The App description said that the Umbrella Man’s “got what you need.” Brian Fuld downloaded the App and launched it while relaxing in bed and settling in for the night.
Brian scrolled through the typical legal jargon and tapped the “I accept” button. The grey silhouette of a man holding an umbrella appeared on the screen. Brian touched the image and the words “I have what you need” appeared. Nothing else happened. $1.99 down the drain. Brian put his phone down and gave in to sleep.
A few minutes later, he woke up to the sound of knocking.
The knock on the front door was loud, rhythmic and consistent. Brian threw a robe on over his bowed frame and rushed downstairs. He looked through the peephole of the front door with one eye open and the other shut. A pale man with jet black hair was standing outside wearing a black suit and dark sunglasses. He was holding a large umbrella over his head, opened wide. Everything about the man was odd, from his dark sunglasses to the open umbrella on a dry night. Brian bit his lower lip.
“Who is it?” asked Brian.
“It’s the Umbrella Man.”
“From the App?”
“What do you want?”
“I have what you need.”
“I have what you need,” he repeated.
He left a grey fedora hat on the doorknob, retracted his umbrella and walked off.
Brian was spooked, yet intrigued by the visit from the strange man. What do I need a hat for, he wondered? He decided he would wear the hat to work tomorrow and see what was so special about it.
The next morning, Brian took his usual train into the city and walked to work. He was nearly a block away from his office when a sudden gust of wind blew his new hat off of his head. He took a few quick steps back and bent down to pick it up. When he retrieved the hat, he heard a loud crash behind him, like a car slamming into a tree. An air conditioning unit had fallen off a crane. It hit the sidewalk at exactly the spot where Brian was standing just a few short seconds earlier.
Brian’s legs took the initiative and walked him to his office while he was still trying to process his near-death experience. When he got out of the elevator onto his floor, the rhythmic thumping of his heartbeat was ringing in his ears. He took a deep breath and walked through the doors. The words “Angell, Brown & Mann LLP” were frosted onto the glass panel above the doors with the words “NEW YORK” below the firm’s name.
Stanton saw Brian enter the hallway and strode towards him. His eyes were wild and there were small beads of sweat collecting on his ample forehead despite the cool temperature of the office.
“Where the hell were you?” he demanded.
“I was in an accident,” Brian explained.
Stanton raised his bushy eyebrows so high that they almost touched his comb-over.
“Well, you look fine.”
“I’m shaken up a bit, but I’m okay,” he said.
Stanton’s eyes went wide. “Was it the Benz? Christ Almighty. Tell me you didn’t trash the goddamned company car!”
“It wasn’t a car accident. An air conditioning unit fell off of a crane and almost killed me.“
Stanton didn’t appear to notice that Brian was still talking. He took the stack of files he was holding under his arm and shoved them into Brian’s chest. Brian nearly dropped the files trying to keep them from falling.
“This is your shot, Brian. Don’t screw it up. Farrell’s our biggest client.”
“I won’t, Stanton. Don’t worry.”
“Oh, I worry,” he said, “I worry that you don’t take your goddamn job seriously. You waste all of your billable hours on pro-bono domestic abuse cases.”
“I thought pro-bono work was a firm requirement. “
“Yes, one hour a week. You billed five hours last week.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll keep better track.”
Stanton started to leave, but stopped himself mid stride. “Be more careful next time. The firm invested a lot of money into you.”
Brian walked into his small office and closed the door behind him. He dropped the stack of files on his desk and called his mother.
“Hi Hon!” She sounded surprised to hear his voice. Brian’s mom always answered the phone without checking the caller ID. He loved that about her.
“How are you, Mom?”
“Brian, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” Brian doodled pictures of umbrellas, all shapes and sizes, on a pad by his desk.
“Is that bully Stanton giving you a hard time again?”
“I can handle it,” he said, trying to sound convincing.
“I know you can,” she said, not sounding convinced. After a second or two of silence, she shifted gears. “So. How’s that big case you’re working on? It’s a big deal, isn’t it?”
“It is a big case, but it’s impossible to win.”
“Well, if anyone can win it, you can.”
“Thanks, Mom. I love you.”
“I love you too, Brian. I’m here if you need me and I still don’t like the way you sound.”
“You’d better be.”
Brian took lunch at a local pastry shop. He was sipping his coffee and nibbling on a danish, when his phone beeped. A notification popped on the screen. It said, “I have what you need.”
As Brian was trying, unsuccessfully, to erase the App he noticed that the ambient light appeared to dim. The man from the night before was standing before him, with his umbrella wide open, casting a shadow upon him.
“Please, leave,” Brian whispered, embarrassed. The patrons of the cafe gave them a wide berth as the Umbrella Man closed his umbrella and sat across from Brian.
“It’s the Umbrella Man,” he said.
“I know who you are. Please, leave me alone. I tried to erase the App.”
“You won’t be able to.”
The Umbrella Man scribbled something on a napkin, folded it and passed it to Brian. “I have what you need,” he said, before taking his umbrella and leaving the cafe.
When the Umbrella Man was out of view, Brian unfolded the napkin. On it, in thin reedy letters spelled out the words “Under the Jack.”
The next morning, while Brian was working through a stack of files on his desk, his phone rang. It was Randall Farrell.
“Mr. Farrell, how are you?”
“It depends. How’s my case coming along?”
“Not so great. I read through every document you gave us. I didn’t find anything useful. We have no case against TriTech without the contract.”
Brian could hear Farrell let out a tight breath. “I still can’t find it,” he said.
“I’m sorry, sir. Really I am.”
“The president of TriTech came to my home to sign it. Now he claims it doesn’t exist. For God’s sake, how can a person lie like that? We drank to it. Shook hands.”
Brian’s attention escalated.
“Mr. Farrell, can you repeat what you just said? Please.”
“I said that he lied.”
“No, after that. Did you say he came to your house and drank with you?”
“Yes. We sat together at my bar.”
“You have a bar in your house?”
“I do. And I know what you’re thinking. I checked the bar. It wasn’t there.”
“What did you drink? Do you remember?”
It can’t be, Brian thought. It just can’t. “Where is that bottle?” he asked.
“The bottle is 75 years old. I keep it in a locked cabinet under the bar.”
“Open the cabinet. Look under the Jack. . . “
And that was that.
The next day, Stanton stormed into Brian’s office.
Brian was sitting on a chair in front of his desk as Stanton bore down on him, red faced.
“You stole my case and made me look bad in front of Farrell,” he spat. Brian was caught off guard by Stanton’s sudden tirade.
“I. . .I thought you’d be happy,” Brian stammered, “We settled the case.”
“Happy? Are you kidding me? I was shown up by a first-year associate.” Brian tried to convince Stanton that he had no bad intentions and that the outcome of the case was good for the firm, but Stanton couldn’t be reasoned with.
“You’re finished here. I can’t fire you without a damn good reason, but you can bet that I’m going to find one. ”
Stanton left the office while absently jangling the keys to the company car.
Brian was throwing up in the men’s room for over an hour. He was panicking. I can’t afford to lose this job, he thought. Brian splashed some water on his face was starting to pull himself together when his phone beeped. “I have what you need” read the notification on the phone. Just then, he heard a flush. The bathroom mirror afforded him a view of the toilet stalls behind him. He saw an umbrella opening on top of one of the stalls. The Umbrella Man came out of the stall and handed Brian an envelope. “I have what you need,” he said.
Brian looked around and saw that they were alone. “Why are you doing this for me?” Brian asked. The Umbrella Man smiled, but didn’t respond. His teeth were perfect, except for his eye teeth. They were black and appeared to be rotted. A putrid smell, like wet rat, emanated from his mouth. Brian took an involuntary step back and the Umbrella Man walked off.
Brian opened the envelope. It contained a key fob on a Mercedes Benz keychain. The words “Angell Brown and Mann, LLP” were engraved on the opposite side of the keychain. It had blood on it.
The calls came flooding in that night from his colleagues confirming Brian’s suspicion that Stanton was dead. Did you hear? Terrible accident. Stanton was the driver. The car crashed and then caught fire. Awful, they said. Awful, he agreed. Stanton wasn’t a good man, Brian thought, but he didn’t deserve to die.
Brian cleared his kitchen table, sat down and examined his phone. He launched the Umbrella Man App and surveyed the opening screen. The grey silhouette of the Umbrella Man was in the center. The only other icon on the screen was one that said “Terms.” Brian clicked it and saw the contract he had agreed to when he originally installed the App. He grabbed a pen and a pad and started reading.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
Brian had summoned the Umbrella Man with the App and was ready for him.
He opened the door.
“I have what you need,” said the Umbrella Man. He started to remove something from his pocket. Brian put his hand out and stopped him.
“Please. I want to speak with you first.”
The Umbrella Man waited.
“Not here,” said Brian. “Come in.”
The Umbrella Man followed Brian into the house and sat across from him. They were separated by a small kitchen table.
“I think I know what you are,” Brian stated.
The Umbrella Man smiled. “Are you afraid?” he asked.
Brian swallowed hard. “Yes,” he admitted.
The Umbrella Man nodded. “Do you intend to bargain with me?”
“For my freedom?”
“That’s fine. I didn’t call you here to bargain. You and I already have a contract, don’t we?”
“You give me what I need. And then, when I die…”
“You serve me. Forever.”
“Even though you tricked me into it? No one reads those online contracts. I’m a lawyer and I never read a single one until yesterday.”
“It matters not. We are bound,” he said.
“Well,” said Brian “I read the contract. I read it slowly. Every word. And I have a question for you. If I ask you directly for something that I need, do you have to get it for me?”
The Umbrella Man raised a bony finger. “Something you need. Yes. Not something you want. I will know the difference.”
“Anything?” asked Brian.
“You remain bound to me. Anything else.”
“I understand. What if you can’t give me what I need?”
“Impossible,” the Umbrella Man said.
“Even so. If you fail, the contract says you must release me from our arrangement.”
“That is true, but I do not fail.”
“Okay,” said Brian. He got up from his chair and walked over to the console table below the stairwell. Brian took a photograph off of the table and returned to his chair with it. He put it down between himself and the Umbrella Man.
“This picture,” he started, “is of me and my mother at my law school graduation. If you look closely, you can see the extra makeup around her eyes and cheekbones.”
“She was hiding bruises my father gave her.” A thought occurred to Brian and he voiced it.
“Do you know my father?” he asked.
The Umbrella Man nodded. “I know him. And his ilk.”
“Did you trick him into your service?”
“I didn’t need to.”
Brian nodded. That’s what he thought.
“My father abused me and my mom. As far back as I can remember. I took his beatings and threw myself into my school work. I got a full scholarship to a law school in another state. It was my way out. My mother was so happy for me, she practically pushed me out the door. But I let her. I left her alone with that monster and didn’t tell anyone what he was.”
Brian was still looking at the picture, the happiness in his mother’s eyes and the self-congratulatory grin on his own face. He was disgusted with the man in the picture, the man he was two years ago. Is he any different, now, though? Uncertainty and shame gnawed at him.
“Last year,” he continued “my father beat my mother so badly that she lost one eye, had her leg broken in six places and had so many lacerations and bruises that the paramedics, at first, thought that she was hit by a car. My father was arrested and put away for what he did.”
The Umbrella Man took his umbrella, which now resembled a stick, and smashed it onto the ground.
“Enough talking. What do you need? Come out with it already,” he said. Impatient.
“I need redemption.”
Brian’s voice rose. “Yes. I took care of myself, but not my mother. Because of that, she almost died. Can you redeem me for leaving my mother in the pit with the snake?”
The Umbrella Man did not reply. His face was impassive.
“Answer me, Damn it!” Brian leaned forward and pounded the table with his fists. The wooden table cracked, but didn’t split. His face was red and distorted.
The Umbrella Man did not flinch, but the temperature in the room rose several degrees before he responded. “I cannot give you what you need,” he admitted.
“I didn’t think so.”
The Umbrella Man stood up and regarded Brian, who remained in his seat. “Goodbye,” he said.
Before he opened the front door, The Umbrella Man turned to Brian and said “Your temper is impressive. Hot. Like your fathers. Keep stoking it and one day, you’ll come to me on your own.”
With that, the Umbrella Man left and closed the door behind him.
Banner Image: Pixabay.com