“Wake up, Benjamin. Wake up, brother man.”
I snap awake from my nap on my patio, look up at Hero Delicious Abbott, the fly in my ointment, the pain in my ass, the thorn in my side, my larcenous first cousin.
“Nigger, who let you in here?”
Hero, the conman, swindler, manipulator extraordinary, grabs up my beer, drains it, drops on the lounger next to me. “Ben, Benjamin, Benny, Cous, Have I got a deal for you—”
I yell out, “Millie, did you let this Ponzi scammer in here?”
“Chill, brother man. Your lady’s over the moon. I gave her some A-1, primo shit.”
“What do you want, Hero? I need my rest. I don’t need your mess. I have a job you need to try that.”
“Job! Nigger get your shit together. Get your black ass up off the plantation. You need to put that wage slavery in your rearview mirror, man. Jettison that jacked up loser shit, brother.”
“Go away,” I yell for my wife. “Millie. Millie. Where the fuck did, she go?”
“I told you – she lit. So, I come to you first Cous. I love you, man, and I want to put you in on the ground floor, okay? Now I know you got an IRA and a little change—”
“No! No! Hell no. I’m not giving your crazy, crooked, black ass a dime. Negro, get on up out of here.”
As always, my cousin thinks no means maybe. He leans into me, points his finger at me.
“Ben, I’m lettin’ you in as a partner, a fifty/fifty partner. You—”
“You ain’t heard me yet Cous. Just listen—”
“Millie, bring me—”
“I got this, Cous. M-i-l-l-i-e, sweetheart, baby.” Hero ends his shout with an impressively loud two-note whistle.
“Hero don’t be whistling at my woman like she’s a dog or something. She’s a Stanford grad. First in her class—”
The Stanford grad cuts me off as she steps onto the patio. “What the fuck, Benny? I’m trying to kick it here.”
“Kick it? That shit looks like it’s kicking your ass. You look fried, dyed and fucked up.”
“Fuck you, Benny. You can kiss my fried and dyed black ass.”
Hero shouts out.
“Millie, Millie, babe, you can do better than this here poor-ass, nigger professor. I get you and I got everything you need. I’m your speed, baby.”
Millie gives Hero the finger and doubles the salute to me as she slams the patio door behind her.
“Hero, nigger, you fucking up my day. Take your lame ass on out of here, now!”
“I know you interested Cous. I see it in your eyes, smell it on your breath. I’m not gonna keep you in suspense, Dr. Abbott. Check this out.”
Hero hands me his phone displaying a map with five locations circled in red with the numbers, fifty-eight, forty-nine, thirty-two, twenty-seven, and twenty-six.
“See, Cous. See what I’m talkin’ about.”
“No, I don’t see—”
Hero springs up.
“Just study it, okay? I’ll get us a couple of brews.”
I can’t resist the challenge. I make my guess as my cousin hands me a cold brew.
“Las Vegas, Orlando, and Virginia – mass shootings sites with the number of the dead – right?”
“Yes, yes.” Hero is actually dancing with glee. “Cous, you the man, man. I love you, brother.”
“Okay, chill, cool it. So, what’s the scam?”
“No scam. I repeat that. No scam. Honest, legal, aboveboard. I designed this especially for you and other squeamish investor types.”
“Okay, I know that I’m going to regret this. I already regret this. So, what is this non-scam?”
“Like the darknet, dark web, Cous.”
“Wait, are you – no, no. Even you aren’t that callous, loathsome, despicable, low—”
Hero grabs my arm.
“It’s happening now, man! It’s for real! I didn’t start it. But this shit is for real.”
I shake his hand off.
“Get the fuck out of here. You’re beyond crazy – look, asshole, people, ghouls, don’t need you. They can visit these slaughter sites alone. They don’t need an organized tour. You’re a sick bastard.”
Hero laughs, his eyes are bright, his face shiny with sweat.
“Cous, I buy artifacts. I sell them on the tours and online—”
“Yeah, shell casings, bloody clothes, videos, pictures, morgue photos, oral statements from witnesses, bullet holes—”
“You’re kidding – no, no, you—”
“Benny, I’m moving quick, like Sherman through Georgia. That’s why I need an instant cash infusion. I—”
I grab my cousin by the shoulders hard, I touch my forehead to his.
“Hero, I love you, man. I do. Don’t do this. Please.”
“Details – I provide details not available anywhere else. I—”
I stand and pull my cousin up with me. I walk him toward the door.
“Benny, listen, you can retire next year if you want. I’ll guarantee you’ll double, triple, quadruple your investment in twelve months. I—”
“You make me ashamed of you, Hero.”
“Fuck you, Benjamin! Fuck you! I’m tryin’ to look out for you, man. Look white people stole the land, stole the labor, oppressed workers—”
I hug my cousin tight before I shove him out the door.
“Fuck you, Benny. I’m the fucking American Dream. I’m dreaming big, nigger. I’m for real. Last chance to skip the nightmare and live the dream.”
I slam the door on the motherfucker.
One year later, Millie and I are in bed sipping mimosas and reading the Sunday papers. Millie suddenly chokes on her drink, her eyes double in size, mimosa is spewing out of her nose and mouth. I think she’s having a stroke until her shaking finger directs me to an article in the business section.
“Hero Abbott, CEO of American Horror Tours (AHT, NYSE) has purchased a controlling interest in troubled Tesla Inc. and promises an immediate infusion of capital, improvements in management, production, and research and development. Tesla stock rose ten percent on the news of Abbott’s takeover.”
My cousin calls me the next day. I let his call go to voice mail. His message is simple. He’s overwhelmed with success, and he wants me and Millie to help him – we get stock shares, a six-figure signing bonus, stock options, and we can name our own salaries.
That evening I play his message to Millie. Millie is decisive.
They’re talking on the phone right now. I’m not worried. Millie is a Stanford graduate. We have a five-year-old stable marriage. She’s too level-headed to get played by Hero. I don’t have a thing to worry about.
Still, I wonder if a Tesla Model S comes with – no, no. I’m just kidding. I am. Honest.