Buy It Now

by R. Scott Bolton


     My office hours were posted in gold lettering on the frosted window of my office door. 8am-5pm. Couldn’t be clearer. But I was still surprised when I rolled up at 8:27 to find two men sitting on the bench in the hallway waiting for me.

     “Heller?” asked the smaller of the two men, standing. He was a couple of inches shorter than me and one of those guys who spends a good deal of his morning sprucing up. He was freshly and expertly shaved, and his hair was immaculately groomed—it fit the size and shape of his head perfectly. He wore what looked like an expensive suit, no tie, with a black t-shirt underneath. His feet were clad in what I assumed were ridiculously expensive sneakers, probably Gucci or Air Jordan.

     I wasn’t sure I liked the eager expression on his face.

     “Yeah,” I said. “Sorry I’m late. Had to stop for a Coke Zero.”

     “Coke Zero?” the first man said. “A man after my own heart. Never could stand coffee but people are always trying to force it on you.”

     “Would’ve brought you one if I’d known.” I inserted the key in the lock, opened the door and used my open arm to welcome them in.

     The first man gave me a nearly delirious smile as he squeezed past me and entered the office. The second man not so much. He gave me a dismissive glance through his impenetrable Ray-Ban sunglasses, and I realized he was there purely as muscle … and considered me no threat. He stood a good three inches over me, and he had the shoulders and barrel chest of a weightlifter. He, too, wore what looked like a ridiculously expensive suit but he wasn’t gauche enough—or hip enough—to wear a t-shirt beneath. Instead, he wore a crisp, brilliantly white button up and a simple black tie knotted neatly around his muscle-swollen throat.

     We pushed through the waiting room into my office, and I indicated the two client chairs in front of the desk. Instead of sitting, however, the smaller man walked over to stare at a framed newspaper clipping on the wall. The big man stood to the right of the door, clasped his hands in front of his abdomen, and stood at attention.

     Who were these guys?

     The smaller man chuckled. “The Shorts & Sandals Detective,” he said after a moment. The clipping he’d been staring at was the first page of the Los Angeles Times story they’d done on me about four years ago.

     Considering the shorts and sandals I was wearing, there was no denying it. “Yeah,” I said. “Apparently, that’s me.”

     “Kinda cool you kept the clipping,” the man said. He turned away from the wall and took the client chair on my left. The larger man kept his post near the door.

     “Wasn’t my idea,” I said. “The wife insisted. She cut it out, had it framed. If it was up to me, it wouldn’t be there.”

     The man gave me a questioning look. “I didn’t think you were married,” he said.

     I frowned. “Well, we’re not. Don’t even live together. It’s just easier to explain that way.” I gave him a look. “Not that’s it’s really any of your business.”

     He nodded.

     “Listen, gentlemen, I’m at a disadvantage here. You obviously know a little about me, but who the hell are you?”

     The smaller man leaned forward in the chair and nodded his head energetically. “Shale Monroe, producer. You’ve probably heard of me.” Beaming, he extended his hand across the desk. I took it, gave it a quick shake.

     Shale Monroe. The name was familiar, but I wasn’t ready to admit it. I shook my head.

     “Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard of me,” Monroe insisted, waving away my uncertainty. “I’ve made a lot of big movies. The Harder They Fall, Sunrunner, Day of the Falcon. You’ve seen ‘em, right?”

     I nodded. I had seen them. All of them. And, worse, I liked them.

     “Yeah, well, that’s me,” Monroe said. “I produced them. And a bunch more like them.” He grinned. “And,” he added, “I own the option to that!”

     And he pointed at the framed clipping of the L.A. Times article on my wall.

     “Oh,” I said. “You’re that guy.”

     “That’s right, that’s right,” Monroe said. “And the good news is that we’ve decided to exercise our option. That puts twenty Gs in your pocket like now.” He snapped his fingers to show me what “now” meant.

     I realized that this was the day I had been dreading. Ever since some production company optioned the rights to the Los Angeles Times’ Shorts and Sandals Detective article, I knew that the day might come when some idiot decided it would make a great movie. I’d signed my soul away, eager for a few easy bucks, and then I hoped and prayed The Shorts and Sandals Detective movie never made it to theaters. Or Netflix. Or anywhere.

     But here I was now, the trigger had been pulled, and all I could get out of it was more money.

     “Sure,” I said. “I’ll take twenty G’s.” I glanced over at the big man by the door, couldn’t see his eyes through the dark lenses of his sunglasses. He could have been asleep. Standing, like a horse.

     “Figured you would, my man, figured you would. Where do I send the check?” Shale asked.

     “Same place as last time,” I said. “My attorney …”

     “Robert Kaplan!” Monroe gushed. “Love me some Bobby.”

     Bobby wouldn’t like being called that, I thought.

     “Okay, we’ll get that check cut. Mongo! Call Darlene. Tell her to cut that check and Fed Ex it to my man here.”

     “To Robert Kaplan,” I said.

     “To Bobby. Have her send it to Bobby.”

     Mongo pulled a cellphone out of his pocket and started texting.

     “His name is Mongo?” I asked.

     “Yeah, like in Blazing Saddles. That’s not his real name, man, that’s just what I call him. It’s my pet name for him. His real name is Jonathan. Can you believe that? Jonathan. Takes too long to say. ‘Jonathan, come here! There’s a man with a gun!’ See what I mean. It’s so much easier to just say ‘Mongo! I need you!’”

     “Makes perfect sense to me.” I took a sip of my Coke Zero, leaned back in my chair, “Well, it’s a pleasure doing business with you, gentlemen, but—as I said—I have a busy morning.”

     “Well,” Monroe said, leaning forward again and this time looking just the slightest bit sheepish. “There is one more thing.”

     There always is.

     “Oh?” I said. “And what might that be?”

     “Well, it’s this: I’m going to be working on this script myself, Brace. I mean, I’m not writing it alone—we got a real writer to do the heavy lifting—but I’m going to be seriously involved and I’m taking screen credit, you bet your ass.”

     “As you should,” I said.

     “So, I wanna know what it’s like to be a detective,” Monroe said. “The Shorts and Sandals Detective. I wanna walk in your shoes. I wanna ride in your car. I wanna sleep in your bed.”

     “I can tell you at least two of those things aren’t gonna happen.”

     “I don’t mean literally,” Monroe laughed. “I got my own shoes.” He held up a foot to prove it to me. “I’m saying that I want to shadow you, observe you in action. Get an idea about who the real Shorts and Sandals Detective really is. You know, so I can incorporate it into my screenplay. Build the character. You know?”

     I gave Monroe a disappointed smile. “Well, we can’t do that,” I said. “I’m a private detective. Accent on the private. I can’t have some green-behind-the-ears movie producer and his mountain of a man security guard tagging along as I work.”

     “No, no, no,” Monroe protested. “Mongo won’t be there. Just me. He’s only here in case I need something. But when it comes to the day-to-day stuff, it’ll just be me.”

     I shook my head again. “Sorry,” I said. “But that’s not how I work. If that means it costs me $20,000, then so be it. I just can’t do that.”

     Monroe gave me a sad smile. “I’m afraid you really don’t have a choice.”

     I smirked. “Oh? I don’t?”

     “You’ve already signed off on it.” Monroe reached back toward Mongo and the big man reached into his coat, withdrew a stack of stapled papers, and slapped them into his hand. Monroe tossed it on my desk.

     I could read the words OPTION/PURCHASE AGREEMENT without even picking it up.

     “It’s there, highlighted on pages 2 and 3, under ‘Miscellaneous.’ If we exercise our option, you agree to a fourteen-day shadowing by our screenwriters.” He smiled brightly. “And that’s me!”

     I read through the highlighted paragraph and felt my gut go cold. “Give me a minute,” I said to Monroe.

     “Take all the time you need.”

     I stepped out of my office, pulled out my cell phone and called my attorney, Robert Kaplan.

     “Bobby!” I said, when he answered.

     “Who the fuck is this?”

     “It’s your very favorite client,” I told him.

     “Brace Heller,” he said, sighing. “You got some new band to sign or something?”

     “Not yet, but I’m working on it,” I said. “What I do have is Shale Monroe sitting in my office.”

     “Shale Monroe the producer?”

     “I don’t know anyone else named Shale.”

     “Good point. What’s he doing there?”

     “Well, he came to me with good news. He says he’s going to exercise the option on The Shorts and Sandals Detective article and make a movie about me.”

     “Oh,” Kaplan said. “Well, that is good news. What’s your cut on that? It’s like twenty grand, isn’t it?”

     “That’s exactly what it is.”

     “So, you should be happy. Twenty grand just fell out of the skies and into your lap and you don’t have to do anything but sit back and count the money.”

     “Don’t I?”

     “What do you mean?”

     “I mean that Monroe thinks he has the right to shadow me for a week or two. Doing research for the movie or something.”

     “Why does he need to do that? He’s a producer, not a writer.”

     “He says he’s going to write it.”

     Kaplan snorted. “Everyone thinks they’re a writer,” he said.

     “So I have to do it?”

     “Is it in the agreement?”

     “You wrote the goddamn thing!”

     “You think I memorized it? Is it in the agreement?”

     “This is what it says,” I told him, and read him the highlighted text.

     “Yeah, you’re going to have to do it,” he said.

     “How am I supposed to do that? I’m a private detective. People expect me to take care of their private business. How am I supposed to do anything private when I have a goddamn movie producer peering over my shoulders?”

     “He’s going to have to sign an NDA.”

     “A what?”

    “An NDA. A Non-Disclosure Agreement. He’s going to have to sign one for every client who hires you during the time he’s here. And you’re going to have to get permission from each one of them.”

     “Fuck me.”

     “I’ll write one up and get it over to you,” Kaplan said. “Hey, look at it this way. You’re getting twenty thousand dollars for two weeks’ work. That’s way more than your usual fee.”

     I stepped back into the office and pushed the OPTION/PURCHASE AGREEMENT back into Monroe’s hands. Kaplan had a copy if I needed one. I sat down behind my desk, opened the lower right drawer, and pulled out three plastic shot glasses and a bottle of Maker’s Mark.

     “Gentlemen,” I said. “It seems that we have an agreement.”
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