Jack Spiegel burst into the lobby of Lobe Industries, two Keystone rent-a-cops tripping along behind him. He was at the front desk before anyone realized what was happening. “Who the hell do I have to talk to to get some damn answers?”
This was my cue. I introduced myself as Michael Jordan, CEO of Lobe. Speigel didn’t blink. Bad sign.
“I don’t know what kind of scam you’re running, Jordan,” Speigel shouted, “but I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay a red dime to you, I don’t care how many lawyers or collection agents or bounty hunters or whatever the hell you send to my house. I am not an idiot.”
“You have a question about the bill?”
“I shouldn’t have a damn bill. I don’t even know what the hell you’re selling. I sure as hell didn’t buy any of it. Shove your bill up your — ”
“Mr. Spiegel, please, there is no reason to resort to such language.” I ushered him into the small office we reserved for dissatisfied clients. “I am certain we can work this out.”
Spiegel entered the office timidly, a complete reversal from the body language he entered with. “How… how do you know my name?”
I dismissed the worthless guards and helped Spiegel into his seat. “We have been sending you bills, obviously we know who you are.”
“Have we met?” he asked.
I nodded. “More than once.”
Spiegel grunted in disbelief. “I usually never forget a face.”
“So you told us when we first met. That memory was the reason you came to us.”
Spiegel scratched his head; his hand lingered as if wondering where the rest of his hair had gone. He was deteriorating quickly. This was going to be quick and unpleasant.
“Didn’t you hear a word I said?” He was exasperated. Who could blame him? “I didn’t come to you for anything.”
“Then how did you know where to find our office?”
The look on Spiegel’s face told the whole story. He tried to answer anyway. “The return address on the bill?”
“A post office box.” I moved to the seat next to him, like a friend. “Jack, you came to us a week ago about your daughter, Helen.”
“Daughter? I don’t have a daughter. I’m telling you, you’ve got the wrong guy.”
“You’re Jack Spiegel of Michigan Lane, Baltimore. You run a textiles company that operates out of Juarez. Your cat’s name is Rover, your mother’s maiden name is Grant.” His eyes were wide. He remembered all of this. Lucky.
“And Jack,” I continued, “you came to us to remove the memory of your daughter. You paid us thirteen thousand up front with an equal balance to be paid after the procedure was complete. We have obviously removed the memory, but you haven’t paid the balance.”
“But I didn’t — ”
“If you remembered coming to us, you would know there was something you forgot. It is standard procedure to erase the visit as well.”
Spiegel laughed nervously. “Next you’re going to tell me I’m a double agent from Mars.”
“Mr. Spiegel, please.”
“Why would I want to forget my own daughter?” His eyes widened. He turned his head in slow motion. “She’s dead, isn’t she?” Was he remembering or figuring it out?
“I’m sorry,” was all I said.
“Did I kill her somehow?”
“There was a collision, but you were not in the car. It was a cab. You were late picking her up at the airport. You blamed yourself.”
Spiegel wept into his own hand. I let him cry a moment before placing my hand on his shoulder. He tried to embrace me. I resisted. Sometimes that’s the hardest part of the job, not hugging a grown man in tears. I never would have believed it.
“If I wanted to forget, why are you telling me?”
“We eradicated those pathways in the brain. You will not remember a word of it once you leave this office.” It was technically true.
“I…I’m sorry,” he said. He was better at pulling himself together than most. “You’re just doing what I hired you for. Forgive me, Mister…”
“Clooney,” I finished for him. “George Clooney. I’m your case worker.”
“I’m afraid I need the balance of that payment now, Mr. Spiegel.”
“Of course.” He pulled out his checkbook. “Who do I make this out to?”
“Just ‘Lobe’ is fine. Thirteen thousand.”
He repeated as he wrote. “Thirteen… thousand… to… Lobe. Is that you? Lobe?”
“No sir. Lobe is the name of the company. My name is Abraham Lincoln. Doctor Abraham Lincoln.”
Spiegel nodded slowly. “Right, that sounds familiar. And you performed the… what was it again?”
“We just call it a procedure. Your signature on the check?”
“Right.” They always say that a lot toward the end. “Jack Spiegel. How do you spell that?”
I recited the letters for him as he scrawled. He removed the check slowly, like an elderly woman at the supermarket. He folded it in half, retracing the crease three times before handing it over. I snatched it from his fingers just as the first drool started to collect at the corner of his mouth. Then I hit the buzzer.
The Keystone twins were quick to arrive. I pointed to Spiegel. “He’ll be broccoli in an hour. Get him in an ambulance.”
“Right away, Mr. Kilburn.”
As soon as they were clear I dialed Adams, the VP of accounting. “The Spiegel account is closed,” I told him.
“Excellent,” Adams said. “I’ll make sure legal has his file ready for the lawsuit. Seven waivers; I’m not sure why they bother anymore.”
“I’m just glad we got paid, sir. Another five minutes, he wouldn’t have known the pen from a popsicle.”
“Ninety-three percent success rate and Congress still makes us collect a week later. Pesky slow-degraders would have us out of business without people like you.”
I smiled. “Try not to forget that.”
Scott W. Baker is a lot of things. A writer, a father, a math teacher, a really big nerd, a husband, a scatterbrain, a dreamer, a collector of stuffed penguins, a rambler. He continually strives to be a better one of all of these, though how to be a better scatterbrain is currently eluding him.