One-point-five million dollars. One-and-a-half thousand-thousand. One, five, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero.
No matter how you represented it, it was still a lot of money.
That much money has a way of distracting one from one’s parents dying in a horrific car crash. Which sounds terrible, but, c’mon! Put yourself in my shoes.
I continued to blink in amazement for what seemed like an eternity. It felt as though the digits were staring right back. Here was the end to my financial difficulties. I wouldn’t be set for the rest of my life, but it sure could patch up problems from my life up until now.
“Are you going to be OK?” Larry asked. Larry Lombardi, executor of my parents’ estate.
“I’m not sure,” I said.
He rested a hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry to lay all this on you at once. There was no way I could get it out to you in installments.”
“No, it’s…” I took a calming breath. “I think I’ll be fine. I’m glad I have a lawyer I can count on. Now I guess I need an accountant.”
Larry laughed for some reason. “Yeah, that and a second job.”
A second job? I was planning on quitting my first.
I tried to let my puzzlement show. “Uh, why?”
“I don’t think you make that much money,” Larry said, gesturing at the slip in my hands.
I looked at it again. $1,500,000. Black letters, white paper, lots of legalese… nothing out of the ordinary, I thought. But, wait. What’s that next to the…?
“You know that’s a bill,” Larry continued, “not a check, right?”
There’s an idiom in English, “my world turned upside-down.” That is entirely insufficient to describe how I felt at that very moment. My world, if anything, turned inside-out. It exploded into a thousand tiny bits, then reformed itself into something else entirely. Like putting a bomb inside the Statue of Liberty only to find, after the smoke cleared, that it had become the Eiffel Tower.
Were I not already sitting, I’d have collapsed into my chair. As it was, I slouched a bit more.
“I thought was clear about it earlier,” Larry said sheepishly.
“No, no, I’m sure you were. I think I just got sucked in by the value without seeing that there was—How in the world did my parents owe this much money?!”
Startled by my mood turnabout, he took a step back.
“Really!” I continued shouting. “This kind of debt doesn’t just pile up overnight!”
“Actually, it does,” Larry interrupted quietly.
“Huh? How?” I challenged.
“Well… How to say?” He paused to think. “You know how you’re full of healthy organs?”
He waved his hands wildly. “Er, let me rephrase that! You know how healthy organs are extremely valuable?”
“Oh, geez, I’m really screwing this up.” Larry pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at his brow. “Look, I’ll just be blunt: Your parents tried to sell one of your organs on the black market, then welshed on the deal.”
He gestured at the slip. “That, there, was the amount they were supposed to get for you. Or, for part of you. I’m guessing that the buyers intended to collect on your parents, but they messed up. The crash was too intense; the organs weren’t viable, y’know?”
“My parents were murdered by criminals?” I don’t want to become Batman!
“I mean, they’re honorable criminals, at least. They know you weren’t a part of this, except as… well, one of the goods to be traded. Or so I guess. Since the bill is in money, not meat.”
Like putting a bomb inside the Eiffel Tower only to find, after the smoke cleared, that it had become a pile of hamburgers.
After a few moments of contemplation, I said, “I think I need a drink.”
“Hey, great idea!” Larry beamed. “Take up smoking and get a tattoo, while you’re at it. Make your organs less valuable, and see if they’ll knock a few thousand off the debt.”
“Funny,” I responded wanly.
The seriousness of my predicament was sinking in. I held up the slip. “How much of this do you think is my liver?”
“Dunno,” Larry said. “Most likely, none. The photocopy of the contract that I received specified that they wanted the largest organ in your body—no dick jokes, please—and your liver ain’t it.”
“It’s not? I thought for sure…”
“You may be confused. The liver is the largest solid organ in the body. Additionally, it’s also considered a gland. Medically, all glands are organs, since an organ is just a collection of tissues joined into a single structural unit that serve a common function. Specifically, glands are organs that synthesize a substance for release. This can be either into the blood stream (in which case it’s an endocrine gland), or into cavities or the surface of the body (an exocrine gland).
“But,” he continued, “no, your liver is not your largest organ. That would be, er… your skin.”
Like putting a bomb inside a pile of hamburgers only to find, after the smoke cleared, that it had become a black hole.
“Oh, please don’t start this again,” Larry said.
He shrugged. “There’s a lot of intra-Mafia warfare going on lately. Splinter groups, and all that. Using bombs and Molotov cocktails to take out your rivals is cost-effective, if nothing else. And those who survive often need skin grafts. I guess you have the same skin tone as—” He paused, then laughed nervously. “Er, not that I’m saying it was the Mafia.”
“But you just did,” I pointed out.
“Well, now I’m saying that it wasn’t. Now you don’t know where I’m coming from.”
“Larry,” I began carefully, “how long have you been my parents’ lawyer?”
Larry started to say something, but then just let the breath out. “Look,” he said, “you should probably learn quickly not to ask—or answer—questions about employers. Not for a while; not ‘til you get that number a lot closer to zero. That debt could always get wiped out the hard way.”
He nodded sharply. Then added, slowly and meaningfully, “Capisce?”