Happy Christmas Eve Eve Eve Eve, everyone!
This is a little something I’ve been working on for the past few weeks on and off. It’s a little rough and I don’t know if I’ll ever do anything serious with it, but I had an idea for a short story and decided to do it just for fun. Enjoy!
THIRTY YEARS LATER
Hey, man, I know how long it’s been. Believe me, I know. When I get out next month, it’ll be thirty years to the day we got together for the very first time — three days before “The Tower of Terror.”
Are they still calling it that? What are they calling it now?
Really? Huh. Okay. Tower of Terror sounds a lot cooler, but whatever.
Anyway, I’d never actually met most of those guys before that day. Eddie came in from Texas a couple days earlier and insisted I show him around. He wanted to see Los Angeles pretty bad. He figured once the job was done, we’d never set foot on American soil again so he might as well get some sightseeing in.
Eddie was a cool dude — for a Texan. I always thought he looked a little like Huey Lewis. Is he still around? Huey Lewis?
He did, huh? No, I didn’t like his stuff. I was just curious.
Yeah, so, anyway, I met everyone for the first time three nights before the job. We got together in a private suite at the Hilton — his suite, of course — to go over the plan. We were there for…six hours, I think? He made each of us go over our assignments a dozen times to make sure we knew the plan inside and out. A dozen times, man, I shit you not. It was like planning the Invasion of Normandy. The man was meticulous. He had every conceivable angle figured out.
Well, not every angle, obviously. If he’d accounted for every possibility, I wouldn’t be sitting here, would I?
We didn’t see each other again until the day of the job. We met at an abandoned warehouse — because that’s where criminal gangs always get together, right? — and spent all afternoon getting ready, checking the equipment, going over the plan again…
Man. Thirty years ago. Crazy.
After I get out? Damned if I know. Who’s going to hire a fifty-something ex-con? Besides, the only thing I was ever good at was computers, but that was back in the days of three-and-a-half-inch floppies. We didn’t even have the Internet back then. Unless there’s a sudden need for Commodore 64 repairmen, I’m pretty fucking useless.
No, I don’t have any family. Well, technically, I have a brother, but he hasn’t spoken to me since the Tower. Last thing he said to me was, “I’m just glad Mom didn’t live to see this.” No shit, he really said that.
Funny thing is, if Mom had been alive, I never would have taken the job. As tough as things were for me, I would have found another way. But with Mom gone, I just didn’t give a shit anymore.
I don’t know. If that asshole Kristoff was still alive, I’d probably go find him and kick his teeth in for selling me out to the DA. Honor among thieves my ass. But he got shanked in prison eight months after he went in, so I guess maybe I’ll go knock over a liquor store instead.
Oh, I’m dead serious. Of course I know they’ll send me back to prison. That’s the point. It’s not like I have any better options. At least I’ll have three squares and a roof over my head.
People still do that, right? Knock over liquor stores?
You know what’s great about this country? No matter how badly you fuck up in life, if you play your cards right, you can fail your way to success.
My career was dead before the sun came up — I knew that. The chief, the mayor, even the governor were going to be looking for someone to blame, and since I was the guy on the ground for the whole thing…I had my letter of resignation written before I went to bed. I was exhausted but I figured I might as well get it out of the way, you know?
Turns out I didn’t need it; the chief shitcanned me two days later. At least he waited until after Christmas.
That ended up being a good thing, getting fired. It meant I could collect unemployment while I looked for a new job — not that I looked all that hard. After the Tower of Terror, I was poison. There wasn’t a police department in the country that would hire me to scrub toilets.
But that was fine. Honestly, I’d kind of lost my taste for the profession after the Tower. Every decision I made that night turned out to be the wrong one, and I lost faith in myself. My wife, God love her, she kept trying to get me back on the horse, but I knew I was done in law enforcement.
For a while I thought about writing a book about the incident. I had the time to write one, plenty of it, but that kid, the limo driver, he beat me to it. So did that one reporter. And a bunch of the hostages. I didn’t have anything new to offer, so I shelved that idea and went back to being depressed and drunk all day.
Why my wife didn’t leave me, I’ll never know. I would have deserved it but she stayed right by my side the whole time. God love her.
It was her idea to look into consulting work. I didn’t think it’d be worth the effort but she insisted I at least try, so I updated my resumé, sent it out, and bang, three days later a private security firm contacted me for an interview. I had a new job by the end of the week. They didn’t care that I royally fucked everything up at the Tower; they wanted my experience.
Actually, no, let me say that again; they wanted my experience fucking up everything. They wanted to know everything I did, why I made the decisions I made, and why they were all wrong. The HR guy joked my job title would be “Cautionary Tale.”
Originally, I wasn’t going to take the job. I still had my pride. Somewhere. But, once again, my wife saved me from myself and talked some sense into me. It was a paycheck, and a damn good one, and it wasn’t law enforcement per se, but the information I could provide might be useful to law enforcement, so it was good enough.
In the end, it turned out to be a great career. I was with the company for fifteen years. They basically had to force me to retire. They still call me once in a while for advice, but mostly I just sit at home, read, watch TV. Every year my wife and I pack up and head to Maine for the summer to hide out from the California heat.
It’s not the most exciting life, but I filled my excitement quota thirty years ago at the Tower. I’m not complaining.
That’s my oldest son, Joe. He’s named after one of the two bravest men I know.
Why didn’t I name him after —? Well, because he was kind of a dick. I know he saved my life, and by extension Joe’s, and I’ll always be grateful to him for that, but we was still a dick.
My boss was the first man to die that night. They came looking for him specifically. A few of us tried to keep him hidden in the crowd, but when it looked like they were going to start hurting people to flush him out, he stood up and said, “Enough!”
I’ll never forget that moment. It was the bravest, most selfless thing I’d ever seen anyone do.
I found out later they needed his help to get into the vault, and they killed him when he refused — shot him in the head. That’s how Harry died, too, but I didn’t shed any tears over that asshole. I know that sounds horrible but Harry was a douchebag. No one in the whole office liked him, and I mean literally no one.
I spent the entire night convinced I was going to die — me and Joe. And sure, I was scared — I was terrified — but more than that? I was angry. I was angry at myself. The company offered employees four months of maternity leave — four months! And this was in 1988! I could have been resting at home like a sensible person, but no, I wanted to at least get through the holidays. I felt I owed it to the company. They were always so good to me.
Joe arrived in the world two weeks later, on the nose. He was very punctual, just like his namesake.
I took my maternity leave, all four months of it, and never went back to work. I couldn’t, not after all that had happened. I couldn’t imagine ever stepping foot in that building ever again.
Oh, yeah, they re-opened it. I thought for sure there was too much damage but the company got it fixed up, top to bottom. I heard they reconfigured the thirty-first floor so you don’t know where the board room used to be. Pretty morbid if you ask me.
They should have just torn the whole thing down.
I must do two dozen conventions a year, easy. I’m honestly kinda surprised they still invite me. I mean, none of the kids who come to these things know shit about it. Mostly I get people who remember watching it on TV. We were prime-time viewing on the East Coast, man. Fuck It’s a Wonderful Life, people were watching the Tower of Terror!
Mostly people are cool, but sometimes I get some smartass at my table who’s all like, hey, man, you weren’t even there! And I’m like, fuck you, man, I was there the whole time, and they’re like, you mean you were down in the garage the whole time.
So what? If that building had come down, I would have been buried under all of it, so fuck you, man. I was there. I punked out their getaway driver. I did my part.
Nah, we haven’t talked in years. We were cool until the book came out, but after that he didn’t want anything to do with me. He said I was exploiting what happened to make a buck. Hey, man, I wasn’t making a buck; I was making a shitload of bucks! Everyone wanted to hear the story, I just happened to be the first guy to want to tell it.
Man, that first year was crazy. The book hit number one on the New York Times best-seller list first week out and stayed there for fifteen weeks. I did Carson, Arsenio, Letterman, Howard Stern before he was Howard Stern, Oprah Winfrey before she was Oprah Winfrey…things started to die down after that, but that was okay. I made my money, baby. I was golden.
I was stupid, too. I didn’t save anything. I didn’t invest anything. I got way too rich way too fast and I didn’t know how to handle it. When the money started to run out, I tried to whip up a second book about how the Tower had affected my life, but no one cared anymore. I did some guest-spots on a couple of game shows, which didn’t pay much, but they were fun. I still have my photo with Tony Randall. He was a cool dude.
So, yeah, in three years I went from broke guy driving a cab to broke guy driving a limo to rich guy riding in limos to poor guy driving a cab again. Sometimes people would recognize me, but by then I was that guy they saw on The $25,000 Pyramid, not the guy from the Tower of Terror. Let me tell you, once you’ve been rich and famous, going back to being poor and unknown sucks. I got used to it, but it still sucked.
Who knew comic book conventions would bring it all back, right? It wasn’t the big con in San Diego, it was some smaller show in San Fran that tried to organize a Tower of Terror reunion. They wanted the whole gang back together but the only ones who said yes were me, that asshole Richard, and Cheryl. They both wrote books, too. Didn’t do as well as mine, but none of them did.
Cheryl? Oh, she was one of the hostages. People give me shit because I’m just “Garage Guy” but let me tell you, that’s a lot better than being “Blowjob Girl.” Yeah, her big claim to fame? The gunmen interrupted her while she was blowing some dude in her boss’s office. After that, all she did was sit there with the other hostages. At least I was in on the action, know what I’m saying?
She’s okay, though. And I’d rather share a table with her than Richard any day.
You spoke to him too, huh? Is that arrogant little prick still bitter that my book bumped his from the Times’ bestseller list?
See, I deserved the number one spot because I took my time writing my book. I didn’t just shit out some cash-grab tell-all through a ghostwriter. You know he used a ghostwriter, right? I actually wrote mine — and I didn’t settle for a lazy, half-assed “I was there” angle like he did. I did my homework. I talked to all the people who lived that night right alongside me — every rank-and-file cop and firefighter, every hostage, every —
No, he wouldn’t talk to me. Neither would she, not even after I offered to drop the restraining order against her — which, I’ll have you know, she intentionally violated two years later. That’s right: intentionally. I never believed for one second she just happened to be on the same plane as me. Come on. She’s just damn lucky I didn’t press charges after she stuck a stun gun in my face.
Let me tell you a secret about the news industry. They never let good people go. When someone fucks up, they might not ever go in front of the camera again, but they’re still around, doing the gruntwork behind the scenes. Officially speaking, the network fired me after the Dulles incident, but my coverage of the Tower of Terror — a phrase I coined, by the way — was top-notch boots-on-the-ground reporting and they knew it. They’d have been crazy to let me go completely. Stories might not have my name and face attached to them anymore, but my fingerprints are all over them.
Sure, I miss the spotlight sometimes, but at the end of the day, it’s not about the fame; it’s about the work. The personalities should never overshadow the news they’re trying to report. That was always my problem and I had to learn my lesson the hard way — and when I’m not busy digging for the truth, I’m sharing the lessons I’ve learned during my career with up-and-coming new journalists. I did a guest lecture at Anne Arundel Community College just last year, in fact, and they can’t wait to have me back.
The conventions? I only do those once in a while, just to keep my name out there. I have better things to do with my time than hang out with a bunch of basement-dwelling nerds and has-been sci-fi actors charging fifty bucks a pop for autographs. What a racket that is. I only charge twenty.
Speaking of! I’ll be appearing at Richmond FanCon in Virginia next month to promote the new, updated edition of my book, Forty Stories of Fear — The True Tale of the Tower of Terror. Just in time for the thirtieth anniversary!
Hey, between you and me? It’s ninety percent the same book as the original edition. I just got my nephew to do up a new cover and I added a “Where Are They Now?” chapter to pad it out.
I’ll send you a signed copy. You have twenty bucks on you?
People always ask me what it was like going back to work after that night. I don’t know what they’re expecting me to say, but they always seem disappointed when I tell them I went back to desk duty.
Truth is, I seriously considering quitting. I might not have been in the thick of it like he was, but I was close enough. You know how many bullets they pulled out of my cruiser? Forty-eight. It was a miracle, an honest-to-God miracle none of them hit me. I was this close to leaving behind a pregnant wife, and that scared the hell out of me. I didn’t want to risk that again. I loved my job, but not that much.
In the end, I stayed because he asked me to. We got together for dinner a couple weeks after things had settled down, his treat. He wanted to thank me for everything I did, and I said, “Hey, man, I didn’t do anything. You did all the heavy lifting.” And he told me, “I couldn’t have done it without you, partner. You kept me focused. You helped me figure shit out when I couldn’t. You made me laugh. I couldn’t have done it without you. You made all the difference.”
And I realized he was right; I made a difference that night. Even on the sidelines like I was, I made a difference.
I considered going back to street duty. I thought about it long and hard, but I just couldn’t do it. My mind kept coming back around to that kid I shot a few years earlier. Someone’s boy was dead because of me, because of my carelessness, and I couldn’t put myself in that position again. I couldn’t do it. So I went back to my desk and pushed paper for twenty-something years.
I’d probably still be there today, but after the heart attack, my wife asked me to take early retirement. Then she told me to get my fat ass in shape so I’d be around long enough to babysit our grandchildren. You know what I told her? I told her, woman, I’m going to get my fat ass in shape so I’ll be around to babysit our great-grandchildren.
Hell, man, I didn’t survive getting shot at just to die by cholesterol.
I still talk to him, yeah. Not as often as I used to, but we still talk — usually after something happens. I call him the luckiest unlucky man in the world. All the crazy shit he’s gotten sucked into and somehow, he always manages to walk away. That’s not to say it hasn’t taken its toll, mind you. Every time he calls me, I swear he sounds older than the last time. Poor guy just can’t catch a break.
I hope he knows I’ll always be here for him. We may never have walked a beat together, but that man’s always going to be my partner, and no matter what, you always have your partner’s back.
I know it’ll sound like the oldest cliché in the world, but I still love the guy.
I never really stopped loving him, but I reached a point where I had to be honest with myself and admit that loving him wasn’t enough; I had to like him, and that just wasn’t going to happen. He’s a hard man to like even when things are going well, and things haven’t really gone well for him since the Tower.
Actually, I take that back; we had a few happy years after that. They may have been the happiest years we’ve ever had, even if we were living on different coasts.
Maybe that’s why we got along so well.
I always thought it was a cruel irony that we separated the first time because of my career, but the second time was because of his. The Tower might have been the worst thing that ever happened to him, but getting promoted to lieutenant was the second-worst. He never had time for us after that. There was always something going on that demanded his full attention and he just couldn’t let it go. He’s so Goddamn stubborn — stubborn and selfish. He always ends up making everything about him.
I’m not saying he’s not a good man. He is. He has a good heart. It’s just buried under a proud, self-centered jackass who never put his marriage or his family first. We didn’t matter until we were in trouble.
In the end, I guess I just didn’t want to stick around for the next catastrophe to feel loved again.
I’ll give you five minutes to ask your questions. Five minutes, then you leave me the fuck alone. Got it?
Jesus, are all your question going to be that stupid? Fine. Whatever. Let’s just get this over with.
Yeah, I think about that day a lot. It was the worst fucking day of my life.
What do you mean, why? Are you fucking serious?
Sorry. Sorry. Didn’t mean to bite your head off, it’s just — look, man, I don’t know what you want from me. Everyone knows what happened, I can’t tell you anything new.
My feelings? Jesus, you sound like my shrink. Could you ask me something else?
Oh, I have a shitload of regrets, and this interview is right at the top of the fucking list. C’mon, throw me a softball or something, would you?
Huh. Wow. Congratulations, man. No one’s ever asked me that before.
No, no, I just — give me a minute, okay?
I guess…well, a lot of people who would’ve died didn’t, so, you know, that’s a good thing. I didn’t die. I know a lot of people would argue whether that was a good thing or not but I know I’m pretty fucking grateful for that.
If anything good came out of that shitty, miserable, clusterfuck of a night, it’s that I managed to pull my head out of my ass long enough to get a couple of really happy years with my family. It reminded me what was really important, you know? Not my job, not my pride, none of that bullshit. I had a wife who loved me, even though I didn’t deserve it, and two amazing kids who thought I was the greatest dad who ever lived, even though I was a complete fucking disaster. I was happier than I’ve ever been.
For two years, I was a good husband and a good father.
And then I went and fucked it up, because that’s what I always do. I knew I would eventually.
Nothing lasts forever.
Characters Copyright 20th Century Fox
Story Copyright 2018 Michael C. Bailey. May not be reprinted or duplicated without permission.