A well-heeled businessman strode into the foyer of a nondescript office building. Tossing a nod over his shoulder at the exiting secretary who held the door for him, he failed to suppress the knowing grin that tugged at the corners of his mouth. A quick appraisal of the surroundings threatened to dampen his buoyant mood, however. The threadbare plaid couch in the waiting area appeared to be a reluctant holdover from his grandparent’s den, circa 1981. Were it not for the well-thumbed magazines littered about the adjoining table, he would not have believed that clients were actually expected to plant their backsides into the hungry springs that surely laid in wait just beneath the sweat-stained fabric. The secretarial desk, vacant now that the evening receptionist had departed, seemed smallish somehow. The faux wood laminate counter tops didn’t mesh with his recollection of level four granite, either. The walls needed a coat of paint. The soothing antique white had faded to a sickly yellow.
How does someone run a business like this, he wondered.
A low, reverential whistle interrupted his silent consternation.
“Well, look at you,” the familiar voice gushed. “I’m still paying for those shoes, you know.”
He felt a twinge of remorse as he looked down at the Italian leather loafers. Whoever heard of tapping a line of credit for footwear? The moment quickly passed. The projection of success was a cornerstone principle to the manifestation of such.
“What price can you put on comfort,” he retorted.
“Sixteen hundred dollars and twenty eight cents.”
“Bah, it’s like walking on clouds. Besides, how can you possibly remember the exact amount?”
“Come on back,” his counterpart responded by way of an invitation.
Settling into the chair opposite the desk in his host’s office, he considered the barren wall to his right.
“Where are the awards?”
“Packed them away last year.”
“Why? I worked my butt off for those.”
“The game has changed, Junior. In case you haven’t looked around lately, people are hurting. Shoot, we’ve done our own share of hurting. Nobody cares about your sales records.”
For the first time, he really studied the face in front of him. The florescent lighting of the private office revealed deep creases that had remained hidden in the shadows of the dank reception area. The urgency in the red-rimmed, greenish-brown eyes was as palpable as the fatigue. There was an unmistakably hard edge to the countenance that seemed at odds with its hound dog expression. He was looking into a face that had seen too much combat.
“You didn’t invite me here to talk about my shoes.”
“You’ve always had a good head underneath that fifty dollar haircut. It’s time you started using it,” came the cryptic reply.
Sensing it was not his turn to speak, he let the silence expand before his counterpart continued.
“For starters, the cars, the vacations, the nights out … you’ve gotta knock all of that stuff off. It’s time you started hanging on to the dough that earned you all of those plaques,” he said, motioning to the empty wall.
“No buts. Look around, Chief. This is what’s waiting for you if you don’t get it together.”
He clamped his mouth shut, deciding to let the enigma in faded blue jeans say his piece. The sooner he got out of here, the sooner he’d make it to the range. He didn’t have the slightest idea where the slice in his fairway driver had come from, but he needed to get it ironed out before the charity tournament on Saturday. Children’s Leukemia this time? Diabetes Awareness? He couldn’t remember.
“Moving on,” his appointed conscience interjected. “The real reason I asked you here today is to clear the air about the message you are promoting. Torpedo the kids’ college fund if you like, we’re resilient, but your clients deserve better from you.”
Kids, he thought as he folded his arms and sat back in the chair, bracing for the sanctimonious diatribe that was sure to follow. As in plural?
“Bear with me one second.”
His host pulled a worn, blue notebook out of one of the desk drawers.
“Hey, I’ve been looking for that,” he objected.
“Confiscated for your own good. Our own good. Let’s take a look at what you have been telling consumers, shall we?”
A brief pause accompanied the turning of pages.
“July 7th, 2004. You told Mr. Davis that if he didn’t buy now, he might soon be priced out of the market.”
“I was right! By December, prices in the neighborhood he was looking in had risen an additional ten percent –”
“And now it’s down forty percent. I know you thought you were looking out for his interests, but you only considered the short term prognosis.”
“That’s not possible! Property values never decline in Scottsdale! We’ve been historically undervalued, especially compared to California. We’ve remained stable when other markets have tanked!”
“February 2, 2005. You told Mr. & Mrs. Flemming that the forthcoming bubble was a media myth.”
“Maybe not a myth, but it’s definitely a media creation! If the talking heads wouldn’t go on the news scaring the beejeezus out of buyers every night-”
“Right, Katie Couric created no-qual financing and the subsequent investor-driven spike of artificial demand that led to a massive housing glut and a skittish buyer pool. God help us if Anderson Cooper ever goes on air to tell us about the Easter Bunny.”
“You’re telling me they’re right?”
“You don’t know the half of it,” his colleague responded with chagrin.
“Yeah, yeah, well hindsight being twenty twenty …”
“March 8, 2006. You opined to Mrs. Sanjeve that the market still had some legs.”
“Things have slowed down, sure, but prices are still inching up,” he responded meekly.
“You had to know things were getting ready to go sideways. Prices may have held steady before the coming plummet, but days on market were starting to pile up. Homes that received five offers before the sign even got planted in the front yard were now taking thirty to sixty days to sell. The writing was on the wall, you just couldn’t interpret the black and white truth through those rose-colored glasses of yours. Heck, you nearly got caught holding an investment property yourself.”
“I believe in our market. Scottsdale has always been the apex destination in Arizona. Our values don’t decline. Ever.”
“There’s that pre-bubble thinking again. Watch that reliance on past performance, Champ. Any market that relies on human buyers and sellers is subject to downs as well as up. No more fortune telling, you understand me? From now on, save the tea leaves for the missus’s iced chai lattes.”
“She doesn’t drink chai,” he answered.
“August 18, 2007. Right before their portfolio took an irreparable beating with the jumbo loan market disintegration, you advised the Echols that they act now before interest rates rise.”
“Wait a minute, 2007? That one’s not on me!”
“Oh, you’re right. My apologies. Forgot which market I plucked you out of. Do me a favor and send in 2007-2008 on your way out, would you? He should be here by now. Looks a lot like you, just a little stressed out.”
There was a knock at the door.
“That must be us now.”
Instead of the expected visitor, however, a young woman poked her head into the room.
“Okay, your hour’s up. I’m sorry, but I really need the room back now,” she said.
He looked at his younger self and gave an embarrassed shrug of his shoulders before nodding in the direction of the new arrival.
“Tracey here just got her license in the fall.”
A rueful shake of the head accompanied another pause. He glanced down at the neatly packed duffel of personal affects at his feet, wondering for the umpteenth time if the makeshift home office would hold it all. He raised his head and found the eyes of his disbelieving doppelganger.
“Last piece of advice. Spare yourself the martyr act and list some freaking REOs.”
*PLEASE NOTE NO CAREERS WERE HARMED DURING THE WRITING OF THIS FICTION*
Just stretching my creative legs a bit, people 😉