What’s life, but a river of tears? The chase for the almighty dollar. There are more billionaires in the world today than there has ever been in the history of man. I used to be like those people: money hungry. I didn’t care who was in my way. If I could make a buck, I’d do it. Until I learned a lesson only life and death could teach. And now I do the right thing.
Be a stand-up guy? Or fall down?
But first, let me tell you how I got here.
My life changed forever with one text message.
I was a real estate agent. I played on the stock market. I watched the penny stocks, waiting for one to strike gold and be worth hundreds, or even thousands, overnight. I was the guy that handled the million-dollar homes in our little community on the Bay. The commissions were huge. I lived well, even if I only sold one house every three months.
Then I got a text message, reading simply: “John Turnbull”.
At the time, that name meant nothing to me. I checked to see who’d sent it. The first red flag was planted: no return number. I’d never seen that before. There’s always a number to reply to.
I’m usually a pretty organized guy. I use a day timer, a calendar, a notebook, an appointment book, and two computers at home to track everything about my clients. My cell phone is a mini computer, detailing my day’s routine, activities, and meetings. Each morning I’d sync it with my computer, and off I went to do its bidding.
I’d never heard of a John Turnbull, though.
Two hours after I received the text, I was sitting at my desk in my little office. Jessica, my company secretary, buzzed me to say I had a call waiting on line two. She said the caller wouldn’t identify himself. That’s Jessica, always fucking around. She’s got issues, man. I mean, serious parent issues. They’re dead, she’s not. That’s the issue.
I picked up line two to discover that I was talking to John Turnbull.
Now, of course, I asked him if he’d sent the text, and he denied it. Apparently, he doesn’t even own a cell. John and his wife are in their late seventies. They’d won the lottery six months ago. After they’d won millions of dollars, everyone started visiting and calling, looking for money. It drove them crazy. John said he wanted to buy a house on the lake, but he wanted to do it discreetly. That’s why he didn’t own a cell anymore, and he refused to say his name when he called the office.
A week later, I sold an expensive house to Mr. and Mrs. Turnbull. They probably didn’t need one that pricey, but a little charm, and smooth salesman talk, will do it every time. They overspent, but what did I care? The commission was worth it. Fuck ‘em.
The mysterious text stayed unsolved though. It started to piss me off. I wish I knew who warned me about the Turnbulls. But in the end, was it a warning? At the time, I didn’t think so. I soon forgot about the stupid text. It was as if it hadn’t happened.
Two months later, I received another text. A name again. This one I knew: my sister’s name. I hadn’t seen my sister in over ten years. After our parents died, their will was not divided evenly. She got everything. I hated her for it. I still do. I refused to speak to her. Then she moved away.
I wondered if the text was another prophecy. I decided to block all my calls. I still didn’t want to talk to her. I also realized at that moment that I was giving more credence to those ridiculous texts than I wanted to.
I decided that I could completely avoid incoming calls by leaving the office. I told Jessica I felt ill. She smiled at me in her usual, stupid way. Like she knew what I was up to. At twenty-three, she thought she had the world figured out. She couldn’t even figure out her own fucked-up head, let alone the world.
She was driving the car the night her parents died in the accident. To this day, she still thinks she was to blame. After three suicide attempts and two years of therapy, I took her on to be my secretary out of pity. She makes mistakes, and screws up sometimes, but – at half the price of any other coffee maker – I get by.
On my way out the door, I asked her to take messages, and then wait until tomorrow to give them to me because I was turning my cell phone off.
There, problem solved. No more texts and no calls. The prophecy couldn’t come true. I would not see, or hear from, my bitch of a sister.
On the way home, I decided I’d barbecue for dinner as I did on most Fridays. I pulled in and stopped at my favorite butcher shop. While selecting a T-bone, a woman walked up and stood beside me. I figured she was waiting to grab something from my side of the meat bin.
I was wrong.
I turned and looked into the eyes of my sister. I stumbled a little. Then I tried to not act surprised.
She’d lost weight. She was very thin. Sickly thin. She wanted to talk, I didn’t. I’d gone to great lengths to avoid her, and yet, here she was, in living color. She was so thin, I assumed it was cancer eating her away from the inside.
What, all the money from mom and dad’s estate run out? Can’t afford all the drugs and chemo for the cancer treatment? Don’t come crawling to me.
It wasn’t my life anymore. These people I’d called “family” had ostracized me. It’s only DNA that connects us. I could be standing beside any other customer for all I cared.
I bought my T-bone and left the butcher shop. On the way out, she said she had something to tell me. Something important. I shouted over my shoulder that she could tell me in two weeks. Book an appointment with my secretary. Before getting into my car, her voice weak with whatever cancer does to people, I heard her call out, saying she’d be dead by then.
Deep down inside, I’m not a callous man. I think somewhere along the way I placed wealth at my core. People like me are money-centered, and I’m okay with that. You will lose people you care about in the process. Maybe that was why I was single in those days. I didn’t care about people that much, so why would they care about me?
I looked at my phone a little differently after that. It seems my phone, or whoever sends those texts, knew something about my future. When a legitimate text came through, I always jumped. It was six months before I received my third prophecy. This one wasn’t a name. It was a message.
To save a human life, be at the butcher shop at 3:00pm. Your last chance.
That wasn’t going to be possible. I had a house showing at 3:00pm, one of the huge mansions on Garrison Hill. This house was shaping up to be the biggest sale our little town had ever heard of. My client had toured other houses with me for over three months, with only a few he liked. It was just last week that this house went on the market. We drove by it four days ago. The owner’s gardener was on the lawn, watering plants. My client, and his wife, toured the back yard, and peeked in windows. They said it looked perfect. The full walk-thru was for today, at the same time as the prophecy.
I couldn’t miss the appointment with my client. But how would I feel if someone actually died today and I could’ve stopped it?
Then I did something completely uncharacteristic. I lifted my home phone and called the office. Before I changed my mind, I told Jessica, who was giggling for some reason, that I couldn’t make my three o’clock. Get someone else to show my client the house and if it sells we’ll divvy up the commissions accordingly. I told her to hold all calls and wait until the next day to give me my messages.
I couldn’t believe it. What was I doing?
Everything was set. I had two shots of scotch whiskey, looked at my watch, and started getting ready for my date with destiny.
I pulled into the parking lot of the butcher shop ten minutes early. Everything appeared normal. I’d thought of all kinds of scenarios. If there was a gun involved, I was toast. I didn’t know CPR, so I hoped the intended victim didn’t have a heart attack or something. I went through as many scenarios as I could come up with on how I would save someone’s life. I also thought about my client. I wondered who Jessica had gotten to show the house.
At 3:00pm exactly I was standing in front of the butcher shop. Nothing happened at first. All my senses were on full alert. I watched anybody and everybody. I watched where they were walking in case a car was coming too fast. I especially watched older people. The area quieted down a little. I looked at my watch.
Nothing happened. I started getting angry. What if the text sender was a real estate agent and at that moment they were showing the Garrison house to my client? I decided to believe in the validity of the text. I had nothing else to go on, and they had come true twice. No one could’ve known my sister would show up at the butcher shop at the same time as me. I remembered it clearly. So the texts had to hold something greater than my ability to understand.
I decided to stand there, and wait. At 3:30pm, my cell phone rang. Call display said it was the office. Maybe my client wants to put an offer in, I remembered thinking.
“Hi.” It was Jessica. She was broken up. It sounded like she was trying to catch her breath. “How did you know?”
“Know what?” I asked.
“The house.” She could barely get it out. “The house is gone.”
“Gone? He bought it?” I asked, hoping that was the case.
“No, gone. As in destroyed.”
What is she talking about? “Destroyed? What’s going on Jessica?”
“They think it was a natural gas explosion. The house you were supposed to show at 3:00pm has been leveled. It blew up like a bomb hit it.”
I remember dropping to my knees so hard that little pebbles on the sidewalk left bruises. “Is anyone hurt? Who showed the house in my place?”
“When I called your client, he said they would view it when you were ready. They only wanted to deal with you. The owner of the house and his workers weren’t there because they had expected the showing. I didn’t call them because I was trying to get another agent in. At any other time, several people would have been there. Because you booked it for 3:00pm, and then didn’t go yourself, you saved a lot of lives today. You saved yourself.” I heard her stop, catch her breath, blow her nose, and then clear her throat. “But I killed someone. I’m so sorry.”
What the fuck is she talking about now? I dodged a bullet here. I’m alive, in one piece, and Jessica is talking her shit again.
“I killed someone,” she repeated.
“Is this about your parents, because if it is, you have really bad timing. I could’ve been killed today. I saved myself. It isn’t always about you Jessica. Get over it, already, geez.”
“I killed someone you know intimately.”
“What? Are you mad? I didn’t know your parents.”
I was completely confused. Most of the phone call, I was in another reality, another field somewhere, stupefied at my good fortune that I was still alive.
“I killed… I killed your sister, and now I have to die.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” I was getting mad. I had no idea the woman was this fucked up.
She blew her nose again. “Your sister called here looking for you this morning. When you told me to take messages and tell you them tomorrow, I didn’t say anything about her. You cancelled the 3:00pm booking. I couldn’t call her back anyway. She didn’t leave a number.”
“Where are you going with this? How could you have killed her? As far as I know, she has cancer. She’s probably dead already.”
“She asked where you’d be today so I told her about the Garrison house. But you canceled. She was there, she was there.”
Her twisted logic hit me.
“Were there any casualties at the Garrison house?” I asked.
“Yes. One. Your sister. I killed her by sending her there and now I have to kill myself. Goodbye.”
She hung up.
Shit. I couldn’t have a dead secretary in my office; that kind of thing was bad for business.
I ran for my car, all the while attempting to raise Jessica on my cell phone.
I was tired of the bitch. If she wanted to off herself, that would be one less person to eat the last apple turnover at my favorite bakery. One less person to take a seat on the bus from an old lady. One less person to nab the numbered ticket before me at the butcher shop.
I just couldn’t allow her to do it at my office.
When I pulled into the parking lot, there was no indication a suicide had taken place, raising my hopes that she had gone home to do it, or some ditch on the side of the highway.
I unlocked the front door and stepped into my office’s foyer, acting as if nothing could bother the savvy real estate broker. It’s not every day you have a dead sister and a secretary who wants to die.
The lights were all out. The blinds had been drawn.
I heard a police siren in the distance. After a few seconds, the siren drew closer outside. I realized they were stopping out front.
“Jessica, did you call the police?”
I stood in the main office, not venturing down the hall. If she did off herself, I didn’t want to find the body. I wasn’t willing to have bloody dreams for the next fifty fucking years.
The woman of the hour stepped out of my office. She had a gun in her hand. She raised it and aimed it at me.
“What are you doing?” I asked, trying to hide the fear I instantly felt.
“Do you want to die with me?”
Oh, my shit. Every one of her marbles were on the floor, because she had definitely lost them.
“I think I’ll take a pass. Living is much more fun and the possibilities are endless. Did you call the police?”
She nodded. “I can’t kill myself. I’ve tried too many times and failed. I have to die like my parents did. Like your sister; indirectly. Death by cop is indirect suicide or whatever you want to call it.”
“You don’t have to do this,” I said.
She turned her head sideways and looked at me with an expression that showed her madness quite clearly. In the little light I had, I could see her eyes were completely bloodshot.
“Are you serious? I did not expect you, of all people, to try to save me.”
Her condescending tone pissed me off. The world would be a better place without people like her, littering it with their demented sicknesses.
There was a loud knock on the front door.
“Police! Open up!”
“Umm, Jessica, we’re going to have to get that.”
“Why? You worried they’ll bust the door down? That could get expensive.” She raised the gun, butt end extended to me. “Here, shoot me and this ends now. Or get out of the way so I can open that door and have them shoot me. Either option you choose, I die today, and the blood stain will be on your carpet. It was here that I directed your sister to her death, it’ll be here where I direct my own.”
“Can we talk about this?” I was getting even more pissed off now. “Go home. Do it there. You have to ruin me in the process?”
Jessica moved forward. “You don’t get it, do you? This is all your fault. If you felt love, even for one day, you would understand what was happening here. But you don’t.”
She walked past me and touched the door handle, the pistol in her other hand.
“Get what? You want to end it. That’s easy. I get it. Just save me the name in the paper. Do it at home. And what does this have to do with love?”
Jessica hesitated. She held the doorknob and stared at the floor.
“If you loved your sister and didn’t judge her for what your parents did, you would’ve taken her call. Had you done that simple, humane task, she would be alive today. If you could fathom what love is, you would be alive today. You’re dead on the inside.” She raised her head and stared into my eyes. “I lost my parents. I feel responsible. If I could go back, I wouldn’t be driving that night. I’d had too much to drink. If I could go back, I wouldn’t be working here, for a soulless man who only cares about money. You’re more dead than I will be in the next minute.”
She turned the knob.
She stopped and looked at me.
“I’m sorry. You’re right. Put the gun down and step away from the door.”
“Why should I?”
“Because, I can change.”
She shook her head back and forth. “No one changes. This isn’t about you. I die today and ultimately, as much as it is my fault, it’s yours too.”
I heard a noise in the back of the office. Maybe they were coming in through the rear entrance to surprise us. I hoped they hurried and disarmed Jessica before she did something I would regret.
“Please,” I said, thinking maybe I could disarm her first. “Give me the gun. We’ll deal with this together. We’ll get through it. I’m sorry I’ve been such an ass to you. Give me a chance. Show me what it means to love again. Teach me. I’ll be your student. It’s quite evident how much love you have to give. Your parents are gone and it crushes you. My parents are gone and I laugh about it. Bring me over to your side. Teach me how it is you are the way you are. Help me and I’ll help you.”
Yeah, right. As soon as you go home I’ll fire your ass and you can kill yourself there, in your own bathtub.
She let go of the doorknob and turned toward me. “Are you serious? No jokes?”
With a show of exaggeration, I shook my head back and forth. “No jokes. Realness here. Seriousness.”
Someone was moving around in the back of the office.
Good. They’re coming. I will have her gun in seconds.
I reached out. Jessica shivered as she started to cry. She handed me her weapon. Then she stepped over to her desk and sat down, resting her head in her arms on top of the desk.
I lifted the gun up to look for the safety.
A red laser pointer moved about on my chest. I looked up and saw three men dressed in some kind of ski hats, with what looked to me like military fatigues.
“I’m trying to flip the safety on,” I said, my heart thumping in my chest. The last thing I wanted was these guys to see the gun in my hands.
“Drop it!” the cop repeated.
I turned it around, my fingers shaking, found the safety and used my other hand to flip the switch. I didn’t realize that the barrel was aimed at the cop.
They fired at me.
A barrage of pops resounded in my small office. My heart felt like it stopped. I lost all ability to stand. There was pain in my chest. More popping sounds. I dropped the gun. Jessica screamed somewhere off to my left. My eyes closed.
When I look back, I realize the text messages were a chance for me to set things right: to curb my personal evils. I could have done right by John Turnbull and sold a cheaper house to the lottery winners. I could have spent more time with my sister. I understand now why the text said: your last chance. It was my last chance at salvation.
I know I saved a life.
There never was an explosion at the Garrison house. Jessica had been approached by my sister six months before and together they worked out an elaborate plan to bring me back to the land of the living. My sister acted like she was dying of cancer. The texts were a collaboration of work between Jessica and my sister. Jessica knew the Turnbulls were going to call in. She knew on most Friday’s I love to buy meat for a barbecue. She’d called my sister and told her to meet me there, and then sent me a text.
The suicide thing, at my office, was a set up. Would I save a life? Even after finding out I’d just lost my only other family member?
The three officers had a key for the back door. Two of them were ex-boyfriends of my sister and one was Jessica’s brother. They fired blanks and one of them tased me so I’d lose control of my body and assume that I’d been hit and dying. They took me to the edge and brought me back so maybe I could live again.
They did it because they love me.
Life is but a river of tears. At least now they flow from joy. I’m married and I have two lovely children. I work from home so I can spend time with my family every day. For me, waking in the morning is a blessing. Every day I breathe is one more day I get what I wasn’t supposed to have. Hearing my kids laugh, enjoying the smile on my wife’s lips, eating ice cream, playing catch with my son, watching a sunset: all examples of life’s little pleasures, that for me, amplify the beauty of my surroundings.
I know what’s important in life. And it isn’t money. It’s hearing my wife whisper, ‘I love you’ while we’re having a family hug before bed each night.
I don’t own a cell phone.
I don’t send or receive texts.
About Jonas Saul
Jonas Saul is the author of the Sarah Roberts and The Kill series. Visit his website, www.jonassaul.com for upcoming release dates. Jonas lives in Europe with his wife, author Kate Cornwell.
Contact Jonas Saul