Willy was a liar.
Not a teller of tall tales, not a stretcher of the truth, but a pathological liar. Whether swearing that his Uncle Doug played cowbell on Blue Oyster Cult’s ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper,’ or assuring an unsuspecting child that one plus one equals purple, weaving extravagant falsehoods came as naturally to the forty six year old Nobel laureate/nuclear physicist/bratwurst-eating champion as breathing.
So it was that Willy found himself speaking with a Real Estate agent one late autumn morning, outlining his very specific criteria for the home he intended to purchase.
“The community must be horse-friendly,” Willy informed the agent. “Did I tell you Starchaser showed at Belmont last year? Would have won if he didn’t come up lame half a length from the tape.”
Harris Burfect struggled to keep up, scribbling in the margins of a notepad already overwhelmed with his chicken-scratch. A cynic by nature, Harris had taken the appointment on the off chance that the Danny DeVito look-alike was legit. He’d learned his lesson about prematurely blowing off prospects as flakes the hard way.
“And no wells,” Willy continued. “Arsenic poisoning claimed his sire at the ranch I used to own in Montana.”
“We’ll certainly have the property inspected for hazar-”
“Wasn’t the well itself that did him in,” Willy insisted, waving off the agent’s placation. “It was old man Monticore. He was always jealous of my stallions, as he was right to be. He couldn’t raise a barn in Amish country, let alone a thoroughbred.”
“Autopsy was ruled inconclusive,” he continued, making air quotes with his sausage fingers. “But he had everyone from the coroner to the constable in his hip pocket. Those thieves had been trying to run me out of that two-bit town ever since I struck oil in the summer of two thousand and two. Greedy pigs would stop at nothing to get me off that claim.”
Harris shook out the cramp in his hand and turned to a new page. Words such as ‘ranch’ and ‘oil’ had dollar bills dancing in his mind’s eye despite his swirling doubts.
“Okay, no wells,” he yielded, eager to steer the conversation back on course. “You okay with septic systems? Most horse properties pre-date the sewer, and not too many ranchers around here have bothered to take on the expense of linking up to it.”
“Well that simply won’t do,” Willy replied. “Septic systems are a biological nightmare. Did you know that the leech field of a typical alternative waste disposal system contains more radioactive residue than a centrifuge that has processed atomic material within the past twenty four hours?”
“I’m not familiar with-”
“It’s true,” Willy assured him. “Over the years, I’ve seen far more extra fingers and missing teeth in remote villages where such waste systems are used than I did during my humanitarian mission to Chernobyl back in ninety eight.”
“Fascinating,” Harris admitted, gawking at the vaguely unhealthy-looking man across the table from him. “How long were you there?”
“Only about six months,” Willy responded. “I wanted to stay, but the intel I’d gathered was deemed too urgent by the powers that be. In hindsight, it was for the best that they pulled me out when they did. Started noticing these … growths.”
Willy rubbed a stooped shoulder as he stared off into the infinity through glassy, brown eyes.
“Powers that be,” Harris wondered. “You mean like CIA?”
Willy pulled back from wherever he’d gone and looked straight at the agent, winking.
“I’d tell you, but I’d have to kill you.”
“Got it, moving on,” Harris allowed. “Have you spoken with a lender about your financing options yet?”
He turned his head to follow the scent of rosemary that passed by on a tray, instantly regretting his own order. He found a dismissive smile on his client’s ruddy face when he turned back.
“I’ll be paying cash,” Willy informed Harris, signalling the agent closer.
Harris leaned across the table to steal a glance at the clipped wad of cash Willy produced from the front pocket of his one size too small, navy blue coat.
“Not that I keep all of my money in greenbacks,” Willy assured him, fiddling with the gold chain around his neck. “If you don’t think ten million will get it done, I’ll prep my assistant to move some bullion. Or maybe a couple of the Rembradts.”
“Very good,” Harris gulped, picturing a humorless courier walking into the title company with an attache case handcuffed to his wrist. His internal crazy alarm had moved to DEFCON-3, but he was willing to play out the string. He’d already invested this much time.
“So when do you want to start looking?”
“Straight away,” Willy answered, checking his watch as he stood. “As soon as I get back from the Maldives.”
“Now if you’ll excuse me,” he said. “I have a B-2 Spirit to catch.”
Harris made a move for his wallet.
“Please,” Willy said, staying the agent’s arm with his hand. “You insult me.”
He peeled a few bills from his roll and dropped them on the table.
“Have a productive trip, Mr. Stiffu,” Harris said as he extended his hand.
“Can’t shake,” Willy lamented, tossing him a flippant two-finger salute instead. “My attorneys advise it could potentially void the insurance policy.”
“We’ll be in touch. Be ready.”
With that, the squat, little enigma of a man turned on his heel and strolled out of the cafe, stopping once to tell an older couple studying a menu that the eggs benedict were excellent today.
A bemused grin spread across the agent’s face. He was still smiling when the waitress came by to clear the two plates of half-eaten pancakes and settle the check. Who knew? If even a fraction of what he’d been told was true, there might be a sale somewhere in the middle of it yet. Stranger things had happened.
Harris didn’t hear her as he polished off the last lukewarm swallow of coffee. He was preoccupied with the ornate insignia stamped across the saucer upon which the dainty cup had been resting.
Monticore Fine China.
“Son of a bitch,” Harris breathed.
“Sir,” the waitress said again, louder.
Harris looked up at the fresh-faced server.
“What am I supposed to do with this,” she asked, waving a stack of Monopoly money hidden beneath a one dollar bill. “Buy Park Place?”
“Sucker’s play,” Harris sighed, reaching for his wallet for the second time in five minutes. “Nobody lands on Boardwalk.”