FICTION: Pigs by Michael Cohen 

Agent Bobler, am I glad to meet you! Or are you G-men called “Special Agent”? I do love that badge you just showed me. The word “humdinger” comes to mind.

Either way, I sure am pleased that you’re around to help out after that swindler, Arnold Weisenbinder, took us to the cleaners. Maybe it’ll help me get my money back, although I’m not sure I could ever testify in court. I can feel a sweat coming on just mentioning his name.

And by the way, my name’s not Gary. It’s Harland, Harland Hewsbach. I know, my name tag says, “Gary, Assistant Night Manager.” See, the guy who had the job before me here at the East Spokane Holiday Inn was Mr. Gary. And guess what? Gary’s my middle name too. Well, the old Gary, he’s gone now, but I’ve kept his name tag until they can make me up a new one with my name, Harland, on it.

I can understand the delay in the name tags and whatnot. All hell turned loose last week, if you’ll pardon my French, when Arnold Weisenbinder and the Coral Reef Gold Mine and you G-men showed up at the East Spokane Holiday Inn. I swear, I had to hold on to the rail like a tornado had come to Spokane and slammed smack-dab into the Holiday Inn.

You ask if I been working here for a while? Well, I’ve been in the hotel-management business forever, it seems. And have I been happy with the Holiday Inn organization here in East Spokane. They have been good to me! They treat their people a lot better than the Motel 6 folks I used to work for. Where I am now is a long way from the Hewsbach family farm in Asotin County, and thanks for that. If I ever see another pig or a dairy cow, I’ll barf.

Sit down, why don’t you? I’ll get you some fresh java. Actually, my new promotion to assistant night manager has really been something. I get home at eight in the morning, about the time Willa and kids are just starting to move. Actually, having my dinner when they’re having breakfast is a pretty good deal. The quality of the TV at that time is better for the kids, you know—news instead of all that violence.

Let me tell you, we got something we can really share together as a family in the morning. Willa especially likes TheTodayShow and that Matt Lauer. He seems to really know the score. And who can say a bad word about Al Roker? He knows everybody in America, it seems, and has really lost the weight. Shows what you can do when you put your mind to it. I think the kids are learning a lot from them.

Okay, I’ll try to get back to Mr. Weisenbinder, but background is important here. See, my new job includes being in charge of creative marketing for the nighttime at the Holiday Inn. The daytime stuff is pretty predictable, a lot of sales meetings. I can’t even keep all the companies straight. And on my shift, you know, at five-thirty in the afternoon, we’re really just cleaning up the coffee cups, throwing out the cigarette butts, and serving the holdovers drinks in the bar.

Well, I came up with this idea (actually, I got it from QVC television, which runs nonstop, I guess), and I told my boss, Mr. Eidler. He’s been with Holiday Inn forever, I think—a real solid company man, you know, a by-the-book type. Anyway, I pointed out that we could really make a hit by offering church groups night use of the conference rooms for peanuts and still come out ahead. I reasoned those church people who go to meetings don’t drink coffee and don’t smoke, so the rooms and linens would still be clean for the next morning’s sales seminars.

So, what are we out? You see, it’s been kind of quiet at night since we closed the Disco Lounge. We never could get the big-screen TV to work right in there, but the straw that really broke the camel’s back was the Kenny Rogers sex scandal. Nobody wanted to sing his stuff anymore on karaoke night.

Sorry for getting off the track. My boss, Mr. Eidler, is a solid Baptist and thinks it’s a great idea. He calls it “win-win.” That’s typical of how quick his mind is. Always coming up with snappy slogans. So, we put up the signs on the grocery-store news boards and in the nickel-ad newspapers, and sure enough, the churches start to call. Not all at once, but after we got going, we had a bunch rolling in.

And that’s when Arnold Weisenbinder showed up. It was the night that the Pentecostals had scheduled a debate on whether or not Jesus would approve of bingo, or something like that. The Pentecostals don’t hold with anything fun, you know. Well, there were only twelve people in the room, and three of them were asleep when I looked in at nine-thirty.

Anyway, up comes this guy in his eighties with a walking stick, kind of squinty and bent over, as you can imagine. He’s got on this ten-gallon hat and cowboy boots and western bolo tie, but that’s not what made him stand out. It’s this white-and-gray striped Western suit, the kind with the darts and arrows sewn onto the shoulders, slicker than snail snot.

And this coat is covered with pins from every church in creation. He’s got crosses, fishes, stars, circles, and even some butterflies. I mean, it doesn’t matter which church turns out to be on top. If having the pins gets you through those pearly gates, this guy is a shoo-in.

Oh, yes, and he’s got this suitcase on wheels, the kind O.J. used to run through the airport with right after he found out his plane was leaving in ten seconds. But this bag’s got huge red, white, and blue destination stickers on it from all over the United States of America. And it turns out that it’s full of more kinds of Bibles than Carter has little liver pills.

When he sees my name tag, he sort of shuffles over and introduces himself.

He says, “Mr. Gary, my name’s Arnold Weisenbinder, and I saw your kind offer of a nighttime use of your conference room. I’d like to give some of your folks in Spokane the opportunity to make an investment in the future that is guaranteed in ways unknown in these parts. I’ll be more than happy to do it for free for three nights, and then on the fourth night, I’ll be glad to pay the rent myself.”

You can see right away that this is no beginner. Here he is talking about free when the Holiday Inn is the one doing the charging for the conference rooms, and Arnold Weisenbinder was the one wanting to use them. I wasn’t born yesterday, but I was polite about saying no.

“Thanks for the offer,” says I, “and the name’s Harland. I do understand the confusion with my name tag saying ‘Gary’ and all. But all the same, we’re pretty booked with the Congregationalists, Baptists, and the Mormons for the next few days.”

“I like ’em all, Harland,” Mr. Weisenbinder says. “I’ll be glad to work right along with ’em.”

I should have known then what we were up against, but I gave him the names of the people at the head of those church groups anyhow. I told him that if it’s all right with them, I don’t mind a bit. He thanks me and opens his big bag and gives me a complimentary Bible. King James version, I recall.

“I figure you can always use an extra Bible around the home, regardless of your creed,” says Mr. W. with a big grin.

So, the next night when I come to work, there are notes from the Mormons, the Baptists, and the Congregationalists saying it’s all right with them. That Arnold Weisenbinder worked quickly.

The next two days, there’re signs out on the road in front of the Holiday Inn announcing in big letters:

“The opening ceremonies for the Coral Reef Gold Mining Company coming soon at the East Spokane Holiday Inn. Free advice, entertainment, and opportunity awaits for the astute-minded.”

I must admit that I’m curious, so the first night, I go in to see what’s going on. It’s the Mormons’ night at the Holiday Inn. Arnold Weisenbinder has set up in a corner with a booth. There’s this big map behind him stuck on the wall; it says “Okanagon County Gold Mines” across the top, and there’s a whole bunch of names: Heckla, Star, Sunshine, and Holly mines, all the big companies with their names in little print. And right smack between them in great big letters with red arrows around it is the name Coral Reef Gold Mine.

Arnold is talking away at full bore. He has a stack of Mormon Bibles sitting there, topped with a sign that says “Free” on it. People are always drawn like flies to honey on that one. And right next to the Bibles, he has laid out an ocean-blue velvet cloth, and it’s a beaut—the same stuff that those classy circus-trapeze artists use to make their snazzy costumes.

Well, Special Agent, on the blue velvet are chunks of gold and silver. Big nuggets. Each one has a sign next to it with dates, weights, and dollars. My eyes really pop when I see that the gold ones are worth thousands. So I stop to listen to Arnold, and here’s what I pick up.

“I been a Mormon all my life,” he starts. “The Coral Reef’s the oldest gold mine in the Okanogan, and I’m the proud owner. I hate the big companies who hog all the profits. I’ve got gold ore lying around on the ground just waiting to be smelted. But I’m not about to spend the dough to ship tons of ore to the smelter. No, sir!” At this, Arnold swats the table. “Too expensive. So, I hired the best chemical engineers in the world who are going to leach the gold out of the ore right up there in the Okanagon and save all the hauling money for the small investors, the little folks who want some security.”

Now Mr. Weisenbinder slows down and looks around at the folks there.

“It’s called state-of-the-art space-age technology. And it works. I guarantee it.”

Then he holds up the biggest gold nugget and winks, and one man yells, “How do I get in on this?”

Arnold smiles and says, “Come back early on Thursday, friend, but take a free Bible tonight and pray that there’s some Coral Reef Gold Mining Company stock left by the time you get here.”

I’m telling you, Special Agent, I was ready right then to put two hundred big ones on the line, which shows you how I felt about it. Well, Arnold Weisenbinder sets up on Tuesday night with the next church group, the Congregationalists. This time the free books look like Congregationalist Bibles, and off he goes like the night before.

Wednesday it’s the same old story, except this night he’s got the Baptists eating out of the palm of his wrinkled old hand, and Baptist Bibles are flying off the Formica like bats in a belfry. I could swear I heard him say he’d been a Baptist all his life, but it might have just been my hearing.

By Thursday night at ten, he’s got the folks pouring in. I was a little worried because the smoking and coffee crowd had reappeared, and I had promised Mr. Eidler that there were enough linens for the community college conference the next morning. The college types were meeting on the word “synergism.” That word seems to always bring in a curious bunch. They are really hot to find out what it means, I think.

Also, Arnold Weisenbinder got another break, because that week, Spokane was warmer than a roasting oven. Of course, the Holiday Inn’s got great air conditioning, so there was quite a swarm coming into the hotel.

Meanwhile old Arnold’s got a new sign up next to the map behind his booth. It says,

“Tonight only: For each Coral Reef Gold Mine Company investor, free education stock for the kids.”

Arnold is signing up new shareholders like crazy, and I get in line too, so I can plunk down my hard-earned. I got my wad of tens with a rubber band wrapped around ’em so I don’t lose the bills fighting through the crowd. I want those extra shares for my kids, like everybody else.

When I get to the front of the line, I see two stacks of certificates with “Coral Reef Gold Mining Company” on ’em. The certificates look just like gigantic dollar bills. One stack has pictures of eagles on it where normally on a dollar you’d see George Washington’s face. The other stack looks the same, except it’s got pictures on them of women in Greek robes. They’re holding torches, and one of their bosoms is exposed. You couldn’t choose that kind for the education shares. For the kids you had to take the eagles.

I’m at the front of the line holding my roll of ten-dollar bills up in the air, and Arnold grabs my dough. Then, bang, before I get my certificates, Arnold’s grabbing another investor’s cash and then another. They’re around him thick as flies on a milking cow in August.

I’m yelling at him, “Hey, where’s my stock? Where’s the free shares?” I mean, I was hot that he had ignored me. But anyway, he did, and I was there screaming just like the rest.

Then when the action around Arnold is like the bets going down at a carnival dice game, the front door pops open, and in rips the county sheriff with all you G-men in white shirts and blue suits, which was strange in itself, given the temperature. There’re the TV cameras, too. The sheriff grabs everything—signs, stocks, Bibles, the blue velvet, and whatnot—takes names and pictures, and then leaves the place in an uproar.

I was upset, I tell you. I grabbed one of the deputies and told him on the spot that he was keeping my children from their educational future, but he just looked at me like I was crazy.

The last thing I see is Arnold Weisenbinder’s face as some young hotshot in a blue suit, who is barely old enough to be Arnold’s grandson, has him by the arm. Arnold’s got a big grin on his wrinkled face like he’s having a high old time. And off they go, just like in The Untouchables. Whew!

Special Agent, you coulda knocked me over with a feather. Willa calls me at eleven o’clock; she says the whole thing on Arnold Weisenbinder is on TV. It turns out that Arnold’s been selling this stock all over the place, and everybody’s after him. There’re folks from the EPA and DOE, the environmental people, because he’s been spilling poisonous chemicals in the Okanogan’s creeks. The SEC’s after him for selling shares of stock that don’t exist. The FBI is after him for somehow abusing the wires and the mail (although I can’t imagine how you accomplish that!).

And of course the IRS is after him for you-know-what.

The whole thing got reported on NBC, CBS, and ABC. Willa said to me there were alphabet letters scattered all over the screen. She said that it looked like the only ones not after Arnold were the NFL and the NBA.

By eleven-thirty I had to sit down from all the action. My money’s gone, and you know how that makes you feel. Winded.

Anyway, up comes a hotel guest from Oklahoma by the name of Mr. Whitlow. You need for me to spell it? No? Okay. Well, it seems he’s in the animal-feed business, and does he ever know the famous Mr. Arnold Weisenbinder.

It turns out that during World War II, Arnold had a big contract to sell feed to the military, who were raising, of all things, pigs. Apparently Arnold got into big trouble because he sold the U.S. Army raw garbage as pig food. The pigs, of course, didn’t know the difference. Anyway, the G-men had tried to nail Arnold as a con man, but he went on the lam and had been at it ever since.

So, Special Agent, tell me, the Coral Reef Gold Mining Company stock was garbage too, wasn’t it? I probably didn’t miss anything by not getting those stock certificates for the kids. When it’s all said and done, I bet the best you can do with those stock certificates—with their eagles, torches, women’s bosoms, and all—is to wallpaper your spare biffy with ’em.

So, Agent, how about some more coffee? Looks like you’re about asleep.

I’ll wrap it up quickly. After all was said and done, Mr. Eidler wasn’t all that mad at me, even though the linens were pretty beat-up and the synergism conference the next day had to make do with bare Formica conference tables. But mostly Mr. Eidler decided that the night conference business can be tricky. From now on we are just going with the church types. As usual, the man’s right.

Anyway, I learned a lot from old Arnold. The fact is that rich people keep the good stuff for themselves. After all, that’s why they’re rich, isn’t it? I mean, what’s in it for them if they gave their moola away to the rest of us?

The other thing is pigs. It turns out that what you learn on the farm about animals is pretty much true for people. If you’re a pig, you’ll likely end up being fed garbage.

As for me, I’m following stocks with the kids on the Business Channel. We get The Morning Report from Wall Street on TV when I get home for the kids’ breakfast. It puts Matt Lauer and Al Roker in the back seat. And I think this time we are really learning about some good investments. Anyway, I hope so. That’s what TV can really do for the whole family, let me tell you.

Michael Cohen

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Mike Cohen has practiced law in the Pacific Northwest for over four decades. He has worked as a Washington State Supreme Court law clerk, a white collar crime prosecutor, and has founded his own small law firm. Today he remains affiliated with a multinational law firm in which he served as a senior partner for over a decade.  Cohen has published both short stories in a number of periodicals and now his first novel, Rivertown Heroes, a vivid coming-of-age story and gripping legal mystery. Born in the Midwest, Cohen currently lives with his family in the Pacific Northwest. His website is mikecohenauthor.com; facebook address Michael Lindau Cohen

If you enjoyed Pigs, leave a comment and let Michael know.

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