Chapter 4 – The Broker
The phone call on Monday had been cryptic:
“Brokerage,” a rather deep voice had said on the other end of the line, after Barry dialed the number he’d been given.
“Yes, hello. My name is Barry Gersholm. I was given a card with this number to contact a Mr. Ian Miller.”
There was a bit of silence. “Who gave you the number?”
“A fellow named Hugh.”
“Are you buying or selling?”
“Buying or selling?”
“I guess…I’m not sure? I was told that I…uh…had some assets that might be valuable. Selling, I guess?”
A little more silence than before. The man asked him for his name again, gave Barry an address to write down, didn’t repeat it, and then hung up.
It was not the sort of business contact Barry was used to dealing with, but then, nothing about Hugh, or Depot, had been anything like he’d expected. The more he thought about it, though, the less likely it seemed like something he ought to do. He had no idea who this person was. If he told Dennis where he was going, he would have a conniption–taking a drug dealer up on a possible job offer with a third party, without knowing anything about what they did? Was he an idiot? Maybe he was, he thought, but at the same time, it was exciting. He couldn’t really remember the last time he’d taken a risk–an actual risk, barebacking while on PrEP didn’t really count, not that Dennis could know about that either. That evening, he thought about telling him, but didn’t. Tuesday morning, at the office, he spent all day trying to figure out how to get out early. He had never been good at believable excuses. Richard checked in with him again, and his smarmy fucking demeanor made him want to be there even less.
“Hey Richard, I’m gonna take off early, get a little work down at home this evening,” he said, “I got a doctor’s appointment, hope you don’t mind.”
“Of course not, any meetings you might miss?”
“Nothing on the schedule.”
“Then no problem. Oh, but in exchange, you have to promise to come out with the rest of the team on Friday. I want us to have a little party, you know, to celebrate our near completion of the project.”
More likely, it was to celebrate his own promotion, but Barry agreed to go. If nothing else, it would be beer he didn’t have to buy on a Friday night. Around three-thirty, he packed up his stuff and left the building, and about ten to four, he arrived at the address that had been given to him. It was a rather dilapidated house, looking like it had survived a few rezonings in its time–on one side was a liquor store, and on the other, a little string of businesses being run out of repurposed buildings like this one, until they ran up against a sizable apartment building that took up the rest of the block. Unlike those other little shops, this one didn’t seem to have a sign anywhere around it, but the address was right. He walked up the steps, gave a knock on the door, and after a moment, it opened up, revealing a rather tall fellow in business casual, maybe a bit younger than Barry was. “Barry, right?” he asked. It was the same voice from over the phone, but in person, he was putting off a little more charm.
“Yeah, you must be Ian,” Barry said, and the man nodded as they shook hands.
“Come on in, let’s have a chat.”
Barry followed him into the living room, which still felt more like a living room than the meeting room it might be used as. There, sitting in a sagging armchair, was Hugh. Ian sat in a second armchair, leaving Barry the couch in front of them both. He gave a little nod to Hugh, but he wasn’t quite sure what to make of this. If he’d been suspicious that they were selling drugs before, he was almost certain of it now, and he wasn’t sure this was the sort of move he wanted to make. Best to go through the motions, though. He pulled his resume out and handed it to Ian, who set it aside without looking at it. “Hugh and I have been talking about his impression of you on Friday, and I asked him to join me for our chat today, if you don’t mind.”
“I don’t,” Barry said, “I suppose I just feel a bit in the dark about all of this. What exactly is it you do here?”
“The growth in this part of the city over the last year has opened up a number of possibilities that would have been unimaginable before,” Ian said, putting on a tone not unlike half the tech startup gurus who were rotated through his office for various seminars each year, “I have found myself in a rather fortuitous position, to be able to offer folks the ability to take part in a commodities trade unlike anything that has been in existence before this.”
Barry nodded along, and then decided he didn’t quite feel like nodding. He was being sold a line of bullshit already. “That all sounds very fascinating, but it doesn’t tell me anything–I’ve been in sales long enough to know a pitch when I hear one. Just be straight with me.”
Ian looked over at Hugh, and gave him a look that could have meant a number of things, part shrug, part curiosity, perhaps.
“I’m a broker, as it says on my card. But what I buy and sell isn’t anything…physical, exactly. I’m in the business of buying and selling emotions, experiences, pasts and futures. Livelihoods.”
“Sounds like drugs.”
Ian gave another one of his little shrugs. “You sound like that’s what you were expecting, but no. I know Hugh has many hustles, but this isn’t drugs, not exactly. Like I said, I’m merely a broker, trying to help men find their way to happiness. Everyone has things they don’t like about their life, of course. But to someone walking down the street, perhaps that life you have is exactly what might make them happy. You in turn, might desire aspects of another. My services and skills help men like this connect, and make one another happy. To give each other the assets that they no longer appreciate.”
“That…what does that even mean?”
“Here, let me show you something,” Ian said, picked up a remote control, and turned on the TV hanging on the wall.
Barry recognized the location–it was the couch where he was currently sitting, but instead, a rather slender, twinky fellow was sitting there. “I’ve tried to gain weight all my life, I guess. I’ve always just had this strange desire to be…fatter. I can’t really explain it. I know I should be happy with how I look, but I’m not,” the young man said, “Can…you really help me?”
The video cut to the young man lying on a table in a sterile looking room. It looked like hyperlapse, what came next, but it was too smooth. The man’s body began to swell, packing on weight while he laid there, seemingly in a matter of moments. He went from a lean 170 to well over 300 pounds, and after the strange transformation, the video cut back to the couch, where the…new man was sitting, grinning with delight.
“How are you feeling? Adjusting well?” Ian’s voice said from off screen.
“Fuck, I’ve never felt better man, I finally…feel like I have the body I was supposed to have. I know that sounds a bit sick, but I can’t thank you enough.”
Ian paused the video, and waited a moment while Barry digested what he’d just witnessed. “That’s just one of many, many testimonials I could show you. Some changes are physical, like this young man. Others want a different persona. Others want a different line of work, a different past, a different family. Anything that you want to sell, I can try and find a buyer to connect you with, or if not, I’m also happy to take unwanted aspects in exchange for payment.”
They watched a few more videos, and either Ian should have been in Hollywood doing special effects, or he was telling the truth. Hugh slipped in then, and made a pitch. “I could see that you wanted another chance there at the club. A younger body, carefree, able to dance the night away, resilience and vigor and all of those wonderful things. You, in turn, have a respectable career, a husband who you seem at odds with. But those things could be an asset to someone else, and you, in turn, could have what you wanted on Friday night.”
Ian had gotten up for a moment, went to a glass display case on the wall, pulled a little jar from it, and returned to where they were sitting. He tapped a small bit of the powder out from inside the jar, and made a small line on the coffee table. “Here, this isn’t the real thing, but I’ve managed to…synthesize, some of what I do downstairs for folks. If you want a little taste of what I can offer you, try this.”
“So it is drugs.”
“It’s an emerging product line, still in development. I merely want to help you fully understand what I can offer you. I assure you they’re completely safe. The effect only will last a few minutes.”
A bit suspicious, and thinking it would probably be just a little bit of coke, since all of this had to be a very complex ruse, or scam, or…something. He took the hit anyway, because he felt like he deserved a little coke for listening to this bullshit, but what happened when it hit him was unlike any drug he’d experienced before.
He wasn’t…in the house anymore. He was in a club. What club didn’t matter, what did matter was the pounding of the music, the throbbing energy in his body, and when Barry looked down at himself, it wasn’t…his body he was looking at. He was slender, and young, and vibrant, with a…sizable bulge in the front of the skimpy underwear he was wearing with nothing else. But he wasn’t there to look at himself, he was there to dance, and vibe, and it felt like he could do this forever. The euphoria that washed over him wasn’t from a drug, it was the sheer thrill of that moment, and just as he grasped it and held it, believed it, it was gone–and he was sitting on the couch again, eyes tearing up slightly, while Hugh and Ian watched.
“Now do you understand? That could be you. For real.”
“I think…I think I need to go,” Barry said, wiping his eyes. That had been….too exquisite. Too tempting. He needed some distance to think about this.
“No worries, my offers are always open ended. You take the time you need to come to the decision that would make you happy. You wouldn’t be the first to walk away from it–sometimes, knowing what you could have is enough to make you appreciate what you already possess. I’m merely offering you the possibility of something else, alright?”
Barry retreated back to his car, and just sat in the silence for a while. He could feel it, the pulse of the music in his bones again…but was that really what he wanted? It would be pleasurable, sure. Fleeting, maybe. But what was really missing from his life didn’t seem like something that could be bought and sold. But then, what if it could be?
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