Howard Nolan, Jr. didn’t know it, couldn’t know it, but he was about to get the beating of his life. Far worse than the innumerable thrashings his father, Howard Sr., had given him growing up. Far worse than the pummelling he had withstood during his brief stint in the Army. This fine August day he was sure that he was going to seal the deal on the listing, or as he put it to Sheila, his secretary at Nolan Realty Group, “I’m going to screw the bitch and make her call me Daddy”. He had a good feeling about this Ryan Sinclair guy. When Sinclair called about the listing at 1609 Evergreen Way, he sounded knowledgeable and motivated and didn’t seem to hesitate at the asking price: $269,500. Of course, this was all negotiable. His seller was a flabby, failed IPO start-up yuppie moron, but Sinclair’s over-the-phone demeanor made Howard think that he could nudge the asking price a grand lower and Sinclair would think he was getting the deal of a lifetime. Howard lived by P.T. Barnum’s motto: There’s one born every minute.
The agreed meeting time was 4:00pm and as his watch, a very expensive Petek, got to 3:55 he started to doubt his instincts, but as he stood on the veranda of the listing he saw a sleek Jaguar turn into the cul-de-sac and slowly progress to the curb in front of 1609 Evergreen Way. This was good. A Jag meant money. I’m going to screw the bitch and make her call me Daddy.
He didn’t notice that the driver parked so the license plate wasn’t visible to him.
The driver, Sinclair for sure, got out of the Jag and walked up the long driveway, skirting around Howard Nolan’s prized Austin Healey GT. Nolan surveyed his next lamb to the slaughter…
The Jag said money but Sinclair was oddly dressed: brown leather aviator’s jacket, ordinary collared shirt, Andreas, and boots. Cowboy boots. No jewelry. Sinclair was wearing those effeminate black leather driving gloves that fussy Italians wear, but it looked out of place with the rest of the buyer’s clothing. This actually didn’t faze Nolan much, a lot of the neo-rich in Seattle dressed weird. Sinclair appeared about five-ten, maybe one seventy-five, a Hollywood actor’s face but not classically handsome. One thing really stood out: this guy moved with panther-like precision. Nolan had seen it before in the Army. His Master Sergeant, a short, lithe, Italian lifer, moved like a dolphin in water, smooth instinct and grace, not a movement wasted. A jarring exception was Sinclair’s hair. It was obviously a weave, or maybe a hair-piece. Blond and dirty looking, Sinclair’s hair reached his collar in a not-too-kind way. Nolan thought: Cancer. He’s having some kind of treatment. Howard Nolan couldn’t see the color of Ryan Sinclair’s eyes, he had sunglasses on, but his voice had a reassuring lilt to it when he reached the landing of the porch.
“Mr. Nolan?” Sinclair said, “I hope I haven’t kept you waiting.”
“Not at all. You’re right on time.”
Nolan watched as Ryan Sinclair mounted the six steps and stood before him. Jesus. He walks like he’s marching into battle.
Sinclair reached the landing, stuck out his hand and said in a light baritone, “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”
It was. Nine months of the year, the Pacific Northwest was a wet-fest. A soggy blanket. Day after day of suicide-inducing drizzle. Summers were a different animal. Summers were perfect blue skies, lush green forests, flowing tulip and daffodil fields, and the ocean. The ocean! Puget Sound was a blue/green gem dotted with small, green islands that harbored the wealthy…most of them Big Pharma executives, Rock stars, and electronic software giants. Nolan and his wife Carla had a place on Orcas themselves, though it couldn’t compare to Miller’s acres in Friday Harbor or Jerry Lewis’ mega-mansion on Bainbridge. Sinclair, on the phone, had name-dropped a tony Bainbridge Island address that Howard Nolan knew meant a half-mill, easy. The Evergreen Way house was supposedly for a son, or step-son, who was attending nearby University of Washington and would soon be joining dad in the investment/commodities business.
Sinclair’s racing gloves made the handshake awkward for Nolan. Something about the thin texture of the leather sent a little chill up his spine.
Nolan didn’t know it, couldn’t know it, but nothing he knew about Ryan Sinclair was true.
Howard Nolan smiled, punched in the combination to the lock box holding the entrance key to 1609 Evergreen Way. He extracted a small circle of keys and unlocked the door to the elegant home. He entered first, waited for Sinclair to follow, and then swept a hand to showcase the opulent brilliance of the home. He said, “Can you believe it? It’s one of my favorites. It’s like a palace, yet only five miles from the university district. I…”
Something was wrong. Sinclair was locking the front door. Drawing the security chain.
Howard Nolan, realtor, businessman, wife-beater, adulterer, embezzler, was used to having the upper hand. He had never listened to the warning bells in his head. They were sounding like cannons but it made no difference. He simply could not believe that he was in jeopardy. He couldn’t be. That happened to women. Stupid, weak women. Like his Carla. The stupid bitch was as dumb as a box of rocks…
Confused, Nolan said, “Hey, what…?”
“Ryan Sinclair” lashed out a fist that was so fast, so deadly, that Howard Nolan didn’t have a chance to complete his question. Nolan, dressed in a dark Armani suit, one-hundred dollar blue tie fixed just-so, crumbled to the carpet unconscious.
Blood? Howard Nolan, barely conscious, eyes fogged and watery, smelled coppery, wet blood. Instinctively, he traced his upper lip with his tongue, felt liquid, and became aware that his nose was screaming in pain. His vision cleared a bit, he tried to move, and the realization hit him: I’m in the kitchen, tied to a chair. I’m going to die.
“Ryan Sinclair”, standing in front of the bound real estate broker, said, “I had to mess up one of the upstairs bedroom’s curtains, Howard. Needed the cord. You’ll notice that I didn’t gag you. That’s because you and I are going to have a discussion. That doesn’t mean you can scream. You try to cry out for help, I just may have to kill you. Understand?”
“Why…why are you doing this? Money? I only have about forty dollars on me. Jesus, take it!”
“No, I’m not going to take your money. You’re going to need every penny of it.”
Nolan thought about screaming but feared the man would do just what he said he’d do, and Howard Nolan didn’t want to die. Didn’t want to die. He had too much to live for: expensive homes, expensive cars, expensive tastes in food, drink…even women. Nolan had been having an affair with a County Commissioner for over a year and she liked the finer things in life. With a sinking heart, Nolan realized that crying out would be pointless anyway. The nearest neighbor was hundreds of yards away and probably not at home.
He cleared his constricted throat and said, “If it’s not money, what do you want?”
Ryan Sinclair began a short, slow, four step pacing circle, his gloved hands behind his back. He appeared thoughtful and then said, “What do I want? I want to solve a problem, Howard. We’ve got a little problem.”
“P…problem? I don’t understand. What kind of problem?”
Still pacing, “You, Howard, are a wife-beater. We got to fix that little problem.”
“What are you talking about? I don’t…”
Sinclair stopped his pacing and threw a hard right to Nolan’s jaw. The leather gloves had no cushioning effect at all. Nolan’s head flew back, his lower lip split, and he nearly lost consciousness again. Nolan shook his head to try and clear his vision.
Sinclair said menacingly, “Now, now, Howard…don’t be lying to me. I’ve seen the bruises. Oh, yes, that’s right. I’ve been watching you for weeks. I’ve stood next to your wife in the grocery checkout lane. I’ve seen the fresh purple bruises and the old ones fading to yellow. Why, I even heard your wife give that old, tired excuse, ‘I fell down. Slipped in the rain’, to the checkout girl when she asked what happened.” Sinclair resumed his pacing. “No, Howard, we’re not going to tolerate any denial. Every time you lie to me, I do to you what you’ve been doing to Carla.”
At the mention of his wife’s name, Nolan’s bloodied face went ghostly white. Jesus Christ. He’s a hit-man. He squirmed and said, “Look, whatever Carla is paying you…I’ll double it. Just don’t kill me.”
“Carla? You really need to pay attention, Howard. Carla knows nothing about this. This is strictly between you and me.”
“But then, wha…?”
“Shut up and listen, Howard. Here’s how it’s going to be: from this moment forward you are going to stop using any woman as a punching bag. You understand contracts, don’t you? Of course you do. You make out real estate contracts all the time. Well, today you-and-me are making a contract. A verbal contract. Your side of it is to never, ever lift a hand to your wife again . My side? If I find you in breach of this contract…” Sinclair put his face right in front of Nolan’s. “…I will torture you…and then kill you. Your wife will inherit all the goodies you’ve amassed and find somebody else. Somebody who’s not a piece of shit like you.”
Nolan was staring at his own reflection in the madman’s reflective sunglasses. He looked a mess. One lip was swollen and bleeding, his nose must be broken, and even in the dark tint of the sunglasses he could see tiny threads of blood in the whites of his eyes.
He mumbled, “Okay, okay…”
Sinclair began pacing again. “Wait, there’s more. You’re going to sell the Orcas Island place. The one on Arrow Point.”
“Because that’s where you’ve been taking Commissioner Walker for your little screw-fests. Oh, by-the-way, that whole thing is over. Don’t worry, I explained the whole thing in detail to Ms. Walker and she agrees with me that you should change your behavior. She asks that you not contact her anymore.”
“But, but…you can’t…”
Sinclair stopped, considered…and then kicked Howard Nolan right in the groin, sending the kitchen chair flying backwards. It ended up on its back on the cold ceramic tile, Nolan strapped in and writhing in pain.
Sinclair looked down at Nolan and said, “I can’t? Here’s the bottom line: there is nothing I can’t do. I know where you live, I know where your associates live. I know down to the penny what you have stashed in that account at Washington Federal. Your friends at the Golf Club? I know everything about them and here’s a scoop for you: they don’t like you, either. Now, do you understand the terms of the deal?”
Nolan could only nod.
“Good, but let’s summarize. You ever harm your wife again, I kill you. You go to the police about this, I kill you. You’ve had a car accident. An accident that has made you look differently at life.”
Smith kicked the chair. “Remember: I never give up, I mean what I say, and I’m always watching. Understand?”
Nolan, through clenched teeth said, “Yes. Just get me up from here.”
Sinclair lifted the back of the chair until it righted itself. Nolan, slurring through swollen lips said, “You going to untie me? Jesus, I can’t feel my hands.”
“Nah. You’ll figure out something. My suggestion is you try to beat yourself against the floor till the chair breaks.”
“Ryan Sinclair” moved towards the doorway separating the kitchen and living room. Before he exited, he said, “You only have to remember one thing: I never give up, I mean what I say, and I’m always watching.”
Seconds later, Howard Nolan heard the front door slam shut.
Sitting in the Jaguar, John Smith removed the dirty-blond wig and the leather racing gloves and threw them in the Jag’s narrow glove box. He kept the sunglasses on . It was still a beautiful sunny day although the sun would soon be going down. He powered down the window and took a full breath of pine-scented air. Beautiful day, isn’t it?, he thought. He allowed himself a slight smile. Yes, it’s been a beautiful day.
John Smith turned the key, the Jaguar roared to life, and he pointed the sleek, British-made vehicle in the direction of Solutions, Inc., his Pioneer Square office/apartment downtown.