade we were in the same homeroom, liked each other instantly because we were both singled out for ridicule by the math teacher, Mr. Pasquale. In ninth grade I left the public school and went to Bartholomew Browning & Knightley, the fancy prep school where my dad had just been hired as the football and hockey coach and I now got free tuition. For two years I rarely saw Seth, until Dad got fired for breaking two bones in a kid's right forearm and one bone in his left forearm. The kid's mother was head of the board of overseers of Bartholomew Browning. So the free tuition tap got shut off, and I went back to the public school. Dad got hired there too, after Bartholomew Browning.