W. Patrick Gordon
Jeff turned the corner and bumped into a derelict. Unfortunately, it was his father who he continually avoided. For one thing it was his father’s stench, the result of living on the street and feeding out of dumpsters behind the fast food joints around Pioneer Square in Portland, Oregon. He did admit that dear old Dad lived pretty cheaply for a former high flyer. The leftovers in the dumpsters are full of protein and calories. He didn’t seem to mind that a completely unknown stranger had previously been munching on the soggy, leftover burger. The trash collectors always insured that his food was no older than a day. Hardly time for maggots to form.
Since his swan dive from grace, Dad had become eligible for Social Security, which he arranged to be automatically deposited into one, small bank account. The account was accessed by a debit card, which he carried in his sock. The debit card was his key to the booze that kept him in a state of oblivion; a state where he could vaguely remember the days when he was a successful real estate banker, developer and a master of his universe in the Pacific Northwest state of Oregon.
As Jeff looked at his father, he saw one sorry-assed looking piece of human refuse. He remembered the suit. It had once been crisp, dark blue with faint pin stripping. Now it was ragged, baggy and filthy. What had once been an expensive necktie was threaded through the belt loops keeping his pants wrinkled and deeply pleated around his father’s ever more thinning waist. He wore a formerly blue shirt, open at the neck, filthy and flecked with blood. He knew the blood wasn’t from a nick while shaving since his unkempt, grey beard hadn’t been touched with anything other than his filthy hands in ages. What had once been trimmed, sleek white hair was now filthy and hung down to his shoulders. He still wore the Stefano Bemer shoes, now laced with electrical cord, tie-wraps from long lost electronic devices. The once wonderful shoes were scuffed and battered; now on a sad but inevitable transition to the dump.
As they passed one another they avoided speaking. Neither looked directly at the other. The son’s actions deliberate, the father’s, probably not. Perhaps he didn’t even see his son since his eyes were on the ground looking for anything that might be of some value to him, a food ticket, stray change or even edible litter. Good luck finding that on the once clean streets of Portland, Oregon.
It was easy for Jeff to ignore the tramp since he had been doing that for over a decade. Actually it started when his father had decided that the women in the bank, strutting for his attention, were more interesting than his wife and two children back at his “gentleman’s farm”. He began spending more and more time away from the family. He said it was late nights at the office and weekend conferences supposedly coupled with golf, on the Bandon Dunes golf courses on the coast.
The family quickly learned that coupling was indeed involved but not with golf. Women in-play actually called some of his former wives to inform them of his indiscretions. Perhaps in hopes that the current wife would leave him thus making him available to them in their upward struggle for financial security. One small step back for Mary Ann wife number three, and one giant leap forward for Karen, wanna-be wife number four. Mary Ann had made it to wife number three just before his free fall began. Had the women been more beautiful, intelligent or charming than his mother, wife number one, Jeff might have been able to stretch for some level of understanding. However, they were, ‘God forgive me’, Jeff thought, plain, dull, educated to the lofty heights of high school and endowed only with big tits and the ability to calculate to the level of bank teller with computer assistance. On the other hand, “wife number one, on the gentleman’s farm”, was a graduate of a prestigious New England University, unquestionably intelligent with a wonderful sense of humor, and charming enough to guide the family through the turbid waters of gossip generated by his father’s completely uncensored, uncontrolled and indiscreet behavior in a city that never stops talking.
Alcohol had always played a major part in his life. That alone would have been enough to destroy him but as his weekend excursions grew longer and the women more expensive to keep on the side, he began dipping into the company coffers until even that wasn’t enough to support his cravings. He’d moved on to more and more risky investments in real estate. As his failures multiplied his reputation as a businessman deteriorated. As he drank more, he seemed to believe that he became invisible and could escape retribution for all of his transgressions. Sadly, the invisible man is only a myth created by Hollywood and perpetuated on late night TV.
When his upscale, residential real estate development, aptly named, Whiskey Slew, went bust he narrowly avoided changing his blue suit for an orange jump suit by pleading diminished capability due to alcoholism. He thought that the development name, near the Colombia River, would be a modern-day salute to Oregon’s whiskey making history during Prohibition, when the “Oregon Outback” was once a thriving source of “white lightening”. With today’s modern thinking in the city perhaps the development would have been more successfully named “Mary Jane Meadows”. Marijuana and other drugs now played leading roles in the downfall of a once beautiful but now sanctuary city.
Jeff’s senior year at Oregon State was nearly over when the family crashed. With inheritance money set aside in her personal account his mother had enough to enable him to complete a business degree while being an avid Oregon “Ducks” supporter. He wasn’t athletic but he was an athletic supporter. His mother, always proper, cringed when he tucked that phrase into a conversation.
Due to a long-standing, ever-patient family friend, Mr. Harold Hightower, Jeff had avoided the typical period of frustration suffered by many university graduates. Immediately after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business he had gone to work. Hightower had been a friend of the family since their childhood days and had watched the downward spiral of the “Master” until the final, flaming crash. He was one of those rare friends who was able to stay close with both of the litigants in a divorce even during the aftermath, or at least, until the “Master” had withdrawn more and more into the bottle, until he only spoke to no one but himself.
Mr. Hightower had been a pilot during World War II, one of the youngest bomber pilots in the Army Air Force. After surviving the war, and due to his connections at Boeing and his B-17 experience, he had opened a small aircraft leasing company. It remained small due to his choice. He always said that company growth was overrated in a small business. Jeff was never quite sure what he meant by that contradictory statement. Hightower’s goal evidently, was to maintain the size and profitability of a company that would comfortably support his family’s desires to travel, hunt, fish and mountain climb while not getting large enough to detract from his available time to do it all. He would no longer pilot an airplane, but he would fly on a reputable airline when in pursuit of any of those activities. He had returned to base with B-17s shot to pieces so many times that he was sure he’d used up all of his flying luck. He said he would leave the flying to the younger pilots who were just beginning to use up their allotment of airborne luck.
After 9/11 he completely understood the irony of his company’s name but refused to change it. He had a decades long reputation for honesty and quality and no bunch of simulator trained Bedouins were going to make him change his lifestyle in any way. The name, Hightower Aircraft Leasing, would remain!
That’s the environment Jeff went to work in straight out of university. It was interesting, challenging and made complete use of his gift for math. The aircraft leasing business made him dig deep into his personal relations skill that were on the verge of going dormant because of the “Masters” crash and subsequent embarrassed looks and behavior of old friends and neighbors.
The pace started off slowly enough while he was in training but, as he became more familiar with the work, the pace quickened, and he began to travel in order to make leasing presentations to aircraft operators. Constant business development was in order to maintain the size of the company, much less grow it.
Jeff was becoming familiar with the particular problem of what an aircraft leasing company does with an airliner once it’s returned at the end of a lease. His brief explanation to his mother summed it up pretty well. ‘Well, you go out and lease it to the next lower tier of airlines until you finally dump it somewhere in darkest Africa. ‘By then, we’ve gotten all the sweet out of that piece of gum’.
When Jerome Hightower, the boss’s son and heir apparent took over, the pace increased exponentially. The new goal was to build up the leasing fleet to a respectable number and then sell out to one of the big names in aircraft leasing. With any luck maybe even snag a non-working vice presidency with the new owner that would enable Jerome to dedicate more time to his fun factors. His sister had married well into Portland society and he would salve his conscience by offering her a small share of the sale price, before taxes of course.
The more pressure Jerome put on Jeff the harder he worked. Jeff had to show him, and the world, that he was capable of making it to the top of the industry in a record, short number of years. Hard work and smart work would ensure that he achieved that goal. Then he could slow down, look around, find the right woman, get married, raise a family and show what a good citizen and successful businessman he had become. In the meantime, it meant long hours of travel and innumerable presentations that were nearly driving him to suicide by Power Point.
Jet-lagged after a long return flight from the Middle East Jeff was far too tired to drive his car and that was the only reason he was on the city metro system when he’d stepped off the train and passed the “Master” in Pioneer Square. Jeff was on his way to a meeting with Jerome and a potential buyer. Bleary eyed and tired he was supposed to make the potential buyer glow with excitement at the prospect of enfolding Hightower Aircraft Leasing into his already substantial leasing company.
Diet pills had helped Jeff get through the last minute, all night cramming sessions in university and, when he began work, they had helped a bit at first when he couldn’t sleep on an airplane and had to be bright eyed and alert at a presentation on arrival. Jeff had steadily increased the dosages and developed an even stronger need. Uppers did the trick nicely but then he had to get back down again to get any rest. He had to keep it straight in his head, uppers on landing, downers on takeoff. God forbid that he got that backwards and always, always, the fear of getting through customs and immigrations carrying his pharmaceuticals. Now that dogs were more commonly used in airports the risks were even greater. He feared that the very pores of his skin would give him away to the K-9 squad. And now even the cost of his pharmaceuticals had gone through the roof. He was forced to trade down from a Porsche to a used Ford SUV ostensibly to carry all of his outdoor activity gear that he never used. The real reason was that he needed money to feed his growing habit. But it was all necessary and even normal in order for him to perform at the top of the game. And he was doing it so very well that no one even had a clue about his needs. Unlike the “Master”, Jeff had it all in a headlock and he wanted more, always more and now.
Subtly caressing his pocket to confirm that the small pouch was still there, he crossed the street to use the men’s room in a small café. He needed to freshen up a bit prior to the upcoming meeting. He had used the cafe before, and he knew where the restrooms were. He liked that they were quite secluded. Jeff entered the toilet cubicle and laid out his gear. His connection had told him that the new heroin hitting the streets of Portland was plentiful and at a price that would not destroy his finances at the rate his previous hits had been doing. He had sniffed a bit of coke on occasion and his supplier had said you could sniff this new product just the same and it would work magic. He would not have to use a needle as its horrors were so often presented on public service announcements on TV. He carefully poured out a bit of the magic dust above his wrist near the base of his thumb and sniffed heavily. ‘Hmm, seems OK’, he thought. He put the envelope away, checked himself in the mirror one more time and left the toilet for the meeting. As he went down the stairs and back on to the street he quickly developed a warm, embracing feeling that all would work out well. Crossing the street, he heard the rapid clanging of a bell and wondered what the celebratory occasion was.
He didn’t feel a thing as the metro hit him. Even though it was traveling slowly the impact tossed him into the path of a large, black SUV driven by a stylishly quaffed woman from “The Hill”. It sure was pretty with all the shiny chrome on the front and he didn’t feel a thing as the front left tire tread was the last thing he ever saw. It ran over his head crushing it into the pavement.
The “Master” continued his slow gait across Pioneer Square, gaze stuck to the ground as though counting the bricks and, perhaps even looking for his personal brick. He vaguely remembered donating a hundred bucks for it during the construction of Pioneer Square. He heard the metro clanging but, since it had nothing to do with him, he continued on his unending search for something. He couldn’t even remember what it was, but it was such an important search. Perhaps a nip off the pint in his pocket would help him remember.