“I’ve never hated Abby more than I did in that moment.” Cusper Lynn
The Occidental Ape
By Cusper Lynn
Note: This is the final chapter in Cusper Lynn’s serialized novel; the entire work will be available for downloading through Weekly Hubris.
SARASOTA Florida—(Weekly Hubris)—10/7/2013—All my life, I’ve been plagued by the notion that I can influence events. That through action, mind-set and commitment, I can, against all opposition, achieve my intended desire.
Despite an education that has taught me that the mind is the background noise of existence, that all action is futile, that the question of free will and determinism comprise doctrinal matters, I’ve clung to this premise of freedom.
The arguments have been thrown out of the public schools and are now debated only on the athletic fields. God is thanked for an outcome by the winners, and Hell awaits the losers.
Hell was opening up for me now, as I observed in fascinated horror Abby’s persistent inaction. My lips tingled in a way that suggested the heart attack I’d been anticipating might well be about to strike; except I could no longer hope for such respite. Gadget was gesticulating wildly and Denis was about to get back on his microphone and vamp. I raised my hand to stay them both.
I had begun this fool’s errand out of desperation. If it was to fall apart and fail, better it should do so now, spectacularly, publicly and completely, thus dashing all hope, removing all illusion. As the silence continued, I drew my first free breaths. Free, at last, from the need to believe, free from the need to struggle, free from the illusion of hope . . . and then, damn me, if that bastard didn’t speak.
At first, it was just a clearing of the throat. Then it was words I’d not expected. “I am humbled,” he said.
There was another silence, and I was now cursing him in my soul. This was torture. It was not the breakdown, it was not freedom; it was that terrible burden that kindled the smallest flame that resides in the most jaded heart. I’ve never hated Abby more than I did in that moment.
“Some of you know me, and have known me for a long time,” he continued, “and some of you are meeting me for the first time. You’re here because you’ve been told I have something important to share, something to teach you.”
Fuck. Whatever this was, it was entirely off-script.
“I’ve spoken before audiences of fifty thousand people and have never felt as humble as I do before you, because you’ve seen me in my worst moment. I don’t have to tell you the story, I don’t have to take you on the journey through my darkest moments for you to understand how I’ve arrived here. Any time you want to see it, all you have to do is watch the video.”
Abby paused, and took a sip of water.
“I do have to tell you something you might not have seen, though,” he continued, “something you might not have understood from seeing that moment. We are all self-made. Our lives are the cumulative results of our actions, our thoughts, and our intentions. But they are also the results of the times we live in and the circumstances of the world itself. It is easy to forget that. It is easy to become proud in our knowledge, proud in our accomplishments, proud in our lives, and forget that providence, God, or, if you prefer, luck is at play in our lives.
“Tonight, Denis called you together to be as one and send your thoughts and your energy to me so that I can deliver a powerful teaching. Don’t take that lightly. You are, when you are of a common mind with your fellow people, a powerful force, a force that can change your life, your community, and, ultimately, the world. But remember to remain humble, because when you lose humility, you lose respect for the forces of the world, the universe, that are greater than ourselves. We cannot appeal to those forces to change the laws of science, the laws of physics, and the laws of economics, but we can harmonize with them to transform ourselves into our best and greatest-selves possible.
“When you saw me in that video, I was not my greatest self ever. I was in a dark place. I was upside down, backwards, and had made a negative impact with the ground. For those of you who fly, you know that means I had crashed nose down into the ground. My net worth was so far negative that in a parallel universe, where they measure in negative numbers, I was the wealthiest person alive.
“Unfortunately that’s not the universe that I live in.”
Denis chuckled, Gadget was smiling, and Abby was in form, but well off-script.
“At that moment, people reached out to me. People I’ve known and people I’ve never met before. They reached out and pulled me back up onto my feet. They reminded me who I am, why I’m here, and they’ve helped me return to my life’s mission. We are all self-made,” Abby said, “but we are not alone. When we are in service to others, the universe will source us and elevate us. When we are focused on ourselves, our lives, our struggles, and our circumstances, the universe will leave us to our struggles.
“The universe is infinite; we are not. So tonight, the first lesson I want you to take from all of this is humility. There are a lot of people struggling out there. They are struggling because of mind-set, actions, and circumstances. The first thing you need to do is not be one of them. The next thing you need to do is maintain the humility that helped you escape that struggle. We are not better than they are; we are simply now in a position to help. When I was down, struggling, and confused, people reached out to me and lifted me up. Now, tonight, all of us are part of that force that lifts all of us up.
“So, if you are down, we are here to lift you up; accept what we are offering. For those of you who are up, don’t be too proud to reach out and accept a loving group that is committed to launching you higher. Because the higher you go, the greater service you can be and the more you can elevate, change, and transform the lives of those around you. I can tell you, when I was in that world of struggle and negative numbers, it was hard to see and hard to think. So remember, how far you see today is nothing compared to how far you will see tomorrow if you’ll climb, lift, and remain humble.”
Abby paused to take another sip of water.
“Let’s talk about the practical applications of climbing,” he went on. “Regardless of circumstances, we can grow, prosper, and serve. But we have to learn to see clearly how things really are. To do that, we have to be logical, rational, and informed. When the real-estate market crashed, there were signs, clear signs, of the market’s impending correction. Those of us who missed them, or forgot what they meant, paid a hefty price for that lesson. For those who saw them, they made another fortune on the decline of the market in which they had already earned a fortune during its rise.”
Abby was back on-script, and I didn’t know whether to sigh with relief, or scream in outrage.
Some speakers are entirely disingenuous, but skilled orators. Others can, for a brief period of time, suspend an audience’s disbelief to deliver a message that compels and sells. Then there are the truly dangerous ones, like Abby, who believe, speak powerfully, and ignore the foolish inconsistencies in their own lives as they do so.
Abby taught and taught and taught some more during his two on-line hours. He easily gave the attendees a thousand dollar seminar. Past the pitch where he and Denis closed the sales, past the point in which the few remaining sales objections had crumbled, he kept teaching, and he closed with, “It’s not right; it’s just love” as he committed every person on that webinar to buy two copies of his book when it came out—one to keep, and one for someone he or she cared about. We had no mechanism in place to register them for that service. We didn’t actually have the book ready, either. Yet I knew that by the force of that teaching, Abby had sold every one of them. Hell, he had me sold.
I had my wallet out and credit card in hand. I wanted, desperately wanted, what we were selling, and I believed it could help me, like nothing before that had come into my life. Even though I was the one who had put it all together with Gadget, building the web presence and delivery system, Leopold having written all the materials and done the training videos—even knowing all that, and having read Abby’s manuscript, I still wanted it all and I wanted a signed copy of his book. Two copies.
“He’s back!” Matt Tomlinson said, patting Abby on the back.
“That was one hell of a teaching,” Denis agreed, and gave Abby a knuckle bump.
Abby was happy but quiet. He looked to me and Gadget. “What’s the verdict?” he asked.
Gadget logged on to the vendor management site and reviewed the reports.
“$132,167 so far,” she announced, “but the orders are still steady.”
“Fuck me sideways and backwards on a pogo stick,” Matt said.
“This calls for a celebration,” Denis said. “My treat.”
“Aren’t we going to the roller derby?” Gene asked.
“I need to crunch the numbers,” I said.
“Cusper,” Denis said, “we’ve got a solid gold winner here.”
“Yes,” I said, “but I need to work out exactly where we stand.”
“Hell, even without the sales revenue, we’ve got what?” Matt said. “Nineteen, twenty thousand customers to sell to on our private list? That’s before the replays and the affiliate marketing of the replays.”
“We’ve done great,” I said, “but I still need to crunch the numbers. I’ll come along later. Where are you going?”
“How about we go over to Ichiban’s for some sushi?” Denis suggested.
“Perfect. I’ll be along in a little while,” I said.
“Really?” Gadget asked. “You’re going to stay here and. . .”
“Don’t forget, Denis, tomorrow morning we meet at the bank and finish our business,” I said.
“You sound like you’re not coming out tonight,” Denis said.
“No, I’ll be along. But I just want to make sure that you’ll be there in the morning,” I said.
“I’m never late.” Denis said. “OK, everyone, let’s get out of Cusper’s hair so he can wrap things up.”
Within a few minutes, I was alone in my office and facing the dreaded task. $132,167 dollars sounds like a lot of money. Technically, if it is all yours, it is a lot of money. But this deal had a lot of agreements behind it, a lot of partners, and I needed to know where exactly I stood.
The vendor software was very user-friendly and it told me exactly which partners different customers came from and gave me the breakdown of the sales totals. I put together a spreadsheet with the terms of each contract. I needed enough to cover what Matt owed me, and then three and half times that, plus points to pay Denis’s loan back. If I didn’t pay it back by tomorrow, the clock was ticking and a massive amount of interest was working against me.
After about half an hour, I looked down at the bottom line and the situation was grim. While Abby was well on his way to a strong re-launch and quite probably a bestselling book, I was screwed. If Abby had been living in the land of negative numbers before we met, I had moved further in that direction since taking on this project.
I looked at the vendor software, and another $27,000 in orders had been processed. I had entered the new numbers into my spreadsheet when I heard something in the hall outside my office.
“Hello?” I asked.
There was no answer.
The new numbers moved me incrementally closer to where I needed to be. If I could just catch a break, if the orders would just come in on the better agreements. Then, Matt could pay me back and my percentage would edge up. Damn it, another $2,100 came in on an agreement where we made less than 30 percent. I tried to do the numbers in my head. What needed to happen? What was the perfect combination to clean up this god-awful mess? I felt the beginning of a headache setting in.
I drew a deep breath and tried to remember Abby’s words about being lost in our own problems. I needed to move higher. So what if I was bankrupt? I’d got Abby back on his feet, Matt had residual income, Gadget had got paid, and Gene was rebuilding his career as a documentary maker. I just need to be thankful, I just need to be humble . . . I just need to focus on something bigger than myself . . . I just need to accept that I am being a conduit to raise others higher . . . I just needed a damn aspirin and a pile of cash.
I stepped into the hall and shook off Abby’s spell. The universe was leaving me to my struggles and I was going to find an aspirin. Then I felt something hard pressing into the base of my skull.
“Don’t move,” someone said.
“No,” I said.
“What?” he asked.
“No,” I said, and started to walk down the hall.
“I’ll blow your goddamn head off if you move again,” he said, trailing behind me and jamming the gun forcefully into my neck.
“Ow,” I said, and kept walking.
“I’m serious,” he said.
“No,” I said. “You’re an inconsiderate prick. If you had any decency, you would have kept your mouth shut and just shot me in the back of the head when I stepped into the hall . . .”
“What?” he asked.
“ . . . but that would be too easy, too kind,” I said, and stopped walking. “Instead you’re barking in my ear, jamming what I assume to be a gun into my head and neck.”
“It is a gun,” he said.
“Bully for you,” I said. “What caliber?”
“Caliber?” he asked.
“What size are the damn bullets?” I asked.
“Nine millimeter,” he said.
“Good,” I said.
“Is it? Why?” he asked.
“At this distance, it will kill me straight out,” I said. “My neck will explode and my head will drop off sideways. Hit me at the base of the skull with it and my brains will be down at the far end of the hall.”
“Doesn’t that worry you?” he asked.
“At the moment, no,” I said. “If it were a .22, then it might just lodge in my neck or in the base of my brain, leaving me paralyzed, rather than dead: 9mm or higher and the biggest concern is whether or not you’ll be blinded or injured by the back-blast of gas and debris.”
“That happens?” he asked.
“Have you ever fired a gun pressed against a hard surface at point blank range?” I said, starting to walk down the hall again.
“No, hey, wait a minute,” he said, racing up behind me and jamming the gun against the base of my skull again.
“Look, I’ve got the mother of all headaches coming on and if you’re not going to have the decency to shoot me, then let me get some aspirin so I can concentrate on what it is you want.”
“Fine,” he said.
I made my way down the hall, now without the muzzle of a gun pressed against me. It really was a very bad headache. Stepping into the bathroom, I got a bottle of aspirin from the medicine cabinet.
“Hey, how about being a pal and getting my bottle of Jack Daniel’s and a glass from that closet over there,” I said, not looking out.
“Which closet?” he asked.
“The one right behind you,” I said.
I heard the sound of a door opening, then a scrambling, and the sound of glass breaking.
“Sorry,” he said.
“Tell me that was one of the shot glasses and not the booze,” I said.
“It was one of the shot glasses,” he said.
“Fine, just grab another one and the bottle, please,” I said and started back to my office.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“To sit down, at my desk, and take this aspirin with a healthy dose of what’s in that bottle you’re carrying,” I said. I really was feeling like crap.
Sitting down, I closed my eyes and opened the aspirin bottle. The flaring headache was now shooting bright and brilliant flashes of pain behind my eyes. I tried to think of Abby, what he had said, what our greater purpose was, and the futility focusing on our personal struggle. All I wanted at this point was for the pain to stop. I opened my eyes to find that I’d dumped the aspirin across my desk. My assailant, who was sitting across from me, was very considerately pouring out a shot of Jack Daniel’s for me.
I reached for it. He picked it up and threw it back in single swallow. I really was starting to resent him. I reached for the bottle and poured myself a shot in the other glass on the desk. I took three of the aspirins, tossed them in my mouth, and chased them down with the whisky. I took a deep breath as a slight burn of whisky cut my throat. Then I poured another shot. My assailant reached for the bottle.
“I wouldn’t do that in your condition,” I said, staring at the badly injured Barry Thomas, aka Barenth Ahearne, Stephen Pencheco, and Alberto Mariche.
“My condition?” he asked, taking up his second shot.
In the 24 hours since Gadget had broken his nose, both of Barry’s eyes had swollen and turned black; he looked like a raccoon with a goatee. The bridge of his nose was a shade of dark blue, and he still had part of a splint and bandage across the rest of it. “Concussed,” I said. “You have a concussion.”
“No, I don’t,” he said, and waved the gun at me across the desk.
“High-pitched whine in the ear, turn your head too fast and the world goes all wobbly?” I said, and poured myself another shot.
“Yes, but. . .” he said and lowered the gun slightly.
“Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like the ground is going to be there when you step?” I said and drank the shot.
“OK, fine, enough of that,” he said and tried to steady the gun.
“I’m betting,” I said, setting down my shot glass, “that Dr. Faizunniza gave you something for the pain. But Leah took it because she was so upset with how bad you were feeling.”
He said nothing, but an aggrieved expression passed over his face when I mentioned the meds and Leah. I remembered Abby’s advice on humility and service. I decided there was a service I could render here.
“Let me make this easy on you,” I said, and slowly drew my hands toward me.
“What are you doing?” Barry asked, raising his gun back up toward my face.
“Relax,” I said. “You came here for a reason. I’m thinking I know what it is. If I can get the package out of my desk, it should solve both our problems.”
Barry got to his feet and came forward slightly, catching himself on the front of my desk.
“Slowly,” he said, tipping the gun down toward my head.
“Be careful,” I said. “You might fall and hurt yourself.”
I pulled open the drawer so he could see the large manila envelope.
“Pass it over,” he said.
“No problem,” I said and pushed it across the desk to him.
Barry picked up the envelope, opened it, took out the tape and sat down. “This is it? There aren’t any other tapes?” he asked.
“That’s the tape. There are no other tapes,” I said.
Barry pushed the tape into his jacket pocket.
“May I make a suggestion?” I asked. “If you’re getting this tape for the reason I think you’re getting it, wouldn’t it make sense just to destroy it now?”
“I’ll take care of it later,” he said and raised the gun up steadily.
“I’ve got a butane torch lighter and . . .”
“I’ll take care of it later,” he said and extended the gun until it was a foot from my head.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I asked.
“Shooting you,” he said, not smiling.
“Why?” I asked.
“You didn’t think I could let you live after you saw my face, did you?” he asked.
“Hadn’t really given it much thought,” I said.
“If you hadn’t been a smart ass, then I could’ve gotten this and been gone,” he said. “All you would have had was a bump on the back of your head.”
“Barry, or should I say Barenth or Stephen or Alberto? I’m not the only one who’s seen you,” I said, “At this moment, the FBI, the Sarasota Police Department and a news reporter know that you’re in town.”
Barry got to his feet and then nearly fell over. “You’re full of shit.”
“No, they’ve got pictures of you from the intersection cameras,” I said. “And they’ve got a picture of you from the ATM machine across the street. The only person they don’t know is in town is Leah.”
“What?” Barry said.
“Leah,” I said. “Leah is the person that they don’t know is in town.”
“You’re shitting me,” Barry said, sitting down and lowering the gun.
“No. That videotape hasn’t been seen by anyone, other than yours truly,” I said. “It’s the only proof Leah is around. You, on the other hand, have been getting your face in front of everyone.”
“I told her we should just leave,” he said.
“You were right,” I said.
“Of course, I was right,” Barry said. “But no, we had to get that tape.”
“You mean you had to get that tape.” I said. “She didn’t come with you. She didn’t help you until the second time. What was she doing while you were out there risking your neck?”
Barry got very quiet.
“Let me guess. In bed with a sick headache because of your failure to clean up her mess,” I said.
“Do you know Leah?” he asked.
“Only by reputation,” I said. “I imagine after she agreed to be the driver for your last attempt, she read you the riot act.”
Barry said nothing but raised his gun and began to squint.
“Look,” I said, wondering if I’d overplayed my hand, “if I had my way, you’d kill me, burn the tape and set fire to this office. I was ready to do at least part of that this afternoon. But you don’t need any more complications. So destroy the tape, get out of town and, if you must, take Leah with you.”
“Oh course I’m taking Leah with me,” Barry said.
“She’s that one-in-a-million girl,” I said.
“She has control of all the accounts,” Barry said.
“She is smart,” I said. “But you do have to wonder why she flashed her boobs at Abby, her estranged husband.”
“She’d been drinking and there were beads,” Barry said.
“I’m not even going to ask why of all places she was on Siesta Key, not a mile from a beachfront house they owned together,” I said, and placed my hand on my torch lighter.
“It’s one of the world’s top beaches . . .” he began.
“Never mind,” I cut him off. “Burn the tape and get out of town.”
I slid the lighter across the desk to him.
“Why are you helping me?” Barry asked and picked up the lighter.
“I believe in the redemptive opportunity afforded by good works,” I said. “Mind if I have a cigar while you’re burning that?”
“It’s your office,” Barry said, and got out the tape.
Barry cracked open the cassette and unspooled the tape into one of my deep cigar ashtrays. Then, he put the torch lighter to it. There was a bright flash as the flame caught hold, and soon a colorful fireball was dancing above the ashtray on my desk. I watched it with interest as I smoked my cigar. As a matter of principle, I never smoke indoors. But, given that noxious fumes from the burning plastic and filament were now billowing toward the ceiling of my office, I could see no harm in adding the fragrant odor of a well-made cigar.
As the flame died down, Barry got up to leave.
“Hey,” I said, looking at my computer monitor. “Guess what? I’m broke.”
“Congratulations?” Barry said.
“We just got in another $40,000 in orders! That means I have no more debt and no money!” I said, getting up. “I’m at absolute zero!”
Barry looked confused. “That’s good news.”
“Well, when I was at negative several thousand dollars, getting shot in my office sounded like a good thing,” I said.
Barry backed away from me. “OK, look,” he said, “just sit down, now.”
“Barry, c’mon. You’re not going to shoot me now?” I said. “I helped you destroy the tape just like you said to.”
“What?” Barry said.
“Look, just leave me alone and I won’t tell anyone anything,” I said. “I promise.”
“Why are you . . .” Barry asked.
“There’s a cop behind you,” I said.
“You’re lying,” Barry said.
“Put down the weapon,” Detective Ballinger said, his service pistol drawn and trained on Barry.
“But . . .” Barry said, as he lowered the gun to the ground.
“I did lie to you, Barry,” I said, taking a seat behind my desk. “There was no $40,000-order that saved me from bankruptcy. I’m still screwed.”
Detective Ballinger cuffed Barry and marched him out of my office. I looked at the ashes of Abby’s video and smiled to myself.
“The whisky is with you,” Simon said as we lounged on the verandah.
I passed him the decanter. His wife Maria had not divorced him or brained him. She did, however, exile him to the guest room for a few weeks. Their marital tranquility had returned to a sufficient state of equilibrium that he was allowed to visit me for a drink while she was off to Orlando visiting family. Whether the authorization was explicit or implied, I did not bother to ask. Simon needed to get away, and I needed the company of someone who hadn’t spent the last few months with me.
“I see your car has a new hub cap,” Simon said, peering over the rail to where my silver Saturn Ion was parked.
“. . . and a beaded seat cover, an oil change, and I had it cleaned,” I said.
“Well, la di da. Aren’t you the big spender?” Simon laughed.
“It’s being able to do the little things,” I said, “that keeps life in perspective.”
“So you made out with that whole Abby Norman thing?” he said.
“Not really,” I said and picked up a copy of the newspaper that I’d left on the wicker table.
“I saw that one,” Simon said, setting down his drink. “That’s the sex scandal.”
I smiled and unfolded the paper. A picture above the fold showed Barry Thomas being walked out of my office by Detective Ballinger. Facing it was a matching picture of Leah being escorted from the University Park Hotel in one of the robes that they charge fifty dollars for. The headline, “Sex Tape Snares Fugitives,” set the tone for the rest of the article. The fact that the sex tape was “destroyed by Barry Thomas, an international fugitive wanted in connection with a series of high-profile charity fraud cases,” didn’t change the fact that a ten-second clip of Leah flashing her boobs, without sound, was now going viral on the internet. Speculation as to what sort of salacious content must have been on the full-length tape was further fomented by a series of imaginative articles by bloggers, reporters, and tabloid publications.
The full-page Sunday edition of the Sarasota newspaper, in which Blake diagrammed Barry’s fraud scheme of transferring funds using Liberty Reserve, and Leah’s role in setting up and securing target accounts, had scarcely a mention of Abby Norman in it. Never, in any of the articles, blogs, posts, tweets, or other internet informational excreta, was there any reference to Abby Norman’s being on a beach, with a video camera, inviting women to flash him for beads. Had the tape still existed, it was likely this story would not have played well for Abby’s newly re-launched career. As it was, he had an interesting story of a former wife whose unspecified sexual proclivities and involvement with an “international fugitive” raised Abby’s stock in the public relations arena. Two New York publishers were in a bidding war for Abby’s book, national morning talk shows were calling to schedule Abby, and major day-time talk shows were vying to get an “exclusive” interview.
“You can’t tell me you aren’t making bank with this,” Simon said.
I sighed, folded the paper, and dropped it back onto the wicker table. “No, I’m not,” I said. “Matt took over as soon as the money was distributed. He’s managing all of Abby’s activities now. I’m only in for any products I create or have created.”
“Still, there has to be some money,” Simon said, and poured himself another whisky.
The orders had continued to come in, and I did manage to achieve absolute zero status in my life that Saturday morning, in time to meet Denis Thatcher at the bank and stop that corrosive interest from further eating me alive. By Monday, I went round to pick up my Saturn from Dan Sandclaire. After a very long conversation on his company’s policy of charging $75 a day for car storage, his hours of operation, and his family’s emergency, I only had to pay $350 to get my car; which started without complaint.
“At this moment,” I said, “I have a little over $600 in the bank.”
“Ouch,” Simon said. “Well, at least all that legal stuff has gone away.”
I smiled. “No,” I said. “I still had to go up to Tampa on Tuesday and answer a bunch of questions from a Federal Prosecutor.”
“I thought they would have dropped all of that after they caught Barry and Abby’s wife,” he said.
“Why? They’ve grabbed a lot of property and money using a lot of complex legal theories.” I said.
“Have you ever known the Federal government to be in a rush to hand back money or property?”
“So, why are you smiling?” he asked.
“Because. Being broke, I’m of no interest to the Federal government whatsoever,” I said, and picked up the whisky decanter.
There was a long silence as we sipped our whisky and looked out over the verandah rail at the ancient rotting tree with its flying squirrels, opossums, and raccoons that were starting their nocturnal activity.
“So, you’re broke and you have no clients,” Simon said.
“Yes, that pretty much sums it up,” I agreed.
“What’re you going to do now?” he asked.
I thought about that for a moment, and then replied, “Find another motivational speaker who needs to re-launch this career.”